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UConn gains ground, travel woes for Wildcats and stormin’ into the ‘Pot

With a few teams idle, the Beanpot schools playing, at most, a single game and a couple of splits, the only team to gain any ground this weekend in Hockey East was Connecticut. That leads the three things I learned this weekend:

1. UConn only team to take three points

It was a heckuva weekend for Connecticut as they made the most of a difficult two-game home-and-home with Maine. The Huskies earned an overtime win at Maine on Friday night. Then, after both teams hopped a bus back to Connecticut, UConn rallied from two goals down to earn a 2-2 tie on Sunday. The three points catapulted the Huskies from 10th place all the way to eighth, passing Maine and Merrimack along the way. More over, UConn is now just three point out of fourth place and a first-round bye. We’ve said it all season, but there was simply no way to see this coming before the year began.

2. A long day, night and day for the Wildcats

Next time you are about to use the cliche “it’s been a long day,” consider what New Hampshire went through on Saturday and Sunday. The Wildcats were on a weekend trip to Notre Dame. After winning Friday night’s game, 5-2, UNH fell to the Irish, 6-4, in Saturday’s series finale. They often say losing the second game of a trip makes for a long ride home. With UNH, they weren’t kidding.

Because a blizzard was about to slam into Chicago, the team wasn’t able to fly out of O’Hare Airport on Sunday as planned. So, instead of spending an extra day or more in the Windy City, UNH chose to bus back. According to Dan Pankhurst, the voice of the Wildcats, the team traveled from South Bend to Buffalo, N.Y., on the first leg. There they changed busses and made their way to around Albany, N.Y., where the team’s usual bus company for local road games met them. The team headed to campus while Pankhurst and a couple of UNH coaches, all of whom had left their cars at Logan Airport, found their way back to Boston.

All tolled, the trip was about 17 hours for the team and about 18 and a half hours from the trio that arrived home via the Logan parking garage. Now that is one very long day(s).

3. Streaking to the the Beans

This year’s Beanpot semifinals will be delayed a day to Tuesday because of a snowstorm in Boston. Nonetheless, all three of the Hockey East entries in the tournament arrive on decent winning streaks. Northeastern has the most modest having won two games the weekend before last while sitting dormant this past Friday and Saturday. The Huskies, though, are unbeaten in four (3-0-1). Boston College has won three straight since losing to Maine a few weeks back. And Boston University, since falling to BC that same weekend, has run off four straight wins. The non-Hockey East entry, Harvard, is the only team limping into the Beanpot having lost to Union, 5-4, on Friday, though more notably just 2-4-0 since returning from the holiday break. Translation: put your money on Harvard.

Hockey East picks – Jan. 30 – Feb. 4

I was pretty mediocre last week, but that’s just fine and dandy because Jim was… um, awful. Heh, heh, heh.

Dave last week: 6-4-1
Jim last week: 4-6-1
Dave’s record-to-date: 123-62-18
Jim’s record-to-date: 120-65-18

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Jan. 30

Massachusetts-Lowell at Merrimack 
Dave’s pick:  Here’s a match-up of two suddenly struggling teams. The River Hawks have lost four of their last five, and the Warriors are 0-2-1 in their last three. The safe play would be to go with the home team each night in this home-and-home series, but I think Lowell turns it around. That River Hawk PK scares me, however.
UML 4, MC 3
Jim’s pick: If I was making this pick a month ago, I would agree with Dave. But right now I don’t see an edge between either of these teams so I’m letting home ice decide.
MC 3, UML 2

Providence at Boston College
Dave’s pick: This is the first super-tough pick in a week loaded with them. Once again, I’m going against the safe pick, which is to go with BC at home. The Friars have been playing very well, and perhaps the Eagles will be looking ahead to Monday.
PC 2, BC 1 (OT)
Jim’s pick: And I am going with the safe pick. If both teams play as well as they each have of late, fans should be in for a great game.
BC 3, PC 2

Massachusetts at Boston University
Dave’s pick: Thank God for an easy pick. On paper, this should be a blowout. I think paper becomes reality.
BU 5, UMass 1
Jim’s pick: UMass has been playing some decent hockey at home this season. Well, this game ain’t at home kids.
BU 4, UMass 1

Connecticut at Maine
Dave’s pick: Another tough one, but the Black Bears have been heating up and it’s in their barn.
Maine 2 UConn 1 (OT)
Jim’s pick: Yeah, I like the way Maine has been playing at Alfond. That should be the tipping point.
Maine 3, UConn 1

