UMass sends simple message: Never count them out

We are just three weeks into the hockey season and this year’s version of the Massachusetts Minutemen have twice done something most teams can’t do very often: comeback. That headlines the three things we learned this week in Hockey East.

1. Minutemen should call themselves the Cardiac Kids

Two weekends ago, UMass fell behind 3-0 at Colorado College only to score four times in the third to pull off a dramatic 4-3 victory. On Friday, the Minutemen pulled off a similar feat. Trailing New Hampshire, 6-2, entering the third, UMass again scored four third-period goals to earn a 6-6 tie in its home opener. Listen, no coach wants to see his team dig itself a hole and chase the game, but it is pretty clear that UMass may have a never-say-die attitude we haven’t seen in recent years.

2. Ties abound throughout the league

Far too many teams were fit to be tied this weekend, most notably Merrimack, UMass Lowell and Notre Dame. For the Irish, they pulled off back-to-back 3-3 ties, rallying from two goals down on Friday against Minnesota-Duluth before blowing a two-goal lead on Saturday in the rematch against the Bulldogs. But Notre Dame was hardly the only team to give fans a sense of deja vu. UMass Lowell and Merrimack battled to a 1-1 tie at Lawler Arena on Friday night before repeating that score on Saturday night at Tsongas Center. The Warriors outshot the River Hawks in both games, holding Lowell to just 32 shots in total on the weekend.

3. Plenty of Hockey East players among nation’s leaders early

Take a look at the national statistics and you will find plenty of Hockey East players dotting the lists early on. New Hampshire’s Tyler Kelleher currently leads the nation in points with 11 in his first five games, an impressive stat that is actually outdone in points per game by UMass forward Dennis Kravchenko, who 10 points in just four games top the country in PPG. On the back end, Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko is currently lights out. He completely shut out Colorado College in a two-game series this week to post a total of three straight shutouts. His 0.60 goals against average leads the country.

Hockey East picks – Oct. 23-29

After a brutal opening week, I picked up two games last Friday, but then gave one back the next night. Like some of the teams in this league, I’ve dug myself a hole.

Dave last week: 11-7-1
Jim last week: 10-8-1
Dave’s record-to-date: 15-15-4
Jim’s record-to-date: 17-13-4

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Oct. 23

Massachusetts-Lowell at Merrimack 
Dave’s pick: In this clash of undefeated squads, I see the River Hawks prevailing in a close one despite Merrimack’s strength at home.
UML 3, MC 2
Jim’s pick: Merrimack typically plays Lowell well at home. And add the fact that Merrimack is scoring more this season, I feel like I should be picking the Warriors. But my gut is telling me differently and I am going with my gut.
UML 3, MC 2

New Hampshire at Massachusetts
Dave’s pick: These two teams’ records would argue for a UMass win, especially at home, but I still think UNH is more talented than it has shown so far.
UNH 4, UMass 3
Jim’s pick: I think Dave my be underestimating UMass at this point. This club has a lot of talent and, at home, I think can get the job done.
UMass 3, UNH 2

Minnesota Duluth at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: Home ice isn’t enough to tilt the scale in Notre Dame’s direction against fifth-ranked Duluth.
UMD 3, ND 2
Jim’s pick: The Bulldogs are simply playing too good of hockey right now. Does that mean Notre Dame can’t pull the upset? Hardly. But I have to pick this one for Duluth
UMD 4, ND 2

Ohio State at Providence
Dave’s pick: Ohio State is 0-for-4 on the season while the Friars are undefeated. It may be a trap game at home, but I don’t think this one will be close.
PC 4, OSU 1
Jim’s pick: The Friars will continue to roll at home and hand the Big Ten another loss.
PC 4, OSU 2

North Dakota at Vermont 
Dave’s pick: I bought into Vermont’s road upset of Minnesota carrying over into its home series last weekend but was wrong on both nights. It’s hard to believe the Catamounts will revert to being giant-slayers.
UND 4, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: Dave and I are differing a lot this week. I don’t mind buying into Vermont against a North Dakota team that is solid but still has turned two road wins into ties in recent weeks. I’m going with the Catamounts on night one.
UVM 4, UND 3

