There hasn't been a mess like this since Dane
Cook started acting.
The top of the Hockey East standings are more
difficult to decipher than one of Dennis Miller's jokes
on Monday Night Football. That is mostly due to the fact
that the top of the standings blend all the way down through
seventh place in the 10-team league. Aside from New Hampshire
already clinching the regular-season crown, everything is
in complete turmoil.
University and star forward Peter MacArthur are hitting
their stride as the Hockey East playoffs near.
Surprises reign supreme in the league this
year, and that's never been more true than the way things
have taken shape heading into the final weekend of the season.
Boston University, which had been left for dead just weeks
ago, is tied for second place with Vermont, a team that
has never hosted a playoff series since entering Hockey
East in 2005-06.
Then there's Providence, which is tied for fourth place
with Boston College, largely due taking three points from
the Eagles in the teams' home-and-home last weekend. And
that was just a week after getting swept by Merrimack.
BC is a story of its own. The Eagles had a
tumultuous start, steamrolled into February and then lost
their rhythm over a four-game winless stretch and 1-4-1
mark over their last six.
But even Northeastern or UMass Lowell could
crash the party and steal the final home-ice spot with a
big weekend and a boatload of help.
BU senior captain Pete MacArthur had seen
his Terriers win seven straight before falling at UMass
last Saturday, and they're back in the mix to grab a spot
in the NCAA tournament. Boston University will clinch second
place with a sweep over Providence and can host a first-round
playoff series by taking two points this weekend. Not bad
for a team that started the season 4-10-2.
"It's a little bit of a surprise,"
MacArthur said of BU's current position in the standings.
"A lot of things had to go our way for that to happen.
Other teams had to lose when we also lost. And other teams
had to lose when we were winning. A lot of things have fallen
into place for us this year, as far as the standings are
concerned. We always knew we had a good team. I always knew
we had a good team. It was more surprising that we started
out the way we did, [4-10-2] at the break. That was what
was more surprising for me.
"We're definitely fortunate to be in
second place, but we've worked hard to get there. We're
proud of it so far."
But the Terriers have a battle ahead of them
against Providence, which snapped a three-game losing streak
and four-game winless stretch with its three-point weekend
against Boston College. The Friars control their own destiny
as far as home-ice goes, and they can finish as high as
second place or as low as seventh. They also own the tiebreakers
with Vermont and BC and are trying to host a playoff series
for the first time in five years.
"It's definitely something that we've
seen flashes of in my four years – at least particularly
the last three when coach [Tim] Army came in – that
we can play with the best teams," senior forward Jon
Rheault said. "This year, what's been different –
and I wouldn't say it's a surprise, but it's something we've
acquired – is our ability to be consistent at that
level night in and night out. … We've played good
hockey. We've been competitive. What's different this year
is teams are coming in and worrying about us, and we're
doing that on a nightly basis."
Vermont is another non-traditional Hockey
East power trying to turn the standings upside down. The
Catamounts are already assured of finishing no worse than
fifth, which would trump their first two seasons in Hockey
East when they were twice the sixth seed in the postseason.
But they can also finish as high as second,
a feat unforeseen before the season and one that would take
a near-Herculean effort, as they travel to UNH for a pair
this weekend. The Catamounts have never won at the Whittemore
Center during their time in the league, and the Wildcats,
who haven't lost a Hockey East contest since Dec. 8, have
an 11-game unbeaten streak (11-0-2).
"We have a great opportunity ahead of
us going into a challenging place at UNH," said Vermont
senior goalie Joe Fallon, who recorded his 19th career shutout
last weekend, "and we're trying to prepare and do everything
we can to lock up home-ice advantage."
Fallon's team is 9-3-2 since getting swept
at Boston College in early January, and Vermont was once
tied for eighth place with Merrimack. But with a chance
to make school history, UVM isn't feeling the heat.
"We had a tough first half, so we feel
like anything we can get is just extra," Fallon said.
"The guys on the team know we're playing good. They're
not worried about [pressure]."
Neither is Boston College. The Eagles are
less concerned with home ice, the Hockey East playoffs or
the national tournament than they are with just being able
to string a couple wins together.
Just two weeks ago, BC had the chance to give
UNH a run for the regular-season crown. Now, it needs some
help just to finish in the top four.
The Eagles may have found the right opponent,
though, a Northeastern squad that has flat-out collapsed
since mid-January. The Huskies have lost five straight –
their second winless stretch of at least four games in two
months – and haven't won consecutive games since December.
Anyway, back to Boston College, which could
finish as high as second or as low as seventh and needs
a little bit of help to bring the playoffs home to Conte
Forum for the sixth straight year.
"Obviously, our first goal would be to
take care of what we can over the weekend," junior
forward Nathan Gerbe said. "And after the weekend is
over, you kind of hope that certain teams lose so that you
can get a [home ice] spot. But the main thing is just playing
our game so we can continue to get better. That's what matters
the most. If we have to go away for the playoffs, that's
fine. It's nothing we're going to be down about."
If given the hypothetical chance to sweep
the Huskies but wind up on the road in the playoffs, or
split the weekend and get enough help to earn a top-four
spot, Gerbe said he'd rather pack his bags.
"I would rather win both games,"
he said. "Your team gains more confidence that way
from winning. I think if we get on a little winning streak
here, it can maybe go a long way, like last year when we
went on a winning streak and it went a very long way. Hopefully,
that continues. We just need to play better each day."
