Are Massachusetts-Lowell and Vermont better than their positions in the coaches’ poll suggested? Conversely, are some of the top teams in the poll headed for tough times this year? And as far as non-league play goes, Hockey East may like to forget this weekend. This leads my three things I learned from the opening weekend of play across Hockey East.
1. Lowell and Vermont are pretty darn good.
We all have been led to believe that this year might not be as good as last for either the River Hawks and Catamounts. And though the sample size is small, both teams proved they’re ready to compete this past weekend, each notching impressive wins against higher-ranked opponents. Lowell, picked to finish seventh in the coaches’ poll, grabbed a first-period lead against No. 4 Boston College and held off a rally, earning a 5-2 victory. There are still plenty of questions marks, particularly goaltending which wasn’t overly tested by the Eagles. But one thing is clear: this team will score goals. The same can be said about Vermont, which simply dismantled No. 16 Northeastern. The Catamounts were ranked eighth in the coaches’ poll despite coming off a season that featured a trip to the NCAA tournament.
2. Tough weekend for ranked Hockey East teams.
Ranked teams in Hockey East posted a dismal 3-6-0 record this weekend with third-ranked Providence splitting at Ohio State, BC losing to No. 17 UML, No. 12 Notre Dame going winless at home in the Ice Breaker, Northeastern falling to Vermont and No. 19 New Hampshire falling to No. 5 Union. Providence’s OT victory on Saturday at OSU, Lowell’s win over BC and No. 20 Boston University’s rout of Massachusetts (that featured two goals, two assists from touted-rookie phenom Jack Eichel — more on that on Thursday) accounted for the lone wins by the ranked.
3. As poorly as ranked teams fared, Hockey East teams out of conference really struggled.
It was just days ago that in my Hockey East preview I was touting how strong Hockey East was a season ago out of conference. After weekend one, that success if far in the rear-view mirror. The league posted a 3-7-1 record in out-of-conference play, lowlighted by Notre Dame losing twice to Rensselaer and Minnesota-Duluth, Maine traveling thousands of miles to Anchorage, Alaska, only to fall twice and extend last year’s struggles away from Alfond Arena, and newest member Connecticut mustering just a tie at third-year program Penn State. The lone highlight of non-league play was likely Merrimack (yes, the Merrimack team most picked near the bottom) earning two one-goal wins against (former PC assistant-David Berard coached) Holy Cross. Yes, this is simply one weekend but with non-league games front-loading many Hockey East schedules, a marked improvement is needed if the conference RPI is to remain high late in the season when it counts and Pairwise discussions begin in earnest.