As we head into the Quarterfinal weekend and the quest for the Lamoriello Trophy, the parity that is Hockey East translates to some exciting first round match-ups. Boston College enters the postseason on their proverbial March roll as the Eagles have won 11 straight contests and take on a familiar first round foe in UMass, whom they knocked off in round 1 the last two years and look to make it a quarterfinal natural hat trick.
Tickets for the Garden portion of the Tournament are available on Ticketmaster for those who are fortunate enough to advance beyond this weekend. From my experience, the HE semi-finals/finals presents an excellent opportunity to get a close up view of the top teams in the conference as attendance can be somewhat sporadic depending on whether or not any of the Boston teams are involved. The USCHO web site lists last year’s semi-final attendance at 16,003 but I am not sure how accurate that number truly is.
The NBC Sports Network will pick up the BC/UMass game on Friday night and NESN will televise Saturday’s BU/UNH tilt. Although BC is familiar with the national spotlight, the exposure could be a nice boost to the recruiting efforts of the UMass program if they can make a competitive game of it. To further cement the apathetic nature of BC’s superfans, Chicago based – Groupon- has stepped in to help the Eagles fill up Conte Forum for the QF series…pathetic!!
The breadth of additional viewers that the NBC Sports Network provides in comparison to the regional reach of NESN is infinitely greater. NESN is delivered to over 4 million homes throughout the six-state New England region and an additional 3.7 million homes nationally as NESN National. In comparison, NBC Sports Network, now a part of the NBC Universal empire (following the merger with Comcast, which owned Versus), is currently available in more than 75 million. Basically UMass, this is your Super Bowl commercial, please make this most of this opportunity!!
I also suggest you check out Joe Meloni’s in depth HE preview on the CHN’s site.
Now for the ‘Pot Picks and my general take on the upcoming weekend…for those who are as devout a college hockey fan as I, we don’t need to wait until the NCAA Basketball Tourney tips off to declare the official ‘March Madness’….let the games begin!
No. 8 Massachusetts (13-16-5) at No. 1 Boston College (25-10-1)
Season Series – As incredulous as it sounds, UMass 2-1 (both wins at the Mullins Center however)
BC will be looking to hoist their 9th Lamoriello Trophy and comes into the QF matchup having won 11 straight contests. BC does not take their recent success for granted and according to a recent Josh Seguin article on the CHN site, the Eagles relish the opportunity to gain even more hardware for their Conte Forum trophy case. Jerry York’s calming demeanor seems to keep the Eagles level headed all year and given the history of postseason success, his long term approach always has BC clicking at the opportune time.
The Eagles offense is deep and all four lines can score but in my opinion it is the stout, veteran defensive corps that makes BC so formidable. In order to make a significant postseason run it certainly helps to have a steady, veteran presence on your back line to back up your potent offense.
York had this to say about the consistent effort put forth by his teams over the past three years:
“Over the last 3 years, we’ve given up 60 goals this year, 58 goals last year and 60 goals the year before that.”
Although UMass will be facing the Eagles for the third consecutive year in the QF’s, this year has a slightly different feel. The Minutemen were a virtual enigma all year having knocked off the likes of Maine, BU and BC but couldn’t find any consistency against some of the teams at the bottom of the standings like themselves. UMass has a bit more mojo pulsing through their veins knowing that this BC team can be beat…the million dollar question is, can UMass take down the Eagles on the road, not once, but twice?…The BF doesn’t think so!!
Pot Pick – UMass will make things interesting and I look for the Minutemen to perhaps steal one on the road…maybe Saturday when BC lets their foot down…but I like the Eagles in 3.
Blogger’s Take on the series:
No. 7 Providence (12-18-4) at No. 2 Massachusetts-Lowell (22-10-1)
Season Series – UML 2-1
Although it pains me to say it, the resurgence of UML and the historic, worst to almost first season is without a doubt the paramount story in HE this year. In his first year at the helm in Lowell, Norm Bazin revitalized the program by relying on a precocious young squad who look poised for sustained success. Providence’s Nate Leaman, who turned the Union program around, also did a stellar job in his first go around as Providence returns to the HE tournament after last year’s hiatus.
Typically young teams that get off to a hot start will undoubtedly falter down the stretch and I humbly admit that I was verbose in doubting the second half success of this Lowell team. Lowell won some crucial games down the stretch including a Saturday night win at BU a few weeks back that said a lot about the character of this team. Providence, on the other hand, struggled down the stretch having won just 4 of its last 14 games. Lowell can beat you in several ways, whether it be relying on its stalwart netminder Doug Carr (Hanover, MA) or turning to the offensive prowess of future HE rookie of the year, Scott Wilson (Oakville, Ontario). As a result, I see no chance of a PC upset in this series that I expect to be over rather quickly.
Pot Pick – UML in an easy SWEEEP 2-0
No. 6 New Hampshire (14-17-3) at No. 3 Boston University (21-12-1)
Season Series – BU 3-0
I tweeted earlier in the week that the only non chalk I can see playing its way to the Garden is a UNH upset over BU. Both UNH and BU suffer from similar offensive depth issues as both heavily rely on their first line. In a similar fashion, both teams can rely on a steady presence between the pipes – UNH’s Casey DeSmith and BU’s Kieran Milan can both outright win hockey games. The series outcome could very well come down to this match up alone.
Although BU won the season series 3-0, both teams come into the series heading in opposite directions. Since DeSmith was inserted into the official starting role, UNH has turned their season around; the direct correlation between their success and the insertion of DeSmith is no coincidence. BU is still reeling from the well publicized off-ice issues and the exodus of Charlie Coyle to the QMJHL. I said it earlier in the year, BU can beat the average teams without Trivino and Coyle, but will struggle against playoff caliber talent.
Pot Pick – UNH in 3…BU’s home woes continue!!
No. 5 Merrimack (17-10-7) at No. 4 Maine (20-11-3)
Season Series – Maine 2-0-1
Much like the BU/UNH series, Maine and Merrimack are also trending in different directions as Maine overtook the Warriors to gain the last home ice spot in the dance. This spelled doom for Merrimack which now must travel to arguably the toughest road environment in the league, THE Alfond. Maine and Merrimack will both be playing for a spot in the HE semi-finals but on larger scope, also sit on the periphery of the Pairwise rankings and will be fighting for their Frozen four rights as well.
If Maine needs any further incentive, they will be seeking to avenge last year’s 1st rd sweep at the hands of the Warriors. If Merrimack has any hope of advancing to the semis, Joe Cannata will have to stand on his head – and this isn’t out of the realm of possibility by a long stretch. Merrimack’s offense can best be described as anemic and if Maine can simply play its game and shut down Flanigan, Todd and Collins, they should advance to the Garden with relative ease. I just don’t see Merrimack putting the puck by the resurgent G Dan Sullivan (2.56 GAA – although much better of late) enough to combat the offense of the nation’s top line – Abbott, Flynn and Diamond…fairly simple Math in my view.
Pot Pick – Maine 2-0…Alfond + Abbott-Diamond-Flynn = Merrimack Tee Time