March 13, 2008
UNH Finishes Atop Goofy Year in Hockey East

By Jeff Howe

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

UNH 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.

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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.


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.

Hockey East
Quarterfinal Matchups
No. 8 Massachusetts at
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.
No. 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).
No. 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.


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 a season.


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 years ago.


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 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 three times.

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