A month into the season, Merrimack and Boston College appear to be head and shoulders above the rest of Hockey East. After them, there’s a whole bunch of teams trying to break away from the pack and establish themselves as legitimate home-ice squads. Before I get to this week’s power rankings (which will be a weekly feature from here on), it’s worth noting that these rankings are where I see teams right now, not where I see them at the end of the season.
1. Merrimack (7-0-1, 5-0-1 HE)
Given that they’re the only unbeaten team left in the country, it should come as no surprise that the Warriors top this week’s rankings. They possess the nation’s best defense (1.25 goals against per game), led by senior goalie Joe Cannata and his league-leading .939 save percentage. The only knock on the Warriors is that they haven’t played anyone really good yet, although going 3-0-0 at Maine and Vermont (two places that are always tough to play) is pretty impressive.
2. Boston College (8-2-0, 6-1-0 HE)
The Eagles might’ve been No. 1 this week, but then they lost to UMass on Saturday. That game is more of an aberration than anything to actually be concerned about, but it’s just enough to drop them below Merrimack. The Eagles rank first or second in the conference in offense, defense, power play and penalty kill, so you’d have to do a lot of nitpicking to find a weakness here. Led by Chris Kreider (8-7-15) and Bill Arnold (7-7-14), BC has six players averaging a point per game or better.
3. Providence (4-3-1, 4-2-0 HE)
It’s still a little premature to call the Friars a legitimate Hockey East contender, but they’ve played better than anyone below them thus far. After a tough 0-3-1 stretch that featured two games against defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth and two games at Maine, the Friars got back on track with a sweep of Vermont this past weekend. Freshmen Ross Mauermann (3-6-9) and Damian Cross (2-6-8) have helped turn last year’s league-worst offense into this year’s second-best.
4. New Hampshire (4-4-1, 3-3-0 HE)
Since a miserable 0-4-0 start that saw them lose three games by four goals or more, the Wildcats have righted the ship by going 4-0-1, most recently beating UMass and Maine. A big key to that turnaround has been senior goalie Matt Di Girolamo, who has a .929 save percentage over his last four starts after allowing four or more goals in each of his first four. Nick Sorkin, who had just five points as a freshman, has emerged as an offensive leader with 11 points (5g, 6a) in nine games.
5. Maine (3-4-1, 3-3-0 HE)
The Black Bears swept Providence two weekends ago, but then lost a pair of games to BC and UNH this past weekend. Despite the fact that neither Martin Ouellette nor Dan Sullivan has a save percentage better than .891, the Black Bears rank fourth in the league in team defense. Their offense has yet to find any sort of groove, though, as they rank eighth with 2.75 goals per game. While their top forwards have been fine, their third and fourth lines have combined for just two goals all season.
6. Massachusetts-Lowell (3-3-0, 1-2-0 HE)
The River Hawks have registered at least 35 shots and outshot their opponent in all their games so far, but they struggled to turn those chances into goals during a recent three-game losing streak. That all changed Saturday when they demolished BU, 7-1. You could make an argument that the River Hawks deserve to be even higher than this given that they rank third in offense, third in defense and fourth in special teams net, but for now, they get slotted here.
7. Boston University (3-3-1, 2-2-1 HE)
If these rankings were based on talent, BU would be higher. But as Jack Parker always says, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” and right now the Terriers aren’t working hard. There’s no other way to explain their home loss to Holy Cross or the aforementioned demolition at Lowell. The defense has been the biggest problem, as BU ranks eighth with 3.71 goals against per game. Matt Nieto, who is second in the league with 1.43 points per game, has been a major bright spot.
8. Massachusetts (2-4-2, 1-4-2 HE)
The Minutemen busted out of an 0-4-1 slump with a 4-2 victory over BC on Saturday. Before anyone gets too excited about that, though, a reminder that they got smoked 7-3 by UNH the night before and blew multi-goal leads in both games against BU two weekends ago. The Minutemen have been decent offensively — they rank fifth with 3.38 goals per game — but they’ve given up 4.00 per game, good for ninth. The fact that none of their three goalies have a save percentage better than .890 doesn’t help.
9. Northeastern (1-5-2, 1-5-2 HE)
The Huskies have played a lot of close games, as this weekend’s loss and tie against Merrimack were already their third and fourth overtime games of the season. The fact that three of those four overtime games have come against the top two teams in the conference shows they can compete with anyone, but unless the Huskies find a way to start winning some of them, they’re not going anywhere. Scoring more than 2.38 goals per game — the second fewest in the league — would be a good place to start.
10. Vermont (1-5-0, 0-4-0 HE)
The Catamounts beat Minnesota on the road in their second game of the season — an impressive win, no doubt — but they’ve done a whole lot of nothing outside of that, as they’ve been outscored 24-6 in their other five games combined. Vermont ranks last in Hockey East in offense, defense and special teams net, so really the only positive at this point is that there is literally nowhere to go but up.