Boston University is a lock for the NCAA tournament, while New Hampshire can only get in with the automatic bid. UMass-Lowell and Vermont are in uncertain territory.
The Hockey East regular season has been nothing short of remarkable. The only constant has been Boston University. Everything else? Mud.
Massachusetts-Lowell was looking like the team to beat through mid-January. Now, it’s only 3-7-1 in its last 11 games.
Northeastern was dead in the water after an 0-8-1 start. Now, Kevin Roy is pushing 40 points and the Huskies are knocking on the door of the top four.
Notre Dame continues to churn out wins despite fits and starts, Connecticut might host a first-round playoff series — the list goes on and on.
So with that, we present Hockey East Playoff-ology to help you sort through each team’s chances to finish in each playoff spot, from best case to worst-case scenario. Let’s get started, in order of the standings with two weeks remaining:
1. Boston University (28 points)
Highest probable finish: First — Even if a wacky circumstance emerges where the Terriers get only two points from their final four games, Boston College would have to win out and hope that Northeastern pulls ahead of Massachusetts-Lowell (BU owns a tiebreaker over BC by virtue of a better head-to-head record vs. UML).
Likely finish: First — Put simply: If the Terriers take three points from Notre Dame this weekend, there’s no mathematical way they can be caught. By anyone.
Lowest probable finish: Second — Or, BU could lose all four of its remaining games. In which case, I give up.
2. Boston College (24 points)
Highest probable finish: First — Is there a scenario where BU gets two points (or less) in the next two weeks? Sure. Is it likely to happen? No.
Likely finish: Second — Friday’s game against Lowell is intriguing. Let’s say BC defeats UML. A split vs Notre Dame next week would all but lock up second. Providence would have to win out and hope Northeastern passes Lowell (giving BC a tiebreaker based on head-to-head record vs. the Huskies). Let’s firmly place BC in second.
Lowest probable finish: Fifth — Back to Friday: Let’s say Lowell wins. That takes BC out of the driver’s seat entirely, since the Eagles would have a ceiling of 28 points. Lowell (hypothetically already on 24 points), would own the tiebreaker and could get to 28 by sweeping Vermont. Plus, Providence has eight points for the taking (on paper) vs. Connecticut and New Hampshire. BC could fall out of a first-round bye. There are scenarios that put the Eagles even lower, but for now let’s put BC’s floor at fifth.
3. Massachusetts-Lowell (22 points)
Highest probable finish: Second — Even if BU finishes 0-4, Lowell can only tie BU, and the Terriers own the tiebreaker.
Likely finish: Fourth — Friday’s game against BC is pivotal. But even with a Lowell win, Providence has a better chance to pick up additional points and the Friars have a game in hand. I think PC passes UML.
Lowest probable finish: Seventh — This is the nightmare scenario, and it’s not unrealistic. Let’s say UML loses its last three games. Mathematically, Vermont pulls ahead (23 points), Providence can get to 22 points with one win (and holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over UML), plus Northeastern and Notre Dame would need only three points each to get to 23. A lot would have to go wrong at once, but it’s not terribly far-fetched.
4. Providence (21 points)
Highest probable finish: Second — If the Friars get all eight points from their remaining four games, someone between BC and UML has to lose (or they could tie, which is just as helpful). There’s a reasonable chance, with the right breaks, PC could finish second.
Likely finish: Third — The scenario above depends on whether BC has sorted out its woes after a split last week at home against Vermont. There’s a more likely path where Providence passes Lowell based on sheer points up for grabs, thus placing the Friars in third.
Lowest probable finish: Seventh — It would take an 0-4 finish from Providence and a sudden run from Maine and UConn for the Friars to get kicked out of the top eight. Massachusetts would have to sweep PC, Maine would have to take at least two points from Northeastern then sweep PC, and UConn would have to win out. More realistically, the floor is seventh for the Friars. Sure, Maine could go on a run. Maine, Vermont and UConn at the same time? Less likely.
