After the passage of one month of college hockey, there have been a few surprises within the Hockey East conference. One of the less enjoyable ones (especially for Black Bears’ fans) has been the offensive struggles that have landed the University of Maine at the bottom of the conference. With a 1-8-0 record and a 1-for-44 conversion rate on power plays, the University of Maine was not expecting this kind of a start after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches’ poll.
A positive surprise team in the conference is the Merrimack College Warriors. This team sits in second place in Hockey East after starting the year 1-3. It’s hard to pick a top performer on this Warriors team, as an even number of defensemen and forwards share the top six point-scoring slots. If there is one player who is performing above the rest, it is junior forward Mike Collins. With seven assists and five goals, he leads Merrimack with 12 points.
Even the goaltenders are splitting the duties, with sophomore Rasmus Tirronen playing 49.8 percent of the minutes and junior Sam Marotta playing the other 50.2 percent of the time. Coming off a sweep of the Northeastern University Huskies, the Warriors will be tested very quickly with two of their next three games being against Boston University and Boston College.
Boston College was picked to be No. 1 in the conference, and still being in that rank as of Nov. 4 not only in the conference but the nation, they have not disappointed. Last year’s Hockey East Tournament MVP sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau and Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player senior goaltender Parker Milner have been playing like they want to win another national championship. With the exception of the loss to Northeastern, the Eagles have been on an absolute rampage, decimating their next six opponents by a score of 22-11.
Other than Gaudreau and Milner’s outstanding play, their special teams play has been dominant. They have scored on 10 out of 25 power plays while killing 32 out of 36 opponent power plays. Their speed and puck control are superior to most of the conference teams, and is a large reason why they will be the team to beat as the season progresses.
The University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Providence College will be my two teams to watch as second month of the season moves on. UMass has been the lone team other than Northeastern to challenge BC, yet has only one Hockey East win this year. They almost pulled off an upset of BC at home, and the Minutemen took down the University of New Hampshire in Durham. They are not to be taken lightly by any of their upcoming opponents. With their 2-4-0 record and — other than their Boston University series — their losses being by only one goal, they will need to learn how to finish games and get those one-goal victories.
Providence has been riding the middle of the pack with a 4-3-1 overall and 3-2-0 Hockey East record. With a loss to seventh-place University of Vermont as their only conference blemish alongside a loss to BU, they will be tested this month by UMass and Merrimack before taking on BC at the beginning of December. Their record by that game will show if they are contenders for a home spot in the quarterfinals come March.
With the University of Massachusetts-Lowell sitting at second to last, a brutal beginning stretch at the University of Denver and Colorado College and being welcomed home to BC was a tough way to start the season, but a 1-3-1 record isn’t something the River Hawks would like to see.
Their upcoming series against UMaine will show if they have gotten over their West Coast road trip or if they are in going to be in the same boat as UMaine: finishing a lot lower in the conference than they or anybody else had predicted.
The Black Bears and River Hawks both have problems on the power play and stopping their opponents on special teams, and their top offensive players only have four points on the year. UMaine and UMass-Lowell will have a chance to ramp up their offense in this week’s series, and whichever team does will have the best chance to get out of the bottom of Hockey East.
It certainly has been an interesting October, and with teams like UMass and Providence having potential to make jumps, Merrimack taking a surprise second-place standing, and BU and BC doing what they normally do at the top, this next month will tell us who is really who and which teams will be in the race for home playoff spots when the postseason comes.