Hockey East Preview, 2006-07
by Mike McMahon, Matt Conyers and Matt Taylor/CHN Reporters
A look inside Hockey East, 2006-07:
Coach: Jerry York
2005-06 Record: 26-13-3
League finish: 2nd (runner-up in conference tournament)
NCAAs: Lost NCAA final
Changes: Losing Chris Collins up front, a Hobey finalist, and another All-America in Peter Harrold on the backline. It remains to be seen who will emerge from the freshmen pack.
Strength: Skill, talent, depth, the goaltending of junior Cory Schneider. The four defensemen that were thrown into the fire last year are all sophomores now, led by Brett Motherwell, a star in the making. The others are Anthony Aiello, Tim Filangieri and Tim Kunes. Senior Brian Boyle spurned the L.A. Kings to return to school for one more try at a national championship, and brings back his 22 goals and 52 points. He won't have Collins with him, but sophomores like Benn Ferriero, Brock Bradford and Nathan Gerbe are ready for another jump, and junior Dan Bertram should be too. "He made a decision to return for his senior year, and it is kind of neat to see a kid turn down the pro ranks, or delay it in order to get his degree," York said of the 6-foot-7 Boyle. "It is a nice message for all college athletics."
Weakness: Youth on defense ... kinda. BC gave up more shots last year than it's accustomed to, which is why it was a little inconsistent at times as a team. But it started to come together at the end as the freshmen foursome gained experience. Mike Brennan is the senior stalwart back there, who provides stability.
Outlook: "The key to our season will be in how much the four sophomore defensemen have grown from last year. They were thrown into the fire last year, but this year they have that one year experience, and we are going to heavily rely on them," said York.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 1st
Coach: Jack Parker
2005-06 Record: 26-10-4
League finish: 1st (won the Hockey East Tournament)
NCAAs: Lost NCAA Regional Final
Changes: The Terriers only lose five players from a team that last season won the Hockey East title. But that top line of seniors had breakthrough years, finally, after years of a stagnating BU offense. Look for large freshman defenseman Erik Gryba to play a big role, and Parker likes the defensive forward capabilities of Luke Popko.
Strength: "Our strengths are in goal and on defense, those are our best areas," Parker said. "We have solid a defense coming back, we did lose two really good defensemen, but we have some freshmen coming in, and we have three returning so that always helps. Then of course we have John Curry, arguably one of the best goalies in the nation."
Weakness: Boston University did lose three of their top four scorers from a year ago, but still will have plenty of offensive returning with reigning HEA Rookie of the Year Brandon Yip and Kenny Roche. Plus there's Peter MacArthur and Bryan Ewing, and others capable of emerging into day-in, day-out threats. Scoring could be their weakness, only because there's no out-and-out studs, however it is not going to cost the Terriers a lot of games.
Outlook: Jack Parker's team is poised to defend their Hockey East crown. It will face a tough challenge because it always is in Hockey East.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 2nd
Coach: Dick Umile
2005-06 Record: 20-13-7 (14-7-6 HEA)
League finish: 4th (lost in conference semifinals)
NCAAs: Lost NCAA first round
Changes: While losing co-No. 1 goalie Jeff Pietrasiak and defenseman Brian Yandle will hurt, the early departure of solid forward Daniel Winnik (16-25—41) will probably have the biggest effect. Winnik was a member of one of college hockey's highest scoring lines along with Brett Hemingway (19-22—41) and Jacob Micflikier (16-26—42), and with such a large drop in returning scoring after those two, one has to wonder how Winnik's departure will effect his former linemates. ... "Obviously they were a threesome that played well together, and although we enjoyed having Daniel here we have to move on and Micflikier and Hemingway have to take on more of a leadership role with the loss of Daniel," said Umile. ... Incoming goalie Brian Foster could split time from the returning Kevin Regan if not outright take the job if Regan struggles again. Forwards Bobby Butler (22-22—44 with Marlborough of the EJHL), Dan Rossman (13-23—36 with Valley of the EJHL), and Peter Leblanc (10-12—22 in 21 games with Hamilton of the OJHL) should see some playing time along with defenseman Nick Krates.
Strength: "We'll be a quick and aggressive team," said Umile. "We've got 70 percent of our scoring coming back and defensively we're going to be as strong as we've been."
