January 19, 2006
Birds of Prey

By Jeff Howe

 Hockey East Notebook

Jason Tejchma had two goals and two assists last weekend for UMass Lowell.

National TV Schedule

Before any season starts, everyone loves making their predictions. This team will win the league. That player will vie for MVP, and everyone else will do exactly that.

But a few months into these seasons, those who make their predictions often look back, slap themselves on the forehead and wonder why they are considered “experts” in their particular field. This season, along with a couple seasons in the past, the UMass Lowell River Hawks are causing a lot of red foreheads.

Picked by the coaches to finish in a tie for third place with Maine in Hockey East this season, the River Hawks were expected to do some big things despite the loss of last year’s superstar Ben Walter. But during a 6-13-0 start (3-9-0 in Hockey East), Lowell looked like it may be in a dogfight just to take the last spot in the playoffs, especially with its porous defense.

Last year, Lowell's prospcts were mostly mediocre (with INCH among the few who had higher hopes). With a 4-5-0 record, the team's start lived up to expectations. Then Walter and company slapped a knuckle puck in everyone’s direction, the River Hawks went on an 11-3-0 run and didn’t lose a game from Nov. 23 until Jan. 29. The team was scoring, getting great play from freshman goaltender Peter Vetri and all was looking well. A 5-5-1 clip to end the season and two playoff losses at Maine by a combined 12-3 score signaled a return to mediocrity.

Back to this year, and UML has sent its line out to the Merrimack River with the intention of reeling everyone back in. Over the weekend, the River Hawks won a laugher over a hot UMass team by a 6-2 score on Friday night and then knocked off Providence on the road in a 4-3 overtime thriller.

Trailing 3-1 in Providence with just under five minutes remaining in regulation, Lowell picked up a pair of goals from Danny O’Brien and Mike Potacco in just 1:42 to send the game in overtime. There O’Brien capped off his first career hat trick by lighting the lamp with 13 seconds to go in the extra frame. The Lowell captain finished the weekend with four goals and two assists, but more importantly helped his team garner some momentum before this coming weekend’s home-and-home with Northeastern, which hasn’t won a game since Nov. 11.

Jason Tejchma, who also had a big weekend with two goals and two assists, is optimistic the team can keep this run going.

“[In November], we had two big games against UNH,” Tejchma said. “We lost the first night and came back the second night and had a pretty good win. We were hoping to get on a roll there, and the week after we didn’t turn it around. Hopefully, this will be the weekend we turn it around. We’ve matured after [what happened] a month ago. We’ve gotten a lot better. Things are looking good, and if we keep working hard, I think we’ll get on a roll.”

After the River Hawks beat UNH 6-3 at the Tsongas Arena on Nov. 19, they went on to lose six of their next eight, including two separate three-game skids. UML coach Blaise MacDonald, who was impressed with his team's defensive and special teams improvement, said it would take “a near-perfect game” to beat Providence. He knows his group will need to continue their consistency in those areas to keep this weekend’s momentum steady.

“Typically, with teams that are playing well, special teams are good and the goaltender is playing great,” MacDonald said. “I thought we did a nice job on our power play getting some chances. We had some good looks. We did a nice job killing penalties, and I thought Peter Vetri had a real solid game so I think those are the keys to getting on a roll.”

Another one of those keys involves the teams Lowell is facing over the last two months of the season. With 10 points and tied with UMass in seventh place in the league standings, the River Hawks are sitting four points ahead of Northeastern and six above Merrimack, with both of those teams struggling to do anything right as of late.

And with 13 contests left, UML has three dates left with the Huskies, two with the Minutemen and two with the Warriors, so the Hawks certainly hold their playoff fate in their hands. Of the other six games, one is with BU, three with BC and the last series of the year is two-game stint with Vermont in the Mill City.

Making a prediction as to how the River Hawks will finish is tough, and we’ve been down that road already. It’s also impossible to tell if one weekend of solid play can translate into a hot finish, particularly when the defense has been inconsistent.

