It'll be a while yet before we figure out just who's who in Hockey East, but in a season when polls are all the rage, early returns have Northeastern surprising a few folks.
The Huskies, who were picked to tie for sixth place in the conference's pre-season poll, turned an awful lot of heads last week, opening with wins against #19 Merrimack and #1 Boston College, in games that they never trailed at Matthews Arena. But the Huskies are in for a tougher test this weekend, as they visit those same Eagles, this time on banner night at Conte Forum.
#3 Boston College at UMass (Friday), vs. #14 Northeastern (Saturday)
UMass is a program in transition, while BC is a program looking for some redemption. Jerry York's club figures to find it in a big way at the Mullins Center on Friday night, when they take on a team that's still scratching its head about the departure of Toot Cahoon. John Micheletto's Minutemen aren't to be taken lightly, but the team that beat up future Hockey East rival Connecticut last weekend certainly faces a much tougher test this time around.
Kevin Boyle will be charged with stopping the all-out attack of Boston College that missed recent departures Chris Kreider and Tommy Cross against Northeastern, but figures to play as a much better unit in front of Parker Milner on Friday night - assuming Milner starts, that is. York might save him for Saturday night and give sophomore Brian Billett the cage instead, but it's unlikely, especially after the debacle at Matthews Arena last weekend.
The Saturday night match needs no introduction. Johnny Gaudreau wasn't good enough against Northeastern, whose three goals all came from freshmen, including one by Kevin Roy, who's made himself an early claim for the Hockey East Rookie of the Year honors, scoring two game-winning goals in two games.
#11 BU at UNH (Saturday)
The Wildcats had Dick Umile's 500th and 501st wins gift-wrapped on homecoming weekend thanks to sloppy play by St. Cloud State, but Jack Parker's Terriers are no Huskies. This is one of the more interesting early-season games on paper, because both teams have a chance to be a lot better than they already are, but have some room to go until they're in the conversation for best team in the conference.
Casey DeSmith stopped 45 of 50 shots against St. Cloud, while freshman Matt O'Connor had a stellar debut between the pipes for BU, stopping 26 of the 28 shots he saw from Providence last weekend.
In typical UNH fashion, the Wildcats look to have another strong two-way game going, especially if sophomore blueliner Trevor van Riemsdyk continues to roll in goals like he did last weekend. BU will have its hands a bit more full in Durham than they did with the Friars, and we'll know a lot more about each of these teams when the night's over.
Providence at #4 Miami (OH) (Friday, Saturday)
The Friars and Red Hawks have an all-time record against each other of 3-3, but things don't figure to be that even at Goggin Arena this weekend. Providence will need a strong series from sophomore forwards Ross Mauermann and Shane Luke, who combined for seven points in two games last weekend, to have any hope of toppling a balanced Red Hawks attack.
St. Lawrence at Maine (Friday, Saturday)
It's early still, but the Black Bears look like they could again be Hockey East's enigma - they lost a tough 1-0 game to a better team in Notre Dame in the IceBreaker opener before recording 54 shots and still only pulling off a one-goal victory, 4-3 over Army in the consolation game. Dan Sullivan's 1.53 GAA and .942 save percentage are enough to keep Tim Whitehead's club hanging around for a while if they want to, but it's going to take some consistency to do it, which is one thing that Maine's had trouble with in recent years.
Merrimack at Alaska (Friday), vs. Alaska-Anchorage (Saturday) - Alaska Gold Rush Tournament
Merrimack's 1-1 record doesn't do them justice. An emotional road win at then-number five Union was followed just four days later by a 4-2 loss at Northeastern where they seemed to have left their skates on the bus in the first period. A cross-continent trip isn't always the cure for what ails, but if nothing else, it'll give Mark Dennehy's bunch a chance to figure out just who they are and to start playing like they mean it again.
#9 UMass-Lowell at #8 Denver (Friday), at Colorado College (Saturday)
It's tough for a season-opening home game against a lower-caliber in-conference foe to tell us much about what we think is a good team, but we'll learn a lot more about Lowell this time around, when they face competition more their style and in a venue that's a bit less friendly. It's cliche to mention, but I'm interested to see just how Norm Bazin's bunch handles the altitude and how well conditioned they prove to be. If they've got it, they could escape the Rockies with two big wins. If they don't, it could be the start of a long season on the banks of the Merrimac.