Hockey East Power Rankings: Northeastern rising; UMass-Lowell, Providence steady at top

Northeastern senior goaltender Clay Witt goes up against Providence stalwart Jon Gillies this upcoming weekend in a home-and-home series. - Northeastern Athletics

Many criticized its weak schedule, but Northeastern now boasts road wins over Notre Dame and UMass-Lowell.

Hockey East teams had a mixed review last weekend. Perennial powerhouse Boston College was upset by Holy Cross on Friday, marking the first time the program had lost to an Atlantic Hockey member school. Northeastern won the Shillelagh Tournament, rallying from a two-goal deficit to defeat Notre Dame. Boston University jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Cornell at Madison Square Garden in Red Hot Hockey, and held for a 3-2 triumph. Teams at the bottom of the conference weren't so lucky with Merrimack and UMass both losing nonconference matches to the two Connecticut-based ECAC schools on Saturday night.

This upcoming weekend is the final weekend of full-fledged conference action until after the Holiday break. It will be interesting to see how Boston College bounces back from two straight losses in which it gave up five goals each game. The Eagles take on New Hampshire in a home-and-home series. The other intriguing game will be Providence visiting Northeastern. The Huskies still have their detractors despite some good wins over teams such as UMass-Lowell and Notre Dame. Can NU's cadre of skilled forwards break through against one of the best goalies in the country?

1. Providence (11-2-2)

The Friars skated to a 3-3 tie at Quinnipiac the night before Thanksgiving with Jon Gillies stopping 45 shots on goal. A few nights later the Friars edged Brown, 3-2, in the annual battle for the Mayor's Cup. Nate Leaman's team will have one more series with Gillies this weekend before he leaves for the World Junior Championships. Junior Ross Mauermann has only been held off the scoresheet twice the entire season.

Up Next: at Northeastern (Fri 12/6)

2. UMass-Lowell (10-4-0)

The River Hawks had the weekend off, but will host American International on Tuesday before a solo at Maine on Sunday. There is a good likelihood that Doug Carr will get the nod on Tuesday and Connor Hellebuyck will go on Sunday at Alfond. The big thing that has stood out for the past year, and it stands true again this season, is how UMass-Lowell plays as a team. Perhaps more than any other team in the country UMass-Lowell's success is about the team concept and buying into the coach's system.

Up Next: American International (Tue 12/3), at Maine (Sun 12/8)

3. Boston College (8-4-2)

The Eagles were upset unceremoniously by Holy Cross at home over the weekend. It was an ugly game in which defensive lapses led to easy goals for the Crusaders. This is a dangerous offensive team, but the defense and goaltending lack experience. The defensive mistakes made over the past few games have been very concerning to say the least, but if there is any coaching staff that can correct issues it is this one.

Up Next: New Hampshire (Fri 12/6), at New Hampshire (Sat 12/7)

4. Northeastern (9-5-1)

Goaltending was a huge question mark coming into the season, and although he might not play technically sound, senior Clay Witt has answered the bell. The Brandon, Fla. native has a .939 save percentage and 2.08 goals against average after this weekend's stellar performance in the Shillelagh Tournament. He stopped 61 of 64 shots he faced over the two games against Western Michigan and Notre Dame.

Up Next: Providence (Fri 12/6)

5. New Hampshire (9-7-1)

Talk about a weird week for the Wildcats. Dick Umile was none too pleased following an ugly 6-3 home loss to Harvard. UNH followed that up by sweeping Colorado College on the road over the weekend. The Tigers are down this season, but it is still two wins against a premier program. Nick Sorkin had 14 goals in his first three seasons in Durham, and the Rockville, Md. native has 11 already in his senior campaign.

Up Next: at Boston College (Fri 12/6), Boston College (Sat 12/7)

6. Boston University (7-6-1)

The Terriers are unbeaten in their last four games after a 3-2 victory over Cornell in Red Hot Hockey at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. There is plenty of work still to be done for BU, but this is a team that is continuing to progress. David Quinn said it best after the game. "I think a month ago we lose this game." This is a young team that will only get better as the season goes along. Two very reliable netminders will also be a huge advantage as the season goes along. This weekend provides a good opportunity to pick up points against a struggling Merrimack squad.

Up Next: at Merrimack (Fri 12/6), Merrimack (Sat 12/7)

7. Notre Dame (9-6-1)

The Fighting Irish blew a two-goal lead to Northeastern to lose the Shillelagh Tournament, but things could be looking up for Jeff Jackson's team. Notre Dame hosts faltering UMass for a pair in South Bend this weekend. The Irish have found Hockey East to be tough, but the talent is there for ND to rebound. However, if Notre Dame wants to have success in this league it must beat teams it is supposed to on home ice.

Up Next: Massachusetts (Fri 12/6 and Sat 12/7)

8. Vermont (7-5-1)

The Catamounts aren't quite as surprising as Northeastern, but they are close. The first month of the season saw some serious injuries, including returning starting goaltender Brody Hoffman going down and Jake Fallon in a walking boot. Both of those players eventually recovered, but Kyle Reynolds was lost for the season in an exhibition game. Vermont has rifled off four consecutive victories, but will have this weekend off before facing St. Lawrence next weekend. One very interesting statistic is 19 different players have scored at least one goal for UVM this season.

Up Next: Idle

9. Maine (6-6-1)

The road woes continued for the Black Bears this past weekend in Burlington as they were swept by Vermont. Maine has a huge opportunity this weekend to pick up a win at Alfond against a good UMass-Lowell team. If Red Gendron's team can accomplish that it would head into the holiday break two games over 500 in Hockey East action. Is it possible Devin Shore has finally become the player many of us who follow Hockey East thought he could be? The sophomore and Dallas Stars prospect has five goals and two assists over the past four games.

Up Next: UMass-Lowell (Sun 12/8)

10. Massachusetts (3-10-2)

John Micheletto's team is 0-6-1 since a win against Maine. Even more concerning is the power outage over the past nine games. The Minutemen have scored just 10 goals during that stretch and have been shutout twice. UMass had scored 17 goals in the first six contests of the season. The depth has been and will be an issue, but the three seniors, Conor Sheary, Michael Pereira and Brendan Gracel, need to pick up the scoring production for UMass to regain traction.

Up Next: at Notre Dame (Fri 12/6 and Sat 12/7)

11. Merrimack (3-9-1)

The Warriors are the only team in Hockey East without a league win. Can the Warriors get in the win column this weekend against Boston University? It is absolutely shocking Merrimack is in the position it is in now, but injuries and a continued inability to light the lamp leaves the Warriors winless against non-Atlantic Hockey Association opponents this season.

Up Next: Boston University (Fri 12/6), at Boston University (Sat 12/7)

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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