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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.

Thoughts on the Big Ten Tournament

Monday, March 24th, 2014

After Wisconsin beat Ohio State in overtime, Mark Zengerle said the game-winning goal was a blur.

That’s how I feel about the entire weekend.

Unfortunately I missed the first two games of the tournament, but flew in on Friday to catch the semifinals. It was a long day at the Xcel Energy Center, but everything was organized well, from game notes to press conferences.

But it was nothing compared to Saturday.

At the same time the Badgers and Buckeyes were playing each other for the Big Ten title in St. Paul, Minn., North Dakota was waiting and watching in Minneapolis, Minn., hoping for a Badger win. Their fans were watching there as well, as North Dakota had played in the NCHC consolation game at the Target Center earlier in the day.

If Ohio State won the Big Ten title, North Dakota would miss the NCAA Tournament.

Oddly, we checked Twitter from the Xcel Energy Center for reactions from the North Dakota camp as the Wisconsin-Ohio State game continued.

When Wisconsin’s Mark Zengerle scored the championship-winning goal on Saturday, the Xcel Energy Center went insane. And so did Minneapolis, where North Dakota fans were following the game (Brad Schlossman, North Dakota reporter, put together a great piece on what that situation was like).

Blur, yes. (more…)

NCHC Prediction: Winner Will Be…

Friday, March 21st, 2014

The inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff kicks off this afternoon from the Target Center in Minneapolis. Denver and Western Michigan, both of whom won on the road last weekend, will square off in Semifinal #1, and will be followed by North Dakota and Miami in the primetime semifinal tonight.

A full preview of the NCHC championship weekend is here, featuring a breakdown of all four teams and exclusive thoughts from North Dakota captain Dillon Simpson, Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray, and Denver head coach Jim Montgomery.

Predictions (though not to be taken seriously, given my lack of success in my March Madness bracket pool so far)…

Denver 3 Western Michigan 1

North Dakota 4 Miami 2

Denver 3 North Dakota 1

Denver looked like a different team over the last two games, outscoring NCHC Player of the Year Josh Archibald and Nebraska-Omaha by a combined 7-1 score in games two and three of their quarterfinal series last weekend. They also boast the NCHC Goaltender of the Year and Richter Award finalist Sam Brittain, who will need to continue to play well if the Pioneers are to win two games this weekend. Of note, a potential Denver/North Dakota championship game would be interesting, as it would feature two of the top defensive units in the country. Five of the six North Dakota starters on the blueline are NHL draft picks.

In speaking with Denver coach Jim Montgomery on Tuesday, he felt that his team finally came together last week in Omaha, away from the distractions of the Mile High City, where his team struggled this season.

“We’ve been a very good road team,” said the first-year coach. “As far as our execution and our effort every night, we’ve been much more consistent on the road than at home. Right now, being on the road is a good thing for Denver hockey.”

Denver and Western Michigan play at 5 p.m. ET, followed by North Dakota and Miami at 8 p.m. ET. Both games will air live on CBS Sports Network.

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…)

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, March 18

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Minnesota clinched the first Big Ten conference title on Friday with an overtime win against Michigan. Kyle Rau scored the game winner, and Gophers’ senior class became the first at Minnesota to win three-straight conference titles.

The Badgers finished the regular season in second place, Michigan third and Penn State last. Ohio State split the series with Penn State while Michigan State also split with Wisconsin, leaving the Buckeyes with the fourth seed and the Spartans with the fifth.

After the weekend, Minnesota is No. 1 in PairWise rankings and Wisconsin is No. 5. While the rankings will change during the conference tournaments, the Gophers and Badgers should make the NCAA Tournament regardless.

The Wolverines have the most at stake this weekend, as they are currently 11th in the PairWise. If they defeat the Nittany Lions in the first game, the Wolverines should make the NCAA Tournament.

(After the jump: Big Ten Awards, playoff uncertainty, Michigan possibly getting hot)

Playoff uncertainty

The Big Ten officially released the matchups after the weekend.

Michigan and Penn State will face off and Ohio State will play Michigan State in the first round of the tournament. Wisconsin will play either Michigan or Penn State, and Minnesota will face either Ohio State or Michigan State. The winners will play on Saturday.

Because it’s a one-and-done deal — especially the first round of the tournament — anything can happen. I believe it’s likely Minnesota and Wisconsin will play for the Big Ten championship, but the first round will be interesting.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Penn State or Michigan State moved on to the second round.

