Boston Colleges: Hockey East

Hockey East: Providence the favorite

October, 2, 2014
The past two years, the Providence Friars have been knocking on the door of Hockey East's upper echelons. This year, league coaches expect Nate Leaman's Friars to break through, establishing Providence as the prohibitive favorite for the 2014-15 season Hockey East crown.

Hot on the Friars' heels is perennial powerhouse Boston College, the Irish of Notre Dame, the resurgent Northeastern Huskies, the New Hampshire Wildcats, and Dave Quinn's Boston University Terriers, who expect to bounce back from a disastrous 2013-14 campaign. The UMass-Lowell River Hawks, who captured their second straight Hockey East championship last March, was pegged for seventh place.

The following is a quick glimpse of the Hockey East squads, and their predicted finish according to the league's pre-season coaches poll (teams are listed with their 2013-14 records):

Providence (22-11-6; 11-7-2 HE)
This year, the Friars will find out what life is like wearing the bull's-eye, as seven of the league's 12 coaches deemed Providence the team to beat. Junior goalkeeper John Gillies (a Calgary draft choice) is still one of the league's best, though his play tailed off slightly last year (2.29 goals-against average, .921 save percentage) after a sensational freshman campaign. Gillies won't have stalwart defensemen Steve Shamanski (a plus 10 on the season) and Kevin Hart, but the only forward to graduate was Derek Army. The team's top five scorers return, led by Ross Mauermann (19 goals, 17 assists, 36 points), Nick Saracino (10-18-28) and Calgary first-round draft pick Mark Jankowski (13-12-25). Top-scoring D-man John Gilmour (5-13-18) also returns to provide a threat from the blue line.

Boston College (28-8-4; 16-2-2 HE)
The Eagles lost a ton of firepower from last year's Frozen Four squad, which got bounced from the NCAAs by eventual champ Union. BC's top four scorers -- Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, Bill Arnold and Patrick Brown -- have moved on, taking their 92 goals with them. But you won't find many outside of Chestnut Hill penning sympathy cards to coach Jerry York, who is college hockey's all-time win leader with 963 victories. Plus, the Eagles are expected to be very strong on the defensive side of the puck, with sophomore goalie Thatcher Demko (2.24, .919) emerging as the true starter, and a muscular-yet-mobile D-corps led by Michael Matheson, Scott Savage, Ian McCoshen and newcomer Noah Hanifin of Norwood, Mass. Up front, York will want to see continued improvement from Ryan Fitzgerald (13-16-29), Austin Cangelosi (10-16-26), Adam Gilmour (7-13-20), and bruising freshmen Adam Sanford (6-foot-4, 196 pounds) and Alex Tuch (6-foot-4, 220 pounds). Apparently, not even the loss of highly touted recruit Sonny Milano to the Ontario Hockey League can dull BC's outlook.

Notre Dame (23-15-2; 9-9-2 HE)
Stud goaltender Steven Summerhays is gone, as are the three defensemen who played all 40 games last year (Stephen Johns, Shayne Taker and Kevin Lind). Top scorers T.J. Tynan (38 points) and Bryan Rust (33 points) have graduated as well. In short, a perfect scenario for coach Jeff Jackson to work a little Irish magic. Last year, their first in the league, Notre Dame managed only a .500 record in Hockey East, but then promptly knocked the top-seeded BC Eagles out of the playoffs. Jackson will look to Vince Hinostroza (8-24-32), Mario Lucia (16-15-31) and Sam Herr (14-13-27) to pick up the offensive slack, and Robbie Russo (15 points in only 21 games), Andy Ryan and Eric Johnson to anchor the defense. Goaltending is a big question mark, with sophomore Chad Katunar the only returning netminder to see action last year. Jackson, a former goaltender, will obviously take note.

Northeastern (19-14-4; 10-8-2 HE)
Will the Huskies be able to build on their stunning turnaround season last year? The answer may depend on senior goalie Clay Witt (2.37, .932), who gave Jim Madigan's squad a chance to win every time he took the ice. But he'll have plenty of help. Eight of NU's top nine scoring forwards return, led by Kevin Roy (19-27-46) and super sophomores Mike Szmatula (39 points), John Stevens (22 points) and Dalen Hedges (22 points). Sharp-shooting D-men Colton Saucerman (23 points) and Matt Benning (11 points) also return. Now, Madigan needs to capitalize on the momentum his Huskies brought to Huntington Avenue last year. An elusive Beanpot crown in February could launch a legitimate title run.

New Hampshire (22-18-1; 11-9-0 HE)
The Wildcats' NCAA bid was dashed when UNH lost the Hockey East title game to UMass-Lowell last spring, and coach Dick Umile will want to make certain his troops secure an invite based on their regular-season record. To do that, Umile will need to make up for the loss of top scorers Kevin Goumas (19-33-52) and Nick Sorkin (20-21-41), and the spine of his defense (Eric Knodel, Justin Agosta, and Trevor van Riemsdyk).

Boston University (10-21-4; 5-12-3 HE)
Coach Dave Quinn will undoubtedly prefer to look back on the 2013-14 season, his first leading the BU bench, as an aberration. The Terriers struggled to find any consistency, and the result was an abysmal record, both overall and in the league. This season, Quinn is bringing nine freshmen into the fold, so the team is young. On the plus side of the ledger, BU returns its eight top-scoring forwards, led by Robbie Baillargeon (10-17-27), Danny O'Regan (10-12-22) and senior Cason Hohmann (9-10-19). But those stats belie just how anemic the Terriers' offense was last year (tied for eighth in the league). The defense was even worse, ranking 10th in Hockey East. Towering junior netminder Matt O'Connor (2.89, .920) is the prohibitive starter, with classmate Sean Maguire unenrolled for the fall semester and his future at the school in question. Big things are expected of defensemen Ahti Oksanen and Matt Grzelcyk, and freshman forward Jack Eichel of Chelmsford, Mass., who is a member of the U.S. National Development Team and considered one of the top recruits in the nation.

UMass-Lowell (26-11-4; 11-6-3 Hockey East)
The River Hawks managed a single first-place vote in the coaches' poll, which is probably a testament to the accomplishments of coach Norm Bazin in his three years at the helm (78-35-7, three straight NCAA invitations). But it's clear that most voters felt the loss of outstanding goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Doug Carr will be tough to overcome. Adam Chapie (12-11-23) is the only forward among the top four scorers coming back, but the River Hawks have always gotten it done by committee under Bazin. Sturdy D-men Zach Kamrass, Michael Kapla and Jake Suter are also back. In goal, UMass transfer Kevin Boyle may have the inside edge, but freshmen Jeff Smith and Olli Kalkaja of Finland will compete. "Regardless of where we have been picked in the preseason poll, UMass-Lowell will be there in the end," said Bazin. "We look forward to the start of league play on October 10 at the Tsongas Center." That game, against Boston College, will go a long way in providing Bazin with a measuring stick of his team.

Vermont (20-15-3; 10-10-0 HE)
Coach Kevin Sneddon has a luxury in goal, with Brody Hoffman and Mike Santaguida both suiting up for the Catamounts (ranked fourth in league defense last year). Replacing the lost production of Chris McCarthy, Connor Brickley and H.T. Lenz will be the greater challenge in Burlington.

Maine (16-15-4; 9-8-3 HE)
The Black Bears had a nice bounce-back season under first-year coach Red Gendron, going from 11-19-8 overall to 16-15-4. Gendron needs to find a goaltender, with Martin Ouellette and Dan Sullivan gone, but the Black Bears bring back seven of their top nine scoring forwards, and only lose solid defenseman Brice O'Connor.

Merrimack (8-22-3; 3-15-2 HE)
Though leading scorer Mike Collins is out the door, the next seven scorers will be back on the Warrior bench. But they'll need to score more often to improve on last year's offense, which ranked dead last in Hockey East. A bigger obstacle for coach Mark Dennehey will be replacing blue-line leaders Brendan Ellis and Jordan Heywood. Senior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen of Finland must be sharp, or freshman Colin Delia could compete for time between the pipes.

Massachusetts (8-22-4; 4-13-3 HE)
Coach John Micheletto has to hope that the third season is the charm. But it won't help the UMass cause that top recruit Jake Wahlin bailed last spring, and the Minutemen lost three of their top four scoring forwards, and top two scoring defensemen. The performance of senior goaltender Steve Mastalerz is likely to be a difference maker. An early-season home tilt against the BU Terriers on Oct. 10 could be revealing.

Connecticut (18-14-4; 15-9-3 Atlantic Hockey)Welcome home, Mike Cavanuagh. Former longtime Boston College assistant Cavanaugh returns to Hockey East in his second year at the helm of the Huskies, the league's newest entry. The Huskies tied for third in Atlantic Hockey last year, but lost their top three forwards and feisty netminder Matt Grogan.