New Hampshire at Notre Dame 
Dave’s pick: Notre Dame isn’t even .500 at home and will be without top scorer Robbie Russo the whole weekend. That’s made me go back and forth, but I can’t see the struggling Wildcats winning this one on the road.
ND 4, UNH 3
Jim’s pick: Russo’s absence makes this entire series a toss up as he has been a major piece of Notre Dame’s offense. (Throw dart a bulletin board)
ND 3, UNH 2

Saturday, Jan. 31

Merrimack at Massachusetts-Lowell 
Dave’s pick: As poorly as the River Hawks have been playing, I’m picking them to sweep. They’re too good to stay down for long.
UML 4, MC 2
Jim’s pick: This should be the night UML gets back to winning ways.
UML 3, MC 1

New Hampshire at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: This sweep could easily go the other way. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jim picks up two on me in just this series.
ND 3, UNH 2
Jim’s pick: To pick up two on Dave, I’d have to disagree. And on this game, I do. Don’t see UNH coming away empty.
UNH 3, ND 2

Penn State vs Vermont
Dave’s pick: A month ago, this would have been an easy choice: Vermont. But with the Catamounts going 1-5-1 in recent games along with the  Brody Hoffman suspension, I’m losing faith.
PSU 2, UVM 1
Jim’s pick: I have concerns but am not losing faith in the Catamounts.
UVM 3, PSU 1

Sunday, Feb. 1

Maine at Connecticut
Dave’s pick: The Huskies come back in a big way to earn their split.
UConn 3, Maine 1
Jim’s pick: Another tough weekend of travel for UConn. And it wasn’t pleasant for the Huskies the last time (a 6-1 loss to Notre Dame on back end of a home-and-home). I’m factoring that into my pick.
Maine 4, UConn 2 

Monday, Feb. 2

Beanpot

Harvard vs Boston University 
Dave’s pick: A year ago, these two teams were a collective 20-38-8. Now they’re ranked number two and four in the country. Wow. Give me the Terriers.
BU 4, HU 3 (OT)
Jim’s pick: Get out the drafts again. This one is just too difficult for me to pick. I’m going with the fact BU is playing better of late.
BU 3, HU 2

Boston College vs Northeastern
Dave’s pick: With how well the Huskies have been playing, this is an exceptionally tough choice. Give me the reigning champs in the second deadline-killing overtime of the evening.
BC 3, NU 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: This is the year of the wide-open Beanpot, right? Then why are we both picking another BC-BU final?
BC 4, NU 2 

Wednesday, Feb. 4

Providence at Connecticut
Dave’s pick: Providence’s road toughness comes through in a very tough game.
PC 2, UConn 1
Jim’s pick: I know I picked against Providence on Friday at BC, but this Providence team is really clicking right now.
PC 4, UConn 1

The biggest winners, biggest losers, and kudos to UMass

With the results so one-sided this week, I’m listing the three things I think I learned a little differently.

1. There were four big winners this week.

Boston University, Maine, Northeastern and Providence all swept this weekend.

Coaches talk about how tough two points are in this league, and rightly so. Four points? Brutally tough in a league so strong from top to bottom.

But four teams pulled it off.

Boston University reestablished itself as a national power clicking on all cylinders by going into No. 12 Vermont’s barn and taking both contests.

Providence gave evidence that it just might fulfill those preseason high expectations, sweeping its home-and-home series with fifth-ranked Massachusetts-Lowell.

Northeastern continued to show how hot it is, making an important move in the middle of the pack with its leapfrogging, home sweep over Notre Dame.

And Maine showed that it isn’t dead yet. The Black Bears, who have had some awful defensive performances and struggled on the road, followed up a home win with a shutout on the road of New Hampshire. They’ve now won three road games and are tied for ninth.

For all, a huge four points.

2. If there were four big winners, that means there were also four big losers.

Lowell, New Hampshire, Notre Dame, and Vermont all got swept, as described above.

The biggest surprise has to be Lowell since just a few weeks ago the River Hawks were undefeated in league play. That seems a distant memory, though, because they’ve now lost three straight and four of their last five.

The biggest disappointment has got to be UNH, which fell into a tie for last place, albeit with three games in hand over Massachusetts.

UNH tied for last place? Wow. A really rough year for the Wildcats.

3. Kudos to UMass.

I’ve had few good things to say about the Minutemen this year, I’ll admit. I haven’t picked them to win many games. But they took three of four points from a Merrimack team that was ranked 14th in the country and entered the weekend 13-7-2.