While Wisconsin has played more consistently lately, there’s no guarantee they can win on the road. And Penn State — which could beat Michigan — played well against Wisconsin.

Michigan possibly getting hot

Minnesota sat a few players for Saturday’s contest against the Wolverines, including Adam Wilcox and Sam Warning. So Wilcox wasn’t in net when the Gophers surrendered six goals. It was only the second time this season Minnesota allowed that many goals, and the first time since Nov. 24.

But after watching Michigan’s first game against Minnesota this weekend and parts of the second, I was pretty impressed. I was also impressed when the Wolverines played Ohio State, but Minnesota is a better opponent.

I’ve said nice things about Michigan before, but it hasn’t stuck. I believe the Wolverines are playing better hockey now, but the key is consistency. After snapping a four-game losing streak, the Wolverines are 4-2-1 with wins over Ohio State and Michigan State.

The Buckeyes and Spartans might not have the best records, but they’re not pushover teams either.

But as I mentioned earlier, the Wolverines should be able to make the NCAA Tournament as long as they defeat Penn State in the first round.

Big Ten Awards

The Big Ten released its inaugural conference awards, which include the Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year.

I wasn’t one of the media members who voted, but I put together a set of my own.

A lot of the choices I agree with and a lot of them are close calls. Adam Wilcox earned a first team selection as well as the goaltender and player of the year awards. I would’ve put Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel on the First Team and made him the Goaltender of the Year Award.

The All-Freshman Team consisted of JT Compher, Hudson Fasching, Nick Schilkey, Michael Downing, Drew Brevig and Christian Frey.

It’s surprising Frey earned the nod over Zach Nagelvoort, who was forced into Michigan’s starting job after Steve Racine went down. Frey had to join a tumultuous situation in Ohio State, but he played in half the season. I’ve seen both Frey and Nagelvoort.

Big Ten Hockey Releases Inaugural Awards

Monday, March 17th, 2014

The Big Ten released its inaugural conference awards, which include the Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year.

Some of the media (myself included) weren’t asked to vote, but I compiled my own awards.

A lot of the choices I agree with and a lot of them are close calls. Adam Wilcox earned a first team selection as well as the goaltender and player of the year awards. I would’ve put Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel on the First Team and made him the Goaltender of the Year — but only by a very, very slim margin.

But I think Ohio State’s Ryan Dzingel should be the league’s Player of the Year. Overall he leads Big Ten players with 43 points, and he has a league-high 24 points in conference play. He’s also an extremely skilled and talented player.

The All-Freshman Team consisted of JT Compher, Hudson Fasching, Nick Schilkey, Michael Downing, Drew Brevig and Christian Frey.

It’s surprising Frey earned the nod over Zach Nagelvoort, who was forced into Michigan’s starting job after Steve Racine went down. I think Nagelvoort had to play in a very tough situation with the Wolverines.

Frey had to join a tumultuous situation in Ohio State, but he played less than half the season. I’ve seen both Frey and Nagelvoort playa little bit this season. I’ve seen good things from them and I’ve also seen them struggle.

My guess is it’s because Nagelvoort started four of the last 10 games, while Frey started seven of the last 10.

I also swapped JT Compher for Hudson Fasching as the Rookie of the Year.

Here are my Big Ten awards:

(more…)

A Quick Pairwise Look Heading Into Championship Weekend

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Conferences across the nation will crown their league champions, and NCAA automatic qualifiers, this upcoming weekend.

For some teams these will be do-or-die games. For others, there’s a trophy at stake but their tickets to the NCAA tournament have already been punched. Here’s what we know:

(more…)

The Takeaway: Northeastern Exorcises Demons at UNH To Send Series to a Decisive Game 3

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Durham, NH - Northeastern entered UNH’s Whittemore Center on Saturday night, without a win in seven seasons at New Hampshire last winning on the olympic sheet in 2007. To make matters worse, the Huskies haven’t defeated UNH in the playoffs since 1989. For much of the first two periods, it appeared to be much of the same for NU on its opponents ice. Grayson Downing opened the scoring for UNH at 11 minutes, 35 seconds of the first period, but NU answered just three minutes later off the stick of Ryan Belonger. UNH took another lead at 18:27 of the first when Nick Sorkin was left all alone in front of Clay Witt. UNH not only took the 2-1 lead into the first intermission, but it entered the second period with 1:34 of of 5 on 3 powerplay time. The powerplay ended up being the turning-point in the series.