Northeastern at Minnesota 
Dave’s pick: Upsets can happen. Witness Vermont at Minnesota two weeks ago. But I can’t see a Northeastern team fresh off of getting swept by Bentley knocking off the Gophers on their home ice.
UM 3, NU 2
Jim’s pick: I think Northeastern should be hungry in this one, but so should winless Minnesota at home.
UM 3, NU 1

Boston College at Colorado College
Dave’s pick: The Tigers have yet to win a game — they’re 0-4 — but played Lowell tough in two one-goal losses last weekend. Still, I can’t see those “moral victories” translating into the real kind against BC.
BC 3, CC 2
Jim’s pick: CC could steal one of these games as they have the goaltending talent to do so. But I’m not picking it.
BC 4, CC 1

Saturday, Oct. 24

Connecticut at Boston University 
Dave’s pick: BU is a huge step up from UConn’s previous opponents, Alabama-Huntsville and Arizona State. The Terriers win this one comfortably.
BU 4, UConn 2
Jim’s pick: This should be an interesting battle of some of the top rookie talent in the league.
BU 3, UConn 2

Merrimack at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dave’s pick: Goaltender Collin Delia may keep this one close, but Merrimack drops to .500 while the RiverHawks roll to 5-0-0.
UML 4, MC 2
Jim’s pick: Home ice will be kind for the River Hawks.
UML 3, MC 1

Minnesota Duluth at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: I’m going with a road sweep by fifth-ranked Duluth, although I don’t feel all that comfortable about it. A split is probably the more likely outcome.
UMD 3, ND 2
Jim’s pick: I’m with Dave. Not feeling great about this pick because this series could be closer than we think.
UMD 4, ND 3

Ohio State at Providence
Dave’s pick: The Friars stay undefeated. The Buckeyes remain winless.
PC 5, OSU 2
Jim’s pick: Okay, maybe Dave and I are agreeing more than I thought.
PC 4, OSU 2

North Dakota at Vermont 
Dave’s pick: North Dakota moves to 4-0-2 with this road sweep, while the Catamounts take their fourth straight loss.
UND 3, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: Picking Vermont made sense to me on night one, but can’t see NoDak dropping both.
UND 4, UVM 2

New Hampshire at Union 
Dave’s pick: Call me stubborn — that charge has been levied at me only about a bazillion times — but I still believe in UNH, even over a team entering the weekend undefeated and playing this game at home. The safe pick is to go with Union and I may be gift-wrapping this one for Jim, but I’ll take the Wildcats.
UNH 3, Union 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: If it’s gift wrapped, I better take it.
Union 4, UNH 2

Northeastern at Minnesota
Dave’s pick: If I had any confidence at all in Northeastern, I’d pick a split. After all Minnesota is 0-3 and has been outscored on the season 9-1.  (Yet, because they’re the Gophers, they’re still nationally ranked. Can anyone recall any other team with those numbers squeaking into the Top 20?) But I can’t get over the Huskies getting swept last weekend, so I’m picking a repeat of that unenviable result.
UM 2, NU 1
Jim’s pick: Dave sums up my thoughts on this series perfectly. Gophers roll.
UM 4, NU 1

Boston College at Colorado College
Dave’s pick: The Eagles complete a much easier sweep than was projected when this series was scheduled (I would think) several years ago.
BC 4, CC 1
Jim’s pick: I want to pick an upset here but Hockey East will improve its mark to 6-0-0 against CC.
BC 3, CC 2

Tuesday, Oct. 27

Boston University at Connecticut
Dave’s pick: The Terriers complete their sweep of this early home-and-home series to move atop the Hockey East standings .
BU 3, UConn 2
Jim’s pick: Another upset that I could pick, but won’t. Man, this is a tough week to pick games.
BU 2, UConn 1

