Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hockey East Power Rankings- March 5, 2013

With one final weekend to play in the Hockey East regular season, UMass-Lowell sits in first place, one point ahead of UNH and two ahead of Providence and Boston College. If the River Hawks hold on to the top position, they would be the first team outside of the "Big Four" (BC, BU, UNH and Maine) to win a Hockey East Regular Season Championship.

1. UMass-Lowell The River Hawks are on fire since December and currently riding a seven game winning streak. The offense is showing balanced scoring while the defense is executing coach Norm Bazin's game plan. The defense does a really good job of bottling up the neutral zone. Freshman Connor Hellebuyck has been excellent in net.

2. New Hampshire The Wildcats scored with just three seconds to play Friday night, forcing a tie with UMass. Dick Umile's team shut out the Minutemen the next night. UNH is just one point in back of Lowell with Maine coming to Durham for two this weekend. 

3. Providence The Friars lost a close game at home Friday night before blowing out BC Saturday afternoon. Jon Gillies made a remarkable save in the game, highlighted on NESN, showcasing why he is such a difference maker.

4. Boston College Jerry York's club continues to have injury issues. Steven Whitney and Patrick Wey both missed time last weekend. Johnny Gaudreau has not been himself since being separated from Whitney. The Eagles will look to rebound from a 5-1 spanking at the hands of Providence when they visit UVM for two this weekend.

5. Boston University The Terriers up-and-down play continued over the weekend. BU picked up a nice win over Merrimack last Tuesday before getting outshot badly Friday night and then eventually losing Saturday in home games against UVM. The Terriers have the luxury of facing Northeastern for two this weekend.

6. Merrimack After a stretch of phenomenal play that saw the Warriors clamp down defensively and score just enough, Mark Dennehy's squad has now lost four in a row. Opposing teams have done a nice job of holding down Mike Collins' chances. Merrimack will have an opportunity to finish the regular season on a positive note this weekend against UMass before the post-season.

7. Vermont Kevin Sneddon's team picked up a crucial two points Saturday night at BU, but the Catamounts face a tough challenge with two games against BC this weekend. Fortunately for UVM, the games are in Burlington, and the Eagles have been hit hard by the injury bug. Chris McCarthy has been playing well for UVM.

8. Maine The Black Bears held on for three points against Northeastern, propelling them into the 8th and final playoff spot. Maine must match the point total of UMass this weekend in order to make the playoffs. Lately the Whittemore Center has been a house of horrors for Maine. 

9. UMass-Amherst The Minutemen failed to hold on to the lead in the last 3 seconds against UNH Friday night and then got shut out Saturday. John Micheletto's squad has one last chance this weekend to move into the playoffs when they meet up with Merrimack. The Minutemen need to get up early on a Warriors squad that is struggling offensively.

10. Northeastern Severely shorthanded due to injuries, Northeastern put up a valiant effort in Orono. The Huskies just did not have the depth to make a consistent move up in the standings this season. Goalie Chris Rawlings let in more soft goals before being pulled during Saturday's contest. With no chance of making the playoffs, pride is the only thing left for Jim Madigan's club to play for this weekend.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hockey East Power Rankings (February 25, 2013)

With just two weekends left in the season, Hockey East is as close as it has ever been. Playoff hockey is upon us. Enjoy the ride. Here is this week's College Hockey Rink Report Hockey East Power Rankings.

1. Boston College: The Eagles got revenge for their overtime loss a week ago at Merrimack by returning the favor Sunday. BC picked up a 2-1 win in the extra session when Quinn Smith banged home a rebound. The lack of depth is hurting BC. York is trying to mix and match to generate more offense, but clearly needs to reunite Johnny Gaudreau with Steven Whitney. However, the third line of Smith, Patrick Brown and Brooks Dryoff have been on fire since the start of February.

2. New Hampshire: The Wildcats took three of four points at UVM and now will welcome the eighth and ninth place teams in the league to the Whittemore Center for the last four games of the season. Goaltender Casey DeSmith needs to find his first half form if UNH is going to make a deep run in the playoffs. With the schedule the way it is the rest of the way, a finish lower than second is inexcusable.

3. UMass-Lowell: The River Hawks looked like a vastly superior team to BU over the weekend, nearly shutting out BU in back-to-back games. If not for BU’s fluky shorthanded goal in the third period, it would have done so. The River Hawks remaining games all come against teams in the top four of the standings. It looks like Coach Norm Bazin will ride the freshman Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes the rest of the way.

4. Providence: The Friars are 6-2-4 since freshman goalie Jon Gillies returned from the World Juniors. Nate Leaman's team hasn't lost a game in a month. The next two weekends will be tough tests with home-and-home series against BC and UML. The first line of Mark Jankowski, Stefan Demopoulos and Tim Schaller have jelled nicely. 

5. Merrimack: The Warriors have generated a lot of shots on goal in the two recent games against BC. The problem for Merrimack fans is that most of those shots have been from the outside. This might be Mark Dennehy's best skating team, but the squad lacks finishers. Tomorrow, a tough test awaits at BU. The struggling Terriers will be desperate to pick up points on home ice.

6. Boston University: The Terriers were swept over the weekend and find themselves in sixth place. Costly mental lapses and turnovers have resulted in poor results lately. Luckily for BU, they have enough skill and talent that the upcoming games after Tuesday should lend points. UVM comes to town for a pair at Agganis this weekend before a home-and-home against NU to finish the season. Four of the last five games are at home so if Jack Parker and company can't get home ice, they have nobody to blame but themselves.

