Three Things I Think: Hockey East

Posted by: Joe Meloni

The series between Boston College and Boston University received most of the attention this weekend as the Commonwealth Avenue schools split a pair played at both ends of the road. But it was a pair of sweeps — one completed in Durham, N.H., the other in North Andover, Mass. — that really cemented a pair of clubs as contenders in the 2011-12 Hockey East season.

UMass Lowell is a contender for more than just fourth place

The River Hawks defeated New Hampshire twice this weekend, and the wins clinched the season series for Norm Bazin’s club. It was a loss to UNH last month that many used to claim Lowell was little more than a mid-level club incapable of building on the three-game winning streak it had put together at that point. Since, UML has won four consecutive games with the pair over UNH coming most recently.

This weekend didn’t cement Lowell as a good team. We knew that before its game with UNH on Friday. What we — or maybe just I — gleaned from the results it post on Friday and Saturday is that Lowell can win this league. Sophomore Doug Carr continued his brilliance with 45- and 33-save efforts this weekend, and the Lowell offense continued to display its depth with six different players scoring. Currently, eight different Lowell players have at least 10 points on the season.

Sweeping an inconsistent Maine team in Orono and crushing a then-fledgling BU team meant Lowell was a contender for home ice. Taking two from a desperate UNH club, including a convincing 5-3 win at the Whittemore Center, means the River Hawks are more than capable of winning their first league championship. Friday’s game against BC should be an even better indicator of Lowell’s progress.

Merrimack needs to be smarter

The Merrimack roster is a little bit older than most around the league, and it’s a little bit bigger than them too. Both facts are part of MC coach Mark Dennehy’s plan for success, attracting older players from successful junior programs and some guys who are simply stronger than their opponents.

With these two facts must come some experience, though, as a lack of discipline and a few questionable hits resulted in the Warriors picking up 70 penalty minutes on their 6-1 loss to Providence Saturday night.

And with those 70 penalty minutes came 14 power plays for the Friars — five of which resulted in goals. Now, three of those scores came on a 5-minute major resulting from a Jordan Heywood major and game misconduct, but it’s simply unacceptable for a team looking to put together a season worthy of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to play as carelessly. A game misconduct to head coach Mark Dennehy in the final minutes of the game punctuated the frustrating evening and weekend, in which PC served Merrimack its first two losses of the season.

Even before the 70-penalty minute evening for MC the Warriors averaged 17.8 penalty minutes per game, second most in the league behind BU. Questioning Merrimack as a conference and national championship contender is just stupid at this point, but, should the Warriors to play as they did on Saturday, they could easily waste what may very well be its best chance to win the program’s first championship of any kind in Division I.

Yasin Cisse is going to be something special for BU

After missing all but one game last season with an ankle injury and working himself back into game shape for the first handful of week this year, BU redshirt freshman Yasin Cisse has become a regular in the lineup for Jack Parker. Cisse stands 6-foot-3, weighs 210 pounds and has looked increasingly comfortable since returning against Lowell on Nov. 5.

In his first six games, he was pointless and often looked lost on the ice. Even the physical side of the game seemed foreign to Cisse, but his stride has come. In the first period of the Terriers’ 5-3 win over BC on Friday, he took a pass from freshman Alexx Privitera and broke in alone on BC goaltender Parker Milner. A quick fake left dropped Milner and Cisse lifted the puck into the net for his first collegiate goal.

Parker said earlier this year that Cisse projects as a first line right wing for the Terriers and a truly dominant offensive force in the league. This first full year of college hockey is going to be a learning experience for Cisse, and Parker is using him well — typically on the Terriers fourth line with some combination of Justin Courtnall, Ben Rosen and Ross Gaudet to his left.

Friday, though, Cisse skated with Matt Nieto and Charlie Coyle, as the absence of Chris Connolly forced Parker to shift his lines. Cisse played well and looked more comfortable than he has previously. That was just of glimpse of what the Atlanta Thrashers, of course now located in Winnipeg and called the Jets, saw from Cisse before drafting him in the fifth round in 2010.

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