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View From Section U: Hockey East Playoff Preview

Playoffs!  Time for some previews and predictions:

Quarterfinals

#8 Massachusetts Minutemen at #1 Boston College
My preview for this one will be posted tomorrow, as usual.  I will give my prediction though. UMass has played very good hockey the last few weeks and proven that they can compete with some of the best teams in the country.  Unfortunately they haven’t shown that they know how to beat any of those teams.  So as much as it pains me to say, Boston College sweeps 2-0.

#7 Vermont at #2 New Hampshire
Vermont is playing .500 hockey since the start of February, going 3-3-4 in their last 10.  However they went 0-1-1 against UNH during that time in addition to an earlier loss in Burlington.  UNH has played great since the beginning of January except for a couple of weekend sweeps at the hands of Merrimack and Boston College, with the Eagles taking both games this past weekend to pry the regular season title away from the Wildcats.

How Vermont Can Win:
When Vermont wins against good teams it’s because their special teams are working for them.  In their 7-2 over Maine last month the Catamounts went 3 for 6 on the power play and kept the Black Bears off the board in all 8 of their power play opportunities.

How New Hampshire Can Win:
Just put the first line out there and let them do their thing.  Paul Thompson, Mike Sislo, and Phil DeSimmone have accounted for 47 goals this year and 128 points.

Despite UNH’s disappointing results last weekend it’s tough to see them drop any games to the Catamounts.  UNH sweeps 2-0.

#6 Northeastern at #3 Boston University
Northeastern had a daunting schedule coming off the Beanpot Championship game having to face the top three place teams in Hockey East in three consecutive weekends.  But they did very well going 2-2-2 in that time.  BU’s last place finish in the BU Invitational was a wake up call for them and they went 4-2-0 down the stretch.  The Terriers will play without freshman Garrett Noonan for the first game after picking up his third misconduct of the season.

How Northeastern Can Win:
The Huskies played well against those top Hockey East teams despite their fiesty coach Greg Cronin being suspended for recruiting violations.  Well, he’s back and Northeastern will have to channel some of his emotion in order to beat BU at Agganis where the Terriers have lost three games all season.

How Boston University Can Win:
The Terriers will need a good showing from their freshmen who will be making their Hockey East playoff debuts in order to advance.  Charlie Coyle, Sahir Gill, Matt Nieto, and Adam Clendening are all key to BU’s postseason success.

Northeastern has been playing some pretty good hockey lately, including beating BU on Comm Ave last weekend, all without their intense leader behind the bench.  I think the return of Cronin and the play of Chris Rawlings makes the difference here.  Northeastern wins 2-1.

#5 Maine at #4 Merrimack
These teams are heading in very different directions.  Maine is unbeaten in their last 7 games, which includes two wins against Merrimack by a combined score of 11-1.  Meanwhile Merrimack has lost three of their last four, including dropping an ugly one to Providence to close the regular season.

How Maine Can Win:
Maine goes how Gustav Nyquist goes.  He’s had multiple points in five straight games.  It’ll also be important for Maine to get an early lead.  They’re 13-1-3 when scoring the first goal and undefeated, 9-0-2, when taking a lead into the first intermission.

How Merrimack Can Win:
The Warriors have to take advantage of only the second playoff series every hosted in North Andover.  Merrimack is 12-2-1 in the revamped Lawler Arena this season and 24-5-2 in the last two seasons combined.

If I wasn’t heading to Conte, I probably would’ve thought about grabbing tickets to this series before they were all scooped up because it should be a good one.  It all comes down to whether Stephane Da Costa is healthy and his goal and two assist performance in his last game appears to show that he is.  Merrimack heads to the Garden 2-1.

Semifinals
Northeastern vs Boston College – This would make the fifth time the teams meet this season.  I say another high scoring affair like the last time they met here, BC wins 6-4.
Merrimack vs New Hampshire – The pressure of Merrimack’s cinderella season gets to them and they drop a close one, UNH 2-1.

Finals
UNH vs BC – Again these teams meet with a title on the line and again BC proves they’re just a bit better, BC 4-2 (ENG).

Tim How has a piece on Oleg Yevenko’s committment to UMass.  I’m hearing very good things from How and Ryan Clark who also covers the Fargo Force (both can be followed on Twitter).  It sounds like Yevenko is the bruiser we’ve been missing the last few seasons.  Clark said he’ll likely be writing a piece on Yevenko soon as well so I’ll post it when it happens.

The USHL has an official release as well.

News tonight that Hockey East is less two coaches as both Lowell’s Blaise MacDonald and Providence’s Tim Army are on their way out.  Army is really no surprise considering how bad the Friars been, not to mention how many star players have decided to take their talents out of the Ocean State before their careers are through.  In fact there were serious rumors that Army was going to jump ship and head back to coach the pros last offseason.  You have to wonder how much worse they would’ve been in his time  if not for the solid play of Alex Beaudry in net the last couple years.

I think with MacDonald the decision doesn’t have too much to do with this past season as it does previous ones.  While the River Hawks were nothing short of horrendous, it’s tough for them not to be with so many freshmen on the squad (though it should be pointed out that UMass had just as many freshmen on their squad this season with better results).  What has hurt MacDonald is the fact that the size of his classes are completely unbalanced which leads to this weird cycle where they go straight from boom to bust in the course of one offseason and really can’t build off any success.  But what really hurt Blaise was the that fact that even his boom years were busts that saw Lowell teams expected to do damage in Hockey East and make it to the NCAAs end up completely underachieving and ending up in mediocrity.

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5 Comments

  1. UML’s firing Coach MacDonald isn’t much of a surprise, as there’s been rumors floating around the arena for a bit. As you stated, this is more a combination of seasons than just this past one. What hurt Lowell this year wasn’t just the freshmen (Lowell actually does have one more on the roster than UMass) but also the players that were supposed to provide the leadership missing games due to injuries. Also as you actually stated yesterday, having both goalies be freshmen didn’t help.

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    • How do feel Monty? Was this overdue in your eyes?

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      • Sadly yes. I like him a lot, every time I’ve met him, he’s been gracious, funny, polite … you can’t help but want him to succeed (and no, no one needs to bring up the DUI, I know).

        But the program just took too much of a fall this year, after a disappointing season last year. And the fans and alumni aren’t too thrilled with the wait till they’re juniors and seniors thing anymore, because it didn’t work out the last two times either.

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  2. I’d like to see them get a coach that a) is given a little bit more than just a 1/3 of the UMass recruiting budget, I’d like to see someone who’s as charismatic as Coach MacDonald, but a little bit better with on-ice stuff. That’s really all I care about to be honest …

    I’ll add that to me, the school is a good one, the arena’s just beautiful, so those things will help sell the program to some coach. Can’t get worse than this season. 😦

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