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This Week in Hockey East

College Hockey:
Pressure gets narrowed into one game in new Hockey East first-round format

The playoffs are here for Hockey East, a week earlier than usual.

The much-discussed all-inclusive playoff format will kick off this weekend with single-elimination games featuring 11th-seed Merrimack traveling to sixth-seed Maine, 10th-seed Massachusetts heading to seventh-seed Vermont and ninth-seed Boston University hopping on a plane to eighth-seed Notre Dame.

Vermont is the seventh seed in the Hockey East playoffs and hosts Massachusetts in a first-round game (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

It’s been quite a while since Hockey East last used a single-elimination format, the last time being 1995. Since that time, at least one and, since the addition of Vermont in 2005-06, two teams have been eliminated at the end of the regular season.

But the addition of Notre Dame this season (and Connecticut next) led to the review of the playoffs format, and athletic directors and presidents who want to see their teams playing in the postseason voted to include all teams.

Hockey East playoffs

See the tournament bracket and get links to schedules and stories at Hockey East Playoff Central.

Unlike ECAC Hockey and Atlantic Hockey, which play best-of-three series in the opening round, Hockey East decided to go for the winner-take-all, single-game approach. Certainly, it will add to the excitement. But it could also end some promising seasons prematurely.

For both Maine and Vermont, there have been plenty of NCAA hopes on campus, hopes that could be dashed with a loss this weekend.

Maine is below the NCAA bubble in the PairWise Rankings and needs to win games. Vermont is just above the bubble in 13th, but likely would fall below over time if it can’t get out of the first round.

Notre Dame is a different story. The Irish, after beating Boston College last Saturday, sit in 10th in the PairWise. One loss may not drop them too far, meaning this Notre Dame team could survive a loss this weekend.

Still, it would be easier to win and advance, solidifying their position in the PairWise rather than be eliminated and have to sit around and wait.

As for the history of the single-elimination game in Hockey East, it hasn’t been overly kind to the home team. The higher seed and host is just 8-6 in single-elimination games played in the tournament’s opening round (play-in games, single-elimination quarterfinals).

The last time there were multiple single-elimination games was in 1995. That year, ninth-seed Massachusetts beat eighth-seed Boston College in the play-in round. Then sixth-seed Providence and fifth-seed Massachusetts-Lowell each pulled of upsets in the quarterfinal round. Only two home teams advanced that year and ever since then, everything outside of the Garden has been a best-of-three.

Getting back to this weekend’s games, guessing which teams will advance seems like a crap shoot.

Boston University is coming off two wins over Northeastern and wasn’t exactly manhandled by Notre Dame two weekends ago when the Irish won by identical 2-0 scores.

Merrimack has lost twice to Maine this season at Alfond Arena, both by a single goal. But the Warriors are coming off a weekend split with New Hampshire and Maine hasn’t won a single game since beating Merrimack on Feb. 15 (0-3-1).

Vermont, though able to beat UMass by scores of 3-2 on the road and 2-0 at home, provides an even better story line as Kevin Sneddon will face his old associate head coach in UMass bench boss John Micheletto. That game will be televised live on NESN on Friday night.

So, what can be expected is anyone’s guess. Certainly, the first round will be exciting and stress-building on the participating head coaches. The number of unhappy coaches, athletic directors and presidents at the end of the weekend likely will have a lot to do with whether this same do-or-die format is around next year.

The envelope please …

Hollywood may have had its biggest award show on Sunday night, but Hockey East’s annual awards are just two weeks away. The ballots from the coaches have all been entered, thus I will take the opportunity to pick my recipients for each of the league’s awards.

At the banquet, they’d hold the top awards until the end; I’ll get the big three out of the way at the start.

Player of the year: Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College

I don’t think there has ever been an award so easy to pick. Gaudreau has been the best player in Hockey East, in my opinion, since Brian Gionta dominated the league in the 2000-01 season.

Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau seems a shoo-in for the Hockey East player of the year award (photo: Melissa Wade).

Gaudreau scored in every Hockey East contest and was held off the board just once all season (when his entire team was shut out by Minnesota). It has been a long time since the Hobey Baker Award has been a shoo-in for a Hockey East player but in my opinion, Gaudreau’s candidacy for the Hobey is head and shoulders above all the rest.

Honorable mention: Kevin Hayes, Boston College; Ross Mauermann, Providence; Clay Witt, Northeastern.

Rookie of the year: Mario Puskarich, Vermont

As easy as it was to pick Gaudreau for player of the year, it was equally as difficult to select Puskarich as rookie of the year. That hardly reflects on the player, rather on the depth of freshman talent that Hockey East offered up this season.

What separated Puskarich from the rest was his play inside the league, the criteria on which league awards are supposed to be voted. As a freshman, though, Puskarich elevated a Vermont squad that had struggled in recent years, returning the team to NCAA tournament contention.

Honorable mention: Mike Szmatula, Northeastern; Vince Hinostroza, Notre Dame; Thatcher Demko, Boston College.

Co-coaches of the year: Jerry York, Boston College; Jim Madigan, Northeastern

OK, I took the easy road and named two coach of the year winners. For me, the vote was simply too difficult.

You have Madigan, who elevated his team from what most considered a cellar dweller to a fifth-place team that is in contention for an NCAA bid.

And you have York, a coach for whom every year there is high expectations who this year delivered a 16-2-2 league mark.

Both coaches had incredible recruiting classes that had immediate impact. And both got so much out of their respective teams that ignoring either would be criminal.

Honorable mention: Norm Bazin, Massachusetts-Lowell; Dick Umile, New Hampshire.

Best defensive forward: Joe Pendenza, Massachusetts-Lowell

This and the next award are often two of the most difficult to select as it requires you to see a lot of the individual player to understand their defensive prowess.

Pendenza is possibly the best defensive player on a defensively focused team. He is one of the league’s top faceoff men and contributes on both sides of the puck for a River Hawks squad that isn’t offensively potent.

Although there are a number of forwards in the league that take pride in playing defense, Pendenza stands out in my mind.

Honorable mention: Braden Pimm, Northeastern; Kevin Lind, Notre Dame; Bill Arnold, Boston College.

Best defensive defenseman: Stephen Johns, Notre Dame

In his first and only season in Hockey East, Johns proved what a lot of people already know about the blueliner: He can shut down offenses.

The top defensive defenseman on one of the league’s best defensive teams, Johns still contributed offensively for the Irish, leading the team in scoring by a defenseman.

Though only a plus-6 overall, there is no player you would want out on the ice in a shutdown situation more than Johns.

Honorable mention: Josh Manson, Northeastern; Isaac MacLeod, Boston College; Zack Kamrass, Massachusetts-Lowell.

All-Hockey East teams

Though the league awards only a first and second team, I’m naming three myself as some positions caused me enough strife that I believe it warrants recognition of three teams worth of players.

First team

F Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College
F Kevin Hayes, Boston College
F Ross Mauermann, Providence
D Ben Hutton, Maine
D Brett Pesce, New Hampshire
G Thatcher Demko, Boston College

Second team

F Bill Arnold, Boston College
F Devin Shore, Maine
F Chris McCarthy, Vermont
D Michael Matheson, Boston College
D Eric Knodel, New Hampshire
G Clay Witt, Northeastern

Third team

F Kevin Goumas, New Hampshire
F Kevin Roy, Northeastern
F Matt Willows, New Hampshire
D Colin Shea, Massachusetts
D Zack Kamrass, Massachusetts-Lowell
G Connor Hellebuyck, Massachusetts-Lowell

All-rookie team

F Mario Puskarich, Vermont
F Vince Hinostroza, Notre Dame
F Mike Szmatula, Northeastern
D Michael Kapla, Massachusetts-Lowell
D Doyle Somerby, Boston University
G Thatcher Demko, Boston College

And finally …

For those who have offered concern and thoughts for Dave Hendrickson, I wanted to pass along an update. Dave is progressing well from his open-heart surgery.

I had the chance to have lunch with him on Wednesday and he looks great. He is exercising daily and feels he is able to push himself physically. He’s still unable to drive for a few weeks until he gets a doctor’s clearance, but he hopes to be back for the NCAA regional in Worcester and the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

All good news about one of the game’s good guys.

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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  • uvmhockeyfan

    Sure, Clay Witt is having a fine season, but I had the chance to see Hellebuyck last weekend in Vermont and that kid is a stud. He should, easily, be recognized over Witt as second team, vying for first team based on the guys that Demko gets to play behind.

    • Jimmy Connelly

      I agree, Hellebuyck is incredible. Was a tough decision between Witt and Hellebuyck for second team. Witt’s numbers in league play were just a little better.

      • Fast Walk to Fresno

        Which numbers? Not that I think stats are the only thing a decision should be based on, but you say his numbers were better in league play and that’s what was the tie-breaker for you. Well, Hellebuyck was .32 better in GAA, while Witt was only .003 better in save percentage. That sounds like Hellebuyck had the edge in stats, albeit slight.

      • hockeyman41

        No doubt both Witt and Hellebuyck are premier D-1 goalies. Some of Witt’s saves this year have been nothing short of astonishing. Witt has literally stolen games for NU a couple of times this year. The margin between your first, second and third team picks is tiny. I do agree with an earlier post that the absence of NU’s D-Man Josh Manson on any of your lists simply defies logic.

      • Rich Lescarbeau

        As a fan of Connor, I would give it to clay first too due more to the minutes played. Doug Carr cost Connor a shot for any of the awards this year. Its hard to decide if Demko is a result of his team or if he is really that good.

        • JakeB

          I think a little of both. He’s taken chances with the puck and made inexperienced or freshman mistakes, but in several games, he has been outstanding in the clutch.

  • Fast Walk to Fresno

    I’m sorry, but how is Mario Puskarich a difficult choice as ROY??? He’s SECOND in the league in goals. SECOND. Second only to likely Hobey Baker winner. How that doesn’t make him a slam-dunk for ROY and a first-team all-star in your mind is baffling to me.

    • Jimmy Connelly

      The fact that Demko has near record-breaking numbers in league play as a goaltender made it difficult for me to not pick him. Also think that Szmatula and Hinostroza are incredible players. Hinostroza missed a number of games due to injury and World Juniors but still put up impressive numbers.

      • Fast Walk to Fresno

        OK, Demko as a possible contender for ROY makes sense, but that still doesn’t answer how you left Puskarich off the all-star teams.

  • SaveMaineHockey

    Seriously, how does Red Gendron get overlooked as a coach of the year candidate? He took a lethargic program and brought life back into it. Granted the road losses are troubling, but for a coach with no recruits of his own to lead this turnaround is nothing short of spectacular. And a golf clap to Jerry York as coach of the year. Tim Whitehead could even lead BC’s superstars to victory. C’mon Jimmy…

    • Jimmy Connelly

      The way I looked at it was this team was picked to finish fourth and did just about that (finished sixth because of final weekend). Compared to what York and Madigan did, what Gendron didn’t merit recognition.

      • Fast Walk to Fresno

        Yeah, I have to sort-of agree with SaveMaineHockey here. I’m not sure I’d pick Gendron as the COY for sure, but I’d certainly put him ahead of York. What exactly did York do? Is this NEPSAC where the coach with the best team automatically gets named coach of the year? Shouldn’t there be a value-added component? Sure, there have been years where the most talented team under-performed and didn’t have the best record, but is not screwing up your thoroughbred team all it takes to win COY?

      • John Mannino

        I don’t think Gendron necessarily deserves COY, as the hockey product UMaine put out this year was better but not exemplary, but for you to say that what Gendron did “doesn’t merit recognition” is extremely short-sighted and discredits all the improvement that has been made with the program on and off the ice from last year.

    • hockeyman41

      I really like what Red did in Maine this year. Shows how important the head coaching job is in Hockey East. Respectfully disagree with your comment that Tim Whitehead “could even lead BC’s superstars to victory”. It is more than just having the right players. York’s systems and the buy in he gets from the players cannot be easily duplicated.

    • Rich Lescarbeau

      When you have as terrible of a road record as Maine did, I think that disqualifies you from this award

  • Fast Walk to Fresno

    Also, I don’t know what HE games you’re watching or what on earth you use as criteria to rate defensemen, but how Josh Manson is not on any of your teams is just staggering. He’s clearly the best all-around defenseman in the league. Vermont’s Paliotta should be on there somewhere as well. So should Colton Saucerman (no, I’m not an NU fan, but credit needs to be given where credit is due).

    • Jimmy Connelly

      Manson didn’t make any of my teams, but he was honorable mention for defensive player of the year. Could’ve been on third team. Very good defenseman, certainly. Same goes for Paliotta.

      • Fast Walk to Fresno

        Obviously, you don’t pick the teams, so I don’t know why I’m bothering to dispute it, but this just seems so absurd. How can someone be the second person you mention for best defensive defenseman, and not make any of your all-star teams? Do you value scoring over defense *that* much? The point is to win games, and if a player gives up more goals than he scores, his scoring doesn’t matter.

        Have you really actually seen Ben Hutton play? Honestly? He scores goals, yes, but he’s a one-dimensional player who doesn’t play defense. He’s second on his team in shots. There’s no way in hell a defenseman should ever be second on his team in shots unless he’s Bobby Orr. He’s tied for the team lead in goals, but he’s only a +7, middle of the pack for his team. Devin Shore, who has as many goals (but more assists) is leading the team in +/-. Hutton has 2 penalties. 2. Two. You can’t play defense in Hockey East and have two penalties if you’re doing your job.

        Manson leads his team in +/- despite having much lower offensive stats to boost his own numbers. He’s a force on defense. He can make game-changing hits. He can score when needed, but he actually plays defense first. There’s no way anyone who really knows anything about hockey could have seen Manson play and not recognize that he’s one of the best defensemen in HE, if not the best.

    • hockeyman41

      Anyone who has seen him play this year knows Josh Manson is at the very least worthy of inclusion 2nd team D (if not 1st team) all Hockey East. Manson is definitely a difference maker.

  • heights68

    Teddy Doherty is a sophomore and can’t be included in the all-rookie team

    • Jimmy Connelly

      Good catch.. that’s my mistake.

  • j1066

    How can Kevin Lind be an honorable mention for best defensive forward if he isn’t a forward?

  • Brent

    Kevin Roy . . . Third Team All Hockey East???????

  • JakeB

    Does this two weeks off deal for HEA top seeds get straightened out for next year when UConn comes in? It’s a momentum killer… difficult to remain sharp while everyone else plays.

  • heights68

    Is it my imagination or do you not know the conference as well as you should?

  • heights68


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