Archive for the 'Hockey East' Category

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Feb. 5, 2015

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

I’ve been a pretty unrelenting critic of Connecticut this season. The Huskies have been better than anticipated in their first season as a Hockey East school.

Still, 8-12-7 overall isn’t a very good record.

There have been some brightspots, though, and goaltender Rob Nichols stands out as a legitimate all-star contender for the Huskies. Building teams from the goal out is a plan for most coaches. Nichols, a sophomore, has a .930 save percentage in 26 games played.

That’s not just a good season. Playing behind this UConn team, a .930 save percentage is truly remarkable.

The coaching and recruiting chops of Mike Cavanaugh suggest the Huskies are only going to improve in the next few seasons. A steady presence like Nichols in goal is precisely what a team in that transition phase needs to punch above its weight in a league like Hockey East.

For the next five years or so, UConn is going to be outclassed on paper by at least a few teams. It takes a long time for programs to build programs with enough good players to win games consistently and compete for championships.

In the short term, finding quality goaltending and coaching a team to support him with disciplined defending will help UConn win more games than sheer talent suggests it should.

It’s not a certainty if anyone to follow Nichols will play this well. Moreover, from watching UConn’s games, it’s abundantly clear that Nichols isn’t just a product of good defending. He’s a remarkable shot-stopper with the agility, skating and poise to steal certain goals. That’s not something every program can find for every recruiting class. There are otherwise great teams in college hockey right now that don’t have goaltending nearly as strong as UConn does.

Looking ahead to the Hockey East tournament, it’s difficult to see UConn winning two of three games from most teams in the league. Nichols, though, is a serious equalizer for the Huskies. As the Huskies improve over the next two seasons, Nichols may well be the type of player that can force a deep playoff run. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Jan. 14

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

There’s a long history of prolific forwards at New Hampshire.

As recently as 2011, the WIldcats graduated Phil DeSimone, Paul Thompson and Mike Sislo, all left Durham with more than 100 points in their careers. However, the program has plainly been in decline since their departure. Kevin Goumas graduated after least season and left with 146 career points. He is the only player to reach the milestone since 2011. Nick Sorkin and Stevie Moses fell just short with 98 apiece.

Ultimately, the milestone itself isn’t particularly important, but the steep decline in scoring has marked UNH’s problems.

Currently, senior forward Grayson Downing is just five points short of 100 for his career. For the season, Downing has 12 goals and seven assists. In his last five games, Downing has scored eight goals.

He should hit the mark in the next few weeks, and it’s a nice accomplishment. However, he’s the only UNH upperclassman likely to do so for his career. The Wildcats have qualified for just once NCAA Tournament since falling a game short of the Frozen Four in 2011, and it’s quite clear this decline in scoring — and talent — is a major reason for the problem.

UNH coach Dick Umile just hasn’t been able to attract the type of players he did for so long to Durham. On the current roster, a few Wildcat forwards should enjoy quality careers. The incoming players in the next few seasons should make a bit of noise as well.

It’s clear, though, that UNH just isn’t at the level it was for so long.

Tuesday night, the Wildcats beat Providence, 2-1, in Durham. The win pushed UNH’s record to 7-11-2, 2-5-1 in Hockey East. They’re currently in 10th place with 14 league games remaining. There’s plenty of time to make a push for home ice in the preliminary round of the tournament. But that hardly seems like enough for a UNH program that, for decades, was one of the nation’s best. (more…)

Take: Tirone Makes 30 Saves in 2-1 UNH Win Over PC

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Durham, NH - UNH entered the night an improved team because of a goalie addition that made for competition at the position, and tonight it continued to improve. New Hampshire scored first at four minutes, nine seconds of the first period. Grayson Downing was the beneficiary of a Tyler Kelleher pass from slot to slot and Downing backhanded the puck over the glove of Jon Gilles, giving UNH the 1-0 lead. Eight minutes later, it was again Downing that made it 2-0 UNH but this time there was a little luck involved as the puck bounced up over the glove of PC goaltender, Jon Gillies and bounced right into the net. The two goals for Downing gives him 12 on the season and four in the last two games for UNH, all of its goals in those games. Providence answered a few minutes later on a power-play goal, by Noel Acciari to make it a 2-1 game.

Both teams played even hockey for the remainder, while both Jon Gillies and Dan Tirone put on a show for the few fans that came to the Whittemore Center on a cold Tuesday night. The 2-1 score held until the end and UNH picked up only its second win in Hockey East. Providence’s record falls 14-8-1 overall, 6-5-0 in Hockey East. UNH improves its record to 7-11-2, 3-5-1. The Wildcats are on a three game unbeaten streak, their longest of the season, and have not lost in regulation this half. In that time it has wins over Omaha and Providence College. Providence dropped consecutive games for the first time this season, as it lost to Brown on Saturday night.

See this line for highlights from UNH Athletics. (more…)

Hockey East Weekend Preview – Jan. 9

Friday, January 9th, 2015

When Boston University and Wisconsin agreed to their current scheduling pact, they likely viewed the games as a marquee matchup of two high-end teams.

