Observations from a big weekend of college hockey:
1: The NFL Creates Schedule Chaos
The two Frozen Fenway games on Saturday were moved up in time so that people could get home in time to watch the New England Patriots play that night in an NFL divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans. Providence hosted Vermont at 5:00 as well, another early start time for a game.
In the first game, which dropped the puck shortly after 1:30 p.m., Maine took out its frustrations on the Connecticut Huskies, cruising to a 4-0 shutout.
Maine controlled the physical game, and the puck, throughout the early parts of the game. While shots through the first period were relatively even, it was Maine that got the better looks on goal, highlighted by Cam Brown's breakthrough tally in the third minute of the game. The Black Bears really took over in the second, controlling the action throughout. They outshot Connecticut 19-11 in the frame, highlighted by a goal when Blaine Byron got in behind Connecticut goalie Adam Huska, who had come out of his crease. The Huskies' looks at goal were few and far-between, with a couple of Spencer Naas shots from nearly point blank range serving as their best opportunities.
Maine continued its dominance in the third period, smothering Connecticut with their defense and not allowing much of anything from star scorer Tage Thompson. A Rob Michel slapshot on a delayed penalty put the score out of reach at 3-0, and Nolan Vesey tossed in an empty-net tally at the end to make it 4-0.
"The ice was great today" said Maine head coach Red Gendron. Michel also praised the ice quality after the game.
"It's a game of battles," said a disappointed coach Mike Cavanaugh of Connecticut. "I would say they won more battles than we did." Citing that the Huskies played the Black Bears much tighter than the score, save for 10 minutes in the second period where Maine really took control, Cavanaugh said "when you run into a hot goalie you have to win battles and put pucks on net."
Later, Northeastern and New Hampshire traded goals and leads in a hard-fought game that resulted in a 2-2 tie. The draw meant three of four points for UNH in their weekend series with the Huskies, vital to the Wildcats as they enter a difficult stretch. “If you look at our schedule, it’s a tough schedule” said UNH coach Dick Umile, fully aware that his resurgent program will need to close out strong.
For Northeastern, the tie combined with a Maine loss means the Huskies have fallen to last place in Hockey East, but there are some positives to take from the contest. Jeremy Davies’ goal, which tied the game at 2, was a surgical shot that required patience and timing. Possibly even bigger, goaltender Ryan Ruck performed well enough to earn the third star in the game, the kind of confidence builder the netminder needs in a season where he has struggled at times.
2: The Commonwealth Ave Rivalry Renewed
On Friday night, Boston University hosted Boston College in another installment of one of the most intense rivalries in all college hockey.
Terriers goaltender Jake Oettinger and Eagles goalie Joseph Woll had quite the battle in Agganis Arena, with both facing 33 shots on the night. Woll had 31 saves. Oettinger had 32.
All the scoring was done in the first 10 minutes of the second period, with Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson opening the scoring, BC’s Colin White tying the game, and BU’s Clayton Keller putting home the game-winning tally as the Terriers took the home half of the series.
Monday night sees the return leg of the home-and-home, with Boston College hosting Boston University. The game will be broadcast on American Sports Network.
For Boston College, this is an important test of whether they can rebound from a difficult stretch. They have picked up just three points among their last five contests, losing to both Notre Dame and Quinnipiac while tying Ferris State. Jerry York’s squads generally are built to peak around what he calls “Trophy Season,” which begins in February. However, with half of January remaining, they might not be able to wait that long.
Dave Quinn’s Terriers, meanwhile, have swept their last five games, including wins over Union College and BC, both top ten teams at the time. This has enabled Boston University to climb both the national polls and the Hockey East standings, where they now look like a potential frontrunner. A win in front of the cameras on Monday night would solidify that.
3: NCHC’s Friday the 13th Nightmare
On Friday, the NCHC had three top ten teams scheduled to play conference matchups. All three of them lost.
Third-ranked Minnesota Duluth hosted local rival St. Cloud State. A pair of goals by SCSU’s Jack Ahcan put the Huskies up 2-0 after two periods. While the Bulldogs ratcheted up the intensity throughout the game, peppering St. Cloud State netminder Jeff Smith with 41 shots, Smith saved 41 of them to hold off the home team and pull off the 2-1 upset. Duluth would need overtime on Saturday night to get their revenge, pulling back after losing a 3-0 lead to win 4-3 in the extra period.
Defending national champion North Dakota hosted a Miami team that was in the bottom half of the conference coming in. Things were going well for much of the night. Brock Boeser scored a go-ahead goal for the Fighting Hawks in the second period, and North Dakota added to the lead with a Shane Gersich goal.
Just 43 seconds into the third period, Miami scored to cut the lead in half. By the fifth minute of the period, the lead was gone entirely. The Red Hawks would go on to score three more goals, five throughout the third, and take the 6-3 upset, chasing goaltender Cam Johnson in the process. The Fighting Hawks would even the series on Saturday with a 3-1 win.
While these upsets were going on, national No. 1 Denver University traveled to No. 14 Western Michigan. There, they ran into goalie Ben Blecker. The Pioneers would take 30 shots on Friday night. All of them were stopped by the netminder, and the Broncos pulled off the third conference upset of the night with the 3-0 sweep. Denver showed their might on Saturday night, getting revenge in grand fashion with a 7-1 drubbing.
Tim Williams is a freelance writer based in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @TimWritesSports.