Hockey East coaches lauded realignment for several reasons. Primarily, they seemed pleased with fewer conference games in the season’s first few weeks. There was one league game last weekend with Boston University upending Massachusetts, 3-1. Saturday’s game between UMass and UMass-Lowell was a non-conference game, played as part of the series between the two schools for the Alumni Cup — awarded to the team that wins the annual three-game series.
The non-conference matchups around the league yielded some interesting results, especially with Providence’s sweep of Minnesota State and Sacred Heart’s unlikely win over UMass-Lowell. These early-season games don’t tell us too much about the teams around the country since clubs have so little time to prepare. However, their significance can’t be ignored. These games will come into play come Pairwise time. They don’t count in the league standings, but coaches and players want wins just the same.
1. Providence (2-0-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East)
The Friars’ success in 2013-14 depends upon greater contributions from a handful of players as well as even better goaltending from sophomore Jon Gillies. PC received both of those in a pair of wins over Minnesota State at the newly renovated Schneider Arena. Sophomore forward Mark Jankowski scored a pair of goals, as did sophomore defenseman John Gilmour and junior center Ross Mauermann. Gillies stopped 64 of 65 shots he saw over the weekend, earning a shutout in Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Mavericks. PC has a Hockey East championship and NCAA Tournament berth in its mind this season. Two wins over a Minnesota State likely to improve on last year’s season is a good start toward the latter.
This Weekend: Friday home against American International
2. Notre Dame (2-0-0; 0-0-0 Hockey East)
Holding Western Michigan without much production is hardly a difficult task, but the Fighting Irish managed to keep the Broncos scoreless altogether. UND swept the home-and-home pair with WMU with a suffocating defense and 44 total saves from senior Steven Summerhays. Offensive depth is a clear strength for the Irish. It revealed itself throughout the weekend. Seven players scored goals for UND in the wins. Meanwhile, senior defenseman Shayne Taker picked up four assists in the wins.
This Weekend: Friday and Sunday home against Michigan Tech
3. Boston University (2-0-0; 1-0-0 Hockey East)
The Terriers weren’t perfect over the weekend. However, sophomore goaltender Sean Maguire bailed his club out with 39 saves in a win Friday against UMass. The Minutemen outshot BU, 40-24, and carried most of the play. BU’s defensemen deserve some of the credit as well, preventing UMass from generating second and third chances. BU’s defensemen also generated offense over the weekend. Senior defenseman Garrett Noonan scored twice, and sophomore Ahti Oksanen picked up four assists. Maguire and fellow sophomore Matt O’Connor are likely to share duty throughout the year. O’Connor stopped 21 of 23 shots in Saturday’s win over Holy Cross. Maguire was more impressive in his first outing. But BU coach Dave Quinn will likely give both goalies their share of starts. The wins were the first as head coach for Quinn.
This Weekend: Friday home against Rensselaer; Saturday home against Wisconsin
4. Boston College (1-1-0; 0-0-0 Hockey East)
Starting the season with a loss is never desirable. Dropping a 3-1 decision to Michigan at Yost Ice Arena isn’t particularly troubling, though. The Eagles recovered well enough with a 7-2 win over RPI Sunday in their home opener. Don’t let the scoreline fool you, though, BC was hardly perfect in the game. The Engineers carried a majority of the play. Freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko withstood the onslaught, making 25 saves in his first collegiate start. Additionally, Johnny Gaudreau was his usual brilliant self, scoring a goal and assisting on two others. The Hobey Baker candidate has a goal and three assists in his first two games of the season.
This Weekend: Friday home against Wisconsin
5. New Hampshire (1-1-0; 1-1-0 Hockey East)
Losing to Minnesota at Mariucci Arena isn’t a bad loss. The Wildcats could’ve won the game, though. Playing the the championship game of the Icebreaker, the Wildcats led, 2-1, midway through the second before the Gophers added a pair of goal to take the lead. Fourteen third-period shots weren’t enough to knot the game. UNH began its year with a convincing 4-1 win over Clarkson. UNH coach Dick Umile will learn a lot about his team in the season’s first few weeks. Even with the visit to Mariucci behind them, the Wildcats’ next five games come against Michigan, RPI and Lowell — all teams expected to challenge for NCAA Tournament spots.
