WTBU Hockey East Preseason Projections

By: Dan Shulman

Preseason MVP – Kevin Roy, Northeastern University

Preseason Rookie of the Year – Jeremy Bracco, Boston College

Preseason Goalie of the Year – Cal Petersen, Notre Dame

Conference Tournament Winner Prediction – Boston College def. Notre Dame in the HE Final

Projected Standings:

  1. BOSTON UNIVERSITY
    • Head Coach: David Quinn (2 seasons – 38-29-9)
    • Home Arena: Agganis Arena – Boston, MA
    • Last Year: 28-8-5 (14-5-3) 1st in Hockey East, HE Tournament Champions, National Runner Up
    • Strengths: defense, experience, ability to compete late in games, power play
    • Concerns: loss of Eichel/Rodrigues, goaltending
    • Players to Watch: Matt Grzelcyk, Danny O’Regan
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: at Notre Dame, February 26-27
      • Non-Conference: at Yale, December 11; at Quinnipiac, December 12
    • Outlook: After winning the Hockey East Regular Season and Tournament trophies, the Boston University Terriers fell tragically at the hands of Providence in the National Championship game. With the loss of Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues, two top scorers and emerging leaders, getting back to that plateau will be difficult, but still very possible, especially with the experience the Terriers garnered over last season’s magical run. Captain Matt Grzelcyk returns for his senior season, anchoring a BU defense that sees everyone returning from last season, with the addition of freshman Charlie McAvoy. The Terriers strongest asset is their ability to shut teams down and compete late in games. When leading after two periods last season, BU was 19-1-0, only losing in the National Championship game. The Terrier power play unit was also immense last season, converting an astounding 26.1% of the time. One big question mark coming into the season is goaltending. With the departure of Matt O’Connor, Sean Maguire returns to the crease after missing 2014-15 with concussion issues. Whether Maguire will be able to return to full strength will be a big doubt. Backup and sophomore Connor LaCouvee had a decent first year, but is still not ready to assume full duties. If the Terrier offense can find its touch and Maguire can return strong, BU could match last season’s output and return to glory.
  2. Boston College
    • Head Coach: Jerry York (43 seasons – 984-591-105)
    • Home Arena: Conte Forum – Chestnut Hill, MA
    • Last Year: 21-14-3 (12-7-3) 3rd in Hockey East, NCAA Tournament berth
    • Strengths: leadership, goaltending, recruiting class
    • Concerns: depth
    • Players to Watch: Ryan Fitzgerald, Alex Tuch
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: vs. Providence, January 8-9; vs. BU, January 15-16
      • Non-Conference: at Colorado College, October 23-24
    • Outlook: Failing to make it past the quarterfinals of Hockey East for the second straight season, the Boston College Eagles are set for an impressive 2015-16. With Jerry York, perhaps the best coach in college hockey, behind the bench, the Eagles have a strong leadership core with the knowledge to bring the team to the championship level. In net, Thatcher Demko returns after allowing 2.19 goals per game and recording a 0.925 save percentage a year ago. In terms of recruiting, the Eagles have possibly the best freshman class in the nation. Forwards Jeremy Bracco, Colin White, Chris Brown, Joey Dudek, and Miles Wood all enter their first seasons at BC, all poised to be rookie of the year candidates. Defensively, Casey Fitzgerald and Josh Couturier will fill the voids left by Mike Matheson and Noah Hanifin. One big concern for BC is depth. During the World Junior Tournament, there are always a myriad of BC players selected which, albeit an honor, leave the Eagles severely shorthanded. With injuries during this time, the Eagles will be thinned and have trouble dressing 20 players a night. If the highly touted freshman class can produce, the Eagles, coming off the holiday break and World Junior Tournament, could make an unstoppable run for the National Title as they have done in years prior.
  3.  Providence
    • Head Coach: Nate Leaman (12 seasons – 217-185-54)
    • Home Arena: Schneider Arena – Providence, RI
    • Last Year: 26-13-2 (13-8-1) 2nd in Hockey East, National Champions
    • Strengths: defending champions, offense, experience
    • Concerns: goaltending
    • Players to Watch: Trevor Mingoia, Nick Saracino
    • Important Games:
      • Conference – vs. BU, November 13-14
      • Non Conference – at. Miami (OH), October 9-10
