The college hockey season is now officially under way, and the Hockey East conference starts its league play tonight with a pair of matchups in Maine and Providence.
First I will address Northeastern University's weekend, then touch on the conference's other games.
Northeastern University at Providence College
Tonight, the Huskies start up their season and their Hockey East schedule with a road tilt at the Providence College Friars. Northeastern is coming off an exhibition game loss to Canada's Acadia University, and Providence will be playing its first game of the season.
Northeastern was picked to finish fifth in Hockey East this season in the coaches' poll, and I echoed that prediction in my Hockey East preview. Providence was picked last in both places.
Northeastern didn't do too much to impress in their exhibition match last weekend, save a few names: Zak Stone, Cody Ferriero, and Anthony Bitetto.
One thing those three have in common is they are all freshmen. Ferriero and Bitetto (who were drafted by the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, respectively) were expected to come in and make an impact right away, but Stone was seen as somewhat of a bubble player who definitely made his case. It will be interesting to see what coach Greg Cronin does with his lineup.
Another new thing Cronin tried, in the waning moments of the game: With NU on the power play, Jamie Oleksiak, the 6'7" freshman blueliner, was stationed in front of the goal with forwards manning the points. It is definitely a new strategy, but it's one that could prove to be effective. It definitely adds size to a location where opponents won't be used to seeing it when facing the Huskies.
The only thing I really know about Providence is that they haven't lost much of their scoring, but they didn't do much to begin with last year. They also return star goaltender Alex Beaudry, who is quite possibly the best goalie in Hockey East. Beyond him, there wasn't much talent last year, so it may not be that much talent this year, but expectations are low, and there is nowhere to go but up.
In the end, I think Northeastern will take the W. Ultimately it will probably come down to NU goaltender Chris Rawlings vs. Beaudry. I give Beaudry a slight edge, but I think Rawlings should have an easier game. NU, 3-1.
Boston College at Northeastern
Now on to the juicy Northeastern game.
On Saturday, the Huskies play their home opener against the nationally top-ranked Boston College Eagles. For the third year in a row, Northeastern will be opening up at Matthews arena against the top-ranked team and defending national champion.
The Huskies won both games by one goal in front of sold out crowds last year and were the last team to beat the Eagles going all the way back to the third-from-last week in the Hockey East regular season. So the stakes are high. This weekend's game has not only sold out, but you can't find tickets on StubHub.com as of this writing.
Also, in recent years Northeastern and Boston College haven't done well on the road against each other; it's been at least two years since either won in the other's building.
My gut feeling tells me that whoever wins the first period of this game will win, as whoever comes out and scores first and puts the other team on their heels will slope the ice their way and coast to the end. But that is rarely how hockey plays out.
Also, at Matthews Northeastern has won each of the last three games by just one goal, and one of those games was a comeback win that went to overtime. Steve Quailer scored that overtime goal after Randy Guzior notched the tying score late in the third. Both players missed most of last season with injuries, but Quailer will be in the lineup this weekend.
The last time the Eagles came to Matthews Arena, Northeastern won the first two periods and held on for the win. The time before that, BC won the first two periods and Northeastern stole the game. Before that, the first two periods ended in a tie and then Northeastern won the third.
The crowd will play a huge role too, as the NU crowd is one of college hockey's loudest and most influential fanbases. If BC can get people to leave or the crowd to at least be quiet, the Eagles stand more than a very good chance. If the crowd gets into the Eagles' head's, even just a little bit, then BC stands a very good chance of losing. NU, 2-1 in OT.
Around Hockey East, it is a full schedule, but there is only one other in-conference game. Everyone plays at least one game this weekend, with six teams playing twice.
Friday, Oct. 8
Denver @ Vermont - UVM wins 4-3
UMass Amherst @ Minnesota - Minn wins 3-1
New Hampshire @ Miami - UNH wins 3-2
Boston University vs Wisconsin (in St. Louis) - BU wins 2-0
Saturday, Oct. 9
Connecticut @ Maine - Maine wins 4-1
Denver @ Vermont - 3-3 Tie
New Hampshire @ Miami - Miami wins 4-2
Merrimack @ Niagra - Merrimack wins 3-0
UMass Amherst @ Minnesota - Minn wins 4-3
Sunday, Oct. 10
Holy Cross/Notre Dame (Notre Dame beats Holy Cross 5-2) vs. BU (in St. Louis) - BU wins 2-1
Well, that's it for this weekend. I know it is kind of close, but I hope to get my weekend previews in earlier each time around.