Lowell blanks UNH for Hockey East title

March, 23, 2014
Christian FolinAP Photo/Michael Dwyer
BOSTON -- Hockey is a game of bounces. Come playoffs, everyone is hoping for a little puck luck. Both UMass Lowell and New Hampshire were beneficiaries of the bounces on Friday, each getting game-winning goals that deflected off their opponents. But on Saturday, the Lowell River Hawks proved effort could trump Lady Luck, as they outskated and outhustled the UNH Wildcats to defend their Hockey East crown with a convincing 4-0 victory before 12,051 at TD Garden.

"Tonight wasn't a work of art, but we found a way, and that's a good trait of a winning club," said UML coach Norm Bazin, who has now taken his squad to the NCAAs each of the three years he's been at Lowell.

In the end, the third time wouldn't prove the charm for UNH, which dropped two tough decisions to UML in early November. Lowell (25-10-4) swept past the Wildcats (22-18-1) behind timely scoring, a tenacious defense, and the rock-solid goaltending of tourney MVP Connor Hellebuyck to capture its second Hockey East title. Even though the River Hawks' lofty Pairwise Ranking (No. 7) assured them a spot in the NCAA tournament, they can now head into the field of 16 on a big-time roll.

"Congrats to Lowell," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "Back-to-back championships, that's pretty special. They're an excellent hockey team."

Hellebuyck, who become the only player in the league's 30-year history to win a second tournament Most Valuable Player award, didn't give up a goal in back-to-back 4-0 victories, and hasn't surrendered a single tally at TD Garden since the semifinals in 2013, when the River Hawks beat Providence, 2-1 (he shut out Boston University, 1-0, in last year's final).

"Connor is stellar," said Bazin. "There's no question that you don't win a championship without a good goalie, and he's provided us with great goaltending all year."

Hellebuyck, however, was quick to share his accolades with his teammates. "It's more the guys in front of me," said the sophomore from Michigan. "It's playoff hockey, and we play hard in playoff hockey, and it brings out the best in the guys in front of me, I think you saw that tonight. They blocked shots, they really did everything. So it's really on them."

The Wildcats, meanwhile, saw their season, and hopes for a 23rd NCAA tournament bid, come to a decisive end.

"I thought our team competed, played hard. It just didn't happen," said Umile. "The difficult part is it's a team with great chemistry. We wanted to keep going. Not only were we winning and playing hard, but we were having fun."

[+] EnlargeConnor Hellebuyck
Richard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesTournament MVP Connor Hellebuyck hoists the Lou Lamoriello Trophy after UMass Lowell defeated New Hampshire.
The weekend showcased Lowell's depth. On Saturday the River Hawks got goals from four different players, none of whom scored the night before in UML's 4-0 win over Notre Dame.

"It's been a point of emphasis since I arrived" at Lowell, said Bazin. "To have a great team at Lowell, you have to have multiple threats. We don't have the 50-, 60-point guy. But we have an awful lot of good hockey players. And we feel that (because scoring) can come from any line, that makes us a real threat. And as you can see from these last two games, it can come from anywhere. You need strong goaltending and you need strong defense, but four goals a game is pretty good."

In a game that was fast and physical from the start, both teams got decent chances early on. Midway through the opening period, New Hampshire had the first Grade-A chance, when Wildcat Dalton Speelman got a step behind the Lowell defense and broke in on Hellebuyck. The River Hawk defenders closed the gap, and before he could get off a shot, Speelman dished a pass to linemate Tyler Kelleher. But UML's Christian Folin, hustling back, broke up Kelleher's bid at the right post.

It would prove to be a pivotal play, as Lowell got the all-important first goal, breaking the scoreless tie just two minutes later. Lowell's Joe Pendenza, the team's leading scorer, sent a wide-angle prayer on net that UNH goalie Casey DeSmith blocked. But the junior netminder was a split second too slow to cover the loose puck, and UML's A.J. White split the UNH defense and tapped it past DeSmith for a 1-0 River Hawks lead.

At 15:28, the River Hawks doubled up, again with Pendenza and White in the thick of the play. White made a crisp cross-ice pass to an open Pendenza, who snapped a shot toward an open net that was denied by a spectacular diving glove save by DeSmith. But the puck squirted into the slot, and UML's captain Josh Holmstrom pounced, shoveling a shot into the net to put the Wildcats in a 2-0 hole.

It was a significant tally, as Lowell came into the game undefeated, with a 17-0-3 record, when leading after the first period. And things would go quickly from bad to worse for the Wildcats.

Just 2:13 into the middle period, the River Hawks bumped their lead to 3-0. Lowell's Terrence Wallin carried the puck into the UNH zone along the right wall, patiently waiting out the Wildcats defense before finding trailing Joe Gambardella in the slot. Wallin hit his linemate in stride, and the freshman from Staten Island snapped the puck past UNH's Brett Pesce and DeSmith's blocker to put Lowell in command.

Hellebuyck, meanwhile, looked twice the size of his 6-foot-4 frame, finishing the second period with 120 consecutive saves in Hockey East play at the TD Garden, dating back to last year. He would end the game with a shutout streak at TD Garden of 230 minutes, and the first-ever back-to-back shutouts in the final two nights of the tournament. However, his defense did a superb job taking time and space away from the Wildcats forwards, who found no room to make plays.

"They're a great defensive team. They play their systems unbelievably," said UNH senior captain Eric Knodel. "Their defense (seems to) block every shot. They do a great job making sure their goalie doesn't get the hard save. He gets the easy save, which is good for them. They limited our opportunities, but we got a couple there, and we should have capitalized on them."

With just over a minute remaining in the second, Lowell put the game completely out of reach. UML defender Jake Suter gathered the puck in the high slot off a faceoff, waited for White to set up a screen in front of DeSmith, and then ripped a shot that ticked off Wildcats defender Dylan Maller and past the UNH netminder for a power-play strike and a 4-0 lead.

The River Hawks thought they had stretched their margin to 5-0 just 28 seconds into the third, but Pendenza's adroit tip past DeSmith was ruled a high stick, and waved off. At 3:46, Pendenza had another chance to pad Lowell's lead, when he was awarded a penalty shot. DeSmith, however, robbed the senior's backhand attempt with his glove, and then defiantly tossed the puck out to center ice.

With only 6:30 left in the game, Hellebuyck's shutout streak appeared over when the sophomore was caught out of position, but UML's Dylan Zink jumped in front of a point-blank Wildcat bid and blocked the shot. It was as close as the Wildcats would come to breaking through the Lowell defense.

Now, the River Hawks will set their sights on the NCAA tournament, with the goal of improving on their Frozen Four appearance last year, when they lost in the semifinals to Yale in overtime.

"I mentioned before the weekend started that I think this could be the best team I've coached in my three years. And I still believe it," said Bazin. "We ran into a rash of injuries halfway through the year, that we were able to overcome, and that proved to me that these guys can fight through a lot of stuff. They're a resilient bunch. I'm glad we won the championship, so I didn't eat my words.

"They don't always find the easy way, that's why I have so much gray hair," he said. "But they get it done in the end."

UNH tops Friars to make Hockey East finals

March, 22, 2014
Matt WillowsRichard T Gagnon/Getty Images
BOSTON -- The UNH Wildcats have only one option to guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament, and that's to win the Hockey East title. Friday, the fourth-seeded Wildcats kept that dream alive, knocking the third-seeded Providence Friars out in the league semifinals, 3-1, at TD Garden in Boston.

"It's an honor to play here," said New Hampshire junior Matt Willows. "It's a great league, and every year it's just a battle to get here. To get the win tonight, and the opportunity to win tomorrow night, is great. We look forward to tomorrow night."

Coaches like to say that good teams need their best players to step up on the big stage of the playoffs. UNH senior Kevin Goumas did just that on Friday, as the Hockey East second-team all-star led the Wildcats (22-17-1) with a pair of goals to send the Friars (21-10-6) packing.

"He's determined not to have his season end," UNH coach Dick Umile said of Goumas. "He's played well for us all season. He's had a terrific year. It's great to see the puck go in for him."

Asked afterward if he thought about the possibility of each game being his last, Goumas said: "That's been on my mind for the last week or so. The way I've been playing, I'm just going out there and making sure it's not my last game.

"I want to take care of business here at Hockey East first, but I want one more chance to get to the NCAA tournament and a national championship," he said.

Waiting for the Wildcats is the 2nd-seeded UMass Lowell River Hawks, the defending Hockey East champs, who dispatched the Notre Dame Fighting Irish earlier on Friday afternoon, 4-0.

"The first time's hard, but the second time is even harder," said UML's Derek Arnold, when asked how tough it is to get to the Hockey East final. "We put ourselves in the position to go after another championship, and we're going to prepare properly for that tonight and tomorrow, and go for that."

In the nightcap, goals were hard to come by early, as both teams played a tight-checking style and both netminders -- PC's Jon Gillies (28 saves) and UNH's Casey DeSmith (25 saves) -- were in playoff form.