7. Vermont: The Catamounts were badly out shot Friday night in a home loss to UNH. UVM came back the next night and played well against the more skilled Wildcats, but could only come away with a 1-1 tie. UVM will have to do some scoreboard watching the rest of the way. Up two points on UMass and three on Maine, UVM travels to BU for a pair before hosting BC for two. Points will be hard to come by against the two Boston schools.

8. Maine: The Black Bears could only muster a split at UMass-Amherst this weekend, but that was enough to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot. Maine must capitalize on this weekend's series against last place Northeastern. Joey Diamond will be back in the lineup after missing this past weekend due to a back injury. Martin Ouellette will bounce back from a tough outing Saturday night. He was terrific in net Friday in picking up his second shutout of the season.

9. UMass-Amherst: The Minutemen bounced back from a shutout loss Friday night by exploding for three goals in the final period Saturday for a 5-2 win. Like UVM, points will be hard to come by for John Micheletto's squad the rest of the way. UMass plays the next three games on the road before coming home for the final game of the year. Those games are against UNH and Merrimack.

10. Northeastern: The goaltending issues continue to plague the Huskies. NU plays two games at Maine this weekend before finishing the season with a home-and-home against BU. The Huskies almost definitely need to pick up three points or more this weekend to have a legitimate shot at a playoff spot come the final weekend.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Hockey East Power Rankings - February 4, 2013

With the standings so close and some top teams losing, there is more movement in this week's College Hockey Rink Report Power Rankings.

1. Boston College: I was harsh on the Eagles in the power rankings last week in part to the high expectations Jerry York has set for the program. Once healthy, BC is still the top team in the league and come March, they'll be there. Johnny Gaudreau and company will get on track.

2. New Hampshire: Despite a 4-1 loss to Merrimack in Durham Saturday night, UNH is still in position to get home ice for the post-season and make the NCAAs. The Wildcats did beat Northeastern Friday night and are plenty capable of creating offense. The goaltending situation is still in limbo, which would have been unthinkable back in the fall with Casey DeSmith  stopping virtually everything he saw during that time

3. Boston University: The Terriers were trounced 5-1 by UMass-Amherst at the Mullins Center Friday night in a pre-Beanpot tune-up. Jack Parker's squad has been about as inconsistent as any team in the league this season.

4. Merrimack: Mark Dennehy's club is now four games over .500 thanks to a two-win weekend against Lowell and UNH. Junior goaltender Sam Marotta stopped 76 of 77 on the weekend. Since the calendar turned, the Warriors are 6-2-1. Merrimack still has to play BU this weekend and then BC twice, but the other seven games are all against teams 5th-7th in the standings.

5. Providence: The Friars skated to a 2-2 draw with Maine Friday night in Orono, nothing to be ashamed of with how the Black Bears have been playing the last few weekends. Considering  how close the standings are with the top teams, this is a big weekend for PC in  a home-and-home contest against UNH.

6. UMass-Lowell: Entering the weekend on an 11 game unbeaten streak, UML fell back to the ground hard. UML was shutout 1-0 at Merrimack Friday before losing to Maine 4-3 in overtime Sunday. UML certainly will have a chance to right the ship, but the defense has been turnover prone and Doug Carr hasn't been as solid in net as he was a year ago.

7. UMass-Amherst: Kevin Boyle had a chance to redeem himself in net after losing the starting job to Steve Mastalerz. The sophomore goaltender came up big, stopping 19 of 20 in a 5-1 win over BU Friday night. Michael Pereira had the best game of his season with two goals and two assists.

8. Maine: Joey Diamond has six goals in his last five games, including four this weekend. The senior from Long Beach, NY had the game-winner in overtime against Lowell on Sunday. Since Christmas, the Black Bears are 6-3-2. Undefeated over the last four, Martin Ouellette has been another big reason. The junior goaltender has posted a .947 save percentage during that span.

9. Northeastern: The Huskies lost to UNH Friday night in their only game of the weekend. Jim Madigan's team is in deep trouble with the goaltending issues and lack of depth. The two-game series at Alfond Arena in a few weeks could determine who gets the last playoff spot.

10. Vermont: The Catamounts were held in check by BC Friday night, losing 4-1. UVM hosts Maine this weekend and travels to Northeastern for a pair next weekend before finishing the season with six games against BU, UNH and BC. Ouch!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hockey East Predictions (February 1-3, 2013)

There is a limited slate of games this weekend leading up to the first Monday in February, and all real college hockey fans know this means only one thing. The 61st Annual Beanpot Tournament commences Monday afternoon. Only Merrimack, UMass-Lowell, UNH and Maine play more than one game this weekend.

Boston University (13-9-1, 10-6-1 HE) at UMass-Amherst (9-12-2, 6-9-1 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

BU is coming off a strong weekend in which they took three of a possible four points from a hungry Providence team. The Terriers will welcome back the services of Evan Rodrigues and Garrett Noonan after both sat out last weekend due to injury and suspension, respectively.

UMass split with Vermont on the road in Burlington last weekend. After winning Friday night the Minutemen couldn't complete the sweep. John Micheletto's team has played up for bigger games this season so expect UMass to bring everything they have Friday night.

The major difference in this game will be BU's superior skill, primed to make a February run like so many of Jack Parker's teams have done over the years. UMass' goaltending situation leaves a lot to be desired.

PICK: BU 4-2.

Providence (10-10-4, 8-6-3 HE) at Maine (7-14-4, 3-9-4 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Maine is coming into this game following a two-game road sweep at first place Boston College. The Black Bears might finally be turning the corner. As I've been saying for the last month, the talent, while not as significant as last year, is still present in Orono.

