Three Things I Think, October 15: Hockey East

Posted by: Joe Meloni

So the first set of Hockey East games are over. Not every team has played a league game to this point, and it’s impossible to tell if anything is really greater or worse than what most expected. There were, however, some surprises in this first week of action. Merrimack’s win at Union to kick the season off sent some shockwaves. More than anything, it reminded us how unpredictable games are in the earliest parts of the season. Regardless, the win may prove large for Merrimack should it end the season on the Pairwise bubble — can’t believe it took me almost two weeks to use the P word.

Northeastern will go as far as Chris Rawlings take them

Despite missing the Hockey East playoffs, and a host of players opting to leave the program, Northeastern boasts one of the most talented forward groups in the league. At the top, the Huskies can score with anyone, and the bottom six possesses all the elements of depth and grit a team needs to compete in this league. However, the defense will be an issue for Northeastern at some point. Through two games, the young group has performed well, and they’ll improve throughout the year. Still, this season, perhaps more than any in recent memory, is about goaltending in Hockey East. Chris Rawlings stopped 63 of 66 shots in the Huskies’ first two games — wins over Merrimack and Boston College. Throughout his career, Rawlings has shown the signs of a dominant Division I goaltender. He’s also looked helpless at times. A reliable — and occasionally brilliant — Rawlings can make Northeastern a factor in Hockey East.

Relax, Boston College is fine

The 19-game winning streak that culminated in a national championship set BC’s expectations unbelievably high coming into this season. The Eagles’ 3-1 loss to Northeastern on Saturday registered as an upset for many, but it’s difficult to consider it more than a minor setback for BC. Jerry York has perfected the art of weathering the early portions of the season and steamrolling everyone in the latter half. Despite this, it still seems strange when the Eagles score just once and lose because of shoddy defending and goaltending. Almost immediately, the questions came about Parker Milner’s ability to repeat his brilliance of a season ago, as well as the lack of finish present last Saturday. The answers to those concerns won’t come for a few weeks, maybe even months. What’s important to remember is that’s never been a problem for BC before.

Providence’s transformation in the last 18 months has been remarkable

Based on Massachusetts-Lowell’s success ago, praising Providence seems misguided. The comparison is faulty, though. Even during the dreadful six-win season of 2010-11, the River Hawks had talent. Most of their roster proved it was Division I capable the following season. The players just needed the right guidance to win games. UML was a relatively successful program in the years prior.

Remembering Providence for the handful of years before to Nate Leaman’s arrival paints a different picture. The Friars were plainly inept. Their players seemed overmatched almost nightly, and people suggested it would take Leaman two or three seasons to build anything resembling a contender. Now, a 14-20-4 record is hardly a breakthrough year for PC, but the greatest differences were in the attitudes of the PC players. They were confident and almost everyone on the roster was markedly better than they played previously. Even still, Leaman seemed almost offended a few weeks ago when I suggested last year was a success. Even with a struggling program, it’s clear Leaman expects to win with Providence now. Last Friday, PC kicked off its season with an 8-2 win against Sacred Heart before dropping its league opener, 4-2, at Agganis Arena in one of the better early-season hockey games I remember seeing. The Friars played even with BU for two periods, but a pair goals late in second sucked most of the energy from Leaman’s team. It was a lesson in winning and working through a difficult few minutes on the road. Following the game, Leaman illustrated a point he knows his team must learn at some point:

“Coming into a tough environment, and we’ve talked a lot about these Hockey East games. If we’re going to be successful, you’ve got to learn to win the one-goal game. In all of these Hockey East games, you’re either up a goal, you’re tied or you’re down by a goal going into the third. That was our first experience with that.”

The first time around, this Providence team didn’t handle the situation well. If the last 18 months have been any indication, that will change quickly.

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