Hats off to UMass!

Hockey East picks – Jan. 23-27

Even though I had a pretty crappy week picking games, somehow I gained two games on Dave who had an incredibly crappy week. One game behind with as we head down the home stretch of the season.

Jim last week: 7-5-1
Jim to date: 116-59-17
Dave last week: 5-7-1
Dave to date: 117-58-17

Friday, January 23

Massachusetts at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: If this Merrimack team can score goals, there is no reason they can’t sweep this series. Just not sure how big an “if” that is.
MC 3, UMass 1
Dave’s pick: Not to be harsh, but even though Merrimack might struggle to score at times, I don’t think they’ll struggle against UMass’s porous defense.
MC 4, UMass 2

New Hampshire at Maine
Jim’s pick: you can call me crazy, particularly after Maine beat BC last weekend. But I feel like in a rivalry series you can throw out records. Thats why I’m going with UNH in a close one.
UNH 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: I would have gone with UNH, too, as the hot team until the Wildcats could manage only a split last weekend with UMass. Now, I’m going with home ice.
Maine 3, UNH 2

Notre Dame at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: This one is really tough for me. If Notre Dame can keep having some success on the power play, they win. But in reality this will be a split. And I’m going with Northeastern on night one.
NU 4, ND 2
Dave’s pick: I’m also going with Northeastern here as the Huskies go to 6-1-2 in their last nine.
NU 3, ND 2

Providence at UMass Lowell
Jim’s pick: This feels like another split and being a home-and-home, I’m taking the home team in each.
UML 4, PC 2
Dave’s pick: I’m going with a River Hawks sweep. Both teams are great defensively, but Lowell’s offense is far superior.
UML 3, PC 1

Boston University at Vermont
Jim’s pick: Another one of my “ifs.” If the BU team that beat Lowell on Sunday shows up, BU wins. I’m betting on that.
BU 3, UVM 2
Dave’s pick: I’m concerned that the Catamounts are cooling off.
BU 3, UVM 2

Saturday, January 24

Connecticut at Boston College
Jim’s pick: Yes, UConn beat the Eagles once. But that was a very different Eagles team and at home. Things will be different for Mike Cavanaugh when he returns to Conte Forum.
BC 4, UConn 2
Dave’s pick: The Eagles lost at Alfond last weekend, but that’s their lone L since the start of December.
BC 4, UConn 2

Notre Dame at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: Like I said above, I’m going with a split here. Irish have been a better second night team and that continues.
ND 3, NU 2
Dave’s pick: I’m going with the Huskies to sweep. They’ve been the better team since a horrendous start.
NU 3, ND 2

UMass Lowell at Providence
Jim’s pick: Another split here as Providence redeems itself at Schneider.
PC 4, UML 3
Dave’s pick: Nope. As I mentioned earlier, the River Hawks are the more balanced team. (In Hockey East games, Providence ranks as the best defensive team and the worst offense; Lowell is second in both categories.)
UML 2, PC 1

Merrimack at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: Even though UMass has been good at home, I just think Merrimack is a cut above.
MC 2, UMass 1
Dave’s pick: Agreed. The Warriors are simply the better team.
MC 3, UMass 2

Maine at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: This is a bit of a long home-and-home so anything can happen here, but I think UNH gets its train headed back in the right direction this weekend.
UNH 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed, again. Home ice is the deciding factor in this series.
UNH 3, Maine 2

Boston University at Vermont
Jim’s pick: I will admit that I’m tempted to pick a BU sweep here, but I think Vermont can salvage the second game.
UVM 3, BU 2
Dave’s pick: I’m not totally off the Catamounta’ bandwagon, but I’m going with a Terriers sweep.
BU 4, UVM 2

Tuesday, January 27

Merrimack at Connecticut
Jim’s pick: This is probably my upset of the week, but I really believe in this UConn team when it plays in Hartford.
UConn 3, MC 1
Dave’s pick: I’m going with the Huskies, too. It’s a tough call, but the Civic Center has been electric for UConn games and I expect that to continue.
UConn, MC 2 (OT)

Ever-tightening standings, tons of travel and is Vermont leveling off?

