Tag: John Muse

Hockey East Final Four Preview

By Dan Rubin

Since its inception, the Hockey East Association has been one of the preeminent college hockey power conferences throughout the NCAA landscape.  Its tradition is unmatched, and its ability to produce NHL players is unrivaled.  In recent years, it established its presence as THE national championship conference, holding the last three titles.

Two of those titles belong to Boston College, a team making a strong run at #3 this season. They’ve been among the best teams in the nation all season, and regardless of how this weekend at TD Garden turns out, the Eagles are a top seed in the national tournament, and they remain penciled in as one of the teams most likely to raise the trophy in St. Paul, Minnesota.

But the Eagles also find themselves in a dogfight to win the league championship.  Where there are definite favorites in the other two eastern leagues, this year’s Hockey East could belong to any one of the four remaining teams.  They all have good reasons why they should and shouldn’t win the tournament.  Even Northeastern, the lowest seed of the bunch, has a solid argument outside of Dan Libon’s fandom.

Noontime Sports will be at the Garden this weekend to cover these games, and we’ll have full coverage of the Hockey East Championship starting this evening and continuing through tomorrow.

#1 Boston College Eagles

How They Got Here: [28-7-1], [20-6-1 Hockey East], Swept UMass 2 games to none.

Why They’ll Win: You find me a better team in the nation this year, and I’ll argue it to my grave.  BC is among the nation’s elite, and the case can be made that they’ll be facing North Dakota with the national title on the line in Minnesota.  They’re the best overall team, and the names of players who can make an impact roll off like a Murder’s Row of sorts – Cam Atkinson, Brian Gibbons, Jimmy Hayes, Brian Dumoulin, Joe Whitney, Chris Kreider, Tommy Cross, Philip Samuelsson, Pat Mullane.  That’s a better lineup than an All Star team from other conferences.  They’re the best-coached team, with Jerry York.  And their nonconference schedule isn’t about whom they beat because they beat pretty much everyone.  They swept Denver, and they won the Beanpot.  They lost two games after New Year’s.  And it gets even scarier when you think that this team hasn’t quite hit its ceiling yet.  They can only get better.

Why They’ll Lose: The biggest hole for BC is goaltending.  John Muse is prone to a bad game and soft goals.  He’ll win games for the Eagles, but he only faced 840 shots this season.  He made a 92% save percentage, and he posted six shutouts.  Despite this, he hasn’t had to make 30 saves since the Beanpot opening round game against Boston University back on February 7th.  I’ve never been sold on Muse, especially not after he coughed up seven goals to Yale in last year’s NCAA tournament.  One of the losses post New Year’s was to Northeastern, their semifinal opponent.  Don’t discount the fact that this is the sixth meeting between the two teams.  Northeastern knows everything there is to know about BC.  Add Libon pulling for Northeastern, and that actually could make “Super fans,” (like yours truly) slightly nervous.

#2 UNH Wildcats

How They Got Here: [21-9-6], [17-6-4 Hockey East], Swept Vermont 2 games to 0

Why They’ll Win: They’re one of the better overall teams, and they are able to fly under the radar because of Boston College.  They also played well enough out of the conference to warrant mentioning, including a win over Miami and a tie with Michigan at the beginning of the year.  Statistically, they have a lineup that rivals BC’s – Paul Thompson, Mike Sislo, Phil DeSimone, Blake Kessel, John Henrion, and Dalton Speelman, with Matt Di Girolamo in net.  And they have a battle-tested coach in Dick Umile.  They have a lineup to hang with the Eagles, as long as you ignore that last weekend blowout at the hands of the top seed.

Why They’ll Lose: You don’t get a nickname like “University of No Hardware” by winning conference championships.  UNH chokes on the biggest stage, historically, and last year, they were one game from the Frozen Four when they ran into RIT.  Rochester dominated the Wildcats and took their spot in Detroit.  UNH was also crushed the last weekend of the regular season by BC, and they went 1-0-2 against Northeastern.  But the most damning stat is that they draw Merrimack in the semifinal round, a team they were swept by in February.  Yes, they beat the Mack at home earlier in the year, but that sweep is not a good sign.

