The second half of the Hockey East season kicks off on Friday before Merrimack returns to Matthews for yet another game against Northeastern, so now seems like an appropriate time to look at the state of the conference after the first half of play. We took a long look at the first half from NU last week, so let’s see what everybody else in Hockey East has been up to so far this season.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. BC could not win a non-conference game if you paid them and is in a Pairwise situation that is completely beyond repair, but they refuse to lose games against conference opponents and find themselves hanging around the top of the Hockey East standings. The Eagles have a non-conference winless streak that now extends well past two years and has effectively sunk their season, but will get one last chance to break it this weekend against Arizona State, surprisingly one of the top teams in the country. I can’t say I have much hope for the streak ending. BC could well take the Hockey East Regular Season crown yet again, but even if they do, their only chance at real success this season will be if they win the Hockey East Tournament. And considering they’ve yet to play any of UMass, NU, or PC in Hockey East or beat anybody outside it, that still seems far away from reality. The addition of Ben Finkelstein after the second semester begins is the only thing that could change that.
Meet the new guy… not the same as the old guy? After David Quinn left Hockey East Champion BU in the offseason most expected the Terriers to do what they always do, which looked inevitable after promoting Albie O’Connell and hiring Paul Pearl, which is to bring in another class of first round picks and do it all again. The first round picks are here, the results are not. BU sits in the top half of Hockey East only because they’ve played an absurd number of games in comparison to most of the conference, and their chances of finishing in the top four are already all but gone. They haven’t really even looked good this year, with the exception of one weekend against NU where they dominated play, got pucks past Primeau, and came away with three points. A young BU team getting hot in the second half would be par for the course, but unless Patrick Harper starts scoring, it’s hard to see this group coalescing, especially as the losses begin to pile up with Jake Wise out for the season and Dominic Vidoli returning to juniors over the break.
UConn has been interesting this season. They brought in an entire roster worth of freshmen, including some highly regarded forwards. And while Jachym Kondelik has lived up to expectations, it’s the youth movement on defense that has driven the Huskies, with basically no returning names on the blue lines playing big roles. That’s great for the future but has led to some struggles now, as the Huskies sit at just 2-9-1 in Hockey East and will almost certainly need some help if they’re to finish the season in a playoff spot. They’re 6-11-1 overall and have been a bit snakebitten on top of it, but with so many games already played, they join BU in the list of teams whose fate may already be decided. The future looks better than the present, at least.
After a bounceback 2017-18 in which they finished fifth in Hockey East behind freshman goaltender Jeremy Swayman and breakout forwards including Mitchell Fossier, expectations for Maine to build on that and maybe crack the top four of Hockey East were very much in play over the summer. A 5-9-2 fall semester is well-short of those thoughts, but thanks to most of those games being out of conference (and 3 of the 5 wins being in Hockey East) the Black Bears are far from out of it. It’s hard to imagine any of the top four falling off enough to let Maine host a playoff series, but fifth place and another respectable season are still very much in reach. The Huskies visit Maine next weekend in a very underrated series that could well have long-term implications on the standings.
They’re good. They’re probably not #1 in the country good, but they’re certainly around the top of Hockey East, and first in the Pairwise is first in the Pairwise. They arrived by splitting a road series with a slightly overrated but still quite good Ohio State team. They swept Providence, and while the advanced metrics may not agree with those results and Providence would certainly welcome a chance to avenge those losses, the wins are on the board and nothing can take them off. You need a dynamic defenseman to compete these days, and they have at least one in Cale Makar, if not more than one. Jacob Pritchard is one of the best grad transfers there’s ever been. John Leonard is someone who I thought was very underrated coming into the season and he’s played like it. 7-0-0 in Hockey East is all you can ask for, and that undefeated record will likely still be intact when NU visits Amherst on Friday, January 18th in one of the biggest weekends on the entire Hockey East schedule.
After what can only be called the first down year in the Norm Bazin tenure in 2017-18, Lowell looked to bounce back to the upper echelon this year. Like UConn, they brought in more freshmen than they know what to do with. While they’ve certainly found some useful players in the bunch, from Lucas Condotta and Sam Knoblauch to Seth Barton and Jon McDonald, they aren’t relying solely on freshmen like the Huskies are. This has led them to a more successful fall and a .500 record across the board. The River Hawks are a solid but unremarkable team in every definition of the word, but in a year where almost every other team outside the top four could resemble the word “underwhelming” in some fashion, solid is… solid. They current sit in sixth in Hockey East with a whole pile of games in hand on BU and will be a playoff contender when all is said and done, even if they have to go on the road to do it.
After firing Mark Dennehy for a coach that many felt was a downgrade, the Warriors have been… worse than ever. They’re 4-14-1 and aside from crushing BU at Lawler early on, there’s been little to write home about. They give up a ton of goals and that number only seems to increase each game that passes. The average is up to nearly 4.5 goals against per game now, and with top defenseman Jonathan Kovacevic questionable for this weekend, it may get worse before it gets better. Maybe next year, Mack.
After a disastrous end to the Umile era, the Mike Souza era began with optimism that there was no way it could be worse, and hopes that as Souza had already been hanging around Durham for a while, the rebuild could be on a fast track. Those two sentiments both seem to be correct, as UNH finds themselves in a playoff spot entering January and basically having already eclipsed their performance from a year ago. They only have a single Hockey East win though, which is the least in the conference, but have a record buoyed by 3 ties in 8 conference games. It’s hard to imagine anybody except UConn challenging UNH for the 8 spot, and UNH has a massive advantage in games in hand in that matchup, but they’re likely still a while off from really competing in Hockey East. Their season will eclipse most seasons put together by first year head coaches though, especially if they do find themselves making a cursory appearance in the playoffs when all is said and done.
One of the prohibitive favorites in Hockey East, the Friars have played up to par, sporting 11 wins and a Hockey East record that’s basically unblemished aside from a series against UMass where they dominated the shot board but didn’t find any help on the scoreboard. They’ve been a bit underwhelming, namely by getting swept that weekend, by squeaking through close wins and ties against Atlantic Hockey competition, and in a definitive loss to Notre Dame early. But their advanced metrics are off the charts and they have the players, both upperclassmen and freshmen, to compete with anybody on any night. Whether it be forwards Bjorkqvist and Wilkins, defensemen Young and Bryson, or freshmen Dugan, Thompson, and O’Brien, there’s not much on the roster that shouldn’t strike fear in their opponents. They should find themselves near the top of Hockey East and with a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, and as we learned in 2015, all they need is a lottery ticket.
Look, Stafanos Lekkas is good…. and that’s it. This team is good in exactly one facet of hockey, and that facet is “goals against”. They barely score a goal per game in Hockey East play or against anybody with a pulse. They desperately miss Ross Colton, Martin St. Louis, or anybody else with scoring ability, and they play the most conservative chance-free hockey you’re ever likely to experience in your life. They have one Hockey East win and it came in a game where they scored 0 goals for over 59.5 minutes of hockey. I do not remember the last time I watched a Vermont hockey game and came away having enjoyed the experience. Kevin Sneddon has outlasted his usefulness by a number of years, in spite of being barely a year into his most recent contract extension. They’re a bottom-two team in Hockey East, the only question is whether they can score against the atrocious defense of Merrimack or find a way to lose that game 1-0 too.