|Casey Wellman of UMass (photo: Thom Kendall)|
The fall semester is just about wrapped up at college campuses, but in Hockey East, we’re only halfway through the year. So it seems like an appropriate time to issue some midterm grades to the league’s teams.
Boston College: A The Eagles look almost nothing like their inconsistent selves from last season, bolstered by the league’s top offense and penalty kill, as well as a defense and goaltending tandem that has BC allowing the fewest goals in Hockey East.
Boston University: D After everything went right for the Terriers last year, this season has been almost a perfect opposite. BU has just two league wins at the holiday break, the worst defense in the conference, and exactly one player with more than five goals this year (Zach Cohen with 6).
Maine: A– The Black Bears have been a revelation this year, returning to the top half of the standings after two tough years. Credit their league-best power play and goaltender Scott Darling’s 2.47 goals-against average, but most of all, credit Gustav Nyquist, who looks like he’s on the way to a breakout sophomore season with 17 goals and 11 assists at the break.
UMass: A- A three-game slide took some of the air out of the Minutemen’s great start, but they’re still sitting in fourth place, and have an offense led by two of the league’s best scorers in James Marcou and Casey Wellman. The UMass attack is tied with BC for the league’s best goals-per-game average at 3.67.
UMass-Lowell: B The River Hawks looked almost unbeatable at the start of the year, using the goalie rotation of Nevin Hamilton (Ashland, Mass.) and Carter Hutton to perfection. A little shine came off of their sparkling start with a three-game slump and an ugly loss to Princeton right before the break, but they’re still in contention, and might prove to be the best team in a thick middle pack.
Merrimack: B- The Warriors are getting there, and have shown sparks of brilliance at times this year, the most brilliant being freshman Stephane Da Costa’s five-goal game against Army on Oct. 17. Six of their eight losses have come against league teams, though, and that’s got them looking at a lot of work to do in the second half.
New Hampshire: A+ If you’ve looked at the standings recently and said, “Well, that’s more like it,” you’re probably not alone. The Wildcats have risen to the top despite not leading the league in any meaningful statistical category. Translation: UNH is doing a lot of things pretty well, even if they’re not dominating any one area.
Northeastern: C The loss of Brad Thiessen in goal was an obvious and eye-opening blow, but it seemed like the Huskies still had a roster that could compete better than this. Let’s be plain: When you’ve got a pair of freshman as your only goaltending options, your offense simply can’t afford to be the worst in the league, scoring just 2.27 goals per game.
Providence: D Are there reasons for hope in Providence? Of course. Look at Alex Beaudry, for instance, who has gamely put up the league’s second-best goals-against number (2.43) and save percentage (.922). But the Friars don’t have much outside of surprising wins over UMass and UMass-Lowell to hang their hat on, and precious little time left to do anything about it.
Vermont: C In good years, the Catamounts are able to overshadow offensive shortcomings with their traditional smart, speedy game. Thus far in 2009-10, that hasn’t really been the case, and the team with the worst power play and second-fewest goals in the league is looking awfully exposed.
NEHJ Player of the Week
Paul Dainton, jr., UMass
Dainton’s no stranger to a heavy workload, and was again cool under pressure with 33 saves on 34 Merrimack shots Saturday – including 16 stops in the third period.
Dartmouth at Vermont, Saturday
The Catamounts have the stage to themselves this weekend as the only league team in action, sneaking in this border battle before a two-week layoff.
Around Hockey East
After finishing the first half on a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1), the 10-3-2 Eagles have their first double-digit win total at the holiday break since 2003-04, when they were 11-2-3 on Christmas Day.
The Terriers are making the wrong kind of history this year. For just the third time in the last 48 seasons, they’ve got only four wins in their first 16 games, joining the 1987-88 and 2007-08 teams in ignominy.
Maine’s 5-1 win over Northeastern gave the Black Bears their seventh league victory of the year, matching their entire total from last season.
The Minutemen continue to be strong finishers, with a 22-10 scoring advantage in the third period. That’s helped them reach 10 victories at the earliest date in program history, matching the 2002-03 team’s 10 wins on Dec. 12.
Billerica, Mass., native Kory Falite became the first River Hawk to score 50 goals in a career since Ed McGrane, who finished with 70 from 1999-03.
Proving himself to be no one-hit wonder, freshman Stephane Da Costa extended his point streak to 10 games in the Warriors’ loss to UMass Saturday, and still leads the nation’s rookies with 1.46 points per games.
Sophomore Matt DiGirolamo has seen more pine than pucks during his career, but he rose to the occasion to pick up his first win as a starter by stopping 32 Providence shots Friday in relief of the injured Brian Foster (Pembroke, N.H.).
The goaltending picture didn’t get much rosier for Northeastern in Saturday’s loss to Maine, as freshman Chris Rawlings saw his first action all month but gave up four goals on 20 shots. Bryan Mountain turned aside 10 shots in relief in the third period, but it was too late to save the day.
The Friars have the longest layoff of any Hockey East team. After falling to Boston College last Saturday, they’re off until a game at BC on Jan. 12, a one-month stretch without a game.
After beating St. Lawrence Saturday, the Catamounts’ non-conference record improved to 10-3-1 since the start of last season. They’ve also pitched three shutouts this season, which is two more than they had in all of 2008-09.
Andrew Merritt can be reached at email@example.com.