Mark your calendars.
Hockey East fans will be blessed this coming winter. Along with a shortened 22-game league schedule, which as it did last year when the schedule was at 20 games, should make for closer playoff races come the end of February, there’s a slew of premiere non-conference games headed to Hockey East rinks this upcoming season.
Union, the defending national champions, will visit three Hockey East rinks. Michigan makes a pair of trips and even Minnesota will fly to Boston, marking the first time the Gophers will travel to the city that houses four Division I programs since it helped close Walter Brown Arena and open Agganis Arena in Jan. 2005, if you exclude a visit to Vermont in 2012-13 and a trip to Hockey East newcomer Notre Dame last season, which is really in the midwest and not the east.
Since that trip to Boston in 2005, Minnesota has hosted 13 games against Hockey East opponents, and traveled east for just those two in Vermont.
Here are the top-10 non-conference games Hockey East will HOST this season:
10. Yale at Northeastern, Jan. 6
Two classic programs, playing in a classic building. Yale’s program has roots back to 1893 while Northeastern’s has been around since 1929. Matthews Arena has been around since 1909, and you know the history there. Besides, Northeastern is on an upswing in Hockey East the past two seasons under Jim Madigan and Yale just won a national title two years ago.
9. Michigan at Boston University, Oct. 25
Boston University endured one of its tougher seasons in 2013-14, but Jack Eichel will pull a BU shirt over his head this fall, and that makes this early-season matchup with Michigan a must see. Eichel will go against his NJEC linemate, Tyler Motte, as well as a plethora of his other former U.S. National Team Development Program teammates.
8. Union at Boston University, Jan. 3
If the national champions are visiting your building, it’s a big game. BU’s struggles could linger into the early parts of the 2014 schedule, but by January, the Terriers could very well be firing on all cylinders. The only problem here is that Eichel, and any other players that make the World Junior Team, will likely still be playing in the tournament.
7. Union at Maine, Oct. 17 & 18
Maine was reinvigorated last season with new head coach Red Gendron behind the bench, and the Black Bears will bring in their best non-conference opponent to Orono in just the second week of the regular season. Gendron is giving his players a mighty test right away.
6. Michigan at UMass Lowell, Oct. 24
It should be an interesting year for Lowell, which has now lost the bulk of the nucleus that has won back-to-back Hockey East championships. But they’re still the defending two-time champs. Lowell, which in both championship years has gotten off to sluggish starts, will be tested early against an ultra-talented Michigan team.
5. Union at Notre Dame, Nov. 28 (Shillelagh Tournament First Round)
Notre Dame, by its standards, limped through its first year as a member of Hockey East. But parity in college hockey, which is a theory everyone likes to talk about, in most cases doesn’t actually exist. Notre Dame is a reload program. They don’t rebuild. Teams like Merrimack, Vermont and Massachusetts have all had cups of coffee among the nation’s elite, but have failed to sustain it. Notre Dame had a taste of what it’s like near the bottom of Hockey East in its first season – the Irish finished eighth – but don’t expect that to sustain either. Then there’s Union. Did I mention they’re the defending national champions?
4. Michigan at Boston College, Dec. 13
This might as well be called the “NTDP All Star Game.” By my count, there will be 11 former NTDP players on the ice in this one, including BC goaltender Thatcher Demko. For much of these rosters, it will be one of their last games on opposite benches before players like Tuch, Milano, Demko, Motte, Compher, Downing and Larkin likely join the World Junior Team.
3. Minnesota at Northeastern, Nov. 29
A night after it plays a huge game at BC – we’ll get to that in a minute – the Gophers will travel to Matthews Arena to play Northeastern. The Huskies can score and they’ll be trying to improve on a defense that allowed the eighth-most goals in Hockey East, despite starter Clay Witt posting the second-best save percentage. That tells you how many shots Northeastern was allowing. But the Huskies will still be a team in the top-half of the Hockey East standings and it doesn’t get any more marquee than a matchup with Minnesota.
2. Quinnipiac at UMass Lowell, Oct. 18
Lowell and Quinnipiac have been surging at a similar time, and will collide early in the season. Just as Lowell has risen to prominence, winning back-to-back tournament titles, Quinnipiac has made a similar move in the ECAC.
1. Minnesota at Boston College, Nov. 28
This, you can’t beat. Two of the most storied programs in college hockey will meet up on Thanksgiving weekend. Take the league out of it, this will be the most anticipated non-conference game of the season across the entire nation. Union won the national title last April, and that’s all that counts, but BC and Minnesota actually finished No. 1 and 2 in the final Pairwise. Union had to knock off both these programs en route to its championship. Like it has in many years, the road to a national title likely goes through Minnesota or BC, if not both.
Honorable Mention: U.S. Under-20 Team vs. Boston University, Dec. 19
It’s only an exhibition, but Jack Eichel and the WJC team against BU should be a fun take.