Hockey East Preview 2009-10
by Matthew Conyers, Jared Shafran and Scott McLaughlin/CHN Reporters
Early results indicate things may be more up for grabs than one would think.
Head Coach: Jerry York
2008-09 record: 18-14-5 (11-11-5 Hockey East); Sixth place in Hockey East
Key Returnees: John Muse G JR., Jimmy Hayes F SO., Ben Smith F SR., Cam Atkinson F SO., Brian Gibbons F JR.
Key Losses: Brock Bradford, Benn Ferriero, Andrew Orpik, Tim Kunes, Tim Filangieri.
After going all the way in 2008, the Eagles experienced a drop in the standings last year, finishing the regular season in sixth place. Reasons for the decline may include losing some to graduation (Nathan Gerbe and Dan Bertram) and goaltender John Muse not performing as well as he did during the run to the championship. But, the team still contained a high level of talent and made a run in the Hockey East Playoffs, losing to Boston University in the semifinals.
Remember, in their championship year, the Eagles did only finish in fourth during the regular season. It was later on, when it mattered, that they made their run.
A new season for BC brings some new, highly-touted recruits and, although Muse may not be 100 percent healthy just yet, you can expect that once he is, he’ll be ready to go.
“He’s practicing at about 75 or 80 percent,” said coach Jerry York prior to the season. “We have some backups so we don’t have to rush him.” Muse did wind up starting the first game, but his future is still iffy.
In total, there are nine freshmen on the roster, and NHL clubs have already claimed four of them.
Offensively, Chris Kreider, Steven Whitney, and Pat Mullane should all see time early on and when they get accustomed to the Hockey East style of play, they should provide ample production for the Eagles.
But the reason that BC is poised to succeed is the experience returning.
“I think clearly we’re looking for a much better point-wise years from Ben Smith, Joey Whitney and Brian Gibbons,” York said. “Their numbers were dramatically down last year so I think those three are the keys for the upper class as far as offense.”
Gibbons finished second on the team with 28 points last season. That total was down from the National Championship year, when Gibbons had 35.
"They had banner freshmen years and all of a sudden they were going to carry the team and they never could quite understand that’s not the way to get it done so I think they’ve learned,” York said.
Big center Jimmy Hayes is back and should also improve from last year when he registered 13 points.
Outlook: York said once the freshman can make the adjustment to the Hockey East type of play, the team will get going. It also wouldn’t hurt to have the John Muse from April of 2008 back.
“I think John’s recovery from injury is big,” said York. “If he can get back to his late freshman year type of goaltending, that’s going to help us a lot.”
Head Coach: Jack Parker
2008-09 Record: 35-6-4 (18-5-4 Hockey East)
Key Returnees: Nick Bonino, Kevin Shattenkirk, Colby Cohen, Kieran Millan, Chris Connolly, David Warsofsky
Key Losses: Colin Wilson, Matt Gilroy, Brandon Yip, Jason Lawrence, John McCarthy, Chris Higgins
How they finished: The Terriers won their final seven games en route to the program’s fifth national championship. Five of those wins were by one goal, including their thrilling 4-3 overtime triumph against Miami in the national title game.
Changes: BU loses five of its top six scorers in forwards Colin Wilson, Chris Higgins, Brandon Yip and Jason Lawrence, and defenseman and Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Gilroy. Defensive stalwart Brian Strait also departed for the NHL.
Strengths: Despite the losses, BU still has plenty of talent coming back. Junior forward Nick Bonino tied for fourth in the nation with 50 points last season. Junior defenseman and captain Kevin Shattenkirk was a Second-Team All-American. Sophomore netminder Kieran Millan was the HCA Rookie of the Year and ranked fifth in the country with a 1.94 goals-against average.
Also back are forwards Chris Connolly (30 points) and Zach Cohen (13 goals), and defensemen Colby Cohen (32 points), David Warsofsky (23 points) and senior Eric Gryba.
Another strength should be the team’s leadership — Shattenkirk, who has served as captain for the US Under-17, Under-18 and Under-20 teams, will be BU’s first junior captain in 30 years, while Bonino and Gryba will serve as assistants.
“They’re gonna be terrific captains for two reasons,” Parker said. “One, they’re mature kids. They want to win. And secondly, they had great role models as captains last year [Matt Gilroy and John McCarthy]. They were really in tune to what those guys were doing.”
Weaknesses: This team doesn’t have weaknesses so much as it has questions that need to be answered. Is sophomore Corey Trivino ready to be a second-line center? Can the third and fourth lines pick up some of the slack if the top lines don’t score as much as last year? Can freshmen Sean Escobedo, Max Nicastro and Ben Rosen solidify the blue line? If the answers to these questions are yes, the Terriers could make another run at the national championship. If not, BU might struggle to defend its title.
