2007-08 Hockey East Mid-Season Report
Northeastern was the
pick for breakthrough team in Hockey East this year,
so how do the Huskies also earn the spot for surprise
team? They rip off an eight-game unbeaten streak (6-0-2)
after starting the season 1-4-0. Not to mention, Northeastern
has led a topsy-turvy Hockey East for a few weeks
now. On paper, the Huskies don't do a single thing
overwhelmingly well. They're seventh in the league
with 2.69 goals per game, fifth in scoring defense
(2.54 goals per game), fifth in penalty minutes per
game (13.4), ninth on the power play (11.8 percent)
and fourth on the penalty kill (85.3 percent). But
they're the only team in first place.
We weren't alone when we thought the
sky may have been falling over Amherst when Jon Quick
joined the pro ranks after his ridiculous sophomore
season, but freshman goalie Paul Dainton
has entered the Mullins Center and provided a proper
encore. Dan Meyers could forever be known as college
hockey's Wally Pipp, as Dainton leads all Hockey East
netminders who have at least six starts in save percentage
(.929) and goals-against average (2.01).
WHAT HAPPENED TO…
and the Maine Black Bears need to find a way to
get some points in the second half if they want
to make the Hockey East playoffs.
Heading into the season, it looked like
Maine would have issues. The team
lost seven of its top 10 scorers, collapsed down the
stretch in league play (before coming together in
the NCAA tournament – but let's not kid ourselves,
that wasn't a powerhouse bracket) and Ben Bishop struggled
to stay healthy last year. Put it all together, and
there's a recipe for a tough season in Orono. Tim
Whitehead is a damn fine coach by our count; Maine
has just been stuck in a transition year by losing
a great class on top of Teddy Purcell's premature
departure. Still, the Black Bears are stuck a point
above the Hockey East cellar. Forget home ice, Maine
has its work cut out to make the league playoffs.
BEST NEW FACE
Dainton could easily take this honor,
as well, but we'll spread the wealth in the holiday
season. James van Riemsdyk is the
most talented freshman in the league, not much of
a surprise after the Flyers took him with the second
pick in last summer's NHL Draft. He's smooth and can
take over a shift much the way Teddy Purcell did last
year. But, van Riemsdyk needs to play with a little
more edge and should stay off the officials if he
wants to take it to the next level down the stretch.
The New Hampshire freshman has six goals and nine
assists through 13 games.
Exhibition or not, there's little excuse
for a Hockey East team to lose to New Brunswick,
and those are crimes in which both UNH (4-3, on Oct.
12) and Maine (2-1, on Dec. 1) are found guilty. But
let's get to the real upset here. For the second time
in a year, Boston College has prematurely ended a
game due to fog in Conte Forum. No big deal last season,
since the Eagles know where the Terriers live, but
this year's episode put the kibosh on a great regular-season
matchup between BC and North Dakota. You could make
a case the teams have played in the game of the year
in each of the last two Frozen Fours, and things may
have been heading down a similar path on Oct. 19,
when a scoreless game was halted after two periods.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
Despite the solid start, Northeastern
has survived a tough challenge in the season's first
half. After a win over Providence, the Huskies fell
to North Dakota, Maine (twice) and New Hampshire before
a win at UNH. Following was a win over Vermont, a
tie with Boston University, a win at UNH, a win over
UMass Lowell, a win at Boston College and a pair of
snoozers – a win over Brown and a tie with Union.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
This is about as easy as picking which
Backstreet Boys album you'd rather get stuck listening
to while stuck in a station wagon full of 8-year-old
girls on the way to a birthday party. Either way,
there aren't many Hockey East teams with an easy road
home. Vermont gets the nod, especially
with a difficult seven-day stretch in January. The
Catamounts visit Boston University on Jan. 5, and
then return (or stay, depending on the team's battle
plan) to take on Boston College on Jan. 9-11. Over
the course of the remainder of the second half are
two games with Northeastern, two at UMass, three with
UNH (two on the road), three with UMass Lowell (two
on the road), two at Providence, two against Merrimack
and two against Maine. Ain't nothin' but a heartache…
There are so many crucial series over
the next three months, particularly due to the league's
parity, but the season-ending home-and-home
between Northeastern and Boston College looks
like gold from a December point of view. This could
potentially serve as a rematch between Beanpot finalists,
but either way should hold heavy weight in the Hockey
East standings. Northeastern visits BC on March 7,
before the series shifts to Huntington Ave. the following
BIGGEST QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Can Maine overcome the loss
of its firepower? Could Pinocchio survive
a termite attack? The Black Bears are sitting in a
tie for seventh in the standings, and they're ninth
in scoring with 2.23 goals per game. Keenan Hopson
leads Maine's forwards with three goals. The Black
Bears have been shut out twice and held to one goal
four times (0-3-1).
Can UMass do it again?
It looks like it, since the Minutemen are tied for
second in the conference. This was a question mainly
due to the loss of Jon Quick, but the departures of
Matt Anderson, Chris Capraro, Kevin Jarman and Mark
Matheson weren't understated. Dainton's emergence
has been huge, as has that of James Marcou. This is
a tremendously balanced scoring attack, with Will
Ortiz leading the way with six goals and 13 players
who have lit the lamp twice.
BIGGEST QUESTIONS REMAINING
Can John Muse forget Boston
College fans forget about Cory Schneider?
As of right now, no. But Muse's legacy will be compared
to Schneider's by his postseason résumé.
Muse is 5-4-5, and his 2.34 goals-against average
and .919 save percentage are pretty impressive for
a freshman entering The Heights under these circumstances.
However, the veterans on this team measure success
by tournament hardware.
Can UNH survive the loss of
its forwards? This question will probably
be asked forever, and it always seems to have a similar
answer. Right now, the answer is yes, but let's hold
the jury until March and April. Matt Fornataro made
the jump last year, and he's one of the most impressive
forwards in Hockey East this season (6-11—17).
Mike Radja (8-4—12) and Jerry Pollastrone (4-6—10)
are continuing to improve, while freshmen James van
Riemsdyk (6-9—15) and Paul Thompson (6-4—10)
are filling the shoes of those departed (Trevor Smith,
Jacob Micflikier and Brett Hemingway).
First Half All-Hockey East Team
|It's not much
of a debate when someone leads the league in both
goals-against and save percentage.
|Still one of the
most impressive defensemen in the league.
|He continues to
do it all, playing consistent on the back end
while helping the offense with three goals and
|He's the most
exciting player in the league, and he can take
over a game by himself, as his three short-handed
goals will attest.
|The Hockey East
Player of the Month in November has eight goals
and nine assists this season, and he'll need some
help if BU returns to grace.
|He lost a season with last year's
suspension, but Ricci has returned strong as a
junior. His six goals and 10 assists have given
the Warriors some legitimacy on the first line.