New Hampshire's leading scorer gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead at 7:05 of the second period on a spectacular solo rush. Picking up the puck from a scrum in the high slot, UNH's Goumas went into overdrive as he motored down the right side, blew past PC's Anthony Florentino, curled behind the net and tucked the puck into the net before Gillies could recover for an unassisted short-handed tally.

"I thought the game changed at that point," said PC coach Nate Leaman. "I thought from that point on, [UNH] really won all the battles. And I thought we played soft from that point on, and just didn't execute that well."

The Wildcats went up 2-0 at 13:31, on a goal that had the Garden crowd experiencing a sense of déjà vu. In a scoring play eerily similar to Lowell's first strike in the opening semifinal, Wildcat Justin Agosta flicked a shot from the right point that caromed off PC defender Kevin Hart as he chased UNH's Maxim Gaudreault, and the puck skidded behind Gillies.

The backbreaker, though, came with just a second remaining in the middle stanza, and again Goumas was in the middle of the action. With the clock ticking down, Goumas had the puck locked and loaded on the right side, but instead of shooting, the senior dished it across the slot to linemate Nick Sorkin. PC's Drew Brown made a great defensive play to break up Sorkin's bid, but Goumas stayed with the play, picking up the puck behind the net and jamming it past Gillies just before the buzzer sounded for a 3-0 Wildcats lead. It was Goumas' fifth goal in his past two UNH games.

Less than three minutes into the third, UNH threatened to put the game on ice when Agosta cruised in from the right point and ripped a shot that beat Gillies, but the puck clanged off iron and ricocheted away.

Instead, it was the Friars who struck next, and another outstanding play by Brown. Fighting for the puck behind the UNH net with a Wildcat defender, Brown got upended but still managed to swat the puck to linemate Kevin Rooney. The sophomore stepped out from behind the goal line and roofed a shot over DeSmith's glove to cut the Wildcat lead to 3-1 at 3:22.

Rooney's goal seemed to wake up the Friars, who outshot the Wildcats by a 2-to-1 margin (12 shots to 5) in the final period. But despite several flurries deep in the UNH zone, the Friars couldn't get another puck past DeSmith.

"We were just staying on the perimeter too much," said Rooney. "I think if we got to the inside a little more, we could have got more pucks on DeSmith, created some more traffic and rebounds. We just didn't get to the dirty areas."

Providence, currently tied for ninth in the national Pairwise Rankings, is all but assured a spot in the NCAA tournament field of 16. New Hampshire, tied for 16th, has to win Saturday to make certain it gets an invitation.

"Right now, it's about the moment," said Umile. "This team is feeling good about itself. We're just looking forward to coming out here and competing and giving it our best shot. We had a solid game. We played as well as we could play. We have to do that again tomorrow against Lowell.

"We're going to need to win to get into the NCAA tournament," he said. "And that's our goal, winning a national championship."

Lowell advances to Hockey East finals

March, 21, 2014
BOSTON -- Maybe the jetlag and the 1,800-mile round trips simply caught up with Notre Dame. But after two straight successful visits to Boston, the Fighting Irish wilted under a relentless attack of the Lowell River Hawks, as the defending Hockey East champions clipped Notre Dame, 4-0, at the TD Garden on Friday in the league's opening semifinal game.

Lowell will defend its crown Saturday against the winner of the second semifinal between 3rd-seeded Providence and 4th-seeded New Hampshire. It was the River Hawks' third straight win over the Irish this season.

[+] EnlargeDerek Arnold
Eric Canha/CSMUMass Lowell's Derek Arnold celebrates his goal in the River Hawks' 4-0 win over Notre Dame.
The 2nd-seeded River Hawks (24-10-4) won with the type of opportunistic scoring that UML coach Norm Bazin expected from Notre Dame. Bazin promised a high-energy effort from his troops, and they delivered, riding a pair of power-play goals to deny the 8th-seeded Irish (23-14-2) the chance to take the Hockey East crown in their inaugural season in the league after winning the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association title last year.

The luck of the Irish deserted Notre Dame when Lowell drew first blood on a deflection off ND defenseman Kevin Lind at 10:13. Lind was battling Lowell's Josh Holmstrom down low in front of ND goalie Steven Summerhays when Lowell's Christian Folin wristed a shot from the point that was a good foot wide right. But the puck glanced off Lind's skate and behind Summerhays for a 1-0 Lowell lead.

Lowell doubled its lead at 13:54, taking advantage of a surprisingly passive Irish defense. UML's Derek Arnold carried the puck with speed into the Irish zone, and when ND defender Eric Johnson backed off, the senior from Foxboro fired a dart over Summerhays' glove into the top right corner for his 11th of the season and a 2-0 River Hawks advantage.

The River Hawks threatened to break the game open with 40 seconds left in the opening stanza, but Summerhays made a terrific stop of Holmstrom's stuff attempt at the doorstep to keep the Lowell lead at two. The Irish netminder was sharp to start the middle frame as well, blunting Michael Colantone's deflection at the two-minute mark.

Ninety seconds later, though, the River Hawks got their third, capitalizing on David Gerths' boarding penalty. Summerhays (18 saves) was able to block a Scott Wilson blast from the right faceoff dot, but lost the puck in an ensuing scrum with Holmstrom. The biscuit squirted free to Lowell's Evan Campbell, and the freshman from British Columbia buried it for a commanding 3-0 Lowell lead. It was the first time the River Hawks enjoyed a 3-0 lead since early February.

Lowell's Connor Hellebuyck preserved the lead with a big-time stop at 10:25. The sophomore went post-to-post to deny a wide-open Jeff Costello, who was set up by a seeing-eye cross-ice feed from ND's Steven Fogarty.

Another Irish penalty, and another Irish deflection, gave the River Hawks a 4-0 lead at 13:21. With ND's Johnson serving two minutes, Lowell's Zack Kamrass patiently walked the puck in from the left point, and then fired a shot into the low slot that deflected off the stick of Irish defender Stephen Johns and past a beleaguered Summerhays.

Notre Dame picked up the intensity in the third, but Lowell's layered defense, and several top-flight stops by Hellebuyck (35 saves), kept the Irish at bay. Hellebuyck, a Hockey East first-team all-star, clearly enjoys playing at the Garden, having surrendered only a single goal in three games dating back to last season. His TD Garden shutout streak now exceeds 171 minutes. He and the River Hawks will have a chance to add to those numbers on Saturday in the Hockey East title bout.

New-look Hockey East semis start Friday

March, 20, 2014
Due to a scheduling quirk, the Hockey East quarterfinals last weekend featured three matchups of teams that knew each other intimately, with the opponents having just met in the final weekend of the regular season. The semifinals this Friday at Boston's TD Garden are the polar opposite, showcasing four teams -- UMass Lowell, Notre Dame, Providence and New Hampshire -- that may need to reintroduce themselves.

Stranger still, for the first time in the league's 30-year history, there won't be a single local school playing at the Garden, with Boston College, Northeastern, and Boston University all getting bounced in earlier rounds.

In the opening game, the 2nd-seeded Lowell River Hawks take on the 8th-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish in only the third meeting ever between the two programs. The first two games took place just before Thanksgiving last fall, with the River Hawks sweeping a pair at home against the Irish.

The nightcap boasts two founding members of Hockey East -- 3rd-seeded Providence and 4th-seeded New Hampshire -- that share a long history, but haven't seen each other since late November, when the squads split two games in Rhode Island.

UMass Lowell (23-10-4) vs. Notre Dame (23-13-2), 5 p.m.

The Irish are racking up the frequent-flyer miles to the Commonwealth's capital this month. This weekend marks the third time in the past four weeks that the Notre Dame hockey team has flown to Boston. But with a record of 3-1-0 against the Hockey East regular-season champion Boston College Eagles in those games, the Irish appear road-worthy.

"You do worry a little bit about the travel aspect of things, especially with the academic load these kids have, the emphasis is all about taking care of their school work early in the week this week," said ND coach Jeff Jackson. "But I worry about the overall mental fatigue more than the physical fatigue."

Expect adrenaline to compensation for any potential lack of sleep, as the Irish pay their first-ever visit to the TD Garden. Waiting for them is a Lowell team that left the Garden last spring hoisting the Lamoriello Trophy as tournament champions. The River Hawks earned their spot in the semifinals by ousting Vermont last weekend. ND forward Bryan Rust, fresh off dispatching BC, said Lowell was a carbon copy of the fleet, rugged Irish. His coach agreed.

"There's probably going to be some similarities between the two teams, and I don't think it's going to be a snooze-fest," said Jackson. "I think it's going to probably be a good hockey game with good tempo, because both teams do play well defensively but they transition well. It could be a lot more entertaining than people might imagine."

The defending Hockey East champions have put together another solid season under third-year coach Norm Bazin, rolling four lines that all employ a blue-collar work ethic that mirrors this old working-class city.