T-5. Northeastern (20 points)
Highest probable finish: Third — If BC has no trouble the next two weeks, this isn’t too far-fetched a finish. The Huskies would just need to take care of business against Maine, grab (ideally) a split against BU and hope for a couple of losses from Providence. A lot to do (and hope for), but not unrealistic.
Likely finish: Fifth — I’d even say fourth is a possibility for Northeastern. But that depends on whether Lowell has stemmed the bleeding. If UML gets only one win in its final three games, the door is ajar for the Huskies to pass the River Hawks and grab a first-round bye. More than likely, however, the Huskies land just outside the top four. Which, given their standing in the PairWise Rankings, might not be a bad thing (more playoff games equals more possible wins).
Lowest probable finish: Eighth — While it’s possible for the Huskies (if they lose out) to fall all the way to ninth, that would require UConn to take five points from its last three games. Not likely. However, let’s say Northeastern splits with Maine in Orono then gets swept by BU (giving Maine a tiebreaker). NU could very easily plummet to eighth given other results.
T-5. Notre Dame (20 points)
Highest probable finish: Second — The Irish face BC at home. This could be a big swing, especially if the Irish manage a split with BU. Armed with (theoretically) six points and a tiebreaker vs. BC, you could potentially slot the Irish in second. Of the teams in the middle group, Notre Dame controls its destiny the most.
Likely finish: Sixth — Notre Dame’s two games at BU loom large. Take points and you’re in really good shape for a bye. Get swept? Still not terrible — you get to host BC. But here’s the catch: Notre Dame still will need to sweep BC AND hope Northeastern gets fewer than four points. The Huskies currently own this head-to-head tiebreaker.
Lowest probable finish: Eighth — As I mentioned in the blurb on Northeastern, I don’t see UConn getting five points in the final six games. Could Vermont and Maine move ahead should the Irish come up empty? Sure. But seventh is the farthest the Irish can reasonably drop.
7. Vermont (19 points)
Highest probable finish: Fourth — There are four juicy points up for grabs at home vs. Merrimack this weekend. Plus, next week vs. Lowell could mean a big swing for the Catamounts. If Lowell loses to BC and Vermont wins out, it would pin Lowell down to 24 points. However, it’ll be hard to pass both Lowell and Providence to get to third, so fourth is more reasonable.
Likely finish: Seventh — Even assuming Vermont sweeps Merrimack, Notre Dame still has four points up for grabs at home vs. BC the final weekend, and the Irish hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Vermont. Plus, if Northeastern grabs just one point from BU the final weekend, the Huskies would own another tiebreaker over Vermont. A lot has to happen for Vermont to climb farther than seventh.
Lowest probable finish: Eighth — That said, I don’t see Vermont falling into the clutches of both Maine and UConn, especially considering UConn has only three games remaining to Vermont’s four. Even with an 0-4 finish, UConn would need four points in three games to pass Vermont, considering the Catamounts own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
T-8. Maine (16 points)
Highest probable finish: Fifth — Maine has two against Northeastern at home this weekend. Say the Huskies are caught looking ahead to the Beanpot and Maine gets a sweep. The Huskies might be out of the picture for a bye (no tiebreaker and a series vs. BU next week). The only problem: Some combination of Providence, Notre Dame, Lowell or Vermont probably will clog the final spots in the top four. Maine would need a tremendous amount to go right to get a bye. A high home-ice spot in the first round is more realistic.
Likely finish: Ninth — I’m going to go out on a limb: Let’s say Maine and Northeastern split this weekend. Then what? Maine visits Providence for two games. Given the way both Northeastern and Providence are playing, four points over the next four games seems like a tall order. Plus, Notre Dame, UConn and Vermont all hold tiebreakers over Maine. If UConn gets two or three points in its final three games, it forces Maine’s hand to (realistically) pick up points in both series. Unfortunately, I think the Black Bears will finish on the bad side of the UConn tiebreaker.
