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Hockey East Weekend Preview: Big Nonconference Matchups

UMass Lowell bench Norm Bazin
Defending Hockey East Champion UMass Lowell is picked to finish second by a vote of the league’s coaches.
John Corneau/SB Nation

It’s an exciting weekend in Hockey East with several marquee teams from out west visiting league rinks.

Boston University hosts Minnesota State for a pair at Agganis Arena. Nebraska Omaha visits UMass Lowell for two games and Wisconsin plays one at Boston College and one at Merrimack.

In addition to these games offering fans and players something unique and a break from the usual league slate, it’s never too early to start looking at Pairwise Rankings implications. Minnesota State is expected to finish atop the WCHA while Wisconsin will be a top contender in the Big Ten. Omaha might not be an elite team in the NCHC, but two wins could bolster Lowell’s NCAA Tournament chances down the road.

Bruins Picks Lead Badgers to Beantown

A pair of Boston Bruins draft picks are two of the leaders offensively for Wisconsin. 2016 first round pick Trent Frederick has a goal and two assists through three games. The sophomore from St. Louis, Mo. averaged over a point per game as a freshman after two years with the U.S. NTDP. Frederick is a 200-foot center who plays a complete game. He skates well, has good size, and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas. A lot of his points come from his high compete level and having a nose for the puck.

The other Bruins prospect is senior Cameron Hughes who had somewhat of a breakout campaign a year ago. A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Hughes has increased his scoring output in each of his first three years in Madison.

In total, the Badgers have nine NHL Draft picks who could be in the lineup for the games this weekend. One of those players is J.D. Greenway, a Toronto prospect, whose brother Jordan plays for BU.

Graduate transfer Kyle Hayton has started all three games for Wisconsin after being a rock in net for St. Lawrence the last three seasons. The Denver, Colo. native graduated early, left the Saints and joined Tony Granato’s program for one final season of college hockey eligibility. His numbers through three games are just mediocre, but he’s a big time goaltender who could make a positive impact for the Badgers.

One other interesting aspect of UW’s visit to BC is the possibility that Joe Woll might be under consideration for the U.S. Olympic team, coached by Granato. Woll, BC’s sophomore goaltender, was the backup to Tyler Parsons for the U.S. team at the 2017 World Junior championships.

The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect will most likely split goaltending duties with BU sophomore Jake Oettinger at the 2018 World Junior Championships. While both goaltenders have shown a ton of promise, Woll has one thing going for him in his quest to impress USA Hockey brass. Woll sees a lot more rubber and will be counted on to steal games whereas Oettinger has a better team in front of him.

A Familiar Name to Watch

Most hockey fans in Boston recognize the name Brickley. The longtime Bruins color analyst on NESN broadcasts is Andy Brickley, who played for the Bruins and four other NHL organizations following his collegiate career at UNH.

His nephew, Daniel Brickley, is Minnesota State’s top player and is considered to be one of the top NHL free agents playing college hockey this season. Brickley, a two-way defenseman, has good size and skating ability. He can break pucks out of his own zone and contribute offensively. The reigning WCHA Player of the Year as a sophomore will be fun to watch this weekend.

Brickley isn’t the only familiar name to dress for the Mavericks this weekend. Connor LaCouvee could see a start in net for Mike Hastings’ club after transferring to Minnesota State as a graduate student following three years at BU. LaCouvee didn’t start in MSU’s only previous game this season, a 4-0 loss to St. Cloud, but he could see action this weekend.

Lowell Looks to Bounce Back

Norm Bazin’s teams haven’t been too acustomed to losing since he arrived as the head coach for his alma mater. With that in mind, it was one of the biggest shocks of the opening weekend that the River Hawks were swept by New Hampshire.

While UMass Lowell still has quite a few key pieces in position to make another run at a Hockey East Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, there was a lot to replace. Gone are C.J. Smith, Joe Gambardella, Michael Kapla and Dylan Zink. It might take a little while for UML to find its groove, but this is a big weekend with Pairwise comparisons at stake.

Omaha will be led into Tsongas Arena by first year head coach Mike Gabinet, who takes over for Dean Blais who retired following last season. The 2004 UNO graduate will be making his NCAA head coaching debut this weekend. Seniors Tyler Vessel, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, and David Pope, property of the Detroit Red Wings, are the two big guns offensively for the Mavericks.

Miscellaneous Notes

The only Hockey East league game of the weekend is a Sunday matinee affair at Schneider Arena between Boston College and Providence. The Friars had an impressive first weekend, sweeping Miami on the road, but it didn’t come without a cost. The Friars will be without freshman Bailey Conger and possibly without junior Erik Foley, according to Mark Divver of the Providence Journal. Both suffered injuries in Oxford.

Fourth overall pick Cale Makar and the rest of UMass’ 13 freshmen will make their regular season debut at the Mullins Center Saturday when the Minutemen host American International. UMass travels to Union Friday night for the third of three straight road contests to start the season.

In Dick Umile’s final season behind the bench, UNH will look for its first 4-0 start since the 2012-13 season. The Wildcats host Colgate for a pair at the Whittemore Center.

Vermont, coming off a home split with Colorado College, has two tough road games this weekend. The Catamounts play at Quinnipiac Saturday before traveling to Schenectady to face Union on Sunday.