Providence played well last weekend even though they only had one point to show for it. The Friars have some young talent that will continue to gel, especially under the guidance of one of the game's great up and coming coaches, Nate Leaman.

PICK: If both goaltenders bring their best efforts, this should be a great goaltending duel. Maine breaks through at Alfond for the first time all season, 2-1.

UMass-Lowell (14-7-2, 8-6-2 HE) at Merrimack (10-10-5, 8-6-2 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Lawler Arena, North Andover, MA (NESN)

The Merrimack Valley rivalry was one of the best clashes in all of collegiate hockey in the late 70s and 80s. Both teams won NCAA Championships at the Division II level before elevating their programs to Division I.

Last year was the first time since both programs went Division I that the games were meaningful. UML finished second in the league, and Merrimack finished fifth after being ranked number one in the whole country in the first half.

However, tonight's game between the two rivals might be the most significant since Division II glory days. The two teams come into tonight's NESN-broadcast game tied for fifth, one point back of fourth place Providence.

UMass-Lowell has more depth upfront, but Merrimack's Mike Collins should be the best player on the ice for either team. Entering the weekend, the junior from Boston has tallied 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points.

The edge on defense goes to Merrimack with strong upperclassmen such as Jordan Heywood, Brendan Ellis and Kyle Bigos. UML also has a strong blueline presence, led by Chad Ruhwedel and last Saturday's hero Christian Folin.

Lowell had to start last year's stalwart Doug Carr in both games last weekend, and he struggled, giving up seven goals. Freshman Connor Hellebuyck, who has played so well the last two months, sat out last weekend with an injury.

Sam Marotta has now started five straight between the pipes for Merrimack. Until last Saturday he had been tremendous through that stretch. It will be interesting to see if Mark Dennehy elects to go back to Marotta or give Rasmus Tirronen a chance to prove himself again.

PICK: This should be a terrific game. Home ice advantage gives Merrimack a 4-3 win.

New Hampshire (15-6-2, 10-5-1 HE) at Northeastern (7-12-3, 4-10-3 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

UNH bounced back from a Friday loss at Lawler Arena to beat Merrimack 6-2 Saturday night in Manchester. The Wildcats have the edge upfront, on defense, in goal and on the bench. The only advantage they lose is home ice.

Northeastern will try to recover from blowing a three goal lead at Lowell, losing in overtime 5-4. The Huskies goaltending woes continue. The offense has picked up a little bit of late. Jim Madigan's team will look to use this game as a springboard into Monday night's Beanpot contest against Boston University.

PICK: UNH wins 4-2.

Vermont (7-13-4, 4-9-4 HE) at Boston College (14-7-2, 11-6-1 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

The Eagles have to be embarrassed following a weekend in which they were swept by last place Maine at Conte Forum. Several reports indicate that Jerry York has significantly juggled the lines this week during practice.

On paper, BC has the huge advantage in talent in all positions. Johnny Gaudreau has not been himself, being largely inconsistent since returning from the World Juniors.

Vermont is coming off a win Saturday night against UMass-Amherst to salvage the weekend split.

PICK: BC takes out their anger on UVM. 6-1 Eagles.

Merrimack (10-10-5, 8-6-2 HE) at New Hampshire (15-6-2, 10-5-1 HE)
Saturday, 7:00, Whittemore Center, Durham, NH (WBIN, FCS)

These two teams split their weekend series last weekend. UNH has the talent advantage upfront. Both squads have solid two-way, strong skating defensemen. As well as Marotta has played in net for Merrimack lately, the edge in goal still goes to UNH.

PICK: If this game was at Lawler, it might be a different story, but with the game at UNH the edge goes to the Wildcats. UNH wins 4-1.

UMass-Lowell (14-7-2, 8-6-2 HE) at Maine (7-14-4, 3-9-4 HE)
Sunday, 2:00, Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

One of the few highlights of the first half for either team came against each other. Both clubs struggled tremendously in the first two months of the season. Earlier in the year UMass-Lowell won the first game before Maine came back to salvage a split in the two-game series at Tsongas Arena.

Seven of the last eleven games of the season are on the road for UML, including both this weekend, while Maine has a stretch of significant home games.

PICK: Going out on a limb and predicting Maine picks up their second home victory of the weekend and second of the season. Black Bears 3-2.

Editor's Note: I will have Beanpot predictions up sometime Monday morning.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hockey East Power Rankings, January 29, 2013

There's a huge shakeup in this week’s Power Rankings. If BC gets healthy and the top two lines show up to play, it is the best team in the league. For now, though, the Eagles just don't deserve a lofty ranking.

1. Boston University: The Terriers took three out of four points from Providence last weekend and have the best league record of any of the top three teams in the league standings. If either of the two freshman goaltenders can go on a run and provide stability in net, BU is the team to beat.

2. UMass-Lowell: It's hard to argue with an eleven game unbeaten streak. The River Hawks are peaking at the right time. The only concern is freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck's injury being more than a short term issue. Junior goalie Doug Carr has not found his form of a year ago and is a liability between the pipes right now.

3. New Hampshire: Dick Umile started Jeff Wyer in net Friday night. That might have been the wake-up call Casey DeSmith needed. He got the call Saturday and stopped 35 of 37 in a 6-2 win over Merrimack. Sophomore forward Grayson Downing had a goal and two assists Saturday after being held off the scoresheet for five consecutive games.

4. Boston College: The Eagles have been struggling immensely since Christmas. That trend continued over the weekend, being swept at home by Maine. BC came nine seconds away from being shutout Saturday night. It seems like every year the Eagles go through a tough stretch in January before rebounding for March and April. However, this team doesn't have the depth of past teams.

