Last night, we rewarded the best performers in Hockey East in the first half. Chris Kreider and Joe Cannata were the big winners, as the former received our nod for Player of the First Half and Cannata was the unanimous choice for the league’s top netminder — both players were also named to our first team.
Aside from the various lists and all-conference teams we conducted our own little vote on, we thought more critically about the league. Looking back on some of the best and worst moments from the first half and turning our eyes ahead to the second half, below is a list of some of the most interesting things that have already happened and a few more we think you’ll be talking about throughout the second half.
Most Surprising Player
Chad Ruhwedel, Defenseman, Sophomore, UMass Lowell
Doug Carr, Goaltender, Sophomore, UMass Lowell
Between the five Hockey East writers included in this poll, two chose Ruhwedel and three chose Carr. While that clearly tilted the nod in favor of Carr, it’s only appropriate to credit both players for their remarkable performances guiding UMass Lowell to an unlikely 10-5-0 first half.
Carr has been nothing-short-of fantastic for the River Hawks, and his 1.82 goals-against average and .934 save percentage would typically be good enough for tops in the conference. Joe Cannata’s brilliance is the only thing keeping Carr down at this point, but it’s like UML coach Norm Bazin is more than satisfied with the goaltending he’s received since giving Carr the keys to the River Hawks.
Meanwhile, in front of Carr, Ruhwedel has emerged into one of the best young players in Hockey East. His two goals and 12 assists make him the leading scorer in the conference among defensemen. As UML looks to build off its strong start, Ruhwedel needs to continue his progress.
Most Disappointing Player
Matt Di Girolamo, Goaltender, Senior, New Hampshire
After his steady play led the Wildcats to the Northeast Regional final last season, many expected a big season for Di Girolamo. However, a truly dreadful first half for the UNH defensive corps and his own inability to make saves has made the first four months of his senior year truly forgettable. In his 15 games played, Di Girolamo is 6-7-1 with a 3.36 goals-against average and an .885 save percentage. Both numbers place him toward the bottom the conference, which is exactly where UNH sits — in eighth place, five points out of a home ice spot.
UNH coach Dick Umile’s system of sitting for two years and starting for two years has served the Wildcats well. But Di Girolamo is proving to be the exception. Should the Wildcats continue their impressive run of NCAA Tournament appearances, they’ll need more from their senior netminder. At this point, a league tournament berth may be a bit of a stretch as well.
Most Surprising Team
This should come as no surprise. Throughout the first half, we all asked “Is UMass Lowell for real?” After a 7-1 win over Boston University on Nov. 5, most still refused to give Norm Bazin’s groups any credit, but the River Hawks just kept on winning. While UML ended its first half with a tough, 3-2, loss to Northeastern, it won five straight before that, which included a sweep of UNH and a win over Boston College. The team that finished in 10th place last year and fired its coach enters the second half with a 10-5-0 record — currently good enough for the fourth and final home ice spot.
Bazin’s aggressive system has made it difficult for teams around Hockey East to play their own systems and allowed his players to create mistakes with alarming frequency. When the second half of the season begins and teams around the league begin playing their best hockey, it will be interesting to see what — if any — adjustments can be made to slow the River Hawks down.
Most Disappointing Team
UNH has certainly had its struggles in the first half of the season, after an 0-4-1 start. Not until Oct. 28 against Union did the Wildcats pick up their first win. The issues for UNH are pretty easy to spot. Led by Stevie Moses, the Wildcats are fourth in the league in scoring with 3.35 goals per game. Burdened by an inexperienced defensive unit, defensively uncommitted group of forwards and an underperforming, overrated goaltender, the Wildcats are ninth in Hockey East in team defense, allowing 3.41 goals per game.
Northeastern Sweeps Notre Dame in South Bend – Dec. 2-3
No one questioned the validity of Northeastern’s six-game winning streak to end the first half more than I did — even after the Huskies defeated the Fighting Irish, 9-2, in their first meeting and 2-1 in the second. Whether or not you think NU’s sweep in South Bend was anything more than a few bad games by the Irish and a few good ones from the Huskies, the symbolic importance of that win is huge for the conference. Aside from the PairWise boost the conference receives from the sweep, it also showed a fanbase of a team two seasons away from Hockey East that it’s not just BC and BU it needs to compete with.
The sizable NU student group that headed out to South Bend were asked on more than occasion I’ve been told “Where is Northeastern?” The Fighting Irish fans quickly found out where Northeastern was, and what it had to offer. They’ll learn in a couple seasons what else the league can throw at it.