The top of the Hockey East standings got a whole lot tighter because of some results on Sunday. That leads the three things I learned this week:

1. A BU comeback and solid weekend for the Irish make top of standings tight

When Boston University trailing UMass Lowell, 3-1, on Sunday, one could take a look at the standings and feel that the River Hawks were beginning to get some breathing room in Hockey East. But a BU comeback that culminated in an overtime win and a solid, three-point weekend for Notre Dame against Connecticut leaves just five points separating the top five teams in the standings. It’s important to talk about five teams because one of those teams (or more if a team in sixth or below can move up in the final five weeks) won’t earn a first-round bye. That makes finishing in the top four of the league standings simply paramount.

2. An interesting travel weekend for Hockey East teams

Most teams in Hockey East have grown accustomed to playing two-game series against the same opponent now that the league has 12 members and each team plays every opponent twice. Many of those two-game series can be played as home-and-homes, but for teams like Maine, Vermont and, most notably, Notre Dame, playing two games in different cities isn’t a very viable option. This weekend, though, was an aberration for a few teams. Boston College and UMass Lowell logged some unlikely bus miles, with BC playing in Boston on Friday against BU and Lowell traveling for a game at Orono. On Saturday, those two teams traded opponents and venues with Lowell heading to Boston to Agganis Arena and BC heading north to Alfond Arena. Notre Dame and Connecticut, the league’s two newest members had an even stranger weekend. After playing Friday night in South Bend, the two teams traveled by plane to Bridgeport, Conn., for a noon start on Sunday. The teams that bused after Friday, BC and Lowell, lost on Sunday. While the one road team that one hoped on a plane (Notre Dame). Don’t think there is a lot to read there but certainly an interesting travel weekend for what for years was a very compact regional league.

3. Did Vermont peak already?

It is certainly a small sample size, but it seems like the Vermont team that has returned since the exam break isn’t playing like the team was prior. The Catamounts ran off six straight wins and won nine of 11 before the break. But since winning the first game back over Air Force, Vermont is 1-3-1 and this weekend salvaged just a single tie in a two-game home series against Northeastern. That prompts the question of whether or not Catamounts have already hit their pinnacle for the season. My gut and knowing the talent on this team, I would think not. But we’ll learn a lot more when Vermont hosts Boston University for two games this weekend.

Hockey East picks – Jan. 16-21

Jim and I disagreed on only two picks last weekend and going into the third period, it looked like I’d widen my lead by two. As visions of a six-game lead danced in my head, one of those wins became a tie and the other a loss.  A pox on the Black Bears and Dartmouth!

I should have been a weenie and just duplicated every one of Jim’s picks. Next time…

Dave last week: 7-5-3
Jim last week: 8-4-3
Dave’s record-to-date: 112-51-16
Jim’s record-to-date: 109-54-16

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Jan. 16

Boston College at Boston University 
Dave’s pick: NESN sure picked a great game to telecast. Two highly ranked archrivals. Although BC’s undefeated streak is at seven (and BU’s at five), I think this comes down to more than home ice advantage. The BU power play decides this one.
BU 3, BC 2
Jim’s pick: This is a difficult game to pick because a part of me thinks that BC is playing the better hockey right now, but I don’t have a large enough sample size from BU to judge. That said, I need to gain some ground on Dave and there aren’t enough marginal games like this one to differ.
BC 4, BU 2

Massachusetts-Lowell at Maine
Dave’s pick: For a few years, Maine was Lowell’s kryptonite, but not anymore. Maine’s struggles continue; Lowell’s success does, too.
UML 4, UM 1
Jim’s pick: Lowell has struggled in Orono, but coming off a loss at UConn, I have to think Lowell will be very prepared for this test..
UML 3, UM 1

New Hampshire at Massachusetts
Dave’s pick: I think the Wildcats are a lot better than their record. Their only loss in the last five games was to 12th-ranked Nebraska-Omaha. I see them making a significant move up the standings.
UNH 4, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: UNH is playing its best hockey of the season. UMass had a good comeback last Friday but I still think that UNH will be a goal better.
UNH 4, UMass 3

Northeastern at Vermont
Dave’s pick: Northeastern has impressed of late, but Vermont has gotten it done all year. With the Catamounts 7-1 at home, this looks like a tough weekend for the Huskies.
UVM 4, NU 2
Jim’s pick: If this was at NU, I’m picking the Huskies given the direction of both teams. But at Vermont, that Cats have played very well.
UVM 3, NU 2

Connecticut at Notre Dame 
Dave’s pick: I’m this close to picking a Huskies sweep of this long-distance home-and-home series. Especially with Notre Dame a game under .500 at home. But I have to think that with three straight losses the Irish play with an extra sense of desperation.
ND 2, UConn 1 (OT)
Jim’s pick: I agree with Dave. Notre Dame better be more desperate at home.
NU 3, UConn 1

Quinnipiac at Merrimack 
Dave’s pick: Quinnipiac may be 15-6-1, but Merrimack just recently toppled Minnesota on its own ice and tied BU. Plus, the Warriors are 7-1-1 at home. Go Warriors!
MC 3, QU 2
Jim’s pick: Home ice dictates this decision. Merrimack is just nasty at Lawler.
MC 4, QU 2

Saturday, Jan. 17

Massachusetts at New Hampshire
Dave’s pick: UNH makes it 5-1-1 over its last seven.
UNH 4, UMass 1
Jim’s pick: There are so many tough decisions this weekend yet somehow Dave and I are mostly in agreement.
UNH 3, UMass 1

Merrimack at Quinnipiac
Dave’s pick: I’d love to pick the Warriors to sweep, but I think this ends as a home-team-holds-serve split.
QU 3, MC 2
Jim’s pick: I never love splits, but this series certainly feels like one.
QU 4, MC 2

Northeastern at Vermont
Dave’s pick: Perhaps the Huskies can salvage a split, but I don’t think so. Vermont goes to 9-1 in its own barn.
UVM 3, NU 1
Jim’s pick: This is one tough stretch for NU. A win in one of the games against BC would give me hope, but I really think Vermont is better.
UVM 3, NU 2

Sunday, Jan. 18

Notre Dame at Connecticut 
Dave’s pick: It’s a shame that this matchup is at Bridgeport instead of the Civic Center, but either way the Huskies come out on top.
UConn 2, ND 1
Jim’s pick: I agree with Dave and for that reason, I’m actually picking the sweep that gets the Irish back on track (and keeps them very much in the Hockey East hunt with plenty of games in hand).
ND 3, UConn 2

Massachusetts-Lowell at Boston University
Dave’s pick: This one comes down to nothing more than the home ice edge.
BU 3, UML 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: I should honestly pick this one as a tie because I think both teams are evenly matched. But that would be just stupid. So as Dave says, home ice wins.
BU 3, UML 2

Boston College at Maine
Dave’s pick: The Black Bears are 10th in team offense and 11th in team defense. Even the Alfond crowd won’t make this one a W.
BC 4, Maine 1
Jim’s pick: I think BC is turning on the jets at the right time.
BC 4, Maine 2

Wednesday, Jan. 21

Merrimack at Boston College
Dave’s pick: This could be closer than many expect, but I still see the Eagles emerging with the win.
BC 3, MC 2
Jim’s pick: At home, this one should be BC’s.
BC 4, MC 2

UConn good, Irish bad, and no sure things

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

1. I should stop being surprised when Connecticut defeats a strong team.

Earlier this year, UConn defeated Boston College and tied Boston University in the span of just four days. The Huskies also have toppled Quinnipiac and Vermont.

But I really didn’t think they could knock off Massachusetts-Lowell, thereby giving the River Hawks their first Hockey East loss of the year.

But UConn did it again, shutting out Lowell, 2-0.

Expect more on the Huskies in this week’s column.

2. Maybe Notre Dame just isn’t that good.

I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, expecting the Irish to finally put it all together. I’m starting to think it just won’t happen.

The Irish went five games without a win in mid-to-late November, but then followed a sweep of UMass with an upset of sixth-ranked Miami.

So I started to believe, at least just a little.

But then the Irish lost to a Lake Superior team that even with that win is only 4-19-1.

This weekend, Western Michigan, in next-to-last place in the NCHC with a 2-6-2 league mark, swept Notre Dame.

At some point, you just have to look at the record and say, “It is what it is.”

3. You can’t take anything for granted.

I knew this, of course.

But as already noted, Lowell lost its first league game to UConn.

Then Providence, projected in the preseason to finish first in Hockey East and appearing to hit its stride of late, takes on a Brown team next-to-last in the ECAC with a league mark of 1-7-1, and an overall mark of 3-10-0. The Friars take the away portion of the home-and-home series on Friday night, needing overtime to pull out the win. But then they lose back at home, 5-3, and have to settle for a split with one of the ECAC’s weakest teams.

But the piece de resistance was BU traveling to Wisconsin. This is not your father’s Badgers. This year’s edition was 2-11-1 going into the weekend. BU was ranked second in the country with an 11-3-3 mark.