Lowest probable finish: 10th — New Hampshire is playing better, and Merrimack still could right the ship. The good thing for Maine is that UNH and Merrimack have to play each other next week. For both to pass Maine, the Black Bears would have to go 0-4, UNH and Merrimack would both have to sweep this weekend, then split with each other next week. That’s a lot to happen, so the floor for Maine is likely 10th.
T-8. Connecticut (16 points)
Highest probable finish: Seventh — By virtue of tying BU, UConn holds a tiebreaker over Vermont, so with three points in three games, the Huskies theoretically could get up to seventh. But five points would be the minimum to get any higher (Notre Dame and Northeastern both have tiebreakers over UConn). A lot would have to go right, and everyone UConn is chasing has a game in hand.
Likely finish: Eighth — I think the Huskies get the Ice Bus across the finish line for a home playoff series. Which, in and of itself, would be a great achievement. Still, they don’t control their own destiny. At bare minimum, the Huskies need a split against UNH this weekend. After that, keep in mind: UConn owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Maine.
Lowest probable finish: 10th — Having one fewer game to play could be an issue, and UNH could take advantage, especially in their series this coming weekend.
10. New Hampshire (13 points)
Highest probable finish: Eighth — Take care of UConn and Merrimack on back-to-back weekends, then hope Maine doesn’t string together a few wins. It’s not that far-fetched.
Likely finish: 10th — UNH has played much better the last few weeks and it’s looking like a dangerous team to play in the first round. The Wildcats also control their own destiny to get a better first-round seed. Their next opponents are the teams above (UConn) and below (Merrimack) them in the standings.
Lowest probable finish: 11th — If things go poorly against UConn this weekend, the Merrimack series could knock UNH down to 11th easily. UMass would need at minimum five points to pass UNH — plus, the Wildcats have a game in hand, so 11th feels like a realistic floor.
11. Merrimack (12 points)
Highest probable finish: Ninth — Four points back of the final home-ice spot with three teams to pass makes eighth difficult. But we know the Warriors can beat anyone in the league if they put it together. Sweeping Vermont would be a necessary first step, but the Warriors lose tiebreakers against both Maine and UConn. Whatever slim chance remains for home ice will come down to next week’s series at UNH.
Likely finish: 11th — Much like UNH, the Warriors control their own destiny to move up or down a few notches. But the choice of first-round opponents doesn’t get much easier finishing 10th vs. 11th.
Lowest probable finish: 12th — The Warriors are on a five-game losing streak, and they’re 1-7-1 in their last nine. If the slide continues and UMass picks up just three points, the Minutemen hold a tiebreaker.
12. Massachusetts (9 points)
Highest probable finish: 10th — A good finish and a solid first-round draw could salvage the season, but sweeping Providence is almost a necessity. Mathematically, this is as high as UMass can go.
Likely finish: 12th — Sweeping Providence would be difficult, and everyone in front of UMass has a game in hand.
Lowest probable finish: 12th — The good news is that it can’t get worse.
Boston University earned two points against New Hampshire over the weekend, leaving the Terriers on the verge of clinching the regular-season title in Hockey East. That leads the three things I learned this weekend in Hockey East:
1) Terriers ready to clinch
Boston University is very close to clinching at least a share of the regular season title. With a six-point lead in the standings over Boston College and a game in hand on the Eagles, BU needs just one win (or a BC loss) over the final two weekends of the regular season to clinch the season-long title. The Terriers nearly earned those points on Saturday night, rallying from 4-0 down at New Hampshire to get within a goal. The Wildcats, though, hung on to force the title race to, at the very minimum the penultimate weekend of Hockey East play.
