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A sleeping giant, parity, and Alfond dominance

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

1. Holy Cross woke a sleeping giant.

Okay, maybe Boston College hadn’t been totally asleep. But the Eagles were already coming off a 5-1 loss to Maine when they hosted Holy Cross two weeks ago, so a drubbing seemed in order.

Instead, the Crusaders pulled off the road upset, 5-4, giving BC only a single win in its last four games.

New Hampshire paid the price this past weekend. Although the Wildcats played well, the Eagles swept the homne-and-home series to move atop the Hockey East standings.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them stay there all year.

2. Parity rules.

I knew that, but not to the extent it played out this weekend.

Massachusetts and Merrimack found themselves at the bottom of the standings going into this past weekend, but you couldn’t have told that from the results.

UMass traveled to Notre Dame for a two-game set and though the Irish were 6-2-1 at home and the Minutemen were 1-6-2 in league play, that didn’t stop them from splitting the series.

Merrimack began the weekend with only a single league point off a record of 0-5-1. But in a home-and-home series with Boston University, the Warriors emerged with three of four points, winning at home and splitting on the road.

Notre Dame had been the 13th ranked team in the country. While BU had been just outside the Top 20, it had been one of the leaders in the “also receiving votes” category.

3. Alfond Arena dominance is back.

In the old days, a road trip to Maine felt like stepping into a den of lions. The Black Bears dominated opponents with one of the top home ice advantages in the sport.

In recent years, though, they’d lost a lot of that home mojo.

Well, it’s back. Baby, it’s back! Although Maine still has yet to win a game on the road (it’s 0-5-1 away from Alfond), it’s now 7-1-0 at home. Included in those wins are lopsided victories over Boston University (7-0) and Boston College (5-1).

This past weekend, the Black Bears added Massachusetts-Lowell — a team that had won six straight and 10-of-11 – to their trophy case. They knocked off the seventh-ranked River Hawks, 4-2.

Whatever lingering doubts existed as to Maine’s home ice dominance (such as Jim and I both picking Lowell) have to be gone now.

Hockey East picks – Dec. 6-8

Jim picked up a game on me last week. It’s time to fix that and head into the holidays on top.

Dave last week: 7-5-1
Jim last week: 8-4-1
Dave’s record-to-date: 70-35-10
Jim’s record-to-date: 71-34-10

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Dec. 6

New Hampshire at Boston College
Dave’s pick: In recent years, this home-and-home series has helped decide the regular season champion on the final weekend of play. This year, the games could prove every bit as decisive even while coming this early. I’m going with home ice to decide.
BC 3, UNH 2
Jim’s pick: After losing at home to Holy Cross, I don’t see this BC team falling back to back at Kelley Rink.
BC 4, UNH 3

Boston University at Merrimack
Dave’s pick: A couple weeks ago, the Terriers appeared to be in trouble. Now, they’re 3-0-1 in their last four. I’m not sure what to make of them, but I’ll take them this series.
BU 2, MC 1 
Jim’s pick: Until Merrimack begins scoring goals, I can’t pick them.
BU 2, MC 0

Massachusetts at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: The Minutemen won’t be getting their first road win at the expense of the Irish.
ND 4, UMass 1
Jim’s pick: Notre Dame hasn’t been playing great hockey due to injuries, but I think it can handle UMass.
ND 3, UMass 1

Providence at Northeastern
Dave’s pick: If you read this week’s column, you know I’ve been impressed by the Huskies. The thing is, though, that the Friars have been even better. Home ice could decide this one, but I’m tilting for the Providence.
PC 3, NU 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: I am going to pick a minor upset here just because Northeastern is at home.
NU 3, PC 2

Saturday, Jan. 12

Massachusetts at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: A tough trip out West for the Minutemen; the first back-to-back wins for the Irish since Nov. 8. .
ND 4, UMass 1
Jim’s pick: Get out your brooms, Irish fans.
ND 5, UMass 3

Merrimack at Boston University
Dave’s pick: BU stays hot; Merrimack remains winless in Hockey East.
BU 4, MC 2
Jim’s pick: You’ve got to score to win. That is why Merrimack continues to struggle.
BU 3, MC 1

