Nonleague dominance, streaking Friars and struggles at the WJC

Hockey East teams have been simply dominant since returning from the holiday break. That leads the three things I have learned in the past couple of weeks.

1. Nonleague opponents have been friends to Hockey East teams in second half

Hockey East teams didn’t exactly enjoy the best first half out of conference. The league as a whole was barely above .500 at 35-31-5. But since players at all 12 schools got some time off for exams and holidays, play since the return has bordered on tremendous. As a league, teams went 18-7-2 in the last two weeks with four of those loses coming at the hands of another Hockey East team in either opening round or championship games at holiday tournaments.

And speaking of tournaments, there has been a good bit of league hardware. Of the five tournaments with a Hockey East team (or teams) in its field, four titles went to members of this league. Providence captured the Catamount Cup in Vermont and Boston College won the Ledyard Classic at Dartmouth. Then there is UMass-Lowell. The only team to play in two holiday tournaments, the River Hawks won both (each time beating a Hockey East team in the finals), knocking off Connecticut at the Frozen Holiday Classic before the new year and beating Merrimack in the final of the Mariucci Classic this past Saturday.

2. Providence on a roll

There was certainly reason for concern at times this season about the preseason top pick in the Hockey East coaches poll, Providence. The Friars began 4-5-2 and only once in that time had they scored more than three goals. But since a 2-1 loss at home against Vermont on Nov. 15, Providence is one of the nation’s hottest teams, putting together a 9-1 record and outscoring opponents 32-14. Something has certainly clicked for the Friars, and their fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

3. World Junior struggles point back to Eichel

One of the main reasons fans were excited about this year’s World Junior Championship was Team USA’s hopes with a great leader like Boston University’s Jack Eichel in the lineup. Unfortunately, Eichel wasn’t able to shine bright enough on the biggest international stage, held to just four points in Team USA’s five games and finishing the tournament a minus-3. He was still tied for second on the team in scoring, but when you compare numbers against Canada’s Connor McDavid, the player most expect will be Eichel’s competition for the No. 1 overall spot at the NHL Entry Draft, the BU star didn’t measure up. McDavid (not including Sunday’s game) posted seven points in five games and, more notable, is eight better in plus/minus at plus-5. All that said, you can imagine BU coach David Quinn might be relieved to have his top player back on campus healthy, regardless of whether a medal is around his superstar’s neck.