5. Providence: The Friars are a team that skates well and competes on a nightly basis, but there is a lot of young talent that has not yet developed enough. Freshman goalie Jon Gillies will keep them in games most nights. They have a tough finish ahead for the season, but will be a tough out in the Hockey East Tournament.

6. Merrimack: The Warriors scored some timely goals to upset UNH at home on Friday night. But on Saturday night they let up some untimely goals in a 6-2 loss to the Wildcats. Mark Dennehy's team will need to continue riding the hot hand of junior forward Mike Collins, the Hockey East Player of the Month for January, to have success for this season.

7. UMass-Amherst: The Minutemen couldn't cash in Saturday night, thus losing out on two points in Burlington. Not to be a broken record, but Michael Pereira and Conor Sheary need to return their form of a year ago, and Kevin Boyle or Steve Mastalerz need to catch fire in net.

8. Maine: The Black Bears swept first place Boston College in Chestnut Hill to move within three points of 7th place. For a while now it has been obvious that this team had the talent to be much better than it was playing. Considering how well Martin Ouellette is playing in net, Tim Whitehead's team could be dangerous if they make it into the quarterfinals.

9. Vermont: The Catamounts have ten games left, 7 of which are against BC, UNH and BU. Ouch!!! UVM just isn't good enough to deal with that stretch. Kevin Sneddon's team cannot generate enough scoring opportunities consistently to win with a freshman goaltender who appears to have hit a wall.

10. Northeastern: The Huskies blew a three goal lead Saturday night to Lowell, eventually losing in overtime. NU finally found some scoring touch last weekend, but watching the highlights shows just how weak their goaltending is. One of the lone bright spots has been the play of freshman Kevin Roy who has been one of the best rookie forwards in the league.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hockey East Predictions (January 25-26, 2013)

Boston University (12-9-0, 9-6-0 HE) vs. Providence (10-9-3, 8-5-2 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Schneider Arena, Providence, RI
Saturday, 7:00, Agganis Arena, Boston, MA (NESN)

This series can be billed as the battle of the freshman goaltenders. Jon Gillies has provided a steadying presence between the pipes for Providence. Matt O'Connor and Sean Maguire have shown flashes of brilliance, but have been inconsistent at times for Jack Parker's club.

The difference in this series will be the Terriers all-around skill. Wade Megan, Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues lead the way for the BU offense that will be too much for PC's injury depleted defense.

The only way Providence can survive this series is if Jon Gillies stands on his head like he did last Thursday night in a 50 save performance with a 2-1 loss at Lowell. Also keep an eye out for junior Derek Army who has recorded nine of his 10 goals on the season in conference action.

PICK: BU comes in looking to rebound after a winless weekend. Terriers sweep 3-2 and 4-2.

Maine (5-14-4, 1-9-4 HE) at Boston College (14-5-2, 11-4-1 HE)
Friday and Saturday, 7:00, Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

Jerry York will be back behind the Eagles bench this weekend as they take on last place Maine. The legendary bench boss missed the last two weekends recovering from surgery on his eye.

BC clearly has the advantage in every possible category in this series - offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and home ice.

Joey Diamond played one of his best games of the year Saturday night against Merrimack. He scored his 50th career goal on a shorthanded breakaway and assisted on Connor Leen's goal.

PICK: BC will be guarding against the upset after last Friday night's debacle against UMass. Eagles win 4-0 and 5-1.

New Hampshire (14-5-2, 9-4-1 HE) vs. Merrimack (9-9-5, 7-5-2 HE)
Friday, 7:30, Lawler Arena, North Andover, MA
Saturday, 5:00, Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, NH

After years of struggling against UNH, Merrimack has played better against the Wildcats the last two seasons, including the win in the 2011 Hockey East Semifinals.

Both teams have strong defenses that can transition the puck well and create offense from the blueline. Merrimack's defense is led by Jordan Heywood and Brendan Ellis while UNH's blueline is led by Trevor van Riemsdyk and Connor Hardowa.

The key in this series will be the offense and goaltending. UNH has a much more explosive attack led by Kevin Goumas with 10 goals and 20 assists. UNH has three other players with eight or more goals each. On the other hand, Merrimack only has one legitimate sniper in junior Mike Collins. The Boston native has 11 goals and 16 assists on the year.

Sam Marotta seemingly has captured the number one goaltending role for Merrimack, starting three games in a row. He has played very well and done a much better job controlling his rebounds. For UNH, what was once the unquestioned strength of the team has diminished in the past month. Sophomore Casey DeSmith has been just mediocre of late, even getting pulled in last Saturday's home loss to Providence.

PICK: Even with DeSmith struggling, the goaltending and offensive advantages are with UNH. Merrimack has yet to prove they can beat a top opponent in the league. UNH sweeps 4-2 and 3-1.

UMass-Lowell (13-7-1, 7-6-1 HE) vs. Northeastern (7-11-2, 4-9-2 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Matthews Arena, Boston, MA
Saturday, 7:00, Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA

This is an interesting series as Northeastern competed evenly with BU and BC for four periods last weekend before the doors got blown off against the Eagles Saturday. Lowell is hot, riding a nine game winning streak, including their first two wins over Teams Under Consideration last weekend.

The Huskies have a good top line that can consistently create buzz. Freshman Kevin Roy leads Hockey East in power play points. After the first two lines, Jim Madigan just doesn't have much talent. The goaltending continues to be inconsistent, definitely not a good trait with such a weak defense.