Boston College at New Hampshire
Dave’s pick:  The Wildcats salvage the split back at the Whitt.
UNH 3, BC 2
Jim’s pick: I’m going to pick a split again, something that is always dangerous and has rarely worked out for me.
UNH 4, BC 2

Sunday, Dec. 8

Massachusetts-Lowell at Maine
Dave’s pick: Maine’s 6-1 home record collides with Lowell’s 6-1 road mark. I’d usually opt for the home team, all things considered, but not when the River Hawks are involved.
UML 3, Maine 2
Jim’s pick: I will admit I’m very nervous picking Lowell here as Maine has been lights out at home. That said, in its last 11, Lowell has been lights out anywhere it plays.
UML 2, Maine 1

Betting the ranch, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Northeastern

This past week I learned that I could always eat one more drumstick. But that’s not material for this blog (nor, sadly, is it very surprising).

Onward, then, to the three Hockey East things I think I learned.

1. If I were a betting man, I’d have lost the ranch.

I’d have wagered every shekel I had on Boston College beating Holy Cross last Friday. Especially at home. Admittedly, the Eagles had lost to Maine at Alfond but that seems to be happening to everyone this year and was clearly the outlier in a 6-1-1 recent record. BC couldn’t possibly lose at home to a 3-9-0 Atlantic Hockey team.

Wrong!

And I’d have put almost every shekel on New Hampshire beating a struggling Harvard squad last Tuesday as well. Again, at home.  The Crimson had lost five of their last six while the Wildcats had turned around a rough start with six wins in their last seven. A cakewalk to be sure.

Wrong, again!

2. New Hampshire is back!

Clearly, the aforementioned loss to Harvard is the outlier. While it dropped UNH’s nonconference record to an ugly 2-4-1 at the time — a mark that will do the Wildcats no favors come NCAA tournament selection time — it sure looks like a fluke now.

The Wildcats traveled to Colorado College this past weekend and not only swept their struggling hosts, but did so in impressive fashion, 6-2 and 3-0. UNH is now 8-2 over its last ten and appears to have recovered from a brutal 1-5-1 start.

A challenging home-and-home series with BC remains before the holiday break and poor performances there could wipe out a lot of the momentum generated in this recent stretch, but for now at least, the Wildcats have reassumed their accustomed place near the top of the Hockey East pecking order.

3. Vermont and Northeastern are a lot better than I’ve been giving them credit for.

Yes, I know I’ve said this before, but based on their recent performances, I still have to ratchet up my impressions of these two teams.

In the preseason, I picked the Huskies to finish dead last in the league and Vermont barely above them in ninth place. (The two sandwiched Massachusetts.)

Well, Northeastern ain’t finishing in last place. No way, no how.

The Huskies’ win over Notre Dame to take the Shillelagh Tournament won’t count in the standings, but it shows how far they’ve come. They rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the 11th-ranked team on its own ice.

As for the Catamounts, their sweep of Maine gives them four straight wins. While both of this weekend’s victories go in the nonconference ledger (their earlier split at Maine counted for the Hockey East standings), they toppled a team coming off a 7-0 demolition of Boston University and a 5-1 spanking of BC.

If you’re going to discount Vermont’s wins over Maine by saying that the Black Bears are almighty at home (where they’re 6-1-0) while less than tame on the road (where they’re 0-5-1), I will concede you that point. But then I’d ask, who gave Maine that one loss at Alfond?

Hockey East Picks – Nov. 29-Dec. 3

After Dave and I had equally impressive weeks two weeks ago, this past week was a near disaster for both. Laughably, we were equally bad and thus remain tied.

Jim last week: 5-6-2
Jim to date: 63-30-9
Dave last week: 5-6-2
Dave to date: 63-30-9

Friday, November 29

Holy Cross at Boston College
Jim’s pick: I bet Holy Cross can be competitive but don’t think they can beat this BC team.
BC 4, HC 2
Dave’s pick: I think it’ll be more one-sided than Jim expects. BC is coming off a disappointing loss to Maine, and the 3-9-0 Crusaders just aren’t up to the challenge.
BC 5, HC 1

New Hampshire at Colorado College
Jim’s pick: After UNH looked pretty bad against Harvard, expect the Wildcats to rebound.
UNH 3, CC 2
Dave’s pick: I’d have bet the ranch on that Harvard contest, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so certain about this one. But the Wildcats have been playing far too well to drop a third straight game when matched against a 1-8-2 opponent.
UNH 4, CC 1

