The frantic finish to the Hockey East regular season left plenty of carnage on the college hockey highway. UMass-Lowell emerged with its first regular-season title, becoming the first school other than Boston College, Boston University, Maine or New Hampshire to accomplish the feat.
All eight surviving teams exhaled as the playoff season begins with best-of-three quarterfinal series taking place at the campus sites of the higher seeds beginning Thursday night, with the top-seeded River Hawks hosting No. 8 Maine.
The league’s coaches are quick to point out, however, that what occurred during the regular season often has little bearing on what transpires on the road to the Garden, which will host the 29th Hockey East semifinals and final on March 22-23.
“Just because you beat a team in the regular season doesn’t mean that you get two free goals or two free baskets,” said BC coach Jerry York, whose Eagles are three-time defending playoff champions. “It’s a fresh start.”
Providence coach Nate Leaman agreed. “Now, it is the second season. Everything is scratch,” he said. “Everyone starts at zero.”
Here is a thumbnail sketch of how the individual playoff series shape up:
— No. 8 Maine (11-17-8, 7-12-8) at No. 1 UMass-Lowell (22-10-2, 16-9-2)
The matchup pits mentor (Maine coach Tim Whitehead) vs. pupil (Norm Bazin of UML). The River Hawks have been red-hot since Jan. 1, going 15-3-1, with junior forward Joseph Pendenza of Wilmington compiling 22 points (six goals) in his last 18 games. . . . Senior captain Riley Wetmore and junior Josh Holmstrom (game-winner to clinch league title) both have five points in last five games. Junior defenseman Chad Ruhwedel is solid. . . . Freshmen goalie Connor Hellebuyck (14-2-0, 1.49 GAA, .945 SP) has the top winning percentage (.875) in the league.
The Black Bears struggled out of the gate (4-11-2), but have been solid (7-6-6) since New Year’s. Maine captured the season series, 2-1, with all three games decided by a goal.
Senior forward Joey Diamond is the go-to guy with 24 points (14 goals), plus a team-high 119 penalty minutes.
“He’s a little bit like Brendan Walsh and Preston Ryan, a couple of guys we had up here a few years ago. He’s always led his team in PIM from Mites on through. We knew what we were getting when he arrived here. He bleeds Black Bears blue,” said Whitehead.
— No. 7 Vermont (11-17-6, 8-13-6) at No. 2 Boston College (20-10-4, 14-9-2)
BC took 3-of-4 points last weekend at Vermont. . . . Sophomore Johnny Gaudreau had a six-point (two goals, four assists) game, the first Eagle to do it since Ben Eaves in 2003. . . . Junior Bill Arnold added career-high 2-2-4 totals in the wrap-up win, while senior Steve Whitney (24 goals) is second nationally in goals per game.
BC allowed 89 goals in 44 games en route to the NCAA title last year, but has given up 93 in 34 this season. The defense should improve with the return of senior Patch Alber (knee surgery).
“During the season, we’ve given up too many chances. That’s Russian roulette,” said York.
Vermont’s upset hopes hinge on freshman Brody Hoffman, the first Catamounts goalie to play every regular-season game since Tim Thomas in 1996-97.
— No. 6 Merrimack (15-15-6, 13-11-3) at No. 3 Boston University (18-15-2, 15-10-2)
Did someone say Ray Lewis? BU, which has earned home ice for the quarterfinals every year (nine) since moving into Agganis Arena, wants to keep playing for retiring coach Jack Parker, who needs six wins to reach 900. . . . Danny O’Regan (34 points) of Needham is bidding to become the first freshman to pace BU in scoring since Tony Amonte in 1990.
Merrimack is led by juniors Mike Collins of Boston, defenseman Jordan Heywood (eight goals) and goaltender Sam Marotta (.927 SP) of Bridgewater.
“We have our hands full,” said Warriors coach Mark Dennehy. “They defend well. They transition and can make good plays on the rush. They go hard to the net. So possession is key.”
–No. 5 New Hampshire (18-9-7, 13-8-6) at No. 4 Providence (15-12-7, 13-8-6)
Providence took the season series, 2-1, but must rev up its power play, which went 0-for-10 in the final showdown with Lowell. . . . UNH reached the No. 1 ranking in national polls early, but since Feb. 1 has been 3-3-5.
The Wildcats rank second in penalty killing, staving off 105-of-115 man-down situations.
“Our power play has been solid and our penalty-kill has been excellent,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “But 5-on-5 we’ve struggled to score goals.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services