UMass-Amherst took a positive step forward with a weekend sweep of Michigan State. The Minutemen received solid goaltending from junior Steven Mastalerz who stopped 62 of 65 shots he faced on the weekend. Last year's leading scorer Branden Gracel potted a pair of goals in Friday's 3-1 win. Two freshmen shined in Saturday's 5-2 stomping of the Spartans. Steven Iacobellis buried two goals and added a helper to go along with linemate Ray Pigozzi's three assists.
The two wins for John Micheletto's club was part of the reason the conference was able to take a commanding lead in the Big 10/Hockey East Challenge.
The other reason was the dominance Boston College and Boston University showed over Wisconsin. The Eagles thrashed the Badgers, 9-2, on Jerry York Night at Conte Forum on Friday. One night later and a few miles down Commonwealth Ave., the Terriers made quick work of UW in a 7-3 victory. The two victories were both impressive statements made by BU and BC, but could also be an indictment that Mike Eaves' Wisconsin team isn't quite ready for the national spotlight. According to observers who were there, the speed of the two Hockey East schools was just too much for their opponent from Madison.
New Hampshire was the lone league team to fall in the Big 10/Hockey East Challenge this weekend. The Wildcats suffered a 3-2 loss in overtime on Saturday, a night after skating to a 1-1 tie with the very same Michigan Wolverines. The always-anxious UNH fans will be ornery after a 1-2-1 start, but Dick Umile's team is battling injuries. Last year saw the boys from Durham jump out to a tremendous start before falling down in the stretch. If this year's version of the Wildcats can peak at the right time, there is plenty of talent in place to expect another NCAA Tournament appearance.
Interestingly, Dick Umile has given senior goaltender Jeff Wyer two starts so far this season. It's not yet known if UNH will stick with a pure rotation between Wyer and DeSmith, but it's a good bet the trend will continue for at least another few weeks. DeSmith wasn't the sole reason the Wildcats struggled once the calendar turned last year, but he wasn't the same, and fatigue certainly could have been a factor.
Meanwhile, up in Orono, Maine got first year head coach Red Gendron his first collegiate coaching victory on Saturday night. The Black Bears downed Bentley, 2-1, on the strength of two goals from junior forward Stu Higgins. Senior goaltender Martin Ouellette was solid, making 25 saves, and made some key stops with the Falcons on the power play.
Some people might scoff at a close win on home ice over Bentley, but the Falcons have a strong offense, and should be a contender in the Atlantic Hockey Association. Another positive for Maine is other players stepping into the offense. Devin Shore will eventually get rolling, and Gendron will need to have secondary scoring if his team is going to make a step up in the conference.
The struggles continue for UMass-Lowell coming off the most successful season in school history. The River Hawks dropped a pair of 3-1 decisions in a home-and-home series against Quinnipiac. UML fans shouldn't jump off the bandwagon yet. Coach Norm Bazin's team got off to a slow start - lasting basically the entire first half - last season. Many people saw the limited number of departures, but what some observers overlooked was the importance of graduated forward Riley Wetmore and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel who opted to forgo his final season of eligibility to sign with the Buffalo Sabres.
Mark Dennehy's Merrimack club finally got in the win column with a 5-2 triumph over Mercyhurst on Saturday night. The win forced a split in the weekend series, and gave the Warriors some confidence in their ability to put the puck in the back of the net. This has been repeated over-and-over, but Merrimack's defense and goaltending will be among the best in the league, but the offense needs to progress in order for this to be a successful season in North Andover.
Providence took a night off from playing preseason favorites in other conferences by hosting American International, picked 10th in the preseason Atlantic Hockey Coaches Poll. The Friars faced Minnesota State the previous weekend, and will face NCHC favorite Miami this upcoming weekend. Nate Leaman's team easily dispatched AIC, 10-4. Freshman Nick Ellis made his first collegiate start in goal, giving Jon Gillies a rest. The Friars and RedHawks should both be easily inside the top 10 when the two teams faceoff at Schneider Arena Friday and Saturday.
A week removed from putting on an absolute clinic against Western Michigan, Notre Dame had to work a little harder for the sweep of Michigan Tech. The Irish improve to 4-0, and will travel to Minnesota-Duluth next weekend. Senior goaltender Steven Summerhays saw his shutout streak ended at 142:21 when MTU finally got on the board in the second period of Friday night's game. Everyone has been reminded of the Irish's senior nucleus, but freshman Vince Hinostroza will be terrorizing Hockey East defenses for the next few years. The Bartlett, Ill. native had two goals and two assists on the weekend to up his season total to three scores and three helpers.
The banged-up Vermont Catamounts had the weekend off prior to next Saturday's showdown with Penn State at the Wells Fargo Center, the home of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers. UVM has lost junior forward Kyle Reynolds for the season, but the time off gave Jake Fallon, Chris McCarthy and Brody Hoffman adequate time to recuperate from their injuries.
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.