Hockey East Weekly: 1/3/12

BOSTON — Three Hockey East schools — Maine, UMass-Lowell and Northeastern — captured victories in holiday tournaments as we get ready to embark on the New Year and the rekindling of conference play this weekend.

The highlight of this weekend’s schedule is a pair of league games on Saturday at Fenway Park, the climax of the two-week Sun Life Frozen Fenway 2012.

The Huskies garnered 75 votes in the USCHO.com poll and were the first team left out of the Top 20. NU earned Hockey East Team of the Week honors after its 3-2 victory over then-No. 2 Minnesota on Saturday night at the Mariucci Classic.

Junior netminder Chris Rawlings stopped 54 shots on the weekend, including 31 in the title game against the Gophers. His efforts earned him the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors for the fourth time this season.

The Huskies skated to a 3-3 tie with Princeton, but junior Justin Daniels scored the shootout-winning goal to propel them to the finals for the second time in three trips to The State of Hockey.

Rawlings was named the Hockey East Goaltender of the Month for December, as announced on Tuesday. The British Columbia native earned a 4-0-1 mark for the Huskies in the final month of 2011, surrendering more than two goals just once in five starts.

NU returns to action on Saturday for an exhibition contest with the U.S. Under-18 Team at historic Matthews Arena.

Maine and UMass headed south, facing off in the Florida College Classic championship game on Friday evening after semifinal victories over Clarkson (6-1) and Cornell (5-2), respectively.

The Black Bears were led by Spencer Abbott as he scored a goal and added five assists on the weekend, earning Most Valuable Player honors in the tournament as well as the league’s Co-Player of the Week Award. As Maine topped their Bay State university rival by a 5-2 score for their fifth Florida title, Abbott — who is now also the Hockey East Athletic Republic Player of the Month — notched three assists.

In UMass’ win over No. 13 Cornell, the Minutemen improved to 3-2-1 on the season against ranked opponents and posted 30 or more shots for the third straight game.

Both teams have two games this week, including match-ups at Fenway Park on Saturday. Before taking on the venerable ballpark, Maine hosts Vermont at Alfond Arena on Wednesday and UMass will head to Providence’s Schneider Arena the following night.

UMass-Lowell soared to No. 12 in the national rankings this week after topping the field at the Toyota UConn Holiday Classic at Freitas Ice Forum. League Co-Player of the Week David Vallorani was the star of the show for the River Hawks, scoring the game-winner in both contests, including the overtime marker in a 4-3 win over the host Connecticut Huskies.

On the weekend, the senior from Ontario scored three goals and two assists to earn the tournament Most Valuable Player Award for the first-ever Hockey East team to skate away with the title, in its 19th season of existence.

UML, which had not won an in-season title since the 2007-08 Florida College Classic, hosts the traveling Russian Red Stars on Thursday.

Also of note for the River Hawks was that forward Stephen Buco was named the Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Month in Hockey East as he finished third on the team in scoring with six points, while leading UML to a 5-1 mark.

No. 4 Boston College split a pair of holiday weekend games, winning the consolation contest on Friday at the annual Great Lakes Invitational over Michigan Tech, 2-1.

Defenseman Tommy Cross scored a goal and an assist for the Eagles, while Parker Milner returned between the pipes and earned the victory with a 24-save effort.

The Eagles, which return to action this Sunday against Merrimack at home, fell in the semifinal round, taking one on the chin to Michigan by a 4-2 count on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. Cross also posted two points in that outing and rookie Brian Billett had a strong 25-stop effort in defeat.

Overall, it was a pair of pretty strong efforts by No. 7 Merrimack as they trekked to the Granite State to take part in the Ledyard National Bank Classic at Dartmouth.

The Warriors settled for a 6-6 tie with St. Lawrence in Friday evening’s semifinal round before ultimately falling in a nine-round shootout.

Merrimack led 3-0 after just 21:17 of play, but the Saints responded with five unanswered goals to cap off the middle period. The Warriors tied it at five midway through the third and then again at 6-6 with a mere 42 seconds left, only to fall in the shootout.

The MC defense had not allowed a five-goal period since Oct. 16, 2005 at Michigan, the second game of head coach Mark Dennehy’s career.

In the consolation game, senior Joe Cannata made 18 stops in a 3-0 shutout of Holy Cross. Senior defenseman Karl Stollery posted a goal and an assist in the win.

Sophomore Shawn Bates finished the weekend with five points, including a career-high two-goal, two-assist performance against the Saints and was named to the all-tournament team for his outing.

The Warriors will have a pair of tests this weekend when they travel to Commonwealth Avenue for matches at Boston University on Friday and Boston College on Sunday.

Vermont surprised then-No. 12 Ferris State in the second game of the annual Sheraton/TD Bank Catamount Cup, handing the Bulldogs their second defeat in a row by a 4-2 count. In the tournament’s Thursday nightcap, Catamount junior forward Sebastian Stalberg had two assists in a 5-3 loss to Lake Superior.

On the weekend, Colin Markinson scored twice and added an assist to earn League Rookie of the Week honors. The goals were the first two goals of the New Jersey native’s collegiate career.

After taking on Maine on Wednesday, Frozen Fenway kicks off at 4 p.m. on Saturday as the Catamounts take on UMass.

Providence was a 5-2 loser in its only game of the elongated week of play, dropping the decision to crosstown rival Brown in the Mayor’s Cup on Sunday at Schneider. The Friars had been off for 25 days until the contest and suffered their first loss to their intracity foes since 2006.

New Hampshire was the other Hockey East team to be ousted by Brown as they fell 5-2 on Friday at Whittemore Center. Sophomore Nick Sorkin and junior Connor Hardowa scored goals for the Wildcats in their final game before Saturday’s Frozen Fenway match with Maine.

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