Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Oct. 20

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Last season, following a 1-1 draw against Providence at Fenway Park, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy remarked that Hockey East’s goaltending was the difference between very good teams and the rest of the league. It’s a comment he’s made a number of times over the years, but it always starts the same.

“You’ve heard it before. The name of this game should be changed to ‘goalie,'” he said. “You can go back and look. My senior year, Scott LaGrand led Hockey East with .900 save percentage. No one was over .900. Now, if you don’t have .920, we’re going ‘next?’ You need your goaltenders to be .920-.925 to have a chance to win games at this level.”

It’s no secret that very good goaltending is critical for teams to win hockey games. Last season, Hockey East continued the trend of making it nearly impossible for players to score goals. Nationally, the average save percentage for a team was .908. In Hockey East, that number rose to .916.

Teams don’t win in this league without consistently strong goaltending. It isn’t just enough to have good goaltending, of course. Teams need to score goals. They need to possess the puck. They need kill penalties. The list goes on, but the young man between the pipes is frequently the difference between winning and losing.

In the season’s first two weeks, goaltending statistics are especially polarized. It’s really not even worth looking at them just yet with no one playing more than four games thus far and some still with just one or two under their belts. But a couple clubs have put together some good starts and their goaltending has led the way. The usual names — Boston College’s Thatcher Demko and Providence’s Jon Gillies — will be among the leaders at the end. But BC and Providence expect to compete. Clubs looking to surprise this season will need their goalies to match their more well-known counterparts.

A year ago, it was Northeastern’s Clay Witt dominating the league to compete Northeastern in contention well into February. It’s difficult to tell who will be that guy this season, but one name has emerged in the season’s first couple weeks. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Oct. 14

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

It’s just one game — in some cases two — but it’s hardly enough to make any sweeping conclusions about a team’s fate.

The college hockey season has barely begun. Seven of the 12 teams in Hockey East have played just one time this season, and those single samples haven’t offered much in the way of knowledge on these teams. Boston University won’t score eight goals every night. Massachusetts won’t allow eight goals every night — though, it probably won’t score more than one all that often. Boston College’s talented roster won’t struggle to generate offense all year. And Merrimack, well, Merrimack won’t have the benefit of playing mid-table Atlantic Hockey clubs every night.

There are some trends, though, that appear to have continued from last year. Northeastern still never has the puck. Massachusetts-Lowell is still relentless in transition and remarkably disciplined in its system. And Vermont’s Brody Hoffman remains an underappreciated stalwart behind a team that just lacks something compared to the league’s true contenders.

We’ll learn a lot in the coming weeks. A number of marquee non-conference matchups come this weekend with only Connecticut and Merrimack playing a Hockey East game. Little that happens in October is especially indicative of what’s to come, but it’s part of the picture. There are just some things that probably won’t change much from last season, and even a win or a loss doesn’t really suggest a step forward or back in college hockey. The way teams arrive at those wins and losses is all the more important in the season’s earliest portions. (more…)

Hockey East’s Top-10 Non-Conference Games for 2014-15

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Mark your calendars.

Hockey East fans will be blessed this coming winter. Along with a shortened 22-game league schedule, which as it did last year when the schedule was at 20 games, should make for closer playoff races come the end of February, there’s a slew of premiere non-conference games headed to Hockey East rinks this upcoming season.

Union, the defending national champions, will visit three Hockey East rinks. Michigan makes a pair of trips and even Minnesota will fly to Boston, marking the first time the Gophers will travel to the city that houses four Division I programs since it helped close Walter Brown Arena and open Agganis Arena in Jan. 2005, if you exclude a visit to Vermont in 2012-13 and a trip to Hockey East newcomer Notre Dame last season, which is really in the midwest and not the east.

Since that trip to Boston in 2005, Minnesota has hosted 13 games against Hockey East opponents, and traveled east for just those two in Vermont.

Here are the top-10 non-conference games Hockey East will HOST this season:

10. Yale at Northeastern, Jan. 6
Two classic programs, playing in a classic building. Yale’s program has roots back to 1893 while Northeastern’s has been around since 1929. Matthews Arena has been around since 1909, and you know the history there. Besides, Northeastern is on an upswing in Hockey East the past two seasons under Jim Madigan and Yale just won a national title two years ago.

9. Michigan at Boston University, Oct. 25
Boston University endured one of its tougher seasons in 2013-14, but Jack Eichel will pull a BU shirt over his head this fall, and that makes this early-season matchup with Michigan a must see. Eichel will go against his NJEC linemate, Tyler Motte, as well as a plethora of his other former U.S. National Team Development Program teammates.

