The marathon season has now officially
turned into a two-lap sprint to the finish as nine
of the 10 Hockey East teams still alive for the playoffs
jockey for postseason position.
Boston College has stumbled of late
and has seen its eight-point lead in the standings
shrink to just two points over rival Boston University
in a span of just over a month. But the tightest race,
which is much different from last year’s scenario,
is among the middle of the pack where teams are battling
to ensure a top-four spot to lock up home ice for
the first round’s best-two-of-three series.
And at the bottom, Massachusetts and UMass Lowell
are tied for seventh place, while Northeastern is
still mathematically alive and Merrimack is dead in
The most surprising turn of events in
the season’s second half is still at the top,
where it looked like BC was going to run away and
hide with the regular season crown in early January.
The Eagles were on a 9-0-1 run, and it appeared that
it would take a seismic collapse to lose out on the
top seed. It wasn’t exactly a collapse, but
by limping to a 3-5-0 record in their last eight games
– a stretch that includes a three-game losing
streak heading into this weekend on top of two losses
to BU, one in the Beanpot final – plus an 11-game
winning streak by the Terriers, things have considerably
tightened up in the home stretch.
BC is forced to rebound after getting
swept in Orono last weekend with a home-and-home against
Lowell, which plays the Eagles very tough, taking
them to overtime before losing earlier this season
and sweeping a home-and-home in late February last
year. The Maroon and Gold conclude its season with
a marquee matchup next weekend with a home-and-home
against New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, BU is heading to a hostile
environment this weekend at Gutterson Fieldhouse,
where the Catamounts are waiting. The Terriers have
a shiny new one-game winning streak after their 11-game
victory tour came to a close in their own building
on Friday night when they were beaten 7-4 by UNH.
Had the streak reached a lucky 13 games, Jack Parker’s
squad would be knotted up with BC, but right now,
that point is moot. On paper, BU has a more favorable
matchup next weekend than the Eagles – a home-and-home
with Northeastern – but if the Huskies happen
to sweep UMass this weekend, they’ll be fighting
tooth and nail to sneak into the second season.
The wildcard for the top spot right
now is Maine, which is four points behind BC and two
behind BU heading into the final weekend of February
action. The Black Bears face a mathematically eliminated
Merrimack team twice in North Andover before taking
on UMass in Orono next week. Overcoming four points
in four games is a lot to ask, but if Maine takes
care of business and wins out while BC and BU succumb
to tougher competition, Hockey East would see one
of the greatest dark horse championship finishes in
Providence and UNH are deadlocked in
fourth place, one point behind the Black Bears, and
fittingly enough, the two teams will play a home-and-home
this weekend. The Wildcats have played better of late,
but they have been bitten by inconsistency –
especially at home – all season. Providence
remains as the feel-good story in the league this
season under first-year head coach Tim Army, but its
up-and-down play of late is a huge concern heading
into the final two weeks and eventually the playoffs.
PC has a much more favorable opponent than UNH next
weekend – Merrimack as opposed to BC –
so if the Friars can manage a split with the Wildcats,
they will be in the driver’s seat for fourth
place and the final home-ice spot, which is huge because
winning two out of three on the road in this league
is a daunting task. Right now, both UNH and Providence
also appear to be on the outside looking in at the
NCAA Tournament so if either of them can win their
last four games and then make a bit of noise in the
Hockey East tournament, they’ll turn some heads
in terms of earning some national respect.
The Catamounts should consider themselves
extremely fortunate to still have the chance to sneak
into the top-four after being outplayed in both games
last weekend at UMass. Still, they sit in sixth place,
four points behind Providence and UNH, and need a
small miracle to make up that ground, especially with
two games against BU before hitting the road (5-5-2
against Hockey East opponents away from The Gut this
season) for a pair with Lowell next week.
UMass and UMass Lowell move into the
final four games tied with one another for seventh
place, but since the River Hawks took the season series
(2-1-0) with the Minutemen, they hold the tie-breaker.
UMass has two huge games with Northeastern this weekend
and can knock the Huskies out of the playoffs by picking
up a win or two ties. The Minutemen were NU’s
lone Hockey East victim through the Huskies’
first 20 league games, and Northeastern has won two
of its last three conference clashes so they can make
things very interesting and put some serious heat
on UMass with a weekend sweep.
If Lowell can steal a point or two from
BC this weekend, they will set themselves up with
a good chance to grab hold of seventh place because
Vermont hasn’t played its best hockey on back-to-back
nights since sweeping Northeastern on Jan. 13-14.