"We feel we've got a true team," said Bazin. "Our top scorer (Joseph Pendenza) has got 25, 26 points, so it's probably nothing alarming for opponents. At the same time, we feel our offensive contributions can come from all four lines. I feel very good about the way [Ryan] McGrath is playing. I feel very good about the way Derek Arnold's playing. I feel strong that Pendenza can contribute on any given night, but there's also guys like [Evan] Campbell and [Michael] Fallon, and [Michael] Colantone, who have been chipping in.

"We feel that if we can get four lines to contribute, we have a chance to win," he said. "That's been our motto all year. It doesn't matter where it comes from, as long as we're producing chances and we're pushing the pace."

The River Hawks had some late-season success against Boston College by dumping the puck behind the Eagles defense, and Lowell's forwards will likely take a similar approach against a big Irish backline.

"There's no question that they're very good defensively," said Bazin. "We had the luxury of hosting them in our rink here earlier this year, and they were two very low-scoring games. Both clubs are fairly strong structurally. They seem to be even stingier this time of year. In watching their games with Boston College, I thought they were certainly opportunistic offensively.

"But they're very good defensively, so we're going to have to find a way to be strong on special teams, and try to get the pucks all over the ice," he said. "We feel good about our game, in how we're getting to pucks, and we're going to have an extra challenge here this weekend, as far as trying to get there first."

The River Hawks also have two terrific netminders, senior Doug Carr and sophomore Connor Hellebuyck. And while Carr sports a nifty 8-2-2 record, it's the youngster Hellebuyck who backstopped Lowell to its Frozen Four appearance last year, and has backboned his team down the stretch this season as well.

For the Irish, senior goaltender Steven Summerhays has been tremendous over the second half of the season. Combined with a number of key players returning from injury, and newcomers adjusting to the college game, Summerhays gives Notre Dame strength and confidence at all three positions.

"As a team, I think that we're feeling a lot better about ourselves than we were, say, two months ago. And that comes with winning," said Jackson, who wondered aloud after the BC victory how a team as good as the Irish could be ranked 8th in Hockey East. "Regardless of how you win, when you win games, it's easier to come to the rink every day and have a smile on your face, and that's the way it should be.

"You want the guys to be excited and energized this time of the year, and we all, as coaches, try to make sure that our teams peak at the right time of the season."

According to Bazin, the difference in Friday's first semifinal may simply boil down to effort.

"We may not have the high-end offense that you're looking for this time of the year, for somebody to be able to break the game open like [BC's Johnny] Gaudreau," said the two-time Hockey East coach of the year. "But we're certainly going to wear on our opponents."

Providence (21-9-6) vs. New Hampshire (21-17-1), 8 p.m.

Talk about a role reversal. Last year, the Friars needed to win the Hockey East championship outright to get a bid to the NCAA field of 16, and fell short with a semifinal loss to eventual champ Lowell. UNH, which Providence beat in the quarterfinals, got in based on its Pairwise Ranking. This year, it's the Wildcats, currently ranked 17th in the Pairwise, who are on the outside looking in, and will need to run the table to keep playing past this weekend.

"The team feels good about itself right now, and the opportunity we have ahead of us, playing Providence College," said Wildcats coach Dick Umile. "We're familiar with each other. We've had great games with them, and that goes back to the quarterfinals last year down at Providence. We went three games, all the games were tight, overtime.

"We haven't played since November, but we're familiar with the way they play," he said. "They're well-coached. They've got a lot of balance."

Providence, currently tied for No. 9 in the Pairwise, is close to a lock for the NCAAs, regardless of the results of this weekend. But PC coach Nate Leaman made it clear that he and his squad are focused on the trophy named after former Providence coach (and current New Jersey Devils general manager) Lou Lamoriello. Leaman said the team's two-game sweep against Maine in Orono to finish the regular season, coupled with a sweep of the Black Bears at home in the quarterfinals, has the Friars skating with some extra jump.

"When you play road hockey, it really forces you to be really detailed, and I think we were missing some of that detail at home," said Leaman. "We were able to go on the road for three games. We knew it was going to be a tough environment. We knew what a good team Maine is, what a quality opponent they were. It really forced us to play great hockey, and forced us to play together, and forced us to play some great defense."

Both of these teams can put up points, especially with the Friars recently rediscovering their power-play game after sputtering earlier with the man-advantage.

"Our power-play production has been excellent the past five games," said Leaman. "I believe we have six goals. We had three goals over the weekend against Maine, so actually, in the playoffs, we're 30 percent."

UNH, returning to the TD Garden for the first time since 2011, can score as well. Led by a rejuvenated Kevin Goumas (a hat trick in the series-clinching win over Northeastern), Nick Sorkin and Matt Willows, the Wildcats had the third-best offense, and third-best power play, in the league this year. Which puts even more emphasis on PC's stingy penalty-killers.

"I believe we're in the top five in the country on the penalty kill, and our penalty kill has really saved us all season when our power play has struggled," said Leaman. "There's no doubt that any game you play this time of the year, faceoffs, power play, goaltending, those things are going to be extremely important."

The goaltending matchup is also an intriguing one, with two former teammates -- PC sophomore Jon Gillies (whose father played goal at UNH) and Wildcats junior Casey DeSmith (who played together for the USHL's Indianapolis Ice prior to college) -- getting the nod in the nets. Both have had moments of brilliance, and moments when they've been less than stellar, this season.

"You don't have to worry about Jon's focus or his commitment," said Leaman of his prized netminder, who represented Team USA at the World Junior Championships. "His freshman year went so well for him that there wasn't a lot of adversity, and this was kind of some of the first adversity he had hit, and learning to get back to the basics when you hit adversity like that, and get back to your strengths. So there were a lot of talks along those lines, and give a lot of credit to Jon, because he's worked his tail off and kind of powered through that stretch."

Umile, meanwhile, praised DeSmith, saying: "He gives us an opportunity to win every night. You look at save percentages of goalies in our league, it's phenomenal. I think Casey is a .912 [save percentage], Gillies is at .920, and then we've got guys at .940, so his save percentage is probably seventh in the league."

"But I can tell you he's been very, very consistent throughout the season," he said. "He gives us an opportunity to win, and we've been pleased obviously with Casey's performance this season."

BC stunned by Irish in quarterfinals

March, 16, 2014
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Leave it to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame to spoil the St. Patty's Day revelry of the Boston College faithful. On Sunday, the late-arriving crowd of 3,246 at the Conte Forum saw the eighth-seeded Irish play party crashers, employing a suffocating third-period defense to take the Hockey East quarterfinal rubber match from the top-seeded Eagles, 4-2.

It was the seventh straight time the Irish won the deciding game of a three-game series, dating back to their affiliation with the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Sunday's win propels Notre Dame (23-13-2) to its first visit to TD Garden on Friday, when it will take on second-seeded UMass Lowell.

Meanwhile, the Eagles (26-7-4), ranked no. 2 in the country, will fail to make the trip across town for the league semifinals for the first time since 2004, when they were ousted by Boston University. It will be the first Hockey East semifinal without either BC or BU since 1988.

"Certainly, a very difficult loss for us," BC coach Jerry York said. "The locker room is just crushed. We're very disappointed in the outcome."

The teams played to a 1-1 stalemate after one period, but the Eagles had the early hop. A poorly timed Irish shift change sprang BC's Quinn Smith down the left side just after the 2-minute mark, and the junior blew his shot past ND senior netminder Steven Summerhays but hit the right post squarely. At 4:43, the Eagles got the game's first goal, gift-wrapped by the Irish.

Vince Hinostroza's ill-advised clearing pass was intercepted by BC's Adam Gilmour. The Eagles freshman cruised into the low slot, and when Summerhays challenged him, dished a perfect pass to Kevin Hayes at the doorstep. Hayes slammed the puck into the vacated net for a 1-0 BC lead, and his 24th tally of the season. The goal, however, should have been as much cause for concern as celebration, as the team to score first in the opening two games of the series had lost.

Sure enough, Stephen Johns drew the Irish even, 1-1, after finishing off a rink-long rush with a backhander that broke between BC's freshman goalie Thatcher Demko and the left post at 11:31. Ruled no goal on the ice, the referee's decision was overturned by video review, and the Irish were on the board. It was a critical moment in the game, said ND coach Jeff Jackson.

"You don't want to go down 2-0 to a team of that caliber," he said.

The second period began much like the first, with BC's Austin Cangelosi ringing a shot off iron at the 20-second mark. The Irish took a 2-1 lead at 4:10. ND's T.J. Tynan snapped a shot into a crowd in front of the BC net. Linemate Bryan Rust settled the rebound, and while Demko searched for the puck, the Irish senior calmly potted it for his 16th goal of the season.

