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Hockey East Preview: Top-ranked UNH hosts BU, Harvard visits Merrimack

The marquee game of the week takes place at the Whittemore Center on Thursday when UNH hosts BU, but matchups between Northeastern and Lowell as well as Boston College and Providence also look to help us start sorting out the bottom of the Hockey East pile.

Vermont at #10 Dartmouth (Wednesday)

The Catamounts will travel to Hanover, NH to take on the Big Green is a Hockey East vs. ECAC showdown. Most recently, Vermont picked up three points in Hockey East standings with a win and tie against Maine this past weekend. Standing at 3-7-3 overall (3-5-3 in conference), the Catamounts will look to knock off an ever improving Dartmouth squad.

The Big Green have posted a 6-2-2 record this season, landing them in second place in ECAC behind Quinnipiac. Led by Tyler Sikura with 15 points this season, Dartmouth took down Bentley last Saturday 5-2 on home ice.

The key in this game for Dartmouth will be to get the puck past Catamounts netminder Brody Hoffman. For his efforts last weekend against Maine, Hoffman was awarded Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors, only allowing three goals in two games. As for Vermont, they will need to focus on taking advantage of their power plays, for they have only converted on 6/53 of their chances.

#7 Boston University at #1 UNH (Thursday)

After a sweep of UMass Lowell last weekend, the Wildcats have leaped past Boston College to claim the top spot in the USCHO Top 20 National Rankings. Led by forwards Kevin Goumas and Grayson Downing and netminder Casey DeSmith, the Wildcats will look to defend their home ice this Thursday night against the Terriers.

Boston University took down the Eagles last Friday, giving them their second loss of the season and ending their 10 game win streak. Jack Parker’s squad returned to the ice on Saturday but fell to the defending National Champions 5-2. This season, the scarlet and white have looked to senior forward Wade Megan (Florida Panthers) for leadership of a young team and has responded with 14 points so far this season. They'll need even more from Megan, as WInnipeg Jets' prospect Yasin Cisse' has bolted Comm Ave in favor of greener pastures (or at least more minutes) in the USHL.

In their two previous match-ups this season, the Wildcats have been on the winning end of both, taking the initial game 4-1, followed by a 3-1 victory a couple weekends ago. The key for the Terriers on Thursday will to get on DeSmith early, for the sophomore has held strong for the Wildcats so far this season. For UNH, they will simply need to get the puck to Goumas. The junior leads Hockey East with 23 points this season and will look to improve on that against BU.

#2 Boston College at Providence (Friday)

Jerry York, head coach of the Eagles, will look to win his record breaking 925th win as a Division 1 College Hockey coach this Friday night in Providence. The win would eclipse Ron Mason’s record of 924. The Eagles have been nothing short of impressive this season. Sitting at 11-2 (9-2) and atop Hockey East, BC will take on a surprising Friar team headed by Tim Leaman. Hockey East Player of November Johnny Gaudreau leads the Eagles with 21 points in 13 games this season.

Providence currently sits in fourth place in Hockey East behind, and looks to be emerging as a top team after last season’s trip to the Hockey East Semi-Finals where they fell to the Eagles 4-2. It has been a balanced attack for the Friars this season, having eight players with between seven and nine points on the season. Last weekend, Providence split games with Merrimack, including a 3-2 overtime victory on Friday night thanks to Tim Schaller.

Just like Boston University did last weekend, the Friars will need to score first if they want a chance at winning this one. As for the Eagles, they will need to remain strong on the blue line, led by freshman Teddy Doherty and Michael Matheson (Florida Panthers).

Colgate at UMass Amherst (Friday/Saturday)

The Minutemen will be hosting a pair of games versus the Raiders this weekend, with a chance to pick up a couple out of conference victories. Sitting at 5-6-2 (4-6-1), UMass split games with Northeastern last weekend, dropping a 1-0 decision in Amherst on Friday and bouncing back to beat the Huskies 6-3 at Matthews Arena. UMass has had success out of conference, posting a 1-0-1 in non Hockey East games.

As for Colgate, the Raiders have struggled on the road highlighted by a 1-4-2 record away from Hamilton, NY. Sitting at 7-7-2 overall on the year, Colgate has been led by Robbie Bourdon and Tylor Spink with 13 points apiece.

UMass will need receive strong goaltending from Kevin Boyle this weekend to pull out a pair of victories against Colgate. Last weekend versus Northeastern, the sophomore posted 16 saves in the one goal loss on Friday night and bounced back to make 32 saves against the Huskies on Saturday.

#20 Harvard at Merrimack (Friday)

Following a split with Providence last weekend, the Warriors will face a tough test with the Crimson on Saturday. The 4-3 (3-3) Harvard team will be playing with rested legs, for their last game was Nov. 17 against Colgate. The Raiders edged out the Crimson in that game 1-0. Harvard is led by freshman Jimmy Vesey with eight points in seven games.

Merrimack has posted a 5-7-2 (4-4-1) record so far this season. The Warriors have not seen the success they would like to on home ice, shown by their 2-3-2 record in North Andover. Led by junior forward Mike Collins and senior defenseman Kyle Bigos, the Warriors will look to pick up an out of conference victory on Friday night.

Harvard has not played a game in three weeks and will be well rested when they take the ice against Mark Dennehy’s squad. The key for the Warriors will be to put out the flame early and harness the Crimson’s energy in the first five minutes of the game.

Northeastern at UMass Lowell (Saturday)

Tsongas Arena will play host to the Riverhawks taking on a Huskies team that sits at 5-8-1 (3-7-1) on the season. Lowell has struggled lately, posting a 2-4 record in their last six games, including getting swept last weekend against UNH. At 4-7-1 (2-6-1) this season, Norm Bazin’s squad has been led by Scott Wilson (Pittsburgh Penguins) with 10 points on the year.

Much like the Riverhawks, the Huskies have struggled as of late. Winning just one game in their past five, the Huskies will look to get back on track following a 6-3 loss last Saturday to Massachusetts. Freshman Kevin Roy (Anaheim Ducks) has held strong for Northeastern with 13 points in his first year.

The key to the Huskies success in this match-up will be to take advantage of Lowell’s dismal penalty kill. The Riverhawks have allowed 10 power play goals this season, only killing 78% of their penalties. As for Lowell, they will need to see strong play out of goaltender Doug Carr, for he has struggle thus far, posting a .902 save percentage and allowing 2.32 goals a game.

Maine at #7 Boston University (Saturday)

Following a tough Thursday night game at UNH, the Terriers will return to Agganis Arena on Saturday to host the last placed Black Bears. So far this season, Maine has struggled, displayed by their 2-10-2 (1-6-2) record this season. Last weekend, Tim Whitehead’s squad lost and tied Vermont in a weekend series. Friday night, the Black Bears dropped a 2-1 decision to the Catamounts, but returned on Saturday to skate to a 2-2.

In Maine’s pair of victories this season, they have had production from senior Joey Diamond and freshman defenseman Ben Hutton (Vancouver Canucks). These two will need to play a major role in this match-up if the Black Bears want a chance at defeating the Terriers.