2009-10 Hockey East review and preview

2009-10 Hockey East review and preview
December 11, 2009, 4:44 pm
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By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

The college hockey season is now nearing the halfway mark and New England is flexing some muscle. Hockey East is one of the premiere conferences in the nation, so it's no surprise to see four teams in the USCHOCBS top 20 (UMass-Lowell, UMass, BC, UNH) and two more (UVM, UMaine) receiving votes this week. What is interesting, however, is that there were actually six HE clubs amid the preseason top 20 rankings. Though still early, 2009-2010 New England hockey is failing to meet expectations on a national scale and is making less of a statement around the country than in the previous year. In the week of December 8, 2008, there were five Hockey East teams in the top 20 (BU, Northeastern, BC, UVM, UNH) with three of them among the ten best and three more teams (UMass, UMass Lowell, UMaine) receiving votes.

It's not a significant difference though, right? Consider this: In this week in 2008 the top three HE teams putting up nationally ranked point totals were 4 BU (10-4-1) with 805, 5 NEU (11-3-2) with 759, and 11 (9-3-2) Vermont with 507. This year, 9 UML (9-5-1) has just 578 points, 10 BC (8-3-2) has tallied 542, and next best 15 Massachusetts (9-5-0) has 383. You will notice that nowhere in the top spots is defending NCAA champion, Boston University. Picked to finish third overall, today one would have to skip the national rankings altogether and follow a dramatic decline to the bottom of the Hockey East to find the Terriers.

Has the conference weakened as a whole? Or are the efforts of New England clubs still solid, but simply not on par with the country's elite? Who's got the goods to make a run come March? Should we even bother to check the standings until March? Here is a look at all ten teams, in order of current conference standing.

Boston College Eagles
2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 11-11-5, 6th
Overall RecordNational Finish: 18-14-5, NR
Goals ForGoals Against: 112, 105
2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 6-3-2, 14
Overall Record: 9-3-2, Ranked 10th Nationally
Goals ForGoals Against: 49, 36
Out-of-Conference Highlight: A 3-2 win at 18 Notre Dame on Oct. 23.

The Breakdown: Much improvedfor BC is their goals against numbers. After finishing last season withonly three teams in the HE allowing more pucks to find the back of thenet, the Eagles' defense is looking a little stingier. John Muse, BC'snumber one netminder, struggled through a bit of a sophomore slump lastseason with an 18-14-5 record and 2.72 GAA. But expectations wereextremely high following a freshman season where Muse shared the BernieBurke Outstanding Freshman Award and gained All-Tournament recognitionat the NCAA Tournament's Frozen Four in Denver, CO. This season he'sunder a different kind of pressure. Muse numbers have dipped again. In10 games the goalie has posted a 5-3-2 record with a 2.87 GAA and .885save percentage. Freshman back up, Parker Milner, has won all of hisfour starts (Merrimack, UMaine, UMass, and Harvard) for a 2.25 GAA and.905 SP. His performances have been impressive enough to earn himHockey East Rookie of the Week honors this Monday.

The BC boys protecting the pipes are clearly getting support. Specialteams have been deadly efficient in consideration of a 22.8 power playand the best penalty kill in the league. In the conference scoringranks, the Eagles have five players in the top 17 which is the most ofall 10 teams. Junior forward Brian Gibbons is hot on a six-game scoringstreak and leads the way with five goals and 11 assists. Two seniorstrail Gibbons; Carl Sneep, a defenseman, has tallied six goals andeight assists; and forward Ben Smith has racked up nine goals and fiveassists. Sneep is certainly celebrating. He had scored six career goalsentering 2009-01, but the goal he scored on Saturday to tie BU was hissixth of this season. Cam Atkinson and Jimmy Hayes, two forwards, arealso ranked (7-7-14 and 4-7-11 ). Smith's efforts have been particularnoteworthy. Ranking 11th among national leaders in goals per game(0.69), he has scored on a tremendous 39.1 of his shot attempts,including five on the power play and two game-winners. The offense hasalso been bolstered by the improved production of junior forward JoeWhitney. He followed a 51 point performance in BC's championship2007-08 season with just 15 last year, but already has nine (fourgoals, five assists) now in December. The Eagles will undoubtedly havea better season than the last. If the third-ranked recruiting class inthe nation can sync up with upperclassmen efforts that resemble BC's2008 title year, they will stay within the country's top 20.