Thursday, Oct. 29

Vermont at Northeastern 
Dave’s pick: I’d really like to see the results of this weekend’s games before picking this Thursday night contest, but since we can’t wait, I’ll go with the Huskies at home.
NU 3, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: Vermont has had some decent luck at Northeastern in recent years.
UVM 3, NU 1

Northeastern and UNH tumble, Lowell squeaks by

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

1. Northeastern may be headed to another bad start.

The Huskies defeated Colgate to open the season, but it was an ominous reminder of last year when they got swept in this weekend’s home-and-home series with Bentley.  Gone are the days when wins over Atlantic Hockey teams are automatic and Bentley did finish fourth in its league last year.


Bentley was only 17-15-5 last year and lost its only two previous games this season, both to Mercyhurst.

More to the point, though, is that the Huskies dug themselves a gigantic hole last year, failing to record their first win until Nov. 15, so even if Bentley proves stronger than expected this year, any hint of a repeat of last year’s opening weeks is cause for alarm.

2. Close but no cigar isn’t good enough for New Hampshire.

Bad starts doomed the Wildcats’ chances the last two years, so getting out of the blocks strong this time was a matter of focus.  Like Northeastern, however, UNH won its opener but got swept this weekend.

Friday amounted to the height of frustration. The Wildcats fell behind 19th-ranked St. Lawrence, 2-0, in the first period, but came back with shorthanded and power-play goals in the third to force overtime. Unfortunately, they then lost in the extra session.

A similar script took place on Saturday against Clarkson. The Cats fell behind by two, came back to tie, gave up a goal, came back to tie again, then gave up the game-winner with less than a minute remaining.

Close but no cigar.

That, however, isn’t good enough for the Wildcats, who really need a good start this season.

3. Forget the spread, they swept.

I have no idea what the actual point spread was for the Massachusetts-Lowell games against Colorado College. But considering that CC is coming off a 6-26-3 season, not to mention two home losses to Massachusetts to open this year, one can be sure that Lowell was expected to defeat the Tigers by more than single goals at the Tsongas this weekend.

But 3-2 and 2-1 amount to two wins so forget about the margin of victory and look at the record: 3-0-0.




Hockey East picks – Oct. 16-20

Week one of the season was relatively kind to me and hardly so for Dave. Maybe this is punishment for him playing the four corners offense (well, defense in this case) during last year’s Hockey East tournament weekend.

Last week’s results

Jim: 7-5-3
Dave: 4-8-3

This week’s picks

Friday, October 16

Wisconsin at Boston College
Jim’s pick: BC will be hungry after its Sunday loss at Rensselaer. And Wisconsin has a lot of improvement from last season to win at BC.
BC 4, UW 2
Dave’s pick: Wisconsin recorded two ties last weekend, but last year it went 4-26-5. I can’t see the Badgers in anything close to BC’s class.
BC 5, UW 1

Clarkson at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: Clarkson may not be a popular pick in the ECAC, but it certainly has some depth. Being on the road is my only hesitation here.
CU 3, MC 2
Dave’s pick: Merrimack’s strength at home proves to be the decisive factor.
MC 3, CU 2

Bentley at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: We all remember when Bentley upset Northeastern a couple of years back and began a slide for the Huskies. That won’t be the case this year.
NU 5, Bentley 2
Dave’s pick: I agree. This could be a surprisingly strong year for the Huskies.
NU 5, Bentley 1

Holy Cross at Providence
Jim’s pick: I do get concerned about the distractions that could be associated with a banner raising night. But I think Providence can remain focused enough.
PC 4, HC 1
Dave’s pick: After taking three of four points at Miami last weekend, the Friars aren’t about to slip up.
PC 4, NC 1

Notre Dame at Penn State
Jim’s pick: Penn State is a team I expect to turn a lot of heads once again this year. Might as well start against Notre Dame.
PSU 4, ND 3
Dave’s pick: I’ll disagree.  Give me the Irish even though this one is on the road.
ND 3, PSU 2