Outlook: "The telltale sign of our success this year will be our sophomores stepping up,” Parker said. “The freshman line last year — I don’t think they’ll play together — but the freshmen line from last year was very important to our team last year and they become more important this year. All the other sophomores who didn’t play a lot as freshmen last year, well they become real important to us. And the new freshmen will really have to jump over those guys.”
Head Coach: Tim Whitehead
2008-09 record: 13-22-4 (7-17-3, 8th HEA)
Key Returnees: Spencer Abbott F So., Scott Darling G So., Robby Dee F So., Brian Flynn F So., Ryan Hegarty D So., Tanner House F Jr., Gustav Nyquist F So, Will O’Neil D So.
Key Losses: Simon Danis-Pepin, Chris Hahn, Lem Randall (underclassman)
How they finished: The past two seasons have been abnormally cold winters in Orono. After nine straight trips to the NCAA tournament and nine straight 20-plus win seasons, the Black Bears are coming off back-to-back 13-win seasons.
Only two years ago, Maine was playing in its fourth Frozen Four in six years.
Seem like forever since those days?
You’re not the only one.
“It seems like 200 years for me,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said.
For Whitehead and the rest of the Black Bears, the current season is all about achieving one goal — returning Maine to its place of prestige.
Thirteen wins. For Mainers, it’s a foreign total they’re not accustom to seeing. Because of it, there is plenty of pressure to win and win now. And should come as no real surprise that the message board warriors are busily typing away and growing restless.
But Whitehead understands the frustration and believes Maine has already started to course correct itself.
“It was a lot different last year and we had to make a couple of cuts,” Whitehead said. “It just seems like for whatever reason the mentality is back where it needs to be. We’re doing the little things. The biggest change has been the approach.”
During the off-season, Whitehead dismissed three sophomores in Lem Randall, Keif Orsini and Glenn Belmore.
“We had gotten [to the tournament and the Frozen Four] so often, it was like we had taken it for granted,” Whitehead said. “Then we had some guys leave early for the pros. The combination of that and before you know it you have a couple tough seasons.”
“We want to get the mindset back to where it needs to be.”
Whitehead knows the victories won’t come easy. He also knows the Black Bears face an uphill battle. But he does believe the program has returned to the proper state.
“I’m really enjoying working with this group,” Whitehead said. “They’ve come in very focused. Our captains (Tanner House and Jeff Dimmen) have really set the tone through the first month of practice. Both are juniors and it is fitting.”
“We’re trying to get the hockey back to where we like to see it. Things are moving in the right direction.”
Outlook: Whitehead’s restoration project is aided by the fact that he brings back plenty of talent that has matured. The Black Bears return the top freshman scoring class in the conference from last year. Led by Gustav Nyquist (32 points) and Brian Flynn (25 points), the Black Bears should be set to improve upon its 2.21 goals per game that ranked ninth in Hockey East.
“We had a tremendous freshman class and [Nyquist] was the biggest contributor,” Whitehead said. “He was certainly the leader of our crew. We’re excited for him. He put on some weight and trained really hard. He’s one of the hardest working kids and a real tough competitor.”
Defense will be another issue. With the departures of Simon Danis-Pepin, Chris Hahn and Matt Duffy, the Black Bears sophomore goalie Scott Darling is expected to get even more pressure. But he too should be able to use a year of experience to his advantage.
Shawn Sirman will also see time in net as a freshman from Blezard Valley, Ontario.
“I don’t know if it all will translate right away but I know it will translate over the long haul to wins,” Whitehead said.
Head Coach: Don Cahoon
2008-09 record: 16-20-3 (10-14-3 Hockey East); Seventh place in Hockey East
Key Returnees: James Marcou F JR., Casey Wellman F SO., Justin Braun D SR., Paul Dainton G JR., Martin Nolet D SR., Chase Langeraap F JR., Matt Irwin D SO.
Key Losses: Alex Berry, Cory Quirk, Chris Davis, Topher Bevis, John Wessbecker
The Minutemen are one of the reasons why the Hockey East has no clear favorite this season. They are a very talented and experienced bunch, but it’s unclear whether they will be able to put all of their pieces together on the ice at once.
Their star first line of All-American James Marcou, freshman standout Casey Wellman, and T.J. Syner will certainly pack a punch from the get go. Last season, the three of them combined for a total of 93 points total.
