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Hockey East Weekend Preview: October 16-17, 2015

Mario Puskarich scored two goals in his return to the ice against Minnesota in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.
Mario Puskarich scored two goals in his return to the ice against Minnesota in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.
Matt Dewkett

The first full weekend of regular season games in Hockey East brought its fair share of surprises to teams predicted to finish at the top of the standings, as well as teams with less expectations of success.

Boston College and Boston University, picked first and second by both the coaches and media in the preseason, both left the Capital District with losses to Rensselaer and Union, respectively.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Vermont went out to Minneapolis for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game and blanked the University of Minnesota, 3-0, at Mariucci Arena. Not an upset per se, but nonetheless an impressive result was Massachusetts sweeping Colorado College on the road.

Black Bears Stick Together

The University of Maine lost its two best players from a year ago, but head coach Red Gendron believes his 2015-16 squad could be better than a year ago based on depth and the cohesiveness of the team.

It's just one weekend, but last weekend did nothing to disprove his theory. Maine looked very good five-on-five against Michigan State. The Black Bears came out firing on all cylinders and dominated play territoriality until penalties disrupted the flow and gave momentum to the Spartans.

A night later, Maine was outplayed and outshot by North Dakota, but the Black Bears held it together to force a 1-1 draw with the now top ranked team in the country.

"Our kids played defense with a purpose and intensity. It was pretty inspiring. That's because these kids have done an unbelievable job of coming together to this point," said Gendron. "If we can maintain that and they play for each other, we have a chance to keep getting better all year long."

Freshman goaltender Rob McGovern took most of the headlines with his 44 save performance, but the defense has seemingly improved its mobility and was able to clear a lot of loose pucks.

"We're more solid in certain things. We gave up a lot of scoring chances, but we did an excellent job giving [North Dakota] very few second opportunities," emphasized Gendron, now in his third year at the helm in Orono.

Gendron also was quick to point out the strong leadership that has developed from the get go this season.

"When regulation time was over [against North Dakota] and all the players assembled on the bench, it was remarkable. People like Steven Swavely, Connor Riley and Eric Schurhamer were just taking over with some of the things they were saying. I just stood there and said nothing because it was absolutely beautiful," said Gendron.

"They were saying all the right things and encouraging each other. They made it plain that they were doing it for each other," Gendron added.

It will take a lot more than just playing together to once again be a formidable foe in Hockey East, but the first weekend was a step in the right direction and a potential building block for a Maine program desperately hoping to climb back to the top of the mountain.

Terriers Face Future Teammates

When the US National Under-18 Team visits Agganis Arena Friday night, it will also be a preview of what's to come for Terrier fans. The NTDP's Under-18 Team features four players that are verbally committed to Boston University.

Forwards Kieffer Bellows and Clayton Keller, defenseman Chad Krys and goaltender Jake Oettinger all are slated to join the Terriers next fall. Bellows and Keller play on the team's top line and have developed terrific chemistry together. Keller is the playmaker with terrific passing ability while Bellows is the goal scorer with an elite shot.

Krys is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman, similar to current BU senior captain Matt Grzelcyk. Oettinger is a big goalie with sound technique. He's very graceful in his movement in the crease.

Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday. David Quinn's squad will step back into regular season action a night later with a visit from the University of Wisconsin.

Banner Night for Friars

On Friday night, Providence College will honor its 2014-15 NCAA National Championship team with a banner raising ceremony prior to the Friars' game against Holy Cross.

Providence senior captain Tom Parisi is adamant his team has moved forward and is looking to repeat the success of last season.

"Once it was over, you have to look forward. It's obviously something we appreciate. We want to get back there. We have a great team this year and we want to do it again," Parisi said.

The Friars certainly showed no signs of a post-championship hangover last weekend, going 1-0-1 against Miami on the road in Oxford.

On the visitor's bench Friday night will be Providence alum and former assistant coach David Berard. Despite the Crusaders' 0-2 start, HC is a program on the rise and should not be taken lightly.

No Rest for the Wary

Fresh off their upset of the University of Minnesota, the Vermont Catamounts face another top 10 team this weekend. Kevin Sneddon's team will open its home slate at Gutterson Field House with a two-game series against Nebraska-Omaha.

Mario Puskarich scored twice in his return to action following last year's season ending injury, and junior Mike Santaguida made 24 saves for his fifth career shutout.

Despite losing top defenseman Michael Paliotta, another key blue liner in Nick Luukko and goaltender Brody Hoffman, the Catamounts' defense still left a positive impression on Minnesota coach Don Lucia.

"Vermont is a good team. They had great structure in their game defensively. They always had three or four guys back," said Lucia.

After this weekend's games against the Mavericks, UVM will stay in Burlington for a two-game set against No. 1 North Dakota. With the team's first five games coming against nonconference opponents that are all expected to make the NCAA Tournament, it's a key stretch for Vermont.

Rocky Mountain High

By Joshua Kummins

In a weekend full of upsets and surprises of both the positive and negative varieties, UMass' sweep at Colorado College certainly falls into the "pleasant surprise" category. The Minutemen coasted to a 6-3 win on Friday, but needed to show a flair for the dramatic with four third-period goals in Saturday's 4-3 triumph.

Freshman Austin Plevy made quite a first impression in the series, scoring UMass' first hat trick since 2012 in the opener before adding the following night's game-winning goal. Plevy and senior Shane Walsh each posted five points, helping to lead the Minutemen to their first 2-0 start since 2009.

The Minutemen fired home three goals in the first 2:35 of Saturday's third period to level the score at 3-3, but Plevy capped off his debut weekend by posting the eventual game-winner with 3:07remaining.

UMass' Achilles heel a year ago was on the other side of the puck, so the solid play of sophomore Henry Dill and freshman Nic Renyard in goal was a breath of fresh air for head coach John Micheletto. The pair held their own while being peppered with a combined 90 shots, half of which Renyard stopped in Saturday's game.

Success of the Rookie

Plevy was not the only Hockey East rookie to stand out in his collegiate debut as Max Letunov also scored three times in Connecticut's 5-2 win at Alabama-Huntsville. Notre Dame's Anders Lee was the most recent NCAA rookie to net a hat trick in his first collegiate game as he turned the feat against Holy Cross on Oct. 8, 2010.

In total, 15 of the 54 goals scored by Hockey East teams over the course of the opening weekend were from freshmen.

It wasn't just the offense either. As previously mentioned, Maine freshman Rob McGovern made 44 saves in his team's 1-1 tie against North Dakota. For his efforts, he was named to the IceBreaker All-Tournament Team as well as being named the MVP of the tournament.


Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.