Maine at Vermont (Non-conf.)
Jim’s pick: Vermont has played some solid hockey at home and Maine has struggled on the road. Might as well play the trend.
UVM 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: I’m not picking against a team that has beaten BU, 7-0, and BC, 5-1, in the last two games. While Maine is 0-3-1 on the road, two of those losses came in the opening weekend. The Black Bears are a much better team now.
Maine 4, UVM 2

Shillelagh Tournament
Northeastern vs. Western Michigan
Jim’s pick: As well as NU has played, I’m going Broncos here.
WMU 4, NU 2
Dave’s pick: I feel as though I’ve gotten almost every Northeastern pick wrong this year. So to help Hockey East boost its nonconference record, I’m going with the Broncos.
WMU 3, NU 2

Alabama-Huntsville at Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: Notre Dame has the perfect opponent for a much-needed win.
ND 5, UAH 1
Dave’s pick: Agreed.  Despite their injuries, the Irish didn’t play badly even while getting swept last week at Lowell. I’m giving more credit to the River Hawks on that front than blame to the Irish.
ND 5, UAH 0

Saturday, November 30

New Hampshire at Colorado College
Jim’s pick: I’ve been picking splits in the past couple of weeks and been killed by calling it backwards. Hoping that’s not the case here.
CC 3, UNH 2
Dave’s pick: I actually think that the errors in Jim’s split calls and my sweep picks have cancelled each other out. But whether that’s the case or not, I’m going with a sweep again. If the Wildcats are as good as I think they are, and the Tigers are as weak, then UNH will take all four points.
UNH 3, CC 2

Boston University vs. Cornell (at Madison Square Garden)
Jim’s pick: Always a close game when these two schools play. I have to pick the team that I think is simply better on paper.
Cornell 3, BU 2
Dave’s pick: I’m not sure what to make of the Terriers. They’ve had some awful losses, but last week took three-of-four points from North Dakota. Since one of those points came while getting outplayed by a wide margin, I’m remaining skeptical.
Cornell 3, BU 2

Brown at Providence
Jim’s pick: Brown has pulled off some upsets at the Mayor’s Cup before. I just don’t think this is one of those years.
PC 4, Brown 2
Dave’s pick: Providence is 7-1-1 at home; Brown is 1-4-0 on the road. The Friars all the way.
PC 4, Brown 1

Maine at Vermont (non-conf.)
Jim’s pick: I like the way Vermont is playing right now. I’m going Catamounts for the sweep.
UVM 4, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: The Catamounts have been playing far better than I expected, but I can’t get away from Maine’s even more impressive recent performances. I’m going with a sweep the other way, even on the road.
Maine 3, UVM 2

Merrimack at Yale
Jim’s pick: The scoring woes for Merrimack continue.
Yale 3, MC 1
Dave’s pick: I’ve been bullish on the Warriors, but they’re now 0-5-1 in their last six games, and their only wins this year have come over Atlantic Hockey teams. My optimism is fading.
Yale 4, MC 1

Shillelagh Tournament
Championship/consolation
Jim’s pick: Picking all the scenarios for Hockey East teams.
NU 4, UAH 1; ND 3, NU 2; ND 4, WMU 3
Dave’s pick: Agreed all around. Notre Dame wins the tournament, and Northeastern beats Alabama-Huntsville if given that match-up.
NU 5, UAH 1; ND 3, NU 1; ND 3, WMU 2

Massachusetts at Quinnipiac
Jim’s pick: UMass is going to have to play much better hockey to beat one of the nation’s best team’s in Quinnipiac.
QU 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: With the Minutemen going 0-5-1 in their last six games, they need an easier match-up than Quinnipiac on the road.
QU 4, UMass 1

Tuesday, December 3

American International at Massachusetts-Lowell

Jim’s pick: AIC is playing well but I don’t know if this will be another Sacred Heart for the River Hawks.
UML 4, AIC 2
Dave’s pick: I’m convinced the Sacred Heart debacle came only because it was so early in the season. The River Hawks are moving into top form.
UML 4, AIC 1

Boston University gets much needed bounceback weekend vs. NoDak

Things were a bit hairy for Boston University after lopsided losses to Boston College and Maine. But after a win against Connecticut last Sunday, BU welcomed North Dakota for what turned out to be a pretty successful weekend. That leads the three things I learned this week:

