Hockey East Weekend Preview: Notre Dame Begins New Era at Vermont

UMass-Lowell sophomore goaltender Connor Hellebuyck put on a show in his home state last weekend. - Justin K. Aller

Notre Dame will play its first two league games as a member of Hockey East this weekend in Burlington against the University of Vermont.

League play starts in earnest for Hockey East teams this weekend with the exception of Merrimack who hosts Bentley in a nonconference matchup. Boston University and UMass-Amherst played a single conference game the first weekend of the season, but this is the first full weekend of league action.

Notre Dame will play its first conference game as a Hockey East member when the Fighting Irish travel to Burlington for a battle with Vermont. Another intriguing series is Massachusetts hosting Maine - a weekend after the two teams played a nonconference series at Alfond Arena in Orono.

Boston College (2-2-1) vs. Northeastern (5-1-0)

Friday, November 1, Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Saturday, November 2, Matthews Arena, Boston, Mass.

Besides those in the home locker room at Matthews Arena, very few people would have thought Northeastern would enter this matchup with the better record. Yes, the Eagles have faced a much tougher schedule, but the Huskies have been better than predicted.

Northeastern's explosive offense will have the opportunity to keep the Huskies close - going up against an inexperienced, but extremely talented BC blue line and goaltending tandem.

The Huskies finally fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Saturday, but there is no shame in a split at St. Lawrence. Jim Madigan's team, averaging five goals per game, will have to keep that pace up in order to stay with BC's elite offense. The Huskies defense and goaltending could be exposed again this weekend.

Boston College could have easily been swept at Minnesota last weekend, if not for a three-goal outburst in a span of 1:11 in the first game. That contest ended in a draw, but then the Gophers thrashed BC, 6-1, on Sunday.

Johnny Gaudreau was held scoreless in Sunday's game, the first such time all season. Gaudreau and the rest of the highly skilled forwards will look to create havoc for Northeastern's defense this weekend.

It will be interesting to see if Jerry York continues with his goaltending rotation, or if Thatcher Demko gets both starts. Brian Billett was roughed up in his start on Sunday afternoon.

PICK: Northeastern always seems to get primed and able to upset BC early in the season. Eagles win, 5-2, at Conte Forum, but the Huskies force a split with a 5-4 victory at Matthews Arena.

Notre Dame (5-1-0) at Vermont (1-1-0)

Friday-Saturday, November 1-2, Gutterson Field House, Burlington, VT

The maiden voyage into Hockey East play for Notre Dame will be this weekend at the Gutterson Field House in Burlington.

Notre Dame plays a similar style to Vermont's. Both Jeff Jackson of Notre Dame and Kevin Sneddon of UVM have their teams play a very defensive style.

The Fighting Irish suffered their first loss of the season at Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday. Freshman Vince Hinostroza and senior T.J. Tynan have been the most productive offensive players for ND, but Jeff Costello and Mario Lucia are certainly capable of sending UVM fans home shaking their heads.

Senior Steven Summerhays should get the nod in goal each night for Notre Dame after freshman Chad Katunar had a rough debut on Saturday night in Duluth.

Vermont has scored 10 goals in three games, and all tallies have been by a different player. Rookie defenseman Rob Hamilton leads the team in scoring with a goal and three assists. Chris McCarthy and Jake Fallon are two forwards who possess the greatest ability to break Notre Dame's defensive trap.

Freshman Michael Santaguida has played every minute between the pipes for the Catamounts. The Mississauga, Ont. native has stopped 62 of 66 shots faced in the last two games after giving up five scores in his collegiate debut.

PICK: It's UVM's first home games of the season and Notre Dame's first conference games as a member of Hockey East. Skill prevails over home ice. Fighting Irish sweep, winning 3-1 and 2-1.

Maine (3-2-0) at Massachusetts (2-4-0)

Friday-Saturday, November 1-2, Mullins Center, Amherst, Mass.

This series presents such an unusual set of circumstances with the same two teams meeting in league action a weekend after playing two games that didn't count in the league Hockey East standings.

Maine swept UMass, 3-2 in overtime Friday night and 8-4 a night later. Freshmen Blaine Byron, Cam Brown and Josh Henke had breakout weekends. The team's top offensive talent, Devin Shore, registered his only two assists of the season on Friday night. UMass had a man shadowing the Dallas Stars draft pick almost every shift.

Martin Ouellette has been adequate, but the senior and Columbus draft pick can certainly play better than he has shown so far. He could be a key factor this weekend as the teams transition to the Olympic ice surface in Amherst.

Massachusetts had to be feeling bad on its long bus drive back to campus from Orono, but some solace can be taken in this weekend's games being played back in their barn.

UMass' strength is in its top two lines, but the depth is certainly a concern for John Micheletto's squad. One pleasant surprise has been the terrific play of second line winger Troy Power who has four goals and three assists to lead the team in scoring along with defenseman Joel Hanley.

Fans should expect to see Steven Mastalerz in goal both nights as the Alex Wakaluk experiment didn't go as planned on Saturday. The former Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League MVP was shelled for six goals against in the second period before being yanked in favor of Mastalerz.

