October 31, 2002
East Notebook

Merrimack had more than enough time to savor big win

By Nate Ewell

Imagine being the lowly Merrimack Warriors, picked to finish last in Hockey East – unanimously – and facing four straight top-10 teams early in the season. Then pack the first three of those games into five days, and take 12 days off before meeting the No. 1 team in the land.

Marco Rosa, Merrimack
This week's West Notebook
This week's schedule

Sounds like grounds for mutiny, especially for a team riddled by early departures to the pros and welcoming 12 freshmen. But other than Tuesday's freak accident that could cost sophomore center Steve Crusco his season – more on that later – head coach Chris Serino has welcomed a happy bunch of Warriors to practice every day.

"You never want to have a break this long between games, but we feel pretty good and have been practicing really well," Serino said. "If you lose the game before a break like this, it feels even longer."

Serino can thank the biggest upset of the young season for his team's good spirits, as they dispatched Boston University in the Hockey East opener for both teams, 5-3, way back on Oct. 22.

Just two days removed from Michigan's Yost Ice Arena – where the Warriors lost, 4-1 and 5-1 – Merrimack got a goal and two assists from freshman Brent Gough and junior Marco Rosa to beat the preseason conference favorites.

Serino says the trip to Ann Arbor helped his team, especially its young players.

"Playing out in Michigan, even though we lost twice, might have been a good thing," he said. "We grew up a little faster playing in that kind of environment, and hopefully that will help us this weekend."

This Friday – after a break that must have felt like another off-season, but with slightly less loss of man-power – Merrimack travels to New Hampshire, to face the nation's No. 1 team in another hostile environment. And, oh yeah, the Wildcats haven't lost to Merrimack in 24 meetings (20-0-4).

The Warriors will shoot for another upset without Crusco, whose wrist was lacerated by a teammate's skate on Tuesday. The gruesome injury could cost the junior, who was centering the team's second line, his season.

Without him even more of the offensive burden falls on freshmen like Gough and Matt Johnson, who have played on Rosa's wings on the top line, and Nick Pomponio, who leads the team with three goals. Rookie Bryan Schmidt has also made an immediate impact as a steady, strong, offensive-minded defenseman.

Johnson and Schmidt are both from Minnesota, good finds for Serino's small North Andover, Mass., school. Another surprise addition – NHL unrestricted free agent Byron Dafoe – has been practicing with the team as well until he catches on with an NHL club. Serino calls Dafoe a great character guy, someone who has been so supportive, he's practically part of the team.

Given that, chances are Dafoe can't wait for his upset-making "teammates" to play another game.


Yeah, What He Said

"We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another."
– Richard M. Nixon

League officials deserve kudos for engineering an element of cooperation in last weekend's officiating schedule. Derek Sheppard, a WCHA referee, officiated the Maine-Western Michigan series, while Hockey East's John Gravallese blew the whistles in Grand Forks for North Dakota-Niagara.

Four games do not consensus make. However, a little crossover can help players and coaches see what, if any, differences they might expect from officials in other conferences once the NCAA Tournament rolls around.

1. Start me up – The six Ivy League teams begin play this weekend, and with them comes the start of the ECAC slate.

Two good rivalries highlight the first weekend of conference play, as Harvard travels to Brown and Clarkson plays at St. Lawrence. The Brown game marks the first official men's game in the Bears' revamped facility, now known as the Pollard Family Rink at Meehan Auditorium. The Pollard family donated $1 million of the $4.3 million renovation of the 40-year-old building.

Fans will see a renovated lobby, featuring new concession stands and ticket booths, plus portraits of former Bear greats. Recruits will see new team facilities and coaches locker rooms, which never hurts in the battle for talent.

There will be plenty of talent on the ice Saturday, as Harvard's 13 NHL draft picks face off against Bear goaltender Yann Danis and his teammates. The Crimson are 6-0-1 in their last seven trips to the "old" Meehan.

It's become a traditional season-opener for these oldest active rivals in college hockey, as this marks the fifth straight year and 10th time in 11 years that Harvard and Brown play to start the season.

2. ... and never stop – Boston College and Providence, both 5-0-0, are two of only four unbeaten and untied teams in the nation (not counting the aforementioned Ivies; 4-0-0 North Dakota and 2-0-0 Wayne State are the others).

For the Eagles, it's their best start since 1983-84; the Friars haven't been this hot out of the gates since 1976-77.

Wins at Massachusetts Friday and at home against Princeton on Sunday would give Providence its best start ever, surpassing the 6-0-0 mark of that '76-77 team (which was led by former Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson). Friday's game marks Providence's first away from Schneider Arena this season.

Meanwhile, BC ascended to the top spot in the INCH Power Rankings thanks to wins over Wisconsin and UMass Lowell – both without star Ben Eaves. The Eagles look to move to 6-0-0 at Notre Dame on Friday, the night before the Irish football team looks to stay perfect against BC.

3. A kiss is just a kiss – or is it? – A pair of ties featuring Hockey East and MAAC heavyweights brought about very different reactions last weekend – and not the typical, one team's happy, the other disappointed.

No, both New Hampshire and Northeastern sounded thrilled with their 2-2 staredown, while Mercyhurst and Quinnipiac each found their 3-3 tie lacking.

Dick Umile's club may have only posted wins in half of its games (2-0-2) and slipped from the top of the INCH Power Rankings, but he knew not to complain about leaving Matthews Arena with a tie.

"It's like I told the team," Umile said, "when they add them all up at the end of the season this will be a big point."

Meanwhile, in Erie, Pa., the MAAC co-favorites both had more in mind, as Mercyhurst came from behind in the 3-3 tie.

"I'm disappointed," Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin said. "We expect to win at home, and could have, but didn't."

