Last weekend saw the most anticipated series’ of the Hockey East season, as Boston College and New Hampshire split a home and home series in front of two sellout crowds. With those results UNH has stayed atop this week’s CHN Hockey East Power Rankings, while Boston College continues in the second spot and the lead the ever important Hockey East standings by two points over the Wildcats. Arguments could be made both ways and in the most important rankings table both teams sit in a tie for first place in the Pairwise. This just seems like the way it should be. This week is a relatively light week for games and Providence College is in the spotlight, as they travel to UMass-Lowell and New Hampshire. Other great games dot the schedule so here is my weekly stab at previewing the games.
Providence at UMass-Lowell (Thursday)
As I stated above, this weekend is a huge weekend for Providence as they will take on two teams that are currently in the upper echelon of Hockey East. Not only is this game big for the Friars, but it is equally important for the River Hawks who are out to prove their inconsistent first half was a fluke. Both teams enter off a weekend sweep in Hockey East action and both sport two of the finest freshman goaltenders in the country.
Providence enters the weekend off a home and home sweep of UMass. On Friday, the Friars used a late shorthanded goal off the stick of Ross Mauermann with eight minutes to go in the third to take a late lead and held on to defeat the Minutemen 5-4. On Saturday, Jon Gillies was the hero making 44 saves in a 2-0 win. Providence sits fifth in scoring offense and third in scoring defense in Hockey East and Jon Gillies leads the conference with a 1.95 GAA. Junior defenseman Kevin Hart will be out for awhile. They will either dress 13 forwards or dress the normal six defense. The latter would mean relying on a defenseman yet to see action, either Will Goss or Matt Herskovitz. (Per Mark Divver, Providence Journal).
UMass-Lowell has won seven straight games and swept Vermont on the road 4-2 and 6-3. Connor Hellebuyck has become the number one in Lowell, as he has won five straight decisions and has posted a 0.94 GAA in the last six games he has appeared in. Doug Carr has struggled for much of the season, even though he has also won three straight decisions. One should expect to see both goaltenders this weekend. The River Hawks are 11-2-1 against teams not named New Hampshire and Boston College.
Prediction: 4-1 UML
Merrimack at Maine (Friday and Saturday)
This weekend will mark a strange occurrence for Merrimack and Maine, as the two will conclude a three game series with two tilts at Alfond Arena. Last Saturday, The Warriors pummelled Maine 6-0. Other than playoffs, teams hardly ever play three games in a row against each other but that will be the case in this series.
Merrimack enters off the aforementioned 6-0 defeat of Maine, where Sam Marrotta sent aside 30 Black Bear shots for the shutout. The Warriors also had five different scorers in the game and Mike Collins led the way being true on a pair.
Maine has to be left wondering after a game that saw Martin Ouellette yanked after just 26 minutes of playing time, giving up four of the six Merrimack goals. He has been playing well in recent weeks. On Friday Ouellette made 31 saves, as the Black Bears left Matthews Arena with a 1-1 tie with Northeastern. Returning home may not be what the doctor ordered as they are still winless at the Famed Alfond Arena.
Prediction: 2-1 Merrimack, 3-1 Maine.
Northeastern at Boston University (Friday)
Northeastern and Boston University will play the first of four meetings in the second half, three conference games and one Beanpot contest, on Friday. The cross-town rivals have yet to play and both have gone different directions so far this season.
Northeastern, when they have played the top teams in Hockey East, have given both New Hampshire and Boston College scares, actually defeating the Eagles on opening night and tying New Hampshire. If they can get the goaltending on Friday the Huskies have all the chance in the world of making this a game, but if they dont the Terriers could run away with this one. Chris Rawlings made 41 saves last Friday against Maine in a 1-1 tie. One should expect to see him both games this weekend.
After an embarassing 6-5 loss last Wednesday, that saw them blow a 5-2 third period lead, BU came back with a vengence to defeat Merrimack on Friday night, 4-1. Sean Maguire stopped 38 Warrior shots in the victory and considering the last outing of Matt O’ Connor was the Harvard debacle one could wonder if Maguire will make a second consecutive start on Friday against the Huskies.