The Arrest of Corey Trivino
Corey Trivino was on pace for a truly special season for Boston University before a few student decisions led to his immediate dismissal from the team. Shortly thereafter, Charlie Coyle also decided to leave BU, opting to sign with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. While Coyle’s loss will be felt on the ice, the Trivino incident will leave a mark on the program for years to come.
UML, Providence and NU take over. This conference has its typical leaders, and none of those three teams are one of them. They’re three teams with first year coaches, each underdogs in their own right. Yet, they’ve each experienced big successes in the first half, Providence defeating then Merrimack twice, and UML and NU going on five- and six-game winning streaks, respectively. Not to mention big wins for UML over BC and NU over Notre Dame. If these three teams can maintain their level of play coming into the second half, they have the potential to shake up the standings.
— Jill Saftel
Massachusetts makes a charge up the Hockey East standings and contends for home ice until the final weekend, as the success of first-half surprising teams UMass Lowell and Providence begins to tail off.
— Michael King
UMass Lowell qualifies for the NCAA Tournament. This would’ve been a lot bolder before the season, but I get the sense that there are still a lot of people who expect the River Hawks to slow down and drop a bit in the standings. I don’t. I understand people thinking there’s no way they could possibly go from being so bad last year to so good this year, but I just don’t think they’re a fluke. I’ve seen them play six times this season, and they’ve looked as good as the record and stats indicate. They’re getting great goaltending. Their defense is outmuscling teams down low and blocking shots. Their forwards are forechecking hard and cycling well. And their special teams have been very good. Sounds like a formula for sustained success to me.
— Scott McLaughlin
UMass Lowell will go toe and toe with Boston University for the regular season league title come late February. They may fall just short but the run that this team will make will surprise many who have not seen them play. With Doug Carr leading the way, Lowell will become the hunted instead of the hunter. They will handle the role nicely. BU will continue to roll on without two major pieces of the puzzle, the talent is still there for them to make a run, if they can recover quick after the break.
— Josh Seguin
We see a champion outside of the for big four for the first time since Providence in 1996. In the 15 years since Providence defeated Maine, 3-2, in the Hockey East Championship game, no club other than Maine, UNH, BC or BU has won Hockey East. BC looks like it usual self at the moment, and, despite the departures of Corey Trivino and Charlie Coyle, BU could very well challenge for the Lamoriello Trophy. But I’m looking at North Andover and I’m looking at Lowell, when I make this claim. Either UMass Lowell or Merrimack is going to win the Hockey East Championship this season, and the league will be better for it.
— Joe Meloni
New Hampshire will continue its season of mediocrity and have its first losing season since the 1995-96 season. The defensive issues that the Wildcats have experienced will continue into the second half.
— Josh Seguin
BU slows down and missed NCAA Tournament. After a slow start, the Terriers had won seven of their last eight entering the break and appeared to be not just a Hockey East title contender, but perhaps a national title contender as well. But after losing two of their top five scorers in Corey Trivino and Charlie Coyle, it’s just hard to see them continuing to play at that high of a level. Perhaps everyone will band together and rally in the face of adversity, but the fact remains that those are two huge losses that make BU worse no matter how optimistically you look at it.
— Scott McLaughlin
Boston College solves its power play woes as it wins the Hockey East regular season and tournament championships en route to another Frozen Four appearance.
— Michael King
BU folds (a little) under pressure. They’re sitting pretty in the Hockey East standings at the halfway mark in second place, but the week before break was a bumpy one for BU. Losing leading scorer Corey Trivino was a big hit, but the news that Charlie Coyle would be departing to focus on his professional hockey career in the QMJHL only made the wound deeper. BU is a strong and talented team, but that’s a big hole to fill both physically on the ice and emotionally within the team. I think it’s reasonable to think we’ll see some surprising losses from them in the second half.
— Jill Saftel
When Bill Arnold returns from his duty at the World Junior Championships, he, Chris Kreider and Johnny Gaudreau form the best line in college hockey. BC coach Jerry York put the three together for the first time in a 6-1 win over BU on Dec. 3. Prior to that game, both Gaudreau and Arnold found themselves in scoring slumps, as Gaudreau has just one goal and Arnold collected a goal and two assists. While Kreider was his usual dynamic self in that stretch — four goals and two assists — each player has collected three points in the three games since York put them together. The group is among the most talented in the nation, and Kreider’s continued emergence as one of best in college hockey will only make the trio even more successful for BC.
— Joe Meloni