Hockey East Weekend Preview: October 11-13, 2013

Joseph Pendenza and his teammates will be part of a banner raising ceremony Friday night at Tsongas Arena. - Justin K. Aller

Providence hosts Minnesota State in one of the marquee series of the weekend around the country.

There is just one conference game this weekend in Hockey East, but plenty of terrific nonconference matchups. WCHA favorite Minnesota State traveling to Providence is likely to headline the slate, but there are other intriguing series. Maine begins the Red Gendron era with a trip to St. Lawrence, Merrimack travels to Denver to prove last season's offensive concerns are a thing of the past and injury-burdened Vermont heads to Grand Forks to face a talented North Dakota squad. UMass-Lowell will have a banner-raising ceremony prior to their season opener against Sacred Heart on Friday night in a game that should have little suspense.

UMass-Amherst at Boston University

Friday, October 11, Agganis Arena, Boston, Mass.

This will be the only Hockey East league game until November 1 meaning whoever wins this game will be in first place for a few weeks. Obviously that means little at this time of the year, but with only 20 conference games this year, every game counts.

As new Boston University coach David Quinn pointed out following his team's 2-1 exhibition victory over St. Francis Xavier, his team will have played a game while the Minutemen will be in uniform for the first time.

The Terriers have a ton of skill up front, especially in the first few lines. Forwards Evan Rodrigues, Cason Hohmann, Danny O'Regan, Matt Lane and Nick Roberto will look to take advantage of a potentially vulnerable UMass team with defense and goaltending questions.

UMass-Amherst has a trio of forwards of their own in Brendan Gracel, Connor Sheary and Michael Pereira who will look to take advantage of a young Terriers defense more known for its offensive exploits.

PICK: Boston University gets David Quinn his first regular season victory with a 3-1 victory.

Sacred Heart at UMass-Lowell

Friday, October 11, Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.

Sacred Heart finished with just two wins last season while the River Hawks were an overtime loss in the NCAA Semifinals away from playing for a national championship.

UMass-Lowell will raise Hockey East Regular Season and Tournament Championship and a Frozen Four banner prior to the game. Then Norm Bazin will try to keep his team focused on the goal at hand.

The River Hawks have the edge in all categories - by a large margin. One interesting fact for UML fans to consider is the likely starter in net for the Pioneers is former Vermont goaltender Alex Vazanno who transferred to SHU.

PICK: On a celebratory night in Lowell, UML wins in a rout, 7-0.

Minnesota State at Providence

Friday-Saturday, October 11-12, Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

This series has all the makings of a terrific weekend with the Minnesota State Mavericks invading a renovated Schneider Arena. The games will mark the first since the three-decades-old facility was upgraded this summer.

The matchup within the series will be the battle of two tremendous sophomore goaltenders who each won their respective league's Goaltender of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards last season. Stephon Williams for Minnesota State and Jon Gillies for Providence are two goaltenders who both have the capability of single handedly changing the outcome of the series.

Mike Hastings is in his second season in Mankato, while Leaman enters year three at Providence. Both are two of the finest young coaches in the nation.

Providence is expecting some of last year's rookies to take a serious step forward as they enter their sophomore seasons. Players like Nick Saracino, Mark Jankowski, Paul de Jersey, John Gilmour, Brandon Tanev and Noel Acciari all will be called upon to increase production.

Providence fans need to keep an eye out for Minnesota State's sensational offensive threat Matt Leitner. The Los Alamitos, Calif. native scored 17 goals and added 30 assists last season. Another player to watch is offensive defenseman Zach Palmquist.

PICK: This is a really tough series to predict, but Friars come out flying on a rejuvenated home ice. PC sweeps 2-1, 3-2.

Merrimack at Denver

Friday-Saturday, October 11-12, Magness Arena, Denver, Colo.

The Warriors head to the mile high state to take on Denver with first-year head coach Jim Montgomery. Denver lost a lot of players to graduation and early defections to the pro ranks, but DU still has plenty of talent.

Merrimack lost just one major contributor in defenseman Kyle Bigos. With the majority of their offense returning, the Warriors should be at least as good offensively as last season. The problem for Mark Dennehy's squad is the offensive inconsistency last season outside of Mike Collins.

Can newcomers Chris Leblanc and Hampus Gustafsson make significant contributions or can some of the returning players step up production? If not, it will be another year where the Warriors have to rely solely on their defense and goaltending.

Fortunately for Merrimack, the defense and goaltending is undoubtedly the strength of its team. Seniors Jordan Heywood and Brendan Ellis are two of the most experienced and reliable blue liners in the league. Senior goaltender Sam Marotta had a rock solid second half to last season, but junior Rasmus Tirronen could see time in the first half.

PICK: Merrimack will be facing a DU team that is still learning its new head coach and recouping from departures. The Warriors eke out a split, winning 4-2 Friday. Denver avenges the loss with a 3-1 win on Saturday.

Maine at St. Lawrence

Friday-Saturday, October 11-12, Appleton Rink, Canton, NY

The Black Bears will head to Canton under the direction of new coach Red Gendron. Maine has more offensive talent than their goal-scoring ineptitude last season would indicate.

Sophomore Devin Shore and Ryan Lomberg should lead the offense this season, but Gendron's up-tempo and high-pressure style should lead to increased production from other players.

Ben Hutton, Brice O'Connor and Jake Rutt will have their hands full as they try to guard against last season's national goal-scoring leader Greg Carey. His linemate Kyle Flanagan left, but insert Carey's younger brother Matt who is a redshirt freshman.

