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October 1, 2009 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

New Season Primer Part II

Who Are the Top Freshmen, Biggest Departures, and Others to Watch?

by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter

St. Cloud freshman Mike Lee was USHL Goaltender of the Year last season. (photo: Brad Olson)

St. Cloud freshman Mike Lee was USHL Goaltender of the Year last season. (photo: Brad Olson)

In Part I, we got an overview of the upcoming season, and a look at the biggest games to keep an eye on. In Part II, we look at the individuals.

Instant impacts

Mike Lee, G,  St. Cloud State – With the dismissal of St. Cloud State goalie Jase Weslosky official, the Huskies' hopes fall upon the shoulders of this highly-touted freshman. Those shoulders, however, are broad. Lee was the USHL Goaltender of the Year last season, and has already been named the WCHA's preseason Rookie of the Year. He is a World Junior team hopeful, and helped lead expansion Fargo (coached by Dean Blais) to the USHL finals last season.

Chris Brown, F, Michigan – The 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger from Texas struggled to utilize his large frame in the early stages of his development at USA hockey. In his final year with the program, he learned to control his frame and utilize it to generate offense. Red Berenson and his staff expect Brown to augment the Wolverines offense immediately; scary considering five of their top seven scorers return from a year ago.

Jerry D’Amigo, F, Rensselaer – The Engineers suffered through a dreadful 2008-09 season under third-year head coach Seth Appert. The arrival of D’Amigo, though, from the U.S. NTDP will bolster an offense that scored 56 fewer goals than its opponents last season. D’Amigo scored 56 points in 53 games with USA Hockey and was selected by Toronto in the sixth round of the NHL Draft this year. D’Amigo’s presence roaming the wing for the Engineers is another reason why the ECAC just might be the most competitive conference in the nation this season.

Chris Kreider, F, Boston College – The Eagles graduated four of their top eight scorers from a year ago, leaving plenty of room for Kreider on their scoring lines. In the last three years, BC has lost Brian Boyle, Nathan Gerbe, Benn Ferriero and Brock Bradford; replacing Gerbe proved difficult for coach Jerry York last season, but the addition of the skillful, rangy forward may help curb the effects of recent departures.

Louis Leblanc, F, Harvard – Montreal Canadiens’ fans erupted when the Habs selected the native Quebecois in the first round of June’s NHL Draft, and fans in Cambridge may have a similar reaction when Leblanc takes the ice for the Crimson this season. He produced nearly one point per game with Omaha of the USHL last season, while rating a league best plus-33. Last season was a forgettable one for head coach Ted Donato as the Crimson struggled to consistently generate offense; adding Leblanc to the equation may be enough to thrust the Crimson into relevance in a competitive ECAC.

Nick Leddy, D, Minnesota – The first collegiate player selected in June’s NHL Draft, the former Minnesota Mr. Hockey will likely fill the void left by graduated R.J. Anderson on the Gophers’ blue line, but not necessarily on the top defensive pair. Leddy’s abilities as a puck handler and mover mean he’ll likely see time on the power play. His 5-foot-11 frame hardly intimidates, however, his ability to anticipate and control the play offsets any limitations.

Andrew Miller, F, Yale – The reigning USA Junior Hockey Player of the Year scored 32 goals and assisted on 50 others in second season with Chicago of the USHL. The Bulldogs return their top 10 scorers from last year’s ECAC Championship team; adding the crafty Miller to the mix is just another reason Yale appears in CHN’s Top 10 to start the season.

Yale’s offense is predicated heavily on speed and precise transitions from zone to zone, Miller’s speed and playmaking ability is tailored perfectly for the system.

Max NiCastro, D, Boston University – The departures of Matt Gilroy and Brian Strait from the Terriers defensive corps is a legitimate reason for some gripes. Still, the development of young defenseman David Warsofsky and the addition of NiCastro just may ease the pain caused by the loss of the prolific pair. NiCastro is shutdown defenseman in the making who could develop a strong offensive game under the tutelage of BU coach Jack Paker.