Conversely, UMass heads to Maine during the final
weekend to take on a Black Bear team that has regained
its swagger and is starting to look as invincible
as it did back in October. Plus, Maine has only lost
twice at Alfond since the beginning of December so
UMass will have a tough time picking up any points
The last two weekends of college hockey
have provided fans with a number of twists and turns
– across the country and in Hockey East. The
intensity out of every team is growing more and more
electric by the night, and if the final two weekends
of the regular season are anything like they were
last year, this will serve to be yet another amazing
finish to Hockey East play. Now, it’s simply
time to find out who wants it more.
SEEN AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Lenes is More: Vermont
was seconds away from being on the wrong end of a
tough sweep at Massachusetts last weekend. With the
win, the Minutemen would have pulled to within two
points of the Catamounts in the Hockey East standings
and swept the season series.
UVM coach Kevin Sneddon pulled goalie
Travis Russell with just over a minute left in regulation
in an attempt to pot the tying goal. With heavy traffic
in front of UMass goalie Jon Quick, Ryan Gunderson
attempted to sneak the puck through and was denied,
but Peter Lenes poked it through Quick’s five-hole
with a dozen ticks left on the clock.
Then, just 68 seconds into bonus hockey,
Lenes wrapped around the back of the net and flung
a high wrister over a sprawling Quick to steal a victory
at the Mullins Center. Lenes, who missed some time
this season after coming down with mononucleosis,
hadn’t scored since Nov. 18. He started the
year with eight goals in his first 11 games.
“We gave the ball to a freshman…who
hadn’t scored a goal in quite a long stretch
there,” Sneddon said. “He obviously did
the right thing on the tying goal and on the winning
goal he made a beautiful play. He stood up tall to
“I’m just happy that I’m
back and able to end this tough streak I’ve
been on,” Lenes said. “It’s even
more special that I was able to score to give our
team the win.”
Great Weekend Getaway
U. at Vermont (Fri.-Sat.) After starting the year with
seven straight victories, the Catamounts made
their inaugural trip to Agganis Arena and promptly
lost 4-2 way back on Nov. 4. But that was before
Joe Fallon started standing on his head, before
David Van der Gulik made his return to BU and
before the Terriers won 14 times in a 16-game
stretch. Needless to say, things have changed
in the last 3+ months.
While You’re There:
Two words: Canada, eh?
Congratulations to Maine
coach Tim Whitehead who, by sweeping
Boston College last weekend at Alfond, won his
200th career game on the bench.
By dropping a 5-2 decision at
UMass Lowell Saturday, Merrimack
became the first team in Hockey East to be mathematically
eliminated from postseason play. This is the
second time in a row that the Warriors have
missed out on the playoffs.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Maine leads
the nation with a .910 penalty kill and is sixth in
the country and first in Hockey East with a .211 power
play. But despite the Black Bears’ prowess on
special teams, they have allowed a league-high eight
• When Boston University and New
Hampshire split their home-and-home last weekend,
with each team winning in the other’s barn,
the Wildcats and Terriers continued a trend. BU is
the only Hockey East club with a winning record at
the Whittemore Center (7-4-4), while UNH now stands
at 2-0-1 at Agganis Arena and hasn’t lost at
BU since a 5-2 decision on Jan. 24, 2003.
• After winning just one series
with a Hockey East opponent last year (Merrimack),
Providence has already won five season series this
year. The Friars have taken three-game sets from BU
(2-0-1), Maine (2-1-0), UMass (3-0-0), Lowell (2-1-0)
and Northeastern (2-1-0). Their last two series are
against New Hampshire and Merrimack, and they have
1-0-0 records against both of those teams so far.
• The Huskies have found out that
staying clear of the penalty box is a solid ingredient
in the recipe of success. Northeastern has averaged
12 penalty minutes in its last four league games,
going 2-1-1 in that stretch. In its first 19 conference
contests, NU averaged 23.75 penalty minutes, stumbling
to a 1-13-5 record.
• With its comeback win at UMass
on Saturday, Vermont is now 3-0-4 in overtime this
year and 5-0-9 in its last 14 extra-period contests.
• BU’s White Line –
Kenny Roche, Peter MacArthur and Bryan Ewing picked
up three goals and five assists last week and has
combined for 44 points during the team’s 12-1-0
variety of sources were utilized in the compilation
of this report.