After two weekends filled with Frozen Fenway festivities, Hockey East fans can now turn their full attention to the seven week stretch that leads to the playoffs. For some teams, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Massachusetts and Vermont, most notably, the points earned in these games are at a premium and are necessary if they wish to continue their seasons in March. With only six points separating positions four through nine in the standings, every game will have a huge impact on the standings.
Now that we are out of the non-conference schedule season, other than the Beanpot tournament and Maine’s two game home set against Huntsville, we can look forward to more meaningful battles on the ice between conference foes. This weekend, eight out of ten Hockey East teams will face off in crucial two game series that have the potential of swinging the standings eight points in their favor. Here is my weekly take on trying to preview the weekend’s matchups.
Vermont at Massachusetts
Vermont and UMass will matchup for the third and final time this season on Friday night. This game is important for both teams, but especially the Catamounts. Being in tenth place in the standings, five points out of a playoff gives Vermont no room for error in the coming weeks. Any falter against a team right above them in the standings, like UMass, may push any slim hope they have into one of dreadful realizations that all chance has been lost.
UMass is still undefeated at home on the season and should remain that way this weekend. Last weekend the Minutemen shocked Boston College at the Mullins Center, leaving them undefeated against the Eagles on the season at 2-0. UMass is going in the right direction defensively and in net.
It will be another game time decision for Toot Cahoon on his starting goaltender but he has three capable Hockey East goaltenders to choose from. Steve Masterlerz was the co-Hockey East Defensive player of the week but Kevin Boyle and Jeff Teglia have also stayed hot. Rob Madore should start for the Catamounts on Friday evening.
Northeastern at UMass-Lowell (Friday), UMass-Lowell at Northeastern (Saturday)
Northeastern and UMass-Lowell will play a crucial two game home and home series this weekend. With 14 points in conference play Lowell is four points ahead of Northeastern , whom is in eighth place with ten. This weekend series has the potential to either bring these teams closer or could bring them further apart. With four crucial points on the line, both teams should come out flying on Friday night.
Northeastern is coming off a Frozen Fenway loss to Boston College last Saturday and Friday loss to Boston University. UMass-Lowell is coming off one of their most puzzling losses of season, a 3-2 overtime defeat at the hands of last place Vermont. Along with the importance in the standings for these teams, the importance of gaining momentum for the seven week battle that will ensue for playoff positioning is just as important. These teams last met in a thriller at Matthews right before the holiday break, a game that Northeastern won 3-2.
Carr has been one of the biggest surprises this season but the next few weeks will test him in ways that he has never been tested before. He will start both games this weekend against the Huskies and will put his league leading numbers on the line against Chris Rawlings for Northeastern. Both games have the making of being classic goaltender battles.
Boston College at Maine (Friday and Saturday)
Boston College will head up to Maine for a fast paced series against the Black Bears. The Eagles have been struggling to score goals in the past few weeks and were shutout by UMass last Friday night before scoring just two against Northeastern in a win on Saturday. Since coming back from break, a stretch of five games, the Eagles have scored just eight goals. This is something that is abnormal for the high flying Eagles and will be something that Jerry York will look to change this weekend.
Maine entered last weekend’s two game stretch with Merrimack winners of seven out of eight games but only managed to leave Lawler Arena with a tie and a loss. This was Maine’s worst weekend since early November and will not ruin their season. Maine has the most potent top line in the country and this line should carry them to many wins in the near future.
Dan Sullivan should start both games this weekend for the Black Bears, despite being pulled after giving up five goals on Friday. He has been solid enough to win games for Maine in recent months but his numbers are all but impressive giving up just under 3 goals a game. Chris Venti started and won Saturday against Northeastern. Jerry York now has a three way battle in net and one should expect a game time decision on who he will start this weekend.
New Hampshire at Merrimack (Friday), Merrimack at New Hampshire (Saturday)
New Hampshire enters this weekend in the all important eighth place in the standings and is in desperate need of a good showing this weekend. These teams have not met this season and have not met since Merrimack bounced UNH out of the Hockey East semifinals, last March. With four points on the line this series could be one of the most intriguing of the weekend.
Merrimack enters this weekend off a strong performance against Maine gaining a win and a tie in two home games against the Black Bears. New Hampshire will enter the game riding a two game defensive lockdown of opponents giving up only one goal in those two games and a meager 48 shots in those two games as well, including a 4-1 win against Dartmouth most recently. This defensive performance will need to continue against Merrimack if they wish to have a chance in either game this weekend.
Joe Canatta has been the everyday starter in net for the Warriors and should start both against the Wildcats this weekend. So far this season his numbers have been impressive, with a 2.02 goals against average and a .927 save percentage this season. Casey Desmith has started the last three games in net for the Wildcats and should start this weekend as well. In his last two games he has given up just one goal and has stopped 47 of the 48 shots sent his way. The one question mark that he will face this weekend is how he will perform on back to back nights if he is indeed given the opportunity, as this is the first two game stretch since he has won the starting job between the pipes for UNH.
Providence at Boston University (Friday), Boston University at Providence (Saturday)
Since coming back from the Holiday break, Providence College has struggled to find the form that they had midway through last semester. Since defeating Merrimack on back to back nights the first weekend of December the Friars have gone just 1-3-1 since, with their lone win coming their last time out against Vermont a 5-2 victory up in Burlington.
Boston University enters this weekend tied for the conference lead with Boston College and a game in hand. Boston University won both games last weekend, including a Friday night thriller against Northeastern. This weekend could prove huge for the Terriers, moving forward. Earlier in the season Providence shocked the Terriers at Schneider Arena, defeating them 5-3. The terriers should come into Friday with something to prove but Providence has a lot riding on this two game series and should match the intensity of the Terriers.
The Terriers should start Kieran Millan both games this weekend. He has been solid between the pipes for the Terriers and has given up 2.81 goals per game while saving 91.4 percent of shots sent his way. Alex Beaudry will receive the starts for Providence and has been inconsistent on the season with his .902 save percentage and 2.82 goals against per game.