New Hampshire senior Stevie Moses scored four times on Saturday in the Wildcats’ 4-1 win over Darmouth. A big win for UNH, no doubt, and a good sign for Moses, who is among the upperclassmen charged with helping UNH escape its dreadful first half of the season.
The four-spot moved Moses into the league lead and fourth in the nation in goals with 16 on the season, which would normally lift him into the discussion for player of the year or at least a spot in the favorable portion of this post. But, the streakiness of Moses’ season is one of many reasons the Wildcats enter this weekend’s home-and-home with Merrimack in eighth place. As I said, Moses leads the league in goals, but eight of 16 goals have come in two games — one of which was against Alabama-Huntsville.
Scoring four on Dartmouth? Well done. Scoring four on UAH? He could’ve missed the game entirely, and the Wildcats still would have won by four goals — UNH defeated the Chargers, 9-1. Moses is a great hockey player, easily one of the two or three fastest guys in the league with a dangerous wrist shot. But with half of his scoring production coming in two non-conference games, and his team treading water, Moses’ season is hardly as impressive as his numbers suggest.
Spencer Abbott, Senior, Forward, Maine
Putting Spencer Abbott on this list may seem like a joke, especially after the point just made about Moses. Abbott received similar flack at the end of the first after a nine-point weekend against a struggling Vermont team accounted for more than one-third of his first half output.
The senior used that performance in Vermont to propel him in the second half, where he’s maintained his torrid pace. In the Black Bears’ six games since returning from the break, Abbott has scored two goals and assisted on 10 others. Averaging two points a game is more than enough to warrant his inclusion here and even more to put his name in the running for Hockey East Player of the Year. Maybe I’m getting a bit too far ahead, but a better reason is the Black Bears’ record to this point in the second half. Despite a loss and a tie at Merrimack last week, Maine is 4-1-1 to start the stretch run.
Abbott, center Brian Flynn and winger Joey Diamond have found their stride in this last month, and formed one of the best line’s in the nation. In fact, the trio currently occupies the first, second and third spots in the league in scoring — Abbott leads the way with 12 goals and 23 assists.
Colin Markison, Freshman, Forward, Vermont
In the first half of the season, Vermont freshman Colin Markison recorded just three assists. While he was hardly the only Catamount to struggle, the speedy winger went to Burlington as part of a talented freshman class expected to produce early. It may have a taken a semester longer than most expected — and the Catamounts still look likely to miss the Hockey East Tournament — but Markison’s second half is just one of the reasons the future does look fairly bright for coach Kevin Sneddon.
Markison scored the first goal of his career in a loss to Lake Superior State to open the second half of the season. After an absence from the scoresheet against both Maine and UMass, Markison has scored in consecutive games, including a comeback 3-2 win against UMass Lowell Friday night in Burlington.
A playoff spot for UVM will take something more than a few nice games from a freshman winger. But the Catamounts have to look ahead at some point. There is a talented group returning to Gutterson Fieldhouse next season, and equally gifted freshman class headed that way next year. Markison is part of that group, and a strong second half will put him position for an even better 2012-13.
Conor Sheary, Sophomore, Forward, Massachusetts
Conor Sheary has scored three goals and assisted on five more in UMass’ five games to this point in the second half. The winger typically occupies the right wing on one of UMass’ top two lines, despite his left shot. Whether it’s Branden Gracel and Mike Pereira or Steven Guzzo and Danny Hobbs along his side, Sheary has developed into one of the premier young playmakers in Hockey East.
His eight points in the second half are among the reasons UMass has surged back into a playoff spot — currently a point clear of eighth-place UNH and just four out of a home ice position.
Sheary has recorded at least one point in each of UMass’ five games in the second half, while the Minutemen sit at 3-1-1 in that stretch. Still dealing with the scheduling shifts forced by their participation in Frozen Fenway, the Minutemen have just one game for a second consecutive weekend. A win over Vermont on Friday would help UMass maintain its momentum ahead of a crucial home-and-home with Lowell beginning Jan. 27 in Amherst. If the Minutemen want to enter that weekend with a chance to officially re-enter the race for home ice, Sheary will need to continue his strong play.
Bill Arnold, Sophomore, Forward, Boston College
Since returning from a disappointing stint at the World Junior Championships, Bill Arnold has struggled to reassert himself in the BC lineup. The Eagles are 1-1-1 since, and Arnold is pointless and a minus-2 overall. Offense hasn’t come easy for BC in the last month, which still just doesn’t seem like something that could possibly be true.
When BC coach Jerry York placed Arnold between Chris Kreider and Johnny Gaudreau for a Dec. 3 win at Boston University, it seemed as though the trio would become the line to carry BC through the second half. It didn’t come, however, and York is back to trying different combinations hoping for a spark. Any combination of the gifted forward that make up BC’s top three lines could become that group, but he hasn’t found it just yet.
After the first half, where Arnold equalled his 20 points from all of last season on 11 goals and nine assists, 2011-12 seemed like just another year and a new crop of breakout stars for BC. It hasn’t come in the last three games, though. For the first time in a long time, it seems like there is genuine doubt on Chestnut Hill.
Mike Pereira, Sophomore, Forward, Massachusetts
Since scoring in four consecutive games in early-to-mid November, Mike Pereira has scored just once. The sophomore enters Friday’s game with Vermont with nine goals and nine assists and is widely considered to be one of the better young forwards in the league. Still, the late season struggles that plagued Pereira as a freshman — he had an eight-game goal drought in February — could become a problem once again.
Contributions from other members of the UMass top six have sustained the Minutemen in their current strong start to the second half. There’s little doubting that they need Pereira to get going, though — UMass is 5-1-1 when Pereira scores a goal.
With Sheary’s emergence and seniors Danny Hobbs and T.J. Syner on similar hot streaks, Pereira’s struggles have gone unnoticed to an extent. But last Friday’s win over BC put UMass in position to make a run for a top four spot in Hockey East with a strong second half — something they can’t accomplish without contributions from Pereira.
Steve Quailer, Junior, Forward, Northeastern
Quailer picked up an assist in Friday’s loss to Boston University, and went scoreless in a 2-1 loss to BC on Saturday. Now a 0-1-0 weekend against BC and BU typically wouldn’t earn someone any truly negative attention. The way Quailer ended Friday night’s game, though, led many in Matthews Arena to question if the 7-0-1 stretch that ended NU’s first half and began its second had officially gone to the Huskies’ collective head.
Quailer picked up three costly minors against BU — twice negating power plays — and a 10-minute misconduct for mouthing off to an official with his team looking to tie the game late. Frustration aside, NU coach Jim Madigan expects more from his team — even more from his captains.
Throughout the season, Quailer’s drawn praise from his coaches and teammates for commitment to success and ability to back that up with on-ice production. Friday night’s tantrum was a return to the mindset that saw Quailer sit out the first two games of the season dealing with disciplinary issues leftover from last season.
His seven goals and 12 assists place him atop NU’s scoring leaders, and he has clearly been one of the Huskies’ best players throughout the season. But he’s also a captain and an upperclassman — someone that must be on the ice when the Huskies are down a goal with 2 minutes left in a Hockey East game.