Three Things I Think: Hockey East Week 1

Posted by: Joe Meloni

It felt good, really good, to be back in college hockey rinks this week. Living in Boston means four great rinks are quick train rides away for me. I’m lucky, I know, and I got to Agganis Arena, Matthews Arena and Conte Forum to start the season off properly. The games were equal parts sloppy and exciting, with early-season rust revealing itself as much as the skills of these teams.

The best part of realignment, for me, is more non-conference games. The next few weeks will come with even more non-league games for Hockey East teams, which should give coaches a better idea of their teams’ progress. Moreover, Hockey East play will likely be even better with teams further along when the meat of the schedule comes around.

Again, the performances I saw this weekend aren’t even remotely indicative of the performances I expect to see from these teams as the year progresses. That said, there were a few things I picked up on and expect to continue this season.

(After the jump: Gaudreau’s the difference for BC, UMass still can’t compete, Northeastern’s goaltending battle)

Johnny Gaudreau is the difference for Boston College

Boston College isn’t the type of favorite it usually is entering a season. Lowell’s marvelous 2012-13 campaign naturally made the River Hawks the odds-on favorite coming into the year. Nationally, Lowell and a few other teams seem a bit better-prepared for the rigors of a college hockey season. None of those teams, though, have Johnny Gaudreau.

There are, of course, great players on those rosters. But Gaudreau comes into the 2013-14 season as the clear favorite for the Hobey Baker award. Assuming he remains healthy, he’s good for at least 60 points this season. In two games last week, he picked up four points on a goal and three assists. Sunday, with Rensselaer in Chestnut Hill, Gaudreau’s brilliance kept BC in a game RPI dominated for long stretches. The Eagles won, 7-2, even though the possession battle fell RPI’s way.

The reason for the win was Gaudreau. His assists weren’t the standard passes just before a nice shot. He creates space and finds his teammates like no other player currently in college hockey.

BC’s young on defense. They lack the scoring depth they’ve had in years past. They have the best player in the country, though. If Gaudreau can take his game even higher than he has in his first two seasons, he could be the reason BC gets back on those trophy stands next spring.

Nothing different from UMass

Massachusetts started its season 0-2 as most expected. Losses to Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell are the norm for the Minutemen. UMass coach John Micheletto was legitimately encouraged by certain performances he saw, especially that of junior goaltender Steve Mastalerz. Generally, though, the Minutemen were, and will continue to be, outclassed by more talented, better-coached teams.

Whether it was missed opportunities or dumb penalties, UMass hurt itself like it almost always has. Micheletto seemed to expect some improvements from his team in his second season running the program. The early returns suggest that won’t be the case.

Again, the team UMass is now won’t be the team it is in two or three months. The same, however, is true of BU and UMass-Lowell, who both beat UMass without much trouble this week. Friday night against BU, UMass outshot the Terriers 40-24 and looked the better side for almost the entire game. They still couldn’t escape with a win. Good teams, like BU, find ways to win games. Bad teams, like UMass, find ways to lose them.

Clay Witt’s job to lose at Northeastern

Northeastern coach Jim Madigan swears the battle for the No. 1 goaltending job is a three-player race. Bryan Mountain, Clay Witt and Derick Roy will all get starts in these first few weeks to determine the starter once Hockey East play begins in earnest next month.

Friday night, Witt made 26 saves in a 9-1 win over Alabama-Huntsville. Saturday night, Roy stopped 27 in a 3-2 win over the Chargers. Roy, a redshirt freshman, played well enough against UAH. Additionally, Mountain will likely get a run out against Holy Cross next week barring any injury. Witt earning the start Friday in the season opener likely isn’t indicative of anything. The fact that he’s a better goaltender than his teammates, however, is.

Mountain, a fifth-year senior, earned some starts last year and played well at times on a bad Northeastern team. A .908 save percentage isn’t world-beating, but it should be good enough for a record better than 1-7-3. Prior to last year, Mountain was used sparingly in his four years, which qualified him for a fifth year of eligibility.

Witt, on the other hand, looked like he had taken the starting job from Chris Rawlings in the 2010-11 season before the same consistency issues Rawlings dealt with popped up. In general, none of the three goaltenders have proved they can be solid collegiate goaltenders week in and week out. Witt is the closest thing to that, though.

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