It took until the end of the final game on Saturday for the pairings in the Hockey East first round to align, but once they did, there was a commonailty in all three series: rivals.
1. Battle of the Merrimack Valley
UMass Lowell beat Merrimack, 5-0, on Saturday to earn split of the weekend series. And once the buzzer sounded, it was clear: these two schools would be right back at in the Hockey East first round. This rivalry has lost some of its luster as they haven’t had many postseason games of late (in the Division II days, these teams met in multiple NCAA tournaments). But you could see a level of chippiness on Saturday that easily could carry over into the playoffs, particularly when these two could play five straight games against one another.
2. The UNH-Maine rivalry
Other than Boston College and Boston University, the best rivalry in Hockey East is New Hampshire and Maine. This playoff matchup comes at an interesting time as 28-year UNH veteran coach Dick Umile is on the verge of retirement. He was around for some great postseason games, most notably the 1999 NCAA title game pitting these two against one another.
Neither team is red hot entering the playoffs. New Hampshire is winless in six (0-5-1), while Maine lost its last three games and with it lost its first-round bye. The Black Bears are 1-5-0 in their last six.
3. A newly-found rivalry
Vermont and Massachusetts aren’t exactly long-term rivals, but the pair had, until this year, played a traditional Thanksgiving week game.
This series could be the best of the three as both teams are playing excellent hockey down the stretch. UMass was 4-1-1 in its final six to move from the bottom into a first-round home ice spot. Vermont lost three of its last four against Northeastern and Boston University (0-3-1), but had a seven-game unbeaten streak prior (5-0-2).
This series will be a little unique as scheduling at the Mullins Center in Amherst forces this series to be played Thursday, Friday and Sunday. All other first-round series will be played Friday through Sunday.