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Hockey East Weekend Preview: NCAA Championship Rematch on Tap

Matt Dewkett

When Providence and Boston University take to the Schneider Arena ice Friday night, there will be significantly less riding on the game's outcome than the last time the two teams met.

This weekend's home-and-home series between the two clubs marks a rematch of last season's NCAA Championship game, won by the Friars, 4-3.

It's been an up-and-down season for Boston University as it has struggled with consistency, playing a full 60 minutes and getting reliable goaltending.

One recent highlight for the Terriers has been the play of senior Ahti Oksanen, who went five games without a goal to start the season. Over the last three games he has scored a goal in each while posting four goals during that stretch. Linemate Danny O'Regan has a goal and five assists over that same period.

One unexpected source of offensive production for BU has come in the form of speedy freshman Ryan Cloonan. A late add for this season after a few off-season departures, the East Longmeadow, Mass. native has brought a spark to the lineup.

Captain Matt Grzelcyk returned to the Terrier lineup for their series with Northeastern last weekend. He scored a goal in both games and added an assist on the game-winning goal Friday night. His presence, composure and puck possession ability is a certifiable game changer for David Quinn's squad.

On the other hand, Providence is the last Hockey East team without a loss, but have yet to play a conference game. The Friars have gotten off to a splendid start with a dominant blue line that has thrived at both ends of the ice.

Friar defensemen have accounted for 12 of the team's 32 goals while also adding 16 assists. Leading the way has been super sophomore Jake Walman, who has seven goals and five assists. The St. Louis Blues draft pick is averaging over four shots on goal per game. The smooth-skating blue liner has been a force in all three zones.

Nick Ellis has been solid in his first season as a starter for Nate Leaman's team. He should give Providence the advantage in the crease over the series, but it will be the biggest games of his young career so that is something to consider.

Minutemen Back on Track

After consecutive lopsided losses to Yale and Boston College, the naysayers, including this writer, were quick to point out the easy start to schedule for UMass. Teams can't control who they play, just beat the opponents in front of them.

That's exactly what John Micheletto's team did last weekend. Freshman Austin Plevy had two goals and two assists, having a hand in the game-winner each night, as the Minutemen swept UConn in a home-and-home series. A former Merrimack commit, he'll have a chance to face what could have been his team Friday night when the Warriors visit the Mullins Center.

Bright Spot for Black Bears

There hasn't been much in the way of positive news emanating from Orono, but Maine freshman goaltender Rob McGovern has shown flashes of promise.

The Weymouth, Mass. has a .934 save percentage, despite his 0-4-2 record. While the Black Bears are still in search of their first win, it can't be blamed on the goaltending. McGovern, once regarded as a potential NHL Draft prospect, has lost 40 pounds and is playing well in the crease.

Maine's issue has been scoring goals. Red Gendron's team has lit the lamp just 10 times in nine games, and it won't get any easier this weekend with a home-and-home series against UMass Lowell. The Black Bears will have to go up against senior Kevin Boyle, who is sporting a .949 save percentage.

Spartans on Deck for Demko

Thatcher Demko's shutout streak has been well-chronicled. The San Diego, Calif. native has blanked BC's opponents in six of the last seven games. Nationally-ranked Denver was the only team to put a crooked number up during that span.

Michigan State comes to Conte Forum on Friday night, looking to put an end to Demko's streak and make it three straight against Hockey East opponents. MSU put up 12 goals in a sweep of New Hampshire last weekend. Two names that might mean something to Hockey East fans are Travis Walsh and JT Stenglein.

Walsh, the son of late Maine coach Shawn Walsh, is an alternate captain for the Spartans. He has four assists on the season, three of them coming last weekend.

Stenglein, the team's leading scorer, was once a UMass Lowell recruit before de-committing in favor of the Spartans. He has five goals and five assists in eight games.

Struggling Huskies Visit South Bend

For a second straight season, Northeastern is off to a disastrous start. Last season's second half turnaround proves the Huskies can recover from a difficult opening month, but there are certainly signs pointing towards this year being more of a prolonged struggle.

Preseason Hobey Baker candidate Kevin Roy has just four assists in nine games played. Only one of those assists came at even strength. He has just two primary assists out of the four. The Anaheim Ducks prospect started slowly last season, as well, but this is not a good sign.

Northeastern's goaltending has combined for a .860 save percentage. Part of the blame lies with Ryan Ruck and Derick Roy, but the defense has been prone to making mistakes. Junior Matt Benning, expected to lead the blue line, has a -9 plus/minus.

The competition won't get any easier for Northeastern this weekend as it travels to South Bend to face Notre Dame for a two-game set. The Irish are averaging nearly four goals per game.