Weakness: "No question that Pietrasiak was our number one last season but Kevin Regan will be that coming into this year and we're confident that he can play that role for us but Foster can push for playing time," said Umile. ... Regan was 8-8-2 last year and occasionally struggled. He gave up seven goals in the Hockey East Semifinal against BU, but for every game like that there were wins over Maine and ties against North Dakota.
Outlook: The Wildcats figure to once again finish close to the top. If they can get consistent scoring from players besides Micflikier and Hemingway they could be a dangerous team well into March and April. But that was the story last year, too.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 3rd
Coach: Tim Whitehead
2005-06 Record: 28-12-2
League Finish: 2nd place (Lost to Boston College in Hockey East Semifinal)
NCAAs: Lost in Frozen Four semifinal
Changes: With the departures of top-line stalwarts Greg Moore and Derek Damon, plus reliable blueliners Steve Mullin and Travis Wight, the Black Bears will need upperclassmen leadership early and often. Look for second team All-American and captain Michel Leveille to take the reins from Moore, who was a Hobey Baker finalist. Leveille won't be the only one with his hands full. On offense Maine will miss East Regional MOP John Hopson and faceoff dynamo Jon Jankus. The exodus of two of the Black Bears leading scorers will put added pressure on Leveille and third-leading point man Josh Soares. They are, however, joined by a small group of recruits that have already created some buzz in Orono. At the top of the list are Teddy Purcell, Tyler Czuba and Zach Sill. Purcell, out of St. John's, Newfoundland, is poised to make an immediate impact. While on defense Brett Carriere is the lone freshman representative.
Strength: "I think we have really good balance," said Whitehead. "Like last year we great depth. I think we have quite a few players that can emerge for us throughout the season. It's going to be exciting." ... In net the Black Bears' mammoth goaltender Ben Bishop will enter his sophomore season with the job all to himself, as former platoon partner Mike Lundin has headed off to the USHL. Bishop should be comfortable with the added time. From the end of March until Maine's ultimate demise in the Frozen Four semifinals, he was the squad's go-to-guy. ... "There is no question that Ben was in some very tough situations last year and he rose to the challenge," said Whitehead. "As a sophomore he is coming in a lot more experienced and confident. However, he's still going to have to work to become an elite player." ... To replace Lundin, the Black Bears brought in two goalies, the older, quick-footed Dan Wilson from Canada and former high school starter Dave Morse from Vermont.
Weakness: When you lose a 28-goal scorer, your offense is unquestionably going to see a drop off. But when you lose four of your top 10 scorers, that is when you start to worry. At the start of the year, the Black Bears will take to the ice with 43 percent of last year's goal production gone. No matter who's leading the future offensive assault, that's a lot of goals to make up for. Expect Maine to struggle to find the net in the opening weeks of the season. "Overall our team defense loss some good two-way forwards and senior leaders in Steve Mullin and Travis Wight," said Whitehead. "It's going to take some time with our team defense."
Outlook: With Whitehead at the helm and Leveille captaining the ship, Black Bear fans will want nothing more than a return trip to the Frozen Four. However, the key to the squad lies in Bishop who will need to take one out of Maine legend Jimmy Howard's book and bust out for a huge sophomore season. If he manages to even come close to Howard's historic sophomore season, the Black Bears will be returning to the NCAAs for a ninth straight time.
CHN's Predicted Order of finish: 4th
Coach: Tim Army
2005-06 Record: 17-16-3
League Finish: 5th place (Lost to UNH in first round of Hockey East tournament)
Changes: The Friars have one of the largest collections of returning players in the league. Led by senior captain Tony Zancanaro, the squad will torment league foes with plenty of familiar faces, most notably netminder Tyler Sims and defenseman Cody Wild. The Friars' depth will make it even more interesting for the host of new players jumping aboard this season. Anchoring the pack of newcomers will undoubtedly be Ian O'Connor, who comes from the EJHL's NH Monarchs. He will be followed by heralded recruits Joey Lavin, Kyle McKinnon and Austin Mayer. Last year's freshman sensation Wild will be joined on defense by Eric Baier of Taft Academy as well.
Strength: Last year, the Friars surprised the entire conference with their quick rise to first place in the standings during the first half of the season. This year, that element of surprise will be gone. In fact this time around no one will overlook the Friars. That's because they return nine of their 10 leading point men. Better yet, the added year of experience will enhance a team that seemed one year away last season.
Weakness: The Defense. Although they boast one of the best netminders in the league, the Friars have a ways to go before they start making offenses fear them. Despite his talent, Sims was still forced to face too many shots. The top four in the league still look sharper defensively then Providence.
