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College Hockey:
Three-way races at the top of Hockey East and the bottom, plus some River Hawk resilience

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.

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  • Fan man

    Brian, can’t wait to see ur gophers get the faragher nite special!

    • Jason

      having faced 75 shots over the weekend I’d say it wasn’t a bad job, but unfortunately we have one of the best in Patterson and our defense is near the top in the nation.

  • BeaverHockey

    The Beavers beat MSU-Mankato the last time they met.

  • WCHAHockeyBlog Guy

    If the Gophers are going to exercise their demons, the Huskies will win Friday! However, if they’re going to exorcise their demons, the Gophers have a shot. Recent records and stats point to a Husky win Friday and a Gopher win Saturday. Should be a split, but I’m looking for a Husky sweep!

    • Anonymous

      Proofread your comment.

      • WCHAHockeyBlog Guy

        Grow a vocabulary… Exorcise – to expel an evil spirit. Exercise – the act of bringing into play or realizing an action. I’m pretty sure the Gophers don’t want to bring their demons into play. They want get rid of them. Therefor, if the Goohers bring their demons into play tonight, the Huskies will win! If the Gophers get rid of their demons, they’ll win. Grow a vocabulary…

        • Anonymous

          Brilliant explanation. Maybe they should hire you to write columns for USCHO. 

          • Guest

            Maybe they should fire you Goldy!  Nobody likes rodents…

    • WCHA Fan

      I don’t understand this post, either.

      • nogofer

        Why are we not surprised?

    • Fan Man

      Im hoping them Husks win Friday @the huchi but I just cant see it happening….   If they lose bad friday they will not win saturday unless 29, saves 40+ for the shutout!

  • WCHA Fan

    The Gophers will sweep this weekend.  Their defense will be the difference and I think they are a little deeper with all the Husky injuries. 

  • M&G Forever!

    Figures–get out your dictionary.  Nothing wrong with Blog Guy’s comment (except the part about the Husky sweep).

    • WCHAHockeyBlog Guy

      Most likely won’t be a sweep by the Huskies, but I can always hope!

  • UNDFIGHTINGSIOUXSCORING

    UND takes the first of two games! Looking for the sweep tomorrow!

  • peter puck

    Wisconsin is done this year time to get rid of COACH EAVES

  • Blueline892910

    I still think that UML will be the surprise Team in the Hockey East Playoffs…Maine had their chance at the 2-3 spot but took the night off on Saturday and credit UMass for changing their game from Friday to Saturday and frustrating Maine…Maine needs Home Ice plain and simple…the season and the NCAA’s depend on them moving on after the QF’s…can’t hope for other Teams to do your job…keep winning is what Maine has to do from here on in.

  • Scott

    Lowell needs to sweep their final four and hope for some good luck if they want a shot at the regular season title.  I don’t think BC (vs Prov/UVM) or BU (vs UVM/NEU) will drop a single game. Here’s to praying though.

  • BBear94

    Friday’s Lowell game was one of many very close misses for UML.  Dozens of shots just an inch off the target – they put tons of pressure on BU and were not really ever out of the game regardless of the score. They have a lot of fight in them and as BlueLine said I expect good things in the HEA tourney from them.

    Maine, on the other hand, what we learned, David, is that this coaching staff (read Tim Whitehead) still does not know how to prepare this team for each and every game.  They are far too imbalanced – long losing streaks followed by long winning streaks – and again this weekend, as with the Alabama-Huntsville games a few weekends back – they took their opponents for granted and this time it really cost them.

    • Bartneally

      Wow, and you wrote them off 2 months ago

    • bronxbomberz41

      Don’t bother giving UMass any credit here.  They only outscored the Black Bears 7-2 when you combine the 3rd period of Game 1 with Game 2. UMass can play a little, but they aren’t a powerhouse.  However, they could be a one Doug Carr type goalie away from being a top 4 challenger like Lowell.  You take  Cannata away from MC or Carr away from Lowell then those teams are at the same level as UMass.  

      • Beanpotandbeyond

        great point..Umass needs to change their recruiting philosophy to a more well rounded approach that addresses team defense.

    • TheU

      BBear you are a joke.  I take nothing you write seriously

      • bronxbomberz41

        yeah he totally is.  i gain small amounts of pleasure making him look foolish in the comments, but i don’t know how effective it is.  at the very least i feel better about myself.

  • noonan18

    Did I read that correctly? Maine is 3 points out of first place and they are not considered a title contender by this guy? When they have 5 winable games to round out the season? Really? If you seriously think Maine is out of this, or even Merrimack, you need to take your BU/BC blinders off. What a ridiculous comment.

    The way everyone has been up and down all season, BU’s and BC’s games against Vermont are not gimme’s and like I mentioned above, Maine’s last 5 games could all be wins if they play like the did against BU/BC in their weekend sweeps. Does anyone who follows Hockey East really take this guy seriously? 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CNBX55LPK6PAE7L3UHUD7BMTVA James

      If Maine actually had 5 winnable games left, then you’d have a point, but they only have 3 winnable games because they only have 3 games left period while UML, BC, and BU all have 4 (especially BC/BU…UML at least has to contend with Merrimack). 

    • Joe C

      This is all REGULAR season title talk. If you are expecting BC and BU to tank then next four games, then it is possible, with UML/Merrimack splitting. As a BU fan, I can see BU playing poorly with yet another off-ice crisis. I do not see BC getting any less than 7 points out of the 8 possible. They are on fire.

      It might be a different story come Hockey East playoffs. The top 5 teams all have a great shot at winning the autobid.