There’s just one game remaining – Vermont vs. St. Lawrence – before the mid-season break for Hockey East teams and amidst all the rankings and standings and statistics is one question: Who is the best?
Well, here’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.
1. University of New Hampshire
Sure, people will accuse me of being biased and maybe I am a bit, but UNH has the resume to back up this claim. With no big-name stars, just a ton of depth, UNH has lost all of two games this season and nine games came between their first and second losses. Since the second loss, the Wildcats have gone on a five-game unbeaten streak, including a 4-3 overtime win over then eighth-ranked Maine on the road. Against ranked opponents, the ‘Cats are 6-2-1.
2. Boston College
The Eagles got off to a rocky start, thanks to some inconsistent play, but certainly have righted the ship and seem primed for a second-half run after brutalizing Boston University in a two-game set. The Eagles have sweeps this season over some pretty good teams, including BU, Denver and Maine. For some reason though, Merrimack has their number (1-2-0) and a poorly played game against Vermont in a two game road trip earlier this year has prevented the Eagles from getting any true momentum. But when you have the top scoring team in the conference and a defense that gives up fewer goals than any other team, more good things are going to happen than bad. Cam Atkinson is the best forward in college hockey you’ve never heard of and should be a major contender for the Hobey Hat Trick this year.
3. Boston University
Few ranked teams can be looking forward to the break as much as BU. The Terriers were absolutely embarrassed by Boston College at their own rink in a 9-5 game that really wasn’t nearly that close, then dropped a 5-2 decision the next day to the Eagles. After beating Northeastern, they dropped a 4-1 decision to Renssalaer. BU certainly has talent. At one point this season, BU had the longest unbeaten streak in the country, but now they need to regroup and get back to what was working for them during that streak.
Last year’s little team that could is making a case that it can run with the big boys now. Having been in the USCHO rankings for nearly a month now, Merrimack is showing that solid goaltending is the key to success. Joe Cannata, who seems like he’s been there forever, has developed into a top-flight goaltender, ranking second in the conference in goals allowed average and save percentage. They’ve also been a thorn in Boston College’s side and have proven they can play with the likes of BU and UNH. In six games against those teams, Merrimack is 2-2-2 and has an 11-11 goals for-goals against ratio. Doesn’t get much more even than that.
Maine’s 4-3 overtime loss to UNH was a heartbreaker for them, but the Black Bears controlled the play for all of the second period and most of the third until the Wildcats brought on the extra attacker. Maine has proven it can beat the also-rans of Hockey East, but has had its struggles against ranked Hockey East opponents, going a combined 0-3-1 against BC, UNH and BU. That said, they did make a fool out of North Dakota with an impressive sweep earlier this year. Still, Maine has to win some tough games if they want home ice in the Hockey East tournament.
Providence is making quite the turnaround this season and it’s good to see them being competitive at least. Their defense still needs shoring up before they can be considered a true threat to any of the top teams in the conference. Only UMass-Lowell has given up more goals this season.
The Huskies have been in a lot of close games this year, but that doesn’t mean much if you can’t win them. Northeastern has been in only one game this season in which the margin of victory was more than two goals, but they hold an ugly 3-9-4 record, including an 0-1-4 mark in overtime games.
After struggling mightily to get its first win of the season, UMass has been a fairly competitive team. With its youth, it’s obviously going through growing pains, but going 3-1-1 in its last five games going into the break is a good sign.
With a 2-8-4 record, UVM has very little to hang its hat on. They did beat Dartmouth and Boston College for its two wins this season, but they went 0-4-1 in the five games between the two victories.
What is there to say? This team is simply awful. Their goaltender couldn’t stop a beach ball and they have such an inept offense that they can’t even come close to making up the difference. Wasn’t this team in the middle of a resurgence just a year ago?