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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

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Black Bears and UNH meet, youth stepping up

This upcoming weekend is sure to spice up the Hockey East standings, as the top four seeds in the conference square off.

Maine hosts top-ranked New Hampshire for a weekend double-header, as the Black Bears currently sit in fourth-place with 20 points, trailing UNH by seven. Both teams are coming off over-time thrillers on Saturday.

UNH squeaked away with a last-second victory over Merrimack, and Maine ended in a 4-4 draw with the Vermont.

The Black Bears will have to fend off a high-powered offense that leads the conference with 68 goals forced, while Maine’s defense is tied for third in goals scored against, allowing 48 in conference play. Scoring will be no easy task for the Black Bears, as they face senior goaltender Brian Foster in net, recently named Pure Hockey Defensive Player of the Week.

In a battle for Hockey East’s number two spot, Massachusetts will host Boston College in the Mullins Center Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Both teams defeated Providence College last weekend, as they sit tied with 22 points apiece. Boston College’s conference-leading defense has surrendered just 45 goals in conference play.

New Hampshire wins overtime thriller

Merrimack came ready to play on Saturday against conference-leading UNH, but could not steal a victory on their opponent’s ice. The Wildcats improved to 12-3-3 in league play with a 4-3 overtime win at the Whittemore Center.

 The Warriors snapped the Wildcat’s 11-game conference win streak the previous night in front of their home crowd. The loss was avenged when Paul Thompson of UNH scored off his own rebound with 11.1 seconds remaining in the extra period of play. Merrimack goaltender Andrew Braithwaite had a solid performance, stopping 43 shots, including 10 in overtime, but could not save the one that made the difference.

Merrimack trailed 3-2 entering the third period, but knotted up the score with a Chris Barton power-play goal in the opening minutes, while Barton also had a goal in the second period to cut the Warrior deficit to a single goal. UNH goalie Brian Foster finished with 26 saves, including one in the overtime period. Merrimack capitalized on power-play opportunities, going 2-for-3 on the odd-man advantages. New Hampshire is currently ranked 12th in the country, while Merrimack sits towards the bottom of the Hockey East.

Talented youth stepping up

The high-powered Hockey East has seen a lot of impressive talent this season. However, the top players in the conference comprise of a majority of juniors and underclassmen. The top10 overall point-scorers in the conference contain four juniors, four sophomores and one freshman. Only one senior, Bobby Butler of UNH sits in the top 10. Last season, five seniors and one junior led the conference in points scored, likewise the year before, with five seniors and two juniors holding the top spots in scoring.

Junior forward James Marcou of UMass is atop the leader board with 26 points along with fellow teammate and sophomore Casey Wellman standing fourth in points. As the Hockey East tournament approaches, the young talents are sure to be a factor in their team’s success.

Michael Counos can be reached at mcounos@student.umass.edu.

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