2) Hockey East teams scored goals like Mother Nature produced snow
Snow has been an almost everyday occurrence in Hockey East country of late. But over the past week, goals have fallen as quickly as the white stuff we now all detest. Many offenses exploded this weekend, though none more than Northeastern which posted 9-0 and 6-1 wins over Connecticut on the weekend. UMass Lowell broke out of its offensive drought with a seven spot against Massachusetts. Boston College and Vermont played a wild one on Saturday with a 6-5 final. And Maine poured in nine goals against the stingy Merrimack defense to earn a two-game sweep, the first such sweep on the road for the Black Bears since a two-game sweep at Boston College in the 2013-13 season.
3) Even if BU clinches, there are plenty of races left in Hockey East
Boston University might end the race or the league title as early as Friday. But everything else in the league seems up for grabs with two weekends remaining. Splits between Providence and Notre Dame as well as Boston College and Vermont has placed just eight points between second and ninth place in Hockey East. Second-place BC and third-place Lowell seem to be in the driver’s seat for a top four spot with 24 and 22 points, respectively. But the two play one another next weekend, the only game both teams play next weekend. That leaves every other team with a game in hand, so fourth-place Providence (21 points), fifth-place Northeastern and Notre Dame (each with 20 points) and even seventh-place Vermont are very much alive for a top-four spot and a first-round bye. There is no doubt this race will come down to the final buzzer on the final night of league play.
Jim and I disagreed on three picks last week, but two of them were in the postponed Beanpot, so it all came down to just one. Guess who won? Heh, heh, heh.
Dave last week: 7-2-1
Jim last week: 6-3-1
Dave’s record-to-date: 135-66-20
Jim’s record-to-date: 131-70-20
Here are this week’s picks:
Friday, Feb. 13
New Hampshire at Boston University
Dave’s pick: Will Friday the 13th be my downfall? I don’t expect that this safe pick will be the start of it.
BU 4, UNH 2
Jim’s pick: Especially at home, I think BU has a significant edge.
BU 4, UNH 1
Maine at Merrimack
Dave’s pick: The Black Bears have won three times on the road this year, a significant improvement over last, but Merrimack is 9-2-2 at the Lawler Rink.
MC 3, Maine 1
Jim’s pick: I think Maine will be a tough opponent for Merrimack this weekend, but as Dave mentions, the Warriors at home are dominant..
MC 3, Maine 2
Connecticut at Northeastern
Dave’s pick: UConn has been tough against the best of teams (last week’s blowout loss to Providence notwithstanding), but the Huskies, the Northeastern Huskies, that is, have lost only once since Dec. 3.
NU 3, UConn 1
Jim’s pick: I love UConn at home but this team hasn’t been anywhere near as strong on the road.
NU 4, UConn 2
Vermont at Boston College
Dave’s pick: The Catamounts have come back down to Earth in the second half, while BC has quietly gone 11-2-1 since early December.
BC 4, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: This BC team is red hot, bad timing for a Vermont team that struggles in Chestnut Hill.
BC 5, UVM 2
Providence at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: This is a huge weekend for both teams with a first-round bye likely in the balance. You’d think home ice could decide this one, but the Irish haven’t defended it very well while the Friars have done quite nicely (7-5-2) on the road.
PC 4, UND 3
Jim’s pick: At least on night one, I think Providence will be the stronger team.
PC 5, UND 3
Massachusetts-Lowell at Massachusetts (non-conference)
Dave’s pick: I’ve been a believer in Lowell and a doubter of UMass, but recent results have put those stances to the test. I’m sticking with the River Hawks one more weekend. They played too well in the first half to continue this way.
UML 3, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: This one is the toughest of Friday’s games to pick. After the way UMass dominated last Saturday, I feel like it should be an easier pick given the game is again in the Mullins Center. But Lowell has typically been a strong team responding to losses. <tosses coin>
UMass 3, UML 2
Saturday, Feb. 14
Northeastern at Connecticut
Dave’s pick: Northeastern sweeps the Battle of the Huskies.
NU 2, UConn 1
Jim’s pick: As I mentioned above, I just love UConn’s confidence at home. Especially if they lose on Friday.
