As there is in every sport, there are always a few players who have more influence on the team's success than any other player. It doesn't necessarily mean the best individual players, but the ones most valuable to a team's success.
This is a list (in alphabetical order) of five players who will have the most impact on his team's chances and the greatest impact on the final Hockey East standings.
Kevin Boyle: The Manalapan, NJ native had a four-game stretch in December where his save percentage was below .850 in each game and below .800 in two of those. Not surprisingly, UMass went 1-3-0 in those four games. He had really stepped up his game and given John Micheletto's team a legitimate number one goaltender before that stretch. Boyle regained his form in a 3-2 win over Dartmouth in the Ledyard Bank Classic Championship game where he stopped 27 of 29 shots. Goaltending is so important in this league, and if Boyle plays as well as he did at times in the first half, he could be the reason the Minutemen finish higher in the standings than the ninth place the coaches predicted in the pre-season poll.
Mike Collins: Merrimack has replaced all-world goaltender Joe Cannata far better than most pundits expected. The defense has been tightening up as well. If healthy, the Warriors are able to roll four lines that can skate with most teams in Hockey East. The problem has been the offensive woes for the rest of the team not wearing Mike Collins' number 13. Collins leads the league in scoring in conference games. He is the catalyst of the Warriors offense. Mark Dennehy's squad will ultimately need to find scoring from other sources, but if Collins' hot play can persist, he could lead the Warriors to victories.
Johnny Gaudreau: The Eagles have the most talent in the league, but less scoring depth than usual. Gaudreau was a star at the World Juniors, scoring seven goals in three games to close out the tournament. Missing him was not the reason BC gave up eight goals to a loaded Minnesota team, but having him in the lineup gives Jerry York's club a huge boost. He is by far the most dynamic offensive talent in the country. He makes everyone around him better.
Jon Gillies: The freshman from South Portland, ME backed up John Gibson on the Gold Medal-winning US team at the World Juniors. Gillies is a difference maker. His stellar play for the Friars in the first half was instrumental in PC's success. Nate Leaman doesn't really have a suitable backup to Gillies, as evidenced by their 0-2-1 record without him. In his second year, Leaman is improving the talent for PC, but the Friars don't have talent superior to the teams with whom they are competing for the last home ice spot. Gillies gives PC an edge in net against teams like Merrimack, UMass and UVM.
Chris Rawlings: In his 13 starts Northeastern is 6-7-0. When the North Delta, British Columbia native has a game save percentage of above .941, the Huskies are 6-0. When his save percentage is .931 or below, NU is 0-7. In all but two of the losses, Rawlings' save percentage has been below .889. In other words, he has a huge impact on the success or lack thereof for his club. The offense really only has two capable scoring lines up front and a very mediocre defense. Rawlings will decide the team's fate. If he can stand on his head more often, the Huskies could find themselves in the playoffs. If inconsistent play from Rawlings continues, NU will most likely be looking in from the outside come the third weekend of March.