“I have no bones about saying the line will be electrifying,” said head coach Don Cahoon. When you see TJ Syner, Wellman, and Marcou together, there will not be a quicker line in college hockey.”
Cahoon also had great things to say about Wellman who scored 11 goals and added 22 assists in 39 games during his freshman year.
“He’s one of the marquee players offensively in our program so he’s starting off the year playing with Marcou and I’d like to think that they’re going to be able to create some really nice things together," Cahoon said. "I think they’re both highly motivated, both creative, both quick, both have good sticks so we’ll see what happens.”
Other guys to look out for on offense are Chase Langeraap, who battled injuries for the last two years and now that he’s healthy will see time on the power play and Will Ortiz, who is entering his senior year and should play a big leadership role. Redshirt freshman David Boehm who only played in one game last season and then broke his leg, should also see some significant time now that he’s healthy.
On defense, preseason All-American Justin Braun is the high profile guy, but senior Martin Nolet has the veteran experience that Cahoon likes on the blue line.
“The most exciting thing for me is the leadership that our older guys seem to be giving all the other guys in the locker room,” Cahoon said. “There seems to be a strong sense of urgency and responsibility that’s being put in place that’s going to allow us to function at a higher level.”
In net, Paul Dainton won the starting job for the Minutemen and had a great start, beating RPI 5-2 in his first game and then taking down defending National Champions Boston University 3-2 the next week as an encore.
Cahoon said that he’s really confident with the team’s goaltending situation going into the new season. Although Dainton is the starter, the Minutemen have a very capable backup in Dan Meyers. Myers played in 13 games last year and had a 2.65 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
“I expect that we’re going to be more consistent because we’re more mature and these guys understand a little bit better than they have in previous years of what it takes to get through a college hockey season,” said Cahoon of his goalies. “We need to just get that type of play game in and game out. I don’t think there is any question that we’ll get good games out of those guys and when we get good games out of those guys we’ll be a pretty good team. We need to get good games out of those guys on a regular basis.”
The only really question for UMass is their consistency and Cahoon knows all about that.
“I think as a team there’s no mystery. When we play at our highest level, we’re as good as anybody,” Cahoon said. “The mystery has been how do we get that team to perform at that level on a very regular basis. So having good leadership and having a responsible group of upperclassmen leading the way is to me a good formula for trying to move it in that direction.”
Head Coach: Blaise MacDonald
2008-09 Record: 20-16-2 (14-11-2 Hockey East)
Key Returnees: Mauray Edwards, Nevin Hamilton, Carter Hutton
Key Losses: Mike Potacco, Mark Roebothan, Nick Monroe
How they finished: The River Hawks came on strong at the end of last season, sweeping Vermont in Burlington in the Hockey East quarterfinals and then defeating Northeastern in overtime at the TD Garden in the semifinals before losing a 1-0 nail-biter to Boston University in the title game.
Changes: Not many. Of the 20 players who recorded points for Lowell last season, 17 are back this year. That includes each of the team’s top seven scorers.
Strengths: Junior defenseman and Second-Team All-American Maury Edwards and senior goalies Nevin Hamilton and Carter Hutton lead the team’s strong returning core. Edwards led all Hockey East defensemen with 25 points in conference play while Hamilton and Hutton combined to give the River Hawks the fourth-best goals-against average in the conference.
Lowell was also very strong on special teams last year, ranking second in Hockey East on the power play and first on the penalty kill. MacDonald credits a lot of the team’s success to the leadership of his many veterans.
“We’re fortunate where we have tremendous leadership,” he said. “We have guys that hold each other accountable. They set very high standards for themselves internally. They always, without question, play for the name on the front of their shirt, not on the back, which is a cliché, but something you don’t often see.”
Weaknesses: The biggest reason for the RiverHawks missing the NCAA tournament last year was that from November 22 to January 17, they went an abysmal 3-8. They can’t afford a two-month stretch like that this year if they want to live up to their second-place ranking in the Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll.
Outlook: “Our expectations are to build off of last year,” MacDonald said. “I thought we had a lot of guys play real well last year. If you look at our team, I think we were very consistent. We had very tangible experiences last year — big victories up at Vermont to win a playoff series, a nice win over Northeastern and then an opportunity to play against BU in the championship game.”
Head Coach: Mark Dennehy
2008-09 Record: 9-21-4 (5-19-3 Hockey East)
Key Returnees: Joe Cannata, Chris Barton, Jesse Todd, Joe Cucci, Pat Bowen, Karl Stollery
Key Losses: Rob Ricci, Grant Farrell
How they finished: After losing eight straight from January 9 to February 6, the Warriors posted a respectable 4-4-1 record in the final month of the season.
