Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hockey East Weekend Preview (December 6-11)

This is the last full weekend of play before the Christmas break. The marquee game of the weekend will come Thursday night, with Boston University traveling to Durham to take on New Hampshire, the number one ranked team in the land in both of this week's national polls. Friday night, Jerry York will look to become the all-time leader in career coaching wins when the Eagles visit Providence.

Boston University (8-5-0, 6-4-0 HE) at New Hampshire (11-1-2, 8-1-1 HE)
Thursday, 7:00, Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

In the first meeting between these two teams, UNH prevailed 3-1 at Agganis Arena. The Wildcats, the newly anointed number one team in the country in both national polls, will look to avoid a letdown on home ice.

New Hampshire is coming off a sweep of struggling UMass-Lowell, winning both games 5-2. UNH has a balanced attack, but has gotten serious production from Kevin Goumas, Grayson Downing and Austin Block. The defense is led by solid two-way players in Trevor van Riemsdyk and Connor Hardowa. Casey DeSmith has proven he is an elite goaltender this season. He could be the difference maker in this contest. This is UNH's last non-exhibition game before the Christmas break.

BU split their weekend series with BC, winning at home before losing on the road. The Terriers are having to deal with the departure of Yasin Cisse, who left the team this week. The Winnipeg draft pick never seemed to mesh well with the Terrier program. BU still has plenty of talent, led up front by Wade Megan and Cason Hohmann. On defense, freshman Matt Grzelcyk is a fun player to watch. The Charlestown native and Bruins draft pick already has two goals and nine assists on the year.

PICK: It is tough to pick against UNH right now. Wildcats defense home ice with a 4-2 win.

Boston College (11-2-0, 9-2-0 HE) at Providence (7-6-1, 5-4-0 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Schneider Arena, Providence, RI (Cox Cable Network)

With Jerry York now tied with Ron Mason for most coaching victories all-time, this could be a historic night on Huxley Avenue. Second year Providence coach Nate Leaman, one of the rising stars in the coaching profession, will look to make York wait until after Christmas for the milestone victory.

Providence has an influx of young talent, that skates well and has some skill. It is still a work in progress, but the Friars can certainly compete with anyone in the league. One of the biggest factors working in the Friars favor is freshman goaltender Jon Gillies. The South Portland, ME native has a .930 save percentage and a 1.88 goals against average, starting every game so far. The Calgary draft pick was just named to the preliminary roster for the US in the World Junior Championship slated for later this month.

There is no shortage of talent on the BC roster. The first two lines are absolutely scary for opposing defenses. The first line, with Johnny Gaudreau, Steven Whitney and Pat Mullane, has accounted for 24 goals on the young season, just over half of BC's entire goal production. The second line is no slouch with Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold. After adding Brendan Silk to the line last weekend, the line gelled well. Arnold had two goals and Silk one in the 5-2 victory over BU Saturday. Hayes picked up three assists. The Eagles will certainly have extra motivation to give York his 925th coaching win.

PICK: This is a tough pick. Upset minded Providence is no slouch, and BC's only two losses on the season were both on the road. With that said, Eagles win 3-1.

Harvard (4-3-0, 3-3-0 ECAC) at Merrimack (5-7-2, 4-4-1 HE)
Friday, 7:30, Lawler Arena, North Andover, MA (WBIN, Fox College Sports Atlantic)

Harvard is loaded with talent, and over the next few years should get even better under coach Ted Donato, the former Boston Bruin. One of the intriguing story lines in this game is that of Crimson freshman forward Jimmy Vesey. The Charlestown native and Nashville draft pick is the son of Merrimack's all-time leading scorer, with the same namesake. The older Vesey was the leader of the 1988 Warrior squad that advanced all the way to the NCAA Quarterfinals, before bowing out to Lake Superior. The younger Vesey is the leading scorer for Harvard, with five goals and three assists in seven games. Bruins draft pick Alex Fallstrom is another forward to watch for the Crimson. Junior goaltender Raphael Girard has been solid in net with a 2.06 GAA and a .936 save percentage.

For the Warriors, Mark Dennehy's squad played two solid games last week, losing a heartbreaker in OT at home before prevailing 2-1 on the road, to split the weekend series with Providence. Junior Mike Collins continues his hot start, leading Merrimack in scoring with seven goals and ten assists. If the Warriors are going keep in the race for the final home ice spot, the rest of the forwards have to pick up their play. The last few games has seen the defense turn in more solid efforts. Look for the goaltending rotation to continue, with Sam Marotta getting the start tonight.

PICK: Merrimack wins on home ice, 3-2.