Like taking candy from babies, right? I mean, what else do you expect from 11-3-3 vs. 2-11-1?

Well, BU did win impressively on the second night, 6-1, but the Terriers needed not one, but two, extra attacker goals to pull out a Friday night tie, the second coming with three seconds left in regulation.

No, there are no more automatics.

Hockey East picks: Jan. 9-13

Though I thought I had a decent week, I continued to lose ground to Dave. Something needs to turn around fast (though with Dave picking second again, expect him to utilize the four-corners defense again!)

Jim last week: 9-4-2
Jim to date: 101-50-13
Dave last week: 11-2-2
Dave to date: 105-46-13

Friday, January 9

Boston College at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: I love the way Northeastern is playing right now, particularly at home. But BC has all of its World Junior players back and I think that is the difference maker.
BC 4, NU 3
Dave’s pick: Both teams are 4-0-1 in their last five games, but like Jim, I think BC’s the better club at full strength.
BC 3 NU 2

Maine at Massachusetts (non-conference)
Jim’s pick: Tough pick here. Pick a Maine team that is awful on the road or a UMass team that is struggling. When in doubt, go with home ice.
UMass 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: UMass is 1-6-0 at home; Maine is 1-6-0 on the road. I’d pick a 0-0 tie except that these are the two worst defensive teams in the league. I feel like I’m giving Jimmy a free game here, but I’m going with the Black Bears on pure instinct alone.
Maine 4, UMass 3

Dartmouth at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: If this game were played at Dartmouth or at a neutral site, I’m going with the Green. But I think UNH can get up for this important rivalry game.
UNH 3, Dartmouth 2
Dave’s pick: I’m sure UNH will get up, but I’m not sure that’ll be enough. Is this a lost season for the Wildcats?
Dartmouth 4, UNH 3

Boston University at Wisconsin
Jim’s pick: Yes, Wisconsin has been terrible. Yes, Wisconsin upset Michigan Tech last week. And yes, the Badgers are playing at home. But NO WAY am I picking Wisconsin.
BU 4, Wisco 1
Dave’s pick: Wisconsin is 2-11-1. Can that be? My how the mighty have fallen.
BU 5, Wisco 1

Notre Dame at Western Michigan
Jim’s pick: I want to have confidence in Notre Dame, but it is slowly falling apart.
WMU 4, ND 2
Dave’s pick: I was going to give the Irish one last vote of confidence until I saw that Western Michigan, for all its lackluster record, has defeated four nationally ranked teams. I’ve got to go with the Broncos, at least at home.
WMU 3, ND 2

Providence at Brown
Jim’s pick: The Friars are on a roll and should be hungry for the two-game Mayor’s Cup series vs. Brown.
PC 5, Brown 1
Dave’s pick: The Friars are who we thought they were.
PC 4, Brown 1

Connecticut at Army

Jim’s pick: An old Atlantic Hockey rivalry should go to UConn.
UConn 4, Army 2
Dave’s pick: The Huskies are only 2-5-2 on the road, but I still think they’ll have enough to defeat the Black Knights.
UConn 3, Army 1

Saturday, January 10

Northeastern at Boston College
Jim’s pick: I really believe NU can salvage points from this series. But that is in my heart. My head says a BC sweep.
BC 4, NU 2
Dave’s pick: I see BC getting stronger all the way down the stretch.
BC 4, NU 2

UMass Lowell at Connecticut
Jim’s pick: These two teams met two weekends ago in the finals of the tournament in Bridgeport and it was a great game. Expect nothing less. But also expect the same result.
UML 3, UConn 1
Dave’s pick: The Huskies have knocked off top teams before, but I’m picking the River Hawks to remain undefeated within the league.
UML 4, UConn 1

Western Michigan at Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: I think on home ice, Notre Dame can get this job done.
ND 3, WMU 2
Dave’s pick: I’ve gone from expecting an Irish sweep to a Broncos sweep to… well… since Peyton Manning is struggling, I’ll go with a home-and-home split.
ND 3, WMU 2 (OT)

Maine at Massachusetts (non-conference)
Jim’s pick: I know everything I said about home ice, Maine’s road record, yada yada yada.
Maine 4, UMass 3
Dave’s pick: It’s utterly insane for me to pick a Maine sweep on the road, but when is the last time someone called me sane?
Maine 5, UMass 4 (OT)