"We had the edge in the first period and parts of the second, but didn't finish our chances," Quinnipiac's Rand Pecknold said. "Mercyhurst had great legs in the third period, but we managed to hang on."

4. Isn't that special – "I will field no questions about our power play," joked BU coach Jack Parker after his team's 0-for-9 performance in the Terriers' 6-4 win last Friday over Nebraska-Omaha.

But with as many as six games in the books for many teams, some special-teams trends have emerged that deserve note:

  • despite being held scoreless Friday, UNH's power play is 7-for-18 (38.9 percent)
  • nine of the 15 goals BU has allowed have been scored on the power play
  • six of the 11 goals Providence has allowed have been scored on the power play
  • Merrimack is scoreless on the power play in 21 opportunities
  • seven of Vermont's 13 goals have been scored on the power play
  • Rensselaer has scored a power-play goal in each of its six games
  • Colgate has scored eight power-play goals after recording just 20 all of last year
  • St. Lawrence has scored seven power-play goals, but none in its last two games
  • Mercyhurst has allowed just two power-play goals through four games (23 opportunities, 91.3 percent)
  • Quinnipiac has scored 11 of its 28 goals on the power play, with at least one power-play goal in every game and at least two in each of its last three
  • Quinnipiac has scored three short-handed goals
  • Iona is 1-for-23 on the power play (4.3 percent)
Three Great Weekend Getaways
1. North Dakota at Princeton, Yale
The Fighting Sioux make like an ECAC team on its Southern trip. The games provide big tests for Princeton and Yale as they get their early-season legs under them.
While You're There: No Princeton trip is complete without a visit to Hoagie Haven, on Nassau Street. Get a steak and cheese, and ask for "salpeporegno." Just trust us.

2. Boston University at New Hampshire (Sat.) – Another great game at the Whit, as BU hopes to shed memories of its Merrimack loss and UNH tries to hang on to No. 1.

3. Harvard at Brown (Sat.) – The Cornell-Ohio State game intrigues, especially after Clarkson's sweep at the hands of the Buckeyes. But it's in the West and thus out of range. We turn instead to Providence, where the Big Red's biggest challengers – the Crimson – start their season.

5. An exciting moment at an exciting time – You think it's gut-wrenching when your team leads or trails by a goal in the last minute and the trailing team controls the puck deep?

What if that team was awarded a penalty shot?

That's exactly what happened in Hamilton, N.Y., Friday night, as Sacred Heart scrambled to tie the score against Colgate with both teams seeking their first victory. Colgate took a delay-of-game penalty with 24 seconds remaining and a 3-2 Red Raider lead. Martin Paquet – the MAAC Preseason co-Player of the Year – lined up at center ice.

Colgate sophomore Steve Silverthorn lunged to his right, stopping the shot and securing the win. The Red Raiders went on to win Saturday as well, 4-3.


Nashville Predators: Recalled center Greg Classen (Merrimack) from Milwaukee of the AHL.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Assigned forward Andrew McPherson (Rensselaer) to Wheeling of the ECHL.

St. Louis Blues: Signed center Eric Boguniecki (New Hampshire) to a contract extension.

Washington Capitals: Assigned right wing Mike Farrell (Providence) to Portland of the AHL.


• Be sure to catch Dan Shaughnessy's account in The Boston Globe of former UNH goaltender Greg Rota, now a high school golf coach in Massachusetts. Rota pointed out a scoring error, thereby surrendering the state championship his team initially appeared to have won.

It's a great story – and please, no jokes about UNH hockey players not being able to win championships.

Three Stars
3. Freshman goalies
Maine's Jimmy Howard (2-1-0, 1.42, .934) and Providence's Bobby Goepfert (2-0-0, 1.50, .945) rank 1-2 in Hockey East in save percentage.
2. Kevin Kurk, Rensselaer
Posted back-to-back shutouts over Iona and Army. The Engineers have never had three straight shutouts (and St. Cloud State's forwards probably appreciate our mentioning that).
1. Peter Fregoe, Providence
The Friars' 6-5 win over UMass Lowell showed they're for real; so is Fregoe. His hat trick, including the overtime game-winner, gives him 15 points through 5 GP.

• Union forwards Chris Konnick and Glenn Sanders and goaltender Tim Roth will be eligible to play in the team's game at UMass Lowell Friday night. The trio didn't accompany the Skating Dutchmen on their 1-0-1 weekend trip to Bemidji State after head coach Kevin Sneddon suspended them for a violation of school and team conduct.

• Northeastern's tie against UNH extended its unbeaten streak at Matthews Arena against the Wildcats to 3-0-2.

• Former Vermont goaltender Tim Thomas has won his first two starts in the NHL following an extended minor-league and European apprenticeship. His most recent win came in a 7-2 Bruins victory over the Capitals. ''The guys certainly gave me enough of a cushion, which makes it a little bit easier,'' Thomas said. ''You're playing against (Jaromir) Jagr, (Peter) Bondra and those guys and you can't let them back in the game. That was my goal – not to give them a sniff, not to let them think they have a chance.''

• Only five St. Lawrence players have suited up for all seven of the Saints' games (including its exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 Team).

• Boston College's Patrick Eaves continues to tear up the scoresheet, with 6-5—11 totals through 5 GP. He had two goals against his father's Wisconsin team Friday night. "There was a great atmosphere and a great crowd," said Patrick's brother, Ben, who sat out with injured ribs. "It would have been great to be skating out there tonight with my brother and against my dad, but I guess it just wasn't in the cards tonight. I was really proud of Patrick tonight. He had a great game."

• The top eight scorers in the MAAC are from Holy Cross or Quinnipiac (four from each school).

• Boston College has won nine straight non-conference games entering Friday's game at Notre Dame.

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

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