By Dan Rubin
In case you missed Part 1 of the Hockey East Weekend Preview, be sure to check it out and get caught up on some of the goings-on this week in the world of Hockey East.
#6 Northeastern vs. #1 New Hampshire (national rank: #9)
Tale of the Tape: UNH enters the weekend in the most extreme of precarious positions. They are the first place team in the league, meaning all roads are supposed to go through Durham. But they’re not the best team in the league according to national pundits, since Boston College outranks them by a solid seven slots. And the Wildcats only hold a one-point lead over the Eagles and Merrimack Warriors. Compounding matters even more, UNH just got swept by Merrimack, and they play BC next weekend. Given those odds, the first place team is actually the underdog for the regular season crown. Northeastern is in sixth-place, two points back on Maine. They can’t finish any lower than their current position. They’re coming off an epic three-game series with BC that saw two teams score more goals in three games than Nathan Horton has in any season throughout his career (well actually that’s a lie… BC and NU combined for 30 in the last three games, including the Beanpot championship. Horton scored 31 in 2006-2007).
What’s at Stake: For Northeastern, not a whole lot. If they pass Maine, they go on the road. If they don’t pass Maine, they go on the road. Finishing fifth at least guarantees that they’ll either play an up-and-down Boston University team or a team that’s sliding into the playoffs. I don’t know if that’s enough to overcome a team that’s trying to a) secure the top seed in the standings, b) win the conference championship, and c) vie for a national top seed. Side note – Maine plays Merrimack this weekend for two in Orono.
Keys to the Weekend: For the Huskies, it’s their defense. Opposing offenses pepper Chris Rawlings to the tune of 32 shots per game this season. Matt Di Girolamo, meanwhile, is averaging 29 shots seen. Over the course of a 30-game season, that’s 90 more shots that Rawlings will see than Di Girolamo. UNH, meanwhile, has to avoid “playing down” to opponents, like they did when they lost to St. Lawrence and Dartmouth. They also tied Brown in a game they should’ve lost, 5-5. Don’t overestimate the looming heavyweight bout with BC next weekend, either.
Prediction: UNH wins Friday at home, 2-1, but I’m going with Northeastern to tie, 2-2, on Saturday at Matthews. I know I’m going out on a limb, but there’s something about Matthews Arena.
#4 Boston University (national rank: 15) vs. #8 Vermont
Tale of the Tape: BU might be the most aggravating team to watch. They beat and tied Notre Dame. They’ve took the season series from UNH. And they opened the year by beating Wisconsin. But they also should’ve lost to Brown at Agganis and got creamed by the Bears in the Shillelagh Tournament. They lost to RPI, and they went a whopping 0-4 against BC this year. And then there was the latest snafu against Harvard in the Beanpot, where the Terriers finished fourth for the first time since 1980 (and only the fourth time overall). Save for two 7-goal game wins for the Catamounts, Vermont’s given up three or more goals in six of their 16 game since January 1. BU beat Vermont 4-2 on January 9.
What’s at Stake: If Vermont gets swept by the Terriers and PC is able to sweep UMass-Lowell, then the Friars are in, and the Catamounts are out. Lucky for Vermont, I don’t think that’s going to happen, and either way, they still get the last-place River Hawks next weekend while PC plays Merrimack. The Terriers are playing for their national tournament lives. The 2009 National Champions might not make it without sweeping their final four games. They’re a major bubble team right now, but 20-wins, coupled with the team’s reputation and a halfway decent showing in the conference tournament could be enough. Then again, that bubble is so razor thin – a conference tournament win by a team like Clarkson in ECAC or UMass in Hockey East would kill them.
Keys to the Weekend: BU has to play like BU. They need to make a statement that they belong in the national discussion. Vermont is 0-7 when trailing after the first period and 1-11-1 when trailing after two. That speaks for itself – score early, score often, put them away.
Prediction: BU in a sweep with matching 3-1 wins on Friday and Saturday.
If one thing’s for certain about the hockey we’ll see this weekend, it’s that nothing’s for certain. Hope everyone gets the chance to take in a game and see some solid puck. See you next week when we look at the playoff matchups for ECAC and Atlantic Hockey.