Things just got a whole lot closer in Hockey East

Remember those Hockey East standings that a few weeks back made it seem like there was a one, maybe two/three horse race, for the Hockey East title. Yeah, that’s all changed. That leads my three things I learned this week:

1. The Hockey East accordion: let’s squeeze it together

The results this past weekend were exactly what the Hockey East standings needed to make things a whole lot closer. Boston College and New Hampshire split. Combined with a Boston University win in its only game, those three teams are within three point of one another. Add Providence’s sweep of Massachusetts, and the Friars are just two points in back of BU.

Then there is the bottom. Merrimack split, Massachusetts-Lowell swept and Vermont and Massachusetts both lost two a piece. So just four points now separates fifth-place Merrimack and eighth place UMass, with Lowell jumping from eighth to sixth. Northeastern is still knocking on the door in eighth, but Maine may need to press that panic button if they hope to make the playoffs.

2. Lowell back in NCAA tournament position

The River Hawks may be a game below .500 in Hockey East but this team is suddenly in position to make the NCAA tournament. Near-perfect results in non-league play are a major part of that reason. Lowell now sits 13th in the PairWise Rankings. Yes, still a bubble team but with each win, the River Hawks are getting close to punching back-to-back NCAA tournament tickets.

This is hardly unprecedented that a team that is struggling in league play could be in NCAA tournament contention. Remember the Vermont team a few years back that finished 8th in Hockey East and still made the big dance. That team, as well, had an impressive non-conference resume that propelled it.

3. When a penalty shot isn’t a penalty shot – a candidate for strangest call of the year

The ending to Saturday’s BC-UNH game can only be classified as whacky. For those who missed it, with BC trailing, 2-1, in the final two minutes of the game, BC’s Kevin Hayes had a wide-open look from the slot. Unfortunately for Hayes, his stick shattered as he attempted a shot. It bounced towards the net, though, and was just enough to confuse UNH goalie Casey DeSmith. DeSmith ended up missing the puck but, just before it went into the net, Wildcat forward Kevin Goumas made a goal-saving dive to pick it off the goal line with his hand.

One problem: a skater can’t cover the puck with your glove in the crease. Referee Jeff Bunyon immediately blew the whistle to signal penalty shot. And then the craziness began.

Bunyon’s partner Scott Hanson, who was stationed up at the blueline on the play, called Bunyon over and began a discussion. After a good 2-3 minutes, Hanson had talked Bunyon out of the call. No penalty shot, faceoff in the UNH zone.

What appears to be the question here was how Goumas touched the puck. If he put his hand on the top of the puck and pushed it aside, that would be considered covering the puck in the crease. However, if he simply pushed the puck from its side and knocked it out of the crease, that’s not a foul. I never saw a clear enough replay to know what actually happened.

That said, you’ll be hard pressed to find a crazier play in Hockey East this season.