These are the three things I think I learned this week.
1. It’s looking like a three-way race at the top.
A week ago, five teams were clustered together, all within two points of first-place Massachusetts-Lowell. Now those five co-favorites are down to three as Boston College, Lowell, and Boston University have put some separation between themselves and Maine and Merrimack.
BC, which looks to be peaking at the right time, now sits atop Hockey East after sweeping Merrimack. Lowell and BU split, keeping both in contention.
Merrimack took the toughest fall, getting swept, but Maine wasn’t far behind. It hosted Massachusetts, a team that didn’t get its first road win of the year until a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately for the Black Bears, they could only manage a split. Considering that they give up a game in hand to all the other top-five teams, Maine can no longer be considered a co-favorite. The three points between it and first place is really a larger gap.
Especially considering the teams’ schedules over the next two weeks (more on that in this week’s column), Maine and Merrimack are now likely battling for seeding and the final home ice berth, not the title.
2. It’s looking like a three-way race at the bottom.
For the final two playoff spots, that is.
This past weekend, New Hampshire lost a golden opportunity to make that a two-way race for one berth, getting only a split with Vermont which gave the Catamounts only their third league win of the year. Friday night’s loss had to be one of the most painful ones of the year for the Wildcats, since it took an extra-skater goal with 14 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, where Drew MacKenzie completed the comeback.
Northeastern and Massachusetts remain the “favorites” for being the final odd-man out of the playoffs. (Vermont has already been mathematically eliminated.) However, the Huskies tied both their games with Providence and the Minutemen got a surprising split at Alfond. Arguably, their two points on the weekend were both far more impressive than UNH’s.
UNH still holds a four-point lead over Northeastern and UMass, but gives up a game in hand so while the Wildcats are probably in, the loss to Vermont kept some drama on that point.
3. Lowell gets high marks for resilience.
The River Hawks may have fallen behind BU on Friday by a 5-1 score, but they still closed the gap to 5-3 and then after giving up a goal, again to 6-4.
More significantly, they rebounded from that loss to gain a split the hard way of the home-and-home series, namely responding to a loss in their barn with a win in the Terriers’ barn. Just when people like yours truly proclaim that its midnight for the Cinderella River Hawks, they turn back the clock and keep dancing.