This Weekend: Friday and Saturday home against Michigan
6. Northeastern (2-0-0; 0-0-0 Hockey East)
Two wins against Alabama-Huntsville don’t tell us much about Northeastern. However, beating the teams you should is important for a club desperate to improve on consecutive dismal seasons. The Huskies thrashed UAH, 9-1, on Friday before surviving a bit on Saturday night in a 3-2 victory. A roster composed mostly of potential revealed some of it in the series. Freshman forward Mike Szmatula (smah-TOO-lah) assisted on five goals over the weekend, while classmate Matt Benning tallied his first career goal and assisted on two more. Kevin Roy scored three goals and added as many assists. The most interesting developments came in goal, though. Clay Witt stopped 26 of 27 shots in Friday’s win, and redshirt freshman Derick Roy made 27 saves on Saturday. Bryan Mountain will likely see some time as well in the next few weeks. Still, all signs point to Witt being the guy as the season progresses.
This Weekend: Friday away against Holy Cross; Saturday home against Holy Cross
7. UMass-Lowell (1-1-0; 0-0-0 Hockey East)
Like Ryan Lambert said in Tuesday’s column, most expected UMass-Lowell to beat Sacred Heart by at least five clear goals. The River Hawks, rightful favorite for every championship they’re eligible for this season, left Tsongas Center stunned on Friday night. Sacred Heart won the game, 2-1, and dealt UML a potentially devastating blow come Pairwise time. Ultimately, the loss won’t hurt UML as a team too heavily, the inevitable 5-2 drubbing of UMass the following night is proof of that. Even with the embarrassing defeat to SHU, the River Hawks are in fine position to compete as they expected. This loss is going to come up again, especially if UML is on a plane to start the NCAA Tournament — or absent altogether.
This Weekend: Friday home against Quinnipiac; Saturday away against Quinnipiac
8. Vermont (0-1-1; 0-0-0 Hockey East)
Credit the Catamounts for escaping Grand Forks with a tie on Saturday night. UVM coach Kevin Sneddon wasn’t happy with the loss and draw his club earned out west, but it’s difficult to imagine a better result for UVM. Even with the lead it established on Friday, the outburst from UND seemed almost inevitable. Freshman Mike Santaguida, filling in for an injured Brody Hoffman, was promising, stopping 62 of 69 shots at the Ralph. Sophomore goaltender Brody Hoffman, who started every game for the Catamounts last year, should be back in the lineup soon after missing the trip due to a low-body injury.
This Weekend: Off
9. Merrimack (0-2-0; 0-0-0 Hockey East)
The 2013-14 season started on a poor note for the Warriors. A pair of shutout losses at Magness Arena to Denver revealed the problems most expected. Without Mike Collins scoring goals, where is the offense going to come from? Sam Marotta was great in goal on Friday before struggling on Saturday and making way for Rasmus Tirronen. Losing twice to Denver isn’t a devastating result for Warriors. It was still a tough run out to start the year. Merrimack needs to find offense. These were just two games, but the problems have been clear since last season.
This Weekend: Friday and Saturday home against Mercyhurst
10. Maine (0-2-0; 0-0-0 Hockey East)
A pair of tough losses in the North Country weren’t the start Maine coach Red Gendron wanted. The Black Bears were in both of these games, could’ve won both of them. The Saints scored three goals in five minutes on Saturday night after Maine tied the game, 2-2, with 8 minutes left in regulation. Senior goaltender Martin Ouellette led Maine’s turnaround in the second half of the season last year. Allowing three goals on six shots in a third period isn’t going to help the club build on that, especially with a new coach in charge. The goals weren’t solely on Ouellette, but he needs to be better.
This Weekend: Saturday home against Bentley
11. Massachusetts (0-2-0; 0-1-0 Hockey East)
UMass looked great for long stretches in Friday’s loss to BU. It was still a loss, and the Minutemen left Agganis Arena with a familiar feeling. Saturday night, it was more of the same. UMass hobbled back to Amherst with a seventh straight loss to UMass-Lowell. There were positives for coach John Micheletto. Junior goaltender Steve Mastalerz played well until a massive mistake in the third period of Saturday’s game put it out of reach. Additionally, the Minutemen were a bit too anxious to influence games physically. Shane Walsh and Oleg Yevenko both received majors and game misconducts for hitting from behind. It’s difficult for most teams to overcome game misconducts. A team with the track record of UMass has no chance with players ejected.
This Weekend: Friday and Saturday home against Michigan State