This is a day late but home and home series’ are the name of the weekend, as all ten teams play two game sets with their opponents. Maine will travel south to take on Boston College at Conte Forum for two and UMass travels to Vermont, which are the only deviations from the home and home series’. From now on we will be in the meat of the conference schedule and most teams will play two games against other Hockey East teams. Check out this week’s Power Rankings, where Boston College has reaffirmed their top billing and UNH falls down to second. Also the standings have gotten really close from second place down. If the NCAA tournament started today BC and UNH would be one seeds, while UML would be a two and BU a four giving Hockey East four teams in the tournament according to the Pairwise Rankings. Its early to look at the national tournament, but it’s certainly in the picture this time of year. Here are the matchups this week.
Maine at Boston College (Friday and Saturday)
Last season this two game set was up in Orono and Maine handed Boston College it’s last two losses of the year, but the Black Bears are in a much different position than they were last year. Boston College sits at the top of the rankings, while Maine sits all the way at the bottom. These games would have been great last year, and they were, but this year may be a different story.
Maine began the second half by winning the Florida College Classic and by beating Mercyhurst for three straight wins but much like the first half the wheels have fallen off the bus and they are winless in five. Last weekend, the Black Bears tied Merrimack on Friday one apiece and on Saturday they lost a nail-biter 3-2. Maine is 5-13-4 on the year but in my opinion they are better than that record.
After a rough start, the Black Bears defense has tightened up but the offense continues to be anemic and unproductive. The offense sits second worst in the country scoring a measly 1.52 per game, almost three quarters of a goal less than any other Hockey East team. Joey Diamond has struggled and no one has stepped up into the role he was supposed to have with this team. Maine has some fine young talent up front but whether they will put it together at some point this year or next will be the question.
Boston College put the whipping on Northeastern Saturday night defeating the Huskies 9-3. Who predicted the BC loss to UMass in this preview last weekend? Yes this guy. Just to want to warn BC fans a 9-3 victory is great and all but its not going to happen every night. I wouldn’t put too much thought into it, because if it would have been a two game set the second game would have been much better and closer. In any rate, a sleeping giant has awoken.
We should see Parker Milner in the net for BC and Martin Ouellette for Maine. I wouldn’t discount Maine at all in this series. They have hit so many posts this year that if they find a game that those go in they could beat a good team. This should be a sweep for BC.
Prediction: BC Sweeps
UNH at Merrimack (Friday), Merrimack vs. UNH (Saturday, Verizon Wireless Arena Manchester NH)
This should be an intriguing series because Merrimack has looked good in recent weeks and UNH has put together very lackadaisical play of late. On Friday, Merrimack will host UNH at Lawler and on Saturday the teams will play a neutral site at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. The venue is site of the Northeast regional in March.
New Hampshire enters the weekend off a loss to Providence, where the defense and Casey Desmith did not look good. The game was atypical of a Providence, UNH game and the Wildcats were never in control of it. The six goals allowed was the most that UNH has allowed all year and UNH still sits in first place in the scoring defense category, allowing just 2.24 per game. It will be interesting to see if Umile goes back to his struggling sophomore, Desmith, but he will and Desmith will have the chance to redeem himself.
Merrimack enters the contest unbeaten in three games, all versus Maine. The last two were close though as the teams tied 1-1 on Friday and Merrimack pulled out a 3-2 win on Saturday. Mike Collins leads the team by leaps and bounds up front holding the team lead in points with 27, while the Brandon Ellis sits in second with 12. Sam Marrotta has seemingly taken control of the net, as he has started the last three games for the Warriors.
Prediction: UNH sweeps but expect a spirited Merrimack team on Saturday in the big venue
Boston University at Providence (Friday), Providence at Boston University (Saturday)
Boston University is 2-4 in the second half and Providence picked up a huge road victory at New Hampshire on Saturday. It would appear on paper that these two are heading in different directions and this weekend could easily prove that. This series is the most important in regards to the standings as BU and Providence sit tied for third.
Providence’s youth movement is starting to take hold and the young guys are starting to get comfortable in Nate Leaman’s system. On Saturday against New Hampshire the usually defensively sound Friars became an offense that was one to reckoned with, as the young guys controlled the first half of the game scoring the first three goals of the game. The scary part about the Friars is that if this offensive firepower continues they will be really scary going forward, as Jon Gillies has been a stalwart in net
Boston University is far from the same team that took to the ice in the first half, as the defense has struggled mightily to stop opponents from scoring.The Terriers were upset twice on the weekend as on Friday Northeastern defeated them 6-5 and on Saturday UML beat the 4-3. Being able to pull out one goal games is something that the Terriers will need to focus on, as they have gone 0-3 in the second half in this category. BU will start both goalies this weekend, as they usually do.
Prediction: PC sweeps
Massachusetts at Vermont (Friday and Saturday)
UMass and Vermont are separated by one point in the standings and this series could go a long way in shaping the bottom half of the standings going forward. This series could be one that decides the last playoff spot come seasons end. In their only meeting this year the Minutemen defeated the Catamounts at home 3-1.
UMass defeated BC on Friday night exorcising demons and learning lessons of past games with the Eagles. I will say this again, I really like UMass going forward and think this is a series they should sweep. Branden Gracel has eight points in five second half games and he has put this team on his back leading them to three huge wins. UMass has now defeated three top nine Pairwise teams, New Hampshire, Dartmouth and the Eagles. Kevin Boyle had taken the starting job near the end of the first half but Masterlerz had a huge game against BC and one should expect those two to split time in net this weekend.
Vermont has fallen off a bit recently and lost a game against Penn State last weekend to push their losing streak to four games. Vermont has struggled to keep pucks out the back of their next as they have allowed on average 4.5 goals in those four games. Brody Hoffman started the year looking really good but has since fallen off like the rest of the team. Vermont needs to pick it up really fast, or they will find themselves out of the playoff hunt come March.
Prediction: UMass sweeps
UMass-Lowell at Northeastern (Friday), Northeastern at UMass-Lowell (Saturday)
Northeastern comes in as a fragile bunch and Lowell comes in as hot as any team in the country, save Quinnipiac, so this would seemingly be an easy one to call but this series should be intriguing for one reason and that is responses.
Lowell has won nine straight games and have looked really good in those games. Last weekend the River Hawks defeated Providence to up their streak to eight and on Saturday Lowell defeated BU 4-3 to up the streak to nine. Lowell may be the top dog in Hockey East right now as their balance has carried them to this streak. It doesn’t hurt their goaltending has been phenomenal.
Northeastern continues to put inconsistent in the dictionary On Friday night the Huskies defeated Boston University and on Saturday NU got trounced by BC, 9-4. One shouldn’t take to much value in that result but without consistency we may never know how good the Huskies actually are.
Prediction: UML Sweeps
Predictions Last Week: 4-4-1
Predictions Season: 39-30-9