Outlook: If Army can continue to improve upon his impressive work last year, the Friars could challenge for the final home slot in the Hockey East tournament or better. With offensive studs Jamie Carroll and Tony Zancanaro, the team should adjust fine. The season will however hinge on the defense and always explosive Sims, now in his junior campaign. Along with Sims, it will be up to sophomore Cody Wild and senior Dinos Stamoulis to foster a stronger blue line then what the team had in past years.
CHN's Predicted Order of finish: 5th
Coach: Kevin Sneddon
2005-06 Record: 18-14-6
League finish: 6th (lost in conference tournament first round)
Changes: Losing Jaime Sifers from the backline is a huge hole. Sifers was the team captain for 2 1/2 seasons, and did everything for the Catamounts, including provide as big a presence a young man can give in a locker room. The Cats also lost scorers Brady Leisenring and Jeff Corey. But the recruiting class was a good one, led by defenseman Patrick Cullity.
Strength: Goaltending, especially, and defense. The whole defense is back, except for Sifers. He is a huge loss, so that's saying a lot, but having the other guys back from a defense that was in the top five in the nation last year is not too shabby. Goalie Joe Fallon is, of course, the key. He's been great for the better part of two years, but like the rest of the team, he struggled down the stretch.
Weakness: Leadership will come by committee, including Torrey Mitchell and Kenny Macauley. It's not that they can't handle it, it's that it's an unknown. Scoring will be an issue, although there is potential with sophomores Peter Lenes, Dean Strong and Corey Carlson, which was Vermont's second line last season. It will be tough for Mitchell to provide much more than the 40 points he had last year.
Outlook: Vermont got off to a flying start and was getting a lot of headlines, and exposure in the national polls. It shows in its 8-1 non-league record. But the Cats wound up a game below .500 in the league, essentially because — in its inaugural Hockey East season — it could not beat the perennial top four of BU, BC, UNH and Maine. The program has a year in Hockey East under its belt, and Sneddon believes that means a lot, so if one of the big four falters, it would not be surprising to see Vermont right there.
Predicted Order of Finish: 6th
Coach: Greg Cronin
2005-06 Record: 3-17-7
League finish: 9th (Did not qualify for Hockey East Tournament)
Changes: The Huskies lost next to nothing from last season. Their top 10 scorers all return, and coach Greg Cronin expects to add someone he did not have a year ago, Mike Morris, who suffered a serious injury last summer. "I would say that he is close to 100 percent," Cronin said. "You have to remember he sat our a whole year and those concussion injuries are hard to measure. Athletically his motor skills are back. I have seen him skate and he looks healthy, you can tell he is a great player. You have to let him be the measuring stick as to where he is at. If he is ready in October we will play him, if he has to wait until Christmas, then we will wait until Christmas, it is up to him."
Strength: Northeastern will see their biggest strength fall up front. With the addition of Morris as well as returning Jimmy Russo, Ryan Ginand and Joe Vitale, the Huskies should score plenty of points this season. Ginand and Vitale were second and third on the team in scoring last year, despite only being freshmen, and Russo, who led the team in scoring, returns as a junior.
Weakness: Special teams was a glaring weakness for the Huskies last season, and Cronin knows that his team needs to improve on that if they want to contend for a playoff spot. "I think the talent you have as a team is manifested in the power play. Last year, our power play and penalty kill were really bad, at the bottom of the league. If you look at the close games we played in, 23 of them were decided in the last three minutes of the game. So if our special teams were improved, we would have had more success in the win column."
Outlook: The Huskies will not be competing for home ice, but should be competing for a playoff spot come season's end. If Morris can return and stay healthy all year, he will help an offense that already returns most of their top producers.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 7th
Coach: Don Cahoon
2005-06 Record: 13-21-12 (10-15-2 HEA)
League finish: 8th (lost in conference first round)
Changes: The big losses are second team all-star defenseman Marvin Degon, who was the team's best two-way threat, and the team's leader in goals Stephen Werner. The team also needs to replace their top goaltender in Gabe Winer. The defense doesn't lose much besides Degon, but the additions of Kevin Kesler (6-9—15, 81 PIM with New Hampshire of the EJHL) and Justin Brown (2-11—13, 67 PIM with Green Bay of the USHL) should help, and forward Brett Watson (9-14—23 with Tri-City of the USHL) might help to offset some of the offensive losses. ... Having Matt Anderson (7-13—20) back with a fifth year of eligibility should also help steady the team out offensively. Also returning is Chris Davis, who had a solid 18-point freshman campaign along with sophomore Cory Quirk and junior P.J. Fenton.
