March 8, 2007
Top Cats Not Favored in Hockey East Playoffs

By Jeff Howe

It would have taken a nearly monumental collapse for New Hampshire to lose its grip on the Hockey East regular-season championship.

Hockey East

BU goalie John Curry gets INCH's vote as Hockey East's most valuable player.

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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.

No. 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 Cory Schneider.

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.

No. 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.


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 around.

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 tournament.


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, Maine
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.


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 October.

Honorable mention to Greg Cronin and Richard Umile.


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 against average.


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 winning streak.

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 Mark Matheson.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached at