Hockey East action picks up this weekend with every team in the league playing at least one conference game. The most intriguing series involves the top two teams in the league doing battle in a home-and-home series, when Boston College and New Hampshire square off.
Here's a look at three things to watch this weekend in Hockey East:
1. BC and UNH tangle in a home-and-home series, showcasing the top two teams in the current league standings. Both squads really separated themselves from the pack in the first half. BC has been the dominant program in the league for over a decade now, whereas UNH is coming off a disappointing season in 2011-12 where they finished 6th. UNH probably has more to prove, but this isn't a make or break weekend for either team's season. The key match-up should be whether the UNH defense can contain Johnny Gaudreau and the Eagles’ high-flying first two lines. UNH sophomore Casey DeSmith has been the best goaltender in the league for most of the first half, posting four shutouts. However, his game has not been up to par in over a month, not posting a single game save percentage better than .909. The Wildcats offense should still be able to produce against BC. UNH junior forward Kevin Goumas has played some of his best hockey in big games. He has six goals and three assists in four of the biggest games of the season so far, three against BU and one at Denver. One thing to note, BC head coach Jerry York will miss the series after having eye surgery this week.
2. Merrimack bench boss Mark Dennehy enters the weekend with 99 career-coaching wins. The former BC Eagle, now in his 8th year at the helm of the Warrior team, has resurrected the hockey program in North Andover. Obviously, 100 wins isn't as significant as Jerry York's recent milestones, but for a program like Merrimack it is a big deal nonetheless. The Warriors will go up against Boston University Friday night before taking on Maine Saturday. Both contests are at home for the Warriors. Friday might be a tall task to beat a BU team that has fared very well against lesser competition. All four of the Terriers' league losses have come against BC or UNH. The Warriors play three in a row against last place Maine following Friday night's game so Dennehy's 100th win should come soon.
3. UMass-Lowell comes into this weekend's road series at Vermont riding a five-game winning streak. The River Hawks, picked second in the pre-season coaches poll, got off to a slow start, in part due to a very tough early season schedule. However, an inability for their top forwards to score and Doug Carr not performing between the pipes as well as he had a year ago, were also contributing factors. Freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck gives Norm Bazin's club the best chance to win right now and should see at least one of the starts this weekend. The keys for UML to continue their recent success are two-fold. Lowell needs to shut down UVM's top line of Chris McCarthy, Jacob Fallon and Kyle Reynolds. That trio generates most of the offense, and if that line can be stopped, it will bode well for UML on the road. The second key is to get Scott Wilson, Riley Wetmore and Derek Arnold fully cranking on the score sheet. Lowell and UVM skated to a tie earlier in the season. Of note, the River Hawk seniors have never lost a season series to the Catamounts.