UConn 3, NU 1
Vermont at Boston College
Dave’s pick: I’m picking another sweep here, especially with the game being held at Kelley Rink.
BC 4, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: I agree here. Tough second half for Vermont gets tougher.
BC 3, UVM 1
Maine at Merrimack
Dave’s pick: These two teams may have started the weekend tied in the standings, but the Warriors have played much better overall and it’s in their barn.
MC 3, Maine 2
Jim’s pick: Lawler Arena continues to be kind to Merrimack.
MC 3, Maine 2
Massachusetts at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dave’s pick: If the River Hawks are going to hold onto a first-round bye, they need the two league points (available Saturday) and for their confidence really need a sweep.
UML 4, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: Home cooking for the River Hawks should be enough.
UML 5, UMass 3
Boston University at New Hampshire
Dave’s pick: The Wildcats have split every weekend except one since the holiday break, but BU has been too strong. The Terriers sweep.
BU 4, UNH 2
Jim’s pick: Even with this game in Durham, I can’t pick against this red-hot BU team.
BU 5, UNH 3
Providence at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: A sweep will be huge for either team’s hope of a first-round bye; getting swept, devastating. I’m picking a Friar sweep even though the odds probably dictate a split.
PC 3, UND 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: This one feels like a barn burner. And given Notre Dame’s success on the second night, I think they will eek one out here.
UND 3, PC 2
These are the three things I think I learned this week.
1. The Providence offense is coming on at just the right time.
For much of the season, the Providence scoring has been good, but not great. The Friars have displayed championship quality defense, but nothing amazing in the offensive zone.
That seems to be changing. A few weeks ago, the Friars lit up Massachusetts-Lowell, then one of the league’s top defensive clubs, 7-3. Then on Saturday, Providence took “lighting up” to a new level, shellacking Connecticut, 10-1. UConn had also been a strong defensive team.
Hey, it’s not as though the Friars are suddenly the second coming of the Gretzky Edmonton Oilers, but they’re putting it together at just the right time.
2. So much for that Beanpot distraction.
The theory has always been that the Friday night game between Beanpot Mondays is a tough one to get teams motivated for. You know, all that distraction of the big game ahead.
Well, all three Hockey East Beanpot teams won on Friday night. Boston University looked impressive, jumping out early on Lowell and winning, 5-2. BU’s championship game foe, Northeastern, took care of Massachusetts, 5-3, and consolation game-bound Boston College, defeated Merrimack, 4-2.
(Harvard did get shut out by Yale, 3-0, on Friday, then lost to Brown, 2-1. But we don’t really care about the Crimson, do we?)
Of course, perhaps the Hockey East trio of teams had ESP and knew the Beanpot was going to get postponed for two weeks, thereby avoiding the jinx through superpowers. Yup, makes sense to me.
3. Lowell is in trouble.
No team in college hockey went as long as the River Hawks did without a conference loss (until Jan. 10). But since then, it’s been uuuugly.
Wow. From undefeated to 2-7, including losses in six of their last seven games.
In reality, the first-half River Hawks weren’t quite as good as we thought they were. Some of those impressive-looking wins were over teams that haven’t been as good as expected.
A week ago, though, it looked like they had righted the ship. They lost at Merrimack, but dominated, outshooting the Warriors, 52-17, then won in the back end of the home-and-home.
But the River Hawks got off to an atrocious start against BU on Friday, falling behind 3-0 barely eight minutes into the game. Still, BU’s been such a strong team this year, that performance could perhaps be dismissed.
On Saturday, though, they faced UMass, which was 3-13-1 in Hockey East play, the first of three games against the Minutemen. Not to be unkind, but playing a 3-13-1 team ought to be the exilir a team needs.
Instead, Lowell fell behind early again and lost 5-2. And none of those five goals against were empty-netters.
Seems like it’s time to sound the Mayday! alarm.
