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Hockey East: Top Non-Conference Games in October

Joe Gambardella and the UMass Lowell River Hawks host Minnesota-Duluth for a pair this weekend at Tsongas Center.
Joe Gambardella and the UMass Lowell River Hawks host Minnesota-Duluth for a pair this weekend at Tsongas Center.
Matt Dewkett

The month of October almost exclusively features non-conference action for Hockey East teams. With the season set to get underway (for real) this weekend, I highlight five of the top contests on the league's schedule this month:

Oct. 7-8: Minnesota Duluth at UMass Lowell

This series, like the one I'll list next, is a clash between a pair of top-20 ranked teams that split two head-to-head meetings last year in Duluth. The series shifts to Tsongas Center this Friday and Saturday night as both sides look to build off strong starts after playing to within one game of the Frozen Four last season.

A key storyline entering this series is the losses of standout goaltenders on both sides: UML's Kevin Boyle and Duluth's Kasimir Kaskisuo. The Bulldogs do not have a goalie with one game of collegiate experience, while the River Hawks' most experienced netminder (Christoffer Hernberg) played just twice as a freshman last season.

Both teams are well stocked outside the goal, each returning nine of their top 12 scorers from a season ago. Senior linemates Alex Iafallo and Dominic Toninato lead the way for Duluth after posting a combined 44 points, including 15 goals from Toninato.

Oct. 7-8: Northeastern at Quinnipiac

It's a battle of defending conference champions for two games this weekend as the Huskies head down to Quinnipiac, which won its first ECAC title and played in a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament last season.

The Bobcats lose significant talent up front with Sam Anas and Travis St. Denis graduated, but head coach Rand Pecknold's team was picked to win the conference again as the likes of Tim Clifton and Landon Smith are back to shoulder the load. That's high praise for a team that loses elite goaltender Michael Garteig.

On the opposite end, the Huskies that stormed through the second half of last season en route to winning their first Hockey East title since 1988 are still very much intact. If a 3-3 tie at Matthews Arena in January is any indication, it should be an intriguing opening series between a pair of teams that play a hard game.

Oct. 7-8: Boston College at the IceBreaker

The Eagles open the IceBreaker Tournament against Air Force, a team projected to finish a close second to RIT in the Atlantic Hockey race. The teams have not met since BC opened its run to the 2012 national title against the Falcons in Worcester, when BC earned its sixth win in as many all-time meetings. This year marks BC's fifth appearance in the season-opening tournament.

Should nationally-ranked sides earn the Friday wins, the Eagles would face host Denver and play for their third-ever championship in the tournament. BC faced the Pioneers in two of the past three NCAA Tournaments, including on its way to the 2014 Frozen Four, and in a single contest last October in Chestnut Hill.

Despite 13 new players and 14 players graduated or off to the pro ranks, the Eagles return three of their top four scorers from last season, including reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Year Colin White. BC senior Ryan Fitzgerald and Denver sophomore Dylan Gambrell are the second and third-leading point scorers in the nation, while White ranks seventh on that list and third among Hockey East players.

Oct. 15, 22: Providence, Boston College vs. Holy Cross (at DCU Center)

If future college hockey expansion leads to Holy Cross joining Hockey East, playing at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester would be a necessity. The Crusaders are coming off their best Atlantic Hockey finish in ten years last season, and should contend again in Providence alum David Berard's third season as head coach.

Hockey fans in Central Massachusetts will not only have a strong team to look forward to, but also visits from Hockey East's last two national champions to highlight an excellent home schedule. The Crusaders have 2014 champ Union visiting Hart Center on campus, but their contests with the Friars and Eagles will be played in a building that will be without professional hockey for one more season.

Oct. 28: Michigan at Vermont

Vermonters have a fun one coming later this month at Gutterson Fieldhouse as the Maize and Blue make a rare weekend trip north, also paying Dartmouth College's Thompson Arena a visit the following night.

Michigan will have a much different look this year as its top three forwards, two defensemen and starting goaltender Steve Racine are all off to the professional ranks, but even those losses didn't stop the voters from staking the Wolverines to a No. 11 national ranking this preseason. Three of Michigan's nine freshmen are National Hockey League draftees, while senior Zach Nagelvoort ― who was one of college hockey's top goaltenders when he was a rookie ― is a definite building block.

Vermont has building blocks of its own, including senior forward Mario Puskarich and goaltender Mike Santaguida. The Catamounts pulled off an upset in Minnesota last October and now hope home cooking can be the answer to some wins this season.