By: Dan Shulman
With the first half of the season in the books, the college hockey season is about to move into a heavy conference schedule. Hockey East, one of the nation’s premier leagues, is looking extremely competitive this season. It’s hard to believe that in two short months, we will be heading into the Hockey East Tournament. With many teams looking like favorites to take the top prize, here are WTBU’s Hockey East Tournament Projections.
First, let us remind you of what the preseason coaches’ and WTBU Polls were:
And now, the projected final standings for Hockey East.
Following a tough defeat at the hands of Robert Morris in the Three Rivers Classic, the Riverhawks will rebound, making the rest of the league look easy. Led by Adam Chapie and CJ Smith averaging a point per game, UMass-Lowell has seven different players with 10 or more points this year. In net, Kevin Boyle has been one of the top goalies in the country posting a 1.83 GAA and a .936 SV%. The senior net-minder has started all 19 games for the Riverhawks this season. With a potent power play operating at 22.5%, the Riverhawks will be very difficult to take down in the latter portion of the season. However, fatigue will be a factor and Lowell will likely bow out of the tournament with a semifinals loss to Notre Dame.
The defending National Champions just picked up their first loss of the season against Cornell. Despite a difficult Hockey East slate on the horizon for the Friars, Providence is looking to make a memorable tournament run in what could be the team’s last gasp for a while. Five of the team’s top six scorers are seniors and the other is sophomore Jake Walman, who is not only drafted but is having a career year and could very well be making an exit to the NHL at the end of the year. The most unsung member of the Friars is goalie Nick Ellis, who has posted a .939 SV% and a 1.67 GAA in his first season as a starter. Come tournament time, the Friars will likely advance to TD Garden where they will fall in the semifinals against Boston College in the teams’ fourth meeting of the year.
- Boston College
With disappointing results in its last two Hockey East tournaments, the BC Eagles will look to reclaim the Lamoriello Trophy. The Eagles have lost three straight games, including a 3-2 loss to lowly Ohio State. With trips to Vermont and Notre Dame along with a home-and-home series with Lowell to wrap-up the regular season, the second half will certainly not be easy for the Eagles. But with top scorer Colin White returning from World Juniors along with a talented core of upperclassmen who will likely be departing at the end of the season, BC is looking to make its last gasp run at a memorable postseason. Coupled with Thatcher Demko and his 1.72 GAA between the pipes, BC is definitely the favorite to win the tournament.
- Notre Dame
After defeating Boston College in the final seconds of its final game of the first half, Notre Dame is young but talented team that could be dangerous in the postseason. Led by Thomas di Pauli and Anders Bjork with 16 points each, the Fighting Irish present a challenge to any team they face. Playing a westernized style of hockey based more on skill than physicality, Notre Dame provides Hockey East with a different brand of hockey. In goal is sophomore Cal Petersen, who aside from being one of the only goalies in the NCAA to record 1000+ minutes this season, boasts a 2.39 GAA. If the Irish can overcome their lengthy and repeated travels eastward, then Notre Dame should find itself at TD Garden this season for the first time.
- Boston University
The reigning Hockey East Champions entered the winter break with some momentum, knocking-off Quinnipiac to end the seventeen-game unbeaten streak. It was an up-and-down first semester for BU, losing games to Vermont, Union, and UConn, yet beating top teams Michigan, Denver, and the aforementioned Quinnipiac. The Terriers lost forwards AJ Greer to the QMJHL and Nick Roberto to suspension. With some underlying health issues, the second half could be much like the first. However, BU’s strong recruiting base came through, adding two players for the second half. If the Terriers can continue to mount a balanced offensive attack, coupled with good goaltending from Connor LaCouvee, the Terriers could make a run at the Hockey East tournament.
- New Hampshire
Despite sitting just one game above .500 on the season, UNH boasts an offense with two possible Hobey Baker candidates. Andrew Poturalski and Tyler Kelleher have combined for 65 points in 17 games for the Wildcats. UNH entered the break playing its best hockey and riding a four game unbeaten streak. With two separate three-game home-stands on the horizon, UNH could be looking to capture a top seed in Hockey East. However, a four game roadtrip against Providence, BC, and UMass-Lowell could spell disaster for the Wildcats, which will likely cement UNH to the sixth spot and an easy first round series with one of the cellar-dwellers.
