February 21, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Hockey East: Down the Stretch

by Tim Rosenthal/Staff Writer

Historically, Hockey East has seen some great races during the home stretch. This year is no different, at least when you zero in on the second place team (Boston College) through the two teams tied for fifth (Boston University and Vermont). Even seventh-place Massachusetts-Lowell is still in the hunt.

The mess in the middle has changed from week to week. One week Northeastern is in third, then the next week Providence takes over that spot. As we get down to the wire the race is heating up.

"It's amazing how close the league is from top to bottom," said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile, whose Wildcats currently have a six-point lead over BC for first. "It will be very interesting how the rest of the year shapes up."

"The race is really tight," agrees Providence coach Tim Army. "So many teams are playing well and a lot is yet to be determined.

"With UNH and BC playing this weekend, UNH can solidify themselves with a sweep. The other seven teams however can see a lot of movement. Hockey East is a highly competitive conference."

The New Hampshire-Boston College matchup this weekend could have a significant impact on the final outcome. If the Eagles sweep the Wildcats, they pull within two points of the Wildcats with four to play. If UNH sweeps, however, the Eagles could fall down significantly in the standings.

As far as the rest of the teams (third through seventh), they are separated by four points. Northeastern and Providence are currently tied at third with 24 points, two behind BC for second. Boston University and Vermont are right on their tails each with 23 points, and don't count out the RiverHawks out at 20 points.

The top four teams will get home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Only eight of the 10 Hockey East teams make the tournament; HEA is the only conference to eliminate teams from postseason play.

"All games in the conference are tight," Army said. "You have BU, Northeastern, ourselves [Providence] and Lowell having success and Massachusetts did well early in the year and are still a tough team to play."

Noted Umile, "We just played a good Providence team. They are playing well and they are a tough team to play.

"BU up front is as good as anyone. You also got Northeastern, Vermont, and UMass-Amherst had a good first half. Any team can beat anyone on any given night."

Some keys to the race for the race to home ice in the Hockey East playoffs:

Boston College: The Eagles need to stay consistent. At least one win with New Hampshire would help their cause this weekend. However, Providence and Northeastern are on their plate for the next four games after that.

Providence and Northeastern: The teams that are tied for third each have a tough remaining schedule. Both teams face BU and BC. Northeastern gets UMass-Lowell in the middle of those two games, while Providence faces Merrimack this weekend. One or both of these teams could lose home ice if they hit a slide at the wrong time.

Boston University and Vermont: Vermont has two with Lowell this weekend. The Catamounts have come up strong recently going 5-2-1 in their last eight. Five of those were against ranked opponents. The Cats also have Maine and UNH to close up the year. Boston University has also been hot as of late. The Terriers have not lost a game since the Beanpot opening round loss to BC and even then there were signs of improvement. Remaining on the Terrier schedule are Northeastern, Massachusetts and Providence.

Mass.-Lowell: The RiverHawks could be a wild card in this race. Playing well in two key series the next two weekends against Vermont and Northeastern could do wonders for their chances for home ice in the league playoffs, especially after a split with BC last week. The RiverHawks wrap up their schedule with two at Maine. Expect the RiverHawks to have a significant impact on the playoff picture, as they have all year.

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