Here I was feeling all good about myself after making up two games on Dave on Friday night. By the end of the weekend, though, Dave had earned those two wins back.
Jim last week: 5-5-2
Jim to date: 125-67-20
Dave last week: 5-5-2
Dave to date: 128-64-20
Friday, February 6
Boston College at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: Because this game is at Merrimack, I’m nervous to pick the Eagles. But this team will be hungry after a Beanpot loss.
BC 4, MC 2
Dave’s pick: I agree. Merrimack will block a ton of shots and Rasmus Tirronen will stand on his head, but it won’t quite be enough.
BC 3, MC 2
Notre Dame at Maine
Jim’s pick: I’m not confident picking either of these teams right now. So I guess I’ll let home ice prevail.
Maine 3, ND 2
Dave’s pick: Neither team has inspired much confidence of late. If it were at Notre Dame, I’d go for an Irish sweep, but at Alfond the Black Bears will at least get one.
Maine 4, ND 3
Northeastern at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: The one thing I worry about here is a post-Beanpot letdown for the Huskies. But I think they can avoid it.
NU 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: UMass has picked off more wins of late than I would have thought without looking at its schedule, but the Huskies are on a roll.
NU 4, UMass 2
Boston University at UMass Lowell
Jim’s pick: The last time these two teams played, a come-from-behind BU win sent each team in opposite directions. I think UML will remember that and earn the win.
UML 4, BU 3
Dave’s pick: This will be a major test for both teams and Lowell certainly needs it more, but I’m liking the way BU is playing.
BU 4, UML 3
New Hampshire at Vermont
Jim’s pick: Two months ago, this is a slam dunk for the Catamounts. Now, I’m not so convinced.
UVM 3, UNH 2
Dave’s pick: They certainly are worried in Catamount-land, but I also think they get back on track.
UVM 2, UNH 1
Saturday, February 7
Notre Dame at Maine
Jim’s pick: Not a pick I feel very confident in, but will pick the Irish to split.
ND 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: It just seems that both teams have been too inconsistent to expect a sweep either way.
ND 4, Maine 2
Connecticut at Providence
Jim’s pick: Two very good goalies going head-to-head.
PC 2, UConn 1
Dave’s pick: Can the Huskies be giant-killers again? They’ll come close.
PC 2, UConn 1 (OT)
UMass Lowell at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: The battle of sister schools goes to Lowell in round 1.
UML 5, UMass 3
Dave’s pick: I also see the River Hawks taking the win, but think it’ll be a lot more lopsided.
UML 5, UMass 1
New Hampshire at Vermont
Jim’s pick: Another pick I’m not confident in, but think Vermont can get back on track with a sweep at home.
UVM 3, UNH 1
Dave’s pick: UNH’s tough season continues; Vermont sweeps.
UVM 3, UNH 2
Monday, February 9
63rd Beanpot Tournament (at Boston)
Harvard vs. Boston College (consolation game)
Jim’s pick: This is such a big game in terms of PairWise for both teams. Both need a win, who will get it?
BC 3, HU 2
Dave’s pick: Harvard continues its domination of the Beanpot consolation game: five wins in a row.
HU 3, BC 2
Boston University vs. Northeastern (championship game)
Jim’s pick: Is this the year Northeastern wins its first Beanpot since 1988? Even if they don’t, I like going out on a limb with this pick.
NU 3, BU 2
Dave’s pick: A Northeastern Beanpot would be a great story, but I can’t go against a team playing as well right now as the Terriers.
BU 4, NU 2
Tuesday, February 10
Merrimack at UConn
Jim’s pick: The one thing I believe about this game is that it will be low scoring. And I also like UConn to continue to be solid at home.
UConn 2, MC 1
Dave’s pick: Agreed on both counts. Hockey East’s two lowest-scoring teams aren’t suddenly going to open it up.
UConn 2, MC 1 (OT)
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.
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
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
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!
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)
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.