But the Irish again insisted on helping out the Eagles. With Notre Dame already shorthanded due to a bench minor, Tynan carelessly tripped up Demko at 7:53 and was sent off for goaltender interference. The Eagles needed only 13 seconds to capitalize, when captain Patrick Brown tapped in the rebound of a Bill Arnold shot to tie the game, 2-2, at 8:05.

The Eagles appeared to take a 3-2 lead at 9:41, when the rebound of a wide-angle shot by Johnny Gaudreau ricocheted off Brown, just as he was being nudged by Johns, and bounced into the net. However, after video review, the goal was disallowed and Brown was given a two-minute penalty for goalie interference. It was as close as Gaudreau would come to scoring, as he saw his 31-game scoring streak come to an end.

Summerhays came up big with a shoulder save on Arnold at 13:11, after ND defender Shayne Taker blew an edge and fell down. Then, with less than five seconds left in the middle frame, the Irish struck again. Rust, steaming down the right side with a step on BC's Danny Linell, converted a tape-to-tape pass from Tynan for his second of the game and a 3-2 Irish lead.

In the final period, the Irish put an end to their charitable gaffes, closing out the game and the series. Summerhays kept the Eagles at bay, stuffing Hayes' attempt down low at 2:15, then shutting the door on a number of high-quality, in-tight bids by Gaudreau, Quinn Smith, Linell, Gilmour and Brendan Silk, and a nice glove stop on a long-range bomb by Mike Matheson.

"You have to give Summerhays a tremendous amount of credit," York said. "He was the difference, from my perspective."

ND's Mike Voran may have saved the game for the Irish at 12:33 when he hooked BC's Chris Calnan at the top of the crease, preventing the Eagle from getting a shot off with Summerhays out of position. Notre Dame killed off Voran's penalty, then got an insurance marker.

Irish captain Jeff Costello put the game out of reach at 18:08 when he was sent in alone on Demko by Steven Fogarty. Costello corralled the pass, shifted to his backhand and tapped it five-hole past Demko to send the Irish to the Hockey East semifinals.

Now the Eagles will need to regroup. York didn't like having a 13-day layoff between the Eagles' final regular-season game and the Hockey East playoffs. Now he and his squad are looking at a minimum of 12 days before the start of the NCAA tournament, where the Eagles are assured an at-large bid.

UMass Lowell, UNH advance in Hockey East

March, 16, 2014
Sophomore goaltender Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves as UMass Lowell edged Vermont, 2-1, in the deciding game of the teams' Hockey East quarterfinal series on Sunday afternoon at Tsongas Center.

The River Hawks took a 2-0 lead in the first period, with Christian Folin scoring a shorthanded goal at 10:08 and A.J. White adding a power-play goal at 15:43.

Vermont made it 2-1 at 17:46 of the second period on Jake Fallon's power-play goal, but couldn't beat Hellebuyck again.

Next up in the semifinals for UMass Lowell is Notre Dame, which surprised BC 4-2 in Sunday's deciding game.

Friday's other semifinal at TD Garden will pit Providence against New Hampshire, which advanced with a 5-4 win over Northeastern on Sunday in Durham, N.H.

Kevin Goumas recorded four points, including his second career hat trick, to lead UNH.

Goumas set up the Wildcats' first goal and scored the team's next three goals to give UNH a 4-3 lead early in the third period that they would not relinquish.

The Huskies thought they tied the score, 4-4, with a power-play goal at 7:38 but the referees immediately waved off the tally on a high-stick redirection by Mike McMurtry. After a lengthy review, the initial call stood.

UNH extended the advantage to 5-3 at 13:41 when Brett Pesce crashed the net and banged in a rebound.

BC forces a Game 3 in Hockey East quarters

March, 16, 2014
CHESTNUT HILL -- What's a Holy War without a chance for redemption?

For the Boston College Eagles, redemption came in the form of a 4-2 victory over Notre Dame before 4,537 fans at Conte Forum on Saturday, less than 24 hours after a 7-2 mauling at the hands of the Fighting Irish. BC's victory ties the Hockey East quarterfinal series at a game apiece, and the two teams will meet Sunday with a spot in the semifinals at TD Garden next Friday on the line.

"Our objective was to get to Sunday afternoon," said BC coach Jerry York. "We met this morning, and re-emphasized how difficult it was going to get to a Sunday afternoon game. We had to improve in a lot of different areas. I think that's an outstanding team that we're playing. Coming off that 7-2 beating last, night, I thought we responded very, very well."

Of course, having a superstar forward showing the way certainly helps. BC junior Johnny Gaudreau, the nation's top scorer, notched a 4-point night on two goals and two assists - extending his point streak to 31 games - to lead the top-seeded Eagles (26-6-4; 16-2-2 Hockey East) past the 8th-seeded Irish (22-13-2; 9-9-2 HE). Gaudreau's linemates Kevin Hayes (a goal and two assists) and Bill Arnold (two assists) also had big nights.

"Obviously, BC's top line played like the best line in college hockey," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, when asked what the difference was between Friday and Saturday nights.

Perhaps the single biggest oddity of the Hockey East playoffs was the seeding of Notre Dame. Despite being ranked No. 11 in the entire country, the Irish managed only an 8th-place finish in Hockey East. Saturday, Boston College, No. 2 in the national polls, was reminded again just how dangerous the Irish are. The Eagles got off to the worst possible start, surrendering a goal just 39 seconds into the contest.

BC freshman goalie Thatcher Demko (19 saves) made a great left pad stop on Bryan Rust after the ND senior turned Steve Santini inside out. Seconds later, though, Rust collected a pass from Andy Ryan, and with T.J. Tynan parked in front, snapped a wrister that eluded Demko for a 1-0 Irish lead.

"I thought a key to the game was that we gave up an early goal, and the bench did not sag at all," said York.

Santini nearly made amends at 7:20, when his shot from above the right faceoff dot beat ND goalie Steven Summerhays glove side but clanked off the post. Summerhays, from the seat of his goalie pants, then denied back-to-back rebound bids from Patrick Brown and Austin Cangelosi.

The flurry, however, appeared to shake the Eagles out of their doldrums, and they began to apply pressure in the ND end, eventually outshooting the Irish 19-6 in the first stanza.

"We established a great forecheck throughout the whole game," said Gaudreau. "I think that's what got us a few of those goals during the game. We have to make sure to keep pressing their D."

The Eagles did pull even at 10:28, shortly after killing a penalty by Brown, on a goal set up by a spectacular rush by Gaudreau. Picking up the puck in the neutral zone from Arnold, Gaudreau waltzed into the Irish zone and then put on a burst that dropped ND defender Kevin Lind to his knees. BC's Brown, sprung from the penalty box, came steaming into the slot and Gaudreau curled the puck back to his captain. Brown made no mistake, burying his 13th of the season to knot the score, 1-1.

"We just came out a lot harder in this game," said Gaudreau. "I think the guys knew it was a do-or-die game, and we didn't want to send out our seniors with a loss here at Conte. I think that was a little bit of motivation too."

The Eagles had a golden opportunity to break the tie with the Golden Domers during a two-man advantage late in the period, and BC's golden boy made good again. With Mike Voran and Peter Schneider both in the sin bin, BC's Hayes corralled the puck by the left faceoff dot and fired a perfect cross-ice pass to Gaudreau at the bottom of the right circle. The junior from New Jersey gathered the pass, and calmly roofed his shot over a sprawling Summerhays for a 2-1 Eagle lead at 17:39.

"The first period, there was no flow to it, with all the penalties," said Jackson. "That really was the difference in the game. That's where the whole tempo of the game was established."

Demko made the lead stand going into the first intermission with a nifty last stop on Jeff Costello's backhand bid.

The middle stanza saw plenty of opportunities, as both teams ramped up their offensive games. Summerhays (33 saves) made another save on his backside, snagging Arnold's bid with his glove at 6:26. ND's Vince Hinostroza had a terrific chance to get the Irish level at 11:45 when he pounced on a defensive miscue by BC's Scott Savage, but he lost the handle before he could get a shot off on Demko. Less than a minute later, Summerhays flashed the leather again, snaring Brown's slapper from the right halfwall. With just over two minutes left, and BC on the power play, Gaudreau put a shift on the ND defense, but Summerhays smothered his backhander.

At 5:58 of the third period, the Eagles got some breathing room with an insurance marker off a broken play. BC's Savage, cruising into the slot, appeared to have an open shot but fanned on his attempt. Summerhays, though, was too aggressive, and got caught out of position when Savage regrouped and slid the puck to Hayes at the left dot. Hayes fired the puck into the open net for the eventual game-winner, and Summerhays slammed his stick in frustration.

The Eagles put the game out of reach at 7:29, when Gaudreau got his second goal of the game and 32nd of the year on another superb individual move. Driving the left side, Gaudreau blew past the Irish defense, drew the puck across the crease, and coolly slipped it between Summerhays' legs for a three-goal BC lead.

"Our work ethic was better tonight," said York. "I thought our battles were better tonight. And we got a big push out of Billy Arnold's line. Johnny in particular was really on top of his game tonight."

