As temperature drops, Hockey East home ice race heats up

As snow continues to pour down on the Boston area, yours truly is stuck inside his home. Which got me to thinking that home isn’t the worst place in the world to be.

That’s especially true for Hockey East teams come playoff time. Only four of the eight teams that will make the playoffs can earn home ice and this year the battle for the final home ice spot appears that it is going to be one heck of a race for those teams involved.

Last weekend, the first of many head-to-head battles between teams involved in the home ice race played out with an outcome few expected. Merrimack, which continues to enjoy success and open eyes, destroyed Maine, 7-1, at home to catapult the Warriors past the Black Bears into fourth place.

The importance of the game and its impact come season’s end wasn’t lost on either team.

“You’re always watching the standings,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “Every game is huge. Every two points count. These two points were big and we lost an opportunity to move up in the standings. We have to scratch our way back one game at a time.”

“[Wins like the Maine win] give us the chance to achieve the goals we want to achieve,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “If we’re sitting in 10th place right now, home ice would be a distant thought. Our goal first and foremost is to make the playoffs. But all we’ve done over the first half and [against Maine] was give ourselves a chance to achieve some of the other goals as well. Not just make the playoffs but compete for home ice.”

This home ice battle, though, is hardly a two-horse race. For one it is quite early in the year and many teams still have time to rally. Northeastern showed that possible last weekend when it took four points from the UMass sister schools, Massachusetts and Massachusetts-Lowell. Suddenly the Huskies are just a single point behind Maine.

On the other side, Merrimack is just three points behind third-place Boston University, which has gone 2-3-3 in its last eight league games. The Warriors were scheduled to have a chance to cut into that gap tonight, but, alas the snow will leave both teams at home until next Tuesday, which the game will be eventually played.