The #1 Boston College Eagles are about to initiate a big Hockey East home-and-home series with the #7 Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks, but even when it happens, it won’t mean much in the here and now.
Sure, these are the top two teams in Hockey East, but Boston College already clinched the top seed in the conference last weekend with their sweep at Vermont. For UMass-Lowell, their real fight might be for second place, but a bye into the quarterfinals and a clear path to the TD Garden look likely.
The Eagles have already accomplished their regular season goals, save for winning out, and given that they have not lost since November, there’s a fairly good chance of that, though the defending conference champion River Hawks are not to be discounted. The real meaning of this home-and-home — Boston College on Friday night, Lowell on Saturday night — is for the future.
This weekend, we could conceivably be looking at a conference title game preview from a couple weeks down the line. Depending on what sort of weekend it is, this could also factor prominently in NCAA Tournament seeding for at least one of these squads. If Boston College plays up to its rank, the seemingly inevitable will become slightly less seemingly and slightly more reality: the Eagles will be heading to Worcester for their regional play. That appears to be a good bet right now, but not if a bad weekend starts Boston College into a rare tailspin.
Likewise, if UMass-Lowell takes a couple losses and doesn’t get back off the mat heading into March, perhaps their road to a national championship will get a lot more difficult. There are several different possibilities here, none of which impact the Hockey East regular-season bottom line but all of which carry far greater implications.
As far as the matchup between the teams themselves, the Eagles and River Hawks are the best this conference has to offer this season. Boston College boasts the nation’s best offense by a country mile, with a Gaudreau-Hayes-Arnold line that has a staggering 155 total points in 31 games. In fact, those young men are first, second, and fourth in the country in points, respectively. Simply put, no other team has a line that even compares with the Eagles’ top-line production. Johnny Gaudreau has notched a point in 26 consecutive games, and quite frankly, two Boston College Eagles — with Kevin Hayes being the other — could be Hobey Baker finalists given how the season has unfolded.
Boston College isn’t all goal-scoring, however. Thatcher Demko may be unable to vote at his age, but he is playing just fine in goal for the Eagles, progressing and improving all year to the point where fans would be confident in rolling with him all the way to Philadelphia. Brian Billett has also been a respectable backup option in-goal, and the Eagles defense has been exceptional, especially with their top-ranked penalty kill. The Eagles are #1 because they can beat you many different ways and are amongst the most complete teams you’ll see in college hockey today.
UMass-Lowell has a solid senior forward in Joseph Pendenza, but his team-leading 24 points look paltry compared to what the Eagles are trotting out there. The River Hawks are a middle-of-the-road goal-scoring team with about three per game, but their calling card is goaltending. They’re tops in Hockey East with just under two goals per game allowed, with Winnipeg prospect Connor Hellebuyck just edging out Demko for fewest goals allowed per game at 1.84. Their Achilles heel, however, has been the penalty kill, where UML comes in dead-last in the conference at just 81.9%. Given that Boston College has the conference’s best power play, that’s a big advantage for the Eagles if they have extra men.
The first game of this series begins tonight at Kelley Rink at 7:00pm.