Maine at Union
Jim’s pick: Maine impressed me last weekend at the Ice Breaker but they are facing a Union team that just beat BU.
Union 4, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: The Black Bears’ two ties were surprising, but I’m going to remain skeptical for a bit longer.
Union 4, Maine 2

Arizona State at Connecticut
Jim’s pick: UConn had a letdown last Saturday at Huntsville but don’t believe that will happen in the home opener.
UC 4, ASU 2
Dave’s pick: I agree. UConn all the way.
UC 4, ASU 1

Sacred Heart at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: Sacred Heart impressed at Union and UMass impressed at Colorado College. The home opener again should be the motivation for the Minutemen.
UMass 4, SHU 3
Dave’s pick: I don’t think it’ll be that close. The Minutemen go to 3-0.
UMass 4, SHU 2

Colorado College at UMass Lowell
Jim’s pick: The River Hawks defense impressed against Rensselaer and CC simply didn’t against UMass. That influences my picks in this series.
UML 4, CC 1
Dave’s pick: It’ll be like men versus boys, like the Patriots versus the Colts.
UML 5, CC 1

St. Lawrence at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: If the UNH offense keeps rolling, they’ll earn a victory in this one.
UNH 5, SLU 3
Dave’s pick: St. Lawrence will be a tough opponent, but UNH won’t be digging itself a hole to crawl out of this year.
UNH 4, SLU 2

Nebraska-Omaha at Vermont
Jim’s pick: This should be the best matchup of the weekend in Hockey East. I pick the Catamounts to ride the momentum from Minnesota.
UVM 3, UNO 1
Dave’s pick: It’s hard to pick against the Catamounts after their upset of Minnesota, especially at home.
UVM 3, UNO 2

Saturday, October 17

Northeastern at Bentley
Jim’s pick: Being on the road shouldn’t impact the result as the Huskies begin 3-0.
NU 4, Bentley 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed. The Huskies sweep.
NU 5, Bentley 2

Wisconsin at Boston University
Jim’s pick: While BU plays the Under-18 team in exhibition on Friday, Saturday’s game is the one that matters and will get the season on the right track.
BU 4, UW 2
Dave’s pick: The two teams were polar opposites last year. BU may not have Eichel anymore, but the talent differential is still immense.
BU 4, UW 1

St. Lawrence at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: The Larries rebound at Merrimack to split the weekend in New England.
SLU 3, MC 2
Dave’s pick: Both teams finish the weekend with a split.
SLU 3, MC 2

Maine at Union
Jim’s pick: Same game, same result? I’m simply not confident that the change of day will do enough. But we can see what the Black Bears can do to change my confidence.
Union 4, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: If the Black Bears continue their .500 play through this three-games-in-five-days stretch, I’ll start to believe that this may not be a rebuilding season for them after all.
Union 4, Maine 1

Notre Dame at Penn State
Jim’s pick: Notre Dame rebounds to earn the series split.
ND 4, PSU 2
Dave’s pick: Call me a Hockey East homer (something I most definitely was not during last week’s disastrous picks), but I’m seeing an Irish sweep.
ND 3, PSU 2.

Colorado College at UMass Lowell
Jim’s pick: The River Hawks earn the series sweep but it will be a difficult game.
UML 3, CC 2
Dave’s pick: I really can’t see the River Hawks having a tough time with a team that went 6-26-3 last year and got swept at home by UMass to open  this one.
UML 5, CC1

Clarkson at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: New Hampshire keeps the offensive train rolling and moves to 3-0 on the season.
UNH 4, CU 1
Dave’s pick: I hate to agree with Jimmy, but I also see UNH staying undefeated, although Daniel Tirone will have as much to do with it as Tyler Kelleher and the rest of the offense.
UNH 3, CU 1

Nebraska-Omaha at Vermont
Jim’s pick: The Mavericks go home with two points of four in an entertaining weekend series.
UNO 3, UVM 2 (OT)
Dave’s pick: A split may be the sensible pick, but I’m going with Vermont completing a home sweep.
UVM 3, UNO 2

Tuesday, October 20

Maine at Quinnipiac
Jim’s pick: A relatively-long road trip doesn’t prove fruitful for the Black Bears.
QU 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: I also see a Quinnipiac win but with considerably more ease than Jimmy predicts.
QU 4, Maine 1

At No. 1, was Boston College overrated?

