New to PuckingOff is a feature I’ve meant to do but have been too lazy. I’m going to preview what I think is the game or series for each week as the season continues towards its climax in April. Generally, it will be the game of the week in that it is the best game I can make it to due to its proximity to me just north of Boston. Some weeks the NCHC, Big Ten, or CCHA might have the actual top-flight matchup, but I can’t just hop on a plane or into the car and go.
For me, this week’s game of the week is the home and home series between the Northeastern Huskies vs. the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. Don’t get me wrong; there are three excellent series with many ramifications in Hockey East alone. Providence vs. Boston College, UMass-Lowell vs. Merrimack, and New Hampshire vs. UConn.
Ranking them, I’d go NU vs. UMass, PC vs. BC, UNH vs. UConn, and then UML vs. MC. But before I get too far ahead of myself, there are tasty matchups all over New England and New York in NCAA play. NU vs. UMass is two vs. three in HEA play, with two points separating the Huskies from the Minutemen. The Minutemen host the Huskies on Friday at 7:00 pm. NU hosts on Saturday at 7:30 pm at Matthews Arena.
The biggest reason I say the UMass vs. NU series is the Game of the Week is the goaltending. Both schools have tremendous goaltenders. Devon Levi has a 1.313 Goals Against Average, fourth-best in the country while carrying a .955 Save Percentage which is second best. The 6′-0″ sophomore from Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, Quebec, has 16 wins this season, nine of those being shutouts, which is the most in the NCAA. Levi has 615 saves backstopping the Huskies to a 16-5-1 overall record.
In the Minutemen net, graduate student Matt Murray has been the most consistent bright spot for UMass this season. The numbers aren’t as gaudy for Murray, but they are solid nonetheless. A 2.302 GAA (25th), .926 SV% (12th), 524 saves (10th), and has ten wins while carrying the load for the defending National Champions. Murray was superb in two losses at Michigan two weeks ago. Despite the 4-1 and 4-2 score lines, each game featured an empty-net goal as Murray stopped 37 and 42 shots, keeping the Minutemen in contention into the third period of each game.
“Their (NU) goaltender has the best stats in the league, and that means he’s a good goalie but also means they’re playing good defense in front of him,” said Minutemen coach Greg Carvel of Levi and the Huskies. “My assistants feel that they have one of, maybe, the most talented forward groups in the league. That’s a good combination, good forwards, good defense.”
“They’re at the top of the league, right now with us. We’re looking at this as a playoff type of game for position in the league, as I’m sure they are as well,” added Carvel. “I’m expecting a very good weekend of hockey. I’m excited for it.”
The Huskies are led offensively by junior Aiden McDonough, who comes into the weekend 16 G 7 A for 23 points. The 6′-2″ forward from Milton, Ma is one of the best players in Hockey East and has a penchant for stepping up in big games.
Minutemen senior forward Bobby Trivigno and freshman defenseman Scott Morrow power UMass’ offense; each sits on 18 points. Both have eight goals and ten assists.
BC and PC sit on 19 points, with PC having the edge with a better conference record. UNH is chasing UConn and trying to get back into the top half of Hockey East. The Wildcats are three points behind the Huskies but riding a four-game winning streak, including a sweep of BC last weekend.
THIS WEEKEND, the ECAC has two big games on Saturday, as Cornell hosts Quinnipiac in a one vs. two matchup with QU ahead by four points. At the same time, Harvard hosts Clarkson in a four vs. three-game trailing the Golden Knights by two points.
And don’t sleep on Atlantic Hockey as the top four schools face-off in important series as well. First place AIC travels to fourth place Sacred Heart University for a pair while holding a six-point lead over the host Pioneers. Bentley University makes the trek to Buffalo, NY, to face Canisius. The Falcons trail the Griffins by two points in Atlantic action.