Coaches love to tout the parity of their league.
And why not?
While everyone would love to simply run away with a season (see Notre Dame’s 10-0-0 record in the Big Ten), it’s more difficult to draw fans to the games if there isn’t at least a semblance of belief that one team can beat another team on any given night.
While many have touted Hockey East as being a league with parity, and some close playoff races in recent years have been proof points, there has always been one or two teams that at least can play the role of doormat and, in some years, there’s been a team or two to simply run away with the regular-season title.
This year, certainly Boston College is hot in league play (after a very slow non-league start). The Eagles are 10-3-0 in league play, but also have Northeastern nipping at their heels.
Providence isn’t far back with games in hand.
And you can seemingly never count out second-half teams that come together like Boston University and UMass Lowell.
So the top certainly has a tight race, but, aside from maybe BC, you could picture any of those teams dropping below the midpoint of the league.
The bottom is even stranger. Perennial doormat of recent years – Massachusetts and Maine – aren’t blowing anyone’s doors off, but both have proven they are more fit to compete for a first-round bye (top five) than they will be jockeying for the cellar.
None of this is lost on a coach like Connecticut’s Mike Cavanaugh. His Huskies have been right around the same spot since he took over the club four seasons ago – somewhere between sixth and ninth has been UConn’s home.
Cavanaugh wouldn’t be surprised if his team was in the area yet again, but also can’t make predictions based on what he has seen as the potential for his club.
“I think our league is wide open,” said Cavanaugh. “I don’t think anyone’s proved to run away with it. You watch the scores in our league and anybody can beat anybody on any given night.
“We have a potential to get home ice. We have potential to get a bye that first weekend. It’s going to be tough to catch Boston College, but the top five get a bye and we have the potential to achieve that. We also have the potential to go on the road in the first round.”
Certainly, Cavanaugh isn’t the only coach in his locker room thinking those same thoughts.
Let’s look at the bottom five from last year’s standings:
• Northeastern (8th last season): Nationally-ranked and sitting in second place; one of three Hockey East teams in the top 16 of the PairWise
• Connecticut (9th last season): Currently sitting sixth with wins over Northeastern, Colgate and Maine
• New Hampshire (10th last season): Started red hot and has cooled a bit of late but wins over Providence, Yale, Colgate (2) and UMass Lowell (2)
• Maine (11th last season): Wins over Lowell, Boston University, Quinnipiac (2) – both on the road
• Massachusetts (12th last season): Two wins at Union, one against Providence, sweep of Quinnipiac.
And that’s just the bottom five.
But then there’s the not-so-good news.
As I list off some of these wins, Hockey East’s out-of-conference win percentage sits firmly at .500 and, as I mentioned on Monday, no teams are in the top 10 of the PairWise right now.
Yes, parity is a nice thing and something that any league wants to tout. What the second half will prove, then, might be whether what we’re seeing in Hockey East is parity or mediocrity.
Shining on the international stage
On Monday, I documented a number of the impressive performances of Hockey East players at World Juniors.
As the week has gone on, not only have those successes for players on Team USA and Canada continued, but there are other notables outside of Buffalo.
Two Northeastern Huskies players – Dylan Sikura and Jeremy Davies – captured the championship at the Spengler Cup, the oldest amateur tournament that this year is being used as an evaluation camp of sorts for Team Canada. The success of that team doesn’t guarantee that that duo will be selected to head to the Winter Games in South Korea come February, but it’s certainly a good sign.
And speaking of the Olympics, Boston University’s Jordan Greenway was the lone Hockey East male selected to represent Team USA in PyeongChang. But he’ll be playing alongside a host of players and coaches with Hockey East ties.
Former Boston College standout Brian Gionta will serve as the team’s captain. Former Terriers Matt Gilroy, Chris Bourque and John McCarthy will be joined by Ryan Gunderson (Vermont) and Bobby Butler (New Hampshire).
(By the way, Butler went viral this week when a clip of him telling his dad that he made the team was posted online. If you haven’t seen the video, you can view it here:)
The moment Bobby Butler’s dad found out his son is going to the Olympics.
Absolute chills. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/iFoGfeIpkQ
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) January 2, 2018
The U.S. coaching staff will also have some Hockey East flavor with former BU standout and current assistant Scott Young and current Providence volunteer Ron Rolston both serving as assistant coaches for Team USA. Additionally former BU and Northeastern coach Ben Smith is the team’s director of player personnel.
There is no doubt without the participation of NHL players, this will be an interesting Olympics for many countries and Team USA could be overmatched. But there is plenty of reasons for Hockey East fans to be rooting.
And a special recognition…
There is one other Hockey East connection to Team USA, but this one has a more personal connection and I thought warranted a section all to itself.
Brian Kelley, BU’s associate athletic director for communications, will be heading to South Korea to serve as a media official alongside former Michigan Tech sports information director and longtime USA Hockey director of communications Dave Fischer.
One of the things that this writer always has felt makes Hockey East special are the SIDs. They are the lifeblood of the media and each deserve their own recognition.
But Kelley’s appointment to the USA Hockey support team for the 2018 Winter Games is a special and deserving recognition. It proves that working hard and being an all around good guy eventually do pay off.
We wish you safe travels and a wonderful few weeks in South Korea, BK!