    • Outlook: Returning to the ice as the reigning National Champions for the first time in school history, the Friars look poised to add to their impressive resume. With all but five starters returning, Providence could very well form a dynasty. On offense, Mark Jankowski, Trevor Mingoia, and Nick Saracino return, combining for 37 goals and 59 assists last year. The experience that the Friars gained last season will contribute to improvements in their playing style this year. One big issue is goaltending. With John Gillies leaving for the greener pastures of the NHL, Nick Ellis is the likely choice to start. In his career, Ellis has played in 12 games, posting a 2.31 goals against average and a 0.907 save percentage. Ellis will be the denizen between the pipes for the Friars with some pretty big skates to fill following Gillies’ league leading 2.01 GAA a year ago. With strong goaltending, the Friars have the experience and skill to make another run at the National Championship crown.
  4.  UMass-Lowell
    • Head Coach: Norm Bazin (7 seasons – 137-78-18)
    • Home Arena: Tsongas Center – Lowell, MA
    • Last season: 21-12-6 (11-7-4) 4th in Hockey East, HE Tournament Runner Up
    • Strengths: losing just three starters from last year, offense, goaltending, discipline
    • Concerns: size, young defense
    • Players to Watch: Adam Chapie, CJ Smith
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: vs. BC, February 26-27
      • Non-Conference: at Minnesota-Duluth, October 30-31
    • Outlook: Falling in the Hockey East championship game last season, the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks hope to avenge their NCAA Tournament snubbing with an impressive 2015-16. With all but three starters back on the roster, the Riverhawks will certainly be a tough opponent this season. Offensively, top scorers CJ Smith and Adam Chapie return after combining for 66 points last year. In goal, senior Kevin Boyle will likely start, after his 2.42 goals against and 0.915 save percentage campaign in 2014-15. Discipline-wise, UML is one of the sharpest in the country, only taking 327 penalty minutes in 39 games last season. One reason for such discipline is stature. The Riverhawks are one of the smallest teams in Hockey East, and can be easily out played in a physical battle. Also, without a senior on defense, there is some doubt to who will take the helm and lead an inexperienced defensive unit. With Boyle in net, a strong offensive attack, and a disciplined approach, the Riverhawks could be a serious threat down the stretch if the defense can prove themselves.
  5.  Northeastern
    • Head Coach: Jim Madigan (4 seasons – 57-67-17)
    • Home Arena: Matthews Arena – Boston, MA
    • Last Season: 16-16-4 (11-9-2) 6th in Hockey East
    • Strengths: top scoring all returns, defense, power play
    • Concerns: goaltending, penalty kill
    • Players to Watch: Dalen Hedges, Kevin Roy
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: vs. BC, December 5-6
      • Non-Conference: at Minnesota, October 23-24
    • Outlook: Following a 0-8-1 start to the season last year, the Northeastern Huskies will hope to get off to a much better start in 2015-16. Much of the defensive starting lineup from last year returns, hoping to improve on last year’s 107 goals allowed. On the other side of the puck, the highly touted Anaheim Ducks recruit Kevin Roy returns for his senior year to lead a prolific offense. All of last year’s power play unit returns as well, after averaging a 20.7% success rate. On the flip side, the Huskies’ penalty kill needs improving from last season, working at 73.8%, the worst in Hockey East. Goaltending is also a big doubt this season following the departure of Clay Witt. Derick Roy will guard the cage this year for Northeastern. After going 5-6-2 with a .908 save percentage last season, Roy will carry much of the load in net this year. Things are looking up for the Huskies this season, as the veteran team looks to make one final push towards a Hockey East crown.
  6. Notre Dame
    • Head Coach: Jeff Jackson (16 seasons – 408-196-65)
    • Home Arena: Compton Family Ice Arena – South Bend, IN
    • Last season: 18-19-5 (10-7-5) 5th in Hockey East
    • Strengths: goaltending, home-ice advantage, offense
    • Concerns: long travels, defense
    • Players to Watch: Thomas DiPauli, Mario Lucia
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: at Providence, February 19-20
      • Non-Conference: at Denver, January 1-2
    • Outlook: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, after falling to UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East Playoffs, return energized and ready to contend for a Hockey East title. Goaltender Cal Petersen looks to have won the starting job again, posting a 2.51 goals against average and a 0.919 save percentage last year. Offensively, despite the loss of top point-getters Vince Hinostroza and Robbie Russo, the Fighting Irish present a potent scoring attack, with Thomas DiPauli and Mario Lucia leading the forwards. Another big strength for Notre Dame is their home advantage. The only team in Hockey East which air travel is required to visit, the long travel to Notre Dame can prove troublesome for opponents, and the hostile environment is one of the reasons why the Fighting Irish are so tough to beat. On the other hand, Notre Dame must also endure long road trips every other weekend, which makes stringing wins together difficult. Defensively, there are also doubts. Allowing 116 goals last season, third worst in Hockey East, Notre Dame struggled to keep opposing offenses in check. This season will be much like the last for Notre Dame, who will need to sharpen up defensively in order to compete for the Hockey East title.
