With only one game remaining before the break–Saturday’s Northeastern at Merrimack tilt–let’s take a look back at the first half. Before we assess individual teams, though, let’s examine the league as a whole.
The most obvious point–like a Everest-sized zit on your nose on prom night–is Hockey East’s nonconference results.
The league has done well against the ECAC (19-7-4) and acceptably against Atlantic Hockey (8-4-1), though as a Hockey East snob, I always expect the latter number to be more lopsided.
But, Good Lord, look at the results after that.
Against the WCHA: 0-2-0. One more strike and you’re out.
Against the NCHC: 6-13-1. Awful.
And against the Big Ten: 0-7-1. Rancid. Wretched. Vomitous.
Yes, Jim and I have harped on this ad nauseum, but take a look at its effect on the PairWise.
At this point, Hockey East doesn’t have a single team in the top 11! Northeastern, Providence, and Boston College are like conjoined triplets at 12, 13 and 14, so essentially three teams on the bubble. Then we’ve got nothing until Massachusetts–UMass? Yes, UMass!–at 22, followed by New Hampshire and UMass Lowell tied at 26, and then Boston University, tied for 29th, and Maine, sitting at 31st.
While it’s true that the PairWise holds limited value for individual teams this early in the season because there’s so much volatility, the aggregate shows just how disastrous those first half results have been. And why all those holiday tournaments are going to be vital in performing CPR on Hockey East’s chances of a strong showing in the NCAA tournament.
Now that I’ve been all Debbie Downer (or Bob Bummer), let’s look at what each team’s list for Santa should be.
Boston College (9-3-0, 9-7-2 overall)
This one is easy. The Eagles got off to a dreadful 1-5-1, start before rebounding with a seven-game winning streak. Almost all of their 0-4-2 non-league record was compiled during that early stretch.
So it would be tempting to write off all that’s negative as just a bad start. Unfortunately, BC still ranks ninth in the league in overall offense (2.72 goals per game), and 10th on the power play (14.3 percent).
So even though the worst of the scoring struggles came early, BC wants some more scoring.
Northeastern (8-3-0, 10-5-1 overall)
The Huskies own the league’s top offense (3.62 points per game), and it isn’t particularly close. The same holds true of their power play (28.6 percent). They also own the second best team defense (2.44 goals against per game, just a sliver behind UNH (2.41). Their freshman goaltender, Cayden Primeau, ranks first in the league in goals-against average and save percentage.
So why isn’t Northeastern running away with the league?
Inconsistency and a penalty kill that comes in at only 77.4 percent. So the Huskies will be looking for Santa’s to bring help in both those two categories.
Providence (6-4-1, 10-7-1 overall)
Providence doesn’t have an apparent weakness, and sports the league’s third best defense (2.61) and second best penalty kill (87.1 percent). Erik Foley ranks third in the league in overall scoring, and even though the scoring drops off after that, six Friars have accumulated double digit points.
But when you look at a weekend when they beat RIT, 8-3, then lost to them, 4-0, it’s gotta be consistency that Santa brings.
Boston University (6-6-1, 8-10-1 overall)
To whom much is given, much will be required. BU’s stellar recruiting classes year after year have raised the bar of expectations. For a team picked to finish first, two games under .500 overall ranks as a great disappointment.
Santa needs to bring instant maturity for all those youngsters, and since the Terriers have recorded four back-to-back losses, the ability to rebound and turn those into singletons.
UMass Lowell (6-6-0, 9-8-0 overall)
The River Hawks were expected to challenge BU for first place, but instead have been challenging the Terriers for mediocrity. That may sound more harsh than was intended, but isn’t that accurate for an underperforming .500 team?
The Hawks alternate between hot streaks and cold, so perhaps their final three games sums its season up in a microcosm. Lose to Bentley at home, 2-1, defeat BU, 3-2, then get crushed by the Terriers, 9-3.
So Santa needs to bring consistency, and maybe an uptick in the power play.
Maine (4-4-1, 8-7-1 overall)
While BU and Lowell fans can rightfully gripe about their teams’ .500 records within the league, Maine fans should be dancing in the streets. The Black Bears were picked to finish tied for last and yet are right there in the middle of the pack with the preseason favorites.
Even better, they’re 4-0-1 (including a sweep at Quinnipiac) since losing to Providence in the opening round of the Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Ireland.
And freshman goaltender Jeremy Swayman has been a stud between the pipes.
Santa, don’t bring anything. It could mess up a good thing.
New Hampshire (4-5-1, 9-7-1 overall)
Sentimentalists among us rejoiced when UNH jumped out to a great start in this, coach Dick Umile’s final, year. And in Max Gildon and Benton Maass, the Wildcats have two of the league’s top offensive defensemen, even in their freshmen seasons.
But the Wildcats have cooled off, including back-to-back, home losses to Army West Point and Merrimack to close out the first half. So the fear is that midnight might have struck for UNH.
Santa, let’s have that not be the case. Let UNH coach Dick Umile go out with a bang. He deserves it.
Massachusetts (3-4-0, 9-7-0 overall)
Did you catch the part at the top of this column where it noted that UMass is the league’s number four team in the PairWise?
The Minutemen have won four of five. As with Maine, their fellow cellar dweller in the coaches’ preseason poll, let’s not mess with a good thing.
Santa, stay away.
Connecticut (5-7-1, 8-11-2 overall)
UConn has had tough stretches: a five-game winless streak and a six-game winless streak with only a win over Vermont in the middle. Now, however, the Huskies are coming on strong, having won five of their last six.
So Santa, keep the good times rolling, and let that 1-9-2 patch recede into the distance.
Merrimack (2-6-1, 4-9-3 overall)
The Warriors rank next-to-last in team offense, and tied for last in team defense (including the second-worst penalty kill). It’s hard to extract optimism from that.
And yet, they boast the league’s second best power play. Amazingly, that man-advantage unit has scored 17 of the team’s 40 goals.
So Santa, bring lots of power plays. Then maybe those two wins last weekend won’t be a mirage.
Vermont (1-6-2, 4-10-3 overall)
Well, somebody’s got to be last. But Vermont fans can’t be happy it’s their lot. They’re used to more success than this, and their offense ranks dead last (2.18 goals per game) with not much competition for that dubious honor.
There are a few things to be happy about. A strong penalty kill and power play that converts at a 20.3 rate.
So Santa needs to bring lots and lots of referee whistles. Games made up almost exclusively of special teams.
And that’s a wrap
This column is the last one of the calendar year. We’ll have blog entries and then our usual tournament coverage, but no columns until 2018.
Thanks to Jim for his work on this column, and Happy Holidays to all of you.
Thanks for reading.