Up Next: LikeUNH, BC will also see Providence in their next matchup, tomorrow at7 p.m. The first game following the break for the Eagles will be on NewYears Day versus St. Lawrence in the Denver Cup, 6:37 p.m. Eastern time.

Boston University Terriers

2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 18-5-4, Regular Season Champion, Conference Tournament Champion
Overall RecordNational Finish: 35-6-4, 1st: NCAA National Champion
Goals ForGoals Against: 177, 91

2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 2-7-2, 6
Overall Record: 4-8-3
Goals ForGoals Against: 41, 51

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 3-2 win versus Michigan (30 votes) on Oct. 24. A 3-3 tie versus 7 Quinnipiac on Nov. 28.

The Breakdown: Talk about unmetexpectations. However improbable Boston Universitys take down of Miamiwas in last years NCAA championship game, BU earned the right to bethere and walked away the winners. But in 2009-10 the Terriers have dugthemselves a hole and have promptly fallen in. Surely the reigningchamp has fallen victim to circumstance, right? Maybe. BostonUniversity lost five of its six leading scorers from last season. Thelast man standing is junior forward Nick Bonino, who walked away fromthe NHL in favor of the Hockey East. As the center of one of BU's toptwo lines, Bonino had 18 goals and 32 assists last seasonone more goaland six less assists than former teammate Colin Wilson. Bonino is notone to rest on last year's best efforts, however. The junior returnedfrom summer break with an extra five-to-ten pounds of muscle. Boninoalso worked with a coach in Connecticut to elevate his skating game.But after all that work, he has not been racking up the points (3-6-9)for BU in the early months. Highly touted freshman Alex Chiasson, a 6-4second-round NHL draft pick was assumed to make a big splash in theHockey East. His skills around the net should afford him both theability to score on his own as well as some stat inflation thanks tohis talented teammates. Not so; or at least, not yet. Chiasson hasplayed a part in the Terriers offensive struggles by totaling justseven points on four goals and three assists.

So BU sits in ninth place in the league standings at 2-7-2, ahead ofonly three-games-in-hand Providence. A Boston University four-gamelosing streak between Halloween and Nov. 13 marked a frustrating slideand even the 6-4 win over Merrimack that followed was of littleconsolation. BU lost focus after notching four first-period goals andsat back on its lead, letting MC come within two. It seems that theTerriers are missing Wilson and his take-charge attitude, playmaking,and seamless skating. None beyond Kevin Shattenkirk (2-10-12), ChrisConnolly (5-6-11) and Vinny Saponari (3-7-10) have been able to step upand net the puck consistently for Boston University. Yet one man on thebench isnt worried. Coach Jack Parker blames the slow starts followingchampionship seasons on still being "pretty impressed with ourselvesfrom the year before. He further contends that trying to see into thespring is next to impossible at this point and what is important isimproving his team through the duration and worrying about the playoffswhen they arrive. As of now, Parker needs to start cultivating someserious improvement from his second and third lines. At the least.

Up Next: Tonight at 7pm theTerriers will face RPI 8-8-1. BU's will have a Hockey East brawl intheir first January game when UMass visits Agganis Arena at 4 p.m. on Jan.2.

Maine Black Bears

2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 7-17-3, 8th
Overall RecordNational Finish: 16-20-3, NR
Goals ForGoals Against: 86, 110

2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 6-4-1, 13
Overall Record: 8-7-1, Received 8 Poll Votes
Goals ForGoals Against: 57, 49

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 1-4 loss at 20 Union on 109. A 5-3 win versus Michigan State on 1017.

