Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Nov. 5

Posted by: Joe Meloni

Saturday night, Danny O’Regan scored Boston University’s lone goal at 4:38 of the third period. The goal came with a number of players in and around the crease.

There wasn’t anything illegal about the play, but Providence coach Nate Leaman wasn’t sure. So he simply asked the officials to take a look at the play. I received some questions about this on Twitter, and I went to the league and some coaches for a clarification.

It’s a pretty simple rule. I won’t bore you with the entire rule, but coaches may ask for officials to review a scoring play if they believe there was an infraction on the play. This will typically be issues of goaltender interference or crease violations, but it can extend to offsides and too many men on the ice if the puck remained in offensive zone leading to a goal. If the offside or too many men call was missed and the puck leaves the attacking zone, the goal may not be reviewed on those grounds.

Coaches must have a timeout to ask for a replay and will be charged with a timeout if they lose the challenge, similar to the NFL.

After BU beat Michigan two weeks ago, in a game with multiple replays, Michigan coach Red Berenson said he felt “victimized by the replay system.” It was a pretty weak complaint from Berenson, since all of the calls made were correct. Moreover, technology allows officials to make the right call.

Any complaint about the replay system taking too long or being used too frequently is moot if calls are made correctly. I didn’t hear Berenson complaining about replay when it won his team an NCAA Tournament game against Nebraska-Omaha in 2011.

The score doesn’t matter in Hartford Wednesday night

Connecticut’s ongoing shift from non-scholarship Atlantic Hockey doormat to Hockey East fledging will take a major step Wednesday night in Hartford. Led by Mike Cavanugh, the Huskies welcome Boston College to the XL Center in Hartford for their first-ever Hockey East home game.

By all accounts, Boston College should leave Hartford with two easy points. I’m not one to focus too heavily on the feel-good narratives in college hockey if only because too much attention already lands on those storylines. But Wednesday’s game is a generally positive thing for Hockey East and college hockey as a whole.

Opponents of UConn’s move in Hockey East were right, to an extent, by saying their were better programs worthy of that 12th spot. However, welcoming UConn into the big time essentially created two new programs. The Huskies’ status in Atlantic Hockey barely registered around New England. Few even realized the school had a program despite the esteem of its athletic department as a whole. Moreover, there’s now an additional spot in Atlantic Hockey for a new program in the Northeast to fill should some school be so inclined. It’s a lot easy for smaller college or university athletic department to find funding for 12 scholarships than it is for 18.

There’s little in the way of viable candidates at the moment, but someone will fill it eventually. What’s more, the Huskies can now build their program with a full slate of scholarships and plenty of opportunity for noteworthy wins. Defeating Quinnipiac two weeks ago was a good start for Cavanaugh in the Hockey East era. The recruiting classes he’s already assembled appear to be the next one.

Some think UConn will ascend to a league contender in the next few years, which is wholly ludicrous if only because the timetable is a bit short. UConn will succeed in Hockey East. They’ll need an arena on campus, whether they want to admit it or not. Student sections are the lifeblood of college hockey. If they can manage to build a consistent fanbase from the student body in Hartford then great, but it seems a bit unlikely.

Regardless, Wednesday’s game is a good thing for everyone involved.

Goaltending will decide UMass-Lowell’s ceiling

It still amazes me when I look at the numbers Connor Hellebuyck amassed in his two seasons in goal for UMass-Lowell. In 24 appearances as a freshman two years ago, Hellebuyck finished with a .952 save percentage and six shutouts. As a sophomore, his save percentage fell to .941 with another six shutouts in 29 appearances. It’s pretty astounding for a kid to finish with a save percentage in the low .940s that’s actually worse than his previous season. Moreover, his 12 shutouts in two years equalled his 12 losses in that time.

I’ve typed that fact a dozen times or so, and I still have to double check it every time. I just don’t believe someone could do that.

Fast forward to the present, UML’s goaltending isn’t quite what is what with Hellebuyck and Doug Carr on the roster.

