Maine, BC and Merrimack sweeps are early season messages

When the Hockey East coaches voted in their preseason polls, three of the top five teams were Boston College, Maine and Merrimack. All three have proved those coaches wise thus far. And this past weekend, as each sweeped their weekend series, the trio sent the message that they’re teams to be reckoned with.

As I sit here in Sunday night trying to think of the most important three takeaways I have from this weekend’s play, here is what runs through my head:

3. Let’s go obvious… Maine, BC and Merrimack are all as good as advertised: Wins may not have come easy for all three of these teams – particularly Maine and BC’s Friday wins (over Providence and Massachusetts-Lowell, respectively) and Merrimack’s Saturday win at Vermont. But the fact that each of these clubs came away with wins in these games is an early, and important, proving point that all three can win.

2. UMass-Lowell gets my vote as most improved: I haven’t seen some teams play live at this point, but of the six or so I have seen, UMass-Lowell is the most improved team thus far. Coach Norm Bazin has this team playing a high-octane game, transitioning quickly from defense to offense and shooting from the hot dog stand – every and any shot seems like a good one at this point – leading to a very changed River Hawks club. Lowell has some problems still to address. Goaltending seems to struggle, the defense makes some mistakes and there doesn’t seem to be a go-to finisher offensively. But this is a positive sign for a Lowell team that was out of the playoffs with a month to go a season ago.

3. BU and UMass, despite playing an entertaining series, have some big problems to address: For BU, it’s the slow start. Both night this weekend the Terriers fell behind the Minutemen. To their credit, they rallied for a tie and OT win. But BU fell behind early to other teams – namely Providence and Holy Cross – and those games resulted in losses. Not what coach Parker wanted. UMass, on the other hand, seems to be struggling to play with a lead and finish games. I’ll expand on both of these topics later in the week in my weekly notes column.