There are three series with a lot of appeal this weekend in Hockey East. First Notre Dame visits the greater Boston area for the first time as a league member to take on UMass-Lowell while Boston University hosts North Dakota in a marquee nonconference battle. Also, in Providence a suddenly-hot UNH team will be taking on the second ranked Friars.
Jeff Jackson will bring a depleted Fighting Irish team into Tsongas Arena this weekend with four to five players out of the lineup, including freshman sensation Vince Hinostroza.
This is a classic matchup of two teams whose coaches have a defense first mentality. As always the Irish will have senior stalwart Steven Summerhays in net to be the last line of defense. The Anchorage, Alas. native has a 1.66 goals against average and a .936 save percentage on the season.
With that being said, even with Hinostroza out of the lineup there is offensive skill on display for the team wearing gold helmets. T.J. Tyan, Jeff Costello, Mario Lucia and Bryan Rust are the four Irish players with the most offensive creativity. Defenseman Shayne Taker has three goals and five assists on the season and can certainly step up into the play.
After last week's three out-of-conference wins UMass-Lowell is 7-1 in its last eight games. One key has been the upswing in production from senior Derek Arnold. The Foxboro, Mass. native had just one assist in the first seven games of the season, but has tallied five goals and an assist in the last five games.
Norm Bazin has given both Connor Hellebuyck and Doug Carr playing time between the pipes for the River Hawks. Each has a sub-two goals against average while saving more than 93 percent of the shots faced.
This should be an exceptionally competitive series between two defensive minded clubs. Don't expect many goals to be scored at the Tsongas Arena this weekend. This isn't going out on a limb, but this writer predicts that seven or less goals are scored.
The other series that is sure to attract plenty of attention will be at Agganis Arena as North Dakota travels east to take on Boston University. Both clubs are young and are looking to find their groove early in the season.
It's hard to believe this is a matchup between two clubs with records below 500, but that's what it is. Both teams have plenty of individual talent, but they're still working on putting it all together.
North Dakota has plenty of national name recognition, including leading scorer Rocco Grimaldi, a Florida Panthers prospect, defenseman and Edmonton prospect Dillon Simpson, and Bruins goaltending prospect Zane Gothberg.
Two other names Hockey East fans might recognize are Wade Murphy, a former Merrimack recruit, and Stephane Pattyn whose brother Yvan plays for Vermont.
Boston University has gotten offensive production from two defensemen, Garrett Noonan and Ahti Oksanen, but two rookie blue liners are making great progress. Doyle Somerby and Dalton MacAfee look light years ahead of where they did a month ago.
The goaltending tandem of Matt O'Connor and Sean Maguire might be what ultimately wins this series for Terriers first year head coach David Quinn.
New Hampshire heads to Providence to take on the Friars for a pair of games at Schneider Arena in a rematch of last season's Hockey East Quarterfinals. Nate Leaman's squad came out on top in three games, and will certainly have the edge this weekend.
Any team with Jon Gillies on it has to be favored nine times out of ten. The Calgary Flames prospect now has eight career shutouts after blanking Vermont, 3-0, last Saturday. Junior Ross Mauermann has stepped his game up to an entirely new level. The Janesville, Wis. native has ten goals on the season.
Facing a Providence team with just one loss on the season will be a Wildcats team on a five-game winning streak. Some of the competition has not been top notch, but Dick Umile's team is in a lot better shape than it was a few weeks ago in large part to finding some lines that have good chemistry and getting everyone healthy.
Casey DeSmith isn't a bad option to have in net either. The Rochester, NH native has a 1.88 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. UNH peaked really early last season and limped home down the stretch run. Anything can happen, but come March, this Wildcats team is much more likely to resemble the last five games than the first seven.
In other action, Merrimack looks to get into the win column for the first time all season in Hockey East action as it takes on Northeastern in a home-and-home series. The Huskies will be looking to bounce back from a rough stetch where they have lost five of six.
Boston College heads to Orono to face a Maine team hot off a 7-0 shellacking of BU. The skillful Eagles forwards will pose a huge threat to the young Maine defense, but there is always Martin Ouellette who does his best imitation of a brick wall at times in net for the Black Bears.
Maine has some players that can make the opposition pay if the opportunity presents itself. The Black Bears have put up eight and seven goals in a game this season. BC fans making the trip up to the Alfond should pay particularly close attention to defenseman Ben Hutton, who has made great progress from year one to year two, and might be one of the best blue liners in the league now.
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Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.