UNH’s two-man advantage got plenty of opportunities, but was unable to capitalize. The Huskies caught UNH napping at the end, as Matt Benning exited the box and headed down the ice on a break-away. He was tripped and the Huskies were awarded a penalty shot, which Kevin Roy took and scored to tie the game. UNH would then dominate the middle portions of the second period and would take a 4-2 lead on goals by Kelleher and Agosta. The Huskies though were ever pesky and fought back. Colton Saucerman scored at the 16:29 mark of the second and Kevin Roy scored his second to send it into the third period tied at three.

The third period was a stalemate that saw NU control the possession on UNH, but NU did appear to score midway through the period to take a 5-4 but it was overturned by the guys in stripes to keep the game tied at 4. It was overturned for goaltender interference and the game would head into the overtime tied at four. Mike Szmatula broke the deadlock at 3:39 of the overtime to give NU the 5-4 overtime win. UNH and NU will faceoff in a crucial game three tomorrow at 4:30 at the Whittemore Center. See highlights courtesy of UNH Athletics. (more…)

The Takeaway: Kelleher Goal Leads UNH To 1-0 Victory Over NU and a 1-0 Series Lead

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Durham, NH - UNH entered the Hockey East tournament without an appearance at the TD Garden in three seasons.  It looked hungry to get there again. Both Northeastern and UNH had last week off with byes. UNH had the better of the play in the period but the two teams left the period scoreless. The second period was marked by a UNH parade to the penalty box, as the Huskies had five power-plays in the period, but the Huskies were unable to capitalize. UNH had the better of the five on five play in the period, but again the teams left the period scoreless.

The Third period was much like the first two in that UNH dominated the possession and quality opportunities. Freshman,Tyler Kelleher broke the scoreless tie at four minutes, 49 seconds of the third period when he found a Grayson Downing tip right in front of Witt that he roofed to give UNH the 1-0 lead. The Huskies struggled to get quality chances late and in game, it was held to just four Grade A opportunities in the contest. UNH defeated Northeastern, 1-0 in front of 3,135 fans at the Whittemore Center and improves its record 20-16-1, moving up a spot in the Pairwise to a tie for 17th, just outside tournament positioning. Northeastern is also in that tie for 17th place with a record of 18-13-4. See these Highlights courtesy of UNH Athletics. (more…)

Beyond Montpetit’s Goal

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Denver boasted the best penalty killing unit in the NCHC this season, thanks in large part to All-NCHC First Team goaltender Sam Brittain. Thursday night in the NCHC playoff opener, UNO converted on three of four power play chances and took a 1-0 lead in its quarterfinal series against Denver. Game 2 is tonight.

The lasting highlight of the game will be Brock Montpetit’s highlight reel goal that broke a 3-3 tie in the third period. Montpetit received a pass from Ryan Walters and beat Pioneer defenseman Joey LaLeggia, expertly slipping by him and sliding a backhander by Brittain.

“He makes a heck of a move,” UNO head coach Dean Blais told the Omaha World-Herald, “and then he goes in and beats an All-American goaltender who’s going to be playing in the NHL.”

Beyond Montpetit’s heroics, however, was perhaps a more important storyline — especially if Omaha plans on making a serious playoff run.

Consider that less than a week earlier, the Mavericks defense fell apart against Minnesota-Duluth, with the Bulldogs prevailing 8-2. Thursday, by contrast, UNO’s defense outplayed Denver’s, particularly in the third period — evidenced not just by Montpetit’s goal but by four blocked shots in the frantic final 60 seconds, and by playing the third period with just five defensemen. Captain Michael Young was ejected late in the second period after receiving a major penalty and game misconduct for a contact to the head infraction. In his absence, his teammates on the back end stepped up — most notably junior Jaycob Megna and freshman Ian Brady.

On the other end, Denver’s defense is among the most trusted in the nation, not just for their play on the blue line but also for their offensive output. After all, with the goaltender pulled late in the game last night, four of the six Pioneers on the ice trying to score the tying goal were defensemen — LaLeggia, in addition to Nolan Zajac, David Makowski, and Will Butcher. That foursome has combined for 32 goals this season.

The Pioneers have lost three of four and five of seven, and now face the end to their season if they lose either tonight or tomorrow. And their defense will have to return to form if they want to avoid that.

“The key was killing off the five-minute major,” continued Blais after last night’s game, highlighting again his team’s effort on defense in Game 1. “It might have switched the whole momentum.”

The question remaining is whether UNO carries that momentum to the inaugural NCHC “Frozen Faceoff” a week from today in Minneapolis.