Three Things I Think: Hockey East

Posted by: Joe Meloni

While everyone in North Andover, Mass., was freaking out because Merrimack did not overtake the top in either national poll, I spent the day informing people of two things: polls are stupid and the Warriors are in great position in the Hockey East standings (second place) and the PairWise (first), which are still the only two metrics that matter.

Merrimack is good, but skepticism is valid 

In September, I pegged Merrimack to finish third behind Boston University and Boston College. I wavered back and forth between a third-place finish and a fourth-place landing, ultimately putting the Warriors third, Maine fourth and New Hampshire fifth. With this, I was really making two pretty big predictions with Merrimack building on last season and UNH’s run of home ice ending.

We have roughly four months of hockey left this season, but I’m looking pretty good — except with the whole thinking Maine’s goaltending wouldn’t be terrible thing.

Friday’s comeback, overtime win at BU cemented the Warriors as one of the two best teams in Hockey East. However, that win over BU, which helped Merrimack improve to 8-0-1, was Merrimack’s first win over what someone could describe a “good” hockey team — and that word only applies if you consider “wildly talented” a synonym for “good.” Knocking Maine off in the season-opener may qualify as well, if only because it was the first game of the season and no one knew Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette would be this bad.

The Warriors have played nine games against six different teams, and the combined record of those six clubs is 13-31-9. Now, there is certainly something to be said for the Warriors beating the teams they’ve played, that’s all that can be asked of them at this point.

Saturday’s UMass, UMass-Lowell game is huge

Both Massachusetts and its sister to the east, UMass-Lowell, enter the weekend riding less-than-likely, three-game winning streaks. Two weekends ago, the Minutemen knocked off Boston College in Amherst before picking up a pair of wins this weekend against Holy Cross and Northeastern. Meanwhile, Lowell’s unlikely run began with a 7-1 steam rolling of Boston University before the River Hawks went up to Alfond Arena and took a pair for Maine.

UML’s three-game run is easily the more impressive of the two streaks, and both clubs need the two points at stake on Saturday. On Friday, the Minutemen host Maine, and UML makes the short trip to Durham for its first game with UNH.

Currently, both clubs have six points in conference play and sit tied with Maine for sixth place. Now, we’ll give Lowell the edge in this regard, having played three fewer conference games than UMass. Perhaps more important than the standings at this point for these two teams is the momentum and confidence building. Both teams are very young and, while boasting solid cores of skilled players, are largely unproven at several key areas.

While it still seems unlikely that either of these teams will be more than a bottom half playoff team, the two games they play this weekend will go a long way in showing us where Don Cahoon and Norm Bazin are in their rebuilding processes.

Northeastern players just don’t get it

You know what’s a really good idea? Taking a charging minor when you’re tied, 2-2, on the road in a conference game against a team you will almost certainly be battling with for a playoff spot. That’s exactly what sophomore Braden Pimm did on Saturday night to give UMass a power play with 7 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in regulation. Sophomores Conor Sheary and Branden Gracel combined for a beautiful goal when Gracel one-timed a shot past Chris Rawlings to give the Minutemen a 3-2 lead. An empty-net goal put the game away, and Northeastern’s winless streak extended to seven games.

Now, I was not in Amherst on Saturday, but I’ve been told the call on Pimm wasn’t an obvious minor. Still, Northeastern coach Jim Madigan is obviously frustrated with his team.

“Same channel. Same station,” Madigan said, according to the Boston Herald. “We competed and worked hard, but we met the enemy and it was us. Another penalty at an inopportune time.”

In their last three games, the Huskies have allowed a power play in the third period that either tied the game or put their opponent ahead. On Saturday, it was Pimm’s charge. The night before, an interference minor to Luke Eibler gave Boston College a power play that led to a BC game-winning goal with two seconds left in regulation. Two Saturdays ago, an elbowing minor to Garrett Vermeersch gave Merrimack the opportunity it needed to tie the game before winning it overtime.

Discipline has been a problem with Northeastern throughout this season and last both on and off the ice. Madigan has said he thinks his team is over it, but more games have only resulted in more stupid penalties taken at bad times. People worried about NU’s scoring depth, but that seems just fine. The consistency of goaltender Chris Rawlings was always an issue, but he’s been fine depsite the current winless streak. The issue now is discipline, and they’ve shown no signs of fixing that problem.

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