The Breakdown: Maine is anotherteam that has turned preseason expectations upside down. The BlackBears are receiving poll votes on the national scene and are third bestin the conference, turning September polls on their heads. Tanner Houseand Scott Darling have a lot to do with Maine's win column. The pairreceived Hockey East honors last Monday as Co-Player of the Week andPure Hockey Defensive Player of the Week. House, a junior from scoredfour goals and two assists with a plus-5 rating in Maines victoriesagainst 9 UMass Lowell and St. Lawrence. Darling finished December'sfirst weekend 2-0-0 with a 1.20 goals-against average and a .957 savepercentage. The netminder followed the award with another solid game,stopping 22 shots for his seventh win. Darling's overall six wins, 2.59GAA, and .907 SP are good for best in the conference and are great forMaine's momentum as his improvement was a preseason concern. OtherBlack Bears are topping charts, but not just within the conference.Sophomore Gustav Nyquist's 11 goals and 13 assists are currently partof a tie for fourth best in scoring in the nation. The Swedish forwardis putting together the kind of year (9) coach Tim Whitehead hoped forafter the squad finished dead last in 2008-09 in conference scoringoffense with 1.93 goals per game against Hockey East opponents.Sophomore forward Brian Flynn's 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) aresecond in scoring behind Nyquist for the second year in a row. With 57goals-for to date, the Black Bears lead even HE- topper New Hampshirein that category.

The Black Bears showcased more than just strengthened offense in a pairof games against Providence. In their 3-1 win on Dec. 4, Maine'sspecial teams killed eight penalties and limited the Friars to just 10shots. They won by the same score the next night despite a solid effortby PC goalie Alex Beaudry (33 saves). The Black Bears beat-up theFriars on the power play in game two, scoring twice in fouropportunities. Such has been the story of Maine's man advantage. In 98chances they have found the back of the net 26 times for the fifth bestpercentage (26.5) in the nation. Adam Shamansky has been particularlyeffective on the power play. The rookie (7-5-12) has a nose forsniffing out the rebound, tipping in two PP pucks to defeat Vermont onOct. 30. Efficiency, like dumping 10 goals on St. Lawrence in just 34shots, can keep Maine in the Hockey East Hunt. Expect the Black Bearsto peek in on the national rankings if they can maintain tenacity onthe rush and capitalize on power plays, as they did against MichiganState.

Up Next: Northeastern isheading up to Orono for a 7 p.m. showdown with the Black Bears. Maine willthen meet Princeton on Dec. 29 in the Florida College Classic at 4 p.m.

Massachusetts Minutemen

2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 10-14-3, 7th
Overall RecordNational Rank: 16-20-3, NR
Goals ForGoals Against: 112, 103

2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 5-4-0, 10
Overall Record: 9-5-0, Ranked 15th Nationally
Goals ForGoals Against: 51, 40

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 4-5 OT loss at 7 Quinnipiac on Nov. 28. A 4-3 OT win at 8 Yale on Nov. 19.

The Breakdown: Rip the last twoweeks off the calendar and the UMass Attack has been fierce. Protectingthe pipes is Paul Dainton, junior out of Genelle, B.C., and BauerGoaltender of the Month for November. In games against Niagra, UNH,UVM, and Quinnipiac, he posted a 2.55 GAA and a .922 save percentage in283 minutes. His relief effort (two periods and OT) at Quinnipiachouses the only power play goal he's allowed. He made a career-high 42saves in a win over New Hampshire (Nov. 13) and stopped 27 shots in awin at Vermont. The playmaking has come from UMass' first line of T.J.Syner, Casey Wellman and 2008 All-American James Marcou. The triocomprises a the fast and offensively versatile line that can score atwill. Wellman is the 2008-09 Hockey East Rookie Leading Scorer andMarcou owns a share of the league's top spot in regular season scoring.These two act as special team snipers for the Minutemen man advantage(number one and two in HE PP points) with Snyder breaking up plays onthe penalty kill. Against RPI, the three totaled eight of UMass' 15points. Each player scored a goal against Maine and they combined forfour assists. Wellman tallied a hat trick in a single period againstVermont on Nov. 24, while Marcou had a career-high five assists. CoachCahoon calls Brett Watson his "best defensive forward and one of thebest in the country." Watson is goalless in a year and a half but playssolid defense and is great away from the puck.

