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Hockey East Tournament Preview: Eagles Set Out To Reclaim Title

Here's a look at what to the eight team field for this year's Hockey East Tournament. The tournament kicks this weekend with the best-of-three quarterfinals in Durham, Chestnut Hill, Boston and Orono. All quarterfinal games will be played on Friday-Sunday, March 12-14. All games start at 7 PM ET except for Friday night's game between BU and Merrimack, which starts at 7:30.



New Hampshire Wildcats
Seed: 1
Record: 16-11-7, 15-6-6 Hockey East
Head Coach: Dick Umile
Leading Scorers: Sr. Bobby Butler (25-22-47), Jr. Paul Thompson (16-18-34), So. Blake Kessel (8-25-33)
Leading Goaltender: Sr. Brian Foster (15-11-7, 3.06 GAA, .906 SV%)
Hockey East Titles: 2 (last 2003)

Regular Season Record against Vermont: 2-0-1

Boston College Eagles
Seed: 2
Record: 21-10-3, 16-8-3 Hockey East
Head Coach: Jerry York
Leading Scorers: Jr. Brian Gibbons (15-27-42), So. Cam Atkinson (21-20-41), Jr. Joe Whitney (13-18-31)
Leading Goaltender: Fr. Parker Milner (9-2-1, 2.10 GAA, .914 SV%)
Hockey East Titles: 8 (last 2008) 

Regular Season Record against Massachusetts: 3-0-0

Boston University Terriers
Seed: 3
Record: 16-15-3, 13-12-2 Hockey East
Head Coach: Jack Parker
Leading Scorers: Jr. Nick Bonino (10-22-32), Jr. Colby Cohen (14-16-30), So. Chris Connolly (9-21-30)
Leading Goaltender: So. Kieran Miller (14-14-0, 3.28 GAA, .883 SV%)
Hockey East Titles: 7 (last 2009)

Regular Season Record against Merrimack: 2-1-0

Maine Black Bears
Seed: 4
Record: 16-15-3, 13-12-2 Hockey East
Head Coach: Tim Whitehead
Leading Scorers: So. Gustav Nyquist (18-38-56), So. Brian Flynn (18-23-41), Jr. Tanner House (14-19-33)
Leading Goaltender: Fr. Shawn Sirman (1-6-0, 5.19 GAA, .832 SV%)
Hockey East Titles: 5 (last 2004)

Regular Season Record against UMass Lowell: 2-1-0

UMass Lowell River Hawks
Seed: 5
Record: 18-14-4, 12-11-4 Hockey East
Head Coach: Blaise MacDonald
Leading Scorers: Sr. Kory Falite (18-15-33), Jr. Scott Campbell (15-17-32), So. David Vallorani (9-17-26)
Leading Goaltender: Sr. Carter Hutton (12-10-2, 2.06 GAA, .928 SV%)
Hockey East Titles: None

Regular Season Record against Maine: 1-2-0

Merrimack Warriors
Seed: 6
Record: 15-17-2, 12-13-2 Hockey East
Head Coach: Mark Dennehy
Leading Scorers: Fr. Stephane Da Costa (15-29-44), Jr. Chris Barton (19-17-36), Jr. Joe Cucci (7-15-22)
Leading Goaltender: So. Joe Cannata (9-11-1, 3.10 GAA, .899 SV%)
Hockey East Titles: None

Regular Season Record against Boston University: 1-2-0

Massachusetts Minutemen
Seed: 7
Record: 18-16-0, 13-14-0 Hockey East
Head Coach: Don Cahoon
Leading Scorers: Jr. James Marcou (10-36-46), So. Casey Wellman (20-21-41), Sr. Justin Braun (7-21-28)
Leading Goaltender: Jr. Paul Dainton (12-11-0, 2.93 GAA, .906 SV%)
Hockey East Titles: None

Regular Season Record against Boston College: 0-3-0

Vermont Catamounts
Seed: 8
Record: 15-12-7, 9-11-7 Hockey East
Head Coach: Kevin Sneddon
Leading Scorers: Sr. Brayden Irwin (15-19-34), Sr. Colin Vock (11-17-28), Sr. Brian Roloff (8-17-25)
Leading Goaltender: So. Rob Madore (11-10-7, 2.70 GAA, .907 SV%)
Hockey East Titles: None

Regular Season Record against New Hampshire: 0-2-1


Previews and Predictions

In the No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup, I like New Hampshire to survive and advance in three games. Both programs feature outstanding goaltenders in Brian Foster (UNH) and Rob Madore (UVM). The Wildcat's Bobby Butler is second in the nation in goals with 25. I get the sense that these two programs don't like each other very much, and I'm sure New Hampshire wasn't exactly thrilled that they drew Vermont in the quarterfinals. Ultimately, I think UNH's home ice will be the difference in this series as the Wildcats are a perfect 9-0-2 at home at the Whittemore Center this year.

For the Eagles series with the Minutemen, although BC has outscored UMass 12-3 this season, I don't think the Eagles will run away with this series. Instead, the games in this series will probably resemble the last meeting between BC and UMass, a 2-1 overtime victory by BC. That being said, these two teams are ones that are going in opposite directions. After going winless in the Denver Cup over break, BC has gone 11-5-1 to finish the season. UMass, on the other hand, has won just 3 games in their last 11, a streak that includes a six game losing streak bookended by losses to BC. The Eagles have the better offense, goaltending and special teams. No reason to think that BC won't wrap up this series on Saturday night, although, like I said, I don't expect either game to be a blowout.

BU used a very strong second half to propel themselves all the way to the No. 3 seed in the Hockey East tournament. It's been a season of streaks for the Terriers, going 5-9-4 in 2009, 9-3-0 to start the new year, 1-3-0 down the stretch, and then finishing off Northeastern last weekend to capture the 3 seed. In one of the closest Hockey East races I can remember, Merrimack picked up 3 points to secure a spot in this year's tournament. Both program's goaltending has left something to be desired. BU's Kieran Millan has only shown flashes of his 2009 title run brilliance, while Merrimacks two goalies have been equally unimpressive. The player to what is Merrimack freshman Stephane Da Costa, who has been outstanding for the Warriors this season - 15 goals, 29 assists. Merrimack is just 3-10-1 away from Hockey East play away from home. As a result, I think MC can steal one from BU on the road, but I expect BU to win in three games.

In the final quarterfinal, No. 4 seeded Maine faces No. 5 UMass Lowell. Maine is led by Hobey Baker candidate Gustav Nyquist who leads the nation in scoring (56 points), assists (38) and points per game (1.65). However, the Black Bears tournament title hopes were dealt a serious blow when coach Tim Whitehead suspended starting goaltender Scott Darling indefinitely for a violation of team rules. The Black Bears will turn to a pair of untested backups to try to get past Lowell and onto the semifinals. Despite how brilliant Nyquist has been on offense, I can't imagine UML won't be able to match Nyquist and Maine on the scoreboard, especially against a backup in net. UML wins in 2.

In the first of the two semifinals, I like No. 1 New Hampshire to eke past No. 5 Lowell 3-2. In the second semifinal between No. 2 BC and No. 3 BU, my unabashed homer pick is Eagles win 3-1. Finally, in the championship game, I've got BC beating UNH 4-2 to capture their 9th Hockey East tournament title and third in their last four years. 

Thoughts? Hockey East tournament predictions? What say you?