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Hockey East Weekend Preview: October 23-24, 2015

Providence sophomore defenseman Jake Walman
Providence sophomore defenseman Jake Walman
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

League play in Hockey East begins Friday night with UMass Lowell traveling to Merrimack and Massachusetts hosting New Hampshire.

In a short college hockey season, every game, including nonconference, matters, but the ante is upped even further when two valuable league points are at stake.

There's been much said this week about UMass' high shooting percentage and the high likelihood that it isn't sustainable throughout the course of the season. While it's tough to argue that theory, Friday's opponent might give credence to it continuing for at least another game.

The Wildcats have a suspect defense and sophomore goaltender Danny Tirone hasn't been up to the tricks of his second semester play from a year ago. UNH fell, 6-4, at the Mullins Center last season. UNH, at 1-2-0, has given up nearly 30 shots on goa per game, so it's not just Tirone to blame for the defensive woes.

The battle for Merrimack Valley bragging rights has been more hotly contested in recent years with the improvement in both programs -- UMass Lowell and Merrimack. The two old Division II rivals will renew acquaintances on Friday night at Lawler Arena.

The Warriors obviously will have home ice advantage, but they will also be a much faster team than what Lowell might have been accustomed to in previous years. The first period should be pivotal in determining which team can set the tone and establish its game for the last 40 minutes.

Wounded Huskies

After jumping out of the gates with an impressive win over a Colgate team that should be competitive in the ECAC, Northeastern took a huge step back in being swept by Bentley this past weekend.

Bentley has had NU's number as of late with wins in each of the four meetings between the teams since 2010, including three at Matthews Arena. The Huskies have taken more shots on goal (135) than any team in the nation through three games, but have only put five goals behind talented goaltenders Charlie Finn and Jayson Argue.

Senior captain Kevin Roy has been noticeably absent from the stat sheet and to the viewer's eye thus far this season, having factored into just one goal via a secondary assist.

Redshirt junior Derick Roy proved to be very capable while temporarily assuming the starting role between the pipes last season, but has not shown himself nearly as well to begin this year. He has only faced 49 shots, but his .837 save percentage is the worst among qualifying goalies in the NCAA.

Freshman Ryan Ruck saw his first collegiate action after the Huskies went down by four goals early in the third period on Saturday and proceeded to hold the Falcons scoreless while facing six shots. Ruck's strong, although brief, showing was a definite bright spot in an otherwise challenging weekend.

While the struggles of a team's top scorer and starting goaltender obviously raise major red flags, perhaps the most astounding stat related to the Huskies may relate to junior defenseman Matt Benning. The Boston Bruins prospect has been on the ice for all eight goals the Huskies have allowed and took one of their six penalties on Saturday.

On a related note, upperclassmen committed eight of the Huskies' nine penalties on the weekend, including all six in the series finale. NU struggled killing penalties a year ago and has allowed three power-play goals already this year, so that is a trend head coach Jim Madigan is definitely looking to see change.

"Every time we started to get some things going, we got a penalty," Madigan said. "And it's our older players, they've got to play smarter. We rely on them to play and help us win, not be in the penalty box. We've got to learn from it."

No Hangover for Friars

Despite losing Frozen Four MOP Jon Gillies and two the team's five leading scorers, Providence is showing no signs of complacency as the defending NCAA champion.

The Friars are off to a 2-0-1 start entering this weekend's home series against Ohio State. Mark Jankowski has picked up where he left off in last year's Frozen Four, leading the team in scoring with two goals and five assists. Trevor Mingoia and Brandon Tanev have also played well offensively.

Sophomore Jake Walman has stepped up his game. The St. Louis Blues prospect has two goals, three assists and has drawn raves from scouts and media members who've seen him in action this season.

Black Bear Offense in Early Hibernation

After a very positive opening night game against Michigan State in which Maine controlled the play at even strength, things have gone south. The Black Bears scored three times in the season debut, but have since scored one, one, zero and zero in four outings.

The offensive output is certainly a troubling trend for Red Gendron, but the third year head coach seemed to be most disappointed in what he perceived to be a lack of compete after Tuesday's 4-0 shutout loss at Quinnipiac.

"The truth is the other team outworked us and out-battled us all night long. They looked a lot faster than we did tonight," Gendron said after the game.

On average, Maine has been outshot 36.6 to 25.6 through five games. Maine's lack of speed and players who can possess the puck for long periods of time certainly are major factors in that, but Gendron was emphatic that his team needed to win more battles.

"Bottom line is if you lack poise with the puck and turn it over, the other team will get shots. If you lose races for the puck, other teams will get shots. We need to battle, we need to possess the puck and we need to skate," Gendron said.

That's a lot easier said than done, but Maine will look to get back on track and practice what its coach preaches with an exhibition game against University of New Brunswick on Friday night.

Maturing Terriers

The perfect recipe for a Boston University team that down in the dumps following a season opening loss at Union and an ugly exhibition setback against the US NTDP U-18 Team was the Wisconsin Badgers. The Terriers outshot UW 44-18 en route to a 4-1 victory.

David Quinn thought his team did a lot of growing up in a very short period of time.

"After a tough performance last night for a variety of reasons, I thought we responded well. ... We have grown up a lot in 24 hours.. We were much more purposeful, we did play a more mature game," Quinn told assembled reporters after the game.

There are still plenty of unanswered questions on BU's end of Commonwealth Ave. How will the goaltending duo of Connor LaCouvee and Sean Maguire hold up for the long run? The Terriers have a few finishers, but will they find a true playmaker, a guy who can create chances for his teammates on a consistent basis?

BU will get its next test when the University of Connecticut visits Agganis Arena Saturday night.

Quick Hits

  • Boston College's two leading scorers, forward Miles Wood and defenseman Casey Fitzgerald, are freshmen. Fellow rookie Colin White scored two goals in the team's 6-0 win over Wisconsin Friday night. The most hyped freshman, Jeremy Bracco, has yet to find the score sheet. "[The freshmen] a lot of energy.They fit into our team environment very smoothly. They're going to be real key players for us as the year goes on," Jerry York said after Friday's game.
  • Vermont was swept on home ice by Nebraska Omaha last weekend, in part due to two slow first period starts. The Catamounts fell behind, 2-0, after 20 minutes in each game. It doesn't get any easier this weekend as North Dakota, another top five team from the NCHC, comes to Gutterson Fieldhouse.