In honor of the Hockey East semifinals and finals, which commence later today, we’ve decided to call upon the local college hockey gurus to breakdown each matchup and determine who’ll be skating around the TD Garden Saturday evening with some hardware.
Noontime Sports would like to thank Joshua Kummins (Associate Editor of BostonSportsU18.com & SB Nation College Hockey Contributor), Mike McMahon (Senior Writer/Recruiting Editor of College Hockey News), Josh Seguin (College Hockey News) and Rich Slate (Boston Metro) for their help with this particular post.
So, without further ado, here’s our breakdown:
Game No. 1: No. 1 UMass Lowell vs. No. 4 Providence College (Fri., 5 p.m.)
Who is one player to watch in this particular matchup? What can we expect from him?
Mike McMahon: Has to be Jon Gillies. Quite frankly, the Friars have gone and will go as far as Gillies takes them. He hasn’t shown an indication that he’s wilt under the bright lights. That being said neither has Connor Hellebuyck. It’s definitely a showcase of goaltenders here and likely a 2-1 game. Goals will be at a premium.
Rich Slate: Providence’s freshman goaltender Jon Gillies, who was arguably the top player in Hockey East this season. He won’t give up many goals and was 1-2 against UMass Lowell this season.
Which line will make the biggest impact for Providence and UML?
Joshua Kummins: Each forward on the Friars’ top three lines are double-digit point scorers. Freshman Mark Jankowski and senior Tim Schaller start on the top line, while sophomore Ross Mauermann is a stalwart in the middle of the second unit.
McMahon: Getting Shane Luke back is a big plus for the Friars. He really helps solidify three lines for Providence. For UML it’s Riley Wetmore‘s line. They — and especially him — do a lot of things that go underappreciated. All three of those guys — Wetmore, Derek Arnold and Ryan McGrath — are solid two-way players.
How does UMass Lowell defeat PC and advance to Saturday?
Kummins: This game will be about defense because after getting this far, I cannot expect either Gillies or Hellebuyck to have a “bad” game.
Josh Seguin: It will probably be a pretty defensive game, but they need to do what they do best, which is timely scoring and responding to everything the Friars send at them.
How does Providence College defeat UML and advance to Saturday?
Seguin: Jon GIllies will have to take control of the game. The young guys have to stay composed, too.
Slate: Providence will have to find a way to score more goals against the River Hawks. In their two losses against them this season they had one goal in each contest.
Who wins this series and why? Score prediction?
Seguin: UML wins, 3-1. Right now, they are playing some of the best hockey in the country. Providence is young and may struggle with the environment.
Slate: The River Hawks have been one of the hottest teams in college hockey for the second half of the season and they will be looking for revenge after getting upset in the Hockey East playoffs last season by PC. My pick: UMass Lowell wins 3-2.
Game No. 2: No. 2 Boston College vs. No. 3 Boston University (Fri., 8 p.m.)
Who is one player to watch in this particular matchup? What can we expect from him?
Kummins: Everybody knows how dynamic Johnny Gaudreau is for Boston College, but Steven Whitney is a senior that has kicked it up a notch in his final season in a Maroon and Gold sweater. The Reading, Mass. native and Gridiron Club of Greater Boston Walter Brown Award winner led all Hockey East players with 25 goals, but his 126 career points still trails his older brother Joe Whitney (2007-11), who is tied for 42nd in the all-time BC record books.
Seguin: Johnny Gaudreau has to be the go-to player for the Eagles. If the Terriers do not stop him, it will be a long night. Gaudreau has been a primetime player in his career and I would expect that to continue this weekend.
Which line will make the biggest impact for BC and BU?
Kummins: Gaudreau-Pat Mullane-Whitney would have been the definite answer for the Eagles about six weeks ago, but head coach Jerry York has shuffled things up a bit after a dry spell that saw the Eagles go 2-4-1 in January. Even with Mullane and Whitney shifting down to join sophomore Quinn Smith on the second line, the trio is still potent in BC’s balanced attack.
For the Terriers, the answer is simple: Matt Nieto, Danny O’Regan, and Evan Rodrigues, who make up BU’s second line. They’ve combined for 33 goals and 40 assists this season. O’Regan, a St. Sebastian’s product, leads all Hockey East first-years with 36 points.
McMahon: The Gaudreau line for BC is the one to watch for, obviously. For BU, I’d keep an eye on Nieto’s line.
How does BC defeat BU and advance to Saturday?
McMahon: They’re going to need their defense to really rise to the occasion. There’s no reason to believe they won’t, but at this time of year, you need to start from the back end.
Seguin: BC just has to be BC, quite simply. If they do the little things and don’t defeat themselves they will win this one. A steady dose of Johnny Gaudreau, Steven Whitney and Pat Mullane may be difficult to handle for the Terriers, so get them involved.
How does BU defeat BC and advance to Saturday?
McMahon: They need to get a solid game out of Sean Maguire, who looked terrific vs. Merrimack last week. I also think they BU should try to keep the puck moving, especially in the offensive zone, cycle when they can. Make that BC defense work. BC’s dangerous with the puck, and the best defense is to make sure they don’t have possession.
Seguin: BU needs to play stout, defensive hockey. The defensive breakdowns that plagued them the better part of the second half cannot be present. BU needs to stop Gaudreau, Whitney and Mullane. If they can do those things they could easily pull the upset.
Prediction: Who wins this game and why? Score Prediction?
Kummins: BC’s recent domination in the Hockey East Tournament (and its senior experience on the big stage) will prove to be the difference in this game. Over the last four years, the Eagles have won 14 conference tournament games and I see that streak continuing in a 5-3 win.
McMahon: It’s an interesting matchup because both of these teams aren’t nearly as deep as they typically are, but I was really impressed with BU last week and I think they upset the Eagles here. It’s a close game though, maybe even OT, but I’m going 4-3 BU. The Terriers need the win to stay alive in the Pairwise, where BC will make the NCAA tournament regardless of the result.
Game No. 3: Hockey East Championship (Sat., 7 p.m.)
Based off your predicted winners on Friday, who wins on Saturday and why?
Kummins: My championship match of Boston College and UMass Lowell should be a great one, especially since both squads are headed to the NCAA tournament. Both teams are on strong streaks, but I think it is BC’s Garden experience that pays off in a close victory.
McMahon: Defense wins championships and there isn’t a better all-around defense than Lowell, who’ll win 3-2.
Seguin: UML right now is the most complete team of the four remaining. The River Hawks beat the Eagles about a month ago. They respond well and score in timely situations, which makes them dangerous.
Slate: BC will defeat UMass Lowell because of their experience in the Beanpot Finals, Hockey East playoffs and NCAA Tournament. BC beats UMass Lowell, 4-3.
Early thoughts on the NCAA tourney: How far does the winner go in the Frozen Four?
Kummins: I don’t think Boston College has quite enough to capture a second consecutive title, but UMass Lowell could certainly make some noise. With a pairing in Manchester or Providence likely, the River Hawks definitely have enough to break through with a trip to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh this year.
McMahon: Lowell has their best chance ever to make a Frozen Four. You look at their record — 20-3-1 in their last 24 games — and it’s so much about catching fire at the right time. Those BC teams that won national titles always went on runs to end their season.
Seguin: UML, BC and UNH are all in. The former two have the best chance of a deep run and if BU can get in they may be as well. UNH can make some noise if they get back to the defensive juggernaut they once were in the first half. Lowell is deep, while BC has a dangerous trio that can light up any team in the country. Lowell and BC both have the talent to earn a spot in the Frozen Four, but it’s all about matchups. Sometimes it’s the matchups and where teams play, which makes all the difference.
Slate: BC advances to the Frozen Four, but loses in the semifinals.