#4 Merrimack Warriors

How They Got Here: [24-8-4], [16-8-3 Hockey East], swept Maine 2 games to 0

Why They’ll Win: They’ve beaten everybody.  They have signature wins over every team in the league, and they bounced back from a late-season choke to dominate a good Black Bear squad in the playoffs.  They were head and shoulders better than BU this year, even though BU was the #3 seed, and they were in the #1-seed, national ranking argument until the last weekend of the season.  But the slide seemed to reignite the Warriors, and they righted the ship.  Their lineup includes seven double-digit goal scorers, including Stephane da Costa and Chris Barton.  They also have the best goalie of the four remaining teams, a very underrated Joe Cannata.  With bigger names like Muse, di Girolamo, and  Rawlings, Cannata can be overlooked.  But on talent, Cannata is the best big game goalie of the lot.  They’re the most dangerous team because they’re talented, they’re good, and everyone expects a BC-UNH final.

Why They’ll Lose: Each of the other remaining teams has been here before.  Merrimack has never been.  And when I say they’ve never been, they’ve legit never had a relatively decent season before this year.  This is their first .500 or better season since 1988-1989, when they were an independent.  And they’ve never been tested in the playoffs like this before.  They’ve never been to an NCAA tournament while a member of Hockey East.  And while Mark Denehy is a good coach, he’s not the same as having York or Umile.

#6 Northeastern Huskies

How They Got Here: [14-15-8], [10-10-7 Hockey East], Beat BU 2 games to 1

Why They’ll Win: Because Dan Libon is going to use his Liboninator powers.

They’ve played Boston College so much that they are most likely not intimidated by them. They’ve proven they can hang with BC, and they’ve proven they can beat BC.  That weekend series following the Beanpot championship game was so epic that I had a feeling these teams would meet again.  Wade MacLeod leads the Huskies up front, and Chris Rawlings is a very good goalie.  I personally think Rawlings is a little overrated, but I’d still take him over Di Girolamo and Muse any day of the week.  The Huskies also have the benefit of being an underdog and playing the “nobody believes in us” card.  Greg Cronin is a great motivator, and don’t think that won’t factor into the weekend.

Why They’ll Lose: Because I won’t be there to curse Boston College on Friday.  Seriously – every time I pick a team and say great things about them, I curse them.  Look at Harvard last week for hockey, and I’m not getting started on Louisville and St. John’s in yesterday’s debacle in the NCAA basketball tournament

Yes, they can get up for Boston College, but Northeastern went .500 for a reason.  They lost to Holy Cross, Bentley, and Niagara. They lost the season series to BU, and I personally believe the only reason they beat BU in the playoffs was because of a cocktail of disaster for the Terriers.  BU had to play Games 1 and 2 on Thursday and Friday because they hosted the America East basketball finals (which they won).  That meant that the student fan base was divided between an underachieving hockey team and a new, fresh basketball team.  The remaining students went out on Spring Break, and the hockey team drew a team with a rabid fan base that sits just 5 miles away.  When NU packed Agganis last week, everything I said came true.  Three game victory for Northeastern.  Hockey East this year is a three-team league, but four teams had to make the Garden.

Be sure to check out Noontime’s coverage of the Hockey East championship weekend. Dan Libon will be covering both days, and I’ll be joining him for the championship tomorrow as the banner patch is raised to the Garden rafters.  I’ll also be making my championship predictions and bracketology, listing what’s at stake for teams with consolation and championship games tomorrow.

Hockey East Weekend Preview

Yet another Hockey East weekend is upon us, but who will be the true winners and losers?

By Dan Rubin

The Hockey East Conference is the second-youngest Division I hockey conference in the nation.  Formed in 1984 in a split from ECAC Hockey, some of the best collegiate squads in the nation’s history have been from the group of New England schools.  In 26 full seasons, a Hockey East team has appeared in the national championship game 19 times, winning seven championships, including the last three.  During the 2000s, a Hockey East team failed to appear in the national championship game only once, when Denver defeated North Dakota in 2005.

So it’s not surprising that the Hockey East playoffs are among the most competitive and exciting times of the year.  It’s also no surprise that a good run through the league tournament can lock up a team’s hope of a potential at-large bid for the NCAA championship.  Indeed, the league championship tournament serves as the springboard to greatness as of late, since all four national champions since 2000 also had their name raised to the TD Garden rafters as league tournament champion.

With the local league boasting 10 teams for eight spots, rather than breaking down the stats, let’s take a look at this weekend’s matchups and what can happen looking into next week’s regular season finales:

#2 Boston College (national rank: 2) vs. #7 Massachusetts:

Tale of the Tape: Boston College enters the weekend trailing UNH by 2 points for first place.  The Eagles are also tied for second with Merrimack and two points up on fourth-place Boston University.  UMass, meanwhile, is mathematically eliminated from finishing higher than seventh (they trail Northeastern by nine points), but the Minutemen are tied for 7th with Vermont.  Both Vermont and UMass are three points up on Providence for the final playoff spot.

