With the calendars now flipped to 2015, the second half of the college hockey season is set to begin. A lot of things have changed since our preseason power rankings, so this list will look a bit different than it did in early October.
To kick off the 2015 portion of the season, here are our rankings of the 12 Hockey East teams — not necessarily a regurgitation of the standings:
1. Boston University (11-3-2, 7-1-2 Hockey East) – The Terriers were expected to improve after a dreadful 10-win 2013-14 season, but questions loomed as another large freshman class would have to play a major role in the turnaround. But the young group has more than stepped up. Freshman center Jack Eichel has arguably been the best player in the country with 27 points in 16 games — a national best. Eichel’s “OREO” line with junior wingers Ahti Oksanen and Danny O’Regan has combined for 62 points. BU’s four rookie defensemen have also helped as a force on both ends. The return of sophomore forward Robbie Baillargeon and freshman forward Nikolas Olsson should improve the depth of this team.
2. University of Massachusetts-Lowell (13-3-3, 7-0-2 Hockey East) – The loss of a few key seniors was not enough to keep the River Hawks from being a force at the top of Hockey East. No one from UML has more than 16 points, yet the River Hawks’ balanced scoring attack has them as the No. 1 scoring offense in Hockey East at 3.78 goals per game. Freshman C.J. Smith is averaging just under a point a game with 17 points in 19 contests. UML has used Kevin Boyle as its top netminder, and he has a .918 save percentage, a number the River Hawks would likely prefer to see go up.
3. University of Vermont (14-4-1, 7-3-1 Hockey East) – A 20-win team a season ago, Vermont is ahead of pace to break that win total this year. Forward Mario Puskarich and defenseman Mike Paliotta are tied for third in Hockey East with 18 points, and Paliotta’s mark is the best for a defenseman in the conference. Goaltenders Brody Hoffman (.924 save percentage) and Mike Santaguida (.953) have been a solid backstop duo. With their help, Vermont is best in the conference in goals allowed per game and penalty-kill percentage. However, the balanced Catamounts team still has to play BU, BC and UML down the stretch.
4. Providence College (11-6-1, 6-4 Hockey East) – Our preseason pick — and Hockey East coaches’ selection — at No. 1 began the year with an unimpressive 1-3-2 start, but has won seven of its last eight games. Goaltender Jon Gillies is back to his old form, posting the league’s best save percentage at .942. Gillies put an exclamation point on 2014 with a shutout over Vermont on Dec. 29, and capped off the week by being named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week. The Friars have been one of the conference’s best defensive teams, though still struggle offensively, beginning play in 2015 in the bottom third of Hockey East in scoring offense.
5. Boston College (10-7-1, 4-4-1 Hockey East) – Another team at the top of our list to start the year has struggled. The Eagles have yet to find a breakout goal scorer; however, the Eagles boast six players with at least 11 points, so a well-rounded attack has kept them in the top tier of Hockey East offenses. Surprisingly for the Eagles, a very good group of defensemen — two of whom represented the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Canada — have played sloppy hockey at times. Missing defenseman Steve Santini might have hurt the BC blue line corps more than some expected. His expected return to the lineup could help improve a defense that ranks sixth in the conference in goals allowed per game at 2.44.
6. Merrimack College (10-5-2, 4-4-1 Hockey East) – The Warriors have taken advantage of the smaller ice at Lawler Arena and have a 7-1-1 record at home. They’ve been able to bottle up faster teams, and keep scoring to a minimum. Goaltenders Rasumus Tirronen and Collin Delia each have a goals-against average under two. Freshman Brett Seney is tied for the team-lead in points with 15 and has done an admirable job leading the second line. The road gets tougher for the Warriors, though, with Hockey East games remaining against BC, UML and Vermont.
7. University of Notre Dame (9-9-2, 4-4-2 Hockey East) – The Fighting Irish had to deal with losing 11 seniors after last season and have battled inconsistencies thus far. Forwards Robbie Russo and Mario Lucia have been bright spots with 17 and 16 points, respectively. Notre Dame’s goaltenders, however, have struggled, as neither Cal Peterson or Chad Katunar has a save percentage above .909. Eight games against teams at the bottom of the conference at the beginning of the second half could benefit the Fighting Irish.
8. Northeastern University (5-10-1, 3-6-1 Hockey East) – The Huskies have recovered a bit since an awful 0-8-1 start, though they are still a long way from the top of the standings. A Hobey Baker Award nominee last year, forward Kevin Roy started this year off slowly, although he’s back to a point per game pace with 16 points in 16 contests. Goaltender Clay Witt has not matched his miraculous performance from a season ago, and has a lowly .909 save percentage. Northeastern has gotten outshot by a sizable amount, which has put a lot of pressure on Witt. The Huskies ended the first half with wins in four of their last five games, which could propel them going forward.
9. University of Connecticut (4-9-4, 2-4-1 Hockey East) The Huskies have just four wins, but they’ve beaten BC and Vermont and tied BU. Those wins and one tie are in large part thanks to goaltender Rob Nichols, who sports a .931 save percentage. But UConn has relied on Nichols a bit too much, as the Huskies are getting outshot 557-440. Poor possession numbers could end up hurting the offensively deficient Huskies more as the season rolls along.
10. University of New Hampshire (6-11-1, 1-5-1 Hockey East) – The Wildcats’ one win in Hockey East play came against Northeastern. UNH’s reliance on freshman goalie Adam Clark, who has a .903 save percentage, hasn’t paid off. Forward Tyler Kelleher has been solid with 17 points, which is tied for sixth in Hockey East. The defensive unit and Clark will need to step up for this team to make a run.
11. University of Maine (4-13-1, 2-6 Hockey East) – Coach Red Gendron’s squad has taken more than a step back this season and find themselves as one of the weakest teams in Hockey East. Forward Devin Shore has just 11 points in 18 games, nowhere near his 43-point sophomore campaign. All of Maine’s skaters are averaging under a point a game, and thus are at the bottom of the offensive rankings. And coupled with the second-worst defense, the Black Bears are in a world of hurt. Goaltenders Sean Romeo and Matt Morris have been abysmal with goals-against averages over 3.30 and save percentages under .900. Maine also continues to struggle away from Alfond Arena, finishing 2014 with an 0-6 record on the road.
12. University of Massachusetts (5-13, 1-9 Hockey East) – The only defense worse in Hockey East than Maine’s is the one from this UMass squad. The Minutemen have given up 4.44 goals per game and goaltender Henry Dill has the worst save percentage (.868) among qualifying goalies. Forward Frank Vatrano and his 11 goals — second in Hockey East — have been the lone positives for the Minutemen.
(Disclaimer: These power rankings were released midday before many of the 7:00 p.m. games later Friday night.)