There are only five league games in Hockey East this weekend with several schools heading outside the conference to play some nonconference action. Some serious questions can be answered or left unanswered in Hockey East this weekend. Can Maine win a true road game? Can BC and Lowell, the Black Bears opponents, avenge earlier losses at Maine? Can Boston University find itself and avoid one of the more disappointing seasons in school history? Will Northeastern keep on rolling or does Vermont have an answer to Clay Witt this time that it didn't have in Burlington last month?
The most intriguing nonconference matchup takes place in Durham with New Hampshire playing host to Union, one of the ECAC's top teams. Providence heads to Colorado College without head coach Nate Leaman, whose wife just had another child, according to Mark Divver of the Providence Journal. Merrimack will play a home-and-home series against Quinnipiac while Notre Dame hosts Lake Superior State.
Can the Black Bears win on the road?
Before the season not many people would have imagined the University of Maine hockey team to enter this weekend's play with a record of 5-2-1 in conference and 11-7-2 overall, but that is where Red Gendron's team stands.
The Black Bears play at UMass Lowell on Friday before venturing to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College on Saturday. Maine defeated both teams earlier this season in Orono, but taking points on the road has been a challenge.
Maine has yet to win a true road game all season. Its only two wins away from Alfond Arena were technically on neutral ice in Estero, Fla. against Princeton and at Fenway Park last weekend against Boston University.
With seven of the team's remaining 12 league contests away from Alfond Arena, Red Gendron's team knows it will need to pick up points outside of the comfy confines of Orono.
UMass Lowell and Boston College are both deeper and more experienced than Maine so for the Black Bears to have success on the road this weekend their top players will need to step up in a big way.
Devin Shore is one of the best two-way players in the country, and he has bee hot offensively of late. The sophomore from Ajax, Ontario has scored 10 goals and 11 assists in the last 11 games in which he has registered at least a point in each.
He and junior Connor Leen could be without line mate Steven Swavely who injured his knee in the first period of the game against BU. Swavely will most likely be replaced by sophomore Ryan Lomberg who had two goals at Fenway.
Freshman and Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Blaine Byron could return to the lineup this weekend after missing several games with an injury.
Ben Hutton will have to anchor a defense that will be going up against two teams anxious for payback. The River Hawks are a score-by-committee type team, but senior Joe Pendenza and junior Scott Wilson are the players most likely to find the scoresheet.
Maine goaltender Martin Ouellette will need to continue his superb play, especially on Saturday night against Boston College and its almost unstoppable top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold.
Shorthanded Terriers have lost their way
Boston University's season has hit the skids, and this weekend might be a tough place to start, if the Terriers plan to turn it around. First year coach David Quinn brings his team into Conte Forum to face archrival Boston College on Friday before heading to face UMass Lowell Saturday.
The Terriers will be playing with just 16 skaters, according to the Boston Hockey Blog. Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury while forwards Evan Rodrigues, Jake Moscatel and Dillon Lawrence will also be out with various injuries. Sam Kurker left the team to join the Indiana Ice of the USHL after he became disgruntled with a lack of playing time.
This could be an ugly weekend for a team that has already had plenty of them.
Vermont looks to avenge December loss against Northeastern
When Vermont hosted Northeastern at Gutterson Fieldhouse on Dec. 17 it was the only loss for the Catamounts from Nov. 22 until last weekend when they lost at Colgate. Kevin Sneddon's team outshot Northeastern, 44-24, but couldn't solve Clay Witt.
The Huskies have lost just once since Nov. 22, a 5-2 loss against Air Force in the Ledyard Bank Classic, and appear to be clicking. The preseason pick to finish last has certainly exceeded expectations, but a win on home ice Friday night will go a long way towards solidifying NU's position in the top half of the standings.
Vermont holds the advantage on the blue line, but Northeastern's top two lines possess much more skill and finishing ability. The goaltending battle should be an interesting one, but with how hot Clay Witt is at the moment, that aspect of the matchup also leans towards Jim Madigan's team.
Top two teams in ECAC challenge Hockey East
Quinnipiac and Merrimack will play a home-and-home series this weekend while Union visits the Whittemore Center for a pair against New Hampshire. Both ECAC teams will be favored, especially the Bobcats.
Union freshman and former UNH recruit Mike Vecchione will be out of the lineup for Union with mononucleosis while star defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is questionable after an injury last weekend.
The Dutchmen have incredible depth from top to bottom, both up front and on the blue line, but will face a New Hampshire team that is ready to make a second half run after a sluggish first half. Dick Umile's team has won four consecutive games after a 4-2 loss to Cornell in the Florida College Classic.
Merrimack played Clarkson well in Potsdam last weekend, arguably outplaying the nationally ranked Golden Knights both games, despite picking up just a split. The Warriors are finally healthy and ready to make a second half run of their own. Junior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen has a 1.82 goals against average and a .932 save percentage on the season after winning the starting job away from senior Sam Marotta, the team's backbone last season.
Tirronen and the Merrimack defense will have to be on top of their game this weekend going up against one of the best offenses in the country. Warriors fans, on Saturday, will be treated to one of the best first lines in the country. Freshman Sam Anas has adjusted to college hockey quite fine playing on the top line with the Jones brothers, Kellen and Connor.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.