Game of the Week: Hockey East Style

The penultimate weekend in Hockey East is upon us, and the matchups are mixed nuts. Multiple teams have jockeyed for the top spot since play kicked off in October now, only four teams have a shot at the trophy, but only one will get to hoist it overhead this weekend. 

Massachusetts sits atop the standings on 46 points, followed by Northeastern and Merrimack on 41 (these two have a home and home series this weekend), and UMass-Lowell on 40. The Minutemen have a home and home with Boston College, while the River Hawks will do the same with the New Hampshire Wildcats. The Huskies lost in Vermont on Tuesday 1-0, blowing a chance to put pressure on the Minutemen heading into the weekend. 

This weekend, the Minutemen can claim the regular-season title with just a tie against Boston College. The two will square off on Friday night at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, with the return game Saturday afternoon at the Mullins Center in Amherst. The two have not faced each other this season. 

Should BC pull off the upset and sweep the Minutemen, Northeastern or Merrimack can claim the Hockey East title, provided that one sweeps the other. The Huskies will host the Warriors on Friday at Matthews Arena and travel to Lawler Rink in North Andover for a Saturday tilt. Like the Eagles and Minutemen, these two have not faced each other this season.

The beauty of the Hockey East season this year is that there has been tremendous parity throughout the league from start to finish, top to bottom. Couple that with a reformatted single-elimination playoff structure that begins on Wednesday, March 9, and anything can happen. And knowing Hockey East, it probably will.

How Hockey East looks. Courtesy of a screen shot of College Hockey News.

The Providence College Friars are stuck on 38 points, completing their HEA schedule last week. Every other school has a chance to climb or drop in the overall standings. The new format will see the first five teams having an opening-round bye on Wednesday. The sixth-place will host eleventh, seventh will host tenth, and eighth will host nine. Reseeding will take place in the following round so that the number one seed will face the lowest remaining seed left.

Massachusetts vs. Boston College

The Minutemen only need one point from the weekend to clinch the Hockey East regular-season title for the second time in school history and the second time in the last four seasons. Head Coach Greg Carvel has turned the state’s flagship school into one of the premier NCAA programs in his six seasons at the helm. The defending National Champions should be able to eke out a point against a struggling Boston College squad that has arguably underperformed this year. 

Massachusetts Minutemen freshman Taylor Makar celebrates his 1st NCAA goal against the UMass-Lowell River Hawks on January 30, 2022 at Tsongas Center in Lowell, MA.

Is this the last hurrah for legendary Head Coach Jerry York? One has to think so. Graduate transfer student Erik Dop has hampered the Eagles with his play in goal. He hasn’t been what the team needed in the pipes to make a difference in a Hockey East conference that is as deep as it ever has been. The Minutemen should sweep this weekend to further build on their growing accomplishments

Northeastern vs. Merrimack

As noted, the Huskies dropped a big game in Burlington, VT, on Wednesday against, at the time, last place Catamounts. The Huskies could’ve been nipping the heels of Massachusetts for the regular-season title by sitting in second on 44 points. However, the Catamounts leap-frogged Maine into tenth place with the 1-0 win at Gutterson Fieldhouse on the UVM campus. 

Merrimack Warriors goaltender Zachary Borgiel tracks the puck during the Warriors 5-2 win over the New Hampshire Wildcats at Lawler Rink in North Andover, MA on February 4, 2022.

The Huskies have a slight advantage over the Warriors in terms of records as they are 13-8-1 in HEA play, and the Warriors are 13-9. Northeastern will get the higher seed if the two teams split this weekend. The best that the Warriors can hope for is to finish in second place, which would be the second time they have concluded that high (2010-11). Neither team has won the regular-season title in the past.

Coach Scott Borek has done a tremendous job recruiting and building the program through the transfer portal. It’s great to see the small schools compete with the powerhouses.

Northeastern Huskies freshman goalie T.J. Semptimphelter gets ready to stop UMass-Lowell defenseman Jon McDonald during the Huskies 2-1 loss to the River Hawks on January 28, 2022 at Matthews Arena in Boston, MA.
UMass-Lowell vs. UNH

Norm Bazin’s River Hawks spent time in the big chair this season but could not remain there as the games ticked off the schedule. In February, one of those games was a 3-0 loss to UNH at the Whitt. Mike Robinson outdueled Henry Welsch in the goaltending battle. Since then, senior Owen Savory has cemented his grip on the position. That will change things a bit when the two square off again this weekend. That win, along with a win in Orono two weeks ago against arch-rival Maine, was the Wildcats’ only two wins in February (2-5), while in that same stretch, the River Hawks went an uninspiring 4-3. 

UMass-Lowell River Hawks sophomore defenseman Brehdan Engum ties up a snapshot against the Northeastern Huskies at Tsongas Arena on February 11, 2022. The Huskies won 4-2.

Mike Souza’s Wildcats could finish in eighth place with a point and a UMass sweep of BC. Currently, they are in ninth and don’t need to worry about either UVM or Maine. The two teams will probably split this weekend, each winning on home ice and UNH grabbing the eighth seed.

Maine vs Boston University

As usual, the Boston University Terriers started slowly before catching fire and making a late-season push. The Terriers have been 11-1-2 since December 31, 2021. They are relatively healthy and have goalie Drew Commesso back from the Olympics. That lone loss did come against BC away this past Saturday, but that rivalry transcends records, and the Terriers wiped the ice with the Eagles the night before. 

Maine is in for a long weekend with the Terriers in town. The Black Bears are generally better at Alfond Arena but are a lackluster 5-8-3 there this season, while BU is 7-5-1 away from Agganis Arena. The Terriers will sweep and keep the Black Bears in the HEA basement. That would put the Terriers on 44 points and could potentially bump them as high as second depending on the outcomes of the UML games, MC vs. NU, and the UConn games. Which leads to…

Connecticut vs. Vermont

Mike Cavanaugh’s Huskies host the Vermont Catamounts in Hartford this weekend. UConn is in a three-way tie for third place with Providence and Boston U. They should overtake both by sweeping the Catamounts this weekend, the Huskies and BU went 1-1-1 against each other, and UConn has the edge goals. 

The Cats are 1-7-1 in February and riding that one-game win streak, but it won’t be enough to slow down the likes of Jachym Kondelik and Hudson Shandor. The Huskies are poised for their best finish since joining Hockey East in 2014-15. The positive for UVM is the Cats won’t be in the cellar in Head Coach Todd Woodcroft’s second season in charge.

Every game this weekend will have ramifications for each team and countless others in the conference. It will be a fun weekend of college hockey in New England.

Connecticut Huskies defenseman Roman Kinal unloads a snapshot from the top of the left circle during the Huskies 6-1 win over the UNH Wildcats at the Whittemore Center in Durham, NH on February 5, 2022.

The Cats are 1-7-1 in February and riding that one-game win streak, but it won’t be enough to slow down the likes of Jachym Kondelik and Hudson Shandor. The Huskies are poised for their best finish since joining Hockey East in 2014-15. The positive for UVM is the Cats won’t be in the cellar in Head Coach Todd Woodcroft’s second season in charge.

Every game this weekend will have ramifications for each team and countless others in the conference. It will be a fun weekend of college hockey in New England.

PuckingOff Projected HEA Finish
  1. Massachusetts (bye)
  2. Connecticut (bye)
  3. Boston University (bye)
  4. Merrimack (bye)
  5. Northeastern (bye)
  6. UMass-Lowell (v Maine)
  7. Providence (v UVM)
  8. New Hampshire (v BC)
  9. Boston College
  10. Vermont
  11. Maine

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