Boston University at Wisconsin
Jim’s pick: Two more wins keeps the Terriers in excellent shape.
BU 4, Wisco 3
Dave’s pick: I don’t think it’ll be close. BU goes to 8-1-1 on the road.
BU 4, Wisco 1

Brown at Providence
Jim’s pick: Providence finishes the sweep to take the Mayor’s Cup.
PC 4, Brown 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed. Seven in a row for the Friars.
PC 3, Brown 1

Sunday, January 11

Vermont at Dartmouth
Jim’s pick: Vermont seems to have lost something off its fastball since break. But I still have confidence the Cats can win on the road.
UVM 3, DC 2
Dave’s pick: The Catamounts will need that fastball back when they tackle the Hockey East iron over the second half, but they’ve got enough to beat Dartmouth, even on the road.
UVM 2, DC 1

Tuesday, January 13

Providence at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: Assuming the ice holds up, expect Providence to extend its winning streak.
PC 3, UNH 1
Dave’s pick: The Friars extend their winning streak to eight games leading into a huge home-and-home  with Lowell.
PC 4, UNH 2

Nonleague dominance, streaking Friars and struggles at the WJC

Hockey East teams have been simply dominant since returning from the holiday break. That leads the three things I have learned in the past couple of weeks.

1. Nonleague opponents have been friends to Hockey East teams in second half

Hockey East teams didn’t exactly enjoy the best first half out of conference. The league as a whole was barely above .500 at 35-31-5. But since players at all 12 schools got some time off for exams and holidays, play since the return has bordered on tremendous. As a league, teams went 18-7-2 in the last two weeks with four of those loses coming at the hands of another Hockey East team in either opening round or championship games at holiday tournaments.

And speaking of tournaments, there has been a good bit of league hardware. Of the five tournaments with a Hockey East team (or teams) in its field, four titles went to members of this league. Providence captured the Catamount Cup in Vermont and Boston College won the Ledyard Classic at Dartmouth. Then there is UMass-Lowell. The only team to play in two holiday tournaments, the River Hawks won both (each time beating a Hockey East team in the finals), knocking off Connecticut at the Frozen Holiday Classic before the new year and beating Merrimack in the final of the Mariucci Classic this past Saturday.

2. Providence on a roll

There was certainly reason for concern at times this season about the preseason top pick in the Hockey East coaches poll, Providence. The Friars began 4-5-2 and only once in that time had they scored more than three goals. But since a 2-1 loss at home against Vermont on Nov. 15, Providence is one of the nation’s hottest teams, putting together a 9-1 record and outscoring opponents 32-14. Something has certainly clicked for the Friars, and their fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

3. World Junior struggles point back to Eichel

One of the main reasons fans were excited about this year’s World Junior Championship was Team USA’s hopes with a great leader like Boston University’s Jack Eichel in the lineup. Unfortunately, Eichel wasn’t able to shine bright enough on the biggest international stage, held to just four points in Team USA’s five games and finishing the tournament a minus-3. He was still tied for second on the team in scoring, but when you compare numbers against Canada’s Connor McDavid, the player most expect will be Eichel’s competition for the No. 1 overall spot at the NHL Entry Draft, the BU star didn’t measure up. McDavid (not including Sunday’s game) posted seven points in five games and, more notable, is eight better in plus/minus at plus-5. All that said, you can imagine BU coach David Quinn might be relieved to have his top player back on campus healthy, regardless of whether a medal is around his superstar’s neck.

Hockey East picks: Jan. 2-6

Another week in which I was unable to gain ground on Dave, thus he’ll enter 2015 with a two-game lead.

Jim last week: 7-4-0
Jim to date: 92-46-11
Dave last week: 7-4-0
Dave to date: 94-44-11

Friday, January 2

Connecticut at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: I really like the way UConn is playing right now and thought they gave UMass Lowell everything it could handle last week. Not sure UMass is that strong, even at home.
UC 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed all the way. I really like the job Coach Mike Cavanaugh has done at UConn.
UC 4, UMass 2

Canisius at Maine
Jim’s pick: I think playing Canisius at home might be exactly what the doctor ordered for a struggling Maine team.
Maine 4, CC 3
Dave’s pick: The Black Bears have fallen to 4-13-1. They need wins wherever they can be found.
Maine 3, CC 2

St. Lawrence at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: I’m not sure which is the stronger team here, so I’ll go with the Huskies on home ice.
NU 3, SLU 2
Dave’s pick: Since opening the season 0-8-1, the Huskies have won five of seven and four of the last five.
NU 4, SLU 2

Mariucci Classic (Minneapolis, Minn.)