The Irish chipped into the BC lead with a power-play goal at 16:18. With Santini serving two minutes for boarding, Hinostroza took the puck near the right dot, toe-dragged into the slot and rifled a wrist shot that beat Demko low blocker side to get Notre Dame within two. But the Irish wouldn't get another puck past Demko.

With three seconds left, Gaudreau was dropped by a clean-but-crunching neutral zone check by ND's Ryan, setting off a minor scrum. That should definitely set the tone for Sunday's rubber match.

"They're a great team," Jackson. "Punch, counter-punch. You expect that from a great team. That's what we saw tonight."

Jackson said he expects both teams to be tired, adding: "College kids aren't used to three games in three days." But Gaudreau said he'll be ready, especially because he anticipates being better rested. "Last night was tough to sleep" following Friday's 7-2 loss, he said. "But I'll get a little bit more sleep than last night."

Asked if the Eagles will change anything for Sunday's deciding contest, Gaudreau replied: "It's the same approach as coming into this night. We want to get to the Garden. We want to make sure our senior class comes out of Conte with their last win here. It's definitely going to be fun, exciting, and I'm excited to get the game going."

Hockey East: Providence sweeps Maine

March, 15, 2014
The Hockey East playoffs continued Saturday, with the second game of four best-of-three quarterfinal series. Three of the four series will conclude with a winner-take-all Game 3 on Sunday.

Providence 4, Maine 2 -- Nick Saracino scored two goals to lead Providence College to a 4-2 win over Maine at home in Schneider Arena. Coupled with a 3-1 win Friday night, the No. 3 seed Friars swept the No. 6 seed Black Bears to advance to next weekend's semifinals.

Vermont 3, UMass Lowell 2 (OT) -- The visiting Catamounts escaped in overtime thanks to Mario Puskarich's goal 5:36 into the extra session, forcing a Game 3 after the River Hawks' 3-2 win Friday night. The teams will face off with a semifinal berth on the line at Lowell's Tsongas Center on Sunday at 4:30 p.m ET.

Northeastern 5, New Hampshire 4 (OT) -- The Huskies knotted up their series at UNH's Whittemore Center at one game apiece when Mike Szmatula netted the winner 3:39 into overtime to beat the Wildcats, 5-4. Game 3 takes place Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

Boston College 4, Notre Dame 2 -- After a brutal 7-2 home loss Friday, No. 1 seed BC bounced back Saturday to defeat Notre Dame 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau had two goals and two assists, extending his point streak to 31 straight games. The Eagles and Fighting Irish face off Sunday at 4:30 p.m. to determine who will move on to the next round.

For more on each game, check out Hockey East Online.

Hockey East quarters feature familiar foes

March, 13, 2014
If familiarity breeds contempt, and if a healthy dose of contempt is an essential ingredient of playoff hockey, then the Hockey East quarterfinal round this weekend promises to provide some fireworks.

Three of the four best-of-three matchups feature teams that squared off in the last weekend of the regular season. Revenge will be on the minds of the top-ranked BC Eagles, who saw their Senior Night eclipsed by Notre Dame in a 2-1 overtime loss. No. 2 Lowell and Vermont renew acquaintances after a split, and the Maine Black Bears must motor to Providence in a rematch of their recent altercation with the Friars at Alfond Arena. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, New Hampshire and Northeastern rub elbows again after not seeing one another for four months.

Of the eight quarterfinal combatants, six currently sit in the top 16 of the national Pairwise Rankings, which will determine the teams that are invited to the NCAA field of 16 after the six league champions are decided. Those are BC (2), Lowell (8), Notre Dame (9), Providence (11), Vermont (tied at 11) and Northeastern (tied with Michigan at 14).

This weekend's winners punch their tickets to the Hockey East semifinals next Friday at the TD Garden in Boston.

No. 1 Boston College (25-5-4; 16-2-2 HE) vs. No. 8 Notre Dame (21-12-2; 9-9-2 HE)
The Eagles are looking straight into the eyes of an opponent that no one in Hockey East wants to face. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are peaking at exactly the right time, with a number of injured players returning from the infirmary, and key freshmen growing into their roles. Most importantly, senior goaltender Steven Summerhays (1.88 goals-against average, .929 save percentage) and the ND defense have been in lockdown mode since Valentine's Day, allowing only five goals in their past six games (including three shutouts). Among those wins was a 2-1 overtime victory over the Eagles at The Heights, which snapped BC's 19-game unbeaten streak. The two teams split their regular-season series, with BC upending the Irish 4-3 at Fenway Park in January.

Key for the Eagles is getting their high-octane offense back on track. The defense has been tremendous all season, led by freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko (1.75 GAA, .935 save percentage). But after scoring 25 goals in their first six games of February, the Eagles have managed just three in their past two (a tie and a loss). Expect BC coach Jerry York to take advantage of the last shift to free up space for his top line of Johnny Gaudreau (30 goals, 64 points), Bill Arnold (44 points) and Kevin Hayes (51 points).

No. 2 Lowell (21-9-4, 11-6-3 HE) vs. No. 7 Vermont (19-12-3, 10-10-0 HE)
The eighth-ranked River Hawks split their final two regular-season games against Vermont in Burlington, Vt., winning the opener in overtime 1-0 before dropping their season finale 3-2. This time around, however, Norm Bazin's troops, the defending Hockey East champions, have the Catamounts at home, at the Tsongas Center. Lowell, with its third straight 20-plus-win campaign, is coming into the postseason with some momentum, going 7-3-3 since its Frozen Fenway loss to Northeastern. The River Hawks have done a solid job holding serve at Tsongas with a 10-3-3 record this season, and are undefeated in their past 11 at home (8-0-3).

Vermont is also looking up at Lowell in the Pairwise Rankings, meaning the series is taking on a "must-win" feel. The Catamounts edged the UMass Minutemen 2-1 last weekend, and have shown the ability to win away from home, with a 9-5-1 road record (including a weekend sweep at UNH last month). Sophomore Brody Hoffman (1.95 GAA, .928 save percentage) came up big against the Minutemen, and Kevin Sneddon will need outstanding goaltending again this weekend to knock off the defending champs.

No. 3 Providence (19-9-6; 11-7-2 HE) vs. No. 6 Maine (16-13-4; 9-8-3 HE)
The Friars pulled off an impressive sweep in the regular season's final weekend, traveling to Orono, Maine, and taking two games from the Black Bears, who at the time had the best home record in the league. Now the Friars are back home, making the task for the Black Bears all the more daunting. If Maine needs a reason to believe, though, it's that the Friars are only 6-3-1 in the confines of Schneider Arena. Solid, but not spectacular. However, if PC sophomore goalie Jon Gillies (2.22 GAA, .927 save percentage) is his typical spectacular self, Maine will need a special effort from its offensive corps.

Historically, the Black Bears have thrived in the underdog role, but they'll have to double their road win total (1-10-3 so far this season) to keep playing. Maine is the lowest-ranked team of the remaining eight in the Pairwise (22), and the Black Bears will need to run the table of the Hockey East tourney to make the NCAAs. Providence, meanwhile, has only to be reminded of the disappointment of failing to get an invitation to last year's NCAA tournament, despite making it to the Hockey East semifinals, to find a little extra motivation.

No. 4 New Hampshire (19-16-1; 11-9-0 HE) vs. No. 5 Northeastern (18-12-4; 10-8-2 HE)
A late-season stumble (2-4-1 in their last seven) cost the Huntington Hounds home ice in the quarterfinals, meaning they must travel to Durham, N.H., to play a Wildcats squad that swept the season series between the teams. That's a tall order for Northeastern. Still, Jim Madigan's Huskies have already confounded the naysayers, rebounding from a disastrous 2012-13 campaign and a last-place prediction in preseason polls to grab the fifth seed. Freshmen Mike Szmatula (36 points), Dalen Hedges (22 points) and John Stevens (20 points) will need to help out sophomore Kevin Roy (17 goals, 43 points) and senior Braden Pimm (20 goals, 33 points) if the Huskies hope to extend their season.

The Wildcats (Pairwise rank: 20) have humbled Northeastern twice this season, winning both games by three-goal margins, but Dick Umile's team hasn't seen the Huskies since mid-November. The Wildcats have been uneven since mid-January, going 6-6-0 over the last dozen games of the season (with big two-game sweeps over Notre Dame and Boston University), and needing a 5-2 victory over Merrimack in the season finale to garner home ice for the playoffs. The fans at UNH's Whittemore Center will no doubt be ready. The key is whether the Wildcats will be as well. Expect goaltender Casey DeSmith (2.34 GAA, .922 save percentage) and the ever-dangerous Kevin Goumas (14 goals, 45 points) to have an impact.

Merrimack blanked, bounced by Maine

March, 8, 2014
Martin Ouellette had 29 saves as Maine shut out Merrimack, 2-0, to advance to the Hockey East quarterfinals.

