Hockey East Weekend Preview: Nov. 14

Posted by: Joe Meloni

Friday night, Connecticut, fresh off its win and draw against Hockey East’s Boston powerhouses, will play Sacred Heart at the 950-seat rink of the¬†Taft School in Watertown, Conn.

The game is in honor Jason Pagni, a beloved member of the Connecticut amateur hockey community. Pagni recently died in a car accident at the age of 43. His memory has been honored by numerous members of the Connecticut hockey family.

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who grew up in Hamden, Conn., and played his college hockey at Massachusetts put an homage to Pagni on his mask. “Everybody rides,” it says.

I don’t know much about the situation, so here’s Chip Malafronte of the New Haven Register on the game and its meaning. The piece is certainly worth a read.

For UConn, this game is especially important in its ongoing process to earn and maintain legitimacy in college hockey. Sacred Heart may not be the out and out doormat it was a few years ago, but the Huskies need to win this game.

Any Given Sunday type sayings aside, UConn must show it can win games against low-level Atlantic Hockey teams to deserve the kind of praise it received after its impressive display last week moving forward.

Tougher matchups Rensselaer, Vermont and Boston University await the Huskies after the meeting with SHU. There are games UConn should win and Friday’s is just that.

Matt O’Connor must prove he’s for real Friday night

Entering the weekend, Boston University is eighth in the nation in team defense, allowing just 1.86 goals per game.

With Matt O’Connor in goal, the Terriers are 4-1-0. In those five starts, O’Connor has a .947 save percentage, allowing eight goals on 150 shots. The Terriers, coming off a dreadful season, have made life much easier on their goaltenders this year. O’Connor’s said as much, admitting it was difficult to keep up a year ago with BU allowing opponents to dominate games.

Friday night, the Terriers head to Orono for a meeting with long-time rival Maine. The Black Bears have had problems of their own this season, but scoring goals at home hasn’t been one of them. Since a tough sweep against Union on Oct. 17-18, the Black Bears have averaged nearly four goals per game at Alfond Arena against decidedly poor competition in Alaska-Anchorage and Massachusetts.

BU’s high-powered offense has drawn much of the praise. Led by freshman superstar Jack Eichel and junior winger Danny O’Regan, BU averages 3.71 goals per game.

BU should be able to put a few past Maine’s goaltenders, but O’Connor needs to continue to provide high-quality goaltending for BU to win hockey games.

Friday’s matchup against Maine won’t be indicative of a trend either way. However, BU needs these two points. O’Connor needs to help the Terriers get there.

Notre Dame, Merrimack both have points to prove

Merrimack’s season to date has been pretty astounding. It’s difficult to look at most of the Warriors’ wins and pencil them in as a dangerous team. However, it’s just as hard to ignore them entirely.

The Warriors have beaten up on teams they need to beat and played Providence pretty tough last week in a home-and-home pair with both teams getting wins at home.

Through nine games, MC is 6-2-1. The Warriors are a strong possession team, accounting for more than 58 percent of the shots in their games to this point. Rasmus Tirronen’s had a great season, and the Warriors have found goals throughout their roster.

However, this weekend’s games in North Andover, Mass., against Notre Dame present the most difficult challenges yet for the Warriors. Even with a highly regarded Providence team last weekend, the Warriors haven’t seen the kind of skill Notre Dame has yet this year.

The Fighting Irish, on the other hand, have struggled badly whenever they’ve played good teams. Last weekend, they were swept by Minnesota — no shame there — without much of a fight. Moreover, they relied heavily on goaltender Cal Petersen to take three points from Vermont two weeks ago.

They’ve destroyed the bad teams on their schedule, though, as clubs expecting to compete for championships must do.

Merrimack’s start is a big positive for Mark Dennehy in his quest to bring the Warriors back to the upper echelon of Hockey East. Notre Dame’s, on the other hand, shows the Fighting Irish are one of the more difficult to peg teams in the country. They can’t seem to hang with clubs of any real quality or just barely eke out wins but steamroll poor teams put in front of them.

Good efforts from Merrimack this weekend will give the nation a good idea of the Warriors’ true fate this season. Notre Dame, however, needs to win some games. Getting swept by Minnesota at Mariucci is fate most every team in the country can live with. A weekend at Merrimack without at least three points, though, is an entirely different story.

A visit from Northeastern is just what New Hampshire needs

UNH’s 2014-15 team seems a far cry from the club that fought its way to the Hockey East championship game a year ago. The Wildcats lost a ton of critical pieces and haven’t been particularly great this year.

They have, however, been pretty unlucky at least when going forward. UNH is a strong possession team, or it has been to start, and just can’t seem to translate it into goals.

A pair of games with hapless Northeastern this weekend should change all of that. The series starts Friday in Durham before moving to Boston on Saturday night.

UNH accounts for more than 58 percent of the shots in its games. It’s scored just 48 percent of the goals. Struggles of freshman goaltender Adam Clark explain a bit of it, but the Wildcats should start to score more, especially if they keep up their possession game.

The Wildcats should be able to generate some goals against the Huskies, whether they come through sustained possessions or in transition. NU is desperate for a win at this point after a 0-7-1 start, but there’s no reason to expect much from a team that’s dug itself into the same problems in each of the last four seasons.

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