1. Goaltending rotation broken, BU gets win, tie vs. North Dakota

All season, first-year coach David Quinn had rotated his goaltenders. This past weekend, Quinn broke the rotation going with Matt O’Connor both nights versus North Dakota. After an impressive win on Friday that included 37 saves in a 3-1 win, O’Connor got the call again on Saturday. He didn’t simply one-up his Friday performance, instead he posted a career-high 55 saves, including 24 in a wild third period, to earn a 3-3 tie against North Dakota. It’s difficult to tell if BU is suddenly back on path, but the team has great momentum heading into the marquis Red Hot Hockey matchup next Saturday at Madison Square Garden vs. Cornell.

2. River Hawks continue to roll in near-perfect weekend vs. Notre Dame

Massachusetts-Lowell provided a less-than-welcoming reception to Notre Dame this weekend, facing off against the Irish for the first time in the two programs’ long hockey history. The River Hawks were near perfect, allowing just one goal in the two-game series (1-0, 3-1 wins) while scoring all four of their goals on the power play. The Irish entered the weekend the top penalty killing team in the nation. For just the second time this season, Connor Hellebuyck played back-to-back nights, stopping 74 of the 75 shots he faced. Lowell’s five straight wins is tied with Ohio State for the nation’s longest winning streak and the River Hawks power play is now 15 for 51 (29%) after starting the season 1 for 25.

3. Black Bears returning to home ice dominance

Plenty of college hockey fans remember the days when Maine’s Alfond Arena was packed to the rafters every single night and the Maine Black Bears were nearly unbeatable on home ice. Well this year’s edition of the Black Bears seems to be returning their home ice to a place of dominance. After a 5-1 win over Boston College, Maine is now 6-1-0 at home this season. And the fans seem to be noticing. A capacity crowd of 5,125 watched Saturday’s contest at Alfond, an impressive increase from the 3,737 that watch Maine’s Hockey East home opener against just three weeks ago.

Hockey East picks – Nov. 22-27

Both Dave and I had banner weeks and posted identically impressive results.

Jim last week: 8-1-2
Jim year-to-date: 58-24-7
Dave last week: 8-1-2
Dave year-to-date: 58-24-7

Friday, November 22

Northeastern at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: Last weekend was hardly ideal for the Huskies and Merrimack continued to struggle to score goals. I think NU will come with a little more hunger.
NU 3, MC 1
Dave’s pick: I’m going to disagree here.  The Warriors have gone through tough times on the road, but I like them to hold serve at home.
MC 2, NU 1

New Hampshire at Providence
Jim’s pick: Battle of two of Hockey East’s hottest teams. I’m giving this one to home ice, at least on Friday.
PC 3, UNH 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed.  I like both teams, but I can’t pick against the Friars at home.
PC 3, UNH 2

Vermont at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: I like the way both of these teams are playing, but think UMass at home gets the edge.
UMass 4, UVM 2
Dave’s pick: UMass looked too good against BC to pick against them at home in this matchup.
UMass 3, UVM 2

Notre Dame at Massachusetts-Lowell
Jim’s pick: With Notre Dame hit by the injury bug, I need to go with the River Hawks at least in the opener.
UML 3, UND 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed.  I’d feel differently about this one in Notre Dame’s barn.
UML 3, UND 2 (OT)

North Dakota at Boston University
Jim’s pick: Neither team has been stellar out of the gate, but I think North Dakota is still the better team on paper.
NoDak 4, BU 2
Dave’s pick: I don’t like the way the Terriers have been playing at all lately.
NoDak 4, BU 2

Saturday, November 23

Boston College at Maine
Jim’s pick: I was impressed by the seven goals Maine scored last Friday, but I’m more impressed by the 25 games BC has scored in its last five games.
BC 5, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: I’m not sure if Maine’s seven goals against BU were a tribute to the Black Bears or a condemnation of the Terriers. I’m opting primarily for the latter and BC certainly didn’t dominate UMass last weekend, but I’m still going with the Eagles.
BC 4, Maine 2

Merrimack at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: If my picks are correct in this series, Northeastern is looking good heading to Thanksgiving while Merrimack is in a lot of trouble.
NU 4, MC 1
Dave’s pick: The Huskies salvage the split at home.
NU 3, MC 2

New Hampshire at Providence
Jim’s pick: The Wildcats salvage a split in a two-game road series vs. the Friars.
UNH 3, PC 1
Dave’s pick: I could certainly see a split, but I’m going with home ice to give the Friars a sweep.
PC 3, UNH 2

Notre Dame at Massachusetts-Lowell
Jim’s pick: If Notre Dame isn’t banged up, I’m probably picking this a sweep for the Irish. But instead I’m picking a sweep for the River Hawks.
UML 4, UND 3
Dave’s pick: Though I hate to agree with Jim again, I’m opting for a Lowell sweep that needs overtime in both games.
UML 3, UND 2 (OT)

North Dakota at Boston University
Jim’s pick: North Dakota gets the much-needed non-league sweep on the road.
NoDak 3, BU 2
Dave’s pick: I don’t like at all where the Terriers are headed. Losing 7-0 to Maine and getting hammered by an archrival don’t fill me with much confidence.
NoDak 4, BU 2

Sunday, November 24

Massachusetts at Vermont
Jim’s pick: Catamounts earn split on home ice.
UVM 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed. The Minutemen impressed at BC last weekend, but they’re still 0-5-1 on the road.
UVM 3, UMass 2

Tuesday, November 26

Harvard at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: Harvard is going to have to play a lot better than it did against BC, and even that likely won’t be enough.
UNH 5, HU 2
Dave’s pick: The Wildcats will recover from a frustrating weekend at Providence.
UNH 4, HU 2

Wednesday, November 27

Providence at Quinnipiac
Jim’s pick: This has the makings of being one heckuva game between top 10 (maybe top 5?) squads. I know Quinnipiac is great at home but I feel like Providence can end the Bobcats streak.
PC 2, QU 1
Dave’s pick: I’ve really gone back and forth on this one, but I’m a Friars believer and a Hockey East homer to boot. Friars by the slimmest of margins.
PC 3, QU 2 (OT)

River Hawks play away from home proves they’re road warriors

The Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks scheduled some difficult road trips to begin the season. That proved to be a good thing this past week as the team extended its road winning streak to six games. That leads the three things I learned this week.

1. Road tested, road approved

UMass-Lowell finished what was a pretty grueling road trip – the longest any team in Hockey East will spend away from campus this season – with a perfect 3-0-0 record. Lowell left campus early last Monday morning. Played Tuesday night at Princeton. Traveled Wednesday to State College, Penn. Played Thursday and Friday at Penn State returning home around 5 a.m. on Saturday. And at the end of it all, Lowell came away with three hard-fourth victories to extend the team’s road winning streak to six game. The River Hawks are now 6-1-0 on the road this season. That trend could be important late in the year as seven of Lowell’s final nine game – all league contests – will be played on the road.

2. Friars stay hot

Providence remained one of the nation’s hottest teams this weekend winning twice at Vermont to improve to 9-1-1. The Friars .864 winning percentage is second in the nation to Quinnipiac (11-1-1). While many expected Jon Gillies, who became Providence’s all-time shutout leader on Saturday with eight, to play well, it’s difficult to overlook the contributions of Ross Mauermann, who after a three-goal weekend at Vermont, now has 10 goals in 11 games.

3. Blowouts continue

It’s been rare in recent years to see any Hockey East team blowout an opponent. But after New Hampshire crushed Massachusetts, 9-0, and Boston College routed Army, 11-0, last weekend, Maine followed suit on Friday, shutting out Boston University, 7-0, at home. Six different players scored goals for the Black Bears, the back breaker coming early in the second when Maine’s Ben Hutton scored an unassisted goal while his team was killing a 5-on-3 man advantage.

Hockey East picks: Nov. 15-20

Well, that was more like it! I out-picked Jimmy by two games and now we’re deadlocked again.

Dave last week: 11-3-0  
Jim last week: 9-5-0
Dave’s record-to-date: 50-23-5
Jim’s record-to-date: 50-23-5

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Nov. 15

Massachusetts at Boston College
Dave’s pick: The carnage won’t be as bad for UMass as last week’s against New Hampshire, but it won’t be pretty.
BC 5, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: The Eagles are clicking right now like many a BC team to come before – championship teams, that is.
BC 4, UMass 1

Boston University at Maine
Dave’s pick: The competition has been tough, but BU has lost four of its last five and looked particularly bad against archrival BC.  The Terriers have also lost all three of their road games.
Maine 4, BU 2
Jim’s pick: I’m not sold on either BU or Maine, but I’m more sold on the Terriers than the Black Bears.
BU 3, Maine 2

New Hampshire at Northeastern
Dave’s pick: It looks like UNH has crawled almost all the way out of the early-season hole it dug for itself, but I’m not going to continue to underestimate the Huskies all year. I’m going with them to hold home ice.
NU 4, UNH 3
Jim’s pick: This is a tough one for me. I like the way both of these teams are playing and feel like UNH has regained its confidence overnight.
UNH 3, NU 2

Providence at Vermont
Dave’s pick: Catamount fans may be unhappy with me picking against their team all the time, but that isn’t going to change with the Friars involved.
PC 3, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: Agreed. I’m a big Vermont fan this season but I think Providence is a top two or three team in Hockey East.
PC 3, UVM 1

Merrimack at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: The Warriors will play with great grit and intensity and will block a bajillion shots, but it still won’t quite be enough against Hockey East’s newest superpower.
UND 3, MC 2
Jim’s pick: I don’t think this game will be as close as Dave does. But I do believe the Irish will get the ‘W.’
UND 4, MC 2

Massachusetts-Lowell at Penn State
Dave’s pick:
While the River Hawks home-away split (home: 2-3-0, away: 4-1-0) looks like a fluke, I still like them on the road. The only question is whether four games in seven days takes its toll.
UML 3, PSU 2
Jim’s pick:

UML 3, PSU 2

Saturday, Nov. 16

Northeastern at New Hampshire
Dave’s pick: This surprisingly even home-and-home series ends with each team holding home ice serve if UNH can stay out of the box. The Northeastern power play (23.1 percent) is a bad match-up for a struggling Wildcat penalty kill (75.7 percent).
UNH 3, NU 2
Jim’s pick: Though I feel like picking a split is the way to go here, doing so in recent weeks has earned me to losses as I continuously pick the splits backwards.
UNH 4, NU 2

Merrimack at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: It’s a long way to travel for no points, and this leaves the Warriors winless in Hockey East, but I still think they’ll make their mark in the league this year.
UND 4, MC 2
Jim’s pick: If Merrimack is going to win one, it will be the opener. I think Saturday goes to Notre Dame regardless.
UND 5, MC 2

Providence at Vermont
Dave’s pick: I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Catamounts salvage a split. They did it to Notre Dame and they can do it to Providence. But I’m tossing my lot with the Friars (knowing that Jimmy is going to disagree with me on this series).
PC 3, UVM 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: And Dave is wrong. I’m not picking against Providence right now. This team is playing excellent hockey.
PC 2, UVM 1

Sunday, Nov. 17

Connecticut at Boston University
Dave’s pick: The Terriers had better halt their skid here, because two games with North Dakota loom on the horizon.
BU 4, UConn 2
Jim’s pick: This won’t be as bad as last Sunday’s Hockey East/Atlantic Hockey matchup, but still believe this could be a bit lop-sided.
BU 5, UConn 1

Wednesday, Nov. 20

Boston College at Harvard
Dave’s pick: I think this will be a lot closer than the way it looks on paper, but the Eagles will emerge on top anyway.
BC 3, HU 2
Jim’s pick: I agree, this game could be close but I am still going with the high-flying Eagles.
BC 4, HU 2

Two resurgent teams and one that deserves more respect

Before we get to the conventional three things I learned this week, let me mention one unconventional thing I learned…

… and that is how good Jimmy Connelly is at doing color on TV games. I knew he was good in the studio at NESN, but I DVR-ed the WBIR broadcast of the Massachusetts-Lowell vs. Northeastern game on Saturday and came away very impressed.

I look forward to telling people in the future that I knew Jimmy when he was a nobody.

Moving on, then, to the three conventional things that I think I learned this week.

1. Rumors of New Hampshire’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

After the Wildcats got swept by Lowell two weekends ago, things looked grim. UNH stood at 1-5-1 with an 0-2 record within Hockey East.

Time to play taps for the Wildcats?

Not exactly.

