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Hockey East Friday night analysis: Clay Witt's magic continues and key road point for Maine

Second place Northeastern University. Who saw that one coming?

Martin Ouellette, seen here making a big save against Boston University at Fenway Park, was stellar once again for Maine on Friday, Jan. 17 at UMass Lowell.
Martin Ouellette, seen here making a big save against Boston University at Fenway Park, was stellar once again for Maine on Friday, Jan. 17 at UMass Lowell.
Matt Dewkett (mrd-photos.com)

When will Clay Witt's magic run out? That's the million dollar question across Hockey East, but the redshirt junior from Brandon, Fla. continued his mastery of the goaltending position on Friday night against Vermont at Matthews Arena. Witt made 46 saves to preserve a 3-2 victory for his Huskies, a result that propelled Jim Madigan's bunch into sole possession of second place.

"He was the difference in the game tonight. We talk about how important goaltending is. He was pretty special tonight. He's definitely one of the best goaltenders we've seen this year," said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon following the game.

Northeastern has its flaws like most teams, but in a wide open league outside of maybe Boston College, the Huskies are in position to contend for a bye in the first round of the league tournament.

The Huskies are not a puck possession team. Their skill players are more effective in open ice and tend to capitalize on the opportunities presented to them. Even on a night where NU won the face-off battle, the team went long stretches where Vermont controlled the puck and cycled well.

Northeastern needs to stay out of the penalty box and continue to work on doing some of the little things like getting pucks in deep and making it tougher to play for the opposition.

The Huskies have just eight league games remaining, but all besides the two road contests at Notre Dame, they will be the favorite.

Not a win, but a valuable road point

Maine is still winless on the road, but the Black Bears picked up a key point at UMass Lowell on Friday. Ryan Lomberg connected on a play in close with 1:24 to play with the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker to force overtime and eventually earn a 1-1 tie.

The result meant that Red Gendron's team won the season series over UMass Lowell, no small feat. Maine will need to ride senior goaltender Martin Ouellette as much as it can as he has been a difference maker all season. Last night, once again, proved that the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect can steal a point or two for his team.

ECAC's top teams take it to Hockey East

Sure, New Hampshire outshot Union at the Whittemore Center Friday night, but the Dutchmen held a commanding 3-0 lead after 40 minutes, and the result was never really in question. Meanwhile, down in Hamden, Conn., Quinnipiac fell behind Merrimack, 1-0, after one period, but stormed out to a 6-1 victory thanks to four goals in the first five minutes of the second frame.

Hockey East is in good position to commandeer four or more spots in the NCAA Tournament this season, but let's give credit where credit is due. The top teams in the ECAC are very good. Union and Quinnipiac are in a class by themselves, but Cornell is a big, physical squad that can cause havoc.

One thing is for certain. With all the conference shakeup and realignment, the eastern conferences came out on top. There was little change except to add two potentially strong programs. The western conferences came out disbanded and in disaray.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.