In the past I know I’ve made some pretty detailed Hockey East previews, dedicating an entire post to each team, etc.. Honestly, I didn’t pay as close attention to the rest of ,the league last year as I usually do, so I don’t feel comfortable trying to replicate past efforts. However I will come up with a ranking based on statistical analysis, gut feeling, and whatever my glass of Rock Art Vermonster barleywine tells me (surprisingly, its telling me to put the Catamounts lower than you’d expect despite its namesake). I will have a detailed Massachusetts season preview next week, where I’ll get into quite a bit of detail on the team. Since the Minutemen have SO many newcomers I’d like to see how they look in the exhibition Saturday before trying to talk about their potential contributions this season. I will make a pick of where UMass will finish the season for this exercise, but I reserve the right to change my mind if I’m blown away on Saturday.
With all that said, here are my picks:
1. Providence Friars
2. Boston College Eagles
3. Northeastern Huskies
4. Boston University Terriers
5. Maine Black Bears
6. Lowell River Hawks
7. Vermont Catamounts
8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
9. New Hampshire Wildcats
10. Merrimack Warriors (yes, I know the color burns the eyes, but so do their jerseys)
11. Massachusetts Minutemen
12. Connecticut Huskies
Last year Providence returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001 thanks to solid defense and the goaltender of Jon Gilles. Gilles’ game seemed a little disrupted by the World Juniors in the middle of the season. I think he’ll be more consistent throughout this year while their scoring should improve from middle of the pack as they return the majority of their goal scorers, including senior Ross Mauermann.
Boston College doesn’t rebuild. They just reload. I desperately want to pick the reigning Hockey East regular season champs lower since they lost over half of their scoring from last year and top recruit Sonny Milano shunned Chestnut Hill for the bright lights of Columbus, Ohio. But I can’t. Jerry York wins. They’ve won 20 or more games in 11 out of the last 12 seasons. I can’t imagine this year will be that much different.
Third place was a struggle to pick. Boston University returns nearly their entire team from last year and have arguably the best recruiting class in the country, highlighted by Jack Eichel. But I think they may a bit too young this year. Maybe there has been too much roster turnover to be considered an elite team in the conference just yet. Maybe they’re not seasoned enough. So I have them at fourth. At third I have the Northeastern Huskies who surprised many last year by finishing tied for fourth in the league. They return most of the key pieces from that squad, including Kevin Roy, one of the most exciting players in the league. But for them it’ll come down to how consistent Clay Witt is in net.
Old friend Red Gendron is having an immediate impact on the Black Bears, a squad that returns nearly all their scorers from last year. The big question will be what happens in net with Martin Ouellette gone. Veterans like Devin Shore and Ben Hutton up ice will help whoever takes over in the crease.
Lowell has a lot of slots to fill from the last two years that saw them make deep runs into the NCAA tournament. They weren’t flashy but guys like Joseph Pendenza and Christian Folin are tough to replace. They also have a big question mark in net with Connor Hellebuyck leaving school. Former Minuteman Kevin Boyle is one of those competing for the starting job. Maybe Lowell falls lower my predicted 6th, but if so it’ll probably be only a temporary setback.
Vermont was the other big surprise last year, winning 20 games and making the NCAA tournament, mostly through the strength of their non-conference play. They return Mario Puskarich who led all league freshmen with 19 goals last year and veteran goaltender Brody Hoffman who had the league’s third best goals against. But they did lose some other key scorers and could finish anywhere from 4th to 9th.
Notre Dame struggled in their first year in Hockey East and I expect that will continue in their second year as well. Notre Dame loses most of their key scorers, including the dominant T.J. Tynan. Things aren’t much better in net after graduating two seniors. I don’t see the Irish as an NCAA team this season, even if the coaches did pick them third.
New Hampshire graduated the most point scoring out of any of the Hockey East schools over the summer. Combine that with goaltender Casey DeSmith’s legal issues, which continue to keep him suspended, and you’ve got the makings for a very tough season up in Durham. The last two recruiting classes at UNH haven’t packed the same scoring punch we’re used to from the Wildcats. It’ll be interesting to see if that rights itself this year.
The good news for Merrimack is they return about 2/3rds of their points from last year. The bad news is last year’s squad was completely anemic on offense, scoring just 1.88 goals per game. Something will have to change dramatically for Merrimack to do much better than 10th in the league.
Just because I picked UConn last doesn’t mean they can’t do some damage or potentially finish above Merrimack or UMass. Mike Cavanaugh is bringing some really good players to…um, Storrs? Hartford? Bridgeport?…..where is their home arena again?? With their wins over the Minutemen and Friars and a tie against national champion Union last season they showed that they’re gearing up for their inaugural season in the league and likely will not be an easy two points.
Player of the Year: Kevin Roy – Northeastern
Newcomer of the Year: Jack Eichel – Boston University
Coach of the Year: Nate Leaman – Providence
Goaltender of the Year: Jon Gilles – Providence
Defenseman of the Year: Michael Matheson – Boston College
Everyone thank the Big Ten for bringing the annoying power conference autonomy issues to college hockey. Yay.