A couple weeks ago I shared my ballot for the media preseason Hockey East poll where I picked Boston College to win it all and our beloved Minutemen to, unfortunately, finish last yet again. But with the season nearly upon us it’s time to take a closer look at each team, see what each squad has going for it, and what challenges they may need to overcome between now and March (and for some, April). This is Hockey East!
#1 Boston College Eagles
Last Year’s Storyline: Youthful Eagle team goes one-and-done in the NCAA tournament
This Year’s Storyline: BC bounces back to top of Hockey East
Player To Watch: G, Thatcher Demko
Player Missed Most: D, Noah Hanafin
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Jeremy Bracco
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Jack’s Abby Framinghammer
Boston College had a disappointing season by their standards last year, meaning they finished tied for second in the league and made the tournament but didn’t advance. Losing Noah Hanfin to the pros hurts, but the Eagles will reload with what’s probably the top recruiting class in Hockey East. Jeremy Bracco and Miles Wood are among the freshmen who will need to produce for an Eagle squad that was just 7th in league scoring last year. Demko could carry the team a long way with a big year in net.
They’ll Finish Lower Because: Their youngsters are slow to acclimate to the college game or Demko doesn’t live up to his true potential.
#2 Lowell River Hawks
Last Year’s Storyline: “Rebuilding” River Hawk team surprises by reaching Hockey East final, narrowly misses NCAA tournament
This Year’s Storyline: Lowell returns nearly everyone, makes run at Hockey East championship
Player To Watch: D, Dylan Zink
Player Missed Most: D, Zack Kamrass
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Connor Wilson
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Beer Works Godzilla (which they’re rumored not to make anymore)
Lowell wasn’t really expected to do much last year as they were in rebuild mode after losing a bunch of talented skaters and all-world goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. But coach Norm Bazin was able to quickly adapt his freshmen to his system and the team exceeded expectations, finishing 4th and making the Hockey East Championship. They lose only a handful of players from last year’s squad and next to nothing in terms of production. If former Minuteman goaltender Kevin Boyle can play solid in net and let the defensive system in front of him do its thing, Lowell could challenge for the league title.
They’ll Finish Higher Because: Sophomore C.J. Smith evolves into one of the elite scorers in the league while their defense stifles all opponents
They’ll Finish Lower Because: They’re unable to cope with the loss of Jake Suter and Zack Kamrass, exposing a potential weakness at goaltender
#3 Boston University Terriers
Last Year’s Storyline: Phenom Jack Eichel leads Terriers to National Championship game before goaltending flub allows Providence to capture crown
This Year’s Storyline: Yes, there is life after Eichel (A.E), and it’s not that bad
Player To Watch: D, Matt Grzelcyk
Player Missed Most: F, Jack Eichel
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Night Shift Bean Porter
The Terriers were just a Matt O’Connor pop-up away from winning the national championship last year, riding the amazingness of Jack Eichel to the gates of immortality. The loss of Eichel is unfortunate, but not unexpected. Coach David Quinn is quickly reloading to replace the production of Eichel and other key losses such as Evan Rodrigues. It’s unlikely the Terriers will be the offensive juggernaut like last year, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Especially with Matt Grzelcyk, arguably the best defensman in the league, on the roster. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in net for BU. That gaffe in the championship game aside, O’Connor provided consistent quality goaltending all season. Can Sean Maguire step back into the starting role after being away from the program last season?
They’ll Finish Higher Because: A committee of Danny O’Regan, a talented sophomore class, and the freshmen make up the lost scoring.
They’ll Finish Lower Because: We realize some of the gaudy numbers put up last year was entirely because Eichel made those around him that much better
#4 Northeastern Huskies
Last Year’s Storyline: The Huskies bounced back from a disastrous 0-1-9 start to finish a respectable .500 on the season
This Year’s Storyline: Kevin Roy puts the Huskies on his back and leads them back to the NCAA tournament (but they still lose the Beanpot)
Player To Watch: F, Kevin Roy
Player Missed Most: F, Mike Szmatula
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Sam Kurker
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Trillium Vicinity
I think I’m a little more optimistic on the Huskies than most. But I was very impressed by how last year’s team finished after going winless through the first two months of the season. They lose very little from last year’s team, only a handful of seniors and Mike Szmatula who is transferring out west. Returning they have Kevin Roy who is my early pick for Hockey East Player of the Year. Helping Roy will be a trio of talented juniors in Zach Aston-Reese, Matt Benning, and Dalen Hedges. One of the big question marks will be in net with Clay Witt’s graduation. Can Derek Roy, who put up similar numbers to Witt last year, take over full time or will it fall to freshman Ryan Ruck?
