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.