Hockey East performances at World Juniors impress

Team USA, comprised mostly of college players, earned the second seed in Group A and will face Russia in Tuesday’s Worl Juniors quarterfinal. Along the way, a number of American players – and those representing other countries – hailing from Hockey East schools have played extremely well. That leads our takeaways this week.

1. Hockey East playing performing well on top stage

Boston University’s Brady Tkachuk has been one of the tournament’s top scorers, while teammate Patrick Harper has been a big part of Team USA’s offense. Goaltenders Joseph Woll (Boston College) and Jake Oettinger (BU) have each had some great moments in goal for the Americans. And that’s just a tip of the impact Hockey East players are having on the World Junior tournament through the round robin.

BU’s Dante Fabbro has battled injury but emerged solid for Canada, while Massachusetts rookie Cale Makar has arguably been the best defensemen for Canada. BC’s Aapeli Rasanen has been one of the top forwards for Finland and created an interesting moment when he scored on his college teammate, Woll, in Sunday’s 5-4 loss for the Fins to the Americans.

In all, it’s been a good preliminary round for Hockey East players and there will be a lot to watch when the quarterfinals resume on Tuesday.

2. Providence takes home hardware in Pittsburgh

The Providence Friars, which this writer might argue has the best chance for success at the national level this season, took home their first trophy of the year with a hard-fought 2-1 win over host Robert Morris in the championship game of the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh.

The Friars reached the title game with a 6-0 whitewash of Arizona State.

A major highlight was special teams. The Providence power play scored once each night. But the penalty kill was the star, stopping all nine chances it faced.

It’s a good first trophy for a Providence team that will have a number of opportunities for hardware this year.

3. PairWise problems

Now that the calendar says 2018, I think it’s a good time to take a real look at the PairWise and where Hockey East stands. The picture isn’t very pretty.

The current top 10 doesn’t include a single Hockey East team. Providence at 11 and Northeastern at 13 each need to have a clean row the rest of the way. And Boston College at 15 is firmly planted on the bubble.

But the two conspicuously missing teams  – Boston University and UMass Lowell – have a major ladder to climb if they want an NCAA bid. The River Hawks are currently 28th and the Terriers are 30th.

Lowell has three non-league games left: two at Arizona State and one against American International. Neither will move the needle much, which means the River Hawks need league wins against teams like Providence and Boston College to bolster their RPI.

BU, which has dropped from #2 to unranked in the USCHO.poll, has a similar Arizona State trip and the Beanpot in non-league play, thus single games against New Hampshire and Providence become pretty important.

Lots of hockey left to play, but there should be fear that Hockey East could end up in the same boat as leagues like Atlantic Hockey and the WCHA with just one team in the NCAA field.