UMass' top defensive pair remains Martin Nolet and Justin Braun. Thetwo were matched as linemates after their former partners, captain MikeKostka and David Leaderer, graduated in 2008. Both Nolet and Braunperform integral roles on the top power play and penalty kill units forthe Minutemen. Braun is not only a big time blue liner for UMass butthe 2009 member of the Hockey East All-Conference Second Team alsoholds a 10th-place league ranking in defenseman scoring (3-10-13). Sowhat happened to the defense going into December? The Minutemen havegiven up 13 goals in three straight losses, including five toQuinnipiac on Nov. 28 and five to UML on Dec. 5. The chance for astatement win against UMass Lowell was in reach as UMass carried a 2-0lead into the second period, but their inability to contain Red HawkDavid Vallorani uprooted the opportunity, allowing UML to net threeunanswered goals. Will these early months be another hot start thatburns out come clutch time? Overall, Massachusetts has the talent toearn a home-ice spot. Sustainability and staying healthy will be key toa successful season.

Up Next: Merrimack will meet the Minutemen tomorrow at 7 p.m. Over Dec. 29-30, UMass will face 20 Union, Bentley, and Connecticut.

Merrimack Warriors

2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 5-19-3, 9th
Overall RecordNational Finish: 9-21-4, NR
Goals ForGoals Against: 72, 89

2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 4-5-0, 8
Overall Record: 7-7-0
Goals ForGoals Against: 51, 45

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 2-5 loss at 3 North Dakota on Oct. 9. A 3-1 win versus Holy Cross on Oct.16.

The Breakdown: The Warriorshave liked playing at home this year. Merrimack is 7-1-0 at home with a5-2 win over Vermont, 5-3 over BC, 6-3 over BU, and 3-1 overNortheastern, within the conference. Not bad for a team that hasntearned more than six wins in the Hockey East in the last five years.More impressive than the Warriors wins is the goal scoring withinthem. In seasons past they relied almost desperately on their defense.Without serious goal scoring threats they focused their energiesprimarily on the defensive zone. As a result, they consistenly finishedwith the worst of the leagues offensive totals, posting meagergoals-per-game averages within Hockey East: 1.71, 1.59, 1.04, 1.78 andlast seasons 2.11. The Warriors are ranked second in Hockey Eastscoring with 3.78 goals per game and own the leagues best power playwith a 28.3 percent conversion rate. Northeastern is only the secondteam to hold Merrimack to under three goals so far this season (a 1-2loss). Their second line is probably as good, if not better, than lastyears number one line of Chris Barton, Jessie Todd and J.C.Robitaille, (13 total goals). The spark supplanted to sophomore JeffeVelleca and fellow freshman Brandon Brodhag is a forward named StephaneDa Costa. Even missing a combined eight games between them, Da Costasline has compiled a 16 goals tally. Five of 16 were fired by Da Costain a single game alone (against Army, Oct. 17). The young gun went3-5-8 in five November games to take home Pro Ambitions Rookie of theMonth honors for the second month in a row.