8. Union at Boston University, Jan. 3
If the national champions are visiting your building, it’s a big game. BU’s struggles could linger into the early parts of the 2014 schedule, but by January, the Terriers could very well be firing on all cylinders. The only problem here is that Eichel, and any other players that make the World Junior Team, will likely still be playing in the tournament.

7. Union at Maine, Oct. 17 & 18
Maine was reinvigorated last season with new head coach Red Gendron behind the bench, and the Black Bears will bring in their best non-conference opponent to Orono in just the second week of the regular season. Gendron is giving his players a mighty test right away.

6. Michigan at UMass Lowell, Oct. 24
It should be an interesting year for Lowell, which has now lost the bulk of the nucleus that has won back-to-back Hockey East championships. But they’re still the defending two-time champs. Lowell, which in both championship years has gotten off to sluggish starts, will be tested early against an ultra-talented Michigan team.

5. Union at Notre Dame, Nov. 28 (Shillelagh Tournament First Round)
Notre Dame, by its standards, limped through its first year as a member of Hockey East. But parity in college hockey, which is a theory everyone likes to talk about, in most cases doesn’t actually exist. Notre Dame is a reload program. They don’t rebuild. Teams like Merrimack, Vermont and Massachusetts have all had cups of coffee among the nation’s elite, but have failed to sustain it. Notre Dame had a taste of what it’s like near the bottom of Hockey East in its first season – the Irish finished eighth – but don’t expect that to sustain either. Then there’s Union. Did I mention they’re the defending national champions?

4. Michigan at Boston College, Dec. 13
This might as well be called the “NTDP All Star Game.” By my count, there will be 11 former NTDP players on the ice in this one, including BC goaltender Thatcher Demko. For much of these rosters, it will be one of their last games on opposite benches before players like Tuch, Milano, Demko, Motte, Compher, Downing and Larkin likely join the World Junior Team.

3. Minnesota at Northeastern, Nov. 29
A night after it plays a huge game at BC – we’ll get to that in a minute – the Gophers will travel to Matthews Arena to play Northeastern. The Huskies can score and they’ll be trying to improve on a defense that allowed the eighth-most goals in Hockey East, despite starter Clay Witt posting the second-best save percentage. That tells you how many shots Northeastern was allowing. But the Huskies will still be a team in the top-half of the Hockey East standings and it doesn’t get any more marquee than a matchup with Minnesota.

2. Quinnipiac at UMass Lowell, Oct. 18
Lowell and Quinnipiac have been surging at a similar time, and will collide early in the season. Just as Lowell has risen to prominence, winning back-to-back tournament titles, Quinnipiac has made a similar move in the ECAC.

1. Minnesota at Boston College, Nov. 28
This, you can’t beat. Two of the most storied programs in college hockey will meet up on Thanksgiving weekend. Take the league out of it, this will be the most anticipated non-conference game of the season across the entire nation. Union won the national title last April, and that’s all that counts, but BC and Minnesota actually finished No. 1 and 2 in the final Pairwise. Union had to knock off both these programs en route to its championship. Like it has in many years, the road to a national title likely goes through Minnesota or BC, if not both.

Honorable Mention: U.S. Under-20 Team vs. Boston University, Dec. 19
It’s only an exhibition, but Jack Eichel and the WJC team against BU should be a fun take.

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, March 18, 2014

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Boston College will go a second straight season without winning a Lamoriello Trophy. The Eagles won’t even be in the championship game, nor will they be at TD Garden. It’s not mind-boggling from a hockey standpoint. Notre Dame’s a great team. Hockey East is a hard league to win — parity and stuff. But, thinking over the last decade in Hockey East, a Championship Weekend without the Eagles in plainly weird.

Massachusetts-Lowell’s win of Hockey East last season ended a three-year title reign for Boston College. Notre Dame’s defeat of the Eagles on Sunday afternoon, to complete a 2-1 series win, clinched the first semifinal group without BC since 2004. That year, the Eagles also lost to the No. 8 seed (Boston University) as the No. 1 seed in three games.

