BC, UNH Should Dominate Hockey East Awards
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
While the distinction between the best teams in Hockey East is more clear than it’s been in recent years, the league’s nontraditional powers boast a few players among the best in the conference.
This weekend, we saw Boston College claim its expected position as regular season champion on the back of three goals from Cam Atkinson and the usual solid play of goaltender John Muse. However, other series that decided key positioning in the conference tournament spotlighted a few players who amassed strong seasons.
Massachusetts freshman Mike Pereira scored a goal during UMass’ rally from a 3-0 deficit to earn a tie with Maine. Meanwhile, Stephane Da Costa of Merrimack sat out the Warriors game with Providence Saturday night after returning to the lineup Friday night.
It’s likely Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy held his leading scorer out for the inconsequential game. His status for this weekend is unknown at this point. Furthermore, the Warriors’ success in the Hockey East Tournament, they host Maine at Lawler Arena next weekend, depends on their No. 1 center’s health.
Like Da Costa, there are several players around the league whose success correlates directly with their club’s. Their seasons ranked among the best in the league. They’ll be honored by the league soon, but who wants to wait that long?
G - John Muse, Senior, Boston College (23-5-1, 2.08, .927)
Goaltenders, like quarterbacks and starting pitchers, can be overrated for playing on good teams. In two of his first three seasons for BC, Muse played for the nation’s best team and posted good numbers. However, many questioned his ability to amass a truly great season.
We saw Muse at his best this year, as he’s on pace to set career highs in wins, goals-against average and save percentage. At times, the young BC defense looked shaky, but Muse’s consistency in goal kept the Eagles in even their worst games.
Friday night, BC defeated New Hampshire, 4-0, in what was either BC’s best performance of the season or UNH’s worst. Muse only had to make 12 saves in the shutout, but fellow senior Brian Gibbons took the opportunity to praise his classmate.
“I think our defense deserves a lot of the credit – especially more than it’s gotten,” Gibbons said. “Johhny Muse has been our rock all year. He’s stolen some games for us, and we have a lot of confidence in him. He’s been able to pick us up whenever we’ve had breakdowns. I just think John has been the star of our team.”
D - Blake Kessel, Junior, New Hampshire (5-21–26, plus-9)
On a team known most for its offensive firepower, the Wildcats almost always boast a steady two-way defenseman. Kessel mans the Wildcats top power-play unit, and UNH coach Dick Umile relies on him to shut down the opposition’s top line.
UNH boasts its normally talented club this season, but it’s blue line depth and goaltending situations were questioned prior to the season. With Kessel providing consistently strong play, junior goaltender Matt DiGirolamo settled nicely and finished the regular season with a strong .921 save percentage despite a slightly inflated 2.50 goals-against average.
Offensively, the heady defenseman provided his usual excellence in starting rushes for the UNH forwards. His 21 assists placed him among the national leaders at his position. For Kessel, though, the goal of 2010-11 is winning. In his first two seasons in Durham, the Wildcats failed to advance past the Hockey East quarterfinals, and they’re determined to do so this season, Kessel and senior Phil DeSimone said following Saturday’s loss to BC.
D - Brian Dumoulin, Sophomore, Boston College (2-26–28, plus-16)
The second-year defenseman earned his place as BC’s top blue liner with perfect positioning and decision-making in 2010. Last season, as the Eagles won a national championship, Dumoulin rarely demonstrated his inexperience, assisting on 21 BC goals and finishing the season with a remarkable plus-40 rating.
While his plus/minus has fallen this year, he’s become a greater offensive threat, recording 28 points through 32 games. BC hosts Massachusetts next weekend in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
F - Paul Thompson, Senior, New Hampshire (26-23–49, plus-11)
The Wildcats most consistent scorer will likely receive consideration for the Hobey Baker award. His 26 goals goals and 49 points lead Hockey East, although a late-season surge from BC winger Cam Atkinson will make the scoring race interesting.
Thompson’s 12 power-play goals also led the conference. However, Thompson struggled to impact this weekend’s series with BC, posting one assist in two games. Questions about UNH’s ability to win championships will persist until the club demonstrates an ability to do so. Thompson, along with a few other UNH stars, will need to perform if the program plans to shake the stigma.
F - Cam Atkinson, Junior, Boston College (27-20–47, plus-20)
The junior winger began the season as a Hobey frontrunner after scoring 30 times last season, including six goals in four NCAA Tournament games last season. In his first 34 games this year, Atkinson scored 27 goals and assisted on 20 others.
For Atkinson, his versatility as a scorer makes him the most dynamic threat the league. Playing with Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney provides him with more than enough open looks from the high slot or face-off circle.
Late in second period on Saturday, he showed another element of his scoring capability. The Eagles trailed UNH, 2-1, with less than a minute left in the second period, when Atkinson took a long outlet pass from Brian Dumoulin, split the UNH defenseman and made DiGirolamo look silly with a backhand to forehand move.
F - Gustav Nyquist, Junior, Maine (17-29–46, plus-5)
The gifted Swedish playmaker continued his remarkable career in Orono this season. While Nyquist and the Black Bears failed to earn home ice, they enter the conference tournament on a seven-game unbeaten streak. The run, which included a win and a tie against UMass in Amherst this weekend, included six goals and seven assists from Nyquist.
Like last season, the Black Bears will likely need to win the conference tournament to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. If their best playmaker continues his recent success, they may get their wish.
G - Chris Rawlings, Sophomore, Northeastern (10-12-8, 2.51, .924)
D - Karl Stollery, Junior, Merrimack (5-19–24, plus-8)
D - Adam Clendening, Freshman, Boston University (5-18–23), plus-9)
F - Wade MacLeod, Senior, Northeastern (18-20–38, plus-6)
F - Stephane Da Costa, Sophomore, Merrimack (14-25–39, plus-10)
F - Brian Gibbons, Senior, Boston College (15-30–45, plus-25)
G - Dan Sullivan, Maine (10-5-2, 2.41, .901)
D - Jordan Heywood, Merrimack (2-13–15, plus-23)
D - Jamie Oleksiak, Northeastern (3-9–12, plus-14)
F - Charlie Coyle, Boston University (7-18–25, plus-1)
F - Mike Collins, Merrimack (11-15–26, Even)
F - Mike Pereira, Massachusetts (12-23–25, plus-5)
Player of the Year - Cam Atkinson, Junior, Forward, Boston College
Freshman of the Year - Adam Clendening, Defenseman, Boston University
Coach of the Year - Mark Dennehy, Merrimack