The Week Ahead Hockey East 2/7/13

Posted by: Josh Seguin

The first Beanpot Monday is behind us, which means we are about one week away from the stretch run. The standings have done nothing but tighten up over the last few weeks, as Boston College, Boston University and New Hampshire have struggled for consistency. Interesting to note since coming back from break the top three have combined to go 13-15-3, while Maine (who was in last place) has gone 6-3-3 in that same time frame. The top six are now separated by a mere seven points and the fight for home-ice is going to be an interesting battle to the end, but I guess so will the fight for the regular season title.

At press time, there is a huge storm figuring to wreck havoc on the Friday Contests, so please check ahead before you head out to your local rink and of course please be safe. I am going to go ahead and preview the games as if all the games were going to happen as scheduled, but at this time that is seriously doubtful. I will post another blog later if any games are postponed, as the information becomes available. CHN will keep you up to date.

New Hampshire at Providence (Friday), Providence at New Hampshire (Sunday: CBSSN)

Two weeks ago, the Friars went into Durham and handed New Hampshire their first loss against a Providence team since 2007. That was quite a feat considering how young this Friar team is, but the talent is there and they could easily take another four points from UNH with a similar performance, as they were the aggressors on the night.

Since the break, UNH has a record of 5-5-3 but still sits comfortably in fifth place of the Pairwise rankings. This weekend is absolutely crucial as they face a team right on the TUC line, as they have struggled with teams that are on the bottom spectrum of TUC status. On Saturday, the Wildcats sent 52 shots towards Sam Marotta, but the netminder sent back 51 of them and stole a victory from the grasps of UNH. On Friday, Casey Desmith made 47 saves to preserve a 3-1 UNH win over Northeastern.

Providence had a lone tilt last Friday night at Alfond Arena, in Maine. They held a late two goal lead against the Black Bears but were unable to stop Joey Diamond, who would score shorthanded and on the power-play to tie it. Neither team was able to pick up an overtime winner and Providence escaped with a point for the tie. Jon Gillies stopped 28 of 30 Black Bear shots in the process and the young, developing Friars experience another night of growing pains.

Prediction: UNH sweeps

Northeastern at Massachusetts (Friday)

This will be the third and final meeting of the season between the Huskies and the Minutemen, as the teams split a pair November 30 and December 1. Both won at the other’s home rink and this weekend will be highly crucial in terms of the standings. UMass currently sits in seventh place, while Northeastern sits on the outside looking in two points behind Maine for the eighth seed. The Minutemen sit four points ahead of the Huskies in those standings.

Many people are expecting a let down from Northeastern on Friday, but maybe for once the Huskies will be able to use momentum gained in their favor. On Monday night, the Huskies advanced to the Beanpot final with a win over Boston University. Freshman Kevin Roy had a hat trick in the game, while the ever inconsistent Chris Rawlings made 32 saves to give the Huskies the win. It wasn’t their best performance, but it certainly has to feel good given their record in recent weeks.

UMass has defeated UNH, BC and BU at least once this season, but Friday’s win against the Terriers had to be the most impressive. The line of Michael Pereira, Branden Gracel and Conor Sheary combined for four of the five goals, while the former two combined for seven point and a +8 rating in the contest. Gracel now has 12 points since coming back from break and his play in recent weeks has led the Minutemen forward in that time frame. Kevin Boyle made 19 saves in the win.

Prediction: UMass in overtime

UMass-Lowell at Boston College (Friday: NESN)

This one has all the makings of being a classic game, as Boston College looks to build off two straight wins and the River Hawks look to respond from two straight losses. Boston College swept a weekend home and home series against Lowell earlier in the season, but that was then and this is now. Both teams are completely different today than they were then.

