Hockey East Power Rankings: Vermont, Maine Rising; Notre Dame, BU Falling

Maine freshman Blaine Byron scored the game-winning goal against UMass-Lowell on Sunday. - Jeff Cox

Only one conference game remains in the first half between Northeastern and Vermont next Tuesday.

1. Providence (11-2-3)

The Friars will be without stud goaltender Jon Gillies for the next four games as he attempts to lead the United States to back-to-back Gold Medals at the World Junior Championships in Sweden. Junior forward Ross Mauermann is becoming a star himself. The Janesville, Wis. native has 12 goals and 12 assists following Saturday's game where he picked up three helpers.

2. UMass-Lowell (11-5-0)

The River Hawks jumped all over American International early and often at home, but fell to Maine at Alfond Arena. There is certainly no shame in that as the Black Bears have already knocked off Boston College and Boston University this fall in Orono. UMass-Lowell didn't play all that poorly, but was burnt by allowing three power play tallies.

3. Boston College (10-4-2)

The Eagles bounced back nicely from two straight losses by sweeping New Hampshire in a home-and-home series this past weekend. The biggest positive on the weekend was the play of junior Brian Billett and freshman Thatcher Demko in goal. Both players were outstanding in helping Jerry York's team pick up four points and guarantee being in first place heading into the Christmas break.

4. Northeastern (9-5-2)

The Huskies blew a 3-0 lead to Providence after 40 minutes on home ice and had to settle for a draw, but the game further proved that there is reason for optimism for the Huntington Hounds. Clay Witt made 52 saves, tying for the third most in program history. Northeastern was able to score two quick goals on a very tight Providence defense. The top two or three offensive lines are superb, but the question remains whether the defense can hold up down the stretch run.

5. Vermont (7-5-1)

The Catamounts are another team picked to finish near the bottom of the standings that thus far have exceeded expectations. The offense hasn't been a slouch, but the biggest reason for Vermont's early success has been the team defense and the play of its young goaltenders. Freshman Michael Santaguida and sophomore Brody Hoffman have combined for a 2.29 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.

6. Maine (7-6-1)

Skeptics will point to their road record, but the Black Bears have been incredible on home ice. Maine improved to 7-1 at the Alfond Arena after Sunday's 4-2 triumph over UMass-Lowell. Sophomore forward Devin Shore said the team has been close and isn't far away from winning away from Orono. Senior goaltender Martin Ouellette said his team just needs to find a way to win away Orono. Whatever the reason, Maine will have plenty of opportunities to win away from the cozy confines of Alfond Arena in the second half with eight of the 13 remaining league games on the road.

7. New Hampshire (9-9-1)

New Hampshire was swept by Boston College this past weekend to continue its topsy-turvy first half. The Wildcats have not proven their ability to score goals against good defensive teams, but Nick Sorkin, Grayson Downing and Kevin Goumas should be capable of being a more consistent threat finding the back of the net. Six of the team's 10 conference games have been against Providence, UMass-Lowell and BC. The second half of the Hockey East schedule appears easier on paper for UNH.

8. Notre Dame (10-7-1)

This writer was extremely high on Notre Dame in the preseason, but the Fighting Irish have been a frustrating team to predict. Since Jeff Jackson's team defeated No. 1 Minnesota, Notre Dame is 3-5-1. Saturday was just an inexplicable loss on home ice against UMass.

9. Boston University (7-7-2)

Just when you thought the Terriers were coming together as a team, they go out and pick up just one of a possible four points against previously struggling Merrimack. BU continues to get outshot by a fairly wide margin on most nights, but this is a team with enough talent to turn it around in the second half.

10. Massachusetts (4-11-2)

The Minutemen snapped an eight game winless streak on Saturday with a 3-2 victory at Notre Dame. Freshman Ray Pigozzi, playing as close to his Evanston, Ill. home as he'll ever play in Hockey East, recorded four assists on the weekend, including the game-winner. He was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week for his effort.

11. Merrimack (4-9-2)

Mike Collins returned to the Warriors lineup on Friday, and returned in a big way. The senior from Boston, Mass. tallied the game-winning goal midway through the third period. Merrimack picked up three points on the weekend, but will have to wait until January 21 for its next chance to pick up league points. Mark Dennehy's club plays five straight nonconference games, including the Frozen Fenway showdown against Providence.

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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