When one plays for Hockey East, one is bound to garner national attention. Entering the second half of the season, Hockey East has six teams ranked in the USCHO top 20. It has four representatives among the top 15 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
However, the second half of the Hockey East season features the renewals of rivalries, both old and new, as the schedule becomes increasingly focused on league play. In order to be fully ready for these crucial games, each of the 12 teams face some big questions.
Boston College: Can their youngsters keep up their potent offensive pace?
While the Eagles have one of the strongest defensive corps in the country, their offense is led by the underclass trio of Colin White (23 points), Miles Wood (19 points) and Zach Sanford (17 points).
The question thus becomes whether these youngsters can step up when it matters most. The Eagles still need to play the defending champion Providence Friars, rival Boston University and the Hockey East-leading UMass-Lowell River Hawks.
White may score some highlight-reel goals, but he needs to keep up his scoring pace for BC to keep pace in Hockey East.
Boston University: Who will step up in goal?
A year ago, the answer to this question was easy. Matt O’Connor stepped up early and led the Terriers to a national championship game appearance.
This year has been quite the different story to this point. Sophomore Connor LaCouvee and senior Sean Maguire have both battled for playing time. LaCouvee started every game from Halloween to Nov. 21, yet Maguire managed to hand Quinnipiac its first loss of the season on Dec. 12.
BU needs to find a goaltender it can confidently deploy night in and night out. Right now, LaCouvee’s 2.71 goals-against average and Maguire’s 2.54 GAA mean the competition is still wide open.
Connecticut: Where are the upperclassmen on the scoresheet?
The Huskies ended the first half on a high note, winning their final two games against Lowell. However, for the entire season, the Connecticut offense has been led by freshmen Max Letunov, Tage Thompson and Joseph Masonius. While that may be a good sign in the future, UConn still needs to focus on the present.
Senior Shawn Pauly has not dressed for every game this season, but he does have seven points in 11 games played. He and the rest of the Huskies will need to improve in second half, as Connecticut must increase its scoring to hang in with tougher competition.
Maine: Can they continue winning in the second half?
Maine had four wins in the entire first half. All four of these wins came in the last few weeks leading up to the Christmas break. The Black Bears won these four games by taking two weekend series from Vermont and Princeton.
While they tied and lost to rival New Hampshire in 2015’s final weekend, they still positioned themselves to make a move in the Hockey East standings entering the second half.
In order to continue its hot play, Maine will need to find offense from the players up front. Leading scorer Blaine Byron has only 10 points on the season.
Maine will also need to find the answer in goal, as junior Matt Morris and freshman Rob McGovern have been unable to firmly seize the starting gig in net.
Massachusetts: Can they survive against Hockey East?
The Minutemen roared out of the gate to a 4-0-1 start. However, they limped into the break as they are currently on a five-game losing streak. (Make it six if you count their scrimmage loss against the U.S. World Junior team.)
All season, Massachusetts has recorded only three wins against Hockey East competition (Maine once in overtime and Connecticut twice). Against other teams, however, the story has been completely different. UMass has not recorded a quality win against the best teams in Hockey East, and that does not bode well when BC, BU, Lowell and Providence are left on the schedule.
UMass-Lowell: Can they come from behind?
The River Hawks were one of the best teams in Hockey East in the first half. They even continued that play in their holiday tournament, as they blanked Clarkson, 3-0, Monday at the Three Rivers Classic.
Lowell is 11-3-4 overall and 6-2-3 in league play, good for first place in the Hockey East standings. However, if one digs deeper into those wins, one will see how imperative it is for the River Hawks to score first. They are 9-1-3 when drawing first blood, but only 2-2-1 when they do not.
Lowell still needs to play Providence, BU and BC, not to mention the rejuvenated New Hampshire Wildcats, in the second half. If they fall behind in any of those matchups, their determination will be tested.
Merrimack: Can they find secondary scoring help?
Much like Massachusetts, Merrimack started fast before fading quickly, with only one victory since Nov. 14.
The majority of the Warriors’ losses come from a lack of scoring. They only managed one goal in a two-game sweep at the hands of Providence in early December.
Merrimack’s leading scorers have been upperclassmen, as Brian Christie, Ben Bahe and Justin Hussar are all seniors. Brett Seney is the leading scorer among underclassmen, but has been out of action for the last five games. Merrimack has a solid goaltending duo of Collin Delia and Drew Vogler, but will need to find the offense to match that tandem’s impressive output.
New Hampshire: Besides Poturalski and Kelleher, who will step up?
Unlike Merrimack, New Hampshire has found its scoring, but it has been from mainly two players: Andrew Poturalski and Tyler Kelleher.
Poturalski’s 32 points and Kelleher’s 29 are impressive, but after these two players, there is a significant dropoff to Dan Correale’s 14 points. Correale may actually be the player who steps up, as five of his goals have come on the power play.
Whoever steps up to supplement Kelleher and Poturalski will need to do it right away, especially as UNH struggles to find an answer in net.
Northeastern: Can they duplicate last season’s second half?
Last season, Northeastern ended the first half with a record of 5-10-1. But in the second half, the Huskies came storming back, ending the season at 16-16-4.
This year, the Huskies entered the break with a record of 3-12-3. While this mark is worse than last year, NU has won two of its last four and tied BC along the way.
Senior Kevin Roy, who has been out since Nov. 13 with an injury, will need to come back strong in order to ensure the Huskies enjoy some second-half success.
Notre Dame: Can they finally win Hockey East?
Notre Dame is still searching for its first Hockey East championship since joining the conference. However, this could be the year the Fighting Irish finally emerge victorious.
Entering the break, they have won four in a row by a combined score of 15-6. They are second in the standings with 14 points, ahead of the likes of BC, BU and Providence. They also have two games in hand over league-leading UMass-Lowell.
Notre Dame will face a tough test this coming weekend against Denver, which will prove to be a barometer of how far this team can go.
Providence: Can they repeat as national champions?
PC’s goal all season has been not to dwell too much on last season’s success. This is a new year with new challengers motivated to snuff out their aspirations for a repeat national title. Cornell ultimately snapped Providence’s 19-game unbeaten streak with a 2-1 overtime win Monday afternoon at the Florida College Classic.
Despite the loss, the Friars remain a potent threat to repeat as national champions, especially considering they are still 12-1-3 overall. However, the road to repeat will not be easy. They still need to play a Hockey East series with BC, Lowell and Notre Dame.
Vermont: Can they find consistency?
The Catamounts were one of the conference’s most surprising teams last season, but 2015-16 has been quite the different story. Vermont sits at 5-12-2 overall with a 3-5-2 record in Hockey East, and needs to find consistency in order to improve. It remains one of the few teams yet to record consecutive victories.
In order to surprise a team like they did to BC in the 2015 Hockey East quarterfinals, the Catamounts must find a way to win more than just one game per weekend.