December 13, 2006
2006-07 Hockey East Mid-Season Report

By Jeff Howe

Mid-Season Report

Mid-Season Reports
Atlantic Hockey
College Hockey America
ECAC Hockey League


It looked like there was a team in the Hockey East crowd that could run away with the regular-season crown this year. First, it was Boston College. Then, it was Maine. Now, it's New Hampshire? Not trying to make the Wildcats sound like a bottom feeder here, but no one expected them to build an eight-point lead by the December break, either. UNH has the second highest scoring offense in the nation at 4.38 goals per game and has two extremely explosive lines. But the Wildcats don't play defense, right? Actually, New Hampshire has the country's fourth-best scoring defense, giving up just 1.94 goals per game. The team is doing just about everything right through the first three months of the season, but a scary second-half schedule awaits.


With 10 goals and 10 assists, Trevor Smith had a good freshman year. With 11 goals and 13 assists through 16 games this season, he's in the midst of an amazing sophomore campaign and has himself in the mix for Player of the Year. Smith centers one of the best lines in all of hockey. He, Jerry Pollastrone (7-11—18) and Matt Fornataro (7-15—22) have combined for 25 goals and 39 assists.


Boston University's offense just can't get things right. The Terriers scored four goals in each of their first three games of the season on their way to a 2-0-1 start. Since then, they've scored more than two goals in just two of their 11 games and are 4-3-4 (2-3-4 in Hockey East) in that stretch. To make matters worse, they scored on themselves in a 1-0 home loss to Boston College on Dec. 2.


Maine's Teddy Purcell has five goals and 12 assists and is the top-scoring freshman in Hockey East. He has been a great compliment to Michel Léveillé on the top line, which has advanced his game this season and also will help in the future.


Northeastern coach Greg Cronin and the Huskies' difficult first-half schedule included a 3-2 win at Michigan on Oct. 28.

After dropping a 4-3 overtime decision at Yost Arena the night before, Northeastern rallied to earn a split with Michigan by knocking off the No, 6 Wolverines, 3-2, on Oct. 28. Freshman goalie Brad Thiessen made 45 saves – including 20 in the second period – while the penalty kill was perfect on 12 occasions. After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, Northeastern rallied for three straight goals to build a 3-1 advantage before staving off a wild Wolverine comeback attempt in the waning minutes of the third period.


Northeastern opened its season on the road at BC, Vermont and BU – all losses. After returning home for a win over Union, the Huskies hit the trail again for two at Michigan before a home-and-home with UNH. Throw in a game at UMass, plus three home affairs with BC, UNH and Maine, and Northeastern's 4-9-2 record isn't as bad as it looks.


Teams chasing UNH should love this. The Wildcats open up the new year with a January two-game tilt at Vermont before their historically crazy Manchester matchup with Dartmouth then shift towards a home-and-home with UMass, which has handed UNH its lone league loss. Add home-and-homes with Maine, BU and BC, and the Wildcats are in for an intense second half.


Of course there's a BC-BU two-game, three-day event, a UNH-Maine home-and-home and the Beanpot, but the home-and-home between UNH and Boston College gets bonus points for being on the last weekend of the year. The Wildcats took three of four points in the same exact setting last year to help Boston University leapfrog the Eagles to win the Hockey East regular season championship by a point. BC will obviously have that in the back of its mind, and since UNH has built a sizeable lead at the halfway point — much like the Eagles last year — could Boston College deliver the Wildcats a similarly cruel fate?


Can Maine overcome the loss of Greg Moore on the offensive end? Absolutely. Teddy Purcell has done a magnificent job filling that void, and Michel Léveillé has emerged as a true star on the first line. Maine has averaged four goals per game through 14 contests this season after averaging 3.4 goals per game last year.

Can Lowell win with its youth? As of right now, no. But it's not like anyone expected the River Hawks to wear Cinderella's slipper this season. There are 15 freshmen, including one in net. Carter Hutton has had some bright moments but has shown his age at times, too. There is plenty of promise for the future in the locker room, but the future doesn't look like spring of 2007.


Will Boston University wake up? It would make for a remarkable story if Kevin Schaeffer and Sean Sullivan could both return to the BU lineup and spark the Terriers a la David Van der Gulik of a year ago. But as much of an emotional lift that those two could bring, they'd really need a statistical boost from Brandon Yip if he can return from the shelf with a dislocated shoulder. Of course, when the Terriers matched their season-high with four goals in a win over Providence on Dec. 8, it was done just in time to lose all that momentum to a three-week holiday layoff. BU is playing great defense in front of John Curry. It just needs its big guns like Pete MacArthur to start finding the back of the net.

Can Vermont or UMass break up the Big Four? The "Big Four" isn't exactly the mythological juggernaut it is made out to be. In Hockey East's 22 seasons, Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire and Maine have finished in the top-four just three times, including each of the last two seasons. Perhaps that means the conference is as top-heavy as it's ever been.

Even so, Vermont is in second place and continues to play defense as well as any team in the country. The offense is suspect, though, scoring just 2.6 goals per game, which places the Catamounts at No. 44 in the nation in that regard. Those numbers don't translate well in this league. UMass is a vastly improved squad from a season ago. The Minutemen have competed with the best by beating UNH and Boston College this season, but they have laid some duds with losses to Merrimack and Union.

The Wildcats, Eagles and Black Bears appear to be a lock to finish in the top-three, while the Terriers still have some issues to sort out. Right now, it looks as though BU, Vermont and UMass are on the second tier of Hockey East's landscape.

INCH's First Half All-Hockey East Team
Player Of Note
Jon Quick,
His .929 save percentage tops Hockey East, which is important since he has faced more shots than any netminder in the league.
Sean Sullivan,
Boston University
He's a great leader, and 11 points from the blue line for a team struggling to score helps, too.
Kenny Macaulay,
Top defenseman on league's best defensive team.
Michel Leveille,
Most complete forward in Hockey East might be getting some love on Frozen Four Friday.
Trevor Smith,
New Hampshire
League-leading 24 points are more than the 20 he scored last year. The sophomore is a pure scorer with a scary shot, and he's on the Wildcats' "second" line.
Mike Rajda,
New Hampshire
Who needs Daniel Winnik? Radja stepped into UNH's top line this season and has lit the lamp a conference-best 13 times.