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This Week in Hockey East

College Hockey:
Dissecting the all-important final week of Hockey East play

Twenty-three weeks later and here we are at the final weekend of the Hockey East regular season.

What has been decided? Next to nothing.

Sadly, Vermont has cemented its role as the 10th of 10 teams in the standings. Other than the Catamounts, though, zero is set in stone.

I would like to say this has been a Hockey East season unlike others. I feel like it is, but many will argue there have been multiple season where the standings are this close.

But in my mind, it is a struggle to understand just how close this season has been.

Let’s find some perspective. As the final weekend approaches, three teams can still win the title — Boston College, Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell.

Five teams are in the home-ice race — the three previously mentioned with Maine and Merrimack.

New Hampshire is the rare team that really isn’t playing either for home ice or its playoff life.

But then there is Providence, Massachusetts and Northeastern. As tight as the race may be at the top of the league, these three teams are gridlocked. Providence has the inside track with 23 points. UMass and Northeastern are tied for eighth (and the final playoff spot) with 20 points.

So Providence’s motive this weekend is simple: win. One win and there is nothing to worry about. But the Friars are coming off a white-washing against BC — 3-0 and 7-0 losses — and are playing a Lowell team that needs wins, points and everything in between.

After all of this preamble, let’s now walk team-by-team to see what the possibilities are for each.

Boston College

Standings potential: First through third

Remaining games: vs. Vermont (2)

It is impossible to not feel that the Eagles are in the catbird seat. BC is on a roll, having won nine straight. Add to that the fact that BC plays last-place Vermont on home ice for the final two games and you have to think yet another regular-season title is in the works. Any fears? Of course. Vermont played a great game against BU last weekend. But that game was at home and the Cats still lost a late lead and gave the game away in OT. You have to think the regular season Hockey East title is BC’s.

Boston University

Standings potential: First through third

Remaining games: vs. Northeastern, at Northeastern

For the second straight year, BU finishes the season with a home-and-home series against Northeastern with the distinct possibility of playing the Huskies in the first round of the playoffs. It is hard to forget the five games that BU and NU played to end last season, culminating in the Huskies’ upset of the Terriers in Game 3 of the quarterfinals. Thus, this weekend takes on a totally different meaning. Yes, BU could still catch BC for the regular season title. But my guess is the minds at the east side of Commonwealth Avenue are more set on how to get to the TD Garden and the Hockey East semis. BU has plenty of talent, but second place feels like the right place for the Terriers.

Massachusetts-Lowell

Standings potential: First through fifth

Remaining games: at Providence, vs. Providence

There is no team in Hockey East that still has as wide a variety of seeding in the playoffs as the River Hawks. Through a minor miracle, Lowell could still win the league. At the same time, this team could also lose out on home ice. The River Hawks had two chances last weekend to guarantee a first-round series at home but lost to and tied Merrimack. A win either night for the River Hawks will earn home ice, but Providence already proved itself a more-than-formidable opponent, shutting out Lowell 1-0 on Jan. 24. If the Friars can once again beat this team, the road might be in the future for the River Hawks, just a few weekends after this team was No. 1 in the PairWise Rankings.

Maine

Standings potential: Third through fifth

Remaining game: vs. New Hampshire

Easily, Maine is the most vulnerable team in the Hockey East standings. The Black Bears have just a single game left — playing Saturday at home vs. New Hampshire — and no longer control any destiny. Merrimack (coming up next) can win twice and sew up another home series against Maine. The Black Bears must win on Saturday and hope for upsets to stay in Orono in the first round.

Merrimack

Standings potential: Third through fifth

Remaining games: at Massachusetts, vs. Massachusetts

No team has as much to gain this weekend as Merrimack. It is easy to look at Lowell and see the River Hawks’ wide variety of potential playoff seeds, but the Warriors really control their entire destiny in the quarterfinals. Win twice over UMass and Merrimack will be at home. And of course, if you know Lawler Arena, that is like handing this team two wins. Merrimack is incredible in front of its screaming faithful, making earning two wins a true MUST for the Warriors. This is a team ready to win.

New Hampshire

Standings potential: Sixth through seventh

Remaining game: at Maine

It would be an understatement to say New Hampshire underachieved this season, but at the same time, it is difficult to think any team wants to play UNH in the playoffs. The Wildcats have but a single game at Maine remaining, but that matters very little. Whether Maine finished sixth or seventh, this is a team hyper-ready for playoff hockey. It’s almost more appropriate to think about the teams at the top of the standings that simply want to avoid UNH in the first round of the playoffs.

