Men’s Hockey: Hockey East Team-by-Team Previews

By: Dan Shulman and Jake Reiser

BOSTON COLLEGE

  • Coach – Jerry York (Career: 1012-599-110, 45th season, 23rd at Boston College)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 28-8-5, T-1 in Hockey East; Lost in Frozen Four Semifinals to Quinnipiac
  • Strengths: Speed, top line, coaching
  • Concerns: Lack of experience, goaltending, discipline
  • Key Returners: Colin White, Chris Calnan, Ryan Fitzgerald

After another impressive season last year, the Eagles may be on the decline this season. Leading the NCAA in departures, BC lost a lot of its key members to graduation, transfer, or the greener pastures of the NHL. Among those losses is goaltender Thatcher Demko. Demko had been a mainstay in goal for BC over the past two seasons, but opted out a year early to become professional with the Vancouver Canucks. BC will have to find replacements at goaltender, defense, and for the top offensive lines ahead of the season; no easy task. But head coach Jerry York has found a way – year after year – to field a good team.

BOSTON UNIVERSITY

  • Coach – David Quinn (Career: 59-42-14, 4th season at Boston University)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 21-13-5, 5th in Hockey East; Lost in NCAA Tournament 1st Rd. to Denver
  • Strengths: Recruiting class, offense, defense
  • Concerns: Goaltending, Lack of Experience, Penalty Kill
  • Key Returners: Doyle Somerby, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Charlie McAvoy

It was a disappointing conclusion to the 2015/16 season for BU following a loss in the Beanpot Final to arch-rival Boston College. The Terriers never recovered and hit a downward spiral to end the season. With some key losses from last year’s squad, however, comes some elite replacements. Among them, first round draft picks Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows, and Dante Fabbro. BU looks sound both offensively and defensively, but whether or not this team can stay disciplined is another story. The Terrier penalty kill struggled at times last year and the Terriers took too many penalties per game to contend for a title. The lack of experience this season is also alarming, but the talented group of freshmen should be acclimated quickly.

CONNECTICUT

  • Coach – Mike Cavanaugh (Career: 39-54-15, 4th season at UConn)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 11-21-4, 8th in Hockey East, Lost in HEA First Round to Vermont
  • Strengths: Goaltending, Experience
  • Concerns: Defense, Special Teams
  • Key Returners: Spencer Naas, Max Letunov, Tage Thompson

In its third year in Hockey East, Connecticut looks to finally be finding a groove in one of the nation’s premier conferences. With an experienced team returning to ice along with one of the conference’s best goalies, the Huskies will be no pushover in 2016-17. The area in which UConn struggles the most is defending, as the Huskies allowed 114 goals a year ago, up from 111 in 2014-15. In addition, the Huskies power play and penalty kill were both subpar. If the offense continues to score goals and the defense can improve, we may see UConn crack the top six this season.

MAINE

  • Coach – Red Gendron (Career: 38-61-13, 4th season at Maine)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 8-24-6, 11th in Hockey East, Lost in HEA First Round to Northeastern
  • Strengths: Forwards
  • Concerns: Defense, Youth, Special Teams
  • Key Returners: Cam Brown, Blaine Byron, Rob McGovern

After a disappointing 2015-16 campaign ended with the Black Bears collecting less than ten victories, this upcoming season doesn’t appear to be looking any better for the “Men from Maine.” The Black Bears return a talented group of forwards to fill the top two lines. However, Maine’s defense still remains its weakest link, allowing 129 goals last season. The power play and penalty kill also struggled as the Black Bears special teams was almost completely ineffective. A welcoming sign for Maine is an influx of youth talent. While inexperience may be an issue for this season, there is only room for improvement in what appears to be another rebuilding year for the Black Bear program.

