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The Hockey East mantra of top-to-bottom strength applied last year in spades.  Northeastern, which finished one point out of the playoffs also finished four points out of home ice.

At the top was Boston College, winning its second national title in three years, extending Hockey East’s streak to three straight championships.

It would be hard to conceive of more impressive top-to-bottom strength.

This year, however, it’s so far been only top-to-middle.

The top is once again strong with the perennial powers… the Big Four… the usual suspects…. Pick your name your name for Boston University, Boston College, New Hampshire, and Maine.  As a Hockey Shakespeare might say, by any other name they’d still be as sweet.  The four are once again lodged in the USCHO.com top 10.

Merrimack is bucking to extend that strength another spot.  This past week, the Warriors earned their first national ranking, moving to 18th in the poll.  This is a program that has paid its dues and then some, emerging from a 1-21-1 league record in 2004-2005, followed by 3-19-5 and 3-22-2 seasons, to break through last year with a 12-13-2 mark.

Now 3-2-3 in HE play, a point out of third place, and with weekend splits against BC and BU already under its belt, the Warriors look like a force to be reckoned with.

Providence stands not far behind at .500 both in Hockey East play and overall.  However, even though the Friars are one of the best stories of the season, they’ve only played the Big Four only once, that being a loss to BU.  Their ability to challenge for home ice remains in the “show me” category.

At the bottom, the picture isn’t very pretty.  Northeastern, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Massachusetts-Lowell have posted a collective 5-25-11 overall record.

The two Massachusetts state schools were expected to go through some growing pains this season after losing a staggering amount of talent and experience off last year’s squads.  Both teams’ fans are likely in for rebuilding seasons, contenting themselves by watching for hopeful signs of future strength.

Northeastern and Vermont are more surprising residents of the lower end of the standings and may well recover to move into Hockey East’s middle class. 

Hey, the season is young.  Let’s not forget that BU found itself in last place during December of last year, yet still recovered for a third place finish.

So far, though, this isn’t looking like last year.

Other than the Big Five (yes, I’m including Merrimack in the top grouping this season until proven otherwise), the rest of Hockey East has something to prove.

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Congratulations to the Merrimack hockey program for its first ever Division I national ranking.  If you’ve been watching Hockey East for any length of time, you understand what a terrific accomplishment this is for the school.

Congrats also to head coach Mark Dennehy for his well-deserved contract extension.   Hats off to him for the job he’s done.

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Another round of congratulations goes to Boston College coach Jerry York for his contract extension.  Two national titles in three years?  Yeah, I guess he deserved an extension.   File this one, like Dennehy’s, under the category of no-brainer. 

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For information about Dave Hendrickson’s other writing as well as his blog about books and the creative life, visit his writing website.

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  • Kevin

    It’s remarkable what’s been happening at Merrimack. Such a small school, playing in that shoe box rink. Thom Lawler’s spirit lives there for sure, amazing.

  • JCR ’98

    The rink renovations at Merrimack have been amazing. It’s such a great atmosphere for hockey now, especially with the strong student support (two straight home sellouts) and the team’s phenomenal home record the last two years. I love seeing the Warriors playing with a little bit of swagger these days, too. The small school that could!

  • Anonymous

    Almost unthinkable that MC is competitive after at least a decade of near-relegation where the president, AD, team, students, and alumni couldn’t have given less of a crap, now all those parties are fully on board and something special is in the works!

  • Anonymous

    Listen, I’m as hopeful as any that Merrimack can become competitive on a consistent basis, but let’s hold off a bit on the accolades. Two straight home sellouts hardly constitutes “strong student support”. Let’s see a little more history.

    I know it’s tough for a small school like that to compete with the likes of BC, BU, Maine and UNH but look at what Maine did from 1983 – 1993. That’s the model they should be aspiring to.