Providence

Standings potential: Sixth through ninth

Remaining games: vs. Massachusetts-Lowell, at Massachusetts-Lowell

The Friars are just a point behind UNH with a game in hand. You almost want to pencil this team as the sixth seed but Providence has a very difficult home-and-home series with Lowell this weekend. Wins mean a lot but losses could put this Friars team not just low in the standings, but potentially out of the playoffs for the third straight year. That’s something that first-year coach Nate Leaman doesn’t want to see, so expect this weekend that the Friars will be playing with the ultimate desperation.

Massachusetts

Standings potential: Seventh through ninth

Remaining games: vs. Merrimack, at Merrimack

UMass and Northeastern are in a dead heat entering the final weekend. The reward is the final playoff spot. While Providence could mathematically be eliminated from the postseason, you have to believe the final playoff spot is coming down to UMass and Northeastern. NU faces BU, so there is hardly a way to say that either the Minutemen or Warriors have an easier road. I think one of these teams will gain points in the final weekend that will be the deciding factor when it comes to the league’s final playoff spot.

Northeastern

Standings potential: Seventh through ninth

Remaining games: at Boston University, vs. Boston University

You could copy and paste the above paragraph to describe NU’s playoff scenarios. I think either the Huskies or the Minutemen will earn points this weekend and the team that grabs more will make the playoffs. I think the Huskies, with a first-year coach, need the playoff bid to make this school feel comfortable with its decision. Regardless, a very good team will be left out when the Hockey East playoffs begin.

Vermont

Standings potential: 10th

Remaining games: at Boston College (2)

There is only one team cemented into a playoff position, and that is Vermont. The Catamounts are amid the ultimate low point of a season. That said, Vermont could play the spoiler role at Boston College this weekend. If Vermont earns but a win it can prevent BC from earning the outright league title. That alone is plenty of play for, in my opinion.

Quick hits

• If any team made a statement last weekend (aside from BC, which seems to already be in postseason mode) it was Merrimack. The Warriors struggled to score goals for quite a while but they busted out for five on Friday against Lowell, a team that has been among the most stingy this season. If Merrimack keeps up its current level of play, don’t just expect it to earn home ice. This is a team that could once again reach the tournament finals.

• Best road trip of the year goes to Boston University. With Max Nicastro facing sexual assault charges, the second member of the team to be in such a situation this year, the Terriers earned two desperately needed wins at Vermont. Friday’s was a domination. Saturday’s was not. BU needed every ounce of character to score late with an extra attacker and then grab the OT winner on a fortunate bounce. If BU has any sort of postseason success, look back to the Vermont weekend as critical to this team’s success.

• As close as this league has been all season, I was shocked by how many blowouts occurred last weekend. BU 5-0 over Vermont. BC 7-0 over PC. Maine 7-1 over Northeastern. The last of those was a true shocker. The Huskies were solid in a 4-2 win over Maine the night before. The Black Bears, though, had the bounce-back factor that is needed this time of year.

• If I may, let me take a few minutes to talk the Hobey Baker Award. It is impossible to ignore Maine’s Spencer Abbott as a Hobey candidate, given that he leads the nation in points with 56 in 33 games. It will be difficult for the school, though, to promote Abbott over his teammate Joey Diamond. Diamond may have just 41 points, but his 22 goals are tied for third in the nation. It is the ultimate blessing to have two Hobey candidates, but it also creates the struggle for that school of which player to promote. At this point, I almost feel like you need to give the nudge to Abbott, knowing that Hobey voters traditionally love points more than anything else.

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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  • 94eagle

    I’ve been a hockey east fan for 20 years and I can’t remember a final weekend with more tourney ramifications than this one.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
    On a separate not kudos to the NCAA for sanctioning UND.  Worst fans in the country.
    Go EAGLES!!!!   

  • bronxbomberz41

    UNH will be dangerous for any team except BC (they always fold to BC when it matters).  Its basically a different team from when they face BU early in the season, and have played tough games against BC, Maine and Merrimack, all of which they either won, tied, or lost in OT.  