Ultimately, BC’s chances as a national title contender are still as strong as they were before the loss. There aren’t many teams in the country that can stifle BC like Notre Dame did on Friday and Sunday. The Irish are an uncommonly sound defensive team with the type of scoring talent that makes their possession-focused attack so effective. It’ll take a similar effort to prevent BC from coming out of Worcester and advancing to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

Even as BC ran away with the Hockey East Regular Season Championship, some problems still existed for BC. Like last season, the club’s young and talented defensive corps just never looked like a championship-level group. At different times, Mike Matheson has been great. At other points, it seemed like he took a step back in his development. Freshmen Steve Santini, Ian McCoshen and Scott Savage have all been great in their first seasons, but they’re still just rookies. Beyond Isaac MacLeod’s consistently strong play, the Eagles have serious issues on the blue line, especially when it comes to defensive breakdowns. The group moves the puck well  and regularly dominates the physical side of the game. It also can make life awfully difficult for BC’s goaltenders.

Losing to Notre Dame won’t change much for BC in terms of tournament locale. The Eagles will still be the No. 1 seed in Worcester (more than likely) and will play a team they’re probably better than. However, a better performance in the Hockey East Tournament may’ve meant the difference between playing the Atlantic Hockey Champion and a strong team from one of college hockey’s power conferences.

BC is as much of a contender as it’s been at any point this season. That level seems to have been greatly exaggerated, though. (more…)

Last Night: Hockey East Playoff Picture

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

The final night of the Hockey East regular season is upon us. The new playoff format has eliminated the type of drama we’re accustomed to. Every team qualifying for at least the preliminary round means each club has at least one game to look forward after Saturday night’s regular-season finale.

Here’s a look at where it all stands now, and what everyone has to lose.

The Champion

Boston College locked up the top seed in the Hockey East Tournament a couple weeks ago, picking up yet another trophy for legendary head coach Jerry York.

The Eagles were idle on Friday, but they host Notre Dame Saturday night at Conte Forum. Within the league, BC has nothing to gain, but a win over the Fighting Irish is especially important for BC in its quest to be the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament. Moreover, it’s always an important game when BC and Notre Dame meet in any sport.

Highest Possible Finish: 1st
Lowest Possible Finish: 1st (more…)

The Takeaway: UNH Flat In Weekend Home Sweep by UVM

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Durham, NH - Last weekend looked so positive for UNH, as it swept Notre Dame but its opponent this weekend had different plans for this weekend. Last night, the Catamounts defeated UNH, 5-2, and tonight was much of the same except for the fact UNH looked a tad better. Vermont, though, looked like the sharper team all weekend.

After a scoreless first period that saw Vermont dominate the central portions of the ice, its play was rewarded in the second period. The Catamounts scored first at three minutes, 45 seconds of the second period, as Pete Massar was left alone in the slot. Vermont  was great with responses last night and tonight was no different, as it responded quickly with a second one less than three minutes later  when super-freshman, Mario Puskarich, scored on a UNH defensive breakdown. Nick Sorkin brought the Wildcats within one at 11:40 of the second and that score held into the third period. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Jan. 28, 2014

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Massachusetts senior Michael Pereira earned his 100th career point Saturday night in a 3-2 loss to Merrimack. Pereira scored twice in the game, both in the second period and on the power play. UMass lost the game, however, and the story of Pereira’s career in Amherst received another troubling chapter.

In the fall of 2010, Pereira arrived at UMass, along with about a dozen other freshmen. Naturally, that team struggled badly in Hockey East, winning only five games and just barely sneaking into the league tournament. At times, Pereira, Branden Gracel, Conor Sheary and other youngsters on that club revealed the talent and skill that made people wonder about the future.

In the last three-and-a-half years, that class has produced the occasional great result, but they, like UMass classes before them, have never amounted to much more than some good players who can’t win games. Mix in the departure of Don Cahoon as head coach two summers ago, and it’s been a difficult career for Pereira and his talented classmates.

Seven years ago, UMass was in the midst of one of only a few successful seasons since the program’s rebirth more than 20 years ago. That year, guided by all-American goaltender Jon Quick, was supposed to signify the beginning UMass’ ascent to regional prevalence. Instead, Quick bolted and everything fell apart. The Minutemen haven’t finished above .500 since that season, and the next couple seasons don’t look much brighter.

When John Micheletto took over for Cahoon in August 2012, he proclaimed, as everyone associated with that programs always has, that UMass would become “the place to be.” Moving toward the end of his second season with UMass, Micheletto is banking on his recruiting talent to turn UMass around. It’s inevitably going to take some time, especially with nine players graduating this season. At this point, though, it’s difficult to think it will ever actually happen.

(After the jump: BC’s Hockey East dominance; UMass-Lowell is very good no matter what else you’ve read; Still not sold on Northeastern? Nope.) (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Jan. 21

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

A year ago, the final night of the regular season decided the Hockey East title. Massachusetts-Lowell defeated Providence to earn its first regular-season championship, but four different teams could’ve claimed the distinction with some slightly different results.

