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College hockey notebook

BC, UNH are prepared to settle it

Home-and-home for league crown

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / March 4, 2011

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One of the greatest aspects of Hockey East is how everything always seems to come down to the final weekend.

New Hampshire and Boston College are vying for the regular-season league title and play each other in the final two games. Boston University, Merrimack, and Maine are fighting for home-ice advantage for next weekend’s conference quarterfinals. Vermont, UMass, and Providence are battling for two spots. Only UMass-Lowell has been eliminated from contention.

The Terriers play the Huskies in a home-and-home series to close out the campaign.

“[Home ice] is something that’s in the back of our minds, it’s one of our goals for the season definitely,’’ said Chris Connolly, a BU captain. “Any time you can have that advantage in playoffs, it definitely helps. It’s even big in the national picture, too. We’re right on the bubble right now. In the big picture, this series is very important to us.’’

Two victories would aid BU in the PairWise rankings (a predictor of teams’ probability of making the NCAA Tournament), where it is tied for 15th with Maine and Dartmouth.

BU beat Northeastern, 5-4, in the only previous meeting this season, Dec. 8 at Agganis Arena. The Terriers are unbeaten in their last four games (3-0-1) and have one loss in their last six (4-1-1). NU has one victory in its last five outings (1-2-2). Connolly expects it to be a very difficult weekend.

“They always give us their best game,’’ he said. “They played BC very tough and they played them tough in the Beanpot, as well. They’re fighting for playoff position and we’re fighting for playoff position. It might as well be an early playoff series. I think that’s the kind of games we’re going to see this weekend. It’s probably going to be one-goal games. Hockey East is such a competitive league that the last weekend, somebody is playing for something all over the league.’’

BU played Vermont twice last week, and despite a 3-0 lead in the Friday game at Agganis, the Terriers had to settle for a 3-3 tie after the Catamounts roared back in the third period. On Saturday, BU won, 3-1.

“That first night was as close to a 60-minute effort as we’ve had all season,’’ said Connolly. “We’d done a lot of very good things on Friday night, we had a few bad bounces and a few mistakes ended up in the back of our net. Obviously, with a 3-0 lead, you want to be able to close those games out, and we were very disappointed coming out of that with a tie.’’

In the second game, BU again went up, 3-0, but only surrendered one goal to Vermont, with five seconds remaining in regulation.

“You can say Vermont would’ve had all the momentum going into Saturday night and we responded well,’’ said Connolly. “This consistency, to be able to start the game both nights the way we did was very good to see, and arguably Saturday was one of our most consistent and thorough games we’ve played all season. That’s very good to see and we’re emphasizing [the need] to harness that and cut down on some of the mental errors and we’ll be OK going into the playoffs, I think.’’

One key factor in the Terriers’ strength down the stretch is the contribution of the freshmen. Five of the team’s top 10 scorers are rookies.

“They’ve been huge,’’ said Connolly. “It’s not often you come into any kind of Division 1 program with so much being asked of you. You’re usually fighting for position and trying to crack the lineup to get as much playing time as possible. This year, [Garrett] Noonan, [Adam] Clendening, Charlie Coyle and Matt Nieto and [Sahir] Gill, and [Patrick] MacGregor at times, they’ve been asked to step up and play huge roles for us. It’s good because we don’t consider them freshmen anymore. It’s like the second half of the season and playoffs is almost like a sophomore season for them, they’re veterans now. They’re just as accountable as anybody else. I think it’s good they were thrown into the fire right away.’’

Women square off The Women’s Hockey East Association semifinals kick off tomorrow afternoon at Walter Brown Arena with NU playing BU at noon, and Providence facing BC at 3 p.m. The championship game is Sunday at 1 p.m. BU is the No. 1 seed as well as the defending champion. BU and NU have met once in the WHEA tournament, with BU winning, 2-1, in the 2009 quarterfinals. BC and Providence have squared off three times in the tourney, in the semifinals from 2005-07, with the Friars holding a 2-1 edge . . . The WHEA announced the seven members of the All-Rookie Team, voted by the league’s eight head coaches. They are: BU forward Marie-Philip Poulin (the only unanimous selection) and goalie Kerrin Sperry, Providence defenseman Rebecca Morse and forward Corinne Buie, BC defenseman Meagan Mangene, NU forward Katie MacSorley, and Vermont goaltender Roxanne Douville . . . Former Hobey Baker winner and two-time Olympian Scott Fusco, who is Harvard’s all-time leading scorer, was named one of the top 50 players in ECAC history. The other honorees in this installment are All-American defenseman Reid Cashman of Quinnipiac, Boston College defenseman Tom Mellor, Providence defenseman Randy Velischek, and Clarkson goalie Terry Yurkiewicz.

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.