Three Up, Three Down, February 21

Posted by: Joe Meloni

The postseason awards in Hockey East are always great for conjecture. As we quickly approach the end of the regular season, nearly all of the league’s end of year distinctions have resulted in heated debates on various web forums.

In the player of the year battle, the discussion will likely fall to Maine’s Spencer Abbott, who enters this weekend’s trip to Northeastern with 16 goals and 36 assists, for a league- and nation-high 52 points. However, there’s little doubting that Boston College’s Chris Kreider is the best player in the conference, if not the country, based solely on his raw talent and prospects as a pro.

Meanwhile, the freshman of the year race is down to either BC’s Johnny Gaudreau or Massachusetts-Lowell’s Scott Wilson. Once again, Wilson possesses the edge in almost every statistical category, but Gaudreau’s recent brilliance has led some to consider the BC winger the favorite.

These final few weeks will determine the winners — along with that whole business of a conference champion. No matter where your allegiances lie nor where your conclusions for these individual honors rest, it’s safe to say we’re in for a fantastic finish.

Three Up

Alex Chiasson, Junior, Forward, Boston University

The 2011-12 season got even worse for Boston University Sunday morning when Max Nicastro was arrested on sexual assault charges. BU’s been through his before, as Corey Trivino as also arrested on charges related to an on-campus incident in December. After the Trivino arrest and the departure of Charlie Coyle to the QMJHL, the Terriers needed several players to pick them up. Now, with Nicastro out of the lineup, there are more questions.

Alex Chiasson has been one of those players emerging as a leader for the Terriers. In the 13 games since the second half began, Chiasson has 21 points on seven goals and 14 assists. The bruising power forward seems to have finally embraced the role his frame and skill-set suit him so well for.

There are few defenders in the league that can neutralize the winger’s mix of size and skill.

His 21 points since Dec. 31 have made him BU’s leading scorer with 35 on the season. However, the Terriers will need the junior and other players to lead them through the turbulence created by Nicastro’s arrest, which will inevitably, and rightfully, include concerns over the players and their behavior within the BU community.

Johnny Gaudreau, Freshman, Forward, Boston College

Since a 14-game stretch saw Johnny Gaudreau put up just two goals and three assists, the freshman has rediscovered his scoring touch. In his last nine games, he’s scored seven and setup six other goals for the Eagles. Gaudreau has also posted a plus-9 in the stretch.

His two goals and two assists in the Beanpot, earned him the tournament’s MVP award and lifted him back into the conversation for Hockey East freshman of the year. Scott Wilson is the clear frontrunner for that honor, but Gaudreau’s recent performance has elevated his candidacy — not to mention BC.

The Eagles currently lead Hockey East heading into the final two weekends of regular season play. On a broader scope, BC is No. 1 in the PairWise. Their resurgence is largely due to Gaudreau’s play of late. As his game picked up, the Eagles’ did the same, winning seven of their last nine after starting the second half 2-2-1.

Mike Pereira, Sophomore, Forward, Massachusetts

After a horrid 14-game stretch beginning on Nov. 19 and ending on Jan. 28 saw the sophomore score once, Mike Pereira has avoided a slide similar to his second half a season ago. In his last six games, he has scored eight goals, including his second career hat trick two Saturdays ago against Providence.

His success has not necessarily contributed to a strong push by the Minutemen, they’re just 2-4-0 in that time; but it’s the second half, so seeing even one player in Amherst succeed is something to note.

The Minutemen are in their usual second half race for the final spot in the Hockey East Tournament, and they’ll need to outdo Northeastern in these final four games to play after their regular-season finale against Merrimack on March 3. Should Pereira continue his play of late, UMass will be in much better position to qualify for the postseason.

Three Down

Danny Hobbs, Senior, Forward, Massachusetts

Danny Hobbs started the second half with points in seven consecutive games, and the Minutemen enjoyed similar success with a 4-1-2 record in that time. Since, Hobbs has picked up just one assist. The eight-game stretch has also seen UMass struggle — the Minutemen are 2-6-0 in those eight games.

Hobbs battled through a series of injuries in the first half, often practicing just once per week or not at all before weekend games. However, he and UMass coach Don Cahoon said Hobbs was completely healthy as the second half began. Whether Hobbs has reaggravated these injuries or not is unknown. Either way, the Minutemen need their senior captain to produce. With four games left in the regular season, next weekend’s pair with New Hampshire would be a good time to start.

Ross Mauermann, Freshman, Forward, Providence

Midway through the season, Ross Mauermann seemed like a lock for the Hockey East All-Freshman Team. He ended the first half of his rookie year with five goals and eight assists, and one of the many reasons PC was a contender for home ice.

All of that has changed, however, with Mauermann picking up just five points in his last 10 games. What’s more, he heasn’t scored since netting a pair against Vermont on Jan. 15.

The Friars have followed a similar path, going 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. The absence of leading goal-scorer Tim Schaller hasn’t helped, but other players need to elevate their game accordingly. Very few players have done so, and PC has suffered. The Friars are still a near lock to finish in the sixth of seventh in the league, which would be good for their first Hockey East Tournament berth since the 2007-08 season. However, Schaller will likely be on the shelf once again for PC after suffering an injury in last Friday’s 1-1 tie with Northeastern.

Vinny Saponari, Junior, Forward, Northeastern

Northeastern need’s a lift. The Huskies are currently tied with UMass for the final spot in the Hockey East Tournament and are without the services of Cody Ferriero for the remainder of the season. Steve Quailer’s status moving forward is also in question. A player with the championship experience of Vinny Saponari should be able to lift his game during such a pivotal time, but the numbers haven’t been there.

In his last seven games, the junior has scored one goal. While the marker was an important one, an overtime game-winner against UMass on Feb. 3, not much else has gone right for Saponari or Northeastern.

Going 3-3-2 in their last eight games is hardly a major setback, especially considering two of those losses came in Beanpot games. As important as that tournament is, the Huskies are 3-1-2 in their last six conference games — not a bad run. Still, they need Saponari to contribute. His leadership and play without the puck have been there all year. But Northeastern is going to need goals in the coming weekends, as series with Maine and Boston University will ultimately decide the Huskies’ fate.

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