  7. New Hampshire
    • Head Coach: Dick Umile (25 seasons – 560-313-97)
    • Home Arena: Whittemore Center – Durham, NH
    • Last Season: 19-19-2 (10-11-1) 8th in Hockey East, HE Tournament Semifinalist
    • Strengths: depth, chemistry, defense
    • Concerns: loss of top scorers, goaltending
    • Players to Watch: Andre Poturalski, Matias Cleland
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: at Providence, January 29-30
      • Non-Conference: at Michigan State, November 6-7
    • Outlook: The New Hampshire Wildcats enter 2015-16 hoping to match the successes from last season, including upsetting eventual National Champions Providence in the Hockey East playoffs before being eliminated by National Runner-Up Boston University in the semifinals. The Wildcats return this season, like always, with a deep roster. All regular defensive starters from last season return, after allowing 2.73 goals per game in 2014-15. The overall team chemistry of UNH is perhaps the biggest strength. Much of the Wildcats team has returned from last season and are used to playing with one another. Some trepidations going into the new season include the loss of three top goal scorers. Casey Thrush, Matt Willows, and Grayson Downing have all graduated. Together, the trio accounted for 46 of UNH’s 119 goals last year along with close to 25% of the assists. This is a huge loss for the Wildcats who now must fill the void left behind by the senior class. Goaltending is also a concern. Sophomores Danny Tirone and Adam Clark split the duty last year due to Tirone’s ineligibility in the fall, which lead to New Hampshire’s 0.909 save percentage and a 2.54 goals against average. The Wildcats’ chemistry and depth have paved the way for a strong defense. But with a gaping hole in the offense along with doubts of who to start at goaltender, UNH must find their scoring touch and a denizen between the pipes in order to contend again this season.
  8.  Vermont
    • Head Coach: Kevin Sneddon (17 seasons – 239-303-78)
    • Home Arena: Gutterson Fieldhouse – Burlington, VT
    • Last Season: 22-15-4 (10-9-3) 7th in Hockey East, HE Tournament Semifinalist
    • Strengths: depth, veteran defense
    • Concerns: goaltending doubts, inexperience
    • Players to Watch: Brady Shaw, Alexx Privitera
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: vs. Providence, January 15-16
      • Non-Conference: vs. North Dakota, October 23-24; vs. Nebraska-Omaha, October 16-17
    • Outlook: After making a run to the Hockey East tournament semifinals last year, the Vermont Catamounts have kept the belief that they can get even further in 2015-16. With the return of veteran forward Brady Shaw and two-way defensemen Alexx Privitera, the Catamounts’ offense, albeit young, is hoping to be sparked by two of last season’s leading point-getters. Defensively, Vermont is looking strong, with seven veterans returning and five solid recruits coming in. Such depth at defense can be important for making late season tournament runs. However, with so many new recruits comes a lack of experience. The Catamounts have 17 new freshmen on the roster for this season, and while there are certainly no worries about having enough players to field a team, there is some doubt with the young roster and the difficulty they will have adapting to the very tough Hockey East. There are also issues with goaltending. Following the departure of Brody Hoffman, Mike Santaguida, who was benched in the middle of last season, looks poised to start for Vermont, despite obvious doubts in his abilities. If the goaltending troubles from last year haunt Vermont again, it could make for a long season, especially with such a young team.
  9.  Merrimack
    • Head Coach: Mark Dennehy (11 seasons – 131-215-46)
    • Home Arena: J. Thom Lawler Arena – North Andover, MA
    • Last Season: 16-18-4 (5-14-3) 11th in Hockey East
    • Strengths: offense, penalty kill, defense
    • Concerns: goaltending, discipline
    • Players to Watch: Hampus Gustafsson, Brett Seney
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: at Maine, February 19-20
      • Non-Conference: at Cornell, January 8-9
