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College Hockey:
The top and bottom of Hockey East, nonconference struggles, and Lowell

These are the three things I think I learned this past week.

1.  The league is getting squeezed

The top and the bottom of Hockey East are getting closer to each other.

Boston College at the top (1A to New Hampshire’s 1B) continued its modest slumber last weekend, settling for a 3-3 tie with Yale.  The Eagles have now followed their 10-game winning streak with a home-and-home split with Boston University (no shame there) but then a 1-1-2 record with the only win coming over hapless Alabama-Huntsville.

The tie with Yale was certainly an improvement over the 8-1 embarrassment at the hands of Minnesota, and Johnny Gaudreau’s triumphant return from the World Junior tournament may cure many ills, but it’s still been surprising to see BC’s struggles.

At the other end of the standings, Maine’s split (albeit with Mercyhurst) gives the Black Bears three wins in their last four games.  That continues at least some of the momentum they gained coming out of the holiday break winning the Florida College Classic.

2. The nonconference struggles continue.

Yes, Massachusetts-Lowell swept Clarkson and together Boston University and New Hampshire swept Renssalaer. But Atlantic Hockey took two more wins against Hockey East on Saturday (Bentley defeating Northeastern and Mercyhurst salvaging a split with Maine).

The lopsided scores, 6-3 and 5-2 respectively, aren’t a major concern since a total of three empty-net goals were involved.  The opponents, however, came into the contests a collective two games under .500.

This isn’t merely a matter of bragging rights. It factors into the NCAA tournament selection criteria.

(I’m giving Providence a pass for getting swept at Minnesota State since the Friars were without super freshman goaltender Jon Gillies, who was at the World Junior tournament.  But that factors into the PairWise, too.)

3. Lowell keeps Big Mo on its side

The River Hawks may have gotten off to a tough start this season, but they are officially on a roll now.  Any sweep in the North Country is an accomplishment and with five straight wins, they’re now a game over .500.

The problem is that only one of those five wins came against a Hockey East opponent.  The challenge will be to translate Big Mo into wins inside the league where the Hawks still languish in a tie for eighth place (albeit with games in hand).

The next few weeks will be huge.

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