What’s at Stake: UMass has one of the tougher roads to the seven seed.  After a home-and-home with BC, they’ll take on fifth-place Maine next weekend at home.  Consolation prize: Providence plays Merrimack next weekend.  Boston College, meanwhile, is in the hunt for the #1 overall seed in the playoffs, but the #2 team in the nation is in danger of finishing as low as fourth in the standings.  BC needs a good showing this weekend heading into next weekend’s potential 1-vs-2 showdown with UNH.

Keys to the Weekend: UMass needs to jump on Eagle goalie John Muse early.  Muse allowed 15 goals in his last three games.  BC allowed four or more goals six times this year – they’ve won only two of those games. But for UMass – I’m not sure I can trust a team that coughed up 11 goals to Merrimack less than a month ago, even if they can score a lot of goals.  BC’s also [9-1-1] at home, whereas the Minutemen are [2-12-2] away from Mullins Center.

Prediction: John Muse needs to find his game…and fast.  He’ll do it this weekend.  Friday’s a shootout, with BC coming from behind to win 5-4, but the Eagle netminder will wake up on Saturday for a 5-1 win.

#3 Merrimack (national rank: 4) at #5 Maine (national rank: 16)

Tale of the Tape: Merrimack is scary good.  They’ve beaten pretty much everybody – Maine, BC, BU, UNH.  They hold season series wins over everybody in the conference.  Maine, meanwhile, is on a three-game winning streak.  But the last two of those wins were against UMass-Lowell.

What’s at Stake: Merrimack has a national vote for #1 (first time ever).  If they sweep Maine and if BC and/or UNH slip up, they might slide into the inside track for a #1 seed and even (potentially) the #1 ranking.  Not bad for a program that lost 20+ games two years ago.  The Black Bears need to sweep this weekend’s games and have BU tank in order to get a home series in the playoffs.

Keys to the Weekend: Don’t fear the Warrior.  Maine got waxed by Merrimack, 7-1, earlier this year.  But it was in North Andover, and it’ll be a little bit different playing two games in Alfond Arena.  Alfond is one of the most intimidating arenas to play in.  That could be problematic for Merrimack’s weakness, which is that they don’t wear the sweet yellow jerseys (a personal favorite) on the road.

Prediction: I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Warriors.  The problem?  It hasn’t.  Merrimack wins on Friday, 3-1, and on Saturday, 2-1.

#12 UMass-Lowell vs. #11 Providence

Tale of the Tape: UMass-Lowell has four wins this season, three in Hockey East.  One of them was against Merrimack.  The other two were against Vermont and Providence.  They also plopped eight goals on Bentley in their only non-league win. PC has three league wins, all against quality opponents.  One of them was Merrimack.  Maybe these teams know something about the Warriors we don’t?

What’s at Stake: The Friars trail Vermont and UMass by four points.  Next week they’re playing a home-and-home against Merrimack.  Odds are they won’t win those games, so they’ll need substantial help and a massive collapse by somebody to make the dance. The River Hawks have nothing left to play for except a spoiler role and for pride, but, like I’ve said before, teams with nothing left on the table are usually the most dangerous. I’m sorry, but this is the third straight year PC is out of the playoffs.

Keys to the Weekend: PC’s let up three or more goals 20 times this year [not including one exhibition game]. They lost in OT to UML earlier this year. Cue the spotlight on goaltender Alex Beaudry and the defensive unit of the Friars.

Prediction: UML wins Friday, 5-4, then ties PC on Saturday at home, 3-3.  Another long spring commences at Schneider Arena.

Tune in tomorrow for previews of the remaining series of the weekend – UNH-Northeastern and BU-Vermont.

Northeastern Finally Hands Boston College a loss, 2-1

By Matt Noonan

BOSTON, MA – It was the final meeting between Boston College [22-7-1,16-6-1] and Northeastern University [11-12-7, 9-8-6] men’s ice hockey teams on Saturday, but despite all the wins and loses between both squads, the Hub may have found its newest college sports rivalry or at least, four games to watch every winter.

Boston College and Boston University is the immediate answer when one thinks about college hockey in Massachusetts or collegiate rivalries in the Hub, but after watching the Eagles and Huskies push each other to the brink during three games in six days, which featured 11-periods, two overtimes and 30-points, it maybe fair to say that this was indeed some quality hockey that was on display for an entire week.

“[Tonight] was a hockey game [because] the other two nights were [awful] games,” said Boston College head coach Jerry York. “This was much more like what hockey in February should be.”

