Very interesting weekend around Hockey East as a handful of teams made definitive statements with their play on the ice.
Boston College probably made the biggest one, sweeping Maine in a two-game series at home, 4-0 and 4-1. The Eagles dominated in Friday’s opener but then found a way to win in Sunday’s rematch, a game where Maine outshot BC, 39-23. Eagles goaltender John Muse put his stake in the ground that he should be among the Hobey Baker finalists come season’s end by absolutely stealing Sunday’s game.
Maine didn’t just lose two games on the weekend. They also lost the services of stalwart defenseman Jeff Dimmen who left Friday’s game with what Tim Whitehead called a “lower body injury.” Whitehead couldn’t be specific about timing but it doesn’t sound like we’ll be seeing the talented blueliner before the New Year. Add Dimmen’s injury to Will O’Neill’s and the Black Bears blueline has some gapping holes.
Another team that made a major statement on the weekend was Merrimack. The Warriors swept Massachusetts-Lowell with a 4-3 come-from-behind win on Friday and a 3-2 victory at home on Saturday. I was at the Saturday game and have to say the 3-2 score was hardly representative of Merrimack’s dominating efforts. The Warriors jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first helped by back-to-back shorthanded goals. Lowell rallied for two goals in the second but, trailing by a goal in the third, never even got a sniff at the Merrimack net, mustering just a single shot.
It was hard for me to decipher if this is a case of Merrimack’s talent dominating or Lowell’s anemic offense continuing to struggle. Either way, Merrimack is now tied with Maine and Providence for fourth place in Hockey East.
A battle of heavyweights went much the way you might expect a home-and-home series to go as New Hampshire and Boston University both held serve on home ice. What was eye popping for me was the fact that the Wildcat offense buzzed around the BU net all weekend. They followed Friday’s 49 shot effort with 43 shots on Saturday and, if not for the effort of BU netminder Grant Rollheiser, might have walked away with four points.
In fact, both Rollheiser and Kieran Millan, Friday’s starter for the Terriers, set career highs for saves in each of the games this weekend. Though the series was a split, it’s pretty easy to see that UNH’s offense is certainly running on all cylinders at this point in the season.
The final series of the weekend between Providence and Northeastern saw the Huskies showing signs of life for the first time in a while. Northeastern rallied for a 3-3 tie on Friday on the road before putting together their most dominating performance of the season, a 5-0 win on Saturday to earn their first win at home this year.
Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin said after the game he felt his team is beginning to develop an identity, which may have begun to be apparent the weekend prior when the Huskies played well at Maine but were unable to hold late leads in either game.
It’s interesting to look at the standings after the weekend. With both Massachusetts and Vermont idle, Lowell’s donut leaves those three teams at the bottom of the standings. The River Hawks, though, have played 10 league games, compared to Vermont’s seven and UMass’ six. If things don’t’ change in a major way, Lowell could be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
BU remains at the top of the league though BC got within just two points with its sweep o f Maine. UNH, though, having only played seven league games, has the chance to play catch up to BU and BC, who have played ten and nine games respectively.
Then there’s the middle of the pack. Maine, Merrimack and Providence are all packed together a point behind UNH and suddenly Northeastern has to be watched in the rear-view mirror, sitting three points in back of the fourth-place trio.
Certainly it’s way too early to say anything definitive about the standings, but it’s always interesting to at least take a good look.