Prediction: 5-2 BU
Massachusetts at Boston College (Friday)
Early in the season, the Minutemen took a 3-0 lead into the third period against Boston College only to lose the contest 5-4 in overtime. The loss was demoralizing for UMass but the Minutemen also competed with the Eagles in November losing 3-2 to BC at Conte Forum. The two losses should give UMass extra confidence heading into Conte Forum, a place they have lost 14 consecutive games, knowing that they can compete with the mighty Eagles.
Boston College split with New Hampshire last weekend, as they took a 5-2 decision on Friday night and lost a 2-1 game on Saturday night. The split should quiet some of the speculation of why they were struggling, but in the end it is only January. On Saturday night, Parker Milner was the hero stopping 37 of 39 UNH shots, many of which were from the grade-A area.
I really think UMass’ layoff of two weeks hurt them last weekend. They were riding high after winning the Ledyard Bank Classic and defeating Dartmouth but unfortunately they were unable to keep the momentum gained getting swept by Providence. On Saturday they were snake-bitten and Jon Gillies sent away 44 of their shots in the 2-0 loss. I would not be at all shocked to see UMass down another top team if they can stop Johnny Gaudreau. They have defeated New hampshire and Dartmouth already this year.
Prediction: 3-2 UMass (I’m thinking I will regret this pick but hey why not?)
Providence at New Hampshire (Saturday)
Providence and New Hampshire will play the first of three conference games in the next two weeks on Saturday night at the Whittemore Center. Providence has not defeated UNH since 2007 and has not won at the Whittemore Center since March of 2004.
New Hampshire split with Boston College over the weekend winning 2-1 on Saturday and losing 5-2 on Friday. New Hampshire’s third line has been buzzing with energy in the last three weekends and have been the reason UNH has had a resurgence after two straight losses. The biggest positive out of the weekend is it seems as though Casey Desmith is back after a rough stretch. On Saturday the sophomore made 22 saves and some really difficult ones in the process, especially in the first period.
Providence will play their second game in three nights, as they will have Friday off after a Thursday game with UMass-Lowell. See above preview for more information on the Friars.
Prediction: 4-1 UNH
Boston College at Northeastern (Saturday)
The last time BC traveled across town to Matthews Arena they lost to the Huskies 3-1. It was shaping up to be a good season for Northeaster, but then they were brought back to earth the next Saturday in a 3-0 defeat to Boston College. No matter how low the Huskies are in the standings they always give BC a run for their money at Matthews and I can see the same this weekend. If Chris Rawlings can steal the show, the Huskies have a chance. If not it could be a long night.
Prediction: 5-2 BC
UMass-Lowell at Boston University
I said this above, but UML is 11-2-1 against teams that are not named Boston College and New Hampshire. The River Hawks and the Terriers have not played yet this season so how will UML fair against the third best team in Hockey East? I guess we will find out this weekend. They have a huge opportunity this weekend to make a statement. Many believed that Lowell would be near the top come seasons end in the preseason, maybe just maybe this weekend will be the weekend they prove that they belonged near the top.
Prediction: UML 5-4
Vermont vs. Penn State (Saturday; Well Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA.)
Vermont will become the first Hockey East team to play the newly formed Penn State team. The Catamounts enter the tilt losers of three consecutive games, including a sweep last weekend at the hands of UMass-Lowell. They went 2-3 on their five game homestand and this will be their first game out of the friendly confines of the Gut since the first half.
Freshman goaltender Brody Hoffman has struggled in the three losses giving up 4.45 goals per game. His performance is starting to wane as the season goes on. If the Catamounts want to make the playoffs his performance will need to get back to what it was earlier in the season. Vermont is ranked dead last in scoring defense, giving up 3.14 per game to their opponents.
Penn State lives the life of an independent, and has put up a record of 6-10-0 against Division I hockey programs. As is the case with the other independent hockey program, Alabama-Huntsville, the Nittany Lions play a mixed schedule of division I programs and division III or club teams. Penn State has one strong win on their record as they defeated the Ohio State in Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh
Prediction: 5-1 Vermont
Predictions Last Week 3-5-1
Predictions overall: 35-26-8