Drew Shore, F, Denver – The Pioneers top CHN’s preseason Top 10 thanks in part to a strong recruiting class led by Shore who chose DU over Boston University, Boston College and the WHL. The Denver native is a hardworking pivot that thrives in the puck possession game and distributes well. With rising sophomore Joe Colborne developing steadily following a strong showing at the Boston Bruins rookie camp, Shore’s addition paired with that of fellow freshman Shawn Ostrow sets last year’s 135 goals as the starting point for DU.

Big losses

Ryan Stoa, F, Minnesota – His departure was expected, for sure, but it doesn't lessen the impact of losing the top power forward in college hockey, and a player who could've (should've) won the Hobey if his team had a better season overall.

Matt Dalton, G, Bemidji State – Undrafted after a remarkable sophomore season, Dalton’s move to the NHL wasn’t exactly expected by BSU coach Tom Serratore. So when Dalton signed with the Boston Bruins on April 21, Serratore was surprised but happy to see the sophomore sign with one of the NHL’s Original Six franchises.

The move left the Beavers without any collegiate goaltending experience on their collegiate roster; last season’s backup, Orlando Alamano has since graduated.

Sophomore Dan Bakala and freshmen Travis Bosch and Mathieu Dugas will battle for playing time in the preseason and throughout the first half.

Jamie McBain, D, Wisconsin – McBain led a young Badger team in nearly every aspect last season. He was its leading scorer, with seven goals and 30 assists, an assistant captain and the primary reason behind the Badgers recovery from a tough start.

He was the only upperclassman on the blue line for head coach Mike Eaves. However, with the remaining five returning and two gifted rookies beginning their careers in Madison, UW now has one of the deepest defensive units in the conference.

Nick Petrecki, D, Boston College – BC coach Jerry York knew three of his top six defensemen would leave the Heights following the 2008-09 season due to graduation. As far as Petrecki is concerned, his departure was only a matter of time.

Drafted 22nd overall by San Jose prior to his freshman season, he opted to sign with the Sharks after his second year at BC. Widely considered among the best defensive defensemen in Hockey East, there was really nothing left to prove in college for Petrecki.

York welcomes four freshman defensemen to Chestnut Hill this season to go along with senior Carl Sneep and sophomores Tommy Cross, Edwin Shea and Malcolm Lyles. Both Cross and Shea saw extended time for the Eagles last season, while Lyles played in five games.

Viktor Stalberg, F, Vermont – Stalberg led the Catamounts to the Frozen Four last season while becoming one of the best goal scorers in the country. Following his third season in Burlington, he opted to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who selected him in the sixth round of the 2006 draft. His departure was seemingly the right move, since he made the Maple Leafs' opening night roster.

The big-bodied winger provided UVM coach Kevin Sneddon with a presence in front of the net and a dynamic playmaking ability. The Catamounts are also without second-leading scorer Peter Lenes.

In the second half of 2008-09, goaltender Rob Madore became one of the most consistent net minders in Hockey East. In his sophomore season, Madore should only improve; the fact that UVM returns its top six defensemen from last season will allow the Catamount forwards time as they find their offensive touch this season.

Brad Thiessen, G, Northeastern – It was a breakout season for Northeastern in 2008-09, and Thiessen carried the Huskies the whole way. NU failed to capture any championships, losing to BU in the Beanpot final, Mass.-Lowell in the Hockey East Semifinals and Cornell in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Thiessen played every minute for the Huskies last season, finishing his final year at Matthews Arena with a 2.12 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage and 25 victories. There are three goaltenders on the roster entering the 2009-10 season with only junior Mike Binnington carrying any collegiate experience.

Freshman Mike Rawlings comes to coach Greg Cronin’s program after a successful four-year stint in the British Columbia Hockey League. Fellow rookie Bryan Mountain also played in the BCHL, winning a championship and playing 10 games with the Penticton Vees in 2007-08.

James vanRiemsdyk, F, New Hampshire – The way his career in Durham ended, a heartbreaking last-minute loss to eventual national champion BU in the Manchester Regional final, can hardly deem vanRiemsdyk’s two seasons with the Wildcats a failure. Late in the year, that not only was the statistical leader for coach Dick Umile’s team, he had become one of the most present team figures off the ice. VanRiemsdyk signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, who drafted him second overall in 2007, on April 1, and promptly made the roster, validating his decision to leave and his decision to stay after his freshman year when the Flyers were pressuring him to skip out.

