January 26, 2005
Maine's Balancing Act

By Nate Ewell

 Hockey East Notebook

Jimmy Howard and Maine are 6-0-3 in their last nine Hockey East games.

National TV Schedule
This week's schedule

Atlantic Hockey/CHA Notebook
CCHA Notebook
ECACHL Notebook
WCHA Notebook

It's not as if Bananas the mascot is standing outside Alfond Arena blindfolded and holding a scale, Lady Justice-style, but that would be an appropriate symbol for the 2004-05 Maine Black Bears.

Balance has been the key to success in Orono, and it's the primary reason that the Black Bears carry a nine-game unbeaten streak in conference play into this weekend's series against Northeastern. The Huskies, coincidentally, are the last league team Maine lost to, way back on Nov. 12.

“Our key aspect will be our depth," head coach Tim Whitehead said earlier this week. "Every guy who pulls on the sweater needs to contribute. We aren’t going to have a player go out and carry us. We need everyone playing well. We have a very slim margin of error with this team."

Whitehead points to four game-breaking players on last year's team who aren't back this season: Prestin Ryan, Todd Jackson, Colin Shields and Frank Doyle. The one remaining true game-breaker on the roster, goaltender Jimmy Howard, was slowed in the first half of the year by a summer bout with mono and a series of injuries.

Howard, who wasn't cleared to train at full strength until after Christmas, is rounding back to his typical form. He's benefitting from an offense that features nine players, including eight forwards, within 10 points of the team's scoring lead.

“Josh Soares, Keith Johnson, Brent Shepheard, Steve Mullin, John Ronan," Whitehead said, reading off names from his line chart. "Those five have really become improved players for us this year. Those are the kinds of guys who have emerged. Michel Léveillé, Derek Damon, Greg Moore – they already were key players for us, and they’ve continued to be."

Damon started the season flying offensively, but as he slowed, the rest of the team took over. He had only one point in an eight-game span in November and December, but the team only lost two of those games (neither in the league). He's picked the pace back up lately, with five points in five games, and things seem to be clicking for the whole team.

In fact, despite not having any players among Hockey East's top 13 scorers (Damon is tied for 14th with 22 points), Maine is third in the league with 3.23 goals per game. That output seems to impress even Whitehead.

"The first step, we needed to generate more scoring chances," he said. "The next step was to actually score. I still don’t think we’re going to be a prolific scoring team, but we need to get enough goals. And we need to get the odd power-play goal once in a while, which we’ve done lately."

One way or another, Maine has managed to find enough offense. Now, with Howard back to full strength, the Black Bears are rolling – bad news for anyone who hoped their 6-6-0 start showed that the balance of power in Hockey East was tilting away from Orono.


Hobey Hopefuls – As we noted with our debut of Go-To Guys this week, one scout told INCH recently that no fewer than 25 guys had a shot at the Hobey Baker Award this season. So how many of those hail from Hockey East?

Most coaches, fellow media folks and scouts we've talked to see three levels of candidates at this point:

• Front-Runners: Boston College's Patrick Eaves, New Hampshire's Sean Collins and UMass Lowell's Ben Walter all have good shots at becoming finalists for the award. Each has impressive numbers, and they are leading their teams to success as well.

• Second Fiddlers: If it weren't for the names above, you'd be hearing more about BC's Ryan Shannon, UNH's Preston Callander, and even BC's Andrew Alberts.

• Still in the Hunt: These players have done enough to earn mention, but need a big February to truly get in contention: Boston University's Peter MacArthur, Maine's Jimmy Howard and Merrimack's Bryan Schmidt.

The Big Test – UMass Lowell’s 13-game unbeaten streak is the best in the nation, and has garnered plenty of attention for the River Hawks. But this weekend’s home-and-home with New Hampshire will have everyone's attention, especially from the skeptics who still want to see if Lowell is for real.

