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It’s time for teams to strap in and figure out who they are this season. Starting now, there aren’t any off weekends, no long breaks, nothing in the way of a respite until the end of the season. And for those teams who’d like for that end to come on playoff ice, there are a few things left to do.
With that in mind, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions for the league’s 10 squads.
For Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire: Remember how quickly things can change.
In a league where the separation between hosting a quarterfinal series and missing the playoffs altogether is usually fewer than 10 points, two bad weekends can bring a league leader to its knees and make for a very chilly winter indeed. The twin titans on Commonwealth Avenue seem geared for a deep run, particularly the Eagles, who’ve been nearly impossible to stop this season. The Wildcats have quietly been the league’s most consistent team, and while there are some playoff ghosts to deal with down the line, UNH is built to last. Still, it’s got the toughest remaining schedule of the three league leaders, with a combined seven games against the other top four teams still to be played.
For Maine, Merrimack: Grow up fast.
While neither the Black Bears (seven freshmen, nine sophomores) nor the Warriors (seven freshmen, six sophomores) have the sort of prevailing youth found on BU’s or UMass’ rosters this season, they’ve both made their bold challenges to the league leaders with relatively fresh-faced lineups. It’s one thing to find a spark in November and December. It’s another thing entirely to keep that spark alight down the stretch, and these two legitimate title contenders need to solve that riddle if they’re going to be taken seriously.
For Providence: Keep the blinders on
This could be a pretty special season for a program that has to look real hard in the rearview mirror to find the last one. The Friars hit this weekend’s games in sixth place, and while their 10 points don’t give them a terribly firm foothold, they’ve certainly earned the right to reach the playoffs thus far. To actually get there, though, they’ll need to keep from looking too far ahead, because every game from here on out will be a challenge.
For Northeastern, UMass, Vermont, UMass-Lowell: Find a spark
Just five points separate the bottom four teams. At this point, it seems like a safe bet that they’ll be jockeying for the final two playoff spots the rest of the way, and while all four have some quality elements, none have shown any signs of real inspiration. The Huskies have the league’s fourth-best defense, but their offense is third-worst. The young Minutemen will have to get their freshmen playing a little more like sophomores, particularly on defense where they’re allowing 3.4 goals per game. UVM and Lowell are on the outside looking in, and both their offenses and defenses are the bottom two in the league. It’s not out of the question for them, but it’ll take a profound performance for them to get back on the inside of the bubble.
NEHJ Player of the Week
Karl Stollery, jr., Merrimack
One of the Warriors’ finest defenseman, Stollery contributed in a different way Saturday, picking up his first career hat trick (plus an assist) to lead Merrimack to a 5-3 win over RIT.
Maine at Merrimack, Saturday, Jan. 8
They’re neighbors in the standings, and this clash gives either Maine the chance to widen its one-point gap on the Warriors, or for the hosts to vault into home-ice contention.
Around Hockey East
It was a fine showing for locals as BC won the Ledyard Classic over the weekend. Junior Cam Atkinson (Greenwich, Conn.) and senior Brian Gibbons (Braintree, Mass.) each picked up five points in the Eagles’ wins over Colgate and Mercyhurst; freshman Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) had an unassisted shorthanded goal in the opening round win over Colgate; and junior Paul Carey (Weymouth, Mass.) was named the tournament’s MVP with two goals and two assists in the pair of games. Senior Joe Whitney (Reading, Mass.) was a plus-3 for the tournament, which is relatively unremarkable until you consider Whitney, one of the team’s top forwards, moved to defense for the tournament.
The Terriers have a busy stretch ahead, playing three games (at Vermont, at Merrimack, vs. Harvard) over the next seven days but should be bolstered by the return of captain Chris Connolly from a broken finger.
The good news: Hometown boy Mark Anthoine (Lewiston, Maine) scored his first collegiate goal in the Black Bears’ win over Cornell on Dec. 30. The not-so-good news: He’s the only Maine rookie to score a goal this season.
After a four-game unbeaten streak put a little life into their season, the Minutemen are on a three-game slide, but seven of their next eight games are against the seventh (Northeastern), ninth (Vermont) and 10th (UMass-Lowell) teams in the Hockey East standings.
The River Hawks return to action with a new face after signing defenseman Alec Butler (Marlboro, Mass.) from the Boston Junior Bruins program. Hockey East fans might find the name familiar — Alec is the younger brother of former UNH standout and current Binghamton (AHL) Senator Bobby Butler, both of whom were Marlborough High stars for their father, John.
With Stollery leading the way and sophomore Stephane Da Costa extending his point streak to seven games, the Warriors became the first team to beat RIT in Rochester in 13 games, dating back to Jan. 30, 2010.
The Wildcats lost to St. Lawrence at home Sunday in their first action after a 22-day layoff, but it wasn’t for lack of trying by goaltender Matt DiGirolamo. The junior made 28 saves and has allowed more than two goals in just one of the last five games.
The Huskies had the longest holiday layoff of any Hockey East team, with 29 days between games. They get back at it Friday against UMass.
It won’t do much for them in the standings, but the Friars did something no other American college team has done this season, beating New Brunswick, 1-0, Saturday in Canada. It was the program’s first trip over the border since 1983.
The Catamounts lost out on their Catamount Cup tournament to Ohio State but did manage to beat Harvard in their second game, giving coach Kevin Sneddon his second win over his alma mater at Vermont, and his first over former Crimson teammate and current Harvard coach Ted Donato (Boston, Mass.). He’s now 1-2-1 against Donato, and 2-4-2 against Harvard as Vermont’s coach.
Andrew Merritt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org