For UML, the offense has come alive, generating 52 shots on PC goalie Jon Gillies last Thursday night before scoring four goals at BU two nights later. The defense has also tightened up, avoiding some of the costly turnovers they were yielding in the first half. Coach Norm Bazin continues to go with a rotation in net, but freshman Connor Hellebuyck gives them the best chance to win.

PICK: Sooner or later, UML will lose, but it's hard to predict a loss this weekend with how well they've been playing and how inconsistent the NU goaltending has been. River Hawks sweep 4-2 and 5-3.

UMass-Amherst (8-11-2, 5-8-1 HE) at Vermont (6-12-4, 3-8-4 HE)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05, Burlington, VT

Thanks to an upset win over Boston College, UMass jumped Vermont in the standings heading into this weekend's two-game tilt in Burlington. The Minutemen are one point ahead of both UVM and NU for the final playoff spot. Another interesting storyline to this series is John Micheletto returning to Burlington. The first year UMass coach was the long-time Associate Head Coach for UVM.

UVM has struggled, losing four in a row. Their once promising freshman netminder has seemingly hit a wall. The Catamounts have given up 18 goals in their last four games.

For UMass the offense has picked up some, but to really make a leap in the standings, Michael Pereira needs to get back to the form he had his first two seasons in Amherst. Junior Brendan Gracel has really hit his stride in his third season, scoring 10 goals and adding 11 helpers.

Steve Mastalerz will most likely get the start in net Friday night, and if he plays well, again on Saturday. After three disastrous outings to start the year, he lost the job to Kevin Boyle who ran off a great streak. When Boyle stumbled, Mastalerz took advantage of a second opportunity. The sophomore from North Andover has played well in his last two starts, stopping 43 of 47.

PICK: This series is hard to predict. With UVM's poor play the past few seasons, their home ice advantage has waned. UMass' goaltending issues still concern me. UVM wins 3-2 Friday. UMass earns the split with a 4-3 win Saturday.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hockey East Power Rankings, January 22, 2013

With each of the top four teams in the league standings losing one league game each over the weekend, the standings are becoming even tighter. This will be a fun stretch run in Hockey East.

Here's my Hockey East Power Rankings for this week.

1. Boston College: The Eagles came out sluggish Friday night and got upset by UMass-Amherst, 5-2. Saturday night, thanks to atrocious goaltending from NU, BC erupted for nine goals. This was the second consecutive weekend playing without head coach Jerry York behind the bench. BC always seems to go through a slump in January yet they always seem to turn it around in time for March.

2. New Hampshire: Although the Wildcats lost to Providence on home ice and have been struggling of late, I'm still not comfortable putting them below Lowell. UNH took all three games from the River Hawks in the first half. The biggest area of concern is the play of Casey DeSmith. He has not been his usual self for over a month now and was pulled in favor of Jeff Wyer Saturday night.

3. UMass-Lowell: Norm Bazin's team did not defeat a single Team Under Consideration (Pairwise) in the first half. In extending their winning streak to nine games over the weekend, the River Hawks beat two TUC's in Providence and Boston University. Freshman Connor Hellebuyck continues to play real well in net, setting up the potential for a goaltending controversy in Lowell.

4. Boston University: The Terriers lost twice on the weekend, home games to Northeastern and Lowell. While the two freshman goaltenders didn't have their best performances, sophomore Evan Rodrigues had three goals and two assists on the weekend. I chalk this up to a tough weekend. Better days will be ahead for BU.

5. Providence: The Friars bounced back from a tough loss at Lowell on Thursday to defeat UNH on Saturday. The Friars jumped out to a big lead and held on for the road upset. The ironic part for PC was that freshman goaltender Jon Gillies played out of this world in the loss and was just pedestrian in the win. This was a significant win, proving to themselves that they can compete with the big boys of the league.

6. Merrimack: The Warriors took three of four points from Maine. It was the first time in school history taking points from Maine in back to back games in Orono. Mike Collins had three helpers in the win Saturday. Sam Marotta got three consecutive starts after the goalies had rotated every game from the beginning of the season. With the goaltending, defense and penalty kill tightening up, the power play and offense has been inconsistent. That is what will doom the Warriors to finishing no higher than sixth.

7. UMass-Amherst: The Minutemen had a nice upset win over Boston College Friday night. It was the program's first win at Conte Forum since 2007. They have a slightly easier schedule than Merrimack, but my biggest concern is their inconsistency on defense and in goal. John Micheletto's team seems to get up for the big game, but fails to show up every night, especially when the spotlight is not there.

8. Northeastern: The Huskies beat BU and lost to BC, but goaltending was less than stellar both nights. The offense has picked up some, but the defense and goaltending are still an issue that will keep NU down in the standings. The number one reason they will squeak into the playoffs is the teams below them have such issues and brutal finishing schedules.

9. Vermont: Just when Kevin Sneddon thought it couldn't get any worse, the Catamounts go ahead and lose to first year varsity program Penn State. There is just an all around lack of talent in Burlington and it will be amplified with their closing schedule. 

10. Maine: The Black Bears hung with Merrimack both nights, but only had one point to show for it. Still winless in Orono, Maine is just too far behind to make up significant ground in order to make the playoffs. With a very tough finishing schedule and an inability to win on home ice, there is little hope for Tim Whitehead's club.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hockey East Weekend Preview (January 17-19, 2013)

Some key games in Hockey East this weekend will have an impact on the final league standings. Big games include Providence at UMass-Lowell Thursday night on national television. Also, Lowell at BU and PC at UNH are games involving top teams that should be interesting to watch. The only two-game series is Merrimack at Maine. This series is crucial for both teams as Maine needs to gain points to make the playoffs and Merrimack needs points before a tougher part of their schedule begins to remain in play for the final home ice spot.

