Three Up, Three Down

Posted by: Joe Meloni

Boston College coach Jerry York’s decision to surround center Bill Arnold with wingers Chris Kreider and Johnny Gaudreau has already resulted in minor bursts from the trio. It’s been two games, and each player’s minor scoring droughts have morphed in point streaks. Should York keep the gifted group together for this weekend’s test in Lowell, this list could include the names of its most usual suspects when we officially close the first half.

For now, some interesting names enter the final weekend of the first half on some equally interesting streaks. On the other end, three players vital to their respective teams’ success are coming off forgettable weeks — or even months — that have contributed to extended losing streaks.

Three up

Spencer Abbott, Senior, Forward, Maine

The Black Bears ended a three-game losing streak on Nov. 18 with a 2-2 tie in Amherst, Mass., against Massachusetts. Since, the club has pieced together a three-game winning streak punctuated by an easy 5-2 win over Vermont in Burlington on Saturday night.

In the middle of their sweep of the Catamounts was senior winger Spencer Abbott who began the weekend with five-point night on Friday. His three goals and two assists spurred a 6-4 win. In the second game, Abbott suffered a minor set back, picking up a mere four points — two goals and two assists — in Maine’s victory that clinched the season series with UVM.

The nine-point weekend pushed Abbott atop the league’s scoring leaders with 10 goals and 13 assists, good enough to hold a modest one point lead over BC winger Chris Kreider. Moreover, the four points Maine collected, a feat Abbott is almost exclusively responsible for, lifted Maine to sixth place in the conference — just one point shy of both UMass Lowell and Providence — with its final game of the first half coming Saturday night. Maine’s first game of the season against Boston University provides another opportunity for Abbott to boost his own totals and help push the Black Bears’ winning streak to four.

Brian Billet, Freshman, Goaltender, Boston College

After a 40-save performance in his first career game against Boston University, freshman goaltender Brian Billet credited his defense and his coach for his success. The type of thing a rookie does when he calls Jerry York coach. This unquestioned confidence, though, did not extend both ways earlier in the season when Billet failed to impress York in practice.

As a result, he spent the first 13 games of the season watching junior and presumptive No. 1 Parker Milner lead the Eagles to nine victories. Two weeks ago, York opted to give his freshman the nod for a Saturday afternoon matchup with Yale in New Haven, Conn. Billet impressed, too, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 win.

York liked what he saw from the poised newcomer, enough to ensure that the kid would get another start the following weekend in one of the two games against BU. After the Terriers defeated Milner and BC, 5-3, at Conte Forum, Billet manned the crease in hostile Agganis Arena and made 40 saves in a 6-1 BC win against its rival. Following the game, York was clear in calling his goaltending situation a battle for the foreseeable future. For now, the hot goaltender is going to play for the Eagles.

Right now, that means Billet, who received his second consecutive start on Tuesday night in a 4-1 win over Providence at Conte. The Friars managed just 17 shots on the evening, and Billet proved up to 16 of them. After his first three collegiate starts, the rookie is 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage. York still says there is no clear No. 1 goaltender on his team. Billet disagrees.

Chris Rawlings, Junior, Goaltender, Northeastern

Chris Rawlings played well in a 4-2, Nov. 12 loss to UMass in Amherst. The junior made 39 saves, still the Huskies suffered their seventh defeat in their first 10 games of the season. A 1-7-2 start to the season, naturally, resulted in questions regarding Rawlings’ status as the Huskies’ No. 1 goaltender. While he never played especially poor, sophomore Clay Witt, a talented goaltender in his own right, developed a steady amount of fan support, as many on Huntington Avenue simply wanted to see some changes.

First-year NU coach Jim Madigan opted to stay with Rawlings, and it’s proved to be the best decision he’s made. In Northeastern’s five games since, Rawlings — and the Huskies — are undefeated, including a win at Yost Ice Arena against Michigan two weeks ago and a sweep in South Bend, Ind., of Notre Dame. The three huge wins pushed the Huskies into 23rd in the PairWise, and Rawlings into the discussion as one of the hottest — let’s not say best just yet — goaltenders in the league.