The Wildcats return three of their top four scorers from a season ago along with goaltender Brian Foster who struggled with consistency in his first year as the No. 1. UNH will also be without winger Danny Dries, whose dismissal from the team days prior to its first NCAA tournament game against North Dakota was made permanent in mid-April.

To offset the loss, freshmen John Henrion and Greg Burke will look to contribute consistently.

Colin Wilson, F, Boston University – There wasn’t much of a reason for Wilson to return to BU following his sophomore season. He finished among the national leaders in scoring and led the BU offense to seven different championships along the way.

Junior Nick Bonino will take over Wilson’s spot as the No. 1 center. He finished 2008-09 with 18 goals and 32 assists, including the game-tying goal with 17.4 seconds remaining in regulation of the national championship game.

Keep an eye on him

Billy Blaise, G, Yale – Goaltender Alec Richards led the Bulldogs through the ECAC Tournament and into the national tournament before Vermont cut their season short in 2008-09. There are great expectations in New Haven for this season, and they won’t mean much unless Blaise performs at a consistently high level. The Bulldogs open their campaign on Oct. 25 in Hanover, N.H., with a conference match against Dartmouth – ECAC games against Princeton and RPI follow that.

As a sophomore in 2007-08 Blaise locked the starting job down, starting 27 games. He and Richards alternated early last season before it became clear Richards was No. 1. Current backup, junior Ryan Rondeau, is relatively untested at the Division I level with six starts to his credit. Still any struggles and Yale coach Keith Allain won’t hesitate to insert Rondeau into the lineup.

Justin Braun, D, Massachusetts – Even with James Marcou’s breakout season, there was little doubt who the MVP was for the Minutemen in 2008-09. Braun averaged nearly 30 minutes of ice time for UMass coach Toot Cahoon and featured on the top defensive pairing and first power-play unit on his way to being named a second-team all-American.

Late in the season, Cahoon slapped an “A” on Braun’s jersey, and he will serve as a co-Captain for the Minutemen along with senior center Brett Watson this year. The perennially almost-good Minutemen hope they can play deep into the Hockey East Tournament for the first time since 2006-07. If they plan to do so, Braun will need to be even better than his was last year.

Eddie DelGrosso, D, Nebraska-Omaha – In the defense-first system implemented by former UNO coach Mike Kemp, DelGrosso managed to lead the Mavericks with 34 points. New coach Dean Blais plans to retool the Mavericks style, and focus on a fast-paced attacking style.

UNO needs a successful season in 2009-10 to create enthusiasm around the program before they move to the WCHA next season. DelGrosso won’t be around at that point, but his success on both sides of the puck is crucial if they’re to be successful this year.

Kory Falite, F, Mass.-Lowell – If the River Hawks plan to prove that their run to the Hockey East Championship game wasn’t an anomaly, Falite will need to continue to be one of the best goal scorers in the East.

He’s combined for 32 goals in the last two seasons, and tied with Scott Campbell at 14 atop the UML stat sheet last year. The blue liners are receiving most of the attention from the media, but the boys up front have to produce consistent offense if that Preseason Top 10 ranking is going to mean anything come March.

Gustav Nyquist, F, Maine – The Black Bears were the only team to defeat Boston University in the second of the half the season last year, and upstart Swedish center was their best player. In his first season in Orono, he led the team with 13 goals and 19 assists.

Coach Tim Whitehead returns his top two scorers from the youngest team in Hockey East. The Black Bears finished eighth in the Hockey East standings last season and, led by Nyquist, are primed to return to national prominence after a two-year hiatus.

Andrew Volkening, G, Air Force – No one gave the Falcons much of a chance against top-seeded Michigan in their opening round matchup of the NCAA Tournament. That is, except, the 20 players in uniform and the coaching staff of the Atlantic Hockey champion United Stated Air Force Academy.

And the Falcons upset attempt began and ended with Volkening. He made 43 saves in the 2-0 victory that made it clear to the college hockey world that Air Force belonged.

Entering the 2009-10 season, the Falcons are the common-sense choice to repeat as Atlantic Hockey champions. If that is to happen, Volkening must provide steady, sometimes spectacular, goaltending.
 

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