By: Dan Shulman
The road to the 2017 Hockey East Championship begins this weekend as twelve teams will vie for the Lou Lamoriello Trophy at TD Garden three weeks hence. While Boston University got a bye, there is plenty to pay attention to this coming weekend as the Terriers’ quarterfinal opponents will be determined.
BU, along with UMass-Lowell and Boston College earned a share of first place in the Hockey East regular season and a first-round bye, while Notre Dame finished fourth and will also be off the first weekend.
On Friday, the remaining eight teams will participate in best-of-three series to advance the Quarterfinal round. Providence will host Massachusetts for the second straight weekend, Vermont will welcome Maine into Gutterson Fieldhouse, Connecticut travels to Northeastern, and UNH pays a visit to Merrimack.
The Providence Friars were the first team to miss a bye and will host last-place Massachusetts. Both teams will meet for the second straight weekend after the Minutemen got swept last week. On Saturday, Massachusetts forced overtime but couldn’t finish off the Friars in a 2-1 loss.
Massachusetts has lost its last 14 games and 19 of its last 20 dating back to December 2. Providence, meanwhile, got hot down the stretch, going 11-1-1 in its last 13 games. Though Massachusetts often gives opponents a difficult time in the playoffs, it should be a relatively routine weekend sweep for the Friars.
Maine and Vermont haven’t met since mid-November when the Catamounts earned three points in a series at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Maine is coming off a confident finish to the season, splitting a series at Northeastern with each side earning a 5-4 victory.
Vermont, which split a home series against a surging Merrimack to end the regular season, is poised to make its way to the NCAA Tournament and currently sit as a bubble team. The Catamounts, which will likely advance past the Black Bears, are hoping to get hot at the right time.
Merrimack climbed its way into seventh place late in the season with wins over BU, BC, and Notre Dame in the second half of the season. The Warriors take on New Hampshire, a team it hasn’t faced since early November. In two games at Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H. separated by two weeks, the Wildcats took three of four possible points from Merrimack, winning 6-2 before drawing 3-3.
UNH enters the postseason on a five game winless run (0-4-1) and has struggled to produce wins in the second half of the season. While Merrimack has had stark success in the second half, the Warriors always seem to struggle against UNH. The series will be a fun one and could likely go the full three games.
The final first round series pits Northeastern and Connecticut together in a battle of the Huskies. They last met two weekends ago in a home-and-home series dominated by Northeastern. UConn only got one goal past the Northeastern defense and allowed seven in a pair of three-goal losses.
NU won five of its last six games to close out the regular season while UConn ended the year by sweeping UNH. Given the series is in Boston, it is likely Northeastern will advance to the next round in a series much closer than the regular season meetings.
Game one and two for each series will take place on Friday and Saturday with a deciding game three on Sunday if necessary.
First Round Predictions
#5 Providence vs. #12 Massachusetts – Prediction: Providence 2-0
#6 Vermont vs. #11 Maine – Prediction: Vermont 2-0
#7 Merrimack vs. #10 New Hampshire – Prediction: New Hampshire 2-1
#8 Northeastern vs. #9 Connecticut – Prediction: Northeastern 2-1
Quarterfinal Series Predictions
#1 UMass-Lowell vs. #10 New Hampshire – Prediction: Lowell 2-0
Even if New Hampshire is to get past Merrimack, which is wholly possible, Lowell could be too tough a test for the Wildcats to handle.
#2 Boston University vs. #8 Northeastern – Prediction: BU 2-1
The Terriers could struggle in the opening game but should be able to salvage the series by utilizing talent and conditioning.
#3 Boston College vs. #6 Vermont – Prediction: Vermont 2-1
Boston College only took two points from their last seven games (0-5-2) and fell into third place in the league standings. UVM has given BC trouble in past Hockey East tournaments and could very well do the same this year.
#4 Notre Dame vs. #5 Providence – Prediction: Notre Dame 2-1
Providence and Notre Dame played an incredible series in South Bend just two weeks ago and the Irish are looking to leave a mark in their last Hockey East season. Advantage Notre Dame only because they’re the home team.
Semifinal Game Predictions
#1 UMass-Lowell vs. #6 Vermont – Prediction: Lowell
Lowell swept Vermont this season and should earn another victory in the semifinals.
#2 Boston University vs. #4 Notre Dame – Prediction: BU
The Terriers bested Notre Dame to end the regular season and with a game on the big stage once again, BU should prevail.
#1 UMass-Lowell vs. #2 Boston University
Honestly a toss-up and an incredible game to decide the league crown. The Riverhawks have been to four straight title games and have become a perennial league power.