A 2-1 loss to Rensselaer on Sunday by Boston College gave college hockey its first major upset of the season, but it also brings forth the question: Did BC deserve to be the preseason No. 1? That leads the three things in Hockey East that I learned this week:

1. Just how good will this Boston College team be?

The sample size is incredibly small, but after two games you can rest assured that Boston College will no longer be the nation’s top team. After routing Army to open the year on Friday, BC lost, 2-1, on Sunday to Rensselaer, a team battling injuries early in the season that looked hapless against UMass-Lowell on Friday in a 3-0 River Hawks win. Does this mean BC was way overrated to begin the year? It’s hard to tell. For one, 10 different teams received first-place votes in the preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. That means that, despite being rated No. 1, BC was hardly a consensus pick. At the same time, BC is looking for a lot of youth to lead this team, something that generally takes time to mature. My advice: wait and see.

2. If BC is overrated, is Maine underrated? 

Many, including yours truly, picked Maine to struggle throughout this entire season. But this weekend, two ties against Michigan State and North Dakota that were each followed by shootout wins were a good showing for the Black Bears at the annual Ice Breaker Tournament. I’m not ready to crown Maine anything as neither night translated to a victory. But this team certainly seems better than the 11th-place finish I predicted in last Tuesday’s Hockey East season preview.

3. Might Max Letunov or Austin Plevy be the next Jack Eichel?

Yes, that headline is bit sensational. But Letunov, a highly-touted rookie at Connecticut, recorded a hat trick in his first career game, a 5-2 win at Alabama-Huntsville. Letunov added an assist in a 5-2 loss against the Chargers the next night. Pretty impressive. All that said, Letunov wasn’t even the most impressive rookie in Hockey East this weekend. Massachusetts forward Austin Plevy also posted a hat trick and an assist in his first collegiate game, a 6-3 win at Colorado College on Friday. A night later, Plevy scored the game-winning goal to cap a four-goal third period rally for the Minutemen in a 4-3 win against CC. It seems like we may have another season where the most notable players in Hockey East could be freshmen.

Hockey East picks – Oct. 9-11

I’m hoping this week is the closest Jim gets to me in our picks competition this year. I did, after all, win it last year. Heh, heh, heh.

Yes, that sound you hear in the background is Queen performing, “We Are the Champions.”

Of course, Jim did make a furious comeback last year, forcing me into an admittedly defensive game plan the final week.  (One prominent college hockey administrator even referred to it as “cowardly.”)  So I’ll be intending to bring my A Game every week starting with this one.

Onward, then, to the picks.

Dave’s record-to-date: 0-0-0
Jim’s record-to-date: 0-0-0

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Oct. 9

Boston College at Army 
Dave’s pick:  The Eagles kick off the season with an easy one, at least on paper, even though no one plays harder than the Cadets.
BC5, Army 1
Jim’s pick: The atmosphere at West Point will be incredible but I don’t think it is enough to sway the outcome.
BC4, Army 2

Rensselaer at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dave’s pick: This is the first home opener in three years in which the River Hawks haven’t been hoisting a Hockey East championship banner.  Instead, they’ll take the first step toward trying to make sure there’s a distraction next year.
UML 4, RPI 2
Jim’s pick: Lowell returns a lot of offense from a year ago and that might be the difference maker early season when teams aren’t in mid-season form.
UML 5, RPI 3

