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.