Rasmus Tirronen made 33 saves for Merrimack, but the Black Bears got the only goal they needed 2:01 into the game when Mark Anthoine beat Tirronen.

Neither team found the back of the net again until Maine (15-13-4, 9-8-3 HE) scored an empty-net goal at 19:41 of the third.

Merrimack closes its season at 8-21-3, 3-15-2; Maine goes on to play at Providence in the quarterfinals.

Hockey East: Catamounts oust Minutemen

March, 7, 2014
Senior forward Connor Brickley buried the game-winning goal with 1:07 remaining in the third period as the University of Vermont rallied to defeat UMass Amherst 2-1 in Friday's opening game of the Hockey East tournament.

The seventh-seeded Catamounts (19-12-3; 10-10-0 HE) advance after winning the first-round elimination game and will face either No. 2 seed UMass Lowell or No. 3 seed Providence in a best-of-three quarterfinal matchup next weekend.

The 10th-seeded Minutemen finish their season at 8-22-4 (4-13-3 HE).

Hockey East tourney an all-inclusive affair

March, 2, 2014
For years, Hockey East was the exception among collegiate conferences due to its practice of excluding teams from its postseason tournament. It was an oft-repeated matter of pride that teams had to earn their way into the playoffs, with spots reserved only for the top eight squads. Nothing was guaranteed.

However, with the addition of Notre Dame this year and the league now numbering 11 teams, the league invited everyone to the playoff party. And that's set up an interesting dynamic heading into the second season.

Hockey East's top five teams -- Boston College, UMass-Lowell, Providence, New Hampshire and Northeastern -- will receive a bye next weekend. Only New Hampshire (19-16-1; 11-9-0 Hockey East) and Northeastern (18-12-4; 10-8-2 HE) know who their quarterfinal opponent will be, as the Huskies will travel to Durham, N.H., to take on the Wildcats. The two-week layoff, however, isn't sitting well with everyone at the top of the table.

[+] EnlargeJerry York
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesBC coach Jerry York isn't thrilled with his prize for winning the Hockey East regular season -- a two-week break.
BC coach Jerry York, following his Eagles' 2-1 overtime loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, was clearly disappointed with the new format, saying, "It puts us in an unusual situation" of dealing with a long dormant stretch just as postseason play gets under way. A fortnight without game action, said York, breaks up a team's rhythm.

"It's not great for all of us to sit out two weeks," he said. "You always like to play games. We were kind of hoping to play [next] weekend, but that's the way everybody voted."

Asked how he'll spend that time, York said he will sit down with his staff and "address some needs."

"We'll look at some specifics, almost like preseason training camp," he said. "We'll look at faceoffs, defending three-on-twos with a backcheck, all the small little things that we might not have the time for over the course of the regular season."

BC opponents might scoff at the notion that York's team needs tinkering. The No. 1 team in the nation, BC (25-5-4; 16-2-2 HE) has put together a dominating regular season -- the Eagles have Hockey East's top offense and top defense -- and has known for weeks that it had the league's top seed locked up. Last year's regular-season and tournament champion Lowell (21-9-4; 11-6-3 HE) and third-place Providence (19-9-6; 11-7-2 HE) punched their tickets to the top five in the past week.

Of those two, the Friars' Nate Leaman will definitely rue the possibility of lost momentum, after Providence traveled to Maine and brought back two wins against a Black Bears squad that has looked nearly unbeatable at home. UMass-Lowell, meanwhile, made the road trip to Burlington to face Vermont and managed a split, winning Friday in overtime before dropping Saturday's game, 3-2.

Perhaps the biggest loser this past weekend was Northeastern, which dropped a pair of decisions in a home-and-home series against Boston University and fell to No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings. Those losses, combined with New Hampshire's win Saturday over Merrimack, also cost the No. 9 Huskies home-ice advantage in the quarterfinals. A quick exit from the playoffs could put Northeastern's bid for an at-large bid to the NCAAs at risk.

Looking ahead, the national Pairwise Rankings are again expected to play to key role in determining which teams make the NCAA field of 16. There are only six automatic bids, which are awarded to the tournament champions of the country's six major leagues. Any upset title winner, and the Atlantic Hockey champ (the league's highest ranked team is currently Air Force, at 35th), will mean fewer teams from the top 16 of the Pairwise Rankings will make the NCAAs.

Of the six Hockey East teams that are playing next weekend, only Vermont and Notre Dame are currently sitting in the "sweet 16" of the Pairwise Rankings. The other four have only one shot at making the NCAA tournament, and that is to claim Hockey East's automatic bid for the tournament champion. The following is the lineup for next weekend's single-game elimination round:

Merrimack (8-21-3; 3-15-2 HE) at Maine (15-13-4; 9-8-3 HE)
These two teams better bring their corner cut-men to this battle at Maine's Alfond Arena in Orono on Saturday. The squads have met in several quarterfinal rounds in recent years, and each one has been a donnybrook. Expect the same this time around, as the Warriors, the league's cellar dwellers, have to bring a street-fighter's mentality to Maine if they hope to keep their season alive. And even that might not be enough.

The Black Bears, under first-year head coach Red Gendron, have been stellar at Alfond, though they did drop two games at home this past weekend against a stout Providence club, leaving them with a 12-3-0 home record. The Black Bears are mired in a four-game winless streak, which can mean one of two things -- they're ripe for an upset, or they're hungry for a victory.

Wins have been few and far between for Mark Dennehy's Warriors, but they did manage a quality 4-2 victory over UNH this past Friday (snapping a seven-game losing streak), before dropping the rematch, 5-2. However, they don't have a single league road victory, and only a single victory away from Lawler Arena all season. The Warriors have the league's most anemic offense, scoring less than two goals per game. Getting a playoff win in Orono will be a tall order.

Boston University (10-20-4; 5-12-3 HE) at Notre Dame (20-12-2; 9-9-2 HE)
With their two victories over Northeastern this weekend, the Terriers were able to leapfrog Massachusetts into ninth place. Their reward is a trip to South Bend, Ind., and a Saturday date with perhaps the hottest team in Hockey East. The Fighting Irish have surrendered just a single goal in their past four games, including a pair of 2-0 victories over BU. If defense wins championships, Notre Dame is poised for a deep tourney run, especially with senior Steven Summerhays between the pipes.

"That's probably the most important thing going into the playoffs. He's back to where I think he's capable of. He's capable of playing like that every night," said Irish coach Jeff Jackson after Summerhays stonewalled high-octane BC in Saturday's 2-1 overtime win. "That's were it all starts. Your goaltender has to be a difference-maker in games like this. It's like a playoff game. That's a good starting point, knowing we have confidence in him. Everything starts from there."

BU will be encouraged by its eight-goal output against Northeastern in the two victories this weekend, but the Terriers have yet to prove that they can solve Summerhays and Notre Dame's air-tight defense. They'll need to in order to get back to the quarterfinals.

UMass (8-21-4; 4-13-3 HE) at Vermont (18-12-3; 10-10-0 HE)
UMass second-year coach John Micheletto returns to the familiar confines of Gutteson Fieldhouse this Friday, following his eight-year tenure as an assistant to UVM's Kevin Sneddon. Perhaps the bigger obstacle for Micheletto is that his Minutemen will be coming off their own two-week layoff, having last played against Providence on Feb. 21 and 22, dropping two one-goal decisions. In their past eight games, the Minutemen have managed only a single win, a 3-0 victory over Northeastern on Feb. 7. The one bright spot for UMass is a potent power play (second in the league), so Vermont will need to play disciplined hockey.

While UMass might be dealing with rust, Sneddon's Catamounts ought to be game-ready, coming off a rugged two-game series with UMass-Lowell, dropping one overtime match and winning their season finale, 3-2. Behind a vastly improved defense (2.09 goals against), Vermont has worked its way to the 12th spot in the Pairwise Rankings.

After the elimination round, the teams will be re-seeded for the following weekend, with BC taking on the lowest remaining seed, UMass-Lowell facing the next lowest, Providence versus the third, and Northeastern tackling New Hampshire.

BC drops season finale in OT to Notre Dame

March, 1, 2014
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- In a season finale without playoff implications, the No. 1 Boston College Eagles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish met in the latest skirmish of their long-running Holy War, with only bragging rights, and perhaps postseason momentum, at stake.

The Irish (20-12-2; 9-9-2 Hockey East) played spoilers on BC's senior night, submitting a superb defensive effort to skate away with a 2-1 win on Vince Hinostroza's overtime strike before a sellout crowd at Conte Forum. Notre Dame's victory snapped the Eagles' 19-game unbeaten streak, leaving the club three shy of the school record set in 1949-50.

"I doubt seriously that we impacted their confidence very much," Irish coach Jeff Jackson said with a wry grin. "It's just the way we have to play. Against any opponent, but especially against a team of that caliber, if we're real smart, play in control and do a good job with the puck, that's a big part [of] not allowing them to play their transition game."