Providence at Miami
Dave’s pick: At home, I’d pick the Friars to sweep this evenly matched weekend series. Instead, it’s on the road where Miami is a tough foe, so give me home ice as the deciding factor.
Miami 3, PC 2
Jim’s pick: I am with Dave on this one. Though I don’t think Providence is set for a national title hangover, I think they might be overmatched in week one.
Miami 4, PC 2

Michigan State vs Maine (IceBreaker)
Dave’s pick: This may be a home game in all but the box score, but the Spartans are a far superior team, rendering home ice as a secondary factor.
MSU 4, Maine 2
Jim’s pick: I keep agreeing with Dave, which is annoying. But I don’t think Maine has anywhere near the depth of Michigan State.
MSU 4, Maine 1

Connecticut at Alabama Huntsville 
Dave’s pick: UConn won’t be surprising any teams this year, but they should still take this series.
UConn 3, UAH 2
Jim’s pick: I’m not sure this game will be as close as Dave does.
UConn 5, UAH 1

Massachusetts at Colorado College 
Dave’s pick: Last year, Colorado College was arguably an even weaker last-place team than UMass, but I’m going with home ice.
CC 3, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: Finally, a chance to differ from Dave. UMass is thin but I don’t have great feelings about CC either.
UMass 3, CC 1

Saturday, Oct. 10

Colgate at Northeastern 
Dave’s pick: I’d feel more comfortable with this pick if Colgate were hosting. but I’m still going with the Raiders.
CU 4, NU 3 (OT)
Jim’s pick: Pundits seem to think Colgate is talented enough to be an ECAC power. But they feel the same about Northeastern too.
NU 4, CU 3

Boston University at Union
Dave’s pick: Union may rebound from an uncharacteristic off year, but I’m still going with the Terriers .
BU 4, Union 3
Jim’s pick: Another game where I think BU will win, but even more dominant than Dave believes.
BU 5, Union 2

American International at New Hampshire
Dave’s pick: The Wildcats have struggled with poor starts the last two years. If they make it three straight despite opening against a team that went 4-25-7 last year, then sound all alarms. Three strikes and the Wildcats are out.
UNH 6, AIC 1
Jim’s pick: AIC can be a tough team but I think UNH will be ready and not have a let down right out of the gate.
UNH 4, AIC 2

Providence at Miami
Dave’s pick: These teams are so closely matched, I should pick a split, but I’m sticking with a sweep.
Miami 3, PC 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: And I’ll go with a split as Providence salvages a game on the road.
PC 4, Miami 2

Vermont at Minnesota 
Dave’s pick: The Catamounts are entering the lion’s den on this one. I expect them to return in tatters.
UM 5, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: Minnesota likes to start fast so it’s hard to pick against them. But Vermont will be a formidable opponent.
UM 3, UVM 2

North Dakota vs Maine (IceBreaker)
Dave’s pick: I expect the Black Bears will get manhandled for most of this weekend.
UND 5, UM 2
Jim’s pick: Not the weekend Maine wants as hosts of the Ice Breaker.
UND 6, UM 2

Connecticut at Alabama Huntsville
Dave’s pick: The Huskies return home from the long road trip with a nice sweep.
UConn 4, UAH 1
Jim’s pick: Interesting to see what players will perform well for UConn. Regardless, they earn two wins.
UConn 5, UAH 2

Massachusetts at Colorado College
Dave’s pick: Here’s another series that should be a split, but I’m sticking on home ice as the deciding factor between two weak teams.
CC 3, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: I actually believe that UMass can go on the road and earn a sweep.
UMass 3, CC 2

Monday, Oct. 11

Boston College at Rensselaer 
Dave’s pick: The Eagles take two wins on the weekend and stay atop the USCHO poll.
BC 4, RPI 2
Jim’s pick: This might be the most difficult game to pick this weekend as BC has a lot of travel and two games to play. But they also have enough talent to win both.
BC 4, RPI 3

Hockey East set to kick off 31st season

If you’re in New England, the sub-40 degree temperatures this morning in many cities and towns should signify one thing: it’s hockey season.

