Hockey East Weekend Preview: 2/12/16

Posted by: Mike McMahon

Maine at Notre Dame — Maine hits the road after getting swept by Providence last weekend, while Notre Dame is looking to put together a new unbeaten streak, after Boston College snapped the longest streak in the nation two weeks ago. The Irish got back on track with a sweep over Vermont last weekend.

During a stretch of 15 games where the Irish have gone 11-1-3, goaltender Cal Petersen has a .946 save percentage.

For Maine, much of any success rest of season will come down to how well its goaltender plays. In overall games (not just conference games), Maine’s 1.93 goals per game is worst in Hockey East. Last weekend, in a 1-0 overtime loss to Providence, Matt Morris made 50 saves to almost earn Maine a point, despite the Black Bears getting almost doubled-up in shot attempts, 85-45 (75-39 at even strength).

PICK: Notre Dame sweeps

Merrimack vs. Boston College — It’s hard to see anything but a BC sweep this weekend, even with the Warriors looking better in their last two outings after snapping a 10-game losing streak. BC will be without Miles Wood on Friday, after he was suspended one game for a hit on Ahti Oksanen in Monday’s Beanpot final.

Still, Thatcher Demko is one of the best goalies in the league, if not the country, and the Warriors have struggled to find the back of the net, scoring a league-worst 26 goals in 16 league games (1.63 per game).

It’s “trophy season” for the Eagles, as Jerry York likes to call it, and BC is playing typical BC hockey here in the months of January and February. Since the calendar changed, BC is 7-0-3, and the Eagles haven’t lost to Merrimack at home since … get this … Oct. 31, 1997! They’re 29-0-3 during this streak. To put that in perspective, the youngest player that will play in the games this weekend, Merrimack’s Mathieu Foget, was just seven months old the last time Merrimack beat Boston College at the Heights.

In 1997, Ron Anderson was still Merrimack’s head coach … the Warriors are two coaches removed from their last win at BC. That weekend, Merrimack’s Martin Laroche was Hockey East Player of the Week for a 10-point performance (3 goals, 7 assists) against the Eagles and Union in two games and Cris Classen was 3-0 with a .911 save percentage after backstopping Merrimack to the win. How times have changed, the Warriors were averaging six goals per game after beating BC in 1997 and Merrimack’s top line of Casey Kesselring, Laroche and Sandy Cohen were, at the time, lighting up Hockey East … they scored eight goals that weekend.

Let’s see … Bill Clinton was president the last time Merrimack won at BC. Human cloning was a hot topic after the Scottish cloned that sheep, Dolly. Most of us were running Windows 95 on our computers (if you even had one). Oasis was still a band. The Packers beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. South Park debuted. Seinfeld was one of America’s top television shows and Titanic blew everything away at the box office. The week of that game, “4 Seasons of Loneliness” by Boyz II Men was the No. 1 song in America. Flubber was released, and the average price per gallon for gasoline was $1.19 … I guess that’s not too far off.

PICK: Boston College sweeps

Providence vs. Connecticut — Connecticut scratched and clawed its way to a point against Merrimack last Saturday night, getting out-attempted 87-37 (40-9 in the third period) but Tanner Creel held strong with 43 saves. It’s still not known if Rob Nichols can return from ankle injury this weekend against Providence.

Max Letunov and Tage Thompson are deadly in the offensive zone. UConn appears to lack some depth there behind them — it’s just a young team — but when those two are on the ice, anything can happen. Thompson nearly scored twice at the end of a power-play last Saturday. I’m still not sure how the puck stayed out of the Merrimack net.

The Friars are looking to hit the 20-win mark for the three straight seasons, which will be just the third time in program history that has happened.

But the Huskies have looked good in their last 10, boasting a 4-3-3 record including a sweep of Lowell and a tie with Boston College.

How’s this for a stat, courtesy of Providence’s game notes: The Friars have trailed for the fewest amount of time in all of college hockey this season — just 140:30 out of 1586:26 played, which equates to 8.2 percent.

PICK: Providence sweeps

Vermont at New Hampshire — Vermont shut down UNH in a meeting earlier this season, a non-conference game at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Now the challenge is whether or not the Catamounts can continue to keep Andrew Poturalski and Tyler Kelleher quiet on home ice.

Ironically, Poturalski and Kelleher have done more damage on the road this season. Poturalski has 17 points in 13 games at home, and 27 points in in 15 games on the road. Kelleher has 14 points in 13 games at home, and 26 points in 15 games on the road.

In the only other meeting this season between the two teams, Vermont edged out a 3-2 win in a game where they outshot the Wildcats 37-19.

Speaking of Kelleher, he is two points away from 100 for his career. If he hits it, he’ll become the first UNH player in a decade to hit that mark before the end of his junior season. The last players to do so were Jacob Micfliker and Brett Hemingway, who both reached 100 points during the 2005-06 season as juniors.

“He handles the puck well and sees the ice well,” Umile said. “I’ve told him to not be afraid to get a little more selfish and shoot, especially when he gets in the Grade A areas, instead of passing it off.”

PICK: New Hampshire sweeps

UMass Lowell vs. Boston University — Lowell has been a hard team to figure out in the second half. The River Hawks have demolished the teams they should demolish — Arizona State, UMass — but have also suffered some troubling losses, including last week’s 3-2 setback against UNH despite controlling 72 percent of the possession and attempting an eyebrow-raising 100 shots.

The pieces that appear to be missing for UML are finishers behind C.J. Smith and Adam Chapie. Those two lead the team in scoring, as they did last season, but the production behind them certainly leaves something to be desired. Last season Joe Gambardella had 14 goals and 30 points, Evan Campbell had 12 goals and Dylan Zink chipped in with 10. Smith and Chapie already have double-digit goals this season, but no one else behind them on the roster is on pace to finish with more than 8.5 goals. Also, last season, the River Hawks shot 11.5 percent and that has dipped to 9.6 percent this season, which just highlights the lack of finishing behind Smith and Chapie. Ironically, both Smith and Chapie are shooting slightly worse, percentage wise, than they did last season while Gambardella’s shooting percentage has been almost cut in half, but he also shot at a ridiculous 21.2 percent last season.

Then there’s BU. Oh, BU. The Terriers have lost two games since Dec. 11, and both have been to Boston College. In fact, the only three games BU has not won in that span — 11 games — were two losses to BC and then a 1-1 tie with the Eagles last month.

This series carries huge weight for both teams, but particularly the Terriers. There are five teams fighting for the four first-round byes in Hockey East, and BU is just barely on the outside, two points back of Providence. Assuming the Friars pick up some points against UConn this weekend, these are vital points for BU, who could actually pass Lowell with a series sweep.

PICK: BU wins at home, UML wins at home

Massachusetts vs. Northeastern — It’s going to be a tough road for UMass the rest of the way, playing a hot Northeastern team this weekend, then UMass Lowell, and then closing out the season with Providence. Considering the Minutemen have just two wins in the last three months — and they were both in overtime over what should be lower-tier competition in Atlantic Hockey — it’s justified to think that the Minutemen may not win another game this season.

UMass is just 2-12-4 in Hockey East, but the most startling statistic is that the Minutemen have allowed 82 goals in league play. That’s a whopping 29 more than the next-worst team (New Hampshire). UMass’ scoring margin in Hockey East is a -2.28 goals per game (2.28-4.56).

Meanwhile, Northeastern just chugged past an very talented Harvard team on Monday night, and since the second game of the “Belpot” tournament over Thanksgiving weekend, the Huskies sport a 9-2-3 record. Hard to see this series going anywhere but a Northeastern sweep.

PICK: Northeastern sweeps

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