The Wildcats held a six-point edge on Boston
University and a 10-point advantage on Boston College with
six games remaining on their schedule. UNH had a three-game
winning streak heading into the third weekend of February
and was 20-3-1 in its last 24 games. No sweat, right?
Well, the Wildcats didn't have to sweat much.
They locked up the crown during the second-to-last weekend
of the season.
However, they managed to win the league by a single point.
BC made up nine points over six games, as UNH stumbled to
a 1-4-1 finish. The Wildcats are certainly sweating now.
Toward the other end of the standings was
a young UMass Lowell team, which struggled badly through
the first four months of the season. After starting 3-19-5,
the River Hawks closed on a 5-2-2 streak and nearly vaulted
over Providence for the final playoff spot.
Last weekend, with speculations flying that
Lowell could be near the tail end of its Hockey East future,
the River Hawks took three points at Vermont, which was
playing for a potential No. 4 seed in the playoffs. That
served to be one of the most inspiring performances from
any team in the league all season.
Perhaps the grittiest performance came from
Massachusetts, which won four in a row to close out the
season on its way to a fourth-place finish in Hockey East,
the second best final standing in program history. Even
more impressive is how the Minutemen faced one-goal deficits
in each of their last three wins.
The Hockey East tournament, once again, looks
like anyone's game.
Boston College didn't strike fear into most
teams midway through the season when it couldn't put a consistent
stretch of hockey together. A few three-game unbeaten streaks
aside, the Eagles were just trying to stay afloat while
UNH and BU became mainstays at the top of the conference.
Now, with a national-best six-game winning streak, Boston
College is a team to be reckoned with. The Eagles are battle
tested in the postseason, have a clutch goalie in Cory Schneider
and are starting to score a ton of goals. While New Hampshire
and Boston University are riding their worst losing streaks
of the season, the Eagles are peaking at the right time.
Hockey East Quarterfinal Matchups
No. 8 Providence
at No. 1 New Hampshire PC: 10-21-3 (9-15-3 HEA) UNH: 23-9-2 (18-7-2 HEA) Season Series: UNH won 2-1-0 Friar Fact: Providence beat UNH 7-1
on Feb. 24, and then Merrimack 7-2 last Friday, marking
the first time the Friars scored seven goals in back-to-back
games since the 1990-91 season. Wildcat Fact: UNH has is riding a
three-game losing streak, the longest such skid of
any team in the tournament. How PC Wins: UNH will be out to get
some revenge from that drubbing from a couple weeks
ago, so Providence needs to use that to its advantage.
Weather the storm during the first period of Game
1, and look to counterattack from there. How UNH Wins: The Wildcats need to
get back to basics, playing great defense in front
of Kevin Regan and getting solid production out of
their outstanding first two lines. Neither has happened
during the three-game slide.
7 Northeastern at No. 2 Boston College NU: 13-16-5 (9-13-5 HEA) BC: 22-11-1 (18-8-1 HEA) Season Series: Split 1-1-1 Husky Fact: Northeastern's lone win
over BC in the Hockey East postseason came in 1991,
when the No. 8 Huskies toppled the top-ranked Eagles,
6-5, in the old, one-game elimination format. Eagle Fact: BC is 14-0-0 when scoring
four or more goals this season, and 60-0-1 when lighting
the lamp four times since Oct. 17, 2003. How NU Wins: Northeastern was the
team no one wanted to draw in the first round, but
the Huskies are running into the hottest squad in
the conference right now. NU has to wear BC down with
its physical play and hope Brad Thiessen can ride
another hot stretch. How BC Wins: Just do what they do.
During the six-game winning streak, BC has gotten
great production from its top line and really good
production from its next two lines — all while
playing better defense and getting solid efforts from
No. 6 Vermont
at No. 3 Boston University UVM: 17-14-5 (12-10-5 HEA) BU: 18-7-9 (13-6-8 HEA) Season Series: Vermont won 2-1-0 Catamount Fact: Vermont is the only
lower seed in the Hockey East playoffs with a winning
record over its first-round opponent. Terrier Fact: BU is on its first
losing streak since dropping two in a row in 2005
(Colorado College on Nov. 26, 2005, and Boston College
on Dec. 2, 2005). How UVM Wins: After a disappointing
weekend at home and in the throes of a 2-6-1 stretch,
the Catamounts just need to get out of their own way.
Seriously, though, these games should be a race to
3, because neither team has a highly proficient offense
in front of its great defense. UVM needs to crowd
the crease, fling a bunch of shots on net and hope
good things happen. How BU Wins: Much of the same. BU
put just 37 shots on Joe Fallon during the weekend
series at Agganis Arena in late February. BU doesn't
need to worry about its goaltending. John Curry, however,
probably wouldn't mind an easy game or two before
the single-elimination contests start up.
5 Maine at No. 4 Massachusetts Maine: 21-12-2 (14-12-1 HEA) UMass: 18-11-5 (15-9-3 HEA) Season series: UMass won 2-1-0 Black Bear Fact: Maine is on the
road for a quarterfinal series for the first time
since 1998. The Black Bears swept UNH, 3-2 and 5-3,
that year. Minuteman Fact: UMass was the least
penalized team in the nation this season with 11.4
penalty minutes per game. How Maine wins: Maine outplayed UMass
for the majority of Saturday night's 5-3 loss, and
Tim Whitehead would probably take his chances with
the same effort each night of the playoff series.
