Hockey East: Northeastern Hosts Providence, Boston College Looks to Bounce Back Against UNH

Can Johnny Gaudreau and BC bounce back against UNH? - Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Merrimack is the only team in Hockey East without a league victory.

The final full weekend of action in Hockey East before the holiday break kicks off Friday night. There are several intriguing matchups as well as some things to look for in the games over the next three nights.

Starting with Boston College, the Eagles play New Hampshire in a home-and-home series, looking to bounce back from two consecutive losses. Jerry York's team gave up five goals in each game, including a home loss to Holy Cross. It was a Thanksgiving hangover if there ever was one, losing to an Atlantic Hockey team for the first time in program history.

New Hampshire had an interesting week as well with a disappointing 6-3 home loss to Harvard. The Wildcats rebounded from what Dick Umile called a "disappointing" performance with a weekend sweep of Colorado College on the road.

Goals should not be hard to come by in this series. Both teams have two very good scoring lines, and BC obviously has one of the most dynamic players in the game in junior Johnny Gaudreau. York's other big offensive weapon is senior Kevin Hayes, a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick. The Nobles alum had two goals and an assist in the loss to Holy Cross, marking the fourth time he has scored three points in a game this season.

Eagles fans seeing UNH for the first time this season should look out for Wildcats senior Nick Sorkin. The Rockville, Md. native has 11 goals so far this season after only posting 14 in his first three years in Durham. Senior Kevin Goumas is always a threat, and junior Grayson Downing has picked up his game from a slow start. After registering only one assist in his first six games he has nine goals and five assists in his last 11.

Boston College has lacked discipline at times this season, ranking third in the conference in penalty minutes. UNH's power play is third best in Hockey East so the Eagles should take care to stay out of the sin bin.

Matthews Arena will be site of one of the best games around the country on Friday night as Providence and Northeastern battle in a matchup of two top 20 teams in the historic old barn.

The schedule was the excuse of all the naysayers in the first month of the season as Northeastern raced out to a 5-0 start, but that can't be said any longer. Jim Madigan's team has gone on the road and defeated both UMass-Lowell and Notre Dame.

The once beleaguered defense held Western Michigan and Notre Dame to just three goals over the two games in the Shillelagh Tournament, thanks to the 61 saves made by junior goaltender Clay Witt. The Brandon, Fla. native has certainly answered the bell after the graduation of Chris Rawlings who seemed to be perpetually inconsistent.

Everyone has heard and read about sophomore Kevin Roy and the cast of sensational freshmen forwards. One player that has slipped under the radar is junior Torin Snydeman, a transfer from Sacred Heart. The Groton, Mass. native has five goals and two helpers, leading the Huskies to a 5-1 record when he registers a point.

Providence comes into Friday's contest after a win and tie against two ECAC opponents. The Friars went down to Hamden and battled Quinnipiac the night before Thanksgiving. Despite getting outshot 48-22, Nate Leaman's team came away with a 3-3 tie thanks to a third period goal from reserve player Brooks Behling. The sophomore from Pittsburgh has only dressed in four of his team's 15 games.

Sophomore goaltender Jon Gillies, named to the preliminary roster for the United States team for the World Junior Championships, continues to be the backbone of the Friars. The South Portland, Maine native stopped 77 of 82 shots he faced last weekend, including 32 in the team's 3-2 victory over Brown in the annual Mayor's Cup.

Merrimack looks for its first conference win of the season this weekend as it goes up against a suddenly hot Boston University team in a home-and-home series starting at Lawler Arena in North Andover on Friday night. The Warriors have been bitten by injuries and an inability to score a goal at crucial times.

The team's unquestioned offensive leader, Mike Collins, has missed the last four games due to a shoulder injury. Despite that, he still remains the leading scorer for Mark Dennehy's club. Defenseman Brendan Ellis and forwards Brian Christie and Josh Myers have missed time with injuries as well.

One bright spot offensively has been the play of freshman Hampus Gustafsson, a Ljungby, Sweden native. He has four goals on the season, including two in last Saturday's overtime loss at Yale.

Junior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen has been incredibly consistent for the Warriors with a 2.17 goals against average and .923 save percentage. The Espoo, Finland native has started the last two games due to the struggles of Sam Marotta. The senior from Bridgewater who carried the Warriors into first place as last as February last season has had a shaky campaign with a .884 save percentage.

Boston University, unbeaten in its last four, including last Saturday's 3-2 victory over Cornell at Madison Square Garden, hopes to continue the misery of the Warriors. The Terriers have a golden opportunity to continue their momentum with a pair of contests against a Merrimack team that is clearly struggling.

Notre Dame hosts another struggling team, Massachusetts, in a pair of games in South Bend this weekend. The Minutemen are winless in their last seven contests and are having trouble finding the back of the net.

On the other hand, the Fighting Irish are seeing just how difficult a conference Hockey East is. Four of the team's six losses are against Hockey East opponents. Jeff Jackson noted prior to the season the difficulty in facing a Hockey East schedule that is much deeper than the old CCHA, the league Notre Dame was in prior.

This is a good opportunity for Notre Dame to pick up two important victories in the comfy confines of Compton Family Ice Arena.

UMass-Lowell and Maine finish the weekend's slate of games in Orono on Sunday afternoon. The game was pushed back due to the Black Bears hosting an NCAA Tournament football game against archrival New Hampshire on Saturday afternoon. We'll have more on that game later in the weekend.

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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