UMASS-AMHERST

  • Coach – Greg Carvel (Career: 72-63-15, 5th season, 1st at UMass)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 8-24-4, 12th in Hockey East, Lost in HEA First Round to BU
  • Strengths: Experience, Offense
  • Concerns: Defense, Goaltending
  • Key Returners: William Lagesson, Steven Iacobellis, Austin Plevy

After losing 18 of its final 20 games last season, UMass-Amherst returns with clear minds and a different looking team under new head coach Greg Carvel. The Minutemen showed glimpses of what could-have-been in the beginning of last year until the wheels fell off at Thanksgiving. The team returns many of its top forward starters and a strong defensive corps. Despite losing leading scorer Dennis Kravchenko, the Minutemen offense will continue to be strong. Defense will be the issue for UMass, as the Minutemen allowed 146 goals last season and didn’t have a goalie with a save percentage above .900%. Sophomore Nic Renyard had an impressive playoffs against BU and looks to be the odds on starters. Last year aside, UMass could be a tough team and a Hockey East contender this year.

UMASS-LOWELL

  • Coach – Norm Bazin (Career: 162-88-25, 9th season, 6th at UMass-Lowell)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 25-10-5, 4th in Hockey East, Lost in NCAA Quarterfinals to Quinnipiac
  • Strengths: Defense, Experience/Chemistry, Coaching
  • Concerns: Goaltending, Offense
  • Key Returners: CJ Smith, Dylan Zink, Joe Gambardella

Despite a deep run to the postseason last year and returning many of its starters, Lowell has its work cut out for them this season. A major reason for the Riverhawks success over the past few years was the play of goaltender Kevin Boyle. The net-minder graduated last spring, and will be joining the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, leaving Lowell with some big skates to fill in the crease. On top of that, two of the team’s top scorers also graduated. While the offense will still look good, replacing Adam Chapie and AJ White will be no easy task. However, Lowell is an experienced team with a lot of chemistry. Combined with a stingy, stalwart defense, Lowell will likely still put a good season together despite such big personnel losses.

MERRIMACK

  • Coach – Mark Dennehy (Career: 144-234-53, 13th season at Merrimack)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 13-19-17, 7th in Hockey East, Lost in HEA Quarterfinals to Providence
  • Strengths: Forwards, Coaching
  • Concerns: Goaltending, Defense
  • Key Returners: Hampus Gustafsson, Colin Delia, Brett Seney

After losing in the Hockey East Quarterfinals the last two seasons, the Merrimack Warriors have to be searching for more coming into this season. Last year’s top two scorers, Gustafsson and Seney, will be back for their senior and junior campaigns, respectively. The problem is a defense that lets a tremendous amount of shots on now-junior goaltender Colin Delia. Either he needs to step up and make more big saves or blueliners like Marc Biega and Jared Kolquist have to help out their goaltender. Expect big bodied freshman Ryan Cook and Johnathan Kovacevic to contribute to that effort on defense as well. Lawler is a true barn, a truly tough place to play and Merrimack will need to take advantage of that to make a push further into the Hockey East playoffs.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

  • Coach – Dick Umile (Career: 571-333-103, 27th season at New Hampshire)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 11-20-6, 10th in Hockey East, Lost to Merrimack in Hockey East Preliminary Round
  • Strengths: Experience, Goaltending
  • Concerns: Depth Scoring, Defense
  • Key Returners: Danny Tirone, Tyler Kelleher, Matias Cleland

With a legendary coach in Dick Umile, New Hampshire should always be put into a good position. However, in a tough division as Hockey East, the roster inconsistencies the Wildcats have should make them nervous coming into this season. What year will Danny Tirone have; an incredible year like his freshman season, or a markedly difficult one like last year? Whichever one shows up will dictate how UNH plays. They lost a great scorer in Andrew Poturalski to the Carolina Hurricanes, but they still have Tyler Kelleher and Matias Cleland. Regardless, they need the rest of the team, including new freshman Brendan van Riemsdyk, brother of NHLers James and Trevor, to provide an immense amount of depth point production. There are a lot of question marks on this roster, but if everyone can contribute, expect them to be a dark horse in Hockey East.

