Last week, the Globe's Nancy Marrapese-Burrell wrote about the surprising disparity in Hockey East this season. The teams picked to finish in the top 4 in the preseason poll currently occupy the top four spots in the league standings heading into the break. That doesn't come as a surprise to most.
What is surprising is the gap between the haves and the have-nots this season.
"UNH is 10-2-4 overall, BC is 11-5-0, BU 8-4-5, and Maine 8-4-4.
No one is shocked by Merrimack's 7-4-4 record, although Providence's 7-6-5 mark is better than expected.
If there is a surprise, it's the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The bottom four slots are stunning, with no team having more than three victories: Northeastern (3-9-4), UMass (3-7-3), Vermont (2-9-4), and UMass-Lowell (2-14-2)."
This is especially surprising given the fact that the league is coming off a season where Hockey East Tournament seeds 3-8 were decided by a mere 3 points.
So with the Hockey East title race breaking into three tiers of teams, which program has the easier schedule remaining for 2011?
Easiest Remaining Schedules
1. Boston College -- BC has a considerably easier schedule than the other members of the "Big 4" down the stretch. The Eagles have just four games left against the Big 4 (two against UNH and one each against BU and Maine), three vs. Providence and seven against the league's bottom tier (two vs. Northeastern, three vs. UMass and two vs. Lowell). In contrast, UNH has five against the top tier of teams, five against Merrimack and Providence, and six against the bottom tier.
2. Boston University -- The Terriers have one game left against BC and New Hampshire, and two against Maine. In the bottom half of the league, BU has yet to play Vermont, and has two games left against Northeastern. BU's post-Beanpot schedule is a pretty much a joke -- a home-and-home with Providence, two at home vs. Vermont and a home-and-home with Northeastern.
3. Maine -- After Maine's February 5 trip to Durham, the Black Bears don't have another game against one of the "Big 4," finishing the season with two games against Vermont, Lowell, Merrimack and UMass. Maine has two left with BU and New Hampshire, and just one game left with the Eagles. Maine has yet to face Merrimack this season, and has two games left with UMass, Vermont and Lowell.
Toughest Remaining Schedules
1. Providence -- Poor Providence. The Friars went into the break with sole possession of sixth place in the Hockey East standings. Expect that to change with nine games left against the Big 4, including three against BC, three against New Hampshire and two against BU. If Providence is going to hold onto a spot in this year's Hockey East Tournament, the Friars will have to make some noise in these games.
2. Vermont -- While the Catamounts have already completed their regular season series with BC, they still have seven games remaining against BU (3), New Hampshire (2) and Maine (2). Six of those seven games will be played in a brutal stretch of games between February 11-26.
3. Massachusetts -- Like the Catamounts, the Minutemen also have seven left against the Big 4, including all three games against BC. UMass also hasn't faced surprising Merrimack this season, and finishes the season with weekend series against the Warriors, Eagles and Black Bears.