What has been perhaps the strangest regular season in the 36-year existence of Hockey East will conclude this weekend, and there’s still much to be determined before the league playoffs begin.
Boston College (23-8-1, 16-6) clinched the regular-season title with a 4-1 win at Boston University last week, while UMass (20-11-2, 13-8-2) is the only other team to have clinched home ice for next week’s quarterfinals.
The season-ending home-and-home series between BU (12-12-8, 9-8-5) and Northeastern (17-12-3, 10-11-1) figured to have plenty of intrigue when the schedule was released, but with both teams struggling in recent weeks — BU has lost three in a row, Northeastern four in a row — it may feel like the playoffs are starting a week early.
The Terriers are tied for sixth place, and can finish anywhere from fourth, which would give them home ice next week, to ninth, which would leave them on the outside looking in. Northeastern’s situation is even more precarious. The Huskies are in eighth place, just 1 point ahead of New Hampshire (15-14-3, 9-11-2) for the final playoff spot.
Friday night’s game at Matthews Arena will be the first meeting between the teams since Northeastern won the Beanpot in overtime after a questionable penalty call put the Huskies on the power play.
“We kind of owe them some payback after the Beanpot,” said BU captain Patrick Curry. “That kind of stuck with the group.”
BU coach Albie O’Connell downplayed the notion that the Terriers are seeking retribution.
“To me, not really. Maybe for the players,” said O’Connell. “I think we’ve just got to prepare for an opponent. We want to get in the playoffs. We want to put ourselves in the best spot, and that’s the focus.”
Northeastern shares that same focus. The Huskies looked to be in good position heading into last week’s road trip at last-place Vermont. A pair of wins would have secured a playoff spot and put them in position for home ice. An NCAA berth would not seem far behind. But the Huskies were swept, with Vermont (5-22-6, 2-17-4) getting its first two league wins of the season in coach Kevin Sneddon’s final two games at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play on Friday,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “It’s all about what’s in front of us. What happened last week is in the rear-view mirror. You learn from those situations, but it’s all about an opportunity to make the playoffs and playing well this weekend.”
Injuries had Northeastern down to 10 forwards against the Catamounts. Sophomore Tyler Madden is still recovering from a hand injury and is unlikely to play this weekend, but senior Grant Jozefek (8 goals, 9 assists) has been practicing this week after missing the Vermont series and appears to be on track to play Friday.
“Everyone was a little down after Vermont,” said senior captain Ryan Shea. “We gave them their first two wins in Hockey East, so we kind of had the look on our faces like the season is over, but it’s not close to being over. I know the seniors definitely don’t want it to be over.”
There was a nice moment last week when BU honored its “Miracle on Ice” alums — Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, Jack O’Callahan, and Dave Silk — before the BC game at Agganis Arena.
“I was just in awe of those guys," said Curry. "Everything they’ve done for the university, as well as the country, is unbelievable. They made me want to play here. It makes you feel special to put on this jersey.
"It was just awesome to meet those guys personally. Being an American-born player, those guys are kind of my heroes. It was cool to see.”
The Eagles came up with the win, though, and will close out the season with a home-and-home series against UNH. Though they have clinched the regular-season title, there’s still plenty to play for. BC, currently ranked No. 4 in the country, would like to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A strong finish to the regular season, as well as the conference playoffs, would go a long way.
A hot February
BC freshman Alex Newhook was named the Hockey Commissioners Association National Player and Rookie of the Month after recording 9 goals and 11 assists in February. He has a 10-game point streak entering this weekend’s series with the Wildcats … UConn (15-14-4, 12-9-2) will be at UMass Lowell (17-10-6, 11-7-5) Friday night, with both teams hoping to secure home ice, while Providence (16-11-6, 10-10-3) travels to Maine (17-11-5, 11-9-3). The Friars still have not locked up a playoff spot, and will try to do so against a Maine squad that has an outside shot of getting home ice next week.
So long, bye
Harvard (13-10-6) opens postseason play by hosting St. Lawrence (4-25-5) in the first round of the ECAC tournament this weekend. The Crimson lost out on a bye by dropping a 2-0 decision to Rensselaer (17-15-2) last weekend. Should they prevail this weekend, they will face RPI again in the quarterfinals in Troy, N.Y. “I’m not going to lie and say having home ice and a bye isn’t a great advantage,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “We also have a really young group. We continue to learn lessons on a nightly basis, sometimes even within a period. We can look at the positive. Playing next weekend, it will be helpful to us to establish the way we want to play and really strengthen our identity as a group.” Freshman forward Nick Abruzzese earned Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors and was named ECAC Rookie of the Month for the third straight month. He leads the league and ranks third in the country in points per game with 1.34, and has 39 points overall (13 goals, 26 assists), the third-most by a first-year player in program history.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.