Merrimack, for the first time since it joined Hockey East and Division I in general, has caught the national eye by picking up a national ranking. This is the second week in a row that the Warriors have held a position in the top-20, sitting comfortably at No. 17. Merrimack fans were hoping for this kind of season, but it was by no means expected and perhaps the biggest benefit Merrimack has this year is playing at home in its own rink, where the Warriors are 4-1-1.
Paul Thompson was good last year – even great. But nobody was quite sure how losing Bobby Butler would affect his game. He excelled on the first line with Butler and Phil DeSimone, but losing a player like Butler can negatively impact a line. Luckily for Thompson, that was not the case. In fact, with a renewed confidence in his own abilities and the expectations for his game this year, Thompson has skyrocketed to the top of Hockey East scoring race with 25 points (11g, 14a), one point above linemate Mike Sislo and four points over third-place Cam Atkinson of Boston College.
WHAT HAPPENED TO…?
Where is the Vermont team that kicked the Hockey East regular season champions from the Hockey East finals last year and played in the national tournament? If you look low enough on the standings chart, you can find them at ninth place in Hockey East, with only two overall wins to their name this season. In a season-long struggle, coach Kevin Sneddon and the Catamounts have been trying to find the answers to a disturbing and frustrating question: “What is happening?”
According to Sneddon after Vermont’s 6-0 loss to Boston College earlier this year, it’s a matter of wanting to win the little victories that will lead to the total win, including one-on-one battles or racing for the loose puck. “My job is to make sure that we learn to hate to lose the races, the battles, those types of things,” Sneddon said.
BEST NEW FACE
Sahir Gill has not only been productive for Boston University this year, but he’s been one of the best freshmen in all of Hockey East. Before the Terriers made a beeline to the top of the league, Gill was seemingly the only one on the team providing offense. He currently sits third on his team in total points with 16 (4g, 12a) and has the best plus-minus rating by far at plus-11, five better than anyone else on the team. He also ranks first among all Hockey East freshmen in scoring.
While this might not have been the biggest surprise upset, it was still pretty bad. It was one of the most highly-anticipated series of the year (as it is every year), a home-and-home series between Boston College and Boston University. Before the weekend started, BU held first place in Hockey East with only one loss all season. BC was tied for second. However, the Eagles tore apart BU, sweeping the Terriers with a 14-7 aggregate total over the weekend.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
Massachusetts has had a rough go all year, but especially when they are out of their own barn. To start off the season they traveled to Minnesota where they were swept. The weekend after the Minutemen had to travel to Boston University where they managed a tie before going back home and losing against them the next night. The Minutemen didn’t have that home opener until almost the end of October. They have only played six home games this year, and three were non-conference. They will have a tough time coming back into the swing of things as well when they fly out to Wisconsin’s place for a set of games to start the second half of the season.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
For a team that played five of its first six games on the road, including a pair at powerhouse Minnesota Duluth, Providence might expect its season to get easier the rest of the way. Not so fast, my Skating Friar friend. Providence still has nine games left against Hockey East heavies Boston College (3), New Hampshire (3), Boston University (2) and a road game at Maine.
UNH will take part in the annual RiverStone Cup held at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. Jan. 15 against Dartmouth. Naturally, both these teams hail from the Granite State and each year the “beast of the state” is determined by this game. Last year New Hampshire native Paul Thompson scored two goals to lead UNH to a 5-2 victory. The game is hardly predictable and always draws a large crowd.
BIGGEST QUESTION ANSWERED
We’ve seen it before. National champions one year struggle the next. Boston College has done that before, and so has Boston University. The question, after BC hoisted the second championship in two years, was how they would perform this year, and it has been answered positively. Boston College came out swinging and showed no signs of post-championship fallout. John Muse is looking as good as he ever has and with the young talent the Eagles have, no team should feel comfortable against them.
BIGGEST QUESTION REMAINING
Maine has the talent. They have a number of elite goal scorers and great depth in their lines. But they also have what could potentially be their downfall – a lack of consistent goaltending. At this point in the season the Black Bears have been sharing duties among three different netminders – Dan Sullivan, Shawn Sirman and Martin Ouellette. In its most recent game, Maine took on UNH and held a 3-1 lead going into the third period, but fell 4-3 in overtime. While they have the offensive prowess, they have the nation questioning if they can go far into the postseason with a less-consistent defense.
INCH’s FIRST HALF ALL-HOCKEY EAST TEAM
G- John Muse, Boston College: Muse leads in every goaltending statistic in Hockey East including goals-against average (1.87), save percentage (.939), and winning percentage (.769). He already has two national championships and is playing as well, if not better than he has in the past.
D- David Warsofsky, Boston University: Warsofsky boasts three power-play goals for the Terriers and is second on the team in points and first in Hockey East for scoring by defensemen. He owns a plus-4 rating while still providing a threat in specialty and even-strength situations.
D- Karl Stollery, Merrimack: While his name doesn’t scream across all the headlines, Stollery has been a consistent player for the Warriors this year. He has contributed 10 points this year and is first in points among defenseman for Merrimack.
F- Paul Thompson, New Hampshire: Thompson leads the league with 25 points and is a constant threat whenever he’s on the ice. He has netted three game-winning goals and has a plus-10 rating when playing at home.
F- Gustav Nyquist, Maine: It was a tough decision between Nyquist and teammate Spencer Abbott. Both have done remarkable work in Orono. Nyquist can score and make plays. He can be the hero and the sidekick, and when it comes down to it, his versatility is going to be the big difference-maker for the Black Bears.
F- Cam Atkinson, Boston College: Atkinson already has 14 goals, seven assists leads BC with 21 points. Atkinson leads Hockey East in goals and shares the lead with Thompson with six power-play goals. Atkinson is the constant threat on the ice for the Eagles with his speed and dangerous shot.