We’ve reached the unofficial halfway point of the college hockey season so it’s time to take out the pen and paper and assess each teams progress just like the professors who teach these student athletes. Just like college, there are good grades, some teams that need improvement and other that, to this point, are in danger of failure. Here, then, are my extremely subjective grades as we enter the New Year:
It’s a pretty short deans list for Hockey East as I think that many of the teams with the highest expectations did not deliver. At the same time, there were a few teams that really surprised and, right now, it seems fair to give them the highest grades in the class.
The River Hawks were the closest to earning a perfect grade if not for a bad early-season loss to Connecticut and a road loss at Northeastern that ended the first semester. Still, at 10-5-0 Lowell has posted its best first half in a number of years and are positioned well for home ice, sitting in fourth place with just 11 league games played.
Boston College: B+
The first half for the Eagles was pretty much what most people expected. If there’s been any surprise for BC it has been the play of rookie goaltender Brian Billett, who was 3-1-0 late in the first half after given a chance to play when starter Parker Milner began to struggle a bit. Most importantly, though, the Eagles offense has continued to click most of the year. Save a couple of no-show efforts against Boston University and a road loss at Massachusetts, the first half was near perfection for the Eagles.
The Warriors came closer than any team to earning an A+. But that grade slipped late in the semester when, after attaining the team’s first ever #1 ranking in the USCHO.com poll, skidded to a 1-3-1 mark to end the first half. The good news is that goaltender Joe Cannata is currently performing at his expected best. The not-so-good news is that the Merrimack offense has struggled to score of late, netting just a single goal in four of the team’s last five games. That’s going to have to improve significantly in 2012 if Merrimack wants to make another NCAA tournament run.
Many figured that Providence could be headed for another missed postseason. And while that could happen, it’s highly unlikely. Nate Leaman’s team has proven it can score goals (17 different players have scored a goal already) and goaltender Alex Beaudry’s statistics have slightly improved from a year ago. If anything is lacking it is a significant number of “quality” wins for the Friars. While they swept then-No. 1 Merrimack, Providence couldn’t muster wins against BC, Maine and non-league foes Miami, Princeton and Minnesota-Duluth (though PC did earn a tie vs. the defending national champs). Still a solid first half for the Friars.
There are a number of teams that are close to making the Dean’s List but at this point need a little bit of improvement. A couple are really close (BU, Northeastern), while others have a considerable amount of ground to make up (Maine, UMass).
Boston University: C+
The Terriers, in record alone, had a decent first half. At 10-5-1 overall and 8-4-1 in league play, BU is in decent position for a second half run. But this team is at a crossroads right now. Having lost Corey Trivino to discipline problems and Charlie Coyle to major junior hockey, it will need to replace a significant amount of lost offense in the second half. At the same time, this BU team has frustrated head coach Jack Parker to no end for its inability to play a 60-minute hockey game. Whether it’s a slow start or an inability to close teams out, this will have to change if this club wants to be a contender come season’s end.
Based solely on the final three weekends of the first semester, Northeastern would have the best grades in the class. Wins over Michigan, Notre Dame (2) and Lowell have everyone talking about the Huskies. But a slow start to the league schedule has Northeastern needing to make a significant move in the second half if it is going to compete for home ice. A 1-7-2 start left a long road for the Huskies, but the team’s current best-in-country six-game winning streak certainly has them on the right track.
Remarkably inconsistent is probably the best way to describe Maine’s first half. The team had two three-game unbeaten streaks that were offset by a four-game losing streak. No matter what, though, being a game below .500 (in league and overall) isn’t going to satisfy the Maine faithful in Orono, most of whom had high expectations for this season’s team. Home ice hasn’t been much of an advantage for Maine, going 4-4-0, something that in year’s past was possibly the club’s biggest positive. They’ll need to win these home games in the second half if they’re both going to make a run for home ice and win back the approval of their home fans.
Sitting a 5-7-4, many may think this grade is better than deserved. But despite some struggles, UMass was one of the best home teams in the first half (5-0-3). Quality home wins over BC and Yale made many do a double take. The problems for the Minutemen, though, lie on the road. An ugly 0-7-1 road record has UMass on the outside looking in of the current playoff scenarios. There is certainly plenty of time left, but this UMass team is going to have to win away from the Mullins Center if it is going to make any post-season noise.
In Danger of Failing
Two teams had pretty ugly first halves. One had very high expectations; another did not. Still, these teams will be considering this season a failure if things don’t change soon.
New Hampshire: D
Personally, my ego has been damaged by the Wildcats thus far as I (now) foolishly picked UNH to finish first in my season preview. Instead, New Hampshire pasted together an ugly 6-9-2 record that included a 0-6-2 mark away from the Whittemore Center. UNH lost five of its last six before break, its lone win coming over 1-win Alabama-Huntsville. UNH scored just one goal in its first three games, seemed to right the ship around early November but then blew a four-goal lead at Harvard that began the skid to close the first semester. The biggest disappointment has been goaltender Matt DiGirolamo who owns an inflated 3.35 goals against average and a .885 save percentage. If UNH doesn’t improve, it could miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
Nothing went right for Vermont in the first half. Goaltender Rob Madore, who led the Catamounts to the Frozen Four as a freshman, couldn’t return to that form in the first semester. That, though, is barely the problem. The offense isn’t scoring and the defense has, on mulitple occassions had lapses that result in multiple goals. The one thing this team has going for it is its coach as Kevin Sneddon continues to remain positive looking for minor improvements everyday. Still, I think this may end up being a season Vermont wants to forget.
It often is difficult to hand out any type of hardware at the halfway point in the season. But there have been a number of players who have stood out this far that I think are strong candidates for post-season awards. I’m not going to pick one person in any of the major categories, instead throw out a few names of candidates to watch in the second semester.
Player of the Year: Chris Kreider, BC; Joe Cannata, Merrimack; Brian Flynn, Maine
Rookie of the Year: Ross Mauermann, Providence; Ludwig Karlsson, Northeastern; Scott Wilson, UMass-Lowell; Johnny Gaudreau, BC
Goaltender of the Year: Joe Cannata, Merrimack; Doug Carr, UMass-Lowell; Chris Rawlings, Northeastern
Coach of the Year: Norm Bazin, UMass-Lowell; Nate Leaman, Providence; Jim Madigan, Northeastern