In 2006-07, Merrimack played in 34 games overall and scored 37 goals.In their first 14 games this year, the Warriors have 51. Clearly, theiroffense has established some balance that is based on bench depth andefficient power play effort. It is a change from depending on being atough 5-on-5 team to play, and it may not be a good thing that they'veloosened that grip in their own zone. As for those strong penalty killnumbers (5060), there is dependency there too because of how manyminutes the Warriors are spending in the sin bin. Merrimack is onlysecond best to UMaine in regards to bad behavior, with 17.3 PIMG. MarkDennehey would like his club to commit fewer penalties but asserts thathis desire has nothing to do with a lack of confidence in netmindersJoe Cannata and Andrew Braithwaite. Sophomore goalie Cannata wouldprobably like some help, however, as his nine PP goals allowed are partof whats weighing down the loss column in his 3-6-0 record. ItsBraithwaites 2.83 GAA and .906 save percentage that has kept Merrimackin games (4-1-0). If they can keep riding 2009-2010s wave of offensiveproduction, stay out of the box, and tighten up in their own zone,Merrimack will keep winning--and not just at home.

Up Next: Merrimack College iscurrently on break for exams and the holidays. They will resume actionon Jan. 2 against Wisconsin in the Badger Showdown at 8:07 p.m. Eastern time, andthen versus Ferris State or Yale on Jan. 3 at 5:07 p.m. Eastern time

New Hampshire Wildcats

2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 15-8-4, 3rd
Overall RecordNational Finish: 20-13-5, 6th
Goals ForGoals Against: 116, 112
2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 7-2-2, 16
Overall Record: 7-6-3, Ranked 19th Nationally
Goals ForGoals Against: 53, 56

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 6-1 loss at 11 Wisconsin on Oct. 31. A 5-5 tie in a rematch versus 1 Miami on Oct. 17.

The Breakdown: Nobody picked the Wildcats to lead the pack into 2010. In September, league coaches voted UNH to tie for fourth place with UVM. Two months later New Hampshire leads the Hockey East in wins and doesn't appear to be slowing down. They are unbeaten in their last six games and ride a 5-0-1 wave of momentum that includes three straight wins over nationally ranked opponents. Part of the 'Cats success can be accredited to senior netminder Brian Foster. Last year was one of transition, with the pressure of replacing UNH goalie Kevin Reagan on Foster's shoulders. He seems confident enough now. In a pair of games over December's first weekend Foster stopped 57 of 60 shots and posted a solid .950 save percentage and a 1.50 save percentage. Also impressive has been fellow senior Bobby Butler. Butler tallied 13 points on eight goals and five assists, registering a point in all seven games in November and garnering Hockey East Player of the Month honors. Consistency has been the name of his game as he scored a goal in all but one and posted a career-high three assists in his single scoreless match. Since December 1, Butler has fallen from first to tied as the nation's third best goal scorer. Still, he has added four goals and five assists to his points total.

Blake Kessel, younger brother of former Boston Bruin Phil Kessel, is shining for UNH, but not simply as a blue liner as he's listed. Kessel currently has a 8 rating with five goals and 12 assists. The numbers come from Kessel's ability to join the offensive rush as a fourth forward, using his speed and stick skills. He has been a welcome points gatherer in the wake left by the loss of last year's leading blueline scorer James van Kapstad. Forwards Mike Sislo (junior), Phil DiSimone (junior), and Phil LeBlanc (senior) are also picking up van Kapstad's slack with 11 goals, 11 points (two goals, nine assists), and nine points (four goals, five assists), respectively. New Hampshire's battle with the tough 1 Miami team shows that they've got the right pieces in place. The 'Cats need Foster to stay strong and the offensive production to stay ramped up if they want to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. A shot at the Hockey East championship is possible, but others in the conference are poised to knock UNH from its perch.

Up Next: First meets last when New Hampshire travels to Providence tonight for a 7 p.m. showdown. The Wildcats will then battle 5 Cornell after winter break at 4 p.m. on Jan. 3.

Northeastern Huskies
2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 18-6-3, 2nd
Overall RecordNational Finish: 25-12-4, 11th
Goals ForGoals Against: 121, 91
2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 4-6-1, 9
Overall Record: 6-7-1
Goals ForGoals Against: 33, 40

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 2-4 loss at 6 Colorado College on Oct. 9. A 4-3 rematch win at Colorado College on Oct. 10.

The Breakdown: Northeasternsslide is not unexpected. Brad Thiessen, the 2008-09 Inside CollegeHockey Goaltender of the Year, left a huge hole in the roster when heleft to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Thiessen was thestabilizing force that inspired NU's first NCAA tournament run in 15years. His .931 save percentage was number one in the league and fourthin the nation, and his 2.12 goals-against average was third in HockeyEast and 12th nationally. Northeastern could have struggled mightlywith a defense that allowed a lot of shots and an offense thatstruggled to score (2.95 goals per game), but didn't, thanks toThiessen's incredible 1,195 saves last season -- tops in the nation. Itis no small wonder that the Huskies have floundered some in the wake ofhis departure. Thiessen was the only Husky between the pipes in lastyear and the burden has since landed upon the young shoulders offreshmen Chris Rawlings (12 starts) and Bryan Mountain (three starts).And they've fared well enough. Mountain has made 38 saves on 42 shotsfor a .905 percentage and 1.86 GAA. Rawlings has a .913 save percentageand 2.95 GAA.

The 1-1-0 and 5-6-1 records, respectively, have much to do with a lackof puck support from the Husky offense. It is a disheartening fact asthe Huskies returned four forwards in junior Wade MacLeod (14 goals andteam highs of 21 assists and 35 points last season), sophomore SteveQuailer (10-15-25), sophomore Alex Tuckerman (8-14-22) and junior TylerMcNeely. The losses of forwards Ryan Ginand (led the team with 20goals; 32 points) and Joe Vitale (second with 20 assists; 27 points)have perhaps been more devastating than anticipated. NU's currentpoints leader and only scorer in double digits is a freshman: GarrettVermeersch (4-6-10). All things considered, it is no surprise that theHuskies are last in the league in team offense. Particularly tellinglow moments for NU were when the squad failed to capitalize on not one,but two 5-on-3 opportunities against Merrimack on Dec. 5. This teamneeds to amp up the offense because scoring four or more goals in justfour of their 14 games is not a recipe for conference contention.Northeastern can only ride that October win against Colorado Collegefor so long without coming up with a real solution.

Up Next: The Huskies will be onwinter break after they head up North tomorrow to visit Maine.Northeastern will then have the second game (7 p.m.) followingUMass-LowellHoly Cross when they take on Dartmouth in the LB Classicon Jan. 2.

Providence College Friars

2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 4-18-5, 10th
Overall RecordNational Finish: 7-22-5, NR
Goals ForGoals Against: 77, 133

2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 2-5-1, 5
Overall Record: 7-7-1
Goals ForGoals Against: 37, 39

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 3-2 win at 18 Notre Dame on Oct. 15. A 0-2 loss in the rematch at Notre Dame on Oct. 16.

The Breakdown: Providence isfollowing a disappointing season with another disappointing season.Last year was the first time that the Friars missed the Hockey Eastplayoffs. When 2009-20 kicked off it looked as though the club could beon an upswing, winning four out its first five and then going 5-2, then6-3. But the wins were bittersweet because the opponents: Holy Cross,Notre Dame, Bowling Green, and Brown, wouldnt do much for PCs HockeyEast resume. Its almost as if a sense of ineffectuality sucked thewind out of their sails. Providence couldnt muster more than fourgoals in three straight losses to Dartmouth (Nov. 27) and to Maine(Dec. 4 &5). The only bright side to their current statisticalsituation is that they have three games in hand over most teams in theleague. Incidentally, their next matchup is against conference-leaderNew Hampshire--a team no one wants to face with shaken confidence.Shaken confidence and a win percentage ranked 9th in the league.