Strengths: Merrimack fans have a good deal to be excited about, starting with a very good sophomore class that includes forward Jesse Todd, who was second among Hockey East rookies with 21 points in conference play; defenseman Karl Stollery, a Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection; and goalie Joe Cannata, who ranked fourth in the conference with a .918 save percentage.
Weaknesses: The biggest question facing the Warriors is whether or not they’ll have enough offense to reach the postseason for the first time in five years. The team tied for fourth in Hockey East in scoring defense last year, but the offense ranked dead last. Losing leading goal-scorer Rob Ricci won’t make improving an easy task. Things to a significant turn for the better in that department after the team added French sensation Stephane Da Costa, once he finally cleared the NCAA Clearinghouse last week, and promptly scored five goals against Army.
“I don’t know that we have a plethora of top-six forwards,” Dennehy said. “We’re more of a lunch-pail group. Chris Barton’s off to a good start. Jesse Todd had a really good freshman year. We’re gonna look toward J.C. Robitaille to get back to sophomore form, if not better. Joe Cucci has been a point producer since he got here. But we really don’t have a lot of established goal scorers. It’s gonna have to be everyone chipping in.”
Outlook: “We don’t talk too much about expectations in our locker room,” Dennehy said. “To me, it’s kind of a lazy word. But our goals are pretty lofty. We want to make the playoffs. We want to get to the [TD] Garden. We think we can play with anybody in the country.”
Head Coach: Dick Umile
2008-09 record: 20-13-5 (15-8-4, T-3rd HEA)
Key Returnees: Bobby Butler F Sr., Phil DeSimone F Jr., Brian Foster Sr. G, Blake Kessel D So., Nick Krates D. Sr., Peter LeBlanc F Sr., Mike Sislo F Jr.,
Key Losses: Joe Charlebois, Greg Collins, Danny Dries (underclassman), Jamie Fritsch, Kevin Kapstad, Jerry Pollastrone, James van Riemsdyk (underclassman)
How they finished: Loss to Boston University in the Northeast Regional final.
The names didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
James van Riemsdyk. Jerry Pollastrone,. Joe Charlebois. Kevin Kapstad.
Still, it didn’t matter.
For Wildcat supporters, the list was synonymous with success. Even van Riemsdyk, who had been their for just two years, seemed like a fixture.
Yet as coach Dick Umile embarks on his 20th season, he’ll have a whole new case of characters to deal with. Along with the names listed above, Greg Collins, Danny Dries and Jamie Fritsch are all gone.
But Umile is comfortable that the latest group of Wildcats is in the right position to once again make a run at the league title. Despite a difficult closing-seconds loss to eventual champion Boston University in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats enter the season buzzing.
“We’re starting the season with the same work ethic and the feeling of what it takes to win at that level,” Umile said. “We played some of our best hockey at the end of the season and we’re excited to get started.”
New Hampshire will find out where it is early on with a big non-conference series against Miami this weekend. Then the following week, the Wildcats welcome Northeastern and border rival Maine.
“It’s no different than years past — I’m excited,” Umile said. “You watch practice and you say ‘Wow we can really move the puck around.”
The Wildcats already have part of the solution figured out. New Hampshire returns Brian Foster for his senior season. After injuring his ankle in midseason last year, Foster is healthy and prepared to shoulder the load of games for New Hampshire.
“Brian is our No. 1 goalie and very capable with handling everything that comes with,” Umile said. “He plays very well back-to-back. It all starts from the net out.”
Umile is equally encouraged by his seven-man freshman class.
“I like our freshman class very much,” Umile said. “Offensively, we will be fine. Matter of fact we might able to score more this season because of the addition of talented freshmen.”
New Hampshire was third in the conference with 3.05 goals per game but will need to extra emphasis on the blue liners this year.
“The challenge will be at the defensive position,” Umile said. “It might take a bit of time.”
Outlook: Blake Kessel, Nick Krates, Matt Campanale and Damon Kipp will be looked to for guidance from the blue line. Both Campanale and Kipp will be seeing increased pressure from last year.
Still, it will be the juniors and sophomores stepping into new roles that Umile reserves the biggest hopes for.
“It’s always about last year's returning freshmen and sophomores stepping into new leadership roles,” Umile said. “Stepping into that new role is a challenge. But that’s the fun part of coaching seeing what those players can do. They’re very capable.”
Head Coach: Greg Cronin
2008-09 record: 25-12-4 (18-6-3, Hockey East); Second place in Hockey East
Key Returnees: Tyler McNeely F JR., Alex Tuckerman F SO., Chris Donovan F SR., Wade MacLeod F JR., Steve Silva F JR., Jim Driscoll D SR., David Strathman D SR.
