Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hockey East Weekend Preview (November 30-December 1)

Providence (6-5-1, 4-3-0 HE) vs. Merrimack (4-6-2, 3-3-1 HE)
Friday, 7:30, Lawler Arena, North Andover, MA
Saturday, 7:00, Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

This is a very interesting series, with both teams figuring to finish in the middle of the standings. Merrimack has really struggled the past few weeks after a 4 game unbeaten streak. Providence has been similarly up and down, having been shutout in three of their last five games. In the other two games during that period, they won, scoring six and seven goals, respectively.

Providence has found their scoring more through committee while junior Mike Collins has certainly led the way for the Warriors, with his seven goals. Merrimack's defensemen have scored nine goals of their own. For Providence, freshman and Calgary Flames first round draft pick Mark Jankowski has produced in spurts. He is young, but talented and could play a role in this series if the Merrimack defense doesn't step up and take him out of the play before he gets a chance to use his craftiness.

The goaltending will be the difference in this series. These are very similar teams, both with very good coaches. Each team has a few snipers and some young talent. The key will be which team's goaltending plays better. Freshman Jon Gillies has been terrific for PC, with a 1.87 GAA and a .932 save percentage. Merrimack's goaltenders have played well, considering their tall task of replacing star Joe Cannata. Sam Marotta started off real well before tailing off some, before playing superb against BC in his last outing. Rasmus Tirronen has come on strong after a few shaky outings to begin the season.

PICK: Merrimack wins in North Andover, 3-2 while Providence wins at home 4-2.

Boston College (10-1-0, 8-1-0 HE) vs. Boston University (7-4-0, 5-3-0 HE)
Friday, 7:30, Agganis Arena, Boston, MA
Saturday, 7:30, Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

This could be the series Jerry York ties and breaks the all-time wins record by a Division I college hockey coach. Jack Parker can't possibly want to see that happen against his Terriers. BC won the first meeting between these two teams at Agganis, 4-2.

The Eagles bring a ten game winning streak into the weekend, led by a phenomenal all-around team. The top line gets all the headlines, and rightfully so. The top line has scored 22 of the 40 goals, led by sophomore sensation Johnny Gaudreau, with 9. Steven Whitney, with seven goals, and Pat Mullane, with six, are the other two studs on that top line. Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold, the top two forwards on the second line, have 9 goals combined. Senior goaltender Parker Milner has continued his stellar play from the stretch run last year, with a .926 save percentage.

The Terriers are a primarily young team, but led up front by senior forward Wade Megan and his seven goals and four assists. Freshman Danny O'Regan has five goals, and has been the second line center. The defense has played well, especially with the puck and seeing the ice. Freshman Matt Grzelcyk has produced a goal and nine assists. Freshman Matt O'Connor took the reigns as the number one goaltender after a hot start and a slow start by fellow freshman Sean Maguire. However, Maguire has played better in his last two opportunities while O'Connor has tailed off a little. It will be interesting to see which of the two Parker goes with this weekend or if he plays both. Either way, BU will need one of the two or both to stay hot in order to keep BC's explosive offense in check.

When these two teams meet, throw all the records out the window. BU has the fastest team they have had in a while, which matches up well against BC's speed and skill. The goaltending favors BC, but it's tough to not see a split in this series.

PICK: BU 3-2 on Friday night at Agganis, before BC earns the split, winning 4-2 Saturday at Conte.

Vermont (2-7-2, 2-5-2 HE) at Maine (2-9-1, 1-5-1 HE)
Friday (8:00) and Saturday (7:00), Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

This is Maine's big opportunity to get the ball rolling, especially offensively. Vermont brings little to the table offensively, being a team made up mostly of grinders. This should allow the Black Bears skilled players to break the slump. Joey Diamond, Mark Anthoine, Kyle Beattie and the freshmen trio should be able to use their superior talent to find the back of the net against Catamounts freshman goaltender Brody Hoffman.

