Finishes Atop Goofy Year in Hockey East
As Northeastern coach Greg Cronin put it this
week, this has been a goofy year in Hockey East. The parity
was predictable last October, but no one could have seen
the league playing itself out like this.
Massachusetts went from being the No. 5 team
in the country to needing three straight wins just to finish
eighth in the Hockey East standings. Vermont was once tied
for eighth with Merrimack (which finished in last for the
fourth consecutive year) before rallying to grab its first-ever
home-ice playoff series. Meanwhile, fifth-place Providence
seemed to overachieve while Boston College fell apart late
to finish in fourth place, which should lead to the most
interesting first-round series in the league.
Hockey East REGULAR-SEASON
goalie Kevin Regan had the most consistently excellent
season for the best team in Hockey East, earning the
nod as INCH's Hockey East Player of the Year.
And then there was Maine, which missed the
playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Things looked bleak
in Orono heading into the season with the loss of seven
of their top-10 scorers, including the premature departure
of Teddy Purcell. But the offense never recovered, ranking
ninth in Hockey East just like the team's place in the standings.
Wes Clark led Maine with 10 goals and 21 points, and none
of the newcomers proved to be the game changers Maine needed.
The Black Bears' three leading scorers were seniors, as
were six of their top seven, and only two freshmen registered
double-digit points. Freshman Andrew Sweetland, a promising
talent who finished with eight goals and nine assists, will
return next season as Maine's leading scorer. With junior
goalie Ben Bishop recently turning pro, the Black Bears
may need to rebuild their rebuilding effort.
The only team that seemed to escape the madness
was New Hampshire, which had a wire-to-wire lead that was
maddening in its own right. The Wildcats went 19-5-3 against
Hockey East competition and clinched the regular-season
title with a home-and-home sweep of Boston College in February.
Senior forwards Matt Fornataro (14-27—41) and Mike
Radja (19-21—40) are one of the most productive one-two
punches in the nation, and senior goalie Kevin Regan has
been the best player in Hockey East this season, especially
since January. UNH appears capable of wining its first postseason
championship since going back-to-back in 2002-03.
THE GATE CRASHER
To start off, UNH and Boston University are
playing too well right now to forecast anything differently
in the tournament, and Vermont has a tremendous home-ice
advantage going against Northeastern. That leaves Providence,
which has struggled mightily over its last seven games.
It is, however, running into a Boston College team that's
been just as bad. The Friars are on a 1-5-1 stretch, but
the three points they have been able to pick up were against
the Eagles two weekends ago, with the win coming at Conte
Forum. BC is 1-4-1 in its last six and has turned its NCAA
tournament lock into something of a question mark. The Eagles
likely need to get out of the quarterfinals to earn a bid
to the national tourney, and that could have an effect on
freshman goalie John Muse.
No. 8 Massachusetts
No. 1 New Hampshire UMass:
14-14-6 (9-13-5 HEA) UNH: 23-8-3
(19-5-3 HEA) Season Series: UNH
won 2-1-0 Minutemen Fact: They're
riding a three-game winning streak for the second time
this season. The first three-game win streak started
with a victory against UNH. Wildcat Fact:
Prior to Saturday's loss to Vermont, the Wildcats were
unbeaten in 16 straight Hockey East games (14-0-2),
dating back to their Dec. 8 loss to UMass. How
UMass Wins: The Minutemen beat UNH 4-1 earlier
in the season. In their two losses to the Wildcats,
they were ahead 2-0 (lost 3-2) and tied 2-2 (lost 5-3),
so they know they can play with the league's best team.
Now, they just need to finish those games. How
UNH Wins: The Wildcats have scored the second-most
goals in Hockey East competition while allowing the
fewest. That seems to be a good way to go about things.
7 UMass Lowell at
No. 2 Boston University UML:
15-15-4 (10-13-4 HEA) BU: 17-15-4
(15-9-3 HEA) Season Series: BU
won 2-1-0 River Hawk fact: They've
lost eight consecutive quarterfinal games in the Hockey
East tournament. Terrier Fact:
BU has won six straight games at Agganis Arena for the
first time since the building opened and is trying to
win seven consecutive home contests for the first time
since 1997. How UML Wins: Keep
up with BU's scoring attack. Lowell allowed 5.3 goals
per game against the Terriers this season, and a total
of 13 goals in its two losses to BU. How
BU Wins: While the Terriers have scored more
goals than any Hockey East team, they've also surrendered
the most. Brett Bennett and Karson Gillespie, who will
split time this weekend, need to stay sharp.
No. 6 Northeastern
at No. 3 Vermont NU: 15-16-3
(12-13-2 HEA) UVM: 14-13-7 (13-9-5
HEA) Season Series: Split 1-1-1 Husky Fact: The last time Northeastern
finished with a higher seed than sixth was in 2001-02
(fifth). Catamount Fact: Vermont
only won three series against Hockey East competition:
against UMass, UMass Lowell and Merrimack. How
NU Wins: Brad Thiessen hasn't been at his best,
but the defense needs to give him some help. While he's
allowed 3.43 goals per game in the team's current 1-6-0
stretch, he's also averaged nearly 31 saves per game
in the last seven. How UVM Wins:
Play better defense. Vermont allowed four total goals
in its recent five-game winning streak but has surrendered
nine goals in its last three games (1-2-0).
