Hockey East Championship Preview
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
BOSTON The Hockey East semifinals face off Friday afternoon. Three of the four teams have taken to the ice at the TD Banknorth Garden numerous times, while Vermont sticks out like a sore thumb.
The Catamounts joined the league in 2005, and in just three seasons, will be making their first appearance at the league's premiere weekend.
"I think a team that's not prepared or battled tested might feel like it's a disadvantage, that we haven't played there or played in front of a crowd like that," said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon. "We're fortunate that we've played in front of a packed house in every game at Gutterson. I know it's on much a smaller dimension but those 4,000 people are putting a lot more pressure on us than the 16,000 non-UVM fans potentially at the TD Banknorth Garden."
Given the Catamounts sluggish start, it was questionable whether or not they would even make the Hockey Easy playoffs earlier in the season.
"It's a tale of two teams who have had tremendous second halves," said Sneddon.
UVM's opponent, Boston University, took a very similar road to the Garden. BU struggled at the start of the year. The Terriers have scored at will much of the season, but until recently, hadn't found a steady goaltender. Since February, sophomore Brett Bennett has given the Terriers solidarity in net.
"It was like pulling teeth to get back here again," said BU head coach Jack Parker. "It's a grind, and the quarterfinals is really a tough weekend for all of the coaches to get through. Everybody is always relieved when you can take your team to the banquet (on Thursday before the tournament) knowing that you are going to play again the next night on Friday."
The first game on the docket features Boston College, who just barely kept home-ice in the first round as the fourth seed, taking on the top-ranked UNH Wildcats.
For the Wildcats, they'll be battling for a No. 1 seed in next week's NCAA tournament. The Eagles will be looking to secure an at-large bid provided they don't win the automatic bid that comes with a conference title.
"They have a lot more wins than we do," BC head coach Jerry York said of UNH. "(UNH coach) Dick (Umile) has had an incredible year. But, that's not unusual. We've watched UNH over the years and they've had teams similar to this. So, it's not unusual that they're a top-level team and competing for a championship.
"I've watched Vermont and BU play, and they're both very hot down the stretch. I think in these types of situations, it's not necessarily who the team is that is going to win the trophy, but who plays the best at these times."
Umile was quick to praise Boston College too.
"They've got balance throughout their lines," Umile said. "They can all skate, they can all score and their defense can get into the rush. Muse played well so goaltending is going to be good. UNH and BC is definitely a good match up and you're going to see a lot of speed and skill."
The 'Cats swept the season series from BC.
"I don't know how much it will impact," said Umile. "But the the good thing is that we'll be playing with some confidence. Our game down at BC late in the season was one of our better games. I thought we played extremely well and carried it over the next night."
(1) UNH over (4) BC - 4-1
(2) BU over (3) UVM - 3-2/OT
(1) UNH over (2) BU - 1-0