I haven’t done one of these since the first half, and for that I am completely sorry. Real world catches up on all of us I suppose and last week I was catching up on Dartmouth Ledyard Bank Tournament coverage by keeping all of you in the know with features and what not in the days after.
This week marks the return of this preview and I couldn’t have picked a better week to restart, as there is an absolutely huge matchup between the top two teams in Hockey East. New Hampshire and Boston College will meet this weekend in a crucial conference matchup, which will have huge implications on the national picture as well. Another crucial matchup will be UMass and Providence facing off in a home and home series that could have a big impact on the final home-ice spot come Hockey East tournament time. There are many other crucial matchups as well as the teams now get into the meat of the Hockey East schedule, without further ado let’s get to previewing the matchups.
New Hampshire at Boston College (Friday), Boston College at New Hampshire (Saturday)
This is the matchup that has been much anticipated for some time and this matchup could end up deciding the Hockey East regular season title come season’s end, as Boston College leads New Hampshire in the standings by two points with UNH having a game in hand. UNH has won two games in a row since two losses, while BC has a loss and a tie in their last two games. Both games will be sold out, which is strange for the break and this series has the chance to be a classic one.
Boston College will get a late New Years present as leading scorer, and Hobey Baker candidate, Johnny Gaudreau will return fresh off a gold medal with team USA in the World Junior Championship. His return will be huge for a team that has been struggling in the past weeks, with an 8-1 drubbing at the Hands of Minnesota and a tie with Yale last weekend. Against Yale they were dominated and outshot 48-22. If not for Parker Milner, BC would probably be on a two game losing streak.
New Hampshire’s defense has come back to earth in recent weeks, but success has not disappeared as the Wildcats have won two games in a row. Saturday night UNH defeated RPI 5-2 at the Whittemore Center, and hardly looked tested throughout the contest. UNH boasts Hockey East’s top offense, top defense and the nation’s top penalty-kill. The Wildcats PK has scored four shorthanded goals, while allowing just four power-play goals, on the season.
The matchup will pit the top two offenses in Hockey East and will feature two of the better goaltenders in the country, Parker Milner and Casey Desmith. Friday night’s game is on NESN, so if you aren’t at a game, it might be a good idea to watch it.
Prediction: Friday at Conte 3-2 UNH, Saturday at the Whit 5-4 BC
Providence at Massachusetts (Friday), Massachusetts at Providence (Saturday)
The other crucial home and home series this weekend will feature the Minutemen, fresh off their Ledyard Bank Classic championship, and Providence. The matchup will be crucial for positioning as the Friars sit in fourth place in the Hockey East standings with 12 points and UMass sits in seventh with nine points.
Providence enters the tilt winless in five games and fresh off getting swept by Minnesota State over the weekend. If there is a positive coming into this weekend for the Friars, freshman superstar Jon Gillies returns to the lineup from the World Junior gold medal. Gillies is 7-6-2 on the season with a 1.95 GAA, while senior Russ Stein was 0-2-1 with a 4.05 GAA in Gillies absence.
UMass was idle last weekend, but won the Dartmouth tournament a week ago and defeated a really good Dartmouth team 3-2 on the road Monday night. Branden Gracel was key in both games, but so was Kevin Boyle. The latter now sits in eighth place in scoring, while Boyle sits in sixth in GAA at 2.44. Both UMass and Providence sit in fourth place in scoring offense, so the games should be close.
Prediction: UMass sweeps
UMass-Lowell at Vermont (Friday and Saturday)
UML may be the hottest team in Hockey East right now as they enter this weekend on a five game winning streak, while Vermont enters on a home loss to Merrimack. Both teams need points within the conference, as Vermont enters in sixth place with ten points and UML enters tied for eighth with seven points.
Lowell swept Clarkson in the North Country last night, a feat that should not be laughed at. They outscored the Golden Knights 8-3 on the weekend and freshman Connor Hellebuyck took home Hockey East rookie of the week honors. Few would have expected Hellebuyck to be the starter for Lowell at this point in the season, but he has run with it and has a 4-0-0 record in his last four games. Despite being led by strong defense and goaltending in recent weeks, their offense has come alive as well after struggling for most of the first half.
Vermont lost against Merrimack on Saturday snapping their four game unbeaten streak. After a struggle last season, the Catamounts have come to life nicely in recent weeks led by improved goaltending. An increase in confidence in the goaltending and defense has led to an increase in confidence carrying the puck and putting the puck in the net. Brody Hoffman has become the everyday goaltender in Burlington and the Catamounts are much improved this season because of it.
Prediction: Vermont shocks UML 4-2 Friday, UML answers 4-1 Saturday
Maine at Northeastern (Friday)
The bottom two teams in Hockey East will meet on Friday night as both teams enter on losses to Atlantic Hockey foes, Mercyhurst and Bentley. Maine had come alive a bit in recent weeks winning the Florida College Classic defeating Cornell and Minnesota-Duluth, while Northeastern with one in their past four games. Both teams have struggled for some time, but it seems as though Maine is going in the right direction and Northeastern might be going another way.
Maine lost to a really good Mercyhurst team on Saturday night at home. Maine is still winless at Alfond Arena, but does have a win on road ice against UML. The Black Bears resurgence in recent weeks has been led by Martin Ouellette in net, who has taken the starter role and has run with it. Ouellette now sits in third place with a 2.15 GAA, while have a fourth best .920 save percentage in Hockey East goaltending. Maine is getting better on offense but they still score a mere 1.63 goals per game. On Friday Maine defeated Mercyhurst in Portland.
Northeastern has lost six out of their last eight contests and have struggled to get consistent goaltending in the process. It is the same problem that has plagued them for the last two years. Chris Rawlings allowed five goals on 31 shots and despite another huge game from Cody Ferriero the Huskies were never able to play catch up on a high-flying Bentley offense. Ferriero has six goals in his last two games but the rest of the Northeastern offense has struggled, scoring just two of the eight goals in those games.
Prediction: Maine 3-1
Boston University at Merrimack (Friday)
Merrimack and Boston University sit in third and fifth place in the Hockey East standings. The Warriors enter the weekend off a win at Vermont last weekend, while the Terriers enter off a brutal loss to Harvard on Wednesday night where they had a 5-2 third period lead, only to see it slip away in overtime as the Crimson defeated them 6-5.
BU will need a huge response to Wednesday against the Warriors and Sean Maguire will probably be in net. Matt O’Connor struggled in the third period against Harvard to pick up the loss. BU should have defeated the Crimson, but the defense was the worst it has been all season and the Terriers were unable to stop the momentum that had turned. BU sits in third place in scoring offense behind UNH and BC, while they sit in sixth scoring defense. Improved defense will be needed against the Warriors if they expect a win.
Merrimack got a big win in Burlington on Saturday and will look to continue what they did right in that game against the Terriers. Sam Marrotta and Rasmus Tirronen have continued to split time in net and both sit in mid pack in regards to the goaltending statistics. Neither has taken the upper hand and based on how the season has gone one should expect Tirronen to get the start on Friday, as Marrotta picked up the win last weekend.
Prediction: BU 5-2
Maine at Merrimack (Saturday)
Maine needs wins and it could start this weekend, if some of the young guys pick it up. Joey Diamond had a huge Friday night last weekend against Mercyhurst and Maine could surely use some goals from the guy who was supposed to be the catalyst of the offense. One should expect to see Ouellette and Marrotta in this one. A weird scheduling quirk will mean that these teams will play their three games in a row against each other.
Prediction: Merrimack 5-1
Last time predictions 3-6-1
Season Predictions 32-21-7