But after the team’s rocky first half, one weekend of good hockey is at least a start. And right now, that’s all the team could ask for.


Old School vs. New School – The phrase “From zero to hero” has taken on a new meaning for Vermont sophomore stud Joe Fallon, who no longer tends goal; he completely locks it down as if he were counter terrorist Jack Bauer on the hit series, “24.” Fallon has posted four shutouts in the Catamounts’ last six games, which spanned a whopping 16 days, and he has taken reigns of the school career shutout record from new Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas.

Fallon tied Thomas’ record of 10 shutouts after a 3-0 win over Northeastern on Jan. 13, and promptly broke the mark the following night in another 3-0 victory. He now has 11 career shutouts in just 50 starts in net.

On Jan. 5, just a few days after the 20-year-old pulled to within one shutout of Thomas’ record with the help of back-to-back blankings on Dec. 30-31 during the Catamount Cup, Fallon had this to say about the possibility of staking claim to the all-time mark: “Hopefully, I can do it this season.”

Coincidentally, as he was sitting on nine career shutouts, it took him just nine days after that comment to break the record. Thomas couldn’t be on hand at Gutterson that night, however, as he was busy making 37 saves in his first start of the season for the Bruins, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars.

This weekend, Fallon’s opponent in the opposite net will be another sophomore in Cory Schneider, who has been similarly impressive for Hockey East-leading Boston College. Schneider may have put together this season's most remarkable individual feat. After knocking away 45 shots for the U.S. National Junior Team in the bronze medal game loss to Finland on Jan. 5, Schneider made the 2,500-mile journey down to Providence, where he backstopped the Eagles with 43 saves in a 4-1 win over the Friars. That matchup of the two teams tied for first place in Hockey East came just about 49-and-a-half hours after he faced the Finns.

This two-game set at The Heights on Friday and Saturday night could prove to be Vermont’s most important weekend of the entire regular season, as the Green and Gold try to prove that it can and will challenge for the league crown. The Catamounts sit in fifth place and are nine points behind the Eagles in the standings, but they have also played two fewer games.

A pair of wins for UVM will bring the team to within five points and give it a chance to get within one thanks to the two extra games in the last six weekends of the season. Taking anything less than three points from BC, however, will leave Vermont virtually out of the title chase.

If the Eagles successfully defend their home ice, they will have a very favorable inside track on their fourth regular season league crown in a row and fifth in the last six years, as they currently hold a six-point lead in the standings over UNH and Providence, who sit tied for second.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Vermont at Boston College (Fri.-Sat.)
In the combined four games that Fallon and Schneider started last weekend, the two youngsters stopped 87 of the 88 shots that they saw. But these two teams are deeper than just their goalies. BC is ranked second in the freshest edition of the INCH Power Rankings while UVM sits cozily in the fifth slot.

While You’re There: If you don’t feel like walking around Boston on Saturday, since it’s scheduled to rain, or maybe snow, but possibly sleet with the chance it could be windy – OK, so no one has any idea what the weather will be like this weekend – check out the New England Sports Museum, which is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. If you want to laugh, go to the latest Bruins section. Feel like shedding a tear, read all about the Red Sox. How about a smile? Meander through the Patriots room. Indecisive? There’s always the Celtics. The New England Sports Museum: Where There’s Something For Everyone.

Stick Salute

Just five days after UNH coach Richard Umile coached in his 600th career game, a 2-1 win over Vermont at the Whitt on Jan. 6, the Wildcats won their 1,000th game of all time in a 4-1 victory at Yale. UNH has since won Game No. 1,001, and Umile has been on the bench for 366 of those congratulatory handshakes.

Bench Minor

Over the past month, this section of the Hockey East notebook has turned into “The Northeastern Watch,” and since we at INCH don’t like to pick on teams over and over and over again, especially those mired in a tough transitional year, this week’s bench minor will switch gears. The Tuesday announcement from Fox saying it will finally cancel “That 70’s Show” was a year overdue. The show was one of the funniest on television for seven years, but when a main character, like that of Eric, is no longer around, it’s really time to hang it up. Fans of the show should now remember this season, its eighth overall, in the same way Michael Jordan fans remember “The Wizard Years” – neither one ever actually happened.