    • Outlook: The dark horse of Hockey East, Merrimack returns following a late collapse and playoff ousting last season at the hands of Boston University. Merrimack returns its four top scorers from last season. Offensively, the Warriors will be led by the highly touted Hampus Gustafsson. Gustafsson is joined by Brett Seney and Jace Henig on what may be one of the most potent forward lines in Hockey East. Defensively, all but one starter returns from last season, when the defense averaged 2.45 goals against per game. The penalty kill is maybe the Warriors strongest facet of play, killing 88.2% of power plays in 2014-15. However, discipline remains an issue for Merrimack, who registered a league-leading 558 penalty minutes last year. Another concern for the Warriors is goaltending. With the departure of Rasmus Tirronen, Collin Delia steps in between the pipes for the Warriors. In nine games last year, he posted a 1.86 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. With Delia carrying the full weight of playing time, there is doubt whether he will continue with these impressive numbers. If Delia can do so, Merrimack, with its strong offense, could be a serious contender, but there are still some doubts.
  10.  Maine
    • Head Coach: Red Gendron (2 seasons – 30-37-7)
    • Home Arena: Alfond Arena – Orono, ME
    • Last Season: 14-22-3 (8-12-2) 10th in Hockey East
    • Strengths: goaltending, speed
    • Concerns: lack of depth, inexperience, power play
    • Players to Watch: Steven Swavely, Blaine Byron
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: vs. Providence, February 5-6; at Notre Dame, February 12-13
      • Non-Conference: at Union, October 16-17
    • Outlook: The Maine Black Bears, coming off a disappointing 2014-15 that ended with a playoff defeat to Vermont, are poised to improve from last season. A young and inexperienced team, the definite strength of this team though is their speed. One of the fastest teams in Hockey East, opponents struggle to keep up with Maine skaters. A huge weakness of Maine is their power play unit, converting 13.7% of the time. There is also a lack of depth on offense, with only 10 veteran forwards and five incoming freshmen. Only three offensive reserves can spell trouble, especially if injuries start to compile. Maine will not only need to stay healthy, but must hope for solid performances by their goaltenders in order to win games. Alternating last year between Matt Morris and Sean Romeo, the two will be tasked with keeping the Black Bears in games. Together, the tandem average 3.00 goals against in their career, and although they are two solid choices for netminders, they will have to improve those numbers if Maine wants a shot at being a force in the Hockey East.
  11.  Connecticut
    • Head Coach: Mike Cavanaugh (2 seasons – 28-33-11)
    • Home Arena: XL Center – Storrs, CT
    • Last Season: 10-19-7 (7-11-4) 9th in Hockey East
    • Strengths: chemistry, goaltending
    • Concerns: ability to score, power play, defense
    • Players to Watch: Kasperi Ojantakanen, Spencer Naas
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: vs. BU, October 24/27
      • Non-Conference: at Alabama-Huntsville, October 9-10
    • Outlook: UConn’s inaugural season in Hockey East ended with a loss to UNH in the conference playoffs. This season, with minimal players lost, the Huskies return with good team chemistry in hopes to establish themselves as a permanent contender in Hockey East. Junior netminder Rob Nichols returns to the goal, following his 1000 save season in 2014-15. Defensively, the Huskies were -45 in scoring, allowing an average of 3.08 goals per game. Scoring was a problem as well, only registering 66 goals last year, the worst in Hockey East. Another thing that needs improvement is the power play, which last year had a 10.5% success rates, one of the worst in the nation. The season ahead for UConn will be difficult if the offense can’t find its spark.
  12.  UMass-Amherst
    • Head Coach: John Micheletto (3 seasons – 31-64-9)
    • Home Arena: Mullins Center – Amherst, MA
    • Last Season: 11-23-2 (5-16-1) 12th in Hockey East
    • Strengths: return of top scorers, goaltending
    • Concerns: defense, discipline, penalty kill
    • Players to Watch: Dennis Kravchenko, Steven Iacobellis
    • Important Games:
      • Conference: at Notre Dame, December 4-5
      • Non-Conference: vs. Quinnipiac, November 27-28
    • Outlook: Following a dismal 2014-15 campaign, the Minutemen seem to ultimately be heading toward a similar fate this season. Last year ended with a record-setting playoff series loss at Notre Dame, in which UMass won game one in five overtime before being trounced in the next two games. Last season’s top scorer Dennis Kravchenko returns along with Steven Iacobellis, hoping to ignite the offense. Sophomore goaltender Henry Dill, who got the lion’s share of the time last year, also returns this season. Defensively, the Minutemen return most of their starters from last year, but there is cause for concern after allowing 4.22 goals per game in 2014-15. UMass also took 489 PIM last year, and didn’t help themselves with a 76% penalty kill. It will be a tough year for the Minutemen if they don’t improve defensively.

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