Hockey East Week 17 Preview: Points still crucial, despite Nemo lightening load

Matt Dresens/The BU Hockey Blog

Several games on this weekend's Hockey East schedule have been postponed, including Friday's contest for each of the Beanpot schools, but crucial points will be at stake for the three contests still on the docket for Saturday and Sunday.

Maine at Vermont (Saturday, 7:05 p.m. on WCAXtra)

With a win at Gutterson Fieldhouse in the first Hockey East game of the weekend (following revised scheduling due to Winter Storm Nemo), the Catamounts can clinch the season series from their visiting New England state university rivals to avenge a season sweep last season.

Maine enters the weekend without a loss in its last four games after ousting UMass-Lowell by a 4-3 count last Sunday at Alfond Arena and skating to a 2-2 draw with Providence on Friday.

Senior Joey Diamond was the hero for the Black Bears as he scored twice, including the game-winner with 1:01 left in overtime, to earn Hockey East Co-Player of the Week honors. The Long Beach, N.Y. native posted five points on the weekend, also including both of Maine's goals in the draw.

Junior Martin Ouellette, the conference's reigning Goaltender of the Month, made a career-high 35 stops in Sunday's victory and his offense improved to 6-0-0 when scoring more than three goals.

In their lone game of the weekend, the Catamounts hit the road for the first true occasion since Dec. 20, 2012 and suffered a tough 4-1 loss to Boston College - their sixth in the last seven games. Senior defenseman Anders Franzon scored his first goal of the season to account for all of UVM's offense, while Brody Hoffman has started all 25 games between the pipes to remain the lone rookie in the nation to open every game for his team.

Massachusetts at Merrimack (Sunday, 4 p.m.)

Sunday afternoon's match-up between the Minutemen and Warriors will mark the first of the season, but will not be aired on NESN because of the late schedule change. Last year, Merrimack took both of the meetings at Lawler Arena which came in the final five weeks of the season that were key to its positioning into the No. 5 seed in the final league standings.

The Warriors jumped at the chance to gain points in the standings this year and after beating No. 12 UMass-Lowell and No. 4 New Hampshire, soared to 20th in the nation and earned Hockey East Team of the Week honors. In Friday's 1-0 win over the River Hawks, which was the school's first by that score since beating Army in 2008, Justin Hussar scored the lone goal and was named the league's Rookie of the Week.

Junior Sam Marotta made 76 saves on the weekend for the Defensive Player of the Week Award. Marotta, a Bridgewater, Mass. native, posted a career-high 51 saves in Saturday's 4-1 road win at UNH - also the highest mark by a Merrimack stopper since Andrew Brathwaite in 2008.

UMass trounced Boston University with a 5-1 win at Mullins Center last Friday night as junior Michael Pereira posted two goals and two assists to set a new career-high. The penalty kill was also a strength in the contest as it went a perfect 6-for-6 and improved to 30-for-33 since the start of the Dartmouth Tournament after Christmas. Classmate Branden Gracel posted a goal and two assists as well.

Providence at New Hampshire (Sunday, 4 p.m. on CBSSN)

No. 4/5 UNH and Providence were scheduled to play a Friday-Sunday home-and-home series, but Sunday's nationally-televised game at Whittemore Center will now serve as the opening half of the set. The Friars opened the season set with an impressive 6-5 road win over the 'Cats on Jan. 19 - their first in Durham since 2004.

The Wildcats continued a five-game unbeaten streak over Northeastern with a 3-1 win last Friday, although it snapped a span of 150:29 of scoreless play at Matthews Arena (with a pair of goals just 44 seconds apart in the second period, from Grayson Downing and Eric Knodel). Sophomore Casey DeSmith made a season-best 47 saves against the Huskies, while Jeff Silengo scored the lone Wildcat goal in Saturday's 4-1 loss to Merrimack.

With a pair of wins over PC, UNH can claim at least a share of first place in the Hockey East standings for the first time since Feb. 28, 2011.

In the Friars' 2-2 tie in Maine on Friday, senior Alex Velischek became the third player on the team this year to hit 100 career games, joining his father and former PC great Randy as the first father-son tandem to turn that feat. By salvaging the tie, the Friars finish their season series with Maine with an undefeated record for just the second time in Hockey East history.

Joshua Kummins covers Hockey East for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKummins.

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