After a tumultuous few weeks for many Hockey East teams, many teams will look forward to just getting back on the ice for game action. The slate is busy for many teams this weekend as holiday tournaments are abounded. Vermont hosts its annual Catamount Cup, UMass-Lowell is at the UConn Hockey Classic, UMass and Maine head to Florida for the annual Florida College Classic, Merrimack will make the short trip to Dartmouth for the Ledyard National Bank Classic in Hanover NH., Northeastern travels to the annual Mariucci Cup and Boston College is the fourth participant in the annual Great Lakes Invitational at the Joe Louis Arena.
This weekend of non-conference games will go a long way in determining the field of 16 at the end of the season. As the second half of the season begins the countdown to the multiple Frozen Fenway games begins and the long and grinding road to the Hockey East tournament also commences. The stage has been set for some teams to begin dropping and others to continue their ordinary runs to the league playoffs. Here’s to previewing the long weekend of games this New Year’s weekend.
Toyota UConn Hockey Classic (Thursday and Friday)
UMass-Lowell vs. Rensselaer (Thursday), UMass-Lowell vs. either Army or Connecticut (Friday)
UMass-Lowell will look to continue its strong first half of the season in a tournament that on paper they should be the victors of. With an opening game against a struggling Rensselaer team, the River Hawks will look to get an up on the ECAC by defeating their only ECAC foe on the season.
With a record of 3-1-0 against non-conference teams this tournament should be a good start for the River Hawks as they look to continue their strong play from the first half.
Doug Carr should be the starter in both games. So far this season he is 9-2-0 and has carried Lowell to nine of their ten wins. His performance on the young season has been one of many reasons that Lowell has improved so quick from last season.
Florida College Classic (Thursday and Friday)
Massachusetts vs. Cornell, Massachusetts vs. Maine/Clarkson
UMass had a very inconsistent go of it in the first half of the season going undefeated at home and winless on the road. The Florida College Classic takes place on a neutral rink so predicting how UMass will do should be tricky.
In the nightcap of the first day a young UMass team will take on a defense first Cornell team that earlier this season lost in overtime to another Hockey East team, Boston University. The Big Red have one of the best goalies in the country, in Andy Isles, and are giving up a very stingy 1.64 goals per game while boasting a 7-3-1 record in the first half of the season.
To be successful in the tournament the Minutemen will need to receive solid goaltending and play solid defensively. Kevin Boyle has received the last two starts in net for UMass and one should look for him to start on Thursday against Cornell. So far on the season he is 4-2-0 and has been the strongest of the three goalies that Umass has used on the young season, backboning four of the five Minutemen victories.
Maine vs. Clarkson, Maine vs. UMass/Cornell
Maine enters the second half unbeaten in five of their last six contests, with the lone loss in that period coming against Boston University last time out. So far on the season Maine is 1-1-1 in non-conference action and will look to set itself up for a strong second half of the season.
For the second half to be a successful one Maine will need to develop secondary scoring other than their potent first line and consistent goaltending, that even during their unbeaten streak was relatively inconsistent. Giving up 3.27 goals per game will not defeat some of the better teams in the country.
Dan Sullivan has seemed to develop into the number one goalie in Orono and should receive a weekends work this weekend but with a slip the chance of seeing Martin Ouellette is very high. Sullivan is 5-4-2 on the season while giving up 3.11 goals per game.
Catamount Cup (Thursday and Friday)
Lake Superior at Vermont (Thurs.), Ferris State at Vermont (Friday)
Vermont enters the second half in the midst a season long struggle. The first half is one that the Catamounts would love to forget about after finishing it with a record of 3-12-1. Keeping the puck out of the net has been the major issue in Burlington as the Catamounts are giving up over four goals per game, on the season. Both the young defense and senior goaltender Rob Madore have struggled on the season but the offense hasn’t helped them out in any way either scoring only 2.25 goals per game.
This weekend, Vermont will look to develop some sort of a balanced attack without arguably their most skilled forward, Connor Brickley, who is currently playing at the World Junior Championship for team USA. Working on this consistency may be what Vermont needs but this weekend will prove to be a challenge for the Catamounts as their two opponents have combined for 22 wins on the season. A win in either game this weekend by the Catamounts would be a huge boost for Hockey East in the Pairwise rankings but Vermont has dug themselves a huge hole to climb out of.
