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This Week in Hockey East

College Hockey:
Boston College, New Hampshire on collision course to decide Hockey East title

We’re almost at the point of handing out postseason awards (see below). Before I even think of a player or coach who deserves an award, I think we have to recognize the folks at the Hockey East office who have, once again, assembled a schedule that will allow the league regular-season championship to be played out on the ice.

The Boston College Eagles celebrate Steven Whitney's goal which opened scoring in the game. The visiting Boston College Eagles defeated the Boston University Terriers 3-2 to sweep their Hockey East series on Friday, January 21, 2011, at Agganis Arena in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)

Boston College needs better than a split to overtake New Hampshire for the Hockey East title (photo: Melissa Wade).

For the second straight year, Boston College and New Hampshire will face off in the final weekend series. The teams are separated by one point atop the league standings in what has turned into a two-horse race. The Wildcats have 38 points; the Eagles have 37. BC will host UNH on Friday night before traveling to Durham the next night.

Seriously, you couldn’t draw this up better with a crystal ball.

It’s been quite some time since UNH and BC played. The two squared off on Nov. 5, when Matt DiGirolamo made 31 saves in a 2-1 road win for the Wildcats. At that point in the season both clubs had unanswered questions.

Both teams had started slow by their own standards. UNH used that weekend as a springboard to success. BC stumbled in that game and then didn’t put things together completely until a month later when it swept BU.

But as we move into the final weekend of the regular season, both teams are playing very good hockey. The Eagles’ only loss in their last 11 was against a reinvigorated Northeastern team two weeks ago. UNH had a bump in the road a few weeks ago against Merrimack, but otherwise has been chugging along with consistent hockey.

Both teams admit, though, that after a long season they’re more than happy to be in a battle for the league title in the final weekend.

“It’s a unique situation that in the last weekend of the season we’ll determine where the trophy is going to go,” said BC coach Jerry York. “It’s been a long time since we’ve won the regular season.

“We acknowledge the fact we’re in a pennant race. We’ve held serve [to date] in the race and have played ourselves out of it. We’re excited by it.”

“It’s pretty exciting,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “Here you are at the end of a long season, a very competitive one. And it comes down to the final game.”

Umile also acknowledges that the two teams are very different clubs since the Nov. 5 matchup.

“We’re a better team than we were then,” said Umile. “Kids have gotten better and improved. I’m sure Jerry [York] could say that about his guys.”

While many had high expectations for the Eagles coming off a national title and returning most key contributors, not as many were confident in New Hampshire. The Wildcats entered the season with a solid top offensive line that has performed to expectations, but untested depth, particularly in goal.

Though Umile isn’t overly surprised in his team’s success, he’s extremely pleased at the way things have come together over the past five months.

That begins in net with DiGirolamo, who was relegated to limited work heading into this season but proved his worth from the get-go and has led the Wildcats into the position they are in.

“You have to give [DiGirolamo] credit. He’s been tremendous,” said Umile. “He’s been so consistent all season and has given us an opportunity every night to win.”

While a regular season title will be the focus of both teams, UNH also has an additional concern for this weekend, and that’s solidifying its footing in the PairWise Rankings. The Wildcats struggle at times out of league and are much closer to the bubble than is comfortable for the team that perennially is a postseason contender.

“A win against a Boston College will help us tremendously [in the PairWise],” said Umile. “We need to win some more hockey games to solidify that we’re going to get to the NCAA tournament.”

For now, though, most everyone will be focused on the games at hand. Friday’s game will be televised on NESN Plus, as the Red Sox-Yankees spring training game will be on NESN — beginning at 7:30 p.m. EST.

And definitely get ready for some great hockey for, once again, this Hockey East race is the one to watch!

End-of-season hardware

With just a week left in the regular season, I’m going to go ahead and cast my vote for some of the key league awards. Understand, these are my selections solely and don’t reflect the opinion of my counterpart, Dave Hendrickson (maybe he’ll share his selections with you next week!).

So here we go:

Player of the year: Paul Thompson, New Hampshire

Runners-up: Joe Cannata, Merrimack; Gustav Nyquist, Maine; John Muse, Boston College

This honestly was the most difficult of the major awards for me to pick, as I think any of the four players I mentioned above can win the award. To me, Thompson was the offensive spark plug on a talented top line for the Wildcats. He did a great job of filling Bobby Butler’s shoes and is a major reason that the Wildcats are playing for the league title this weekend.

