Question: How do you write a “three things I learned” Monday wrapup when Hockey East teams only played a single game over the weekend?
Answer: Stretch the boundaries a bit.
So here goes. These are the three things I think I learned.
Three. Hockey East sits pretty atop the national rankings.
You’ve probably already noticed that the league boasts the top two teams in the country and three in the top six: Boston College at number one, New Hampshire at number two, and Boston University at number six.
But it’s even better than that.
Notre Dame, which will be joining Hockey East next year, sits at number three.
So factoring in the near future, it’s first, second, third, and sixth in the country. Let the chest thumping begin.
Two. It’s no disgrace to lose to the US Under-18 team.
While it’s true that Merrimack’s 3-1 loss to the U-18 squad was the first among Division I teams affiliated with any of the conferences (the national team also beat Alabama-Huntsville), that’s no reason for Warrior fans to hang their heads.
To begin with, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy used the exhibition game to experiment, including starting Nick Drew in goal and giving him the first period. A senior, Drew had only previously played two minutes as a sophomore. (On this night, Sam Marotta played the second and Rasmus Tirronen the third.)
This is what exhibitions are made for. Reward a kid who has toiled long and hard in practices to make his teammates better without a shot at the limelight himself. Good for Dennehy even though Drew did allow two goals, the eventual losing margin.
Besides, the U-18 team has played many of the top teams in the country dead even. Witness these scores: 2-2 against #2 UNH; 1-1 against #3 Notre Dame; and 2-2 against #4 Minnesota.
One: I may have been selling Vermont short this year.
But maybe not.
Regular readers may have noticed that I’ve picked Vermont to lose most of their games, including Saturday’s contest at St. Lawrence that the Catamounts won, 5-2.
Time for more respect?
Well, they’re still 4-8-3 with their only other wins over Providence, Northeastern, and Maine. The latter two have also struggled. The Catamounts still rank ninth in league overall offense (ahead of Maine) and ninth in overall defense (ahead of Massachusetts).
Their schedule is also going to get tougher since they’ve only played one game against the league’s top three teams (BC, UNH, and BU). They’d better have locked up a playoff berth going into the final three weekends of the season because those matchups will include six contests against the Big Three.
All that said, they have played well on the penalty kill and have gotten better on the power play. The win over the Saints came to a great extent because of special teams. The Catamounts scored on two of their three man advantages and killed all six of St. Lawrence’s. And freshman Brody Hoffman turned in another strong performance, recording 39 saves.
Goaltending and special teams will take you a long way so continued improvement there could result in a playoff berth for the Catamounts.