Hockey East Championship Preview
Entering Friday’s Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden in Boston, there are three teams whose NCAA fates are all but sealed, while there’s one team in the unfamiliar position of needing something to break their way this weekend.
Top-seeded Massachusetts-Lowell already has an NCAA bid locked up. The River Hawks take on Notre Dame in the first semifinal (5 p.m.), and even the Irish are projected to make the NCAA Tournament with a 99.4 percent probability, according to our CHN Pairwise Probability Matrix.
In the late game (8 p.m.), Boston University is trying to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and likely needs a conference title in order to do so. Boston College is in uncharted waters, needing some wins this weekend in order to make the tournament.
Technically, there are still scenarios in play where BC loses to BU on Friday, and still makes the NCAA Tournament. But those chances are so slim, they’re microscopic.
No. 1 Massachusetts-Lowell (24-10-3, No. 8 in the Pairwise) vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (21-10-5, No. 10 in the Pairwise)
Lowell enters this weekend after surviving an early loss to New Hampshire in last week’s Hockey East quarterfinal. But, if there was any question who was the better team, Lowell pounded the Wildcats, 8-2, in Sunday’s Game 3, leaving little doubt.
Notre Dame has been the one thorn in Providence’s side lately, and swept the Friars out of the Hockey East tournament. Providence was 13-0 down the stretch against teams not named Notre Dame, and 0-3-1 against the Irish over that same span.
In the regular season, Lowell and Notre Dame split a pair of 4-1 wins in South Bend, but that was all the way back in November.
“They are a very talented club, they seem to be very effective in several areas that they are traditionally good in,” said Lowell head coach Norm Bazin. “(Anders) Bjork has had a heck of a season, Evans is clicking pretty well, their goaltender is their captain, he provides a lot of leadership for them in many different ways. As I said earlier, unless we bring our “A” game, I don’t think a team will move forward without bringing their best game in the tournament. We see a whole host unique challenges that Notre Dame brings.”
Notre Dame is looking to play spoiler this weekend, in what will be their last Hockey East Tournament before bolting for the Big Ten next season.
The Irish haven’t won a league title in their three previous seasons and have only reached the semifinals once, losing to Lowell in 2014, as the River Hawks were on their way to a second straight tournament win.
The River Hawks are back at the Garden and looking for a fifth-straight championship game appearance, as well as their first trophy since 2014. Lowell lost to Northeastern in the Hockey East championship game last season and fell to BU in the title game the year before that.
But there’s no arguing the success of the program under Norm Bazin. Since taking over in 2011, he has guided the River Hawks to two conference tournament wins, two conference regular-season titles, and what could be five title game appearances in six seasons. Meanwhile, the River Hawks are about to secure their fifth NCAA bid in his six years.
Lowell’s senior class has plenty of experience in this tournament, and have one championship — their freshman season — to draw from.
“I don’t think experience ever hurts you,” Bazin said. “Certainly there is only one way to get it, it’s to go through it and sometimes you are successful and sometimes you are not. In their case, they do have one Lamoriello Trophy under their belt and it’s a very very difficult trophy to win.”
No. 2 Boston University (23-10-3, No. 6 in the Pairwise) vs. No. 3 Boston College (20-14-4, No. 16 in the Pairwise)
Boston University dug holes on consecutive nights in the Hockey East quarterfinals last weekend, and twice the young Terriers found ways to claw their way out.
After spotting a resurgent Northeastern team a pair of 2-0 leads, BU came back for a pair of 3-2 wins to sweep the Huskies out of the playoffs.
“It’s never easy to end somebody’s season,” BU head coach David Quinn said. “That’s a heck of a hockey team we just played. I don’t think there’s a team in the country that you’re playing like that in the second round of your playoffs. We may move forward and not see teams as good as them.”
Everyone is aware of the BC-BU rivalry, and it’s taken on a new direction. Entering this season, the Eagles were undefeated in four straight games (3-0-1) against BU dating back to November 2014. Going back to November 2013, the Eagles were 6-1-1 in their last eight games against the Terriers.
But this season, BU is 3-0 in the three games against the Eagles, including a 3-1 win in the first round of the Beanpot last month and a pair of wins in January.
The Eagles found their scoring touch last weekend in the quarterfinals against Vermont, scoring 14 goals in sweeping the Catamounts out of the tournament.
“I think we’ll have to take the prescription back to the pharmacy and ask for a re-fill,” said Boston College head coach Jerry York. “I don’t think we scored 14 goals in the entire month of February.”
The Eagles were winless last month (7 games) and scored just 16 goals total, but seem to be back on track after a week off during the first round of the tournament.
The Eagles are also playing for their NCAA lives, a desperation that no other team in the tournament is facing.
For BU, Quinn hopes that his team stops “playing with fire,” but he has been encouraged with the Terriers’ ability to battle back in recent games, including the quarterfinals last weekend.
Since being swept by Merrimack late-January — certainly a wakeup call — the Terriers are 7-3-1, with the only losses coming to some of the top teams in the Pairwise (No. 3 Harvard, No. 8 Lowell and No. 10 Notre Dame).
“We can’t keep playing with fire the way we have been the last few weeks,” Quinn said. “But like I said before, I certainly like some of the characteristics we’ve shown over the last few weeks in being mentally tough and playing well in crucial and critical times.”