Last weekend, Lowell entered the weekend riding an 11 game unbeaten streak but had it abruptly ended by Merrimack in a 1-0 defeat at Lawler Arena. The losing streak compounded on Sunday as the River Hawks met a resurgent Maine squad that defeated them 4-3 in overtime, up at Alfond Arena. The River Hawks will respond and may have the services of Connor Hellybuyck, who has been the stronger goalie in recent months. With the loss to Maine Lowell dropped below the bubble in the Pairwise, to 18th. They sit in sixth place in the Standings.

Boston College went down 1-0 against Vermont on Friday night and were getting outshot badly in the early going, but then the sleeping giant awoke to defeat the Catamounts 4-1. The Eagles advanced to the Beanpot final on Monday night against Harvard, as Quinn Smith scored two goals in the victory. The Eagles currently sit in fourth place in the Pairwise and are two points up on UNH for the first spot in the Hockey East standings.

Prediction: River Hawks 4-2

Merrimack at Boston University (Friday)

BU and Merrimack have met twice so far this season, with the Terriers taking both matchups between the schools. Boston University enters the contest on a bit of a rut, while the Warriors have been hot as of late.

Merrimack had one heck of a weekend last Friday and Saturday, as Sam Marotta stole them two victories. On Friday night, the Warriors defeated cross-valley rival UMass-Lowell 1-0. On Saturday night, the Warriors were outshot 52-24 but Sam Marotta had the game of his life giving the Warriors a 4-1 win at UNH. The Warriors are 6-2-1 in their last nine games, as Sam Marotta has become the everyday goaltender for them. He has started the last seven games for Merrimack and has just one loss in those games.

Boston University has continually struggled in the second half, as the defense has let them down on many occasions. On Monday night, the Terriers were defeated in the semifinals of the Beanpot by Northeastern, 3-2. The Terriers are 1-4-1 in their past six games and have just been in an all out funk since a tough first half, where many people felt they were poised for a run in the second half. That hasn’t materialized and the Terriers sit on the bubble in a tie for 13th place in the ever important Pairwise rankings. Lose this one and they would probably find themselves on the outside looking in.

Prediction: MC 4-2

Maine at Vermont (Saturday)

Maine and Vermont have been heading in two completely different directions, but find themselves within a point of each other in the standings. This game could eventually end up deciding the playoff race. Yes it is early to say that it is very important, but it’s an ever important game nonetheless. With a win Maine gains a three point advantage and a Vermont win would give them the position by a single point.

Maine continued its solid play, as they took three points at home from Providence and Lowell. On Friday night, the Black Bears were down 2-0 with about seven minutes then Joey Diamond decided to finally arrive on the scene, a little late this season. He made a great read on the short-hand and he went in all alone to beat Jon Gillies. Minutes later he tied the game on the power-play. Maine wouldn’t get the winner and still hadn’t won at Alfond this year, but yet they did get the point for the tie. On Sunday, they used an overtime goal by who other than joey Diamond to pick up the overtime win over UMass-Lowell. Martin Ouellette has been downright filthy in net the last two months, and he is the main reason for the resurgence of late for the Black Bears.

Vermont has gone south in recent weeks with six losses in their past seven contests. On Friday, the Catamounts actually took an early lead against Boston College, but BC came roaring back with four goals in the second and third periods. BC would end up winning the game and something became very clear for Vermont., as they again struggled to keep pucks out of their own net. Allowing four-plus goals a game will not work in the flying Hockey East. If a fix is not found, Vermont will have the same fate as they did last year. And that is missing the playoffs.

Prediction: Maine 5-1

Massachusetts at Merrimack (Saturday:NESN)

Merrimack and Massachusetts will play Saturday in a battle that could go a long way in solidifying UMass’ playoff hopes, as with a loss on Friday the Minutemen could fall within the danger zone . Expect to see Sam Marotta and Kevin Boyle as the goaltenders in this one. See above for all the particulars of each team.

Prediction:  Merrimack 3-1

Predictions Last Time: 4-5-1

Predictions Season: 43-35-10

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