Rookie of the year: Charlie Coyle, Boston University

Runners-up: Brodie Reid, Northeastern; Michael Pereira, Massachusetts

Coyle lived up to all expectations for the Terriers and was consistent in his offensive production throughout the season. I think that Reid’s impact on Northeastern was strong but when it came down to it, Coyle to me is the rookie who made the biggest impact in league play.

Coach of the year: Mark Dennehy, Merrimack

Runner-up: Tim Whitehead, Maine

This award, to me, isn’t even a race. I think what Whitehead has done down the stretch to get his team tuned up for the playoffs is impressive, but Dennehy’s team has consistently achieved greatness throughout the year, reaching a number of major program milestones along the way.

All-Hockey East first team

G: Joe Cannata, Merrimack
D: David Warsofsky, Boston University
D: Brian Dumoulin, Boston College
F: Paul Thompson, New Hampshire
F: Cam Atkinson, Boston College
F: Gustav Nyquist, Maine

All-Hockey East second team

G: John Muse, Boston College
D: Blake Kessel, New Hampshire
D: Jeff Dimmen, Maine
F: Stephane Da Costa, Merrimack
F: Wade MacLeod, Northeastern
F: Brian Gibbons, Boston College

All-rookie team

G: Dan Sullivan, Maine
D: Adam Clendening, Boston University
D: Anthony Bitetto, Northeastern
F: Charlie Coyle, Boston University
F: Brodie Reid, Northeastern
F: Michael Pereira, Massachusetts

USCHO covers Hockey East all week long on the Hockey East Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.

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  • Univ of NO HARDWARE

    Coach Umile shouldn’t worry so much about the pairwise rankings since his team is usually done for the year around March 20th

    • BEBO

      Let me guess Univ of NO HARDWARE you jump on any bandwagon thats available.

  • Blueliner

    UNH Wildcats all the way. This is a team of Destiny. Get on Paul Thompson’s back and ride to St Paul.

  • Anonymous

    Oh God…NESN Plus. Where meaningful hockey games take a distant back seat to meaningless pre-season baseball games that are quickly forgotten, don’t count, and feature players you don’t know.

    • GoBlue!

      nesn did that march 2004, last regular season of college hockey, #2 bc@#1 maine, and bumped it for red sox/curt schilling throwing 20 pitches to northeastern college kids; i called the program director at nesn and pleaded, but no avail; i am still on redsox on nesn boycott…btw, those teams met in frozen four that year

  • Poker Face

    My God Hendrickson, did you seriously pick Tim Whitehead as your COTY runner up? “what Whitehead has done down the stretch to get his team tuned up for the playoffs is impressive.” Is it really impressive to take 1 pt from BU out of two games at home, get swept by UNH, get smoked in one of two home games vs. UVM, and then sweep bottomfeeder UML and Merrimack without their best player? How is that impressive? This team was a top 2 preseason pick and will not get home ice. Are you joking with this stuff? Are you on drugs (Charlie Sheen perhaps?)? Give some love to Umile IMO. Sure he’s going to choke again but he does this year in and year out and he deserves credit.

    That is right up there with your preseason ranking of BC at #8 last year. On the plus side, you weren’t plugging your book this week so good for you.

    • Jim Connelly

      Poker Face… first off, Dave didn’t write this week, I did.

      You do make good points about Whitehead, but this was a team that was headed for the toilet three weeks ago and now could make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.

      Umile is another good runner-up candidate but I have high expectations for UNH every year. It’s similar to Jerry York at BC.

      Regardless, runner-up isn’t that important. Mark Dennehy is the hands down winner, in my opinion.

      • Anonymous

        If Dennehy isn’t the hands down winner in other peoples opinions then I think their eyes may be closed. All you have to do is look at what Merrimack has been in recent history compared to what the Warriors have been doing this season. Taking the season series against BC and UNH doesn’t hurt his case either.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, but if someone poops on the floor at your party, you don’t give them a door prize when they clean it up. You tell them to leave and never come back.

  • Poker Face

    My bad Connelly (and Hendrickson).

    Still… wow… you give the guy a nod over Umile or York because he pulled a team from the drain that he put there in the first place? Can’t say I like that logic.

  • hub

    Can’t argue with any of Poker Face’s comments. I would have thought Blake Kessel woulf have made the first team.