Coach Tim Army does not believe that it all looks bad. The Friars havecome back from last season more experienced and with a depth pool offresh talent. Sophomore forward Matt Bergland (Faribault, Minn.) hasreprised his role as PCs leading scorer. Bergland was the firstProvidence frosh to lead the team in points (10-17-27) since 1988-89,when Rob Gaudreau recorded 57 points. The speedy right wing isfollowing up that season with seven goals and five assists. Berglandhas also used his quickness and what Army calls hockey sense to tallyan incredible 78 shots on goal in 15 games. He should be joined atopteam ranks by senior co-captain John Cavanagh, who finished 2009 tiedfor the team lead in goals with a career-high 10. The versatile center,who was used on both the penalty kill and power play, is currentlymissing time because of a lower-body injury. Coach Army reports that itwill be another couple of weeks. Juniors Matt Germain, KyleMacKinnon, and Ian O'Connor provide the next biggest impact for astruggling Friars offense. Together the line is contributing 30 pointswith 19 goals and 22 assists. Providence defensemen are lead by seniorco-captain Mark Fayne. In 2008-09, Fayne played in 33 games andrecorded four goals and five assists for nine points. Already in just15 games, the 6-3, 220-pound New Jersey Devils draftee has bested hispersonal total from last season with three goals and eight assists.Faynes work ethic affirms why he has provided a foundation for thisteam. Fellow Daniel New is a fellow defenseman whose three goals andseven assists thrusts the Friar into the top ten for scoring defensemenin the America East. If opponents arent stopped at the blue line thenthey will meet Alex Beaudry or Justin Gates between the pipes. Beaudry,who earned two consecutive Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors lastyear, has lead the Friars in goal (12 starts), deferring to backupJustin Gates just three times. This is not an elite team. This is ateam that is coming off a rebuilding year, stacked with a large groupof veterans and 11 fresh faces. The Friars will be in the hunt toreturn to the Hockey East playoffs, but shouldnt aim their sites muchhigher.

Up Next: Hosting UNH tonightwon't be a breeze, and the schedule doesn't let up yet as the Friarswill face BC tomorrow at 7 p.m. PC's winter break will actually bebracketed by two games with the Eagles, the second being a month later.

UMass Lowell River Hawks

2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 14-11-2, 5th
Overall RecordNational Finish: 20-16-2, NR
Goals ForGoals Against: 112, 86

2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: (5-4-1), 11
Overall Record: (9-5-1), Ranked 9th Nationally
Goals ForGoals Against: 52, 37

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 3-4 loss at Nebraska-Omaha (17 votes) in the Icebreaker Championship on 1010. A 4-3 win versus Colgate (7 votes) on 1023.

The Breakdown: Considering their history the River Hawks have come a long way to garner a second-place ranking in the preseason coaches' poll. The lines telling stories of the recent past are unkind. In 2006-07, UML played a three month, 20-game stretch without notching a single win. The next year the River Hawks played below .500 both in Hockey East and overall. Last season's longest streak was a five-game drop over January and February. So how did UML become a national top 10 club? Winning eight of their first 11 games was a great way to start. Apparently, the momentum built toward a serious run at the Hockey East title game last season carried into 2009-10. It helps that there was little roster turnover. The special teams units that tallied the second fewest penalty minutes (500, 13.2 per game), the best penalty kill (87.8), number two power play percentage (19.2), and least short-handed goals allowed (two), largely returned to Lowell. One of those players is Nick Schaus. The senior defenseman is flying out front in scoring with four goals and 12 assists, and owns a 10 rating. It is a noteworthy stat line as no blue liner has ever lead in scoring since UML became a Division I club. Schaus also became one of six active River Hawks to reach 50 career points when he netted his third period power play goal against UNH on Nov. 8.

