With the second half of the Hockey East season rapidly approaching and conference play about to swing into full gear, now is a good time to look at each team's key to success in the second half.
The Eagles have no shortage of talent led by stud sophomore Johnny Gaudreau, who is currently at the World Juniors. The first two forward lines, the defensive corps and Parker Milner in net is the envy of almost every coach in the country. The Eagles will get into more tight contests in the second half and with the playoffs. The top two lines are lethal enough that they can win games by themselves, but the third and fourth lines have been nearly non-existent on the scoring sheet. If Jerry York's club can find more depth on the forward lines, BC could finish the season with less than five losses on its way to another NCAA Championship. Maybe equally important is that the Eagles stay healthy, especially in net where there is no proven backup to Milner.
There is little doubt Casey DeSmith will be the backbone of the UNH team. Since taking over for Matt DiGirolamo last season, the Rochester, NH native has been nothing short of spectacular. Like has happened so many times before in his coaching tenure, upperclassmen have stepped up their scoring for Coach Dick Umile. The defense has been stellar, led by puck-moving defenders Trevor van Riemsdyk and Connor Hardowa. The real key will be to maintain the high level of play, yet peak in March. So many UNH teams before have peaked too early in the season. Wildcat faithful will hope this season is different.
The Terriers have no shortage of NHL talent on the team. The scoring has been well-balanced, although led by Wade Megan and Cason Hohmann. The defense has been solid at both ends of the ice, led by sensational freshman Matt Grzelcyk and Garrett Noonan. The amount of success Jack Parker's club has in the second half should depend on how well freshmen goaltenders Matt O'Connor and Sean Maguire perform on a consistent basis.
The Friars are a well coached team with improving talent under second-year bench boss Nate Leaman. As much as the team has improved, there is still too much dead weight in the upper classes that will prevent the offense or defense from carrying this team. As he did for much of the first half, freshman goaltender Jon Gillies must be the workhorse who can take over games. The Calgary draft pick is currently serving as the backup to John Gibson at the World Junior Championships.
The Catamounts already have three more Hockey East points than they did a season ago, in part due to improved goaltending. Freshman Brody Hoffman has played well with a few minor hiccups. The offense is averaging only two goals per game, which needs to improve if UVM wants to stay above the playoff threshold. Colin Markison and Connor Brickley should return from injury for the second half which will help the offense.
The Warriors have been up and down more so than any other team in the league. They have had two winning streaks and two losing streaks of three games or more. The defense has certainly had some breakdowns with mental lapses and turnovers, but that will work itself out with Jordan Heywood and Brendan Ellis anchoring the blueline. Sam Marotta and Rasmus Tirronen have filled in admirably in net for the departed Joe Cannata. The real key to the second half lies in the offense finding some scoring from sources other than Mike Collins.
UMass has been inconsistent this year. The Minutemen were the first team to knock off UNH and played BC tight, but then came up empty on other occasions against much weaker competition. Goaltending was a question coming into the season, but Kevin Boyle answered it for a while before falling into a recent slump. He must regain his more successful form, and Michael Pereira and Conor Sheary need to become the offensive leaders they are capable of being.
With a softer second half schedule, the River Hawks will have plenty of opportunities to pick up points and move up in the standings. Junior goaltender Doug Carr hasn't played up to expectations, but with the recent push from freshman Connor Hellebuyck, the goaltending should work itself out. The real key is to get Scott Wilson, Riley Wetmore and Derek Arnold firing on all cylinders like they were last season. If they can pick up their pace, and the secondary scoring continues, UML will find itself fighting for home ice come March.
The Huskies must receive better and more consistent goaltending from Chris Rawlings or Bryan Mountain. At first glance, both look to be putting up respectable numbers, but inconsistency has plagued the duo. Furthermore, both have let in deflating and untimely soft goals. Evidenced by Rawlings' shutout of UMass and Mountain's shutout of UNH, both can steal points, but need to do so more often. The offense and defense just isn't good enough to get the job done on its own.
The key for the Black Bears is to find some scoring touch. Tim Whitehead's club is playing pretty good defense right now, spearheaded by the emergence of Martin Ouellette in net. Maine lost a ton of offensive talent in the last few years, but the cupboard isn't completely dry. Joey Diamond, Mark Anthoine, Kyle Beattie and the freshman trio of Devin Shore, Ryan Lomberg and Will Merchant need to start scoring in order for Maine to win some games and make the playoffs.