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.