Hockey East spreads out its action this weekend, taking advantage of the lack of football on Sunday in order to get in two more games, including the first installment of the border war between Maine and UNH. The heavy conference schedule of the Beanpot teams is evident again, as both Boston College and Northeastern are playing two more divisional games, while BU takes a break from the action to spend the weekend facing off against North Dakota in what will be the truest test of their abilities thus far.
Maine hosts #1 Boston College (Friday), #9 UNH (Sunday)
It hasn't been easy for Tim Whitehead's squad so far this year, as they're still without their first conference point. Of course, they've also played the fewest conference games, but matchups with the conference's two top ten teams doesn't seem like it'll be a good way for them to break their slump. BC comes into the Friday evening tilt at Alfond Arena with Hockey East's three top scorers, and UNH comes in Saturday with arguably the conference's best goaltender.
Nobody will expect Maine to be able to handle the balance and depth of BC's scoring attack, much less get the puck past Parker Milner, who's only allowed three goals in his last three games, two of which were shutouts. It'll be interesting to see how UNH handles what should be a hostile road environment and a smaller rink, a combination which resulted in them scoring exactly zero goals the last time they were up against it at Northeastern last weekend.
If the Black Bears have a chance in either of these games, it's going to take a stalwart performance from Dan Sullivan as well as an epiphany from Joey Diamond, who hasn't been the scorer or the leader that many expected him to be heading into the season.
UMass hosts #9 UNH (friday), at #1 BC (Sunday)
The Minutemen don't figure to have it any easier against the same two foes, as UNH comes into the Friday evening match not having allowed a goal in over 113 consecutive minutes. That owes as much to the tenacity of the Wildcats' defense as it does to the stellar play of Casey DeSmith between the pipes for Dick Umile's squad, but the Mullins Center hasn't been kind to UNH in years past, and UMass could use some of that history to help them earn their first conference win.
The Sunday afternoon game will be a rematch with a BC team that spent most of the first 40 minutes of the last game between the two teams scratching their head, before turning it on in the third period and putting the Minutemen away in overtime. That game was at the Mullins Center, this one is at Conte; don't expect the Eagles to make it any easier for UMass this time.
#15 Northeastern vs. Merrimack (Friday), at Merrimack (Saturday)
The last time the Huskies and Warriors faced off, things looked a little bit different; Merrimack, fresh off a 4-1 road upset of then-fifth ranked Union, was ranked 19th and the Huskies, yet to play a meaningful game but losers of an exhibition match against St. Francis Xavier, had a young team with a lot of question marks.
Merrimack now has a two-game conference point streak, but those points came courtesy of a home win and tie against Vermont, and the Catamounts Northeastern is not. Both Chris Rawlings and Bryan Mountain have been strong in net for Northeastern, which has gotten goals from many unexpected places, including that unknown freshman class.
It'll be interesting to see how much a trip to Alaska and weekend at home against Vermont benefited the Warriors, who will face the most physical weekend of their season against Northeastern.
Providence at Vermont
Vermont didn't have much trouble finding the back of the net last weekend against Merrimack, potting five goals in two games, but their offense figures to be a bit harder to come by as they go up against two-time defending Hockey East Rookie of the Week and reigning co-Rookie of the Month Jon Gillies (Calgary Flames). Gillies, who started all of Providence's six games in October, finished the month with a 3-2-1 record to go along with a 1.72 GAA and a .938 save percentage.
#12 Boston University at #5 North Dakota (Friday, Saturday)
Jack Parker's squad takes their biggest road test of the year this weekend when the Terriers, backstopped by reigning Hockey East co-Rookie of the Month Matt O'Connor (3-0-0, .945 save %, 1.75 GAA), look to make a dent in the Sioux's resume and to bolster their own. They'll need continued strong performances from leading scorer Cason Hohmann (3-3=6) as well as senior Wade Megan (Florida Panthers, 2-2=4) to get a coveted win or two against Rocco Grimaldi's (Florida, 2-2=4) Fighting Sioux.
The out-of-conference setting may give Sean Maguire (Pittsburgh Panthers) a chance to get back on the ice. Maguire hasn't played since giving up 4 goals in just under 35 minutes at UNH two weeks ago. In an interesting geographic turn of events, BU is also likely to face Zane Gothberg, a Boston Bruins draft pick. Gothberg is 1-0 in his freshman year at NoDak, with 17 saves on 18 shots.