The effect of World Juniors, facing a team three times, and teams going in different directions

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

1. Some teams handled the loss of their players to the World Juniors better than others.

This isn’t exactly front page news since you’d expect this outcome, at least to some extent.  And a number of players, most notably from Boston College and Notre Dame, made it back for this weekend’s games.

But it is noteworthy that despite missing goaltender Thatcher Demko and defensemen Ian McCoshen and Steven Santini, BC didn’t miss a beat. The Eagles now own a five-game winning streak.

On the other hand, Providence only went 1-1-1 without goaltender stud Jon Gillies. Nick Ellis didn’t play poorly at all in Gillies’s absence, but Ellis didn’t match the 10-1-3 record and .941 save percentage of the Friars’ most important player.

Update: I overlooked a fourth game that Providence played without Gillies: a Dec. 20 win over Army. This means Ellis was actually 2-1-1 while Gillies was away. Ellis’s stats were very good against the three teams he faced with losing records: he stopped  19-of-20 shots against Army (3-14-0), 21-of-23 shots against Dartmouth (2-11-2), and 30-of-31 shots against Merrimack (4-9-3).

Obviously, those are strong results, which includes two wins and a tie with Merrimack.

The one game, though, where you could argue that Gillies’s absence cost the Friars was their one loss, 3-2 to Air Force. Ellis stopped 27-of-30 shots.

That’s not to scapegoat Ellis for not quite being Gillies’s equal. You could probably count on one hand the goalies in the country who are, and my guess is that there are plenty of teams who’d welcome Ellis with open arms.

But would Gillies have pulled out a tie or a win? I think there’s a good chance.

(Teams like Notre Dame and Boston University were fortunate enough to have their schedules line up in such a way that their World Juniors participants didn’t miss a game.)

2. Massachusetts-Lowell proved that you can beat the same team three times in a week. Almost.

One prevailing thought is that you can’t beat a good team three times in a short span of time. A week ago, the River Hawks defeated Clarkson (at the time 12-4-1) in the Catamount Cup, and then faced the Golden Knights again this past weekend.

Lowell didn’t quite sweep, but wound up with five of six points in the three games, proving how tough the River Hawks are likely to be down the stretch.

3. Perennial powers New Hampshire and BU are going in opposite directions.

UNH took on 19th-ranked Nebraska-Omaha last weekend and swept in impressive fashion, 6-3 and 5-2. Other than getting swept by BC before the break, the Wildcats have now won five of their last six games.

At the other end of the spectrum, BU is increasingly looking like a team in trouble. Winless in their last four games, the Terriers took only a single point of four in a home-and-home series with a Merrimack team that had still been looking for its first Hockey East win at the time. Then they lost at home to Atlantic Hockey ‘s Bentley Falcons. This past weekend, BU lost to a 4-7-2 Harvard team. BU fans have a right to be very concerned.