    That being said, they have tended to play to the level of the team they are facing, getting way up for Merrimack a month or so ago, but then coming way down against last place UVM a couple weeks ago and UMass this past weekend.  I’d like to see them get the win the weekend from Maine for a little momentum heading into the playoffs.

    • After Further Review

       Isn’t that the story of UNH every year?  They always play up or down to the level of their competition, that’s why ECAC teams dominate us.

      • After Further Review

        That being said, they COULD be dangerous to anybody in the playoffs, including BC.  I think the weekend they had a month ago built some confidence, even in two losses.

        • bronxbomberz41

          BC is just playing at too high a level right now.  

          • After Further Review

             They were last year too until CC put a thrashing on them.  The parity this year is still there and Milner, although playing well lately, has had a few bad streaks too.

      • bronxbomberz41

        they used to be just good all the time (except against BC)

        • After Further Review

           They have consistently struggled against the lower quality teams, just have had enough talent to manage to win the games until recently.  I have been a season ticket holder since 87-88 and it has always been a problem for them.  Also, as far as USCHO keeps schedule/results (98-99), their record against BC is not all that bad, most teams would be happy to have a record as good as theirs.

  • RENCEB

    You’re overstating Merrimack’s dominance at Lawler.  In conference play, they are 5-4-3.  They’ve actually been a bit better on the road, 7-4-2.  I’d certainly like to see them get home ice, but if they do, I’d hardly think it was “…handing this team two wins.”

    • bronxbomberz41

      Exactly.  When you are playing the likes of BC, BU and such at home its hard to have a dominating winning record, but a underachieving UNH team went 1-0-1 at merrimack this year.  UMass was far better at home going 8-4-3 at home this year

  • Gregorygee

    I think it is an overstatement to say UNH underachieved this year. Parcells always said that your record is an indication of what you are and, basically, UNH was not a first division team. Backstopped by the play of Casey DeSmith, the team as a whole has played better in the second half and, if a few tight games had turned the other way, they would be in the home ice picture. But they are what they are. I suppose no team wants to play UNH if, for no other reason, their playoff experience over the years. That’s the straw that I am grasping to as we head into the final weekend of the season. 

  • Blueline892910

    Look for either UML or Merrimack to surprise in the Hockey East Playoffs/goaltending and tight play will get one of these teams to Boston in mid-March…BC still the team to beat…Maine could have been a Wild-Card but which team shows up…the Wait and See Team or the Hungry Team..?

  • Guest

    Another point about Merrimack’s series this weekend, besides trying to earn home ice in the playoffs, Merrimack could really use these wins to help their PWR ranking. They’re currently sitting at 15.  The best way for them to improve that is simple…WIN!  Here’s hoping they get 4 points this weekend.

    • GottaLoveHockey

      Wins vs. UMass really won’t help Merrimack’s PWR ranking much. While losing will surely hurt them, Merrimack needs teams that are above them in the rankings to lose (while they get wins, of course.) in order to move up in the rankings and solidify an NCAA berth.

      A specific factor that will affect NCAA bubble teams is how Union fares in the ECAC playoff. As the only NCAA tourney “lock” from the ECAC, a Union auto-bid as conference champ will keep a lower-ranked ECAC team from becoming a 2nd ECAC team to join the ranks of the 16 NCAA playoff teams.

  • weareBC

    Umile is on the golf course come late March every year.  UNH had it’s best shot with Regan during his senior year but BC took all their momentum with that triple OT win in the HE semis (one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen live)  I watched that game sitting next to Rizzo and Jack O’Callahan.  What a great night!
    BC is peaking at the right time and Jerry looks poised to take home his 4th NCAA championship in 11 years.

    • Heights68

      On TV yesterday they showed Umile’s record at UNH. I was shocked at the total number of wins. He has less than 500. He has been portrayed as a truly great coach, but the numbers do not support that claim. they continue to be University of No Hardware.

      • After Further Review

         Now you are just looking to bash Umile, remember, he has only coached 22 years.  Since York has been at BC, he has 438 in 18 years (24.3 win avg.).  If you include all of York’s years, it’s 905 in 40 years (22.6).  Parker has 874 in 39 years at BU (22.4) and Umile has 498 in 22 years at UNH (22.6).  So he must be a better coach than you give him credit for.
        Maybe they have no hardware, but 18 out of 22 seasons with 20+ wins without Boston to fall back on for recruiting isn’t too bad.

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