Through seven games, freshman Jeff Smith and UMass transfer Kevin Boyle have a combined .911 save percentage. It’s hardly a bad start from the pair, but it’s not exactly the same either. Still, UML is 5-1-1, and Norm Bazin’s club isn’t anywhere near what it’ll be as the season progresses.

It’s troubling, though, that UML has been so badly out-possessed to this point in the season. In those seven games, the River Hawks have accounted for just more than 43 percent of shots on goal in their games. A part of that is related to the score. UML has led after the first period in all but one of its games thus far, and score effects, especially over a small sample size, can muddle possession numbers.

Goaltending, though, is absolutely crucial moving forward. The River Hawks haven’t generated enough positive puck possession to this point. They are, however, shooting 18.9 percent, which is by far the highest in the country. That doesn’t happen because teams are good. It happens because they’re lucky.

Last season, the national average for shooting percentage was 9.2 percent. Boston College had the highest in the country at 12.2 percent, and certain Messrs. Gaudreau, Arnold and Hayes explain most of that. Simply put, pucks aren’t always going to go in for UML the way they have to start the season. At the moment, St. Lawrence has the second highest shooting percentage in the country at 14.8 percent for some perspective on UML’s start.

If they hover between .910 and .915 in terms of save percentage, they will start losing game unless their possession numbers start to improve. Seven games is still too few for any team to worry or celebrate either way, but it’s troubling. The River Hawks are among the best-coached teams in the country. They protect leads as well as anyone. Even in getting badly outshot against New Hampshire in last weekend’s sweep of the Wildcats, the River Hawks kept UNH from generating quality scoring chances and made it easy for Boyle and Smith to do their jobs.

That won’t always be the case, though. Allowing opponents to dominate territorially will eventually start to cause problems. Boyle and Smith or whichever one becomes the No. 1 down the road — it’ll probably be Smith — will need to be great for UML to win.

Notre Dame in for a rough month

After a disappointing 0-2 at the IceBreaker to start the season, Notre Dame is unbeaten in its last six games, sweeping both Lake Superior State and Niagara and taking three of four Hockey East points from Vermont. All six of those games came at home.

The Fighting Irish have eight games remaining in November. They travel to Minneapolis this weekend for a pair of games against Minnesota. Then they head east for a pair of Hockey East games at Merrimack before hosting UMass-Lowell for two games. The month ends with UND hosting the Shillelagh Tournament at Compton Family Ice Arena. In the first game, they’ll play Union and either Ohio State or Western Michigan in the second game.

That’s five of eight games against teams expected to compete for championships this season. Even with three of them at home, UND has a lot to prove.

Beating up on bad teams the way Notre Dame did in its sweeps of LSSU and Niagara is a good sign. It doesn’t mean the Irish are world beaters by any stretch, but responding to those challenges and winning each game by at least two goals shows UND won’t be too heavily threatened by inferior competition.

Freshman Cal Peterson has provided high-quality goaltending in his five starts, posting a .950 save percentage to start his career. Sophomore Chad Katunar got into a pair of games. His .895 is decidedly worse, but the Irish won both of those games anyway.

Doing those things against teams like Niagara and Lake Superior State is one thing. Against Vermont, though, UND was under siege in Saturday’s 2-2 tie and needed 42 saves from Peterson to earn the point. The Catamounts look to be a quality opponent, so taking three of four points is hardly a negative for the Fighting Irish.

However, Minnesota, UML and Union all appear to be a step above Vermont. The games with Merrimack should be wins for UND. Playing away from home in conference play last season wasn’t exactly the Fighting Irish’s strength. They were 3-5-1 in Hockey East road games last year and 0-1-0 in “neutral site” games, losing, 4-3, to Boston College at Fenway Park.

The results of these games won’t make or break Notre Dame’s season. After a fairly easy schedule, though, UND needs to take some wins from this month to position themselves well in Hockey East and the Pairwise.

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