For the second time in six weeks, College Hockey takes center stage at TD Garden, and this time, there’s more at stake than a pot of beans.

Boston College, Boston University, UMass, and UMaine enter as the last men standing in Hockey East. All four teams are assuredly locked for the NCAA Tournament, but the automatic bid is still up for grabs, as well as their own individual motivations.

BC is coming into the Garden as the consensus #1 team in the nation.

The Eagles haven’t been ranked outside the Top 5 since the very first poll of the season. After a disappointing showing in the Beanpot, they haven’t lost since.

BC cruised to the Hockey East regular season title on the backs of their electric first-year class. Will Smith, Gabe Perrault, and Ryan Leonard finished 2nd, 4th, and 5th in HE scoring and earned Conference All-Star Honors. Sophomore wing Cutter Gauthier leads the nation with 32 goals, and freshman Goaltender Jacob Fowler leads the nation with 27 Wins.

After a brief stint in the wilderness, the Eagles are very back and determined to regain their crown as the Kings of Hockey East.

BU still holds the crown and has revenge on their minds.

The Terriers have jockeyed atop Hockey East and the national polls with their hated rivals all year. After being swept in a weekend series in January, BU got even in the Beanpot but couldn’t secure the hardware. Now, both teams are back where they started: #1 and #2 in the polls, with a shot at a rematch on Saturday.

The Terriers boast the single most dominant freshman in the game in Macklin Celebrini. At just 17 years old, Celebrini finished second in the nation in goal-scoring and third in points. Paired with electric defenseman Lane Hutson, the two combined for 99 points, and both earned First Team All-Star Honors.

BU already got revenge on Northeastern in the Quarterfinals. All that stands in their way from playing to defend their title is another old rival.

Maine is back, and they’re taking no prisoners.

The Black Bears are back in TD Garden for the first time since 2012. After years of wandering the wilderness, Maine burst onto the scene this year by beating #5 Quinnipiac, #1 BC, and hated rival #15 UNH early on. Despite not receiving a single vote to start the season, Maine shot all the way up to #6 by February.

The Black Bears’ meteoric return can largely be attributed to a youth movement of their own: the Nadeau twins. Bradly and Josh combined for 37 goals and 90 points to power Maine’s offense, often assisting one another. They tied atop team scoring with 45 points apiece, and no other Black Bear even had 30.

The twins put on a show against New Hampshire in the quarterfinals, scoring two goals and four points each. They’re ready to put Maine back on the map in College Hockey.

UMass is fighting for more than to regain their crown.

The Minutemen fell down hard last season following back-to-back HE Tournament Titles but have rebounded right back into contention. Veteran defensemen Scott Morrow and Ryan Ufko have been the drivers behind UMass’ resurgence, finishing second and third on the team in scoring and both earning All-Star Honors. After finishing with just one 10-goal scorer in ’22-’23, the Minutemen had four different skaters reach that mark. Ukfo scored ten goals from the blueline, six of which were game winners, including the quarterfinal against Providence.

UMass comes into the Garden with more to play for than any other team. As it currently stands, they are only team in the semifinals who isn’t a guarantee for the NCAA tournament. Winning the Championship auto-bid would secure their position, but just beating BC and making the final could be enough to get them in.

If the Minutemen make the tourney, they’d have home ice in the Springfield regional as hosts. All the more reason to fight for their lives to get in.

UMass and BC will get the party started in TD Garden on Friday afternoon at 4 pm on NESN.


Photo: Hockey East

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