During Northeastern’s five-game run, Rawlings has posted a 1.40 goals-against average and a Brad Thiessen-like .952 save percentage. The Huskies welcome UMass Lowell — the league’s other “hottest” team, depending on which blog you read — to Matthews Arena on Saturday night, and Rawlings will need to be his recent self, as the River Hawks average a league-high 35.8 shots per game and enter the weekend having won seven of their last eight and four in a row.

Three down

Matt Di Girolamo, Senior, Goaltender, New Hampshire

Like Billet and Rawlings, Matt Di Girolamo owes his presence on this list to his teammates in front of him to an extent. Throughout the season, the UNH defensemen and the forward lines have been the focus of many a post game complaint from coach Dick Umile. They’ve been lazy, and they’ve been outpositioned, and they’ve been uncommitted. They’re certainly not helping Di Girolamo out on anything resembling a consistent basis. That said, Di Girolamo received praise last year for strong performances in the conference and national tournaments and entered this season as, what looked like, another great UNH goaltender.

Not so much.

In his last five starts, Di Girolamo’s save percentage is .855 with a 4.00 goals-against average — if not for a 9-1 UNH win over Alabama-Huntsville, those numbers would be worse. Most recently, Di Girolamo surrendered a pair of third-period goals against UMass Lowell after his team tied the game, 3-3, earlier in the period — the first of which came just 25 seconds after the game-tying goal.

Umile’s goaltending system has worked — depending on your definition – for some time. Goaltenders sit two years and start two years. Should Di Girolamo’s dreadful season continue, sophomore Jeff Wyer may force Umile to make a pretty tough decision.

Jordan Heywood, Sophomore, Defenseman, Merrimack

Even with last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Providence, the Warriors will enter the second half of the season positioned quite well. Though, the losses to the Friars proved maddening for Warrior fans due to the nature of the defeats. At the center of each loss was sophomore defenseman Jordan Heywood. On Friday, the typically dependable Heywood failed to clear a rebound in front of MC goaltender Joe Cannatta that Providence forward Ross Mauerman slid into the Merrimack net to drop the Warriors for the first time all season.

The following night, Heywood received a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head 45 seconds into the second period. The Friars scored three times on the major penalty and skated to a 6-1 win in a game that ended with MC coach Mark Dennehy’s ejection and 70 penalty minutes for the Warriors.

Not much has gone wrong for Merrimack this season, and it’s likely that last weekend’s struggles were little more than some undisciplined play and poor execution. However, in this Hockey East race, that’s shaping up to be one of the most competitive in recent years, a point or two lost could change an awful lot — and Merrimack can’t have players as trusted as Heywood doing the damage.

Danny Hobbs, Senior, Forward, Massachusetts

UMass coach Don Cahoon expected a big season from his senior captain, and it looked like Danny Hobbs would make good in the early stages of the campaign.

However, the winger has been nearly invisible for the Minutemen since assisting on two goals in a win over Boston College at the Mullins Center on Nov. 5. Since that night and prior to Friday’s 4-4 tie against Harvard — a seven-game stretch — Hobbs has picked up just one point — an assist. Meanwhile, the Minutemen have gone 2-3-2 and winless since a Nov. 12 victory over Northeastern.

Early in the season, UMass expected to receive consistent scoring from its top six forwards — the production from its bottom six was the worry. With Hobbs a non-factor offensively for most the last month, it’s been a struggle for UMass to get much of anything going, it’s suffering as a result. Having already played 11 of their 27 conference games, the Minutemen are currently in ninth place — in danger of missing the Hockey East playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Defense is a major issue for the Minutemen. Even still, the young club needs its best, most experienced players to lead the way, and Hobbs simply isn’t doing that — offensively anyway.

Note: UMass blogger Fear the Triangle rightfully pointed out that I neglected to mention that Hobbs has missed three games this season due a lingering injury.

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