Ice skates. Check. Face shield. Check. Shin guards. Check. Hockey stick. Check.
Crystal ball? That appears to be the final missing piece of equipment for any Hockey East player’s duffle bag heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Five points separate the top six teams. Four (UMass-Lowell, New Hampshire, Boston College and Providence) of those clubs could ultimately claim the penthouse.
“Terrific ending. I don’t think [Hockey East commissioner] Joe Bertagna could have worked it out any better for the final weekend of the regular season,” said Boston College coach Jerry York.
First-place UMass-Lowell (21-9-2, 15-8-2), which has never won a regular-season crown, hosts third-place Providence (14-11-7, 12-7-6) in the opener of a home-and-home series at 7 p.m. UML standouts are senior forward Riley Wetmore, junior forward Joseph Pendenza of Wilmington, sophomore left winger Scott Wilson, junior defenseman Chad Ruhwedel and freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck. UML captured the initial meeting, 2-1, on Jan. 17, forcing Friars freshman Jon Gillies to make a career-high 48 saves.
Second-place UNH (18-8-6, 13-7-5) entertains eighth-place Maine (10-17-7, 6-12-7) in a two-game set at the Whittemore Center in Durham. UNH went on the road and won the first meeting, 4-0, on Nov. 4 as Casey DeSmith posted 42 saves to earn his third career shutout. Maine freshman defenseman Ben Hutton enters on a five-game point-scoring streak, in which he has two goals and four assists.
Health problems are the biggest story surrounding defending champion BC (19-10-3, 14-9-2) as it travels to Burlington to face seventh-place Vermont (11-16-5, 8-12-5) in a pair. BC took the first meeting, 4-1, at Kelley Rink on Feb. 1.
“We’re beat up,” admitted York.
Senior defenseman Patrick Wey (leg laceration) and senior right winger Steve Whitney (leg injury) may return, while senior defenseman Patch Alber — out since Jan. 1 after surgery to repair a displaced lateral meniscus in his right knee — is expected back next week for the quarterfinals.
Junior Kevin Hayes of Dorchester remains hospitalized after undergoing three separate procedures involving a contusion to his right quadriceps, which developed a blood clot. Also missing tonight will be freshman winger Brendan Silk, due to a one-game suspension from the league for a hit during last week’s loss to Providence.
Fifth-place Boston University (16-15-2, 13-10-2) visits last-place Northeastern (9-19-4, 5-16-4), which has already been eliminated from playoff consideration, in the opener of a home-and-home series. Faceoff at Matthews Arena is 7:30 p.m. BU junior Matt Nieto is sizzling, with six goals in the last three games, including his first-ever hat trick.
Sixth-place Merrimack (14-14-6, 12-10-3) crosses sticks with ninth-place UMass (11-18-3, 8-15-2) in a home-and-home series beginning at Lawlor Arena in North Andover. The two rivals are 36-36-5 all-time after the Warriors won, 4-2, on Feb. 10.
Harvard (9-17-3, 6-14-2) plays at No. 5 Dartmouth (13-11-5, 9-9-4) in a first round, best-of-three playoff series at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. Harvard leads the all-time series 126-61-12 and has been relatively hot of late, going 4-2-2 in the last eight.
The Big Green are led by senior defenseman Mike Keenan (4-10-14), a Catholic Memorial product from Weymouth who joined teammate Tyler Sikura (10-18-28) as first-team All-Ivy selections.
“We’re excited. We feel we’ve been playing better hockey of late,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato, “but they’re a good team, very good on special teams. They can play fast and can play physical.”
Harvard freshman Jimmy Vesey (11-7-18) of North Reading was named Ivy Rookie of the Year. Other key Crimson are freshman center Kyle Criscuolo and junior goalkeeper Raphael Girard.
Distributed by MCT Information Services