Instead, BU heads out to Madison to play a Wisconsin team with just two wins on the season. The Badgers are in a similar position to BU a year ago, caught in the occasional trap of recruiting talented, albeit young, players and relying on them to win at an early age.

For the Terriers, these have become must-win games in terms of the Pairwise. With just two wins, Wisconsin is 56th in the Pairwise; BU us currently eighth.

The Terriers have NCAA Tournament aspirations, and losses to Wisconsin could out BU in a very tough spot.

Getting Jack Eichel back after a one-game absence caused by World Juniors is a good sign for the Terriers. For last week’s tie against Union, BU welcomed Robbie Baillargeron and Nikolas Olsson back after length spells on the sideline to due to injury.

The Terriers are in good position to pick up a pair of wins this weekend. Wisconsin, however, is a desperate team, trying to get anything it can accomplished before it heads into Big Ten play. BU can’t afford any slip-ups against the Badgers. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Jan. 5

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Massachusetts-Lowell ended its holiday season on Saturday afternoon with its second consecutive tournament win. The River Hawks knocked off Merrimack, 3-1, to claim the Mariucci Classic. Two weekends ago, UML won the Frozen Holiday Classic, beating Sacred Heart and Connecticut without much issue.

Even with the trophies handed out each weekend, the four wins Lowell picked up are little more than good non-conference wins. None of the opponents were particularly tough outs, though Merrimack has proved its a truly difficult team to beat on several occasions this year. Beating inferior opponents without issue is a good sign for teams with the aspirations of Lowell. Norm Bazin’s club, the two-time defending Hockey East Tournament champion, expects to compete for titles now. At the moment, Lowell is level on points with Boston University atop the Hockey East standings with a game in hand on the Terriers.

BU, Vermont, Providence and Boston College all seem like contenders for league championships, and, in years past, Lowell may’ve been the darkhorse. That isn’t the case any longer, though. UML has had more success than any of these programs in the last couple seasons in terms of winning titles. As the tough second-half of Hockey East play ramps up, it’s pretty clear the regular-season and tournament titles are Lowell’s to lose.

There’s good competition from the Comm. Ave clubs. Moreover, Lowell still has two games with BU, Providence and Vermont as well as one more with BC. So there’s a lot left to prove. Lowell is the favorite the rest of the way, though. (more…)

Thoughts on Eichel, Demko Major Junior Rumors

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

It felt foolish even having to ask the question yesterday of some within the BU hockey program, but it was once again necessary after yet another firestorm of rumors out of Canada that Jack Eichel was “jumping ship” to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after the World Junior Championships concluded.

The response, by the way, after some laughter, was a definitive “no.”

No one at BU is worried about Eichel, yet rumors persist. SportNet’s Junior Hockey Podcast tweeted yesterday that there were “rumors” that Eichel was going to sign with Saint John after the tournament. Host Jeff Marek – who I respect, but he’s way off on this – made an argument for why, in his mind, Eichel should leave college hockey. It’s the old “he’ll play a more pro schedule” argument that we’ve heard a million times.

More games doesn’t make Eichel, or anyone else, a better player. For most 18-year-old stars making the jump to the NHL, which I’d expect Eichel to do after this season, skill isn’t the issue, it’s strength. Playing a 60 or 70-game schedule allows for very little time in the weight room. Playing two games per week at BU, along with a lot more practice time, allows Eichel the chance to get in strength and conditioning work with BU strength coach Anthony Morando, a disciple of the great Mike Boyle.


Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Dec. 9

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

When Don Cahoon left Massachusetts following the 2011-12 season, the subsequent coaching search looked a lot like most of UMass’ seasons. Nothing went as planned, and it took far too long to figure out the proper course of action.

Ultimately, the Minutemen settled on then-Vermont assistant John Micheletto.

Two-and-a-half seasons into Micheletto’s tenure, the Minutemen are worse off than they were before Cahoon departed.

A 4-11-0 start has come with a number of embarrassing losses and very little in the way of promise moving forward. UMass was swept by Notre Dame last weekend in a pair of games at the Mullins Center. Both losses continued two themes of the program over the years. UMass had a lead heading into the third on Friday night, and Notre Dame promptly scored four times to take a lead. The Minutemen tried to come back but fell short. Saturday, they were plainly outclassed by the Fighting Irish in a 4-0 loss — a scoreline that flatters UMass.

The 2014-15 season was never going to be a successful year, but there’s been nothing in the way of progress either.

UMass won 12 games in Micheletto’s first year, eight games last season and it’ll be lucky to reach that number before it gets swept out of the Hockey East tournament in a few months.

A look at the roster paints a pretty clear picture of UMass’ problems. There are a handful of high-end forwards and really nothing else.

UMass allows 4.47 goals per game — the most in the nation. It scores 2.67 goals per game, 29th in the country. A fair amount of offense and no defense has been the theme with Micheletto running the show. Insisting upon playing an uptempo brand of hockey without the players capable of doing it.

