New Hampshire’s win at Agganis Arena on Sunday cemented the Wildcats as a contender in Hockey East. UNH entered the game on a three-game winning streak, allowing a single goal in that span. The offense-by-committee approach Dick Umile counted on before the season had worked effectively, while goaltender Casey DeSmith continued the dominant play that almost carried UNH to a first-round upset of Boston University in last year’s Hockey East tournament.
Sunday, the Wildcats again found themselves on the road against BU with something to prove. The combination of opportunistic scoring and DeSmith’s brilliance carried UNH to a late 2-1 lead before Kevin Goumas sealed it with an empty-net goal. DeSmith stopped 45 shots on Sunday, and the goals came from Goumas, twice, and third-liner Maxim Gaudreault. Goumas is the Wildcats’ clear leader on offense. Even with Austin Block’s tem-high eight goals, Goumas’ playmaking and possession-driving ability have propelled UNH in October and November. His pair of goals on Sunday gave him three for the year to go along with his 10 assists and a plus-11.
Currently, UNH’s 8-1-1 mark and 6-1-1 record in Hockey East has them three points back of Boston College for the top spot in the league standings. Nationally, UNH is currently No. 2 in the Pairwise, behind WCHA leader Denver, which the Wildcats happen to visit this weekend. Defeating BU for the second time this season removed any doubt about UNH as a regional contender. Friday and Saturday’s games with Denver and Colorado College will put their position as a national contender into perspective.
UMass Lowell still has some work to do
Massachusetts-Lowell’s dominant performance at system rival Massachusetts on Sunday was a welcomed sign for UML coach Norm Bazin. UML scored eight times on Sunday, embarrassing the Minutemen at their home rink. Riley Wetmore scored three times on Sunday, Scott Wilson added a goal and three assists and junior Josh Holmstrom continued a strong start with a goal and an assist.
Despite the outburst, the Riverhawks’ offensive woes aren’t solved entirely. The laugher certainly offered some confidence to players like Wetmore and Wilson that UML needs to replicate last season’s success.
UML hosts Princeton on Saturday, and it needs a strong performance to carry any momentum in December and a home-and-home with New Hampshire that kicks off the month. Defensively, Doug Carr has provided strong goaltending throughout the season, and the clubs 2.64 goals allowed per game is good enough to win games in Hockey East. The offense needs to return on a consistent basis, and Wetmore, Wilson and UML’s other most talented players need to do the scoring.
Quinn Smith and Danny Linell are the best BC players you haven’t heard of
College hockey fans know who Johnny Gaudreau is. They’re aware of Pat Mullane and Parker Milner. If they aren’t, that will likely change the time their favorite team plays BC.
There are a few other Eagles impacting games this season, though. A roster flooded with stars and NHL draft picks overshadows the usual grinders that make life miserable for opponents. For BC, two of those players are Danny Linell and Quinn Smith. The Eagles’ bottom six has been effective as a whole, but Smith and Linell stand out almost every night. Usually playing on opposite wings with center Michael Sit, Smith and Linell are small, aggressive forwards that play with confidence and make life difficult for their opponents.
BC’s top six have provided 29 of its 34 goals this season, and that share isn’t likely to change in 2012. Smith, Linell and the Eagles’ other bottom six forwards have served their roles well and added some timely offense as well. Linell scored the game-tying goal on Friday night, capping off a three-goal BC rally. Fourth-line center Patrick Brown scored a game-winning goal in the third period against Massachusetts on Nov. 4.
Smith remains pointless to this point in the season. His contributions, however, have not gone unnoticed by BC coach Jerry York. With second line right wing Destry Straight absent from the lineup on Friday, York inserted Smith alongside Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold and spoke highly of the sophomore’s work in the game.
Neither Smith nor Linell will decide BC’s fate this season. As the Eagles continue their dominant form that led to a national title last season, it will be Gaudreau, Mullane and the other skilled BC forwards that carry them. Support from a rugged bottom six is critical, though, and Linell and Smith currently lead a group capable of balancing the BC attack.
There are no answers for Northeastern
With the exception of a pair of wins over Alabama-Huntsville, Northeastern hasn’t won since Oct. 13. Not to take away from the Chargers, but Northeastern’s 0-6-1 record in its last seven Hockey East games isn’t going to get the Huskies back to the playoffs. For NU coach Jim Madigan, the Huskies problems must be infuriating. Offensively, the Huskies have as much skill as any team in Hockey East, but it hasn’t translated to consistent offense. Through 11 games, Northeastern is averaging 2.18 goals per games. In its five games scoring at least three goals, NU is 4-1-0, and 0-6-1 in its other seven games.
Aside from offense, goaltender Chris Rawlings’ continues to be the biggest enigma in college hockey. A glance at his numbers suggest he’s off to a promising start in his senior season, with .918 save percentage and a 2.35 goals-against average. However, Madigan has pulled him twice after tough starts against New Hampshire and last Friday in Providence. In those two starts, he allowed three goals each time on 14 and 13 shots respectively. Bryan Mountain spelled him the first time and earned a few starts, while Clay Witt got the nod on Friday.
For Northeastern, the answers have to come soon. Even with his struggles, Rawlings is going to be the guy for Northeastern moving forward, and the offense is talented enough to convert more chances than they are currently. Like last year, though, it has to start coming consistently against Hockey East opponents unless this year is going to be the third in the last four without a Hockey East tournament appearance.