All things considered, this is destined to
be one of the wildest weekends in recent memory with six
teams vying for three home-ice spots and three more teams
(UMass, Maine and Merrimack) jockeying for the final playoff
position. There are seven scenarios that feature teams finishing
in a three-way tie and another possibility of a four-way
This will also be the second straight year that every
member of the "Big Four" doesn't host a playoff
series, and it could potentially be the first
time two teams crash the party since 1996-97. There is no
scenario, however, in which three teams outside of the Big
Four (BC, BU, Maine, UNH) can claim home ice in the first
round, something that has never happened in Hockey East
With the chaos set to unfold, teams will be
sure to monitoring the out-of-town games, but Rheault cautions
against those who take the scoreboard watching a bit too
"You don't need to scoreboard watch when
you control your own destiny," Rheault said. "If
we need to scoreboard watch, then we've obviously not done
what we needed to do this weekend. Hopefully, that won't
be the case, we can get our job done and we won't have to
rely on other teams to help us out.
"When you start looking ahead, that's
when bad things happen. That's when your season could just
come to an end when you get to looking too far ahead. Obviously,
if you get things done in the short term, it will all add
up and you'll be where you want to be in the long term."
Great Weekend Getaway
Providence at BU (Fri.)
Providence and BU will be the first teams in the clubhouse
this weekend, as they wrap up their home-and-home
Friday night at Agganis while the other four series
conclude on Saturday.
While You’re There: Get an
extra fix of Hockey East action by sticking around
for Saturday night's contest between Northeastern
and Boston College over by Huntington Ave.
Here at INCH,
we like to celebrate the good people of college hockey
as much as anything else. This season, we lost one
of them. While it's already been written about to
great lengths (due to his sheer popularity and contributions
to the game he loved), this final stick salute has
been saved for Jon
Barkan, whose initials have graced the Inside
College Hockey banner since his much-too-soon passing.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Jon, but I know
how much he meant to the hockey community, especially
here at INCH. So let's celebrate the college hockey
stretch run the way Jon would have wanted, and raise
the sticks high one more time for a man who meant
so much to so many.
often strikes when NESN broadcasts a Hockey East game
without Tom Caron or Eric Frede in the booth. Last
weekend's tandem who called the Maine-Vermont game
in Burlington featured more erroneous statements than
a Roger Clemens alibi. The most striking claims had
to do with Maine's playoff hopes. The crew said Maine
could control its own destiny by beating Vermont,
which it did, 3-0. However, the Black Bears could
sweep this weekend's series against UMass Lowell and
still fail to make the playoffs. Next, the bumbling
broadcasters said Maine would be eliminated from playoff
contention with a loss. While that would have been
true with the way things eventually unfolded across
the league that night, Maine would have stayed in
contention if UMass fell to Boston University in a
game that was being played at the same time.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Here's the deal for the final Hockey
East playoff spot, which will be claimed by either UMass,
Maine or Merrimack. The Warriors must sweep UMass, and Maine
cannot take more than two points from Lowell this weekend
for Merrimack to get in for the first time since 2003-04.
UMass, which heads into the weekend holding a two-point
lead over Maine for eighth place, must finish ahead of the
Black Bears because Maine took the season series. And if
there is a three-way tie, Merrimack wins the tiebreaker.
• The only time Maine has missed the
Hockey East playoffs came in 1997.
• New Hampshire has 39 points in league
play, the most in the conference since switching to the
27-game format when Vermont entered Hockey East two years
ago. UNH also has 18 Hockey East wins, tying the school
record in that department.
• Boston College has played in a school-record
eight ties this season.
• Merrimack is doing things the right
way this weekend, offering a two-for-one deal when the Warriors
host UMass on Saturday night. Of course, the game would
wind up being meaningless in terms of playoff positioning
if Merrimack doesn't win on Friday.
• BC freshman Joe Whitney has 34 assists
this season, which is third all-time among BC freshman.
Ken Hodge (44 in 1984-85) and Brian Leetch (38 in 1986-87)
are the leaders.
• Boston University's eight wins in
February were their most in a month since going 8-0-0 in
• UMass took the season series with
Boston University (2-1-0) for the first time since entering
Hockey East. It's also the only series UMass has won this
• New Hampshire's Mike Radja (Player
of the Month) and Kevin Regan (Goaltender of the Month)
and Boston University's Colin Wilson (Rookie of the Month)
captured Hockey East's league honors for February.
• UMass Lowell forward Mike Potacco
registered his first career hat trick last Friday.
• The River Hawks have two overtime
wins (2-1-4) this season after not winning an OT contest
last year (0-2-7).
• Merrimack sophomore goalie Andrew
Braithwaite has emerged as one of the league's rising stars.
While making 16 straight starts, he has a 2.11 goals-against
average, .933 save percentage and two shutouts. Braithwaite
is 2-1-1 in his last four games with a 1.25 goals-against
average and .970 save percentage.
• The Wildcats went unbeaten in February
(8-0-1) for the first time in 80 years.
• Providence won two games at Boston
College this season, the first time the Friars have done
that in 12 years. They also took the season series against
BC (2-0-1) for the first time in six years.
• Joe Fallon's 19 career shutouts rank
second all-time in Division I history, behind Michigan State's
Ryan Miller, who had 26.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached