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College hockey notes

Despite slow start, NU refuses to be boxed in

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / November 26, 2010

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It has been a roller coaster season for Northeastern, although there have been more lows than highs.

The Huskies were winless in four out of the gate (0-2-2), won at UMass-Lowell, and then dropped five in a row. Last weekend, there were positive signs when the team rallied to tie Providence at Schneider Arena and then scored a season-high five goals in a shutout of the Friars the next night at Matthews Arena.

The power play had been the Huskies’ Achilles’ heel. The team produced just five goals in its first 57 chances; last weekend, NU erupted for five goals on the man advantage in 12 opportunities.

“It’s been getting chances, it just hasn’t been scoring,’’ said coach Greg Cronin, whose team travels to Vermont for a game against the Catamounts tonight. “I think they’re starting to figure out what they need to do to make adjustments. The coaching is too good in the league, you’re not just going to run the same power play and get away with it. When you score, you feel good about yourselves and you get some confidence.’’

Cronin said even though the team earned a shutout Saturday against Providence, he thought the game was slower than the night before.

“I thought Friday’s game was really fast,’’ he said. “I thought Saturday had a little bit more of a measured pace to it from both teams. We did a good job defensively, as evidenced by the shutout, and we had chances and we scored on them. They had chances, too, and they didn’t score. We got a little puck luck and I think more than anything, it was an attitudinal thing. These guys are quality kids and they really have a good spirit.’’

Cronin said it was refreshing to work with a group of players who never got down despite the losses piling up.

“As a coach, you think, ‘They should be angry and upset.’’ but they never were like that,’’ he said. “I’m not the most gregarious, happy guy out there, but I think they have that. They’ve been very positive. They believe they can be pretty good.’’

One goal for the Huskies is to decrease the number of penalties. They are tied for second in the country in penalty minutes per game (19.09).

“One of the things the guys realized in the Maine game [Nov. 13], is we took a five-minute major and four minors [as well as a 10-minute misconduct in the first 22 minutes],’’ said Cronin, whose team had 33 penalty minutes to just 14 for Maine in a 4-2 loss. “By the third period, they were dead. They were like, ‘Enough is enough, this is getting out of control.’ The guys on the bench saw it, too. They were careless [penalties].’’

Because of the significant turnover from last year’s roster, Cronin said he’s had to alter his approach.

“I think I’ve been more patient than I’ve ever been,’’ said Cronin, who has 13 new faces to work with. “I realized this was not going to be an easy transition with young kids. That was a revelation, usually you’re looking at five or six new guys. With the combination of guys being injured and guys graduating, I realized I would have to put on a teacher’s hat and really teach these guys how to play and what our system is and what is expected.’’

Cronin said the teaching hasn’t been one-sided, his team has something to offer him, too.

“I’ve probably been labeled as a tough, hard-[nosed] guy who is demanding, and I think I am,’’ he said. “But I think I’ve learned something from these kids, too.

“I’m not glad we’re 2-7-3, but I’m glad I’m around a group of kids like this, that seems to be pretty confident and pretty optimistic. I’m cautiously optimistic about this group.’’

Steady as he goes One player who has really made his presence felt this season is Boston University forward Alex Chiasson. The sophomore has 12 points (tied for the team high) in 10 games. Chiasson had the winning goal (shorthanded) last Saturday against New Hampshire.

“I think he’s made a huge step this year as far as confidence,’’ said BU coach Jack Parker. “He’s given us great games every game, shift after shift, practice after practice. The thing that is best about his game right now is he’s so consistent. He’s made a step up because he’s more confident and he’s a better player right now. But he’s a more consistent player by far than he was last year, so that’s really helped.’’

Monitoring Merrimack Merrimack (4-2-4, 3-2-3 Hockey East) is 18th in the USCHO.com Division 1 men’s poll, the first time the Warriors have been nationally ranked.

“It’s more for the school, that type of recognition for a small school like Merrimack, to be nationally ranked, it’s a positive,’’ said coach Mark Dennehy. “It’s something that the players can enjoy for half a second and then recognize it can’t be a distraction.

“The only thing that really matters are the statistical polls at the end of the year. We have a pretty veteran team. A lot of these guys have competed for championships and they know the real accolades come at the end of the year.’’

BC on right course Boston College coach Jerry York has agreed to terms on a new contract, which runs through the 2014-15 season. York, whose squads have won two of the last three NCAA championships, is 8-4-0 heading into today’s game at Merrimack. Defense is one of the reasons the seventh-ranked Eagles are soaring. Goaltender John Muse is third in the country in goals-against average (1.45). BC is second in the nation in team defense, allowing 1.83 goals per game and the penalty killing is second best at 90.1 percent (64 of 71).

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.