Rob Madore should receive both starts on the weekend. He is in the midst of a struggle but Vermont will need him to improve to have any success in the second half.
Great Lakes Invitational (Thursday and Friday)
Boston College vs. Michigan, Boston College vs. Michigan State/Michigan Tech
Boston College will head to Hockeytown USA this weekend for two crucial matchups against CCHA foes. In the first game, Boston College will face the always tough Michigan Wolverines. Michigan is having a relatively down year so far, according to Michigan’s high standards in the past decade or so but that should be no indication on how this game will play out.
So far this season, Boston College is 3-2-1 in non-conference action but has played one of the toughest schedules in the country and this weekend will be no different.
Freshman, Brian Billet has started the last three games for the Eagles and would be the presumed starter going into the tournament but Parker Milner could also start a game. In the early going, the action went primarily to Parker Milner but now the times have changed as Billet has been solid and led the Eagles to wins against Yale, Boston University and Providence.
Ledyard Bank Tournament (Friday and Saturday)
Merrimack vs. St. Lawrence, Merrimack vs. Dartmouth/Holy Cross
Merrimack raced out to a 9-0-1 start to the season but has struggled mightily in their last 5 games going 1-3-1 in those tilts. The defense and goaltending has stayed relatively strong in those games but scoring only six goals in those five games has been the main issue for the Warriors.
This is another tournament that I am going to say the Hockey East team should win. Dartmouth and Merrimack are the class of the field but St Lawrence has historically given Hockey East teams fits. Before the break St Lawrence defeated a reeling Vermont team 2-1.
Merrimack will start stalwart Joe Cannata in net who comes into this weekend with impressive numbers. His 1.77 GAA and .937 save percentage are good for tops in Hockey East.
Mariucci Classic (Friday and Saturday)
Northeastern vs. Princeton, Northeastern vs. Minnesota/Niagara
One of the hottest teams in the country Northeastern heads to Minnesota in the midst of a seven game winning streak. This seven game winning streak has been impressive in nature mainly because of the opponents that Northeastern has defeated. With two wins over Notre Dame, a win over Michigan, and win over UMass-Lowell the huskies will hope to continue its dominance over top teams in the second half.
Getting strong goaltending and scoring, the Northeastern threat has been balanced. Chris Rawlings will receive both starts this weekend and has been strong in net in recent weeks. One can look for Northeastern to continue winning as long as Rawlings stays consistent and strong in net.
Other games this weekend
New Hampshire vs. Brown (Friday)
New Hampshire will look to start the second half stronger than they did the first half, when they started 0-4 on the season. Winning non-conference games has not been the Wildcats strongest suit in the past few years and this year has been no different, as they have gone 2-2-1 in their 5 previous non-conference tilts this season.
Last season New Hampshire and Brown skated to a 5-5 tie, where Brown raced out to a 5-3 lead with two minutes to go in the game only to see the Wildcats erase that lead on two goals within 11 seconds to seal the tie. This would not be the desired route to any success for UNH in this game.
New Hampshire will look to improve upon its porous defense play this season in the second half. Consistency in net will also be a goal of UNH and the starter for Friday could be either senior Matt Di Girolamo or freshman Casey Desmith, who had a solid performance in his first career start against BU the last game of the first half.
Boston University at Notre Dame (Saturday)
Boston University enters this weekend without the services of two of their top players from the first half, Charlie Coyle and orey Trivino. The challenge will be especially high in this game because their top defenseman, Adam Clendening will not be available because of his participation in the World Junior Championship.
Notre Dame has gone 1-2-0 in three games against Hockey East Foes but will be without their top forward and Hobey Baker candidate, Tj Tynan and also their top defenseman, Stephen Johns, as both are currently playing in the World Junior Championship. Boston University has gone 2-1-0 in three non-conference tilts this season.
Kieran Millan will start for the Terriers on Saturday night. He is 8-5-1 on the season with a 2.68 goals against average and .927 save percentage.