College hockey playoffs preview: Big weekend on tap
UMass-Lowell, which finished in a three-way tie atop Hockey East and got top seed on a tiebreaker, remains the Rodney Dangerfield of college hockey. No matter what, the River Hawks get little respect and can’t shake their defense-only reputation.
“They can talk about us any way they want,” said coach Norm Bazin, whose team is eighth in the nation in goals/game, “as long as they talk about us the last week of the year.”
Here is a cursory glance at this weekend’s action:
HOCKEY EAST: No. 10 UNH (14-18-5) at No. 1 Umass-Lowell (22-9-3)
New Hampshire’s key lies in its top line of juniors Jason Salvaggio of Hanson and center Michael McNicholas, plus senior Tyler Kelleher (pictured), who sits tied with Northeastern senior Zach Aston-Reese for the national scoring lead with 62 points. Goalie Danny Tirone can also steal games with his acrobatics.
“I think both teams have a strong power play and strong penalty-kill, so special teams could play huge in this series,” said Bazin. “I also think both teams are very disciplined. I don’t expect a whole bunch of penalties. At the same time, special teams are magnified come playoff time.”
Lowell will look to clutch performers like senior Joe Gambardella, junior C.J. Smith and senior defenseman Dylan Zink. Freshman Tyler Wall (21-8-1, .2.10 GAA, 917 SP) has solidified the net-minding chores.
PREDICTION: UML, 2-0.
No. 8 Northeastern (18-13-5) at No. 2 BU (21-10-3)
Defending tournament champ Northeastern has firepower to spare, with Aston-Reese, junior Dylan Sikura (pictured, 56 pts.) and Braintree sophomore Adam Gaudette (52) all among the nation’s top-six scorers. And that doesn’t include John and Nolan Stevens, returning first-line skaters who bolster overall health and production.
“Their power play is lethal. That, to me, is number one,” said BU coach David Quinn of Northeastern’s unit, No. 2 in the nation at 28.9 percent. “We have to be physical but disciplined.”
BU, the nation’s youngest team on average at 20 years, 5 months, has 11 NHL draft picks. While potential future Bruins Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson have garnered most of the attention, dazzling freshman Clayton Keller (19-19-38 in 26 games) — Arizona’s top selection last spring — is arguably the most skilled player in the league.
PREDICTION: BU, 2-1.
No. 6 Vermont (20-11-5) at No. 3 BC (18-14-4)
BC still grabbed a share of the regular-season title despite a plethora of off-season pro signings and a 1-5-2 finish, but must stay out of the penalty box and improve its porous power play, which ranks only No. 47 at 14.3 percent.
“Any good power play has to move pucks quickly and get pucks through to the net. You have to screen goalies and get rebounds. To do that, you have to have people in position,” said coach Jerry York (pictured), who will rely on freshman Joe Woll (14-12-3, 2.65 GAA, .912 SP) in net. “It’s basic stuff on any level.”
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon quipped his team has its “routine down,” this the third straight year these teams meet in a quarterfinal series at Kelley Rink. (The teams played to a pair of ties at BC on Feb. 17-18.) He got terrific seasons from freshman Ross Colton and emerging sophomore Brian Bowen of Littleton, who shares team scoring honors with senior Mario Puskarich. Freshman Stefanos Lekkas (17-8-5, 2.38 GAA, .915 SP) is fronted by a solid six-man defensive group.
PREDICTION: BC, 2-1.
No. 5 Providence (22-9-5) at No. 4 Notre Dame (19-10-5)
Since splitting a mid-January series with the Catamounts, Providence is 12-1-1, led by North Andover junior Brian Pinho (pictured). PC must have sophomore Hayden Hawkey (22-9-5, 2.09 GAA, .916 SP) at the top of his game between the pipes, because goals don’t figure to come easy. The Friars (No. 6) and Irish (No. 9) are both top-10 nationally on defense.
“They possess the puck so well,” said Friars coach Nate Leaman said of the Irish. “Our team can do some of that, as well.”
Notre Dame is maturing at right time, getting big-time play from junior forward and Bruins’ draft pick Anders Bjork, sophomore Andrew Oglevie and junior center Jake Evans. Junior goalie Cal Petersen (2.11 GAA, .927 SP), a Buffalo draft pick who has started 84 consecutive games, is the key.
“I think it will be a battle of wills,” said ND coach Jeff Jackson. PREDICTION: ND, 2-1.
ECAC: No. 8 Yale (13-13-5) at No. 1 Harvard (22-5-2)
Unbeaten (11-0-2) at home, Harvard has a simple game plan: Play Fast. All-senior trio of Luke Esposito, Sean Malone and Tyler Moy set the tempo. Classmate Alexander Kerfoot (pictured) is a worthy Hobey Baker candidate, while B’s draft pick (and coach’s son) Ryan Donato of Scituate is supremely talented.
Yale needs to slow Harvard’s offense through neutral zone and limit second-chance opportunities. When the Bulldogs have the puck, look for senior forward John Hayden to be the main thrust. He leads Yale in game-winners (3) and power-play tallies (11). Senior Patrick Spano (8-7-4, 2.70 GAA, .903 SP) must continue to shine.
PREDICTION: Harvard, 2-0
ATLANTIC: No. 6 Bentley (13-17-7) at No. 2 Air Force (22-9-5)
Bentley barely survived Sacred Heart last weekend, needing freshman Ryner Gorowsky game-winner 30 seconds into the second OT of Game 3. The Falcons need secondary scoring in support of senior Max French and junior Kyle Schmidt. Air Force sophomore Shane Starrett of Bellingham is 6-5, and one of four brothers to play college hockey.
PREDICTION: Air Force, 2-0.
No. 5 Holy Cross (14-13-7) at No. 4 Robert Morris (19-11-4)
Holy Cross will look to junior Danny Lopez, having a breakout season with 12 power play goals and three game-winners. Junior Paul Berrafato (2.69 GAA, and .900 SP) has carried load in net and must be solid. Robert Morris boasts a trio of snipers in junior Brady Ferguson, senior Daniel Leavens and sophomore Alex Tonge. Their No. 8 power play could cause concern for HC’s No. 55 penalty kill.
PREDICTION: RM, 2-1