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Hockey East Weekend Analysis: Terriers Separating from Field

Boston University senior captain Matt Grzelcyk
Boston University senior captain Matt Grzelcyk
Matt Dewkett

There's just one weekend of action left in the month of January before the stretch run really kicks into overdrive and it appears Boston University is ready to break free from the pack of contenders in pursuit.

The Terriers had been in a virtual deadlock with Vermont and UMass Lowell atop the Hockey East standings for much of the first half, varying with games in hand, but the scarlet and white now own a four-point edge over second place UMass Lowell and BC.

The Terriers current three-game winning streak coincides with the recent struggles of Vermont and UMass Lowell. BU averted a near-loss Saturday with a last minute Evan Rodrigues goal in regulation to tie the game before Jack Eichel scored his third overtime game-winner of the season.

What does BU's series sweep at Vermont prove? Little in the way of anything we didn't already know about the Terriers, but it further cements the theory that UVM over-performed in the first half. The Catamounts are 1-5-1 in their last seven games and are losers of three straight Hockey East games. UVM has just seven goals in the five losses and one tie over that stretch. The offense has evaporated from the comfy confines of Gutterson.

The other reason for Boston University's sudden four-point edge in the league standings if the wheels seemingly falling off the River Hawk bus. UMass Lowell is 1-4-0 in its last five games, including the two losses this weekend at the hands of Providence.

Having seen UML play over that period it is a combination of several factors, but perhaps most shocking and concerning is the lack of execution in the defensive zone. Making it difficult for its opposition to score goals and find quality opportunities in the scoring areas has become a staple of Norm Bazin coached teams, but that was not the case on Friday as Providence put up a touchdown and an extra point.

On the other end of that Lowell result was a happy bunch of Friars who earned four points, which propelled them into fourth place. Providence had scored just 19 goals in its first 11 Hockey East games, but scored 11 times over the two-game weekend series. Was this the weekend the preseason favorite needed to give it a jolt to finally start living up to expectations?

Third period heroics each night gave Northeastern a series sweep of the visiting Fighting Irish. Since starting 0-8-1 Jim Madigan's club is 10-3-2. There's a lot to like about the Huskies right now, and they don't play a team above them in the standings until the last weekend of the regular season (BU).

Despite having a seemingly endless supply of offensive talent, Notre Dame's power play has struggled mightily for much of the season. That wasn't the case over the weekend as Jeff Jackson's team scored three times on the man advantage. Notre Dame has an opportunity to bounce back with a visit this upcoming weekend from a UNH team limping in from a drubbing at the hands of Maine.

Speaking of the Black Bears, Red Gendron's team now sits in a three-way tie for eighth place after going 7-3-0 over its last 10 games. Maine scored 10 times over the weekend series and redshirt sophomore goaltender Matt Morris recorded his second shutout in three starts Saturday night in Durham.

Granted it's been against an extremely weak schedule, but Maine is playing better. A lot of that has to do with Gendron finally finding some lines that seem to work. Devin Shore is finally playing like the team's best player. Maine's next three series are against teams it is tied with or just one spot behind in the league standings.

Perhaps the most shocking result of the weekend was last place UMass taking three of four points from Merrimack in a home-and-home series. He isn't the only reason, but the addition of Anaheim Ducks prospect Brandon Montour at the semester break has proven to be a tremendous advantage for the Minutemen. John Micheletto's team was 4-11-0 before his arrival and 4-5-1 since. He had a goal and two assists over the weekend and a staggering 12 shots on goal. He really helps with the breakout and is underrated in the defensive zone. Even outside of Montour, freshmen and sophomores played a large part in the weekend's success. The future might be brighter than imagined in Amherst.

Boston College and UConn got together for a single game at Conte Forum on Saturday night. Boston Bruins draft pick Ryan Fitzgerald supplied all the offense the Eagles would need as BC upended UConn, 3-2. Fitzgerald recorded the hat trick and Thatcher Demko made some key saves. The win, coupled with Lowell's two losses, meant the Eagles moved into a tie for second place.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.