It was, for most, the most exciting ending to a regular season in the league’s history. Similar results were expected this season, but it’s not likely to happen. With about seven weeks left before the postseason, Boston College has the trophy wrapped up. It will take a bit of a collapse from the Eagles and near perfect performances from Northeastern, UMass-Lowell or Providence to get past BC.

With eight league games remaining, BC has 21 points with a 10-1-1 record through its first 12. UML looks like the only realistic contender to knock off BC. Even then, the River Hawks essentially can’t lose more than once or twice to do the job and must sweep BC in the process.

The Hockey East Tournament promises some drama to decide the 2014 recipient of the Lamoriello Trophy. For now, though, the hardware handed out for the regular season champion is almost guaranteed to land in Chestnut Hill.

(After the jump: Four critical points at stake between Providence and Lowell; Notre Dame needs to get going; A tough year for BU isn’t all on its first-year head coach)

(more…)

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Jan. 20

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Big Ten play has been picking up, although not every team in the conference has faced off yet. All teams, except for Michigan, have now played at least six league games. Minnesota leads Big Ten play with a 7-0-1 record over eight games.

Michigan and Wisconsin were idle over the weekend, while Michigan State swept Penn State and Minnesota swept Ohio State.

With the limited amount of conference games, it’s hard to tell which teams — aside from the Gophers — are elite in Big Ten hockey. But the Buckeyes proved over the weekend they’re capable of playing against the best.

The Nittany Lions are still searching for their first conference win, and their four wins this season have all been against Atlantic Hockey teams. In Saturday’s contests against the Spartans, Penn State lost 3-2 but played well and tied the Spartans twice during the game.

But the rest of the season is only going to get harder for the Nittany Lions, who resume against Boston College. The Eagles defeated Penn State 8-2 earlier in the season. After that, Penn State will play 14 games against Big Ten teams.

(After the jump: Minnesota’s offense, Ohio State’s goalkeeping and Ryan Dzingel) (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Jan. 14

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

College hockey’s winter break came and went pretty quickly. As teams traveled to various holiday tournaments and other series around the country, Hockey East clubs produced some results that, as they often do, offered as many questions as they answered.

Even now, after another weekend of games, it’s difficult to say with any certainty where most teams stand.

The jump into the second half also leads to year-end award discussions. These arguments reveal as much about the league as any of the results on the ice. Within Hockey East, the coach of the year conversations are as wide open as any in recent memory. In the last two seasons, it came down to either Massachusetts-Lowell’s Norm Bazin or Providence’s Nate Leaman. With more than 50 wins in that time, Bazin was the clear favorite.

However, the presence of Jerry York always means there’s another candidate to discuss. Once again, York has his Eagles in great position. BC is atop the Hockey East standings to this point and in equally great shape on the national scene. That was expected, though. The Eagles are among the nation’s most talented clubs, and nothing they do really surprises anyone anymore. York’s the best at what he does. If he won the coach of the year award every season, it really wouldn’t come as much of a shock.

Beyond York, and even Bazin, there are four candidates warranting serious consideration. Leaman’s Providence team is in position to earn a bye in the Hockey East Tournament and an NCAA bid. Again, though, most anticipated a strong year from the Friars led by goaltender Jon Gillies and junior center Ross Mauermann. Outside of Leaman, Northeastern’s Jim Madigan, Maine’s Red Gendron and Vermont’s Kevin Sneddon are all guiding teams currently outpacing their preseason expectations.

Each, of course, comes with some caveats that we’ll get a better understanding of in the next two months. At this point, I’d give Madigan the nod. Northeastern missed the last two Hockey East Tournaments thanks to horrendous regular-season campaigns. While that can’t happen again as a result of a new playoff format, the Huskies are currently tied for second in Hockey East with Providence. NU holds the tiebreaker over PC after defeating the Friars, 2-1, last Tuesday in overtime and playing to a 3-3 tie at Matthews Arena in December.

There are some concerns with Northeastern moving forward (more on that later), but the Huskies continue to prove they’re a legitimate contender within Hockey East play. NU hosts Vermont this weekend for two games (only one is a conference game) before traveling to South Bend, Ind., in two weeks for a pair with Notre Dame. Outside of league play, the Huskies are ninth in the Pairwise.

Like it will for every club, the next few weeks will reveal Northeastern’s true standing. At this point, though, it’s not fair to say they haven’t earned some respect.

(After the jump: Northeastern’s possession problems; BC’s depth; Maine’s coming road test.) (more…)