The next two seasons, based on players departing and those coming in, don’t figure to be much better in Amherst. Anaheim Ducks second-round draft choice Brandon Montour, a high-end defenseman, has joined the team and will be eligible for next Tuesday’s non-conference game against Northeastern. But that’ll hardly be enough.

When Cahoon left, UMass had an opportunity to improve its program vastly. As Providence, Massachusetts-Lowell and Connecticut have showed, both on the ice and in recruiting, all it takes is a good coaching hire to change things. Micheletto may well be the answer, but the returns to this point suggest UMass missed badly on this hire. And it’s set the program back even further as a result. (more…)

Hockey East Weekend Preview: Dec. 5, 2014

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Hockey East coaches like to proclaim the difficulty of winning on the road. It’s true, of course, that home teams usually win games. Traveling isn’t easy. Rinks are different. Opposing fans are very mean.

It all makes sense.

For Notre Dame, though, anything but the majority of the points taken from its trip to Amherst for two with Massachusetts has to be a disappointment.

The Fighting Irish enter the weekend sixth in Hockey East with six points from a 2-2-2 start. This, of course, isn’t a particularly bad start, but the games with UMass are a great chance to get back to .500 overall and leap back into the race for a first-round playoff bye.

UND has games in hand one every team ahead of it, but it hasn’t shown the ability to put wins together on a consistent basis. The Fighting Irish are 1-6-2 in their last nine games. Only five of those were Hockey East games.

Notre Dame makes its first trip to Amherst since New Year’s Eve 1994. Playing two games against one of the worst teams in the country demands a great performance from UND. It needs wins now. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Dec. 1

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Part of Hockey East’s willingness to welcome Notre Dame and Connecticut was to increase the likelihood of at least five teams in the NCAA tournament every year. Additionally, the expanded Hockey East tournament gives bubble teams in Hockey East a chance to add a few more wins and bolster their standing in the Pairwise.

There’s no doubt that Hockey East can expect to send four or five teams to the NCAA tournament most seasons. A year ago, Massachusetts-Lowell, Boston College, Providence, Vermont and Notre Dame all advanced to the 16-team field. This season, each of those teams expected to get there. A resurgent Boston University also had its sights on a chance to play for a national championship. Despite the league’s efforts, the first two months of the season have changed a lot of that.

At the moment, four Hockey East teams (No. 10 Vermont, No. 12 BU, No. 14 Merrimack and No. 16 UMass-Lowell) are in the top 16. A major issue for the league at this point has been poor strengths of schedule almost across the board. Only Providence (11) and UConn (18) have played schedules in the top 20. With holiday tournaments and the rigor of league play still to come, this should change as the season progresses. But it’s going to take some major improvements from a few of the league’s best for Hockey East to get more than four in the NCAA tournament.

Disappointing starts from Boston College (7-7-0) and Notre Dame (6-8-2) have made it pretty clear 2014-15 is a down year for Hockey East. The ECAC and NCHC have established themselves have the deepest league’s in the country at the moment. The WCHA’s success hasn’t helped Hockey East either, with Minnesota State, Bowling Green and Michigan Tech all looking likely for the national tournament at this point.

A lot can change between now and Championship Saturday. BC’s youth and talent suggests it should string together a strong second half. There’s nothing bad about sending 25 percent of teams in one league to the national tournament. Hockey East, however, seems to have higher expectations, and a lot will have to change to achieve that goal this season. (more…)

Hockey East Weekend Preview: Nov. 28

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Boston College hosts Minnesota Friday night before heading south for its first meeting with Providence this season.

The Eagles’ problems during their recent four-game losing streak received more attention than they probably deserved. BC lost games to teams looking like NCAA Tournament probables in Denver, Boston University and Harvard. The 1-0 defeat to Connecticut obviously wasn’t acceptable for the Eagles, but few clubs skate through a season without a bad loss or two.

Since those four games without a win, the Eagles have made relatively easy work of Michigan State, Massachusetts and Maine. It was a nice recovery for Jerry York’s team. But this weekend’s games present BC with two great chances to undo some of the damage done during that four-game drought.

While it’s not worth looking at the Pairwise just yet, a win over the Gophers on Friday is the type of factor that can undo any number of troubling losses. Additionally, Saturday’s game with the Friars is crucial for BC to get back in the race for the Hockey East regular season title.

BC has games in hand on every team ahead of it in the standings, including five games on first-place Vermont. Beyond the regular-season trophy, BC’s goal, at least, has to be to get into the league’s top for to avoid a preliminary round playoff series.

After this weekend’s games, BC has a home-and-home with New Hampshire and hosts Michigan to end the first half on Dec. 13. All three of these are very winnable games against inconsistent, albeit talented, clubs. BC should take at least two of those games without issue. However, the games this weekend are a bit more challenging. BC needs wins. They’ve recovered well in the last two weekends. Friday is a chance to build on that even more. (more…)