Providence (9-8-3, 7-4-2 HE) at UMass-Lowell (11-7-1, 5-6-1 HE)
Thursday, 7:00, Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA (NBC Sports Network)

The River Hawks are riding a seven game winning streak and the Friars are fresh off a sweep of UMass-Amherst. These two teams met in last year's Hockey East Quarterfinals when the Friars upset second seeded Lowell. If my prognostication is right, these two teams will meet again in this year's Hockey East Quarterfinals. This game tonight could go a long way in determining whether the series is played in Lowell or Providence.

For Providence, the key is quite simple. Freshman goaltender Jon Gillies is a difference maker. He makes the Friars just that much better. With a wrath of injuries on the blueline, his role becomes increasingly more important.

The River Hawks most likely will start freshman Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes. He's been stellar lately and given Norm Bazin's club the best chance to win. The reigning Hockey East Player of the Week Scott Wilson is the game changer for UML up front. UML has the decided talent advantage up front with him, Riley Wetmore and company.

PICK: On home ice, riding a seven game winning streak, UML takes advantage of their offensive talent and PC's injury woes. River Hawks 3-1.

Merrimack (8-9-4, 6-5-1 HE) at Maine (5-13-3, 1-8-3 HE)
Friday and Saturday, 7:00, Alfond Arena, Orono, ME (WABI TV, Sat.)

Merrimack pounded Maine 6-0 in North Andover last Saturday night. In what will be three games in eight nights, this series will be chippy as there is no love lost between these two teams.

Maine has yet to prove they can keep up offensively with teams in conference play. In order for the Black Bears to salvage any points this weekend, Martin Ouellette must regain his form in net. In addition, Maine's defense, missing Nick Pryor and Brice O'Connor, must tighten up.

If Merrimack receives solid goaltending and takes advantage of their opportunities like they did last Saturday, this series could be considerably one-sided. However, the Merrimack offense has been inconsistent. 

PICK: Alfond Arena has been a house of horrors for Merrimack, but this season it has been that way for the home team, as well. Something tells me Maine has to win at home sooner or later. Black Bears win 3-2 Friday. Warriors prevail 4-1 Saturday.

Northeastern (6-10-2, 3-8-2 HE) at Boston University (12-7-0, 9-4-0 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Agganis Arena, Boston, MA (NESN)

The Terriers looked very dominant Friday at Merrimack. Jack Parker's club looked like a team that could peak for the Beanpot and make a good run these next few months. Stop me if you've heard that one before.

On the other hand, Northeastern's offense outside of Kevin Roy is miniscule and their defense can't stop any team besides Maine without Chris Rawlings standing on his head. For the Huskies to have any chance in this game, Chris Rawlings must stand on his head.

PICK: BU wins this one going away, 4-1.

UMass-Amherst (7-11-2, 4-8-1 HE) at Boston College (13-4-2, 10-3-1 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

The Eagles will be without the services of their legendary bench boss for a second straight weekend as Jerry York recovers from a eye surgery. That will not stop the Eagles from playing their best on home ice and using their decided advantage in talent.

The Minutemen have a goaltending crisis on their hands. As I thought before the season began, the goaltending would be this team's achilles heal. Kevin Boyle proved me wrong until a December slide. The only chance John Micheletto's team has if one of their goaltenders can play real well.

PICK: Coming off a late loss at UNH, BC bounces back and takes out their frustration on the visitors. Eagles win 5-1.

UMass-Lowell (11-7-1, 5-6-1 HE) at Boston University (12-7-0, 9-4-0 HE)
Saturday, 7:00, Agganis Arena, Boston, MA

Saturday night should be a great game between these two clubs. UMass-Lowell continues their climb up the standings following a tough early season stretch. After winning three league games in a row, BU has brought themselves back into the picture for the regular season title. This game hinges on how UML's defense can contain the BU power play and offense in general. UML needs some of their key forwards to find some good scoring opportunities to beat either of BU's freshman goaltenders.

PICK: BU wins a close game, adding an empty netter for a 4-2 win.

Boston College (13-4-2, 10-3-1 HE) at Northeastern (6-10-2, 3-8-2 HE)
Saturday, 7:00, Matthews Arena, Boston, MA (WBIN-TV)

Boston College has the offensive capability to burn a weak and inexperienced defense. The Eagles defense should also be able to focus on shutting down NU's one solid top line. BC learned their lesson after a 3-1 upset loss to NU on opening night, crushing the Huskies in a rematch 3-0. The only way BC doesn't dominate again is if Chris Rawlings doesn't let in any soft goals and plays at the top of his game.

PICK: The Eagles win 4-1.

Providence (9-8-3, 7-4-2 HE) at New Hampshire (14-4-2, 9-3-1 HE)
Saturday, 7:00, Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

New Hampshire will come into this game following a split with Boston College, losing on the road before winning on home ice. The Wildcats scored a late goal and hung on to salvage the split. Kevin Goumas, Austin Block, John Henrion and Grayson Downing should be able to generate plenty of opportunities against an injury-depleted PC defense. Casey DeSmith finally played up to his ability on Saturday night after five subpar games in a row.

For Providence, this is the beginning of a stretch where they play five of six against UNH or BU. The injuries continue to add up for the Friars as Kevin Hart is the latest Friar to be sidelined. This stretch will show whether PC is able to compete with the upper echelon of Hockey East. I think this stretch will show PC is much improved, but still a year or two away from competing with the big boys of the conference on a consistent basis.

PICK: UNH's defense and goaltending clamp down, shutting out PC 3-0.