  • Anonymous

    Just because DaCosta will end up having missed 6-8 games, does that really bump him off the first team?

    • Jim Connelly

      In a way, I think it does. Remember, league awards are based on performance in league games only. So he missed almost a quarter of the team’s league games after his injury. He ended up playing 5 less games than Nyquist (thus far). Nyquist scored 14 goals and 32 points in 25 league games. Da Costa scored just 8 goals and 24 points in 20 league games. That, to me, was why Nyquist got the nod.

  • Anonymous

    Picking Whitehead as runnerup for COY made soda blast out my nose. Are they over achieving in any way shape of form? They were picked 2 or 3rd in preseason in HE , many Maine fans thought they were a shoo in for the NCAAs, for sure home ice in Hockey East and look, outside looking in all counts. Anything else you ever write has to be discounted after that comment

    • Anonymous

      There is a reason you have to play the games. Any type of preseason poll means very little in reality and as a Maine fan myself I could have told you they were not as good as their preseason rankings. They had a glaring hole at the goal tender position and their defense is small and offensive minded. These problems were there in the preseason and they reared their ugly head during the season. While I don’t like the job Whitehead has done at UMaine, he has had to follow the in the shoes of Shawn Walsh (Not an easy pair of shoes to fill), he has had some success. He was picked for making sure his team didn’t completely fall out of the race,

      “I think what Whitehead has done down the stretch to get his team tuned up for the playoffs is impressive.”

      Seems like a reasonable and fair explanation for the choice. There is a reason he writes for uscho and you do not. Just saying that I will discount what you say as a passionate Maine fan over what he says as the hired hockey east writer.

      I do not think this season was entirely Whitehead’s fault either. If they had even a bit of consistent goal tending this year they would have home ice and if their defense had defense on their mind instead of scoring and making a big play every play they would have home ice.

      While the coach has to be held responsible the players have looked almost impossible to coach at points this season. It has been a frustrating year for all of Maine hockey

      • Guest

        Sure, goaltending killed this season more than anything else. But this isn’t the NHL, where you have to worry about meddling/incompetent GMs. Whose fault is it that the goaltending cupboard was so bare?

      • Anonymous

        Impossible to coach or a coach who has a game plan guaranteed to fail. Maybe you haven’t noticed how soft the team plays, maybe you have noticed that same trait for the last 4 or 5 years. Did you see Rob Bellamy hit anyone after his Freshman year. The D isn’t small, Banwell, Van Dyk and Nemec can all handle themselves, instead for 3/4 of the season they prefer to stick check instead of taking the body. Why did they hit folks this past weekend?


    Rookie D-men +/- (Conference only):
    Clendening +7
    Bitetto E
    Heywood (MC) +18

  • Mikevike35

    how can Matt DiGirolamo be first in wins, save % and 2nd in GAA and he’s no better than the 4th best goalie? Can you explain please…

  • Fan

    Whitehead as runner-up is ridiculous. Maine was epected to finish top two in HE. Just because his team manged to finsh strong in the last four games with impressive goal tending does not excuse his or the team’s very poor play and lack of effort during most of the season. I, along with many many HE fans believe you blew this choice!

  • Poker Face

    It’s the 1st annual Moy Mulligan Week here at USCHO! Tough week for you USCHO writers.

  • toaster

    Whitehead doesn’t deserve runner up. He can’t get this team to win an away game to save its life. This team should be RUNNING hockey east this year. It’s not. Whitehead is a big part of that blame.

    • Anonymous

      I am curious as to how you have Maine as the team that “should be” running the league that is home to the defending national champions who have won 2 of the last 3 national titles? Considering BC pretty much returned their entire team from last year I would say they were the preseason favorite that “should have” dominated, and for the most part they have. Just saying, I am a Maine fan, but “could of, should of, would of” isn’t a very powerful argument.

    • Adam

      Whitehead doesn’t deserve runner-up for dog-catcher

  • The Hugger

    Like Cannata but LOVE Muse…better stats, AND has won it all…show the love to Dennehy for coach of the year BUT Muse is The man for Goaltender…don’t overlook his accomplishments because he’s not flashy…….he deserves the accolade…not many win one…he’s got 2 NCAA’s, 2 HEA’s and 3 Beanpots….working on more titles……and if you’d check…his stats are better…………..wake up Connelly and leave your bias for MC and against BC at home.

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