After an election week where every major news network wanted to be the first to call each of the 50 states, I want to make a very early call about Hockey East. Three teams seem definitively head and shoulders above the rest, and that leads my three things that I learned this weekend:
1. Hockey East seems to be breaking into two tiers
Call them whatever you want: the top and middle-bottoms; the good and the not-so-good; haves and have nots. However you slice it, it seems that this year’s Hockey East standings will be made up of a three team top tier and a seven-team undefinable (at this point) middle/bottom. Boston College, New Hampshire and Boston University (in that order) are clearly the three best teams in the league. After that, though, is anyone’s guess. Many might say Maine belongs at the bottom at 2-9-0 but having seen the Black Bears live for the first time on Saturday, I feel this is a decent team that hasn’t, yet, outgrown some costly mistakes. Massachusetts-Lowell had high expectations and haven’t come close to living up to them yet, but it’s too early to write off that club. So while BC, BU and UNH seem clear that they will be battling for a league title come March, the remaining septet could be fighting for everything from home ice to a playoff spot.
2. Merrimack’s weekend: lost at home
Prior to this weekend, I was pretty high on Merrimack. High enough to at least pick them at home against BU, a team I clearly consider a top team in the league (see above). But a loss against the Terriers and another against UConn on Saturday night at home not only have tempered my expectations, it also puts up an antenna when (yes, I know it’s early) I think about the NCAA tournament field. I think Merrimack could have the makings of an NCAA tournament team, but Saturday’s loss against UConn has dug the Warriors a major hole. Understand, I’m not trying to imply anything negative about UConn, a very good Atlantic Hockey team. But Atlantic Hockey’s RPI as a conference is perrenially low, thus lowering Merrimack’s RPI as well, a major criteria for an NCAA bid. This isn’t a death sentence for Merrimack but rather a moment of concern in my mind.
3. Rivalries suit Eagles well
Think the BC Eagles like playing big games in front of big crowds? This weekend (well, and three national title in the last five years) would answer in the affirmative. BC defeated rival Notre Dame in the “Holy War on Ice” on Friday night before taking the 10 minute bus ride on Sunday to knock off the “real” BC rival BU, 4-2, at Agganis Arena. “Notre Dame is a big rival of ours but [BU] rachets it up even more,” said BC head coach Jerry York after Sunday’s win. “A lot of good players we saw against us this weekend. Certainly this was a really big weekend from our perspective.”