March 1, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

All Four One

Hockey East Logjam At Top Heading Into Penultimate Weekend

by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer

For much of the early Hockey East season it was a considered obvious that Boston College, New Hampshire and Boston University would be the main contenders for the Hockey East regular season title. But that hasn't panned out — BC and UNH descended into inconsistency, while BU has struggled mightily since the dawn of the second half.

Entering Tuesday night Providence, New Hampshire and Boston College were all tied atop the Hockey East standings. UNH and Boston College were hardly surprises, but the Friars? Where did they come from?

Not to be outdone Massachusetts-Lowell entered Tuesday night’s game at BC trailing the Hockey East leading trio by a mere two points. The River Hawks came out and did exactly what they needed to, as their poise and response throughout the game was masterful. They defeated the Eagles 4-2 to create a logjam of four teams at the top, all tied for first with just two weeks remaining.

“It’s going to go to the final night I would think,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “We all kind of play each other going down the stretch. Tonight would have given us a little separation, but Lowell played well. They are a good team and it’s going to be a dogfight.”

There is no doubt the race for the regular-season crown will come down to the last minute, of the last game of the season. It seems as though all four teams are evenly matched, but the rest of story is, if they fall, there are two other teams that sit within two points of them. Merrimack sits just one point back of first in fifth place, while Boston University sits two points back in sixth.

“We have been involved in some great races over the years, but generally its two teams possibly a third team,” said York. “Now with the four tied and fifth and sixth hovering around, it bodes well for our league I think when you have this much interest in trying to win a regular season championship.”

“I have been told time and time again that this is probably the tightest race people have seen in many years,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin “I don’t make too many predictions, as we just deal with trying to get better every single week.”

Of the teams at the top, UML has come the furthest. Beginning 4-7-1 is hardly a recipe for success, but the River Hawks have showed the muster and might that many thought they would have at the beginning of the season.

“The season is a marathon,” said Bazin. “It is no different than a game. I would like to say that starts matter but all that matters is 65 minutes and if you can get it done in 60 that’s even better. The key thing is plugging away and refining your game throughout the season in the same manner.”

It all begins with defense for UML, but when it comes to playoff type hockey the defensive aspects of the game take on that much more meaning and become central in the game. Tuesday night at Conte Forum was no different as the teams combined for just 19 Grade-A opportunities. The puck and space on the ice were valuable commodities.

What exactly it takes for a team to win the regular season title or, for that matter, to get one of the four home-ice spots in the first round of the Hockey East tournament, is yet to be seen. The important thing is that the winner will probably do their own work and not "scoreboard watch."

“We say that scoreboard watching is for second place teams,” said York. “We want to do our job and there are so many variables. We just need to concentrate on just playing our game to the best we can. There are only four games left and we are running out of points. I imagine that we probably have to run the table.”

“You will see me smiling if we are sitting and talking about this in two weeks however there are two big weeks of hockey left.” said Bazin. “Every opponent whether you are playing Boston College or Merrimack or Providence I don’t know if anyone is any stronger than anyone else. A four-way tie can go so many different ways. If we keep making tweaks and improve we will be there in the end.”

Just a few weeks ago no one would have predicted that the Hockey East race would be this close. Four teams get home ice advantage, while there is a still a regular season crown to be decided. Six teams, two points separating them with four tied at the top and anyone one of them could realistically come out of the dust at the top and with the four home-ice spots. UNH, Providence, UMass-Lowell, Boston College, Boston University and Merrimack have set themselves up for one heck of a fight. Now I suppose the only thing left is to enjoy the hockey.

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