UNH crawled out of its early-season coffin this weekend, sweeping a home-and-home with a Massachusetts team that had been playing some good hockey. Almost as important as the four points, is how the Wildcats achieved the sweep.

They outscored the Minutemen a cumulative, 13-1, winning at home on Friday, 4-1, then shellacking their hosts, 9-0, on Saturday. For a team that has struggled on offense, a 13-goal weekend against a league team could be just what the doctor ordered.

One weekend doesn’t make the comeback complete, but it sure was a good start.

2. Boston College looks like it’s back in full force, too.

It was one thing when the Eagles lost the season opener at Michigan, 3-1. Road game. Top opponent. First game of the year.

No big deal.

But I began to wonder when they went to Minnesota and despite that being a tough opponent and a tough venue, they only came away with one-of-four points and got blown out in the second game, 6-1.

Well, two weeks ago, the Eagles swept Northeastern, and this past weekend, they demolished Boston University, 5-1, and Army, 11-0.

So much for those early-season worries. With BC a perfect 3-0 in Hockey East and carrying a 6-2-1 overall mark, those concerns look pretty silly now.

3. I’ve definitely been underestimating Northeastern.

When the Huskies opened with sweeps of Alabama-Huntsville and Holy Cross, I yawned.

Talk to me, I thought, when you’re doing that against the big boys. (Yes, I’m fully aware of how well Atlantic Hockey has done in the postseason, but I’m not confused by the facts. I expect Hockey East teams to win those games.)

So when Northeastern split with St. Lawrence and, more significantly, got swept by a BC team that at the time I harbored concerns about, my reaction was: I told you so.

Which was a premature reaction, as it turns out.

The Huskies’ win at Lowell on Saturday, 4-2, definitely opened my eyes. This is a pretty good team with talent that extends beyond just Kevin Roy.

They face a tough home-and-home series this week against a resurgent (I think) New Hampshire squad, so I may well be picking them to lose two games yet again.  (Insert your favorite snide remark about old dogs refusing to learn new tricks.)

But the Huskies have definitely caught my eye.

 

BC-BU rivalry doesn’t live up to billing for head coach Quinn

What has traditionally been one of college hockey’s best rivalries in recent decades lacked much of its luster on Friday night as Boston College severely outplayed Boston University in a 5-1 win at BU’s Agganis Arena.

The game was the first for Boston University’s David Quinn as BU’s head coach and it was about as rude a welcome as he could feel to the storied rivalry.

Sure, Quinn was a part of BC-BU as a player and assistant. But you can imagine that when he took over this BU team last summer, one of the dates he circled on his calendar was November 8.

Maybe that is part of the reason that after the game Quinn took much of the blame.

“I didn’t think I did a good job of coaching the team and preparing us tonight,” said Quinn. He said that in certain situations he didn’t have the right personnel on the ice and said he felt responsible for a couple of goals.

All that said, a majority of blame has to be put on the players. Numbers certainly don’t lie. The Terriers had just six – yes, six - shots on goal 5-on-5 on Friday. Seventeen of BU’s shots came during its seven power plays. And during arguable BU’s best opportunity to get back in the game, a 5-0n-3 man advantage for a minute late in the second trailing 3-1, the Terriers couldn’t get a shot on goal.

“We find a way to fire [the puck] into pads or we miss the net,” said Quinn. “It’s just a mentality. If you’re not aware of who has the puck or who is on top of you, you’re not going to get the shot off.”

Take nothing away from the BC team that was across the ice from the Terriers. For the good part of 60 minutes on Friday, particularly in the third period, the Eagles looked like they were putting on a clinic. Doing so against your premier rival certainly feels pretty darn special.

“It’s two points every game,” said BC’s Bill Arnold who collected his 100th career point Friday. “But when you play BU, it’s a totally different game.”

Maybe so or maybe not. Friday’s win gives BC an 11-9-1 advantage in the last 21 meetings but, at the same time, the Eagles hold a lopsided 10-3-1 advantage over BU at Agganis Arena since the building opened in 2005.

Those stats meant little to a low-key Quinn after the game. Yes, this was BC. But no, this wasn’t the effort he wanted from his team. And he knows it.

“The score was indicative of the way the game was played,” Quinn said. “I want [the loss] to sting. We need to feel this pain.”