The loss will give Jerry York's Eagles (25-5-4; 16-2-2 HE) something extra to think about over the next two weeks while they await their quarterfinal matchup. "That was a college hockey game that really featured defensive plays," York said. "I thought both teams were outstanding without the puck, limiting chances."

"Our team played well against a very good team," York said. "I thought the Irish played very well tonight."

Having wrapped up their 13th league title (in 30 Hockey East seasons) on Feb. 16, the Eagles already knew they had a bye for next weekend. York joked that he'll have to reach out to BC football coach Steve Addazio for bowl preparation suggestions to handle the 14-day layoff.

"Hockey players like to play games," said York, adding the Eagles and the other top four seeds might be at a disadvantage by having to wait until March 14 before their next game. "It's not great for all of us to sit out two weeks. We'll have to adapt to it."

A low-scoring affair was expected Saturday, with Notre Dame senior Steven Summerhays coming off three straight shutouts, all against Hockey East competition, and BC freshman Thatcher Demko coming into the game sporting the nation's best goals-against average at 1.74. The teams ran true to form over the first 20 minutes, which ended in a scoreless draw.

The Irish, however, struck early in the second, when Kevin Lind converted a slick feed from Jeff Costello, rifling it over Demko's glove at the 32-second mark. "I thought the goal they scored, hitting the trailing defenseman, that was a real good offensive play," York said. Meanwhile, Summerhays (19 saves) continued to keep the door to the ND net slammed shut, stopping all 11 BC shots over the first two periods, including a terrific right-toe save on Ryan Fitzgerald at 5:15.

Johnny Gaudreau nearly pulled the Eagles even at 15:20, but his in-tight power-play bid clanked off the left post. The miss sprung a 3-on-1 Irish rush, but Gaudreau, sprinting back, bothered Bryan Rust just enough to help Demko (19 saves) thwart the backhand bid.

At the 91-second mark of the third, Gaudreau, the nation's leading scorer, worked his magic again. Taking a pass from Michael Matheson, the junior from New Jersey split two Irish before squeezing off a shot that eluded Summerhays, slipping between his body and left arm. It was Gaudreau's 30th goal of the season and extended his point streak to 29 games. The goal also ended Summerhays' shutout streak just shy of 232 minutes.

"The thing I admire about [Gaudreau] is he's got all the skills and all the tools, the skating. He's got all that and the instincts for the game," Jackson said. "But I like his edge, his competitiveness. He's not the biggest cat in the world, but I tell you what, he plays big. So you add that with his skill set and his instincts -- it's a pretty dangerous combination."

The goaltenders made sure the game went to overtime with a couple of sparkling stops, including Demko's flashing a pad to deny Hinostroza at 15:28 and Summerhays' stuffing BC's Michael Matheson minutes later.

At 1:56 of the extra session, ND's Sam Herr flicked a shot from the left point into a pile of players in front of Demko. The puck appeared to glance off Hinostroza's hip and fluttered slowly over Demko's outstretched blocker before falling into the BC net, giving the Irish the 2-1 overtime win.

"It was tough to get chances," York said. "Sometimes, defense is rewarded. Both teams played pretty good, hard defense."

"They're a good club. It doesn't look to me like a sixth-place team," York said of the Hockey East newcomers. "You give them their injured players back -- they were out four, five players for a long time -- that's a pretty good hockey team. They're certainly going to be a real factor in this Lamoriello Trophy chase."

BC hockey takes season series from BU

January, 17, 2014
CHESTNUT HILL – Nathaniel Hawthorne's famed scarlet letter "A" is taking on an ominous connotation for the Boston University Terriers these days. After No. 3 Boston College tagged David Quinn's troops with a 6-4 loss on Friday night before a raucous crowd at Conte Forum, keeping the Terriers mired in 10th place in Hockey East, the "A" for the Scarlet and White is starting to look like "also ran."

Despite the promise of a 3-1-0 start to the season, the Terriers (7-12-2; 2-6-1 Hockey East) lost for the fifth straight time, and saw their winless streak grow to seven, at the hands of Jerry York's BC squad. But for Quinn, who saw his team battle back from a 5-2 deficit to almost tie the game, that "A" could just as easily represent "almost," and that was an encouraging sign.

"We've got good character guys in the room, we've got good leadership," said the first-year BU bench boss. "We don't stop. You get down 5-2 to that team, you can pack it in easily, and we made a game of it. We had some chances.

"I'm proud of our guys, the way we competed," he said. "Even when we struggled, we were competing, and like I said, it was a step in the right direction for us."

The Eagles (15-4-3; 9-1-1 HE), meanwhile, guaranteed themselves the season series against their archrivals with the win, and solidified their perch atop the Hockey East standings.

"The [BC-BU] rivalry is something very, very special," said York, who collected career win No. 950. "BU did a tremendous job in the first period. They battled through that, the crowd and the home ice advantage, and clearly outplayed us in the first period. We settled down, and played much better in the second period and the beginning of the third."

Despite coming into the game at opposite ends of the Hockey East standings, the game was extremely tight for the first 10 minutes. BU drew first blood at 10:47, when freshman Robbie Baillargeon took advantage of a sagging BC defense just inside the left dot, and fired a snapshot that beat Eagles goaltender Brian Billett cleanly over the glove for his sixth of the season. It was a promising start for BU, which had managed a winning record (6-5-2) when scoring first this year.

"BU took it to us that first period," said York. "We were upset with that first period. The crowd got us back into it."

The Eagles knotted the game with less than a minute to go in the opening stanza, taking advantage of a Garrett Noonan interference penalty. BC's Teddy Doherty collected the puck at the left point, and fired a crisp pass down low to an unmarked Adam Gilmour. The freshman from Hanover, Mass., coolly pulled the puck across the crease and tucked it between the legs of BU netminder Sean Maguire for a power-play tally at 19:14.

"I thought our power play and penalty kill were both very good tonight, and they had to be," said York.

Maguire (38 saves) kept the Terriers in the game with two exceptional saves just four minutes into the second period. The sophomore from British Columbia first stuffed Bill Arnold's backhand bid with a diving blocker save, and then absolutely robbed Michael Sit with his catching glove seconds later. However, the third time was the charm for the Eagles. After Maguire failed to controlled the rebound of a Danny Linell wrister, Quinn Smith pounced on the puck and buried it at 4:35 for a 2-1 BC lead.

Another Noonan penalty again proved costly to BU, as the Eagles' top line extended BC's lead to 3-1 at 11:05. Eagle senior Kevin Hayes, dangling near the right half-wall, sent a cross-ice pass to Arnold, who immediately found Johnny Gaudreau in the slot. The junior scoring sensation simply redirected Arnold's pinpoint pass past behind Maguire for his 20th goal of the season.

"Obviously, our penalty kill has got to get better," said Quinn. "It's killed us the last two games."

BC's Michael Matheson nearly stretched the lead to 4-1 just past the 16-minute mark, when he slashed across the crease and slipped the puck behind Maguire. However, the puck hit the post, ricocheted off Maguire and appeared to be heading into the net when BU's Kevin Duane swept it off the goal line.

Duane was also instrumental in getting the Terriers back in the game at 2:50 of the third. Working out of the left corner, Duane shoveled a backhand pass to T.J. Ryan at the doorstep, and the freshman from West Newton, Mass., flipped it past Billett for his first career goal, cutting the BC lead to 3-2.

Just 3½ minutes later, however, the Eagles regained their two-goal margin on Chris Calnan's strike, off a feed from Gilmour, at 6:20. The pair connected again at 9:27 to salt away the Eagles 15th win on the season, at 9:27. Calnan, picking up the puck from teammate Brendan Silk, drove down the right side, and then feathered a beautiful pass between two BU defenders to Gilmour, who simply tapped it into the open net for a commanding 5-2 BC lead.

"Our game was pushed by Adam's line," said York. "I thought they were outstanding tonight. They've really come together. They're three big kids, and they did a lot of positive, positive things."

Billett gave the Terriers a glimmer of hope at 11:11, when he allowed Mike Moran's wide-angle prayer from the left wing to sneak through, cutting the Eagle lead to 5-3. BU's Cason Hohmann then buried a one-timer from the left side at 16:32 for a power-play goal, getting the Terriers within sniffing distance of the Eagles, 5-4.

However, it proved to be BU's last gasp, as Billett blunted several late scoring chances, and Gaudreau iced the win with a backhander from half-ice that skidded into an empty BU net at 19:22.

"There were a lot of good things from our end," said Quinn. "Obviously, you hate losing, but I thought we took a big step in the right direction tonight. It actually started in the third period against Maine [Saturday at Frozen Fenway]. Hopefully, we will get rewarded with a win, and hopefully we can start getting a little bit of a snowball effect from a winning aspect, kind of like this losing aspect has picked up a snowball effect."