This weekend should also provide Martin Ouellette to gain more momentum, after earning the number one role in net for his performance in the last three outings. The goaltending match-up is fairly even. UVM's Hoffman has really tailed off after a solid first month. It hasn't helped that the competition has stiffened, especially after a visit from high powered Minnesota last weekend.

UVM will try to slow things down, clog the neutral zone, minimize their weakness, which is their lack of offensive talent. Maine must use their speed and skill to work around that and take advantage of their opportunities. There have been several games where Maine has produced some good chances, but just couldn't bury them. With some of the proven goal scorers they have, this could be the weekend.

PICK: Maine sweeps Vermont, 4-2 and 3-1.

UMass-Lowell (4-5-1, 2-4-1 HE) vs. New Hampshire (9-1-2, 6-1-1 HE)
Friday, 7:30, Whittemore Center, Durham, NH
Saturday, 7:00, Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA

This is a much bigger series for UMass-Lowell than it is for UNH. The River Hawks, the pre-season pick for second, need to show some desperation and add to their two game winning streak or at least take two points out of this series. The Wildcats, off to a real solid start, will look to keep in gear and solidify their spot in the upper echelon of the league.

Austin Block has been the offensive catalyst for the Wildcats, producing eight goals. Last weekend, Kevin Goumas and Grayson Downing each recorded hattricks in the come from behind victory over Denver. Trevor van Riemsdyk and Conor Hardowa have contributed to the offense from their spot on the blueline with 12 and 9 points respectively.

Scott Wilson, Riley Wetmore and Derek Arnold were expected to be the go-to guys up front for UML. All three have gotten off to a slow start, but Wilson has produced the last two games. Bazin will look for that trio to produce more, with the continued solid play of Josh Holmstrom and Joseph Pendenza.

Last weekend proved that UNH can win without all-world performances from Casey DeSmith. The sophomore from Rochester, NH already has four shutouts on the year, but struggled last weekend in the Rocky Mountain region. For UMass-Lowell, Doug Carr had a super season last year. With high expectations this season, he has been slightly above average with a .912 save percentage.

The team defense of UNH will be the difference in this series. UNH has been solid defensively all season, at both ends of the ice. UMass-Lowell has had too many defensive breakdowns, turnovers and costly penalties, which has hurt them dearly.

PICK: UNH is the better team, but a split is bound to happen. Both teams win 3-2 on home ice.

Northeastern (4-7-1, 2-6-1 HE) vs. UMass-Amherst (4-5-2, 3-5-1 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Saturday, 7:00, Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

This is probably the least intriguing series of the weekend, in part to Northeastern's inability to beat anyone not named Alabama-Huntsville after a 2-0 start. UMass, besides a stinker against Lowell, has played well on the young season, especially considering the tough schedule.

Offensively, these teams are pretty even. Each team has two decent forward lines with one real stud and then weak third and fourth lines. Freshman Kevin Roy leads Northeastern with five goals and six assists. Michael Pereira has gotten off to a slow start, but he is the best forward for the Minutemen. The former Avon Old Farms player had 29 goals in his first two seasons in a UMass uniform.

Juniors Joel Hanley and Conor Allen lead the UMass blueline. The two have a solid presence in the defensive end and can step up and contribute offensively. Northeastern's defense has a serious lack of talent, but freshman Colton Saucerman has been a pleasant surprise. He plays with an edge, quickly becoming a fan favorite, and has added some punch on the power play.

The goaltending advantage lies squarely with UMass. Sophomore Kevin Boyle has really run with the number one role, going 4-2-2 with a 1.59 GAA and a .939 save percentage. The other two goaltenders on the Minutemen roster have gone 0-3. Northeastern's goaltenders have let in untimely soft goals and have played too inconsistent to succeed in this league. It will be interesting to see who coach Jim Madigan goes with this weekend, Bryan Mountain or Chris Rawlings.

PICK: UMass sweeps 3-1, 4-3.