Ten games take place in Hockey East next weekend. Boston College heads to Burlington, Vt., for a pair. Massachusetts-Lowell and Providence, Boston University and Northeastern and Massachusetts and Merrimack play home-and-homes. Maine travels south for two with New Hampshire.
These 10 games will, finally, clarify the field for the 2012 Hockey East tournament. In a way, this installment is the end of an era for the conference. Notre Dame’s arrival next season will lead to new playoff format that includes automatic qualification for every team. Connecticut comes the year after, which will bring yet another format change. The current plan, which includes the elimination of the ninth- and 10th-place teams, is my preference. After all, the regular season loses some of its value if everyone qualifies just by showing up, but the new formats won’t be any less exciting. We’ll just have to wait an additional week to see teams’ seasons end.
At the moment, Northeastern is the only Hockey East team eliminated. Massachusetts could see its season end on Friday if it fails to earn a point, and Maine wins its first game with New Hampshire. Fortunately for the Minutemen, UNH still has a lot to play for this weekend, and the Wildcats are always looking for a win when the hated Black Bears are in town.
Even Northeastern will see this weekend as a point of pride. A year ago, the Huskies were in the same position, eliminated heading into the final night of the season. However, their overtime win over BU cost the Terriers at least a share of the Hockey East regular season title.
Regardless of a fan’s allegiance, the drama of the weekend will lead to yet another unforgettable end to Hockey East’s final regular season as a 10-team, New England-only league.
(After the jump: A fitting end to a disappointing year for Northeastern, BC’s vulnerability and UML readying to win a championship.)