Colgate (7-7-2, 3-4-1 ECAC) at UMass-Amherst (5-6-2, 4-6-1 HE)
Friday and Saturday, 7:00, Mullins Center, Amherst, MA (CBS3 Springfield)

This is another non-conference battle Friday night, pitting the ECAC against Hockey East. Both teams have been inconsistent in the early season.

UMass is coming off a split with Northeastern, losing 1-0 on home ice and winning 6-3 on the road. The Minutemen have gotten spectacular goaltending from sophomore Kevin Boyle. The Manalapan, NJ native has captured the number one job, and more, with a 1.67 GAA and a .936 save percentage. Junior Brendan Gracel and senior Rocco Carzo have been two surprising players to start the season, leading the Minutemen offensive attack, with five goals and seven goals, respectively. If Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira can get on track, John Micheletto's squad could stay in the race for home ice, unexpectedly.

For Colgate, senior Robbie Bourdon leads the offense with six goals and seven assisists. The Red Raiders have been extremely inconsistent. In seven wins, the offense has averaged over five goals a game. In the other nine games, Colgate has only scored ten goals total. Goaltending has been sporadic, as well. Freshman Spencer Finney has played well, with a .913 save percentage and a 1.93 GAA. The returning starter, junior Eric Mihalek has a 3.09 GAA and a .886 save percentage.

PICK: The Minutemen pick up the sweep, with 4-1 and 3-2 wins.

Maine (2-10-2, 1-6-2 HE) at Boston University (8-5-0, 6-4-0 HE)
Saturday, 8:00, Agganis Arena, Boston, MA (CBS Sports Network)

The Terriers will have already faced New Hampshire two nights before and have the huge advantage on paper. BU will also have some extra motivation, as Maine knocked them out of the Hockey East tournament last March.

Maine missed a key opportunity to pick up points and ground in the standings last weekend, losing three of four points to Vermont at Alfond Arena. Senior Joey Diamond picked up two goals on the weekend, and almost had another, but it was waved off due to a crease violation. Freshman Devin Shore, a Dallas draft pick, leads the team in scoring with one goal and six assists. Scoring has been tough to come by for the Black Bears, averaging less than 1.5 goals per game. Maine has scored four goals in each victory, while scoring only 12 goals total in their other 12 games. Goaltending has improved since Martin Ouellette was handed the reigns between the pipes. The junior and Columbus draft pick, has posted a .911 save percentage to go along with his 2.40 GAA.

PICK: The Terriers salvage two points on the weekend, downing Maine 4-2.

Northeastern (5-8-1, 3-7-1 HE) at UMass-Lowell (4-7-1, 2-6-1 HE)
Saturday, 7:00, Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA

This is a game that could have implications on the bottom of the standings and the race to make the Hockey East playoffs come March, if the River Hawks don't step up their game.

UMass-Lowell, picked second in the pre-season coaches poll, is off to a terrible start, albeit with a fairly difficult schedule. The Hawks have played five of their nine conference games against BC and UNH. However, they're also 1-1-1 in home games against Vermont and Maine, so it can't all be blamed on a tough early season schedule. UML has some offensive talent to right the ship, if guys like Riley Wetmore and Derek Arnold can pick up their play. Sophomore Scott Wilson has nine points in the last four games, after only picking up one in the first eight games.

Northeastern is one of only two teams to beat Boston College on the season. The Huskies are led up front by freshman Kevin Roy. Jim Madigan's squad doesn't have problems with the top six forwards, but the depth on the third and fourth lines is cause for concern. The defense is also a huge problem, with no real talent on the blue line. Goaltending continues to be inconsistent. Chris Rawlings had a big shutout at Amherst Friday night, but let in a soft goal that was the go-ahead goal for UMass Saturday. Soft goals and untimely lapses in play have been his downfall throughout his career.

PICK: UML wins this one easily, 4-1.

USA Under-18 Team at Merrimack (5-7-2, 4-4-1 HE) and New Hampshire (11-1-2, 8-1-1 HE)
Saturday, 4:00, Lawler Arena, North Andover, MA
Sunday, 4:00, Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

These are two exhibition games where Merrimack and UNH fans will get to look at some of next year's top freshman in college hockey. Two of the top prospects on the National Development team are UNH recruit, forward Tyler Kelleher and BC recruit, defenseman Steve Santini. Defenseman Scott Savage is another BC recruit. Michigan and Notre Dame have the most recruits on the team.

PICK: Merrimack will probably play some reserves and might even let third stringer Nick Drew see some time in net. My pick is USA 4-3. UNH will prevail 4-2.