Maine senior goaltender Martin Ouellette will play a major role in deciding the fate of the team all season, but especially this weekend.

PICK: St. Lawrence has a tremendous first line and a good senior goaltender, but Maine will come out flying and look to avenge last season's sweep on home ice. Black Bears return the favor this season, winning 3-2 and 4-3.

Vermont at North Dakota

Friday-Saturday, October 11-12, Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND

An injury-depleted Vermont squad heads to Grand Forks to face a young and talented North Dakota squad. One advantage for UVM is Dave Hakstol's team has a tendancy for slow starts.

This weekend will be a good first indicator if Chris McCarthy, Connor Brickley, Jake Fallo, and HT Lenz can withstand the loss of Kyle Reynolds who is done for the season with a knee injury.

Sophomore goaltender Brody Hoffman didn't make the trip so rookie Michael Santaguida will be thrown to the wolves. Playing his first two collegiate games at Ralph Engelstad Arena is no easy chore.

This weekend's games will bring together the Pattyn brothers - Yvan for UVM and Stephane for UND.

PICK: This just isn't looking good for UVM with all the injury concerns and having to face a team with a lot more firepower. North Dakota sweeps, 4-1 and 5-2.

Alabama-Huntsville at Northeastern

Friday-Saturday, October 11-12, Matthews Arena, Boston, Mass.

Renewed enthusiasm greets Jim Madigan's third team at Northeastern. The Huskies got off to a positive start with a 5-0 victory over an undermanned Dalhousie squad in the exhibition contest last Saturday.

This weekend should be a great opportunity for Northeastern to gain some momentum and confidence heading into the meat of its schedule. For freshmen such as John Stevens and Michael Szmatula, there will be plenty of chances to find the back of the net. This weekend also poses a couple layup games for the Huskies goaltending trio.

PICK: Northeastern sweeps an inferior Alabama-Huntsville team, 6-0 and 5-1.

Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan

Friday, October 11, Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, Ind.

Saturday, October 12, Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, Mich.

This series is a battle of former CCHA rivals looking to establish new identities in new conferences. WMU moved on to the newly formed NCHC while the Fighting Irish joined Hockey East.

Both squads have some talent, but Notre Dame has the advantage in depth and high-end talent. Forwards Brian Rust, Jeff Costello and TJ Tynan look to establish themselves as a legitimate scoring threat this season while Irish fans will get their first real look at freshman phenom Vince Hinostroza.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson will rely on senior goaltender Steven Summerhayes to man the nets for the Irish.

PICK: All indications point to a split in this series. Each team wins 4-2 on home ice.

IceBreaker Tournament

UNH vs. Clarkson/Minnesota/Mercyhurst

Friday-Saturday, October 11-12, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minn.

New Hampshire faces Clarkson in the semifinals before a possible matchup looming with host Minnesota in the finals on Saturday.

The Golden Knights' season got off to a good start last weekend with a road sweep at Niagara while the Wildcats played an exhibition contest against Acadia. Forward Allan McPherson is the most dangerous weapon offensively for Casey Jones' team. Sophomore Greg Lewis and freshman Steve Perry split the goaltending duties last weekend.

Senior Kevin Goumas and junior Grayson Downing will lead UNH's offense all season. Casey Thrush, Dalton Speelman and Matt Willows are some of the secondary scoring threats for Dick Umile's Wildcats.

As always, the UNH offense can start with its defense - led by senior Eric Knodel and junior Trevor van Riesmdyk. Umile is confident that junior goaltender Casey DeSmith will play more like he did in the first half last season than his somewhat disappointing second semester.

PICK: UNH downs Clarkson 4-2 to advance to the championship game. Mercyhurst is picked near the top of the Atlantic Hockey standings so it is no guarantee that UNH will face the Gophers. Either way, UNH comes away with the tournament title. Wildcats beat Minnesota 5-4 or Mercyhurst 4-2.

UMass-Amherst at UMass-Lowell

Saturday, October 12, Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.

This game will be a nonconference battle between the two hockey-playing Division I Massachusetts state universities. With the reduction in league games, many schools had to schedule conference opponents for out-of-conference games.

PICK: UMass-Lowell moves to 2-0 on the young season with a 4-2 victory over the Minutemen.

Holy Cross at Boston University

Saturday, October 12, Agganis Arena, Boston, Mass.

The Terriers have a significant advantage in talent over their counterparts from Worcester, but the Crusaders have played the role of spoiler well in recent years. This is a hungry, energized BU squad that will look to keep momentum heading in the reight direction with Quinn at the helm.

BU fans should keep an eye on Holy Cross forward Shayne Stockton. The Rochester, NY native scored 13 goals and added 15 assists last year for Paul Pearl's team.

PICK: Boston University also picks up its second win of the season with a 4-0 victory over Holy Cross.

RPI at Boston College

Sunday, October 13, Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

The Eagles struggled in a 3-1 loss at Michigan on Thursday night. That might spell trouble for Seth Appert's RPI squad. The Engineers were picked first by the media and second by the coaches in the ECAC Preseason Polls.

If any goaltender outside of Hockey East is best suited to stop the high-powered BC offense, it is RPI sophomore goaltender Jason Kasdorf. The reigning ECAC Rookie of the Year had a 1.62 goals against average and .935 save percentage in his first year in Troy.

Junior goaltender Brian Billett got the start for the Eagles in Ann Arbor on Thursday. Expect freshman Thatcher Demko to get his first nod between the pipes for Jerry York's club on Sunday afternoon.

PICK: RPI is a very worthy opponent from the ECAC, but the Eagles will be hungry and seeking their first win. BC wins 3-1.

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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