November is moving month in Hockey East. As teams wind down the portions of their schedules laden with non-conference games and play more league games, the league’s best teams typically reveal themselves now. It’s not uniform, and teams do occasionally piece together successful years without great performances in November. Massachusetts-Lowell’s run from December through the Frozen Four last year is a good example.
For the most part, though, the next few weeks will offer an idea of the team’s truly contending for first-round byes in the Hockey East Tournament and at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Teams like Boston University and New Hampshire, which have struggled at times in the early part of the season, need to win games for the rest of the first half to make up for some of the issues they had in October and November.
North Dakota visits Agganis Arena next weekend. BU needs both of those games, as well as major success in the rest of the first half, if it’s going to make any noise in the league and the national picture. UNH, meanwhile, has won five straight games by a combined score of 24-4. Neither Massachusetts, Brown nor Northeastern, the teams UNH beat in that stretch, are particularly strong teams at this point. So these wins don’t make UNH a legitimate contender in the Hockey East race. They have improved the Wildcats’ mindset, though. Winning games cures all wounds. After their last five games, UNH is ready to make a push as the end of the first half approaches.
(After the jump: Hockey East’s contenders are already clear; UNH is what we thought they were; Ross Mauermann is off to a great start for PC.)
The contenders have already stood up
Hockey East coaches are fond of the parity in the league. It’s true, of course, that UMass, Vermont, Maine and the league’s other average-to-bad teams can pick up points from anyone. It’s inevitable that the best teams in the league will drop a game or two to clubs they’re better than. Northeastern’s win over UMass-Lowell two weeks ago is a good example. Even with that result and a few others, there are four teams — and four teams only — that look capable of winning the Hockey East Regular Season and Tournament Championships.
Boston College, UMass-Lowell, Providence and Notre Dame are the clear favorites at this point. BC is the only one without a loss in the league at this point, but that will come at some point. Again, the remaining seven teams in Hockey East will get some wins against these clubs. There’s talent throughout the league, and Boston University, specifically, will start playing better eventually. Come tournament time, the nature of playoff series means BU or UNH could advance past the quarterfinals. At this point, it’s hard to see that happening.
Bad performances in the first six weeks of the season don’t prevent teams from coming on as the year progresses. They do reveal holes, though. The teams with the fewest are BC, Lowell, Notre Dame and Providence.
UNH is what we thought they were
When UMass-Lowell swept two games with UNH on Nov. 1 and 2, it looked like the Wildcats were in trouble. The losses dropped UNH’s record to 1-4-1 with all four defeats coming at the hands of premium competition. No one doubted the possibility of a recovery, but it was hard to see UNH as a legitimate contender for everything with that type of record against other good teams.
Since, UNH has steamrolled through weekends against UMass and Northeastern. These wins suggest, more or less, that UNH is exactly the type of team they were expected to be. The Wildcats are a good team that should win a fair amount of games, challenge for a home ice spot and maybe sneak into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. They’ll need to keep beating up on inferior Hockey East opponents to do this and some wins against BC, Providence and Notre Dame could push them into a race for a top four spot.
This weekend, the Wildcats play two games with the Friars, both in Providence. PC is undefeated at home, allowing two goals per game at Schneider. UNH’s struggles against good competition came mostly due to a lack of scoring. In six games against Minnesota, Michigan, UMass-Lowell and Rensselaer, UNH averaged just two goals per game. The recent sweeps of UMass and NU came with some improved scoring, but the goals need to come for the Wildcats to leave Providence with some points.
Ross Mauermann’s a game-changer for Providence
Making like difficult for UNH next weekend is junior center Ross Mauermann. Goaltender Jon Gillies is PC’s best player. Its success depends on his own. However, the development of Mauermann into one of Hockey East’s best players has taken the Friars from a good team to a contender for trophies. It isn’t just Mauermann making plays, but it’s clear he is the type of player that can turn even games into PC wins.
In 11 games, Mauermann has 10 goals and eight assists. His 18 points lead the team, and no other player has more than eight. His plus-16 rating is the best in the country. Moreover, he’s only been on the ice for two even-strength goals against for the Friars this season.
The Friars don’t have the scoring depth of the league’s other true contenders. They rely heavily on Gillies’ excellence in goal, and the sophomore certainly sees a lot of shots. Maurermann isn’t going to maintain his goal-scoring pace all season, so PC will need scoring for more sources. Generally, Mauermann is a player PC coach Nate Leaman can rely on in all situations. Even when the scoring slows, Mauermann’s status as an ace penalty-killer and defensive forward makes his just as valuable.