The Warriors had a rather disappointing end to the opening portion of the season, winning just one of their final eight games of 2015; a 4-1 victory over a struggling Canisius. Merrimack averages under three goals per game, and aren’t a heavy point-producing team. However, goaltender Collin Delia has been stellar this season, with a 2.14 GAA this season. The Warriors are also a stronger team late in games, with a +8 goal differential in the third period. Although the second half of the season is likely to be tough, including eight of the first nine games away from home, the Warriors should find a way to stay tough.
After a rough start to the season, the Vermont Catamounts saw their bad luck turn worse, losing their starting goaltender for two months with a lower body injury. Entering the second half of the season well under the .500 mark, UVM still has three of the top teams in Hockey East remaining on the schedule in BC, Notre Dame, and Providence. However, the Catamounts will be hosting the three heavyweights while keeping their travels relatively short. With backup goaltender Packy Munson posting a 1.59 GAA in place of Santaguida, the Catamounts could be looking at a second half rebound if the defensive posture holds up.
Finishing in last place of Hockey East last season and projected to do the same this season, UMass-Amherst came out of the gate going 6-2-1 over the first nine games through November 7. Since that night, the Minutemen have gone winless, and are currently in a downward spiral. The season will only get tougher for the Minutemen, with a few tough opponents on a slate. However, travel will be at a minimum as UMass-Amherst, following Saturday’s game at Army, won’t head out of state again until February 27 at Providence. One big problem for the Minutemen is defense, as they allow an average of 3.50 goals per game. Regardless of where the Minutemen finish, it will be an early end to the season once again, as a sweep in the playoffs look highly likely.
Following a commanding win over BU in October, the Huskies went on an eight-game losing streak and sit at 5-10-1 through 16 games. The road doesn’t get much easier for UConn as they play in Minnesota, Arizona, and Maine over the next three weekends. With Boston College and Providence still on the schedule, UConn is going to have to make the most of their home games if they want to revive the season. With freshman Max Letunov recording 18 points so far, he is the one bright spot for a struggling Huskies team. Adjusting to Hockey East has only gotten harder for UConn, and it will be a few more years before they will compete in this league.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the season is Northeastern. Projected fifth in Hockey East, the Huskies have won just three games so far. With star senior Kevin Roy still yet to score a goal while picking up just five assists, scoring has been the least of Northeastern’s issues. The lingering goaltending problem has been the true Achilles heel for the Huskies, as freshman Ryan Ruck, third on the depth chart at the start of the season, has come in to fill the starting role. Ruck’s record and stats aren’t indicative of his play, but regardless of quality, wins are still few and far between. Northeastern will once again see a first round exit in the Hockey East tournament.
At the bottom of the league is Maine, a team that was winless until November 20. With BU, Providence, and a trip to Notre Dame on the schedule for Maine, the improbable task of finishing in the top 10 of Hockey East now looks impossible, as the Black Bears have struggled all over the ice. Allowing 3.16 goals per game, all three Maine goaltenders have seen action this season, but neither has proven to be the starter. Scoring has also been at a minimum, as Maine averages a lowly 1.84 goals per game. Star player Steven Swavely has registered just six point this season, a far cry from his expected output. In the long run, it will be a season ending series at Northeastern that seals a spot in the cellar for Maine.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Preseason Prediction – BC defeats Notre Dame; Midseason Prediction – BC defeats Notre Dame
Sticking with the finals prediction made by the WTBU Hockey Staff at the beginning of the season, it will be a Holy War final between Boston College and Notre Dame. In a battle of goaltenders, it will be Cal Petersen leading the way for Notre Dame through much of the Hockey East Playoffs, including a series victory over BU in three games. In the semifinals, it will be Petersen who shuts down UMass-Lowell and Anders Bjork as the x-factor on offense.
For the Eagles, it will be a similar storyline as BC will be riding the goaltending of Thatcher Demko to a tournament victory. After a gritty three-game series victory over UNH, BC will play a close game with Providence that will need overtime to decide the winner. However, BC, powered by freshmen Miles Wood and Colin White, will take home the Lamoriello Trophy with a 4-1 to victory over the Fighting Irish.
POSTSEASON AWARDS PREDICTIONS:
Goaltender – Thatcher Demko, BC
MVP – Andrew Poturalski, UNH
Defensive Player – Jake Walman, Providence
Rookie – Colin White, BC