Dave Wilson had a good weekend in net so it's tough
to wonder whether or not the Black Bears would have
had a different fate if Ben Bishop made the trip.
Still, they'd certainly get an emotional lift if he
can play. How UMass wins: On the other side
of the coin, UMass took it on the chin Saturday but
still came out on top. UMass has scored 15 goals in
its four consecutive wins. If that offense stays on
track, Sam the Minutemen may want to start getting
fitted for a glass slipper.
THE GATE CRASHER
This depends on what the Hockey East definition
of "gate crasher" would be. If you're looking
for the team with the best chance to win the title outside
of the "Big Four," UMass would fit the bill. Since
the Minutemen are hosting a playoff series this weekend,
though, they shouldn't be eligible for that tag this time
Providence has won a season-best three games
in a row, and has out-scored opponents 16-4 over that stretch.
With one of those wins being a 7-1 victory over New Hampshire,
the Friars have at least tasted their recipe of how to upset
the top seed. True, their last two wins were over Merrimack,
but the Friars went into the final weekend of the regular
season needing two points to clinch a postseason spot due
to Lowell's resurgence. Providence has been playing playoff
hockey for a week already, while UNH is backing into the
INCH'S ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
F – Nathan Gerbe, Boston College
The best player in the league over the final month, Gerbe
sparked the Eagles to their impressive run down the stretch.
Assuming he returns for his junior season, Gerbe might be
the favorite for Hockey East Player of the year.
F – Trevor Smith, New Hampshire
Smith might have the best shot in the league. The sophomore
has scored 40 points this season, tying him for the second
most in Hockey East and doubling his total from last season.
F – Michel Léveillé,
The best playmaker in the league, Léveillé
notched 18 goals and 21 assists. His ability on the ice
greatly helped the progress of Maine's next big star, freshman
linemate Teddy Purcell.
D – Sean Sullivan, Boston University
The BU captain was a typical leader off the ice, but his
presence on the sheet was easy to admire. Sullivan wasn't
afraid to take the puck of his face, his chest or his knee,
and that often sparked the rest of his Terrier teammates.
D – Matt Gilroy, Boston University
It's pretty impressive that Gilroy registered a plus-20,
considering the Terriers weren't exactly an offensive juggernaut.
He was also tied with teammate Chris Higgins for the best
plus/minus rating in the league. Also, his nine goals were
the most among Hockey East defensemen, and he was tied with
Maine's Bret Tyler as the top scorer among league blue liners
with 23 points.
G – John Curry, Boston University
If he can lead the Terriers to the Frozen Four, he has a
great shot to win the Hobey. Curry was easily the league's
most valuable player.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Don Cahoon turned in his best season as a
UMass coach and led the Minutemen to their most consistent
season at the Division I level this year. This version had
a much better regular season than the 2003-04 Hockey East
finalists, and has a chance to go down as the best team
in program history if it can string a few more wins together.
While the 2003-04 squad finished in third place in the regular
season, it closed the schedule on a seven-game winless streak
(0-6-1) before the playoffs. This year's Minutemen, the
No. 4 seed, are riding a four-game winning streak and are
10-4-2 since Jan. 6. The mark of a good team is improvement,
and UMass has improved more than anyone in Hockey East since
Honorable mention to Greg Cronin and Richard
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
It's been said over and over. Without John
Curry, Boston University would be nowhere right now. Curry
was in net for four wins and four ties (two scoreless) in
which the Terriers scored two or less goals this season.
BU went 18-7-9 this season and is a virtual lock to reach
the NCAA Tournament despite having the 42nd ranked offense
in the country (2.62 goals per game). Curry leads the nation
with a .933 save percentage and is third with a 1.86 goals
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
At times this season, Teddy Purcell dominated
the ice. His vision to make the right pass, ability to undress
any defenseman and aggressiveness on the forecheck were
three tremendous assets. Good forwards can do one or two
of those. Purcell showed flashes of greatness at all three.
If he stays four years, he should be in the running for
Hobey at least twice.
Honorable mention to Northeastern goalie
Brad Thiessen and Northeastern forward Chad Costello.
Nathan Gerbe emerged as
the most dominant skater in the league after the break.
His spark ignited BC's top line – along with Brian
Boyle and Brock Bradford – over the last month, as
one of the premier lines in college hockey. Gerbe has seven
goals and four assists over the team's current six-game
His toughness is even more
admirable than his scoring prowess. Only standing 5-foot-6,
Gerbe has become an easy target, as opposing teams try to
rattle him by knocking him to the ice. He was on the business
end of a few bone-jarring hits against BU and Maine over
the last month, but he got up every time.
Honorable mention to
UMass goalie Jon Quick, UNH forward Trevor Smith, BC forward
Benn Ferriero, BC forward Brock Bradford, and UMass forward/defenseman
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached