a wildly unpredictable final regular season weekend –
which saw four teams still within reach of the conference
title – Hockey East’s first round has the potential
to be white-bread boring. None of the four underdogs was
able to claim even one win in their season series against
their hosts this weekend.
twice in the past six years No. 8 has knocked off No. 1
in the Hockey East playoffs, and Nos. 5, 6 and 7 all enter
this year’s festivities with a little momentum. So
history – both recent and very recent – tells
us to expect surprises this weekend.
in all, it hasn’t been a terribly surprising year
in Hockey East, so perhaps we’re due. The league has
once again held its position as one of the best conferences
in the country, second only to the WCHA in most judgments.
The usual suspects are at the top of the league again, and
Merrimack, picked to finish last, finished with the lowest
win total in league history.
it was the players, not the teams, who provided the best
stories in Hockey East this season, from Ben Walter’s
goal scoring prowess to John Curry’s emergence to
Peter Trovato’s generosity.
will be the heroes as the second season begins this weekend?
We know enough not to count out a surprise or two.
8 Massachusetts at No. 1 Boston College
MA: 13-21-2 (6-16-2 HEA)
BC: 21-6-7 (14-3-7 HEA)
Season Series: BC won, 2-0-1
Fact: If the Minutemen advance, they would
double the number of road victories they have posted
all year (two). Eagle Fact: BC is unbeaten in seven
straight against UMass (6-0-1), including wins of
9-0, 6-0 and 6-1.
UMass Wins: Hot goalies have given the Eagles
fits at various times this year. Gabe Winer has been
up and down at times, but certainly has the ability
to put together two good games. How BC Wins: The Eagles were stunned
last year by a BU team that was hungrier and more
opportunistic. They don’t need stand-on-your-head
goaltending like UMass, but Matti Kaltiainen will
need to improve on the .774 save percentage he had
in last year’s two losses to BU.
7 Providence at No. 2 Boston University
PC: 11-19-4 (6-14-4 HEA) BU: 21-11-4 (15-5-4 HEA) Season Series: BU won, 3-0-0
Fact: Sophomore Colin McDonald averaged a
goal every other game in Hockey East play, a figure
that was surpassed by only five other players this
year. Terrier Fact: BU and Providence,
meeting for the fifth time in the last seven Hockey
East quarterfinals, are tied at 9-9 in Hockey East
playoff meetings, but the Terriers have won four straight.
PC Wins: The Friars boast a strong work ethic,
although they don’t always showcase the skill
to match. If their hard work results in a little puck
luck, it could go a long way. How BU Wins: The Terriers have done
a masterful job of limiting opponents’ quality
chances in their 8-1-3 run to end the season. If they
keep the Friar shots to the outside, the Terriers
will reach the semifinals for the fourth straight
6 Northeastern at No. 3 New Hampshire
NU: 15-16-5 (10-10-4 HEA)
UNH: 22-9-5 (15-5-4 HEA)
Season Series: UNH won, 3-0-0
Fact: Northeastern is 10-7-3 in February
and March of the last two years (6-3-1 this season). Wildcat Fact: New Hampshire is the
league's only team not to lose back-to-back games
NU Wins: A big part of Northeastern’s
upset chances relies on Keni Gibson’s ability
to steal a game or two. Another key is limiting UNH’s
power-play opportunities, and the Huskies are Hockey
East’s least-penalized team. How UNH Wins: The Wildcats will score
– keeping opponents off the board has been the
key to their success. Scoring the first goal would
help, too, something they haven’t done in their
last four games.
5 UMass Lowell at No. 4 Maine
UML: 20-10-4 (11-10-3 HEA)
ME: 18-11-7 (13-6-5 HEA)
Season Series: Maine won, 3-0-0
Hawk Fact: UMass Lowell, Dartmouth and Sacred
Heart are the only teams in the nation that finished
the regular season with a winning record but are playing
this weekend on the road. Black Bear Fact: Maine started the
year 3-4-0 at Alfond Arena, but is 9-0-3 since.
UML Wins: An early goal would help the River
Hawks, both to take some energy out of Alfond and
because Maine plays so much better with the lead.
Generating (and cashing in on) power-play opportunities
will also be critical. How ME Wins: The Black Bears need
to play with desperation, which shouldn’t be
difficult given the loser-goes-home nature of this
series. If they finish checks and scoring opportunities
with equal aplomb, the Black Bears will move on.
searching for a weakness in Boston College’s lineup
can feel a bit like a kid playing whack-a-mole – they
seem to disappear as quickly as they pop up. Think Matti
Kaltiainen is beatable? The Eagle defense limits the shots
he faces and his .921 save percentage in league play was
stellar. Do they lack size up front? Say that to 6-foot-7
Brian Boyle, who has been red hot of late. Didn’t
Lowell’s sweep show they were vulnerable? Maybe, but
that came with Andrew Alberts out of the lineup.
in Hockey East is infallible, and if we learned nothing
else from the wild final weekend, it’s that this league
is wide open. But the Eagles finished on top – even
by the slimmest of margins – for a reason. They are
the team to beat for the automatic bid.
head coach Bruce Crowder entered the Beanpot, he was clearly
relishing the underdog role. His Huskies nearly rode it
to a title, and if anyone was overlooking them then, they
won’t on this quest to return to the Fleet. In addition
to its recent hot streak (6-3-2), Northeastern seems to
have the ingredients of a good playoff team, beginning with
senior goaltender Keni Gibson. The Huskies also have good
experience outside the goal, a reliable first line and a
dangerous power play. They can thank conference scoring
champion Jason Guerriero for all three of those.
– Sean Collins, New Hampshire Collins,
our third pick among the first-team forwards, beats out
teammate Jacob Micflikier and a couple of UMass Lowell players
for this spot. He earned it with determination and timely
goals, and an ability to pick up where his longtime linemate,
2004 Hockey East Player of the Year Steve Saviano, left
– Patrick Eaves, Boston College Eaves has been the league’s biggest scoring
threat since the puck dropped in October. He had at least
a point in 23 of 32 games in the regular season.
– Jason Guerriero, Northeastern The conference scoring champion jokes that he’s
often mistaken for being Hispanic (he’s actually Italian).
His game has earned more recognition, especially with his
and his team’s surge in February.
– Andrew Alberts, Boston College Alberts’ development in four years at BC
is nothing short of astonishing. You can’t learn size,
but you can learn poise, defensive positioning and skill
with your puck on his stick. Alberts has been a quick study.
– Bryan Schmidt, Merrimack Merrimack’s record may not have been much
worse without Schmidt in the lineup, but it’s hard
to imagine the Warriors without him. No player was as indispensable.
– Keni Gibson, Northeastern Gibson, the conference leader in save percentage,
saves and minutes, had shown brief spells of brilliance
in his first three seasons on Huntington Ave. As a senior,
he added consistency, edging out Maine's Jimmy Howard to
earn the crowd as the best among a very talented goalie
crop in Hockey East.
OF THE YEAR
a lot new at BU this season, from the shiny rink to the
talented freshman class. But they all owe their presence
– and success – to a man who isn’t new
on Comm. Ave. at all, 32-year head coach Jack Parker. Parker
has skillfully introduced the freshmen to the Terrier program,
and in a way that hasn’t alienated his returning players.
In fact, it could be easily argued that the key to BU’s
second-place finish, after taking eighth a year ago, wasn’t
the freshmen at all – it was really the improvement
of his junior class. That group accounts for the team’s
top two scorers, and four of its top eight.
OF THE YEAR
Eaves’ versatility sets him apart. He’s the
conference’s most dangerous goal scorer in tight,
but he can also run a power play from up top or jump back
on defense in a pinch. He’s the closest thing to a
complete package in Hockey East.
has had those qualities since his freshman season, but he
elevated his game this year. The two weaknesses in his game
entering the season – bad penalties and injuries –
were minimized in 2004-05. That ability to improve on an
already impressive set of tools makes him our pick as the
conference's top player.
OF THE YEAR
ago only one freshman saw significant minutes in goal in
Hockey East. The rookies made up for it this year, with
four of them playing at least a third of his team’s
minutes. Kevin Regan, Cory Schneider and Peter Vetri could
all stake claims to being the best of the bunch, but we’ll
pick UMass Lowell’s Vetri. He stepped into the crease
– playing with a broken hand at the time, no less
– and turned around the River Hawks’ season.
He gave Lowell the stability in net it had lacked for the
past few years, and even seemed to push partner John Yaros
to improve late in the year.
in the year, New Hampshire’s Brett Hemingway seemed
to have this locked up. And while he finished the regular
season with a team-high 20 goals – nearly triple last
year’s total – his Wildcat classmate, Jacob
Micflikier, caught fire and snatched this distinction away.
Micflikier was dangerous as a freshman, to be sure, but
he became downright scary this season, especially in the
second half. One of the league’s best pure offensive
talents, Micflikier had 26 of his 39 points after Christmas,
including three games with four or more points.