Strength: The defense, while not a high scoring unit remains largely intact. Mark Matheson and David Leaderer anchor the unit, and they'll look for improvement from Topher Bevis and John Wessbecker among others to better their 2.81 team GAA from last season. The Minutemen do not have a gamebreaker — at least not one that anybody can identify at this point — but they are fairly deep, something Cahoon's teams haven't always been able to say.
Weakness: Jon Quick split time in net with Winer last season, posting a 4-10-1 record with a 2.98 GAA. He was inconsistent, but showed flashes — he is only a sophomore and did post a .920 save percentage in a very tough league. With most of his defense back, improvement could happen, but until he proves it this remains a potential weakness. Also, though fifth-year players Anderson and Chris Capraro have potential — especially as evidenced by their long-ago freshmen years — there is no, as we mentioned, prove gamebreaker.
Outlook: Losing Degon will hurt, but they should be competitive enough to sneak into the Hockey East tournament for the fifth consecutive year. Last year was an improvement over the previous year, so another baby step could be in the offing.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 8th
Coach: Blaise MacDonald
2005-06 Record: 14-20-2
League finish: 7th (lost in conference tournament first round)
Changes: The River Hawks lost a lot, including their top two scorers and their starting goaltender. In all, Lowell lost 14 players, and have 15 newcomers to help soften the blow. Last year was the year Lowell was stocked for a run, but after losing Ben Walter to the pros, it never materialized. MacDonald is aware that young teams need to make small steps. ... "We have to be really cautious in our expectations, we want to get better each day," MacDonald said. "Our victories will be in small victories. We will have to celebrate small victories along the way."
Strength: As MacDonald sees it, his team's strengths is the depth. "I have been able to see our real quality of depth," said MacDonald. "I can't see a big difference between our first and fifth line guys, or our first and fourth pair defensemen." Of course, it also means there are few stars here.
Weakness: Lowell's biggest weakness sits in goal, arguably the most important position. The most experienced returning goaltender is Vinny Monaco, who has just three NCAA games under his belt. It will likely be an audition for the starting job with Monaco competing with freshmen Nevin Hamilton and Carter Hutton.
Outlook: Lowell should compete with the likes of Merrimack, Massachusetts and Northeastern to round out the playoff picture. If Monaco, or one of the freshmen step up in net, then Lowell will have a productive season. If the goaltenders struggle, then it could be a long season at the Tsongas Arena.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 9th
Coach: Mark Dennehy
2005-06 Record: 6-23-5
League finish: 10th (Did not qualify for Conference Tournament)
Changes: Merrimack loses three of its top five offensive producers from last season (Matt Johnson, Bryan Schmidt and Brent Gough), and will look to junior Hank Carisio, as well as seniors Mike Alexiou and Matt Byrnes, to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, the team lost a potential good scorer when sophomore Rob Ricci was suspended for the entire season for a violation of team rules. It must have been a major violation.
Strength: The Warriors will be strong on defense with senior Ryan Sullivan leading the way. The Warriors also possess one of the stronger 1-2 punches in goal with senior Jim Healey and sophomore Pat Watson. Dennehy believes the Warriors' largest strength is also their largest need, leadership. A roster of 10 freshmen needs strong leadership from Sullivan, Byrnes and Justin Mills (A). "With that much influx of newness, we need our leaders to be top notch, and it just so happens to be an area where I am pretty confident," Dennehy said. "Ryan Sullivan, our captain, has the chance to do something unprecedented in Hockey East and become the three time scholar athlete of the year, and in Justin Mills and Matt Byrnes, I am really confident that our message — and it is important that it is our message not my message — will be loud and clear."
Weakness: At times last season Merrimack had trouble scoring goals, and losing three of their top five scorers does not help fix that problem.
Outlook: The Warriors will be one of the younger teams in Hockey East in 2006-07. ... "It is a roller coaster ride, it is really easy to lead when things are going well, but no matter who you are, you are going to get to a time where things aren't going the way you want them to, and that is when I am going to lean on these guys to make sure that our message is consistent," Dennehy said. "I think without a doubt that not only is our leadership our biggest strength, but it needs to be."
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 10th