PICK: It's tough to beat a team four consecutive games, and the Mullins Center has been a house of horrors for Maine over the years. This series has all indications of a split. UMass 4-3 and Maine 3-2.

Boston University (3-3-0) vs. Providence (4-0-1)

Friday, November 1, Agganis Arena, Boston, Mass.

Saturday, November 2, Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

This is an interesting matchup of teams who had polar opposite results in last weekend's action. Providence took three of four points from NCHC favorite Miami while Boston University returned home from Michigan and Michigan State with two losses.

First year head coach David Quinn, a Cranston, RI native, will have a tough task in getting his team prepared to face a very fast and energized young Providence club. The BU offense was held to just one goal each night last weekend. A team never wants to head into a series with Providence and stud goaltender Jon Gillies, struggling with its offense.

Defensemen Garrett Noonan and Ahti Oksanen and junior forward Cason Hohman are all tied for the current team lead in scoring with seven points each. Matt Lane has also looked good in the first month with two goals and two helpers.

It was an ideal situation for third year Providence coach Nate Leaman last weekend as his team won in overtime Friday and tied Miami on Saturday. As he emphasized each night, there is still plenty for his young team to work on to get better.

Jon Gillies has been battling a minor injury that caused him to miss four days of practice, but even so he made some phenomenal saves. Leaman was also quick to point out that all the recognition Gillies receives is well-deserved, but he has a complete team. That point is hammered in by the offense averaging five goals per game over the first five outings. Junior Ross Mauermann has led the way so far with four goals and four assists. Sophomore Mark Jankowski has made terrific progress from his freshman season, and it has shown in the box scores with four tallies.

PICK: This series should be a split, but Providence comes in red-hot while BU comes in faltering. Even so, it's hard to predict a Friars sweep. BU wins, 4-3, at home, then Providence evens the series with a 3-2 win at Schneider.

UMass-Lowell (3-3-0) vs. New Hampshire (1-3-1)

Friday, November 1, Tsongas Arena, Lowell, Mass.

Saturday, November 2, Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

This is a battle of two teams who haven't quite gotten off to the start they hoped for, but UMass-Lowell was able to turn the tide last weekend with a road trip to Michigan State and Michigan.

New Hampshire fell behind 4-0 to RPI before finding the back of the net twice, but couldn't get any closer. Dick Umile's Wildcats are now two games below .500, and reeling.

Junior forward Grayson Downing hasn't missed a game, but the creative offensive player hasn't been himself, adding just one assist. UNH is averaging just slightly over two goals scorer per game. That could change any game with two very skilled defensemen - Trevor van Riemsdyk and Eric Knodel - who like to jump into the offense.

UMass-Lowell received terrific goaltending from Michigan native Connor Hellebuyck in his return to his home state. He stopped 62 of 64 shots on goal for the weekend as the River Hawks defeated Michigan State and Michigan on back-to-back nights.

A scary proposition for the opposition is that some of UML's key forwards have yet to find their stride on the season. Derek Arnold has just one assist, and Scott Wilson has only a pair of assists. Both players could be primed for a breakout game anytime now.

PICK: UMass-Lowell sweeps UNH, 3-1 and 3-2.

Bentley (1-5-0) at Merrimack (2-3-0)

Friday, November 1, Lawler Arena, North Andover, Mass.

The Warriors and the Falcons haven't met since February 18, 1985. Merrimack, winners of all three match-ups between the two schools, was in its first year as a Division I independent back then, and Bentley was playing Division II.

Bentley's strength is in its offensive output - the perceived weakness for Merrimack. However, it has been rough sledding in the early going for Ryan Soderquist's team. After an opening night upset victory at Nebraska-Omaha, Bentley has lost five consecutive games.

Everyone knows about senior Brett Gensler, a Walter Brown Award winner as a sophomore, but the St. Charles, Mo. native is scoreless in his last four games. He had two goals and an assist at UNO, but hasn't found the score sheet since.

Andrew Gladiuk and Alex Grieve are two explosive forwards that will look to cause havoc for the Merrimack defense. Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Month Max French had two goals and two assists in his first month of college hockey.

Another very talented player is defenseman Steve Weinstein, arguably the best blue liner in the AHA. He can step up into the play and create offense from the back line. Branden Komm, a non-roster invitee to this summer's Ottawa Senators Development Camp, is a solid goaltender that can steal a game.

Merrimack will look to feed off the home ice advantage that has been so beneficial the past few years in order to climb back to the .500 mark. Mike Collins, the latest Warrior to reach the century mark for career scoring, will need to exploit Bentley's weakness, its blue line.

Mark Dennehy's team has been battling injuries with key contributors such as Josh Myers, Brian Christie and Brendan Ellis all out. The Warriors are a terrific skating team that can really move the puck. If they can ever gain the confidence to bury pucks into the back of the net - watch out.

Even with Ellis out, Merrimack has a very reliable defense that will look to shut down Bentley's high-flying offense. Defensemen Jordan Heywood and Dan Kolomatis have been terrific in the first month.

PICK: Merrimack is just too much at Lawler Arena - downing Bentley 4-2.

Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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