There’s no sugarcoating it, Hockey East’s inter-conference record stinks. The league is 19-27-4 (.420) in non-conference games, and that includes a 4-1-1 record against Atlantic Hockey. If you pull those games out, the league is 15-26-3.
Will that hurt the league later this season in the Pairwise? Potentially. There’s still time to make up ground, but the league is in an awfully big hole with the bulk of non-conference games already in the books. Right now the Big Ten (.679), NCHC (.667) and ECAC (.452) all have better non-conference winning percentages.
Last year, Hockey East was .570 in inter-conference games. The league hasn’t been below-.500 since 2010-11, when it went 25-30-12 (.463). Not ironically, the league only had three teams in the NCAA Tournament that season: Merrimack, New Hampshire and Boston College.
Bad inter-conference performance hurts the entire league when teams are positioning for at-large bids in March.
So many inter-conference games take place here at the beginning of a new season, and Hockey East’s combined goaltending has been the worst in the country to start the year. The league has a combined save percentage of .899, with the national average .908 (a number Hockey East drags down a bit). The conferences outside of Hockey East are combining for a .910 save percentage.
Four goalies that most had pegged as the best in the league — Joe Woll (BC), Tyler Wall (UML), Adam Huska (UConn) and Jake Oettinger (BU) have combined for an .877 save percentage, and Oettinger is the only one in that group to be above .900 (.907).
Is Hockey East having a “down year?” There’s evidence to suggest it.
Fact is, teams hoping to earn an at-large bid in March need to be rooting for their league counterparts in inter-conference games today.
There’s only league action this weekend, but next weekend provide some intriguing opportunities. UConn vs. Ohio State is suddenly a big game, with the stranglehold the Big Ten has on these numbers. Hockey East is WINLESS against the Big Ten this season (0-6) and the Huskies are the league’s last hope at changing that. Those games are huge not only for UConn, but potentially other teams in the conference.
There are plenty of ECAC matchups on the schedule, but Hockey East needs to make headway with the NCHC as well. All of a sudden, Merrimack vs. Denver and Merrimack vs. Colorado College in December could mean a lot for the league.
Hockey East might be able to get ahead of the ECAC and stay ahead of the WCHA and Atlantic Hockey, but the Big Ten and NCHC appear to be the two leagues who will win the race for the most NCAA Tournament bids.