Hot on Schaus' tail is sophomore David Vallorani (7-7-14). The forward earned Hockey East Player of the Week honors this Monday after netting his first collegiate hat trick against Massachusetts on Saturday. His third goal in UML's 5-3 win was the game winner and marked the second time this season that Vallorani has bagged a decision for the River Hawks (the first, on Oct. 24 vs. Northeastern). Junior forward Scott Campbell's ice time is also pleasing coach Blaise MacDonald. Campbell shone brightly in the Hockey East tournament last year when he recorded three goals and three assists in four games. This season he has played shifts in all but one contest, already putting together a five-game scoring streak (2G, 6A) that blanketed two weeks in November. But when Scott Campbell cooled off so too did the River Hawks. Losses against conference foes Providence, Maine, and New Hampshire compiled a nasty three-game skid. And this was after reaching a number three rank in the country. Though they rebounded with the win over UMass, those loses house issues. One is an 0-8 effort on the power play. Another problem is the penchant for resting on leads, laying back on that cushion. The Hawks will have to keep their focus sharp for a full 60 minutes a night to remain a force to be reckoned with in not just the Hockey East, but in the national picture.

Up Next: The River Hawks will see Princeton twice in two days before winter break on 1211 and 1212 at 7 and 4pm, respectively. UML's first game in 2010 will be against Holy Cross in the Ledyard Bank Classic at 4 p.m. on Jan. 2.

Vermont Catamounts

2008-2009 Conference RecordFinish: 15-8-4, 4th
Overall RecordNational Finish: 22-12-5, 3rd
Goals ForGoals Against: 121, 102
2009-2010 Conference RecordPoints: 4-5-2, 10
Overall Record: 6-6-2, Received 47 Poll Votes
Goals ForGoals Against: 38, 47

Out-of-Conference Highlights: A 4-5 loss at 2 Denver on Oct. 9. A 1-0 win versus 8 Yale on Nov. 30.

The Breakdown: Vermont might be thawing out a bit since last season's trip to the Frozen Four. This week they earned a large number of poll votes but have fallen out of the national standings. Still, it's early yet. Coach Kevin Sneddon maintains high expectations for his experienced squad. He calls his group of seniors "one of the most successful classes in UVM history," with good reason. Those special seven are now veterans of what was last season's third best team in the country. The true stars of the show however, are the blue line boys. They've got size, they've got depth, and they can score. Made up of Dan Lawson, Kyle Medvec, Patrick Cullity, Josh Burrows, Kyle Kuk, Lance Herrington, Drew MacKenzie, Anders Franzon and Kevan Miller; not a single one stands shorter than 6'2" with Medvec measuring an intimidating 6-6. Between Cullity, Lawson, Medvec, Burrows, MacKenzie and Miller, last years starting six have played 413 of a possible 468 games over the last three seasons. They were effective on the other end of the ice as well, chipping in 18 goals and 52 assists last season. Depth was a concern last winter because Kyle Kuk--a fierce competitor--was sidelined with injuries for a majority of the season and freshman Lance Herrington wasnt ready for major ice time. Herrington currently remains a reserve in favor of freshman Anders Franzen (eight games, two assists). Offensive damage inflicted by this bruising blue line bunch so far is 15 goals, 22 assists.

Unfortunately for the Catamounts, defensemen cant win every game. Offensive production has seriously slowed since roaring out of early October with 14 goals in three games (including 10 against then 1 Denver). Vermont has only one forward ranked in the top 25 for Hockey East scoring. Brayden Irwin, a 6-5 senior, is UVMs points leader with five goals and eight assists. Center Brian Roloff had 10 goals and 19 assists as a junior but has taken a step backwards this year if anything. He is accredited with speed and impressive puck-handling ability, but cant seem to translate these skills to offensive production this season as hes been limited so far to three goals and four assists. Special teams are proving to be another problem. Vermonts 12.1 percent on the power play is last in the league. And for having such a stacked defensive arsenal, the penalty kill is similarly weak. Right now it is far too early to write the Catamounts off. Upperclassmen Jack Downing, Colin Vock, Justin Milo, and Wahsontiio Stacey must revive their scoring game to return UVM to relevancy.

Up Next: UVM's Saturday game this week will be against St. Lawrence at 7:05 p.m. One week later (Dec. 19) the Catamounts will face Dartmouth at 4 p.m.