Another week in Hockey East kicked off on Thursday, when Notre Dame beat Northeastern 3-2 in South Bend. The rest of the league schedule kicks into gear tonight. Here are this week’s 12 thoughts on Hockey East’s 12 teams …
Boston College (vs. Michigan State) — Rolling, rolling, rolling, the Eagles keep on rolling. No doubt the Spartans are coming to Boston this weekend and will run into a buzzsaw at BC on Friday night, facing an Eagle team that has three straight shutouts and six goose eggs in their last seven games (thanks, Thatcher Demko). In that same seven-game stretch, BC has also scored 30 goals, which averages to more than 4.0 per game. 4.29 to 0.43 is the exact goal margin. I pity the fool who has to play BC right now.
Boston University (home-and-home with Providence) — Probably the marquee matchup on the weekend in Hockey East. The Terriers are surging after a slow start, winners of their last three games including beating a tough Denver team to start this streak two weeks ago. Matt Grzelcyk’s return to the lineup has — as expected — sparked the defensive corps. The Terriers are still scoring at a rapid pace (4.67 goals per game in this three-game stretch) and once the goaltending settles in, which it should, there’s no reason BU won’t be near the top of Hockey East.
Connecticut (at Vermont) — Things started alright for UConn, winning three of its first five games including a win over BU at Agganis Arena. However since then, the Huskies are 0-5 and have been outscored 21-8, including a loss to Army. Going into the season I thought that UConn, which is improved offensively, would be able to go as far as Rob Nichols took them given that Max Letunov and Tage Thompson are still both freshmen. Thus far Nichols has posted a very mediocre .900 save percentage with a 2.98 goals-against average after posting a .918 save percentage in his first Hockey East season last year. In fact, Nichols was even better at the start of last season before struggling down the stretch.
Maine (home-and-home with UMass Lowell) — Oh Maine. Let’s put it like this … Robert Morris’ Greg Gibson has only two less goals in eight games as Maine has in nine games and Austin Ortega at Omaha, who has played the same number of games as Maine, also has scored only two less than the entire Maine team. There are players Maine came into the season certainly relying on for points that just aren’t producing. Nolan Vesey, who will sit Friday’s game after Hockey East suspended him for spearing, has no points in nine games after scoring 10 goals and 13 assists last season. Blaine Byron had 27 points in 39 games last season and has three through nine games as a junior. There are others, too. It’s basically the entire team. The frustrating part for Maine fans is that the goaltending, which also could have been perceived as a question mark heading into the season, has played great. Rob McGovern and Matt Morris have combined for a .922 save percentage. It’s the Black Bears’ NCAA-worst 3.8 shooting percentage that is plaguing the team. … I believe the 2006-07 Merrimack team is the worst scoring offense ever on record for a Division 1 team, scoring only 37 goals in 34 games. Even that team shot 4.9 percent, which is a full percentage point better than Maine.
UMass Lowell (home-and-home with Maine) — Lowell should have easy pickings this weekend, considering how well the River Hawks defend and how anemic Maine’s offense has been. Kevin Boyle looks terrific and Lowell’s system is smothering and tough to beat. Lowell is just quietly going about its business, putting itself in position to be one of the top teams in Hockey East.
Massachusetts (vs. Merrimack, at Vermont) — This is a very good test for UMass this weekend. The only two times this season the Minutemen have played a team with a better than .500 record, they lost by a combined score of 13-1 (BC and Yale). Merrimack is 5-1-2 on the year and according to the KRACH, has played the nation’s 11th-toughest schedule to date. It’s also a contrast in styles, with UMass looking for a wide-open, free-flowing game and Merrimack likely looking to keep things a little more tight. Then on Sunday, the Minutemen head up to Vermont to play a UVM team that has a troubling record, but has also played a fierce schedule.
Merrimack (at UMass, vs. UNH) — Merrimack might be 5-1-2 but Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy was not happy with how his team looked in a 3-2 win at Canisius last Saturday. The Mullins Center has been a house of horrors for the Warriors in recent years as well. Then on Saturday Merrimack will look to redeem its only blemish to date, UNH beat Merrimack 4-2 two weeks ago at Lawler Arena, where the Wildcats also scored the only two power-play goals Merrimack has allowed all season.
New Hampshire (at Merrimack) — After Adam Clark played well against Merrimack on Halloween, beating the Warriors, the Wildcats went back to Danny Tirone last weekend against Michigan State and he got letup for 11 goals in two games, both losses. Tirone now has an .868 save percentage on the season and a 4.44 goals-against average. Clark has wins over Union and Merrimack, posting a .939 save percentage in those two games.
Northeastern (at Notre Dame x2) — Northeastern hasn’t won since opening night, when it beat Colgate 2-1. Granted the schedule hasn’t been all that easy, with a pair of games at Notre Dame this weekend as well as games at Vermont and Minnesota (twice). But fact is Northeastern hasn’t looked good. Northeastern’s goaltenders have posted a team save percentage .866 and Kevin Roy has just four points, and no goals, in 10 games. While ice time isn’t tracked, it’s safe to assume Roy has among the most on NU. It could be that teams are just defending him better. Roy is second on the team with 63 shot attempts but 21 of those have been blocked, which is most on the team. On the power play, 11 of Roy’s 19 shot attempts have been blocked by opponents.
Notre Dame (vs. Northeastern x2) — After a loss to Minnesota last weekend, the Irish got back on track with a win over Northeastern on Thursday night. That Minnesota loss is Notre Dame’s only defeat in its last seven games (4-1-2). Notre Dame will have its toughest challenge to date next week at Lowell.
Providence (home-and-home with BU) — Mark Jankowski is second on the team in scoring with 10 points in seven games, yet has only registered 11 shots on goal. There are seven players on the PC roster who have landed more shots on net and his 26 shot attempts is only fifth-best on the team. Jankowski’s offensive production has kicked up his senior year, but you would have to believe it might increase even more so with more shots. Meanwhile, it’s getting hard to remember what it was like the last time Providence lost a hockey game.
Vermont (vs. UConn, vs. UMass) — Finally, a chance for the Catamounts to get on a bit of a winning streak. UVM has played a very tough schedule but these are two very winnable games for Vermont at home. In fact, it’s a stretch of four-straight winnable games for Vermont, which travels to a winless Maine team next weekend in Orono. As tough as the schedule has been, if UVM wants to be of any threat nationally and in Hockey East this season, it’s going to have to start beating good teams at some point. Losses to North Dakota, Omaha and Lowell are still losses.