• Merrimack defenseman Bryan Schmidt moved into a tie with Mike Boyce for the school’s all-time record for goals scored by a defenseman. Schmidt’s fourth goal of the season, which was also the lone Warrior tally in two games against the Eagles over the weekend, was the 32nd of his career. Let’s hope Schmidt isn’t too superstitious. The senior’s record-tying goal came on Friday the 13th, and he only has 13 games left to set the new bar.

• UMass has had two separate three-game winning streaks this season, but after the first set, which took place from Nov. 12-25 against Boston University, Vermont and Colorado College, the Minutemen proceeded to lose four of their next five games, including three in a row at the tail end of that stretch. The Maroon and White went on its second trifecta from Dec. 30 to Jan. 7, with a win over Army followed by two over Merrimack, but the Minutemen dropped a 6-2 decision to Lowell to end the winning ways. The up-and-down road may continue for UMass, as it takes on UNH in a home-and-home this weekend. Since bouncing the Wildcats from the Hockey East tournament two years ago, the Minutemen have lost four in a row to their neighbors from the north and have been outscored 22-3 in that stretch.

• UNH exacted a bit of revenge on in-state rival Dartmouth in the two teams’ annual showdown in Manchester on Saturday night. After the Wildcats had an 8-5 third-period lead in last year’s affair, the Big Green rallied for a quartet of goals in the game’s final 10 minutes, including the game-winner with 1:27 remaining on the clock to escape with a wild 9-8 victory. The rematch didn’t disappoint, even with that high standard set. With the Wildcats leading 4-3, Dartmouth pulled its goalie and grabbed the tying goal with just 45 seconds to play, but Jacob Micflikier – who couldn’t capitalize on a penalty shot with 23 seconds remaining – scored the game-winning goal with 14.9 ticks left to clinch a 5-4 win and the RiverStone Cup.

• Northeastern has tried shaking things up by sticking freshman goalie Doug Jewer in net of late. It’s just too bad he can’t help the team score. Jewer has played in each of the team’s last five games while starting in four of them, and he has boasted a .916 save percentage on top of a 2.46 GAA. But the Huskies have managed to score just five goals during that stretch – all losses – and have been shut out in three straight games.

• Boston College freshman Benn Ferriero has put together an impressive four-game goal-scoring streak in which he has tallied five lamplighters and an assist for six points. In the Eagles’ last seven Hockey East games, which date back to a 6-2 loss to BU on Dec. 3, Ferriero has scored all 13 of his points (9-4—13). He has scored a goal in each of those seven contests.

• Boston University swept the season series with Maine for the first time in eight years, but it didn’t come without a fight. With the Black Bears seemingly moving towards a victory in Friday night’s affair, the Terriers rallied for two third-period goals, including a Kenny Roche game-winner with just 1:10 left to play. Saturday’s game was back and forth throughout until BU used a two-goal surge in the third to take a 5-3 lead. The score almost didn’t hold up, however, as Derek Damon added a fourth goal with Matt Lundin out of the net and just 18 seconds to go. The Terriers’ big weekend throttled them ahead of the Black Bears into fourth place in the standings, just two points in back of UNH and Providence.

John Laliberte’s power-play goal on Friday was the first one Maine has allowed in 30 penalty-kill situations. The Terriers have scored two of the seven power-play goals that the Black Bears have allowed this season. Finally, of the 12 total goals that sophomore goalie Matt Lundin has allowed this season, five of them have been scored by the Terriers.

• Lowell is just 3-13-0 during games that are played on Friday and Saturday nights, but 5-0-0 during the other five days of the week. With 13 games left on the slate, the River Hawks must play 12 of them on a Friday or Saturday. That other game is on a Thursday, but it’s against Boston College.

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