Union (21-12-5, 10-8-4 ECAC Hockey) takes on Boston College (22-11-4, 15-9-3 Hockey East) Saturday at 9 pm in the opening round of the East Regional at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI.
For the scoop on the Eagles, I checked in with Mike McMahon and Joe Meloni, Hockey East insiders for College Hockey News.
UNION HOCKEY NEWS (UHN): Which BC players should Union fans keep an eye on?
MIKE MCMAHON (MM): Johnny Gaudreau is obviously one of the best forwards in the entire nation. Steven Whitney, also a forward, is a guy who I think is really underrated in that he performs in all three zones better than anyone that I've seen in Hockey East. Then they have a great supporting cast. Forwards Pat Mullane and Bill Arnold are top-line players on most other teams and they're missing another forward in Kevin Hayes (right quad) who would have made them even better.
Parker Milner flies under the radar a bit, in the sense that I don't feel like many people recognize him as one of the better goaltenders in the nation, and I think he is. The guy won a national title and was MVP of the entire tournament.
UHN: What are BC's strengths this year?
They're also the most confident team I've ever seen. Even with their loss in the Hockey East tournament, nothing has changed for them. They know what they're capable of, and they play to their strengths.
UHN: What are BC's weaknesses this year?
JM: BC's weaknesses are its depth at both forward and defense. Last year, they had three scoring lines that could put up points against anyone. That has dwindled this year with a handful of forwards doing most of their scoring... BC has shifted its lines a bit in the last few weeks to spread out some of the explosiveness.
On the defensive end, it's been a very tough year for BC. There are four freshman defensemen that see regular time. Mike Matheson is the exception to this, since he's a truly dominant player even as a freshman. He'll likely double shift throughout the tournament, expect him to play more than 30 minutes on Saturday night. He's a special player at both ends of the ice.
Aside from Matheson, though, BC has some issues. They'll most likely play five defensemen on Saturday, with either Travis Jeke or Colin Sullivan (both freshmen) dressing and seeing little time. As a whole, the defensive corps has shown some problems against teams that forecheck heavily and pressure the initial puck carrier on the breakout.
A lot of this can be neutralized with good support from their quick forwards, but that takes away some of their numbers in the neutral zone. All in all, the defensive unit is a fine group, but it's difficult to see them winning a national title if they aren't perfect these next few weeks.
UHN: How has BC played lately?
MM: They've played OK, for them. Given how they've typically performed in February and March, I think many BC people are disappointed with what they've seen thus far. They weren't Hockey East champs for the first time since 2009. They've allowed over three goals per game in their last 10 games, which isn't a good recipe. One thing that really sticks out to me, though, is that they've scored nearly 40% of their goals the last 10 games on the power play. For Union, that number is only about 17%. That tells me that the Dutchmen are playing much better 5-on-5.
UHN: How do you see the game going?
MM: Like most games this time of year, I think it's close. But honestly, I have Union not only beating Boston College, but winning that region. I think the Dutchmen have been one of the hotter teams the last three weeks and I really like the way they've defended. I see a 3-2 Union win. Maybe 4-2 if they can tack on an empty netter.
JM: I think Union wins this one. Rick Bennett's team prides itself on defensive excellence and commits to it. They create offense through this defensive discipline. That's exactly the type of style that can get to BC, especially if Union's forecheckers create some turnovers below the face-off circles. Union wins, 4-2.
Follow McMahon on Twitter at @MikeMcMahonCHN
Check out McMahon's "Mack Report" website here
Follow Meloni on Twitter at @JoeMeloni