Three Things I Think, February 13

Posted by: Joe Meloni

Strong weekends from Providence and New Hampshire have cemented the field for the 2012 Hockey East Tournament to an extent. The Wildcats’ three-point weekend has them in seventh place in Hockey East, one point back of Providence in sixth. More importantly, UNH has opened up a four-point lead over Northeastern and Massachusetts, currently deadlocked in eighth place.

For the Friars, a four-point weekend has essentially guaranteed them a playoff spot. However, fifth-place is likely unreachable with Maine and Merrimack five points clear of the Friars. Despite the certainty of the seven of the eight playoff teams, the races for seeding will be as contested as they’ve been in recent years, with just two points separating Merrimack and Maine from first-place UMass Lowell.

This weekend’s matchup between Boston University and UMass Lowell will be among the most important series of the season and have serious implications in conference and on the national scene. Currently, BU is No. 2 in the PairWise, with UML in a three-way tie for fourth.

Schedule gives Northeastern advantage over UMass

Both Northeastern and UMass have six games remaining in Hockey East, with Northeastern having a seventh to play in Monday’s Beanpot Consolation Game against Harvard. However, five of the Huskies’ six remaining conference games will come at Matthews Arena, traveling only to BU to open a regular season-ending, home-and-home pair with the Terriers.

UMass is on the road for three of its six remaining games, including two in Orono against Maine this weekend. Despite picking up its first road win of the season against BU on Friday night, life away from the Mullins Center hasn’t been especially kind to the Minutemen this season. UMass is 1-9-2 in road games this season. After Maine, UMass hosts UNH for two and closes the season with a home-and-home against Merrimack.

Northeastern’s home record is a pedestrian 4-4-1 on the year, but any coach would take five of six at home during a playoff race. With the clubs tied for eighth place with 16 points and having split the series, 1-1-1, NU owns the tiebreaker currently with seven conference wins to UMass’ six.

Parker Milner has earned the No. 1 job for Boston College down the stretch

Replacing John Muse has been a work in progress for BC coach Jerry York all season. At different times, freshman Brian Billet, junior Parker Milner and even seldom-used senior Chris Venti have started consecutive games for the Eagles. While each was strong for some stretches, they were equally unimpressive at times, forcing York to play whomever he thought was best in practice or presented the best matchup.

Right now, that guy is Parker Milner. He’s started the last four games for the Eagles,  all BC wins. While the junior hasn’t been brilliant in these games, he’s allowed three goals or fewer in each game. These wins haven’t come against the conference’s best teams, but Milner’s steady goaltending has been enough to assert BC back into the race for the No. 1 seed and position the club for its third straight Beanpot.

A difficult outing against Boston University in Monday’s Beanpot final could throw the job into further question, but the alternatives haven’t shown they can win consistently at this level. York is going to ride Milner through the stretch run and into the playoffs, because that’s really his only option.

It’s not perfect, but defense has come together for New Hampshire

Just two weeks, UNH was in ninth place. With 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, the thought of UNH missing the Hockey East Tournament altogether was unbelievable. However, a four-game unbeaten streak has lifted UNH into the race with PC for sixth place. Beyond that, UNH is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games, driven mostly by the emergence of Casey DeSmith in goal and the stabilization of UNH’s defense.

In their 10 games, the Wildats have dropped their goals-allowed per game from 3.50 in their first 19 to 1.80. The difference is pretty stark, and DeSmith has been the main adjustment made by UNH coach Dick Umile.

On the year, the freshman’s goals-against average is 2.05 and his save percentage registers at .932. Those are Kevin Regan-esque numbers and a major reason for UNH’s resurgence. Whether or UNH can compete against the top teams in the league, though, will depend on their defensive efforts in these games. DeSmith is 0-4-1 in starts against Boston University, Boston College, Merrimack and Maine. As of now, UNH would play BU in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, a team it was 0-3-0 against in their meetings this season. BU boasts the No. 2 scoring offense in Hockey East and poses a serious threat to the improving, but still unprove, UNH defense and its new No. 1 goaltender.

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