Lost in the excitement of the ACC men's basketball tournament and the NCAA Tournament's Selection Sunday is this weekend's Hockey East tournament quarterfinals. The Eagles face the New Hampshire Wildcats on the road in a crucial three game set this weekend. Can the Eagles pull off the improbable and defend their Hockey East title?
We preview this weekend's Hockey East quarterfinals action below. But first, the details. Here is the Hockey East tournament bracket. The format? All three games of each series will be played Friday-Saturday-Sunday at the higher seed's home rink.
TV? The Hockey East quarterfinal games will not be televised ... with the exception of the Northeastern vs. Massachusetts game on Saturday. That game will be shown locally on NESN. For the rest of the games, you can catch them streaming live on the internet at B2TV.com. The cost to watch each game is $8, and you can get a pass to watch all the quarterfinal games - except the one on NESN - for $40.
Other - possibly more informed - previews of the quarterfinals? The blog SportsofBoston also breaks down each of the tournament's quarterfinal series (spoiler alert: they like UNH in 3 games).
On to our previews ...
#5 UMass-Lowell at #4 Vermont
Season Series: 1-1-1 tie, Vermont is 0-1-1 at home
The Pick: Vermont in 3 games
The Odds: 75% chance Vermont advances
Last season, the #3 seeded Vermont Catamounts surprised everyone by knocking off Boston University 3-1 in the Hockey East semifinals to advance to the Championship Game against BC. This season, Vermont has matched their regular season success from a year ago, posting a 20-9-5 record. UVM's success has been largely due to the offensive firepower of junior forward Viktor Stalberg (22-18-40). This year, the Catamounts have a bit tougher first round draw against the No. 5 seeded Lowell Riverhawks. Lowell is coming off a two game sweep of Maine - beating them by a combined score of 11-3. The weekend sweep secured the 5th seed in Hockey East. As The River Hawk Hockey Blog notes, Lowell has had some success playing in Burlington over the past 3 season. However, while I see Lowell winning the opener, I also see Vermont equalizing on Saturday and eeking out an overtime win in the third game to advance.
#7 Massachusetts at #2 Northeastern
Season Series: 1-2-0 Northeastern, 0-1-0 at home
The Pick: Northeastern in 3 games
The Odds: 89% chance Northeastern advances
Northeastern jumped out to a red hot 16-5-2 start before cooling off somewhat and finishing 6-4-2 in their last 12 games. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they had to play Boston University in 3 of those last 12 games and posted a 0-1-2 record against Hockey East's best team. While Northeastern has been the surprise of the season in Hockey East, they haven't yet proven that they can hang with BU. Also, this past weekend against BC may have shown some chinks in NU's armor as they were a 1:00 minute away from being swept by BC during a weekend where they could have locked up the #1 seed. Huskie goaltender Brad Thiessen has played every minute for Northeastern this season. Is last weekend a sign that NU is wearing down through the stretch run?
Aside from Boston University, the only other team to beat Northeastern in the season series has been Massachusetts. While I think Northeastern will win this series in 3 games, it won't come easy for the Huskies. The Huskies lose on Friday night but win the next two and advance to the HE semis for the first time since 1994.
#8 Maine at #1 Boston University
Regular Season: 2-0-1 Boston University, 1-0-0 at home
The Pick: Boston University in 2 games
The Odds: 99% chance Boston University advances
It pains me to say this, but Boston U. has been straight up crushin' in 2009 (16-1-3 since January 1). The Terriers have been the #1 team in the country the last 6 weeks and take a 16 game unbeaten streak into the conference tournament. Over the year, they used a Hockey East best +49 goal differential to edge Northeastern in the final weekend of the season and capture the #1 tournament seed. I'd be crazy to think that a 12-20-4 Maine team could upset BU in the first round of the Hockey East quarters. The Terriers offense is powered by sophomore forwards Colin Wilson (14-32-46) and Nick Bonino (15-27-42). In net, a pair of freshman have shared the workload with freshman Kieran Millan putting up filthy numbers in his first year. A .925 save percentage, 1.77 goals against average and a 21-1-3 record. And if you didn't think the deck was stacked against Maine enough already, Playoffstatus.com calculates that the Black Bears have less than 1% chance to win the whole tournament, and a 1 percent chance to beat BU in the best-of-three series!
#6 Boston College at #3 New Hampshire
Season Series: 2-1-0 New Hampshire, 1-0-0 at home
The Pick: Boston College in 3 games
The Odds: 29% chance Boston College advances
I have to go with my heart here and delude myself into thinking that last weekend was just the spark and sign of life that the Eagles needed. Netminder John Muse and the Eagles were less than 1:00 away from sweeping the #2 team in Hockey East last weekend. Can they ride that momentum to their fifth straight Hockey East semifinals appearance?
General consensus is that the Eagles now need to win it all to make the field of 16 and that would have to start this weekend. It certainly won't come easy. New Hampshire has been one of the most consistent Hockey East teams all season. The Wildcats are coming off a weekend split in Burlington which clinched the 3 seed over Vermont. Not to mention the Whittemore Center is one of the toughest places to play in all of Hockey East. The Eagles shock the Wildcats in overtime in the opener, drop the second, and win 4-2 on Sunday to advance and keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.
After that though, the odds are certainly still stacked against BC in terms of winning their third straight Hockey East title and making it back to the NCAAs. Case in point: a #6 seed has never won the Hockey East tournament. That is 23 years of futility for 6 seeds in the tournament. The last time a 6 seed has gotten close to winning it all was back in 1998 when the #6 seed Maine Black Bears defeated #3 UNH in the quarters and Lowell in the semifinals before falling to Marty Reasoner and the Eagles in the title game.
If the Eagles need any bulletin board fodder, here it is. That aforementioned odds site gives the Eagles a 3% chance to defend their Hockey East tournament title. Let's say that again. 3%. If that's not the definition of a long shot, I'm not sure what is.
All that being said, I'll never count out a Jerry York-led hockey team in March and April ...