They’ll Finish Higher Because: Roy goes crazy and BU transfer Sam Kurker makes an immediate impact after putting up big numbers in the USHL.
They’ll Finish Lower Because: They never find the goaltending they need.
#5 Providence Friars
Last Year’s Storyline: National Champions!
This Year’s Storyline: The champs take a bit of a step back, but are still dangerous
Player To Watch: F, Nick Saracino
Player Missed Most: G, Jon Gilles
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Erik Foley
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Bog Iron Middle Child
What an amazing season for the Friars last year. With a goaltender like Jon Gilles it was obvious that anything was possible, and they went on a hell of a run after just barely making it into the tournament to win their first national championship. But, they lose a lot of weapons from that winning team. Besides Gilles they also need to replace guys like Ross Mauermann, Noel Accari, and Shane Luke. The team returns most of a talented defensive group. Incoming goaltender Hayden Hawkey was lined up to be Gilles’ replacement, but coming off a serious injury last year it’s unknown if he’ll be the solution in net from the get-go.
They’ll Finish Higher Because: Their stingy defense combined with Hawkey or Nick Ellis excelling in net end up stifling opponents
They’ll Finish Lower Because: The forwards are slow to match the 3.00 goals per game production of last year.
#6 Vermont Catamounts
Last Year’s Storyline: UVM excels out of conference but finish middle of the pack in conference.
This Year’s Storyline: Vermont battles but is unable to take a leap up the standings.
Player To Watch: F, Brady Shaw
Player Missed Most: D, Mike Paliotta
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Liam Coughlin
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Hill Farmstead Aaron
The Catamounts continue a slow but steady climb up the Hockey East standings after hitting a rocky stretch a few years ago. This year’s team brings back a lot of key players from last year and could potentially take another step forward, but it’s tough to tell. They lose goaltender Brody Hoffman to the pros, but returning goaltender Mike Santaguida put up numbers just as good in roughly the same amount of games. The Cats bring back 19 goal scorer Brady Shaw and solid two-way defenseman Alexx Privitera. The team seems to have talent in a lot of key areas, but do they have the depth?
They’ll Finish Higher Because: Everything clicks with their talented players at forward, defense, and in net leading the way up the standings.
They’ll Finish Lower Because: Beyond Shaw, they’re unable to consistently find the back of the net.
#7 Connecticut Huskies
Last Year’s Storyline: Newcomer UConn surprises many by upsetting some of the traditional Hockey East powers on the way to a 9th place finish
This Year’s Storyline: Coach Mike Cavanaugh dismisses any idea of a transition period for the up and coming Husky hockey program
Player To Watch: G, Rob Nichols
Player Missed Most: F, Trevor Gerling
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Maxim Letunov
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Willimantic Address Unknown IPA
Last season was a pretty special one for UConn hockey. Expected to finish last in their debut season in Hockey East the Huskies pulled off a number of upsets, drew large crowds to their off-campus home in Hartford, and finished 9th. It doesn’t look like theyll take a step back as they return a number of key contributors and layer on one of the better recruiting classes in the league. The jewel of that class is Maxim Letunov who headed to Storrs after running into admission problems at BU. For a time period Rob Nichols was among the top goaltenders in Hockey East, though he faded down the stretch. And Spencer Naas is one of the better offensive players in the league. The Huskies aren’t going anywhere.
They’ll Finish Higher Because: The talented freshmen show why Cavanaugh has such a great reputation as a recruiter
They’ll Finish Lower Because: Even with Letunov and Naas the team is unable to score enough goals to gain points
#8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Year’s Storyline: The Irish are still unable to rise to the level of national prominence they were used to in their previous league
This Year’s Storyline: Despite some talented players on the squad, Notre Dame still can’t break into the upper-tier of Hockey East
Player To Watch: F, Mario Lucia
Player Missed Most: D, Robbie Russo
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Andrew Oglevie
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Three Floyds Zombie Dust
The Irish had a ton of NHL draft picks on their squad last season and some of the best players in the league in Mario Lucia, Robbie Russo, and Vince Hinostroza. Cal Peterson is perhaps the best young goaltender in Hockey East. Yet, as they did the season before, they tended to underachieve. Lucia, Hinostroza, and Peterson return for Notre Dame but a weak recruiting class makes it tough to see things getting better in South Bend. Russo was a player who made everyone better. I think they’ll miss him a lot.
They’ll Finish Higher Because: Lucia dominates and makes the players around him better.