Yet, despite all the fireworks that both teams produced over a span of 96-hours, Northeastern University’s 2-1 win on Saturday should not be classified as a dramatic finish, but rather a subdued win against the Eagles.

“[It was an] extremely gutsy efforts, really proud of them for the focus and the poise they played with. Coach [Greg] Cronin [and Albie] O’Connell and myself worked hard to get them to this level and we’re very proud of them buying into the system that we as a coaching staff have come up with and its great to see them coming together right now at this time of the season,” said Northeastern assistant coach Sebastien Laplante.

The game itself didn’t feature a lot of penalties, fights or back and fourth banter between both benches, but instead, just sloppy hockey, as well as a bunch of young college students who seemed rather fatigued.

Throughout the entire first period, the Eagles spent a great deal of time in front of Chris Rawlings net; yet, they were unable to convert any of their 14-shots into points. The continuous efforts were unsuccessful, but the same could be said for the Huskies offense too that finished the period with only four shots. Their lack of shooting or offense transcended from their first period on Friday, when the Huskies only recorded three shots on Eagles goaltender John Muse and one goal.

Although, after watching a slow first period, it seemed as if the fans just wanted something to cheer about, which did happen when Brodie Reid broke the stalemate and gave the Huskies an early, 1-0 lead. Northeastern would score again, but during the final period when Braden Pimm netted an unassisted goal, which practically put the game away, until Boston College’s Cam Atkinson scored during the final few minutes.

Atkinson’s goal electrified the Matthews Arena, as the final minutes felt like the closing seconds of the 59th Annual Boston Beanpot Championship.

“[Northeastern] did a nice job in a lot of different areas,” said York. “I think its like I said before, it’s a good solid hockey team.”

The Buzzer did sound eventually and due to Boston College’s hard fought efforts, the Eagles left the ice with a loss while Northeastern celebrated the win. The Huskies not only earned their first victory against the number one team in America, but also solidified a spot in the upcoming Hockey East tournament in March.

“We clinched [the] playoffs tonight, but we’re certainly not [going] to stop right now. We want to keep going up and see we’re we can end up in the standings and get better position for the playoffs,” said Laplante.

While the “mini-playoffs” series is indeed over, it certainly is possible to believe that these particular three games will help build confidence and momentum for both squads prior to the start of the conference playoffs.

“This was like one of those playoff series. Two out of three, three out of five series, you just don’t get these very often before we get to playoff situations, so its good for both teams,” said York.

Boston Beanpot: Championship/Consolation Preview

The 59th Annual Boston Beanpot tournament will conclude on Monday February 14, 2011, yet, while we eagerly count down the minutes to an exciting championship game, here are some pre-game thoughts on what should occur before the puck is dropped for both contests.

Consolation Game – Boston University vs. Harvard University:

Noonan’s Prediction: This particular matchup should focus on two things, goaltending and offense. After an exciting overtime win against University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, on Friday, Boston University should have no problem stopping Harvard and wrapping up third place. In fact, the Terriers can set the tone early with a quick goal, which may force the Crimson offense into instant, “attack mode,” but will they be able to combat a well-rounded Jack Parker offense?

SCORE: Boston University 4 – Harvard 1

Libon’s Prediction: Not much to say here. Give Harvard a lot of credit for playing with heart, but Boston University is too strong and should have no problem against the Crimson.

SCORE: Boston University 5 – Harvard 0

Championship Game – Boston College vs. Northeastern University:

Noonan’s Prediction: Boston College relied heavily on their power play units and special teams in order to secure a spot in Monday’s tournament championship. Yet, Northeastern has watched their goaltender, Chris Rawlings, not only act as an anchor for their defense, but has also, allowed his offense to score goals and win critical Hockey East contests. If Rawlings can deny the high-powered Eagles offense, then the Huskies will earn their first Beanpot championship trophy since 1988.

SCORE: Northeastern 3 – Boston College 2

Libon’s Prediction: For Northeastern to win the championship, Chris Rawlings is going to have to continue his stellar play between the pipes. The Huskies offense also better bring their “A-Game” because they are going to be facing one of the top teams in the United States. Boston College will rely on their goaltender too, John Muse, who is arguably is the best goalie in the nation. He will certainly be tested throughout all three periods, but will the Huskies offense bother him so much that he’ll be forced to allow multiple goals? Northeastern has a knack for upsetting ranked teams, but don’t expect an upset against the Eagles. Expect Northeastern to leave it on the TD Garden ice because Cam Atkinson and his Eagles should most likely skate to victory.

SCORE: Boston College 3 – Northeastern 1