NORTHEASTERN

  • Coach – Jim Magidan (Career: 79-81-22, 6th season at Northeastern)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 22-15-5, 6th in Hockey East, Lost to North Dakota in NCAA Regional First Round
  • Strengths: Goaltending, Top Line Scoring
  • Concerns: Defense
  • Key Returners: Ryan Ruck, John and Nolan Stevens, Zach Aston-Reese

This team surprised people by coming so far in the second half of last season to win the Hockey East playoffs and make it to the NCAA Playoff bracket. If they come out as hot as they finished last year, watch out. The Huskies top line of John and Nolan Stevens and Zach Aston-Reese is as potent as any in the division, and depth scorers like Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura are poised to come out and chip in wherever necessary. Ryan Ruck has proved himself as a high caliber goaltender and will be NEU’s rock in net. The problem is Northeastern’s defense, losing Colton Saucerman and Matt Benning as experienced defenseman. Still, the recruiting class and blueliners left on the roster should keep the Huskies as a top team contender in Hockey East as a whole.

NOTRE DAME

  • Coach – Jeff Jackson (Career: 418–200–72, 18th season, 12th at Notre Dame)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 19-11-7, 3rd in Hockey East, Lost to Michigan in Hockey East Regional Preliminary Game
  • Strengths: Goaltending, Scoring
  • Concerns: Defense
  • Key Returners: Cal Petersen, Anders Bjork, Jake Evans

Notre Dame looks to be a contender in its last season in the Hockey East, and they’re definitely built to try. Cal Petersen is not only one of the best goaltenders in the division, but all off college hockey. Certainly a workhorse, he started every game last season, but with a possible balance with freshman Cale Morris this year, he could be fresher later into the season. Anders Bjork is highly touted in the Bruins organization and will look to make his mark once again with the fighting Irish. However, with the exception of 6-foot-5 Luke Ripley, Notre Dame’s defensemen are small, and will need to show their skill once again to put Notre Dame in division contention.

PROVIDENCE

  • Coach – Nate Leaman (Career: 143-114-37, 14th season, 6th at Providence)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 27-7-4, 2nd in Hockey East, Lost to Minnesota Duluth in NCAA Regional First Round
  • Strengths: Balance
  • Concerns: Goaltending, Replacement Scoring
  • Key Returners: Erik Foley, Jake Walman, Hayden Hawkey

This Friars team was absolutely decimated by graduation this year and need a lot of people to step up in that wake. Mark Jankowski and Trevor Mingoia are just two names that left and need to be replaced as soon as possible. Expect Erik Foley to have to step into that top line role, along with Brian Pinho. Jake Walman will be steady on the Providence blue line, but the biggest concern of all comes in net, where Nick Ellis is gone, leaving Hayden Hawkey, who’s only started two games in his Friars career, to take over. This team will be good, Nate Leaman is an elite coach, but the immense turnover doesn’t leave high hopes for the season overall.

VERMONT

  • Coach – Kevin Sneddon (Career: 254-325-81, 19th season, 14th at Vermont)
  • Last Year’s Record and Results – 15-22-3, 9th in Hockey East, Lost to Boston College in Hockey East Quarterfinals
  • Strengths: Goaltending, Top Line Scoring
  • Concerns: Depth
  • Key Returners: Mike Santaguida, Anthony Petruzelli, Jarrid Privitera

After an injury to their starting goaltender threatened to derail Vermont’s season last year, he’s back and ready for his final year. Senior Mike Santaguida won’t have Pat Feeley behind him this year, but the notably small goaltender, 5-foot-8 in net, will need his best season yet. While brother Alexx is gone, Jarrid Privitera will look to step into the top scoring role, and Anthony Petruzelli and Craig Puffer have to perform at a high level as well. 9 freshman will fight for a roster spot, drawing concerns about the Catamount’s depth early in the season. Their speed game is always tough to play against, and the team will look to capitalize on it more this season.

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