Vermont (6-11-4, 3-8-4 HE) vs. Penn State (8-12-0)
Saturday, 8:00, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Vermont has an opportunity to get back on track following a tough weekend. The Catamounts were swept at home by UMass-Lowell. Kevin Sneddon's club faces a Penn State team in their first year as a Division I program.

This should be a game won easily by UVM. Connor Brickley and Colin Markison returned from injury last weekend. Now at relatively full strength, the Catamount offense should use this game to gel and gain some confidence for what will be a very brutal schedule to finish off the Hockey East season.

PICK: UVM wins 5-2.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hockey East Power Rankings, January 14, 2013

1. Boston College: Missing their head coach, the Eagles came out soaring Friday night, winning 5-2 on home ice. Johnny Gaudreau continued his dynamite play, with a goal and two assists. The first two lines continue to provide almost all of the offensive output. A weekend split with a top five team is nothing to frown upon. The next five games are all against the bottom four teams in the standings.

2. New Hampshire: The Wildcats fell victim to BC Friday night, but came back Saturday to rebound with a 2-1 win. A John Henrion goal with less than five minutes remaining in the third was the difference. The most concerning development for Dick Umile's squad is the less than stellar play since December by sophomore goaltender Casey DeSmith.

3. Boston University: The Terriers downed Merrimack 4-1 in North Andover Friday night, led by senior Wade Megan and speedy sophomore Cason Hohmann. Both had a goal and an assist. BU continues their conference dominance against any team not named BC or UNH. All four of BU's league losses are against those two teams.

4. UMass-Lowell: Sophomore Scott Wilson had three goals and two assists on the weekend to propel UML to a weekend sweep of Vermont in Burlington. The River Hawks converted on six of 18 power play attempts. Now, winners of seven in a row, Norm Bazin's club looks to finally have turned the corner. Obviously, teams cannot pick and choose who they play, but if you eliminate the BC and UNH games, UML is 11-2-1 overall and 5-1-1 in league action.

5. Providence: The Friars rebounded from a five game winless streak that dated back to a 2-1 loss to Merrimack on December 1st. PC swept UMass-Amherst 5-4 and 2-0 to maintain their current spot as the last home ice team. The Friars start a brutal stretch that sees them playing five of seven against BU or UNH. The other two are road games at UMass-Lowell and Maine. Nate Leaman is making tremendous progress with this program, but I believe they are still a year away from hosting a quarterfinal series.

6. Merrimack: Mark Dennehy won his 100th game Saturday night when the Warriors pounded Maine 6-0 at Lawler Arena. That was a night after a rough outing, losing 4-1 on home ice to BU. Merrimack will need to play more consistently if Dennehy's squad expects to finish higher than sixth. Their schedule gets considerably more difficult after this weekend's two game trip to Orono to play Maine.

7. UMass-Amherst: Following an uplifting tournament championship at Dartmouth, the Minutemen got swept at the hands of Providence. Sophomore goaltender Kevin Boyle's poor play has continued after a hot start. In order for UMass to make up ground, goaltending will need to improve, and Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira must start scoring.

8. Vermont: Also following a win at their own Christmas tournament, UVM has now lost three in a row. The Catamounts were swept at home by visiting UMass-Lowell this weekend. UVM got the services of Connor Brickley and Colin Markison back this past weekend. Five of the next six games are against other teams in the bottom four of the standings. The only problem, seven of the final 12 and the final six are all against BC, BU and UNH.

9. Northeastern: The Huskies only played once over the weekend, tying last place Maine 1-1. It's been said over and over, but the Huskies just don't have the talent after their first line to generate enough offense. A porous defense along with inconsistent goaltending just isn't a recipe for success. This weekend doesn't get easier with a game at BU before hosting BC.

10. Maine: After a 1-1 tie at NU Friday night, the Black Bears got manhandled 6-0 at Merrimack Saturday. One must wonder about the morale in Orono, amidst one of the worst seasons in school history and with continued rumors of a coach on his way out. This weekend, Maine faces Merrimack twice, both in Orono. Alfond Arena has not been a friendly place for the home team this year, as Tim Whitehead's team is winless there. To say the least, Maine must start picking up points and do so often to gain ground to avoid missing the playoffs.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hockey East Weekend Predictions (January 11-12, 2013)

Hockey East has some intriguing action this weekend, headlined by a home-and-home clash between BC and UNH. Due to limited time constraints this week, I will just be posting my predictions. More in depth previews will return next week.

New Hampshire (13-3-2, 8-2-1 HE) vs. Boston College (12-3-2, 9-2-1 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA (NESN)
Saturday, 7:00, Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

This has been one of the more anticipated series of the year, once both teams established themselves as the cream of the crop. Both teams defend home ice. BC wins 3-2 before UNH wins 4-3.

UMass-Lowell (9-7-1, 3-6-1 HE) at Vermont (6-9-4, 3-6-4 HE)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05, Gutterson Field House, Burlington, VT

UML is riding a five game winning streak, while UVM had been play well prior to their 4-1 loss against Merrimack last weekend. The River Hawks win 3-2 and 4-2.

Providence (7-8-3, 5-4-2 HE) vs. UMass-Amherst (7-9-2, 4-6-1 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Saturday, 7:00, Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

This two game series could go either way. With Jon Gillies back for the Friars, he provides a boost. Providence wins 3-2 in Amherst before UMass returns the favor with a 2-1 road win the next night.

