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.