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Hockey East, Week 16 Preview: Merrimack, Maine play key league pair

With the 61st annual Beanpot Tournament looming next Monday night, the weekend is relatively quiet as each of the three Beanpot schools get one final contest in on a full Friday slate, before hitting the TD Garden.

Matt Dresens/The BU Hockey Blog

UMass-Lowell at Merrimack (Friday, 7 p.m. on NESN)

The Merrimack Valley's storied hockey rivals will lock for the first of three regular-season meetings on Friday night at Lawler Arena with a lot on the line. Entering the week, the sides are tied for fifth place in the Hockey East standings and carry identical 8-6-2 records into the televised contest.

The River Hawks are coming off a successful weekend against Northeastern that saw them pick up three points, extend an 11-game unbeaten streak and climb to No. 12/13 in the national rankings.

Rookie Christian Folin scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Saturday's 5-4 victory over the Huskies, capping off a four-goal comeback over the final period and extra session. Those efforts by the Gothenburg, Sweden native, which also included an assist in Friday's comeback 4-4 tie, earned him Rookie of the Week honors in the league.

Warrior junior Mike Collins has led the attack all season long, having posted 13 goals and 30 total points over 25 games to rank in a tie for second in the league's scoring race. The Boston native is the Hockey East Player of the Month for January as he scored a conference-best seven assists and 11 points, including three three-point games over a span of four Merrimack contests.

Merrimack split a weekend set with then-No. 4 New Hampshire, opening the pair with a solid 3-2 victory at Lawler Arena. Collins scored two goals and assisted on the winner by rookie Brian Christie in the opening ticks of the final stanza.

Vermont at Boston College (Friday, 7 p.m.)

For its only visit of 2012-13, UVM travels to Chestnut Hill to take on the No. 5 Eagles in the first head-to-head meeting of the year between the teams.

Heading into the contest, the Catamounts were the only side to pick up points in the league standings during the weekend gone by as they fought out a 3-2 win to close a home weekend series with UMass in Burlington. UVM was a victim by the same score to open the set, allowing the Minutemen to take a crucial season series victory.

In the victory that snapped a five-game losing skid, sophomore Kyle Reynolds, who also lit the lamp in a losing cause on Friday, scored twice in the first period and strong rookie Brody Hoffman made 36 saves to backstop the Cats.

The Eagles have dropped three straight home games, including two last weekend to Maine by a 7-2 combined score, suffering a weekend sweep at the hands of the Black Bears for the second year in a row. Senior Steven Whitney and junior Patrick Brown scored the lone goals in the set for BC.

New Hampshire at Northeastern (Friday, 7 p.m.), vs. Merrimack (Saturday, 7 p.m. on WBIN)

The No. 3/4 Wildcats split a weekend series with Merrimack this past Friday and Saturday night, looking to bring the momentum from a series-knotting 6-2 victory to Matthews Arena.

Sophomore Trevor van Riemsdyk posted a career-best four assists in the win, earning him Battle for the RiverStone Cup Most Valuable Player honors. The Middletown, N.J. native and brother of NHL player James leads all Hockey East defensemen with 19 points.

Freshmen Collin MacDonald and Dan Correale posted their first-collegiate goals to help the offense in Saturday's contest and senior John Henrion became the first player in the league to post 100 shots on the season, while also boasting the best face-off percentage.

Before opening the Beanpot with BU on Monday, the Huskies play hosts to UNH for the first time since a scoreless tie on Oct. 27, 2012. NU senior Bryan Mountain and UNH sophomore Casey DeSmith combined to post 78 saves in the contests as each offense was stymied without finding the back of the net.

Recently, senior Steve Morra and junior Cody Ferriero have broken out for NU and have totaled ten total points in the last four games. Ferriero, an Essex, Mass. native, is in the midst of a seven-game point streak that dates back to scoring four times at Harvard on Dec. 29, 2012.

Boston University at Massachusetts (Friday, 7 p.m.)

With a 3-2 win at Gutterson Fieldhouse on Friday, the Minutemen captured two key points in Hockey East to climb into seventh place and grasp of a playoff spot, as they enter a Friday night contest with the rival Terriers at Mullins Center.

UMass posted over a 50 percent clip on face-offs in both contests on the weekend, maintaining the No. 2 mark in the league. Junior Branden Gracel ranks seventh in the nation in that department at 54.5 percent, while also leading the team with 11 goals and 22 points. Local freshman Shane Walsh has also been a regular figure in the line-up for the Mass Attack and set up his fourth game-winning goal of the season in Friday's contest.

The UMass defense was also a strong point on the weekend as the nation's highest-scoring corps posted six points in two games, including senior Darren Rowe, who has posted six assists and seven points in six games.

Over the last three weeks, Terrier rookie Danny O'Regan has scored four goals and leads the nation with 11 points, while junior linemate Matt Nieto is tied for third with nine points. The pair, along with sophomore Evan Rodrigues, has posted 13 goals and 28 points in the last six games, making up the most prolific unit in the country.

Providence (Friday, 7 p.m.), UMass-Lowell (Sunday, 2 p.m.) at Maine

After capturing a weekend sweep of Boston College, the Black Bears return to Alfond Arena for two more contests in league play. Coming off two victories, Maine remains in tenth place but sits just one point behind Northeastern and two points behind tying for a playoff spot.

Junior Jon Swavely scored twice and added an assist on the weekend to earn Hockey East Co-Player of the Week honors in the league with Merrimack's Mike Collins. Both goals came in Saturday's 3-1 victory, including a third-period strike to ice the victory.

Friday's 4-1 triumph was the program's first at Kelley Rink since Oct. 28, 2005 and with Saturday's victory, the Black Bears swept the road weekend from the Eagles for the first time since 1993. Sophomore Connor Leen posted the Saturday winner - his first of the year - to extend his team-leading mark of six goals and 11 points.

The Friars are coming off a 0-1-1 weekend against BU that saw sophomore Ross Mauermann post two more points to tie junior Derek Army for the team lead with 18 points, including a team-best nine assists.

PC looks to collect the season series sweep as it posted a combined 6-2 weekend victory with straight triumphs on Oct. 26-27, 2012 at Schneider Arena.

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