RIT vs. UMass Lowell
Jim’s pick: River Hawks continue to play some pretty decent hockey.
UML 5, RIT 2
Dave’s pick: Decent? First place in Hockey East and ninth in the country? I’d call that wickid good.
UML 4, RIT 1

Merrimack at Minnesota
Jim’s pick: This is easily Merrimack’s toughest out-of-conference opponent this year. And I just don’t think the solid first half is enough to pick the Warriors in this one.
MN 5, MC 3
Dave’s pick: Yeah, sorry, Warriors fans. I’d be picking a loss even if it were in your barn.
MN 5, MC 2

Ledyard Bank Classic (Hanover, N.H.)

Brown vs. Boston College
Jim’s pick: My only concern here is BC’s absences due to the World Junior tournament. Still, I think the Eagles will have enough to get past a 3-8 Brown team.
BC 5, Brown 3
Dave’s pick: I think those absences (especially Thatcher Demko’s) could turn this one into a nail-biter, but I agree with Jim. Brown doesn’t have enough to knock off the Eagles.
BC 3, Brown 2

Saturday, January 3

Union at Boston University
Jim’s pick: Without Eichel, I’m concerned a bit about BU. But Union didn’t show me much against Connecticut or Sacred Heart last weekend.
BU 4, Union 2
Dave’s pick: Union’s recent struggles were eye-opening. Maybe it was just holiday rust, but maybe not. I think this is a game BU’s “other stars” rise to the challenge, showing they aren’t just a bunch of second bananas.
BU 3, Union 1

Canisius at Maine
Jim’s pick: Even though I think Canisius is a good enough team to earn a split, I’ll give Maine the home ice benefit of the doubt.
Maine 4, Canisius 3 (OT)
Dave’s pick: Maine hasn’t inspired confidence this season, but I’m going to be a Hockey East homer on this one.
Maine 3, Canisius 2

St. Lawrence at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: I’m pretty sure Dave will call this pick the Hockey East homer in me.
NU 3, SLU 2
Dave’s pick: Not at all. In Northeastern’s recent wins, they’ve toppled nationally ranked Providence and Minnesota. I think the Huskies are the better team and they’re at home, to boot.
NU 4, SLU 2

Colorado College at Providence
Jim’s pick: This might be the easiest pick of the weekend with two teams headed in different directions.
PC 5, CC 1
Dave’s pick: Agreed. Colorado College has fallen on very tough times.
PC 4, CC 1

Vermont at Yale
Jim’s pick: Even though they lost at home to Providence, I’m not picking against Vermont right now.
UVM 3, Yale 2
Dave’s pick: I think this will be very close, especially on the road, but Vermont has earned my pick until proven otherwise.
UVM 3, Yale 2 (OT)

Mariucci Classic (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Championship/Consolation games
Jim’s pick:
With two Hockey East teams in this field, there are a lot of scenarios to pick here. But long story short is I believe the Gophers win their tournament on home ice.
MN 3, UML 2; MC 3, RIT 1; UML 4, MC 2

Dave’s pick: I’ve been loathe to pick against the River Hawks, but Minnesota on its own ice is just too tough a challenge.
MN 3, UML 2 (OT); MC 2, RIT 1; UML 4, MC 1

Ledyard Bank Classic (Hanover, N.H.)
Boston College at Dartmouth
Jim’s pick:
I actually think that the World Junior losses will do in BC in this pre-determined opponent tournament.
DC 4, BC 3
Dave’s pick:
Although goaltending could be a problem with Demko away, not to mention issues with depth, I still think the Eagles squeak this one out, even on hostile ice.
BC 3, DU 2

Sunday, January 4

Colorado College at Providence
Jim’s pick: Providence completes the sweep at home.
PC 4, CC 1
Dave’s pick: No contest.
PC 5, CC 1

Tuesday, January 6

Yale at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: Though I think NU can win two games vs. ECAC opponents to begin the year, Yale won’t be number three.
Yale 4, NU 2
Dave’s pick: Yale may be 7-3-2, but I still think the hot Huskies prevail on their home ice.
NU 3, Yale 2 (OT)

Colorado College at Connecticut (Bridgeport, Conn.)
Jim’s pick: The Huskies continue solid play to start the second half.
UC 3, CC 2
Dave’s pick:  I’ve been too impressed by the Huskies this year to pick a 3-11-1 team to beat them.
UC 3, CC 1

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