5 Providence at
No. 4 Boston College PC:
14-15-5 (11-11-5 HEA) BC: 17-11-8
(11-9-7 HEA) Season Series: Providence
won 2-0-1 Friar Fact: PC is the
only team in the tournament that hasn't lost to its
first-round opponent. Eagle Fact:
BC has lost five straight at home and is winless in
its last six at Conte Forum. The Eagles haven't won
at home since sweeping Vermont in early January. How PC Wins: Tyler Sims needs to be
strong. He stopped 64 of 68 shots during the Friars'
three-point weekend against BC two weeks ago, but he
allowed seven goals on 25 shots while getting yanked
twice in last weekend's horror show against BU. How BC Wins: Get Nathan Gerbe involved.
He might be drawing extra defenders lately, but he hasn't
gotten on the scoreboard much. That needs to change.
INCH'S ALL-HOCKEY EAST TEAM
F – Nathan Gerbe, Boston College
Easily led Hockey East with 24 goals and 48 points, and
is the only one on the INCH All-Conference Team for the
second year in a row.
F – Mike Radja, New Hampshire
While Matt Fornataro led UNH with 41 points, Radja (40 points)
scored a team-high 19 goals and was on a blistering pace
during the Wildcats' 12-game unbeaten stretch.
F – Pete MacArthur, Boston University
More valuable than his production (17-23—40), was
MacArthur's ability to take the captaincy at midseason and
keep the Terriers afloat through tough times.
D – Matt Taormina, Providence
Taormina led Hockey East defensemen with 25 points, and
the blue liner was second on the Friars in offensive production,
which was extremely valuable for a team that finished tied
for 37th nationally in scoring offense.
D – Brad Flaishans, New Hampshire
The senior defenseman has been one of the best at his craft
throughout his career, and he maintained that status for
the league's best defensive team this season.
G – Kevin Regan, New Hampshire
Regan gives UNH a great chance to make a run in the NCAA
tournament, and the senior goalie had himself one heck of
COACH OF THE YEAR
This came down to Kevin Sneddon
of Vermont and Tim Army of Providence. But the Catamounts
got it done down the stretch, and Sneddon was a huge reason
why. Sneddon made a relatively unpopular decision to keep
struggling goalie Joe Fallon out of the lineup for nearly
a month in December, and Fallon came back stronger for it.
And Sneddon also overhauled his team's philosophy after
getting swept at BC in early January, demanding more accountability
and pressing harder at practice to set up similar game situations.
He said the tougher environment wouldn't have worked as
well earlier in the season due to the team's youth, but
they pulled the trigger at the right time, going 10-4-2
after their horror show at The Heights. As a result, the
Catamounts finished in third place and will host a playoff
series for the first time since entering Hockey East three
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
To put it simply, New Hampshire senior goalie
Kevin Regan was the best player in Hockey
East this season. He led the league with a 2.11 goals-against
average, .931 save percentage, 21-6-1 record and .768 winning
percentage. Regan was the first goalie to lead the conference
in both goals-against average and save percentage since
Maine's Jimmy Howard did it four years ago. Even more, Regan
stepped up his game when UNH really caught fire in the second
half. He was 10-0-1 during the Wildcats' 10-0-2 run (only
sitting out after UNH clinched the regular-season championship)
with a 1.45 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.
He had one shutout during that stretch, allowed one goal
six times and never gave up more than three goals (which
he did twice, both in wins).
Now, this is where Nathan Gerbe supporters
are breathing fire, and this is where the aforementioned
simplicity is thrown out the window. Gerbe quieted down
considerably in the final month, especially since defenders
made sure to shadow him every step of the way. While Gerbe
easily led Hockey East with 24 goals and 48 points, he only
had one goal and one assist during BC's recent five-game
winless stretch (0-4-1). And consider this: Gerbe registered
one goal and two assists combined in Boston College's
11 losses this season, though he only played in 10 of those
defeats due to a one-game suspension. And he was held off
the score sheet entirely in seven losses, including both
times he suited up against UNH. This shows that teams that
can take Gerbe out of the equation – conceding that's
much easier to say than do – will have success against
the Eagles, and Gerbe is likely more important to his team
than anyone else in Hockey East.
While Gerbe would be a fine candidate for
league MVP, Regan is the INCH Hockey East Player of the
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
There were a number of tremendous efforts
by Hockey East freshmen this season, but Boston University's
Colin Wilson was the best of the bunch.
Wilson had 12 goals and 34 points in the regular season,
both ranking second among conference rookies to BC's Joe
Whitney (7-34—41). But Wilson was money during the
Terriers' turnaround, registering four goals and seven assists
during BU's 9-1-0 stretch since falling to Boston College
in the first round of the Beanpot. He also had a three-game
span in which he scored the game-winning goal twice and
assisted the game-winner the other time.
Merrimack sophomore goalie Andrew
Brathwaite gave his team a fighting chance to make
the playoffs all the way until the final weekend of Hockey
East action, which isn't bad considering his forgettable
freshman campaign. Last season, Brathwaite had a 3.92 goals-against
average, .874 save percentage and 0-3-0 record in six games.
But this year, he stole the job from junior Patrick Watson
at midseason and finished with a 2.38 goals-against average,
.922 save percentage (which was second to Regan in the league)
and 8-11-2 record in 25 games. Brathwaite recorded two shutouts,
including a 42-save effort to beat Providence on Feb. 22,
and he was named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached