By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff
1) No. 5/6 Boston College (10-3-2, 7-3-2)
The Eagles ended the first semester on a seven-game unbeaten streak and have clearly emerged as the best team in Hockey East. Yes, they’re technically second in the standings, but the standings don’t tell the whole story. BC is currently tied for first in the conference in scoring offense (3.67 goals per game), is second in scoring defense (2.60 goals allowed per game) and is first on the penalty kill (85.9 percent). That offense is arguably the most balanced in the league. It’s tied for fifth nationally despite not having anyone rank in the top 50 in points. Eight BC forwards have recorded at least eight points, led by junior Brian Gibbons’ 16 (5 goals, 11 assists), and each member of the Eagles’ top three lines has a positive plus/minus rating.
2) No. 15 University of Massachusetts-Amherst (10-5-0, 6-4-0)
The Minutemen raced out to a 4-1 start in conference play to stake an early claim to first place, but have now dropped to fourth after going just 2-3 in their last five. However, UMass’ offense is still tied with BC for tops in the conference, its defense ranks fourth (2.73 goals allowed per game) and its special teams rank second (plus-11 net goals). Whereas BC has no true superstars and really spreads its offense around, UMass has arguably the best one-two punch in college hockey. Junior James Marcou (5-21-26) leads the nation with 1.73 points per game, while sophomore linemate Casey Wellman (13-9-22) is tied for fifth with a 1.47 pace. Junior Paul Dainton has provided stellar goaltending, as he’s tied for second in the league with a .922 save percentage.
3) University of Maine (9-7-1, 7-4-1)
They’re baaaaaack. The Black Bears have won five straight to climb up to third in the standings. Like BC and UMass, Maine is led by an explosive offense, ranking right behind those two with 3.65 goals per game, good for third in the conference and seventh in the country. The Black Bears also boast the conference’s best special teams with a plus-13 net. Their 28.8-percent power play is tops in the conference and second nationally. The leader up front is sophomore Gustav Nyquist, whose 25 points (11 G, 14 A) are the second-most in Hockey East and seventh-most in the nation. Maine has also gotten a boost from sophomore goalie Scott Darling’s breakthrough season. He ranks third in the league in goals-against average (2.47) and fourth in save percentage (.912).
4) No. 12/14 University of Massachusetts-Lowell (10-6-1, 5-4-1)
The break comes at the perfect time for the River Hawks, who have lost four of their last six and dropped to fifth in the standings. Still, there’s a lot to like in Lowell. UML owns the league’s best defense (2.41 goals allowed per game), paced by the conference’s best goaltending tandem. Senior Carter Hutton (5-4-0) ranks first in both goals-against average (2.12) and save percentage (.927), while fellow senior Nevin Hamilton (5-2-1) places fifth in both categories (2.61 and .911). Leading the blue-line corps is senior Nick Schaus. His 18 points (4 G, 14 A) are tied for the most among Hockey East defensemen, and his plus-12 rating is second in the conference. The River Hawks’ 3.41 goals per game are good for the conference’s fifth-best offense.
5) No. 16 University of New Hampshire (8-6-3, 8-2-2)
The Wildcats’ seven-game unbeaten streak and conference-leading 18 points say they’re an elite team. Their sixth-ranked scoring offense (3.35 goals per game), ninth-ranked scoring defense (3.47 goals allowed per game), eighth-ranked power play (16.0 percent) and ninth-ranked penalty kill (75.0 percent) say they’re not even a middle-of-the-pack team. Putting them fifth splits the difference. The biggest positives for UNH have been senior forward Bobby Butler, who ranks third in Hockey East with 24 points (13 G, 11 A) and first with a plus-13 rating, and sophomore defenseman Blake Kessel (5-13-18, plus-11). The biggest negative has been senior goalie Brian Foster, who ranks 10th in save percentage (.892) and 11th in goals-against average (3.44).
6) University of Vermont (8-6-2, 4-5-2)
Since an embarrassing 7-1 loss at BC on Nov. 14 that dropped them to 3-4-1, the Catamounts have gone 5-2-1 to steer the ship back on course. But much of that success has come out of conference, resulting in Vermont making little headway in the standings, where they’re currently sixth. Much like UNH, UVM’s peripheral stats aren’t too pretty. The Catamounts rank seventh in offense (2.81 goals per game), seventh in defense (3.12 goals allowed per game), ninth on the power play (15.9 percent) and seventh on the penalty kill (80.7 percent). Senior forward Brayden Irwin has been Vermont’s biggest bright spot. After having his point totals regress in each of the last two seasons following a 19-point freshman campaign, he leads the team with 14 points (6 G, 8 A).
7) Merrimack College (7-8-0, 4-6-0)
The Warriors just can’t get off the schneid. After starting the season 6-3-0, they went an abysmal 1-5-0 to end the first semester, falling to eighth place in the process. Things won’t get any easier over break, either, as Merrimack heads to Madison, Wis. for the Badger Showdown, where it’ll face No. 7 Wisconsin and either No. 8/9 Yale or No. 11 Ferris State. The Warrior defense, a veteran group expected to be the team’s strength this season, ranks eighth in the conference with 3.27 goals allowed per game. During the current six-game skid, that number jumps to 4.00. Not on the schneid is forward Stephane Da Costa, who’s leading Merrimack’s fourth-ranked offense (3.47 goals per game) as a rookie. The Paris native is tops among Hockey East freshmen with 19 points (9 G, 10 A).
8) Northeastern University (6-8-1, 4-7-1)
No. 1 on the Huskies’ Christmas list is offense. Northeastern is last in the conference with 2.27 goals per game. Senior Kyle Kraemer (5 G, 5 A) and freshman Garrett Vermeersch (4 G, 6 A) are tied for the team lead with 10 points. To put that in perspective, every other team in Hockey East has at least four double-digit scorers and at least one 14-point scorer. In their last four games, the Huskies have scored just six goals. Not surprisingly, they’re 1-3-0 in those games. Despite the offensive power outage, Northeastern sits in seventh place in the standings, thanks in large part to the play of freshman goalie Chris Rawlings, who ranks sixth in the league with a respectable .908 save percentage.
9) Providence College (7-9-1, 2-7-1)
The Friars have been unable to climb out of last place thanks to a five-game losing streak to end the first semester. They’re currently one point behind BU for ninth, but they have something the Terriers don’t right now –– good goaltending. In fact, Providence has arguably the best goaltender in Hockey East. Sophomore Alex Beaudry is second in goals-against average (2.43), second in minutes played (839:11) and tied for second in save percentage (.922). He’s done a complete 180 from last season, when he ranked 13th in both goals-against average (3.50) and save percentage (.888). Other than him, though, there’s not much for the Friars to be happy with. They’re ninth in offense (2.41 goals per game), last on the power play (15.4 percent) and last in special teams net (minus-6).
10) Boston University (4-9-3, 2-7-2)
The list of problems for the Terriers is about as long as a seven-year-old’s Christmas list. They don’t score enough, as evidenced by their eighth-ranked offense (2.75 goals per game). They don’t defend well enough, as evidenced by their last-ranked defense (3.50 goals allowed per game). That minus-0.75 goals-per-game net is the worst in the league. BU also owns the league’s worst goaltending right now. Sophomores Grant Rollheiser and Kieran Millan rank 12th and 13th in Hockey East in save percentage at .870 and .862, respectively. The Terriers can’t put together a 60-minute effort, either. They’ve allowed 23 third-period goals, the most in the conference, and their minus-9 third-period net is the worst of any Hockey East team in any period. Given all that, it should come as no surprise that BU has won just one of its last seven games and two of its last 12.