2005-06 Hockey East Mid-Season Report
Providence is 8-2-1
in Hockey East through the first half, meaning the
Friars are off to their best conference start in school
history. After losing seven home games last year,
they are 5-0-1 so far this season. They already have
two more league wins than last year, and they are
three wins shy of their total of 12 from 2004-05,
which seems like a century ago. And after giving up
23 more goals than they scored last year, they have
actually lit the lamp 11 more times than their opponents
this year. Oh, and Providence is tied atop the Hockey
East standings with Boston College right now, too.
First-year bench boss Tim Army is going to earn serious
consideration for national coach of the year if his
troops keep this up.
Vermont’s Brady Leisenring,
who only played in a six-pack of games last year after
suffering a season-ending injury against Minnesota
Duluth, has played in his team’s inaugural Hockey
East season like he – and the Catamounts –
have been there all along. Leisenring leads UVM with
eight goals and is second on the team with 11 assists
and 19 points. He and linemate Torrey Mitchell have
been one of the league’s top one-two punches
for an offense that ranks first in Hockey East with
3.40 goals per game.
WHAT HAPPENED TO…
It was expected that UMass Lowell
would struggle following the early departure of Ben
Walter to the pros, but even his 26 goals from a year
ago wouldn’t be enough to remedy the RiverHawks’
horrendous defense. They returned eight of their nine
blueliners from last year, but they have allowed 58
goals in just 15 games, the worst mark in the league.
Lowell allowed 2.67 goals per game last season, but
the average has jumped up by more than a full goal
this go-around with 3.87 goals allowed per contest.
Although sophomore netminder Peter Vetri’s
production from a year ago has seen a slight drop-off,
he can’t be faulted. His .912 save percentage
from last year has tailed off to .892 this season,
the worst mark in Hockey East, but his 412 saves are
the most in the conference. Want more? He made a career-high
53 saves Dec. 10 against UNH, but the River Hawks
lost the game 4-1. And that career-high broke his
mark from just eight days prior, when he made 40 saves
against St. Lawrence in – you guessed it –
a 4-2 loss.
|Vermont's Brady Leisenring
is a prime reason the Catamounts boast the highest-scoring
offense in Hockey East.
BEST NEW FACE
He may not have received the national
hype that accompanied Boston College’s Brock
Bradford or Nathan Gerbe, but Vermont’s
Dean Strong has proven to be a perfect fit
for the powerful UVM offense. Coach Kevin Sneddon
knew his rookie recruit would be a strong player eventually,
but his Christmas wish list probably didn’t
include “Dean Strong to lead Hockey East rookies
with 14 points at midseason."
Not only was it a giant upset, but it
may have been the most exciting game to watch in the
league this year. On Nov. 25, UMass took down
the machine of Colorado College, which was
ranked third in the nation at the time. The Tigers,
who were running wind sprints as a team in the hallways
of the Mullins Center before the game as though they
were about to battle the Russians in 1980, appeared
to be way too much for the Minutemen to handle. Almost
immediately, CC jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead,
but UMass responded in appropriate underdog fashion.
The Minutemen got on the board on a
goal from captain Stephen Werner and then got Kevin
Jarman, who hadn’t scored a goal in his first
10 games, to knot things up at 2-2 before the first
intermission. After UM freshman Cory Quirk netted
his second career goal in the second period to give
the Minutemen the lead, senior Chris Capraro –
who sat out all of last season – chipped in
with a rare UMass power play goal to extend the lead
to 4-2. Tiger Lee Sweatt scored his first of the year
to cut the lead down to 4-3 with 5:02 left to play
in the game, and his slap shot with five seconds remaining
made it through UMass goalie Gabe Winer’s pads
but clanged long off the post to seal the Maroon and
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
Before the season started, it looked
like Northeastern – which lost
its top scorer in Jason Guerriero and starting goalie
Keni Gibson to graduation – may not win a game
until December. Well, the Huskies (1-9-4 1-6-4 Hockey
East) certainly made it interesting. After getting
swept at North Dakota to kick the season off, Northeastern
tied BC to pick up a league point early on. Greg Cronin’s
squad then dropped a 7-5 affair at Rensselaer and
fell to Vermont once and UNH twice before picking
up a win against UMass on Nov. 11.
The team certainly needed its winter
break as the remaining first half (losses to Providence,
BC and Maine around the three straight ties to UNH
and Merrimack twice) mercifully came to a close. Things
don’t get easier anytime soon, though, as NU
plays Cornell on Dec. 27 and then either Maine or
Minnesota Duluth in the second game of the Florida
College Classic on Dec. 28. After that, the Huskies
take on BC and BU before heading to Vermont for a
pair. No word on whether or not Hockey East commissioner
Joe Bertagna extended an official apology to the Huskies
when the schedule came out.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
If Providence plans
on holding onto its top spot in the conference, it’s
going to have to brave through a difficult second-half
storm. With three games against UNH, two against BC
and UVM, a two-game trip to Maine and one dogfight
with BU, the Friars are going to have to prove that
they can beat the league’s big boys before they
become one of the league’s elite programs.
Unlike the final weekend of last year’s
regular season, this year’s version doesn’t
have a full slate of marquee matchups, but there is
one series that should put a smile on hockey fans’
faces. When New Hampshire and Boston College lock
up for a home-and-home on March 2-4, the league crown
may very well be at stake. Oh, and it’s the
rematch of last year’s Hockey East championship
game, which BC took by a 3-1 score.
BIGGEST QUESTION ANSWERED
Can Maine win without Jimmy
Howard? Well, yes and no. The goaltending
hasn’t been a problem by any stretch of the
imagination to this point. Sophomore Matt Lundin’s
.957 save percentage and 0.96 goals against average
are far and away the best numbers in the league, and
he has also posted a 5-1-0 record. Freshman Ben Bishop
started hot by winning a pair of games against two-time
national champ Denver, and he has the third-best goals
against average in Hockey East with a 2.17 mark.
However, the Black Bears endured a three-game
conference losing streak and have lost four of their
last six HEA contests overall. Whether or not this
has to do with hockey or the team’s legal troubles
off the ice stemming from an off-campus fight on Nov.
13 – the night after the three-game skid began
– is still unclear.
BIGGEST QUESTION REMAINING
What team will step up in the
second half to win the regular season championship?
To this point, no team has separated itself from the
rest of the pack. Vermont and Maine were phenomenal
out of the gate, but the Catamounts haven’t
won consecutive games since October, and Maine is
struggling in league games of late. Providence has
perhaps been the most consistent team against league
competition, but non-conference losses to Nebraska-Omaha
and Rensselaer caused a lot of people to scratch their
It looked like UNH was going to roll
into the December break atop the standings, but the
Wildcats are just 2-3-2 since their five-game winning
streak in the middle of November.
As of late, Boston College appears to be the strongest
team in the league with its tremendous defense and
solid goaltending from Cory Schneider. The rookies
have been contributing on a regular basis, and the
veteran line consisting of Chris Collins, Brian Boyle
and Stephen Gionta (when he returns from injury) can
provide late-season leadership in addition to a ton
of points. Plus, it’s always tough to knock
off the champs.
First Half All-Hockey East Team
Schneider, Boston College
plays in every game, has two shutouts, a 9-4-1
record, a .911 save percentage, a 2.28 goals against
average and he was named to the U.S. National
Junior Team. Cory Schneider laughs at the sophomore
is the big reason BC is such a strong team defensively.
When he is in lockdown mode, opposing forwards
don’t have a chance. He’s that dominant
this year. And he’s also a +14, the best
mark in Hockey East.
Yandle, New Hampshire
about the fact that he doesn’t play a whole
lot of defense. He is going to be the top point-scoring
defenseman for the second year in a row and finish
in the top-three of that category for the third
12 goals are tops in the league, and eight of
them have been on special teams. His three short-handed
tallies show just how dangerous of an offensive
player he really has become.
what his numbers (11-8—19) would turn into
if he played on the top line at BC or UNH. Gajda
is this year’s version of Ben Walter.
Brett Hemingway or Jacob Micflikier could have
filled this spot, but Winnik’s 25 points
are the most in Hockey East thus far. This kid
is something special.