Maine (5-12-2, 1-7-2 HE) at Northeastern (6-10-1, 3-8-1 HE)
Friday, 7:00, Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

The battle of the two coaches on the hot seat. Things got uglier last Saturday night for both coaches, as both their teams fell to Atlantic Hockey Association competition, on home ice. I keep thinking Maine is going to turn the corner. I think they eek out a win tonight 2-1.

Boston University (11-7-0, 8-4-0 HE) at Merrimack (7-8-4, 5-4-1 HE)
Friday, 7:30, Lawler Arena, North Andover, MA

All four of BU's conference losses have come against BC or UNH. The Terriers defeated Merrimack 3-1 in November. This game should be close, but BU's superior skill prevails, 4-2.

Maine (5-12-2, 1-7-2 HE) at Merrimack (7-8-4, 5-4-1 HE)
Saturday, 7:00, Lawler Arena, North Andover, MA

These two teams have met in the quarterfinals the last two years. There is some bad blood. Saturday's tilt will be the first of three in a row between these clubs. Next weekend in Orono should get chippy. For tonight, Merrimack wins on home ice 3-1.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hockey East Power Rankings, January 7, 2013

Each of the top three teams have lost games since Christmas, but the trio are still in a class of their own. BC and UNH are both 500 or below in their last four games. UMass-Lowell is all the way up to fourth with their recent success and with an easier second half schedule, I see more wins in the River Hawks' future.

1. Boston College: The Eagles' only win in the last four games is against lowly Alabama-Huntsville. The Eagles were pasted 8-1 by Minnesota in the Mariucci Classic Final. With Johnny Gaudreau set to return from the World Junior Championships, the Eagles will settle back down. Jerry York, now the all-time winningest coach in Division I, always seems to get his teams peaking at the right time.

2. New Hampshire: The Wildcats had a two-game losing streak with losses coming from BU and Dartmouth before bouncing back with wins over Bemidji State and RPI. This will be a big weekend, with a home-and-home against the Eagles.

3. Boston University: Jack Parker's squad laid an egg in the Hall of Fame Game at Denver, losing 6-0 to the Pioneers. The Terriers didn't fare much better at home against RPI, needing overtime to beat the Engineers 3-2. Inconsistent play from this young team is what will keep BU in third place.

4. UMass-Lowell: The River Hawks have a five-game winning streak where they have allowed a total of five goals. Riley Wetmore and Scott Wilson have still not provided the offense needed for UML to make a deep run, but the goaltending and defense have stepped up. There could be a goaltending controversy with the emergence of freshman Connor Hellebuyck. He has given UML a better chance to win lately than incumbent goaltender Doug Carr. 

5. Providence: This weekend proved that the Friars need their freshman class in order to win games against stiffer competition. PC was swept at the hands of nationally ranked Minnesota State-Mankato. Noel Acciari and Mark Jankowski both missed the weekend with injuries while Jon Gillies was absent due to the World Juniors. Gillies is a difference maker in net, and as long as he stays healthy, Nate Leaman's team has a strong chance at home ice.

6. UMass-Amherst: The Minutemen won the Leyard Bank Classic Championship hosted by Dartmouth. Tournament MVP Branden Gracel notched four points, continuing to lead the UMass offense. I keep thinking Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira will return to their form of a year ago. If they do and Kevin Boyle plays well in net more consistently, John Micheletto's squad should be in the home ice race coming down the stretch.

7. Merrimack: Mark Dennehy's club is finally getting fully healthy, but continues to struggle to score. The goaltending has been sharp and the defense has tightened up. This is a solid team with few holes, but scoring needs to come from sources other than Mike Collins on a more consistent basis in order for me to become a believer in the Warriors. With games in hand, MC has a huge opportunity coming up with three games in a row against Maine following a home tilt with BU Friday.

8. Vermont: UVM was 4-1-2 in their last six games before losing on home ice to Merrimack. The Catamounts are now 0-9-3 against Merrimack dating back to the 2009 season. With Connor Brickley and Colin Markison still out, generating offense has been hard to come by except for the top line of Kyle Reynolds, Chris McCarthy and Jacob Fallon. Five of the next six are home contests, against UML (2), UMass (2) and Maine (1).

9. Northeastern: Chris Rawlings has been at fault often for giving up soft goals, but the defense was responsible for most of the goals in a 6-3 loss to Bentley. Turnovers, mental lapses and physical breakdowns by the blueliners were to blame. What will ultimately cost the Huskies a playoff spot is the lack of depth upfront, a totally inept Division I defense and lack of experience in game management by the coaching staff.

10. Maine: Just when I thought the Black Bears had turned the corner, they go out and lose on home ice to Mercyhurst. Maine has still yet to win at the Alfond this season. Martin Ouellette, minus the first period against Cornell, has been stellar since taking over the number one goaltending duties. The next four games are crucial in order to move out of the basement, with one against Northeastern and three against Merrimack.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hockey East Reading

As I said in my last post, I am now writing for SBNation. I have two new stories up, one on each team in Hockey East and their keys to success in the second half and one that is a timeline of Jerry York's coaching career, highlighting significant moments along the way.

Hockey East: Keys to 2nd Half

Later today, I will have my thoughts on the holiday tournament action and tomorrow will have a preview of the weekend.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Blog News

As some of my loyal readers might have noticed, some of my articles are now appearing on the Western College Hockey Blog (www.westerncollegehockeyblog.com). I will still be updating this blog, with weekly power rankings and weekend previews once Hockey East action starts back up. I will continue to update the standings. In the next two days over on the Western College Hockey Blog at SBNation, I will have a column listing the career milestone victories for Jerry York who just became the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I history. On Thursday, an article highlighting the keys to each Hockey East team's second half success will appear over there, as well.