Hockey East at Halfway: Upstart UMass Boasts Perfect Conference Record

boston college men's hockey

The holiday break is a time for reflection, and that includes taking a good look at the Hockey East table, which once again is crowded at the top—preseason favorite Boston College men’s hockey has had an up-and-down campaign. Here’s how each school is shaping up as the 35th season in the conference’s history prepares for the back half of the schedule.

Pacesetters

Per usual, the top of the conference is congested—four teams are within a point of the lead. While two programs sit tied atop the Hockey East with 14 points apiece, the frontrunner is obvious in the country’s second-ranked team, Massachusetts (14-2, 7-0 Hockey East). The Minutemen have been dominant thus far, even earning a No. 1 ranking in the polls earlier this year. UMass boasts the top three scorers in the conference, as the trio of Mitchell Chaffee, Jacob Pritchard, and Cale Makar have combined for 59 points in just 16 games.

Boston College (6-6-2, 6-1-2) has 14 points through nine conference games, leaving most of its losses to non-conference play. The Eagles are an enigma, failing to live up to their potential but still finding themselves tied for first at the break. One of the conference’s top goalies in Joseph Woll and the third-ranked defense in Hockey East have something to do with that.

The top four is rounded out by Providence (9-4-3, 6-2-1) and Northeastern (10-3-1, 6-1-1), the No. 10 and 11 teams in the latest USCHO.com poll, respectively. The Friars came within two goals of winning the Hockey East tournament in 2017-18, and while they’ve graduated much of their talent from that team, Josh Wilkins has kept the offense humming to the tune of a conference-best 13 assists. The Huskies boast a prolific offense—they’re scoring four goals per game—and are one of the least penalized teams in the conference as well.

Middle Ground

Three teams are averaging a point per conference game, and they make up a crowded middle ground. It’s unlikely any of these will crack the top four and earn a bye to the quarterfinals, but the potential is there and that’s enough to define this class. The group is led by Boston University (6-8-2, 5-5-2), the defending postseason champions, who lost head coach Dave Quinn to the NHL but restocked and expected to be competing for a home-ice bid. The Terriers have had struggles on defense, though, ranking 12th in the conference in goals conceded and are also one of the most penalized teams in Hockey East.

Massachusetts-Lowell (8-7-1, 4-4-1) is next, just two years removed from a conference tournament title. The River Hawks followed that campaign up with an exit prior to the semifinals for the first time since 2012 and were looking to avoid a similar disappointment in 2018-19, but haven’t gotten off on the right foot. UMass Lowell has an unsettled goaltender depth chart and places just one player—Ryan Lohin—in the top 30 of goal scorers in the conference.

After an 18-win season, Maine (5-7-2, 3-3-2) found itself with the burden of actually producing results. The Black Bears enjoyed a surprise 2017-18 campaign on the back of an offense that didn’t feature any one standout skater who could take over a game. The lack of a true star that can pick up a team up when the going gets tough has been problematic this season, as Maine’s offense has taken a step back to ninth (from third last year). Paired with the most penalties and an underwhelming defense, the Black Bears are looking at an uphill climb to replicate last season’s results.

Stragglers

New Hampshire (4-7-5, 1-4-3) is on a similar pace to last year’s 10-win season, but a last-place finish seems unlikely considering the struggles of the three teams below the Wildcats in the standings. UNH was swept out of the opening round last season but has the potential to reach the quarterfinals this year, especially if its middle-of-the-pack ranks in offense, defense, and special teams hold up.

Connecticut (5-11-1, 2-9-1) had its best year since joining the conference in 2017-18, but defensive mishaps this year have offset a surprisingly efficient offense. The Huskies rank sixth in scoring behind the duo of Karl El-Mir and Alexander Payusov—who have nine goals apiece and are tied for fourth in Hockey East. However, it doesn’t matter how much you score if you can’t post clean sheets, and UConn is allowing almost three and a half goals per game. Junior goaltender Adam Huska is second-to-last in the conference in goals against average with a 3.00 mark.

Merrimack (4-12-1, 2-8) and Vermont (5-8-1, 1-6-1) have been beat up in conference play, combining for just three wins in 18 tries. The Warriors reached the quarterfinals last year and made things interesting against then-No. 1 seeded BC, but expectations were low in what was largely chalked up to be a rebuilding year—Scott Borek replaced Mark Dennehy after the latter’s sixth losing season in a row. Borek has guided his teams to wins over BU and BC thus far, proving that Lawler Rink is still tricky to play in.

The Catamounts pulled a monumental upset in the early going, knocking off No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor, 5-2. The five-goal outburst would prove to be an exception to UVM’s mean, though, as the Catamounts have been starved for offense since. They sit second-to-last in the conference in scoring at the break, scoring just 2.07 goals per game—a sliver higher than last-place Merrimack. Even though UVM has proven stout on defense, goaltender Stefanos Lekkas has found himself on the wrong side of the scoresheet time and time again. Lekkas leads Hockey East goaltenders with a .936 save percentage but is 10th in winning percentage.

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff

Bradley Smart
About Bradley Smart 334 Articles
Bradley is the sports editor for The Heights. He believes that America does truly run on Dunkin, baseball teams should always wear stirrups, you can't outrun a bear, and being down 3-1, in anything, is never cause for concern. You can follow him on Twitter @bradleysmart15.