Personally, I say it’s about time. As short as the offseason in college hockey is (the shortest of any college sport), it doesn’t matter. It’s nice to see ice down in every rink across the league, players shaking off the summer cobwebs and, this weekend, many teams ready to hit players with whom they don’t share the same locker room.

There is a ton of optimism heading into the season, and Dave Hendrickson and I will continue to document that from now through April, beginning Tuesday with the Hockey East season preview. With Providence beginning its defense of the national championship and Boston University looking for a return trip to the national title game, you also have Boston College and UMass Lowell in the USCHO top 20. Additionally, four other teams – Notre Dame, New Hampshire, Northeastern and Vermont – all received votes, which means two-thirds of the league are on the minds of media, coaches and administrators as this season kicks off.

There is a lot of exhibition action this weekend before the season fully begins a week from now. Highlighting those practice tilts will be games at Boston College (Sat.) and UMass Lowell (Sun.) against last year’s Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) silver medalist, New Brunswick. The five-time CIS national champion defeated the AHL’s Portland Pirates, 5-3, on Thursday night to move to a perfect 4-0 in preseason play.

Ten Hockey East teams will play exhibition games this weekend, a perfect chance for fans to see what returning players have improved and what freshmen might have an impact.

On a side note, I want to offer best wishes to the women’s program at Merrimack College, which will play its first official game tonight hosting St. Cloud State. It’s always a pleasure to see college hockey grow on both the men’s and women’s side.

Enjoy the hockey this weekend, folks!


Reflections from the Hockey East Championship Weekend and NCAA selection process

These are the three things I think I learned in this final pre-NCAA tournament week.

1. Boston University finally put together a strong first period at the TD Garden.

The Terriers’ first three games at the Garden this year — the Beanpot and Hockey East semifinals — hardly showcased a team on the way to a top seeding in the NCAA tournament. In each case, BU emerged from the opening 20 minutes with a tie, but played some shaky hockey while being outshot a cumulative 38-26.

In the Hockey East title game, however, the fourth time proved to be a charm. BU scored the first two goals en route to a 2-1 first period lead and a 5-3 win.

Opening its Northeast Regional contests with a bang like they did on Saturday night will go a long way to getting the Terriers back to the Garden and a Frozen Four semifinal appearance.

2. New Hampshire finished the season at the level of an NCAA tournament team.

Yes, the Wildcats dug themselves a deep hole in the first half of the season, but over the second half they proved themselves to be on par with teams getting the invite to the big dance.

In that time, UNH counted five wins against NCAA tournament-bound teams, including a quarterfinal series win over Providence.

And although the Wildcats fell to eventual champion BU on Friday, they acquited themselves very well indeed.

3. Hockey East needs a better non-conference record next year.

The league had to sweat out a third entrant, Providence, into the national tournament. It could easily have been stuck with only two.

The search for the reason goes no further than its nonconference record.

Yes, Hockey East dominated Atlantic Hockey, 15-1-0, but that didn’t count for much in the PairWise because no Atlantic teams were close to at-large berths.

Hockey East did acceptably against the ECAC, 24-19-5, but that league was in danger of getting only a single invite itself until well into its tournament games. Additionally, Merrimack and Vermont, two teams that didn’t make the NCAAs, did the bulk of the damage there, going 10-1-0 combined.

And most conclusively, Hockey East’s record against the other three leagues was only a single game over .500.

One game over .500 doesn’t qualify as “a rising tide lifts all ships.”


Hockey East picks – Mar. 20-21

One weekend left and Dave holds a slim one-game lead over me in the picks. I was able to pick up two games last weekend correctly picking UMass Lowell in games one and three and New Hampshire in game one.

Now let’s hope Dave doesn’t run the four-corner offense and pick exactly the same as me.