They’ll Finish Lower Because: I’d be surprised if they finished much lower, but so far this program has not found its place in Hockey East
#9 New Hampshire Wildcats
Last Year’s Storyline: The Wildcats finished the year at .500 despite a glaring question mark in net to start the season
This Year’s Storyline: New Hampshire takes a step back after the graduation of Grayson Downing and Matt Willows this offseason
Player To Watch: F, Tyler Kelleher
Player Missed Most: F, Grayson Downing
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Ara Nazarian
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Stoneface IPA
Tyler Kelleher is one of the top forwards in Hockey East, but beyond him it’s tough to figure out who’s going to do any scoring for the Wildcats. Andrew Poturaski’s 14 goals as a freshman were notable, but other players will have to step up significantly to make up for what UNH lost to graduation. The loss of Brett Pesce on defense to the pros will make it tougher for goaltender Daniel Tirone to repeat the magic he found as a mid-season addition.
They’ll Finish Higher Because: Tirone and his .700 win percentage steal games all year
They’ll Finish Lower Because: Kellher remains the only viable scoring threat.
#10 Merrimack Warriors
Last Year’s Storyline: Rasmus Tirronen’s stellar play in net not enough to keep Merrimack from near the bottom of the standings
This Year’s Storyline: Seney and Hennig have break out years to help Merrimack’s modest climb in the standings
Player To Watch: F, Brett Seney
Player Missed Most: G, Rasmus Tirronen
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: D, Ethan Spaxman
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: The Tap Snowbound
Despite an impressive 26 point output by freshman Brett Seney the Warriors struggled to score last season, wasting a strong effort in net by Rasmus Tirronen. Tirronen is gone to the pros, but the good news is the offense should get better. The Warriors lose little and Seney, Jace Hennig, and Hampus Gustafson should be able to build off their offensive numbers a year ago. The Warriors return a lot on defense, which is good since they’ll be breaking in a new goaltender.
They’ll Finish Higher Because: Collin Delia, who had good numbers in 9 games last year, steps right in and performs well in the crease
They’ll Finish Lower Because: The young forwards aren’t able to build off last year’s numbers
#11 Maine Black Bears
Last Year’s Storyline: Ben Hutton and Devin Shore fail to live up to expectations, sinking Maine’s season
This Year’s Storyline: A number of Black Bears have breakout seasons, but Maine is unable to find stability in net
Player To Watch: F, Nolan Vesey
Player Missed Most: F, Devin Shore
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: F, Dane Gibson
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Liberal Cup Sow Your Oats Stout
It seemed like Maine was in a pretty good place after finishing 6th in Coach Red Gendron’s first season in Orono and returning two conference stars in Devin Shore and Ben Hutton. But both of them struggled last year and the team faltered, tying UConn for 9th place. Not helping things was a goaltending rotation of Sean Romeo and Matt Morris that struggled all year long. Those two are back, but gone are Shore and Hutton with no blue chip recruits to take their place.
They’ll Finish Higher Because: Vesey becomes a superstar?
They’ll Finish Lower Because: The goaltending remains poor
#12 Massachusetts Minutemen
Last Year’s Storyline: UMass finishes in last place for the first time since 2002
This Year’s Storyline: A young squad shows promise, but there are just too many question marks to overcome
Player To Watch: F, Dennis Kravchenko
Player Missed Most: F, Frank Vatrano
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: D, William Lagesson
Random Beer Brewed Nearby That I Want To Pimp: Abandoned Building Odin Quad
Check back next week for my detailed thoughts on UMass’ season!
They’ll Finish Higher Because: The talented freshmen, especially those on defense, click from the early season onward
The preseason USCHO poll came out earlier this week. An amazing 10 schools received first-place votes, but Boston College grabbed that spot. Other ranked Hockey East schools include #3 Boston University, defending champs Providence at #7, and #14 Lowell. Notre Dame, Northeastern, Vermont, and New Hampshire all received votes as well.
The updated UMass roster now lists sophomore Maddison Smiley as a forward. Smiley played defense in juniors for the Brooks Bandits but saw time at both defense and forward last year as a freshman. With the four top notch defensemen coming in this season there’s obviously a logjam there. Though he was hampered by injury last year, Smiley has talent, especially offensively, so hopefully this transition will pay off.
The team’s exhibition with Dalhousie is JUST THREE DAYS AWAY! That means it’s time to look at the final player in our countdown. #3 Keith Burchett had 7 points in 32 games as a freshman last season. His best game came early on when he scored two goals in a 5-3 loss at Michigan State in the second week of the season. Before UMass Burchett was one of the top offensive players for Sioux Falls in the USHL.
Burchett has a tendency to play bigger than his 5’11” frame and isn’t afraid to get into the corners to chase the puck. The team will be pretty small at forward this season so it’ll be key for someone like Burchett to bring a physical presence up front.
photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics