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Hockey East Preview

Let’s get to it, shall we? Here are my picks for this year’s Hockey East season.

1. Boston College

Let’s face it, it’s their conference championship to lose. The only player of consequence they lost was Carl Sneep, a very good defenseman. However when you consider how well the rest of the defense played, when most of them were only freshmen, overcoming the loss of Sneep should not be a problem. Oh, they also return the leading goal-scorer in the NCAA in Cam Atkinson and their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers in Joe Whitney and Brian Gibbons. In net they return John Muse who has guided them to two national championships and if something happens to him Parker Milner showed at the end of last season that he’s a very capable goaltender himself. Frankly, if BC does not win Hockey East it’ll be because they choked, not because there was a better team.

National aspirations: Frankly, if BC does not win the national championship it’ll be because they choked, not because there was a better team. Although NoDak and Michigan don’t look to shabby either.

Player to watch: Can Atkinson make a run at the Hobey?

Newcomer to watch: Kevin Hayes out of Noble & Greenough went 24th overall in this year’s draft will be joining his brother Jimmy on the Eagles this year.

2. New Hampshire

UNH returns the most players in the league from last year’s team. Though their losses are big ones, namely Bobby Butler and Brian Foster, I think their experienced returnees will lead them to slide into second place behind the Eagles. They return 14 of their top 16 scorers and lose only one defenseman. Look for Paul Thompson and Phil DeSimone as the goto goalscorers with captain Mike Sislo doing a little bit of everything up front.

National aspirations: UNH will make the NCAA tournament for the 10th straight year and fail to win it all for the 10th straight year.

Player to watch: Blake Kessel may be the most exciting blueliner to watch in the league.

Newcomer to watch: Eric Knodel should be able to step in and give the Wildcats solid minutes on D from day one.

3. Maine

The Black Bears return much from a team that made it to last year’s conference championship game. Most importantly they return 17 of their top 19 scorers including star Gustav Nyquist who put up over 60 pts last year. They also return all their defenseman. Normally that would be a great thing. And offensively it is as they’re one of the better point producing units in the league. Unfortunately the team was last in the league in goals against. Combine that with the fact their top 2 goaltenders are gone, one to graduation and one to discipline issues, and that does not bode well for the Black Bears. If returning Shawn Sirhan or newcomer Martin Oullette can do wonders between the pipes, Maine will go far. Otherwise I see a lot of 5-4 or 6-5 wins in their future.

National aspirations: Despite the defensive issues Maine should return to the tournament this year. If not the calls for Tim Whitehead’s head will go nuclear.

Player to watch: Nyquist is probably the best chance Hockey East has for the Hobey.

Newcomer to watch: If Sirman stumbles early the Black Bears may have to rely on Oullette to take them back to the promised land.

4. Merrimack

Am I mad? Have I gone crazy? Perhaps. But I’m a big believer in this year’s Merrimack squad and what Mark Dennehy is doing in North Andover. Listen, Merrimack students aren’t stupid (and I’m not just saying that because my father and sister went there). The players must realize there’s a sense of destiny around the Warriors this year. They return 20 players from the best Merrimack team in forever, including star forward Stephane Da Costa. Joe Cannata has the chance to break out and be the dominant goaltender he’s shown flashes of the past two years. And for once the team can feel like the school is behind them, with growing Merrimack crowds filling the newly renovated Lawler Arena this year. Put all that together and a couple bounces and Merrimack hosts a playoff game. No seriously.

National aspirations: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Finally make a showing in Hockey East and then Merrimack can worry about establishing themselves nationally.

Player to watch: Everyone knows about Da Costa but keep an eye on senior Chris Barton who lit the lamp 19 times last year.

Newcomer to watch: Dennehy has gotten some decent players from Western Canada in recent years, defenseman Brendan Ellis is the latest.

5. Boston University

For a team that lost 5 of its top 6 goalscorers from a year ago the last thing coach Jack Parker (recovering from heart surgery no less) needed was to have to suspend two of his top offensive players. But that’s exactly what happened this week when Corey Trivino and Alex Chaisson were told they have to sit for the team’s exhibition game and the Icebreaker tournament to open the season. I think it will be just the first of many bumps in the road for the Terriers this season. However if their talented freshman class can get comfortable quickly, the Terriers could be a school teams will not want to play come February.

National aspirations: If BU can go out and win the Icebreaker against the likes of Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and/or Holy Cross, without two of their top players, I’m throwing this preview out the window.

Player to watch: David Warsofsky is as good a two way defenseman as you’ll find in all of college hockey. While that’s not necessarily good for us UMass fans, it’s great for us Bruins fans.

Newcomer to watch: Weymouth’s Charlie Coyle, taken 28th by the Ducks in the NHL draft, is my preseason pick for rookie of the year.

6. Northeastern

Greg Cronin’s rebuilding of the Northeastern program took a small step back last year, but they should have the Dog Pound smiling again this coming season. The Huskies bring back 6 of their top 8 scorers including the talented Wade Macleod and Tyler McNeely. They do lose a bit more on defense but starting goaltender Chris Rawlings and backup Bryan Mountain looked very solid as freshmen last year and should be able to pick up some of the slack on defense.

National aspirations: Please, PLEASE win a Beanpot. I root for you guys every single year!

Player to watch: Rawlings has the potential, and size, to develop into a goaltending star in college.

Newcomer to watch: Anthony Bitetto will be asked to provide solid minutes on the blueline given their turnover at D.

7. Vermont

UVM lost 5 of their top 6 scorers and just this week had to dismiss 7 goal-scorer David Pacan from the team. Overall this is a solid team, but they’re going to have problems finding the back of the net. Sophomores Sebastian Stalberg and Wahsontiio Stacey will have to step it up if UVM wants to try to contend for home ice. The defense should be solid with Kyle Medvec and Keran Miller returning for the Cats.

National aspirations: Vermont will get an early test with Denver taking a visit to The Gutt in opening weekend.

Player to watch: Goaltender Rob Madore is always a guy who seems to play much better than his stats suggest.

Newcomer to watch: Look for Connor Brickley to spend time on Vermont’s top two lines.

8. UMass

Check back tomorrow for my team preview

9. Lowell

The River Hawks try to start anew after what is probably the most disappointing season in their history. Unfortunately for them the losses kept coming even after the season as they lost top recruit Julian Melchiori to the major juniors during the summer. Still, they add a large, talented group of freshmen to a core group of veterans led by Scott Campbell and Maury Edwards. The biggest issue for the Hawks is in net where the only returning goaltender goes by the name Empty Net. Well, not totally true as the team is bringing back T.J. Massie from juniors for a second tour of duty, but don’t expect too much out of him after a mediocre year with the Junior Bruins (including at least one game witnessed by yours truly where he got lit up). Likely Doug Carr will be the choice in net after putting up good numbers in the CJHL. If Lowell can get decent goaltending and Edwards rebounds from a bad season then the River Hawks will likely work their way into one of the final playoff spots, likely at the expense of the Minutemen.

National aspirations: A non-conference schedule featuring Princeton, RIT, Niagara, and Bentley? Seriously?

Player to watch: Campbell is the goto guy on the team but keep an eye on Riley Wetmore who looked very good during his freshman year.

Newcomer(s) to watch: Carr in net and Derek Arnold up front lead a pretty good recruiting class.

10. Providence

It seems like every offseason Tim Army loses fans, players, and now he’s even losing assistant coaches as Stan Moore suddenly retired on the eve of the season. On paper the Friars don’t look half bad, returning most of their top scorers to go with star goaltender Alex Beaudry. But unfortunately Army’s players have a history of underachieving under his leadership and many expect more of the same.

National aspirations: Just try not to lose to Brown in the Mayor’s Cup.

Player to watch: Beaudry’s going to have to be magical if Providence wants to make the playoffs.

Newcomer to watch: Winger Damian Cross put up huge numbers in the Canadian juniors.

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NESN has their Hockey East preview up.

As does Minuteman Nation.

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I got a chance to speak with Dick Baker at yesterday’s media day and he mentioned his increase in writing about UMass hockey is a result of the Republican strategically stepping up their coverage of the team. This is great news for UMass hockey fans since it can sometimes be tough to find regular coverage of the team.

Dick has a few stories out of media day. The first surrounds the team’s captains which includes the scary news that T.J. Syner separated this shoulder during the summer (but is better now). Next is a short blurb about freshmen defensemen Adam Phillips and Joel Hanley. And the last is the great story of the Pereira brothers, UMass freshman Mike and BU captain Joe, with the anecdote that their family has created UMass/BU frankenjerseys for when the teams play.

Matt Vautour has his take from media day.

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North Dakota is the favorite in the WCHA this year while Miami and Michigan are picked to battle for the top spot in the CCHA. UMass oponnents Minnesota and Wisconsin are both picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the WCHA.

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Lastly, I overhauled the blog’s About section. The business person in me felt it important to put the blog’s mission statement somewhere in writing. Also, although probably a majority of readers have met me in person somewhere along the way, I found it important to step out from behind the Rocks22 moniker this season. As the blog is read more and I write more original content, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, I thought I should be held accountable to my words just as we as fans hold the players and coaches accountable for what they do on the ice.

Anyway, we’re just two days away from the maroon and white taking the ice again. Hope you’re excited as I am for the next edition of UMass hockey.

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4 Comments

  1. HazMatKat

     /  September 30, 2010

    Rocks – Great job as always, now i am even more anxious for next weekend’s game at the practice rink!! Have to agree with alot of the key points/players you mention as well as adding a thought or two.
    After seeing how many players were lost to graduation/NHL across the league I think a VERY BIG on ice factor in Hockey East is going to be the goal-tending. Several of the teams do have the depth in goal and that may very well prove to be key as we hit Feb. The key factors off-ice may be leadership and conditioning with the leadership being the bigger one. While UMass always received alot of credit for their speed, many of the teams appeared to stay with us stride-for-stride late in the game during close match-ups. The leadership factor ties right in to what you mention about Prov Coach Tim Army, if the coach can’t reign in a squad the capt is going to have to be able to otherwise it quickly becomes the crapshoot that we saw at UMass after springbreak where we went “0-for-Feb” as Toot put it.

    see you at the rink!

    Like

    • Thanks Kat.

      I agree with you about goaltending. It likely could be the difference between whether Maine or UNH finishes ahead of the other and provides a lifeline for teams like UVM and hopefully UMass to stay in the playoff picture.

      Like

  2. Great job Rocks. Just one thing … Doug Carr was in the CJHL last season.

    Like

    • Thanks Monty. Too many leagues splitting and merging to keep track of effectively up there.

      Like

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