Jim last week: 7-4-0
Dave last week: 5-6-0
Jim to date: 164-88-25
Dave to date: 165-87-25

Hockey East Tournament (TD Garden, Boston)

Friday, March 20 – Semifinals

Vermont vs. UMass Lowell, 5pm (NESN, NBCSN)
Jim’s pick: These two teams were pretty evenly matched three weeks ago. But Lowell did take three of four points that weekend. Thus, I’m sticking with the River Hawks.
UML 3, UVM 1
Dave’s pick: I liked what I saw in Lowell’s three games against Notre Dame last weekend. Additionally, the River Hawks have a huge experience advantage when it comes to playing at the TD Garden. Vermont hasn’t gotten to the Garden since 2010 and hasn’t won a game there since 2008. Lowell has, of course, won the Hockey East tournament the last two years.
UML 3, UVM 1

New Hampshire vs. Boston University, 8pm (NESN, NBCSN)
Jim’s pick: I’m really going out on a limb here but I think this UNH team is playing good enough hockey right now to pull off the major upset.
UNH 3, BU 2
Dave’s pick: I don’t think Jim’s pick is crazy at all. The Wildcats are playing terrific hockey right now. That said, if I were picking before Jim, I’d go with the Terriers. Their offense and power play are tough matchups for any team. They remain the clear favorite.
However, I’m picking after Jim, this is our final week of picks, and I have a one-game lead. The only way I can lose our competition is to pick differently than Jim.
So do I pull a Pete Carroll and pick BU here? Or with the win within my grasp, am I more like Bill Belichick — and I’m not referring to both of us having no fashion sensibility at all – and take the win?
UNH 2, BU 1 (OT)

Saturday, March 21 – Championship game

Jim’s pick: Going to pick all scenarios, which interesting doesn’t mean I think BU can’t win this championship if they get to the finals.
UML 4, UNH 2; BU 4, UML 3; BU 4, UVM 2; UVM 3, UNH 2 (OT)
Dave’s pick: The only matchup I’d be choosing differently if I were picking first (or if I were tied) is the potential UVM – UNH final. I’d pick UNH by a 3-1 score in that one.
And I must admit being tempted to list it that way here, since both teams are underdogs to advance to the final game, and I’d really like UNH in that contest. What could it hurt? What are the odds?
But then my inner Belichick reacts the same way the coach responded to the early season question from the media about Tom Brady’s status.
Cue up Queen and “We Are the Champions.”
UML 4, UNH 3 (OT); BU 4, UML 2; BU 4, UVM 1; UVM 1, UNH 0 (OT)

BU, Lowell hold, Vermont upsets with emotion and UNH takes extra drama to advance

Boston University and UMass Lowell each advanced to the Garden but both did so in very different ways. That leads the three things we take away from this weekend.

1. Terriers easily advance, Lowell reaches Garden after battle.

It was incredible to see BU get past Merrimack with such ease. Given that every other series went three games, all game three tough, consider the Terriers the early favorite in Boston.

But it’s hard to look past UMass Lowell and the 13 goals they pumped past Notre Dame’s Cal Petersen. It seems like ages ago Petersen stopped 87 saves to set the NCAA record against Massachusetts. The River Hawks offense is looking quite potent heading to the Garden.

2. Vermont, Sneddon emotionally advance

If you happened to watch NESN’s telecast of game three between Vermont and Boston College, a 1-0 win for the Catamounts to reach the final four in Hockey East, there was a great moment in the final minute when Vermont called timeout. Holding that slim one-goal lead, Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon burned his timeout to compose his team. At the end, the excitement and emotion Sneddon showed to give his team that final motivation was refreshing. It reminds us all how emotional this game can be, even for the coaches.

3. Game three OT – what is better

There were two game three overtimes on Sunday, one in Hockey East between New Hampshire and Providence. And it was the Wildcats winning on a Jay Camper goal at 12:43 of OT that advanced UNH to the Garden. I may be overspeaking when talking about bonus hockey as I wouldn’t want to be involved emotionally in this game. But there may not be any more pure moment of excitement in sports than advancing your team in the postseason on a make-or-break overtime goal.

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