Eight eager teams begin the Hockey East tournament Friday night, with one winner emerging after next weekend’s games at TD Garden. Here’s a look at the best-of-three quarterfinal pairings:
After earning the first regular-season conference title in school history, the University of Massachusetts (26-8-0, 18-6-0) claims the No. 1 seed and hosts No. 8 New Hampshire (12-13-9, 8-10-6) at the Mullins Center.
The Minutemen, ranked third in the nation, have caused a commotion in Amherst with their bold charge through the season, paced by defenseman Cale Makar (42 points) and forwards Mitchell Chaffee (40) and Jacob Pritchard (39). UMass is third in team offense nationally with 3.76 goals per game and sixth in team defense at 2.06.
“The trouble is that you’re going to get the other team’s absolute best, because of the ranking that we’ve had,’’ coach Greg Carvel said, adding that losses at Maine and Connecticut were due to lack of intensity. “First half of the season, we had a chip on our shoulder trying to prove how good we could be.”
UNH and UMass both play on the big sheets, so no advantage there.
Though the teams have not met in the postseason since the 2008 quarterfinals, UMass swept UNH in this year’s regular-season two-game series.
UNH, under rookie coach Mike Sousa, ended the regular season eighth, its best conference ranking since 2015. The Wildcats had a Hockey East-record nine ties and played a school-record 13 overtime games.
“It’s going to require our best to give ourselves a chance against Massachusetts,’’ Sousa said.
No. 2 Providence (21-9-6, 14-7-3) will host No. 7 Boston College (11-20-3, 10-11-3) in the 11th playoff series between the schools, with BC holding a 7-3 advantage. No. 7-ranked Providence is coming in hot, on a six-game unbeaten streak, while BC had a tepid finish, losing seven of its last eight.
The Eagles twice beat Providence in the regular season before dropping the third matchup in the final game of the season. They’ll have to find a way to penetrate Providence’s defense: The Friars are fourth in the nation in team defense, allowing an average of 1.86 goals per game, and goaltender Hayden Hawkey is third nationally with a 1.77 goals-against average.
BC coach Jerry York conceded, “It’s been a struggle for us all year offensively.”
But BC has Joe Woll (2.41 GAA), another of Hockey East’s stalwart goaltenders.
No. 3 Northeastern (23-10-1, 15-8-1), trying to reach the semifinals for the second straight year, has the advantage of experience and the added bonus of already winning a trophy at TD Garden this season in February’s Beanpot. The Huskies, ranked ninth in the nation, host sixth-seeded Maine (15-15-4, 11-9-4).
Defenseman Jeremy Davies leads the Huskies with 33 points, and three forwards are in the top 10 in Hockey East scoring. Coach Jim Madigan calls his Huskies “a four-line team.” There also is strength in goal with Cayden Primeau (2.12 GAA).
While Maine has a 6-3 record all time against Northeastern in the Hockey East tournament, the Huskies won both of this year’s regular-season games. Maine hasn’t reached the semifinals since 2012.
Northeastern has a far better record and has won seven of its last eight, but Maine is 5-1-1 in its last seven.
Maine goalie and Bruins prospect Jeremy Swayman (2.82 GAA) has “basically carried the load start to finish,” according to coach Red Gendron; he started every game but one.
UMass Lowell claimed the fourth seed and home ice after tying Vermont in the final game of the regular season, and the 18th-ranked River Hawks (18-11-5, 12-7-5) will host No. 5 Boston University (14-16-4, 12-9-3).
The teams split a pair of regular-season games but haven’t played each other since Dec. 8. In their last postseason matchup, Lowell ousted BU in the 2016 quarterfinals.
Lowell coach Norm Bazin had to work in 13 freshmen this season, and the team began to hit its stride in the second half, reeling off a 9-0-1 run, until a late-season 1-3-3 slide.
BU, which matched ups with downs this season, lost its finale, 6-0, to Maine, squandering its chance at home ice.
Lowell is strong in goal, again, with Tyler Wall (2.06 GAA).
BU coach Albie O’Connell described this season as “a little bit of a roller coaster,” as the Terriers weathered injuries to veterans Chad Krys and Bobo Carpenter. O’Connell said the defense has had to buckle down because the scoring wasn’t there. Jake Oettinger has been solid in goal (2.49 GAA). O’Connell said he hoped the team’s 6-0 loss to Maine was just a blip on the radar.
Also in Division 1
Fourth-seeded Harvard (17-9-3) hosts No. 5 Dartmouth (13-15-4) in a best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal. It’s the same matchup as a year ago, when Harvard won in three.
This season, the teams split a pair of games in the regular season.
Harvard is eighth in the nation in team offense, scoring an average of 3.34 goals per game. Dartmouth, at 38th, averages 2.59. Moreover, Harvard has the nation’s second-ranked power play, scoring on 29.4 percent of its chances.
Crimson defenseman Adam Fox is fourth in ECAC points with 40, and first in assists with 32.
Harvard lost No. 1 goalie Michael Lackey to injury in February, but Cameron Gornet has stepped in (3-3-0, 2.60 GAA).
The other ECAC quarterfinals are: Union at Cornell, Brown at Quinnipiac, and Yale at Clarkson.
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