This Week in Hockey East: Conference continues to navigate 2020-21 season with ‘maximum flexibility’

Providence senior Greg Printz scored a key goal last weekend in the Friars’ 4-2 win Sunday at UMass Lowell (photo: Rich Gagnon).

While over the last two weekends, more Hockey East games have been played on the ice than in the previous two, the biggest news across the league continues to come from decisions of the league’s commissioner and the athletic directors.

Such was the case on Tuesday when Hockey East announced that any and all games that are played by men’s and women’s teams will count in the Hockey East standings.

It’s a significant change from the double round-robin which was first announced, but a necessary one. Since the season began on November 20, less than a handful of originally-scheduled games have been played.

Teams either had to halt play because of COVID cases or cancel games because of government restrictions. Over the four-week period, the league has worked swiftly to help teams find opponents among those eligible to play.

And from that, a total of 15 games have been played by nine of the 11 Hockey East teams. This weekend, Vermont will be the 10th team to begin their season and Boston University will be the final team to return in early January.

Thus, Tuesday’s decision to allow any game that is played to count in the league standings was done out of necessity if there is hopes of having as many teams as possible for a full slate of games.

“I think it’s a sensible pivot,” said Hockey East commissioner Steve Metcalf. “There’s some uncertainty in the schedule and the fluidity of the schedule and the teams’ availability, it seemed like the best decision to count every game this year, not knowing what the schedule might bring.”

The result when (if?) this season plays to a completion in early March will be an unbalanced schedule. We see that already. Teams like Boston College and Massachusetts already have played six games, while Vermont and BU haven’t played a single game.

That begs the question how standings will be handled. Using a percentage of total available points seems like the most likely solution, but Metcalf admitted there is still discussion should there be an imbalance in how many teams play one another.

“We’re probably going to have some more conversation on [the standings],” Metcalf admitted. “Not knowing the unevenness of total games played and against whom, strength of schedule, stay tuned on how to best seed everyone [for the postseason].”

The postseason is the next area of major change. Whereas Hockey East was scheduled to have only eight of its 11 teams on the men’s side qualify for the postseason, Tuesday’s announcement amended the tournament with all teams now qualifying.

“It seems like the sensible thing to do this year,” said Metcalf about the expanded tournament. “All teams that are eligible make the playoffs.”

The key word there is “eligible.”

Currently the NCAA is requiring teams to play a minimum of 13 games played to qualify for the national tournament and that is a target for Hockey East as well. Metcalf said, though, exceptions could be made (see: Big Ten football and Ohio State).

“The 13-game number is the number for the NCAA tournament; our number is the same,” said Metcalf. “We have to see if there are any extenuating circumstances.”

The actual format of the tournament is still up for debate, Metcalf says. Other conferences have discussed using a bubble and possibly conducting the entire tournament inside a bubble. That’s not something on Metcalf’s radar right now, but it is possible that instead of a best-of-three format for the opening and quarterfinal rounds that it could be morphed into a single-elimination format and possibly condensed. That’s not something that will be decided until the league sees more success in getting games played safely.

“Over the last two weekends, we played 24 of the 25 expected games on the men’s and women’s side combined,” Metcalf said. “This is a season that takes maximum flexibility.”

Broken glass wasn’t going to slow down UConn’s upset of No. 2 BC

On Friday night, Connecticut lost a heartbreaking game to No. 2 Boston College, one where they rallied from two goals down in the third period only to lose in the 3-on-3 overtime.

Huekies coach Mike Cavanaugh knew his team had played extremely well in defeat for the final two periods of regulation. He then challenged his players to replicate that.

“One of the things we talked about was picking up where we left off,” Cavanaugh said, “and put together three periods like we played in the second and third period [on Friday].”

After a scoreless first period, UConn struck three times quickly in the second, swarming the Eagles net.

Then an errant shot over the net by Jonny Evans went through the pane of glass, causing an extended delay.

Cavanaugh admitted that keeping his players focused and not losing all the momentum his team had created was its biggest challenge.

“I was proud of our guys,” said Cavanaugh. “I said, ‘Don’t let this be the story at the end of the game. Don’t lose the momentum because the glass breaks.’

“I thought we closed out the second period really strong.”

Though BC grabbed a late third-period goal to ruin the shutout for Tomas Vomacka, when the buzzer sounded the Huskies had the upset victory.

Cavanaugh says that victory means a lot to his upperclassmen, who have worked to build this program and endured some lean times in their UConn careers.

“I thought that was a team that was hungry,” Cavanaugh said describe his club’s mentality. “They’re hungry to play. Our junior and senior class have been around for a while. They’re hungry to put UConn hockey on the map.

“They like being with each other and competing with each other. They want to make something of this season.”

Providence’s stars perform when needed

There’s nothing easy about walking on the ice a weekend after your team is outscored 12-0. Simply put, the lack of scoring becomes a mental hurdle.

That old cliché – your best players need to be your best players – yeah, that is usually the way to get a monkey off your back.

Trailing UMass Lowell in the third period, the trio of Tyce Thompson, Mike Callahan and Greg Printz brought every ounce off offense the Friars needed. Each scored a goal, with Thompson adding an assist on Callahan’s tally. Printz sat in front of the Lowell net on the first two goals before adding his own into an empty net.

Oh, and one other Friars top gun – Parker Ford – assisted on all three tallies.

It was a necessary offensive explosion in the final period for a Friars team that will face Northeastern twice this weekend.

An even 10 Hockey East players make final World Junior rosters

When teams announced their final rosters for the IIHF Under 20 World Championship – better known as World Juniors – a total of 10 players from Hockey East were selected to participate.

Boston College led the way with four, three Americans in forwards Matt Boldy and Drew Helleson and goaltender Spencer Knight and one Canadian, defenseman Alex Newhook.

Northeastern forward Sam Colangelo will represent the US, while fellow rookie Devon Levi will be part of the goaltending corps for Canada.

For Providence, in addition to Nate Leaman serving as head coach and Teresa Feaster as video coach for Team USA, forwards Patrick Moynihan and Brett Berard will wear the Red, White and Blue.

And finally, Team Russia will sport two of UConn’s top players in forward Vladislav Firstov and defenseman Yan Kuznetsov.

The tournament will get underway on Friday, December 25. Canada is the defending champion.

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