How can you doubt a run of 10-0-3? To be fair, only two of UMass Lowell’s wins in that streak have come against teams that are over .500, and neither of those teams are in the nation’s top 15 (Dartmouth, St. Lawrence).

Don’t expect New Hampshire to be among the doubters, however. The River Hawks' run began with a 3-3 tie against New Hampshire Nov. 23. In that game, Granite State native Peter Vetri – in just his fourth career decision – made 27 saves Lowell. Wildcat head coach Dick Umile had nothing but praise for Lowell.

"They’re very dangerous on the power play," Umile told the Foster's Daily Democrat. "They move the puck. They’re a good transition team. They come after you and they’re aggressive. It’s a combination of their goaltending playing well for them and they’re playing with an awful lot of confidence right now."


Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

New Hampshire vs. UMass Lowell (in Lowell Friday, in Durham Sat.)
If you like offensive hockey, you can't miss these games. New Hampshire enters as the No. 3 scoring team in the country, and UMass Lowell isn't far behind at No. 7. Both are especially dangerous on the power play: the River Hawks have the best PP in the country (25.8 percent) and UNH is No. 3 (24.2).

Stick Salute

The American Hockey Coaches Association worked with former college players who spent last year in the NHL to obtain 29 autographed NHL jerseys that will be auctioned off on eBay, beginning Friday at 2 p.m. The proceeds from the auction will go to "Hockey Coaches Care," a relief fund for the amateur hockey community initiated by the AHCA.

Bench Minor

Did it feel like something was missing on Wednesday? No, it wasn't the lack of a buy-six-pizzas-for-$5 each special. It was the only night this week that we didn't have Hockey East action.

• While Providence got a much-needed win Tuesday night against Connecticut, 4-3, the wait continues for the Friars' first Hockey East victory since Oct. 29. It isn't an easy road ahead for Providence, beginning Saturday at Boston University. With the exception of a home-and-home series with Merrimack, all but two of their remaining games are against teams in the INCH Power Rankings,

• Eight Providence players were suspended for the UConn game for an unspecified violation of team rules, leaving the Friars with just 10 skaters and five defensemen in the lineup. All eight will be eligible to return to the lineup Saturday night.

New Hampshire's first line gets plenty of recognition, and rightly so, with the top three scorers in the league. The second line is pretty good, too. But the third line, featuring sophomore Josh Ciocco and freshmen Matt Fornataro and Mike Radja, has been a reliable source of offense lately. They combined for five points against Merrimack on Friday, the third straight game the trio had at least a goal.

Boston College's Cory Schneider is 5-0-3 through his first eight Hockey East games (7-0-3 overall). It's early yet, but worth noting that the only goalie ever to play a season in Hockey East without a league loss (playing in at least 10 games) was Garth Snow, who went 11-0-1 for Maine in 1992-93.

• Andrew Alberts' performance against UNH Monday night showed just how valuable he is to the Boston College team. He was, as one observer put it, the most dangerous player on the ice, at both ends. He scored his first goal of the year in the second period and created several other chances, all while playing his usual terrific defensive game.

Massachusetts' last chance for a win in January comes Friday night at Boston College. The Minutemen had hoped a four-game homestand could provide a jump-start, but they went 0-3-1 in that stretch. Now they hit the road for four straight.

Merrimack has lost seven straight, and the return of Brent Gough hasn't helped the team's offensive pace the way many expected it to. Gough did score goals in back-to-back games last weekend, however, his first goals since his first two games back from injury. The Warriors are off until next Saturday against UMass.

• At some point in the next week we hope someone in Dayton, Ohio, compliments Mike Ayers on his hat. Ayers, the former New Hampshire goalie now playing in the ECHL with the Dayton Bombers, proudly sports a throwback Patriots hat featuring Pat Patriot.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

Send this to a friend

About Us | Advertiser Info | Site Map | Privacy Policy
© 2002-2005 Inside College Hockey, Inc., All Rights Reserved