Key Losses: Brad Thiessen, Joe Vitale, Ryan Ginand, Louis Liotti, Dennis Chisholm, Rob Rassey, Dennis McCauley
The Huskies have a lot to live up to this year, and with expectations at a very high level after a 25-win season, the team has refueled, bringing in 10 new recruits.
Along with all the hype of the upcoming season, there are many questions that the Huskies will have to answer if they want to return to where they were at last year.
Although last year’s team had their season end quickly, losing to Cornell in the Huskies first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994, the personnel that was lost will have much more of an impact than that game on this years’ team.
Despite a total of six seniors that have moved on, the player who won’t be there this year on everyone’s minds is goaltender Brad Thiessen, who signed a professional contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins and is currently playing in the minors.
To say that Thiessen led the team to where they were last year is an understatement. The Hobey Baker finalist and All-American put the team on his back and carried them as far as he could.
His loss combined with losing two-year captain Joe Vitale, leading scorer Ryan Ginand, and assistant captain and defensive leader Louis Liotti, leaves a big hole to fill in the roster.
Now, the team is at the dawn of a new era and is looking for someone else to step up. That player might just turn out to be newly appointed captain Tyler McNeely.
McNeely, a junior, has always been a hard-nosed player and a guy head coach Greg Cronin can count on to lead. In two seasons, McNeely has played in 71 games for the Huskies, scoring 19 goals and assisting on 24 others.
“We were really disappointed with the way the season ended,” said McNeely. “We have a chance to build on last year. We lost a couple key guys but we got some incoming freshman that look to be key guys and help us out a lot. We think we improved.”
But it won’t just be McNeely who the Huskies are counting on. They will also have a new goaltender that will need to help shoulder some of the load.
All indications point to freshman Chris Rawlings for that job. Rawlings, who stands six foot, five inches tall, is coming to the Huskies after playing four seasons in the BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League). Last season, he was named MVP and led his team to a 35-15-1 record while posting a 2.83 goals-against average and league leading .915 save percentage.
In addition to Rawlings, the Huskies have a bunch of incoming freshman that are poised to make a significant impact this year.
Garrett Vermeersch, Robbie Vrolyk, and twins Drew and Justin Daniels are all forwards who should see some time at the get go.
“We’ll do what we always do, we’re going to play them [the new guys],” said Cronin. “We’ll throw them right into the battle and see what they do. I’m not into nursing guys along, they gotta play. They’re recruited to a program that’s obviously on the rise and they’ve got to try and amplify what we’ve done.”
Sophomore forward Steve Quailer, who was selected to the Hockey East All-Rookie team after scoring 25 points as a freshman last year, suffered an ACL injury during the Huskies exhibition game against St. Thomas and is now out indefinitely for the season.
Quailer, who was third on the team with 10 goals last year, is a player who was a big part of the Huskies success last season, and was also a third round draft pick of the Montreal Canadians in 2008.
Other offensive players who should figure for a good part of the Huskies scoring this year include junior Wade MacLeod, who led the team in scoring with 35 points last year, sophomore Alex Tuckerman who, like Quailer did, came in and made a big impact in his freshman year, and Mike McLaughlin, who was able to find the net six times in 27 games as a freshman.
The Huskies look like they have also improved on the defensive end, getting standout blueliner Drew Muench back from injury.
“He’s a real strong kid,” said Cronin. “He battles really hard and when you go against some of those bigger teams he’s going to be able to move bodies. He gives us an element of offense and he joins the rush efficiently.”
Head Coach: Tim Army
2008-09 Record: 7-22-5 (4-18-5 Hockey East)
Key Returnees: Matt Bergland, John Cavanagh, Alex Beaudry, Mark Fayne
Key Losses: Pierce Norton, Matt Taormina, Nick Mazzoleni
How they finished: Terribly. The Friars went 0-8-2 in their final 10 games, scoring more than two goals in just two of those games. They got outscored 11-2 by BU on the final weekend of the season and missed the Hockey East playoffs for the first time in program history.
Strengths: Providence returns most of its players this season –– of the 14 players who recorded five or more points, 11 are back. Sophomore winger Matt Bergland, who led the team with 27 points last year, leads that group. Sophomore goalie Alex Beaudry is also back.
“I think we have a good base of talent,” Army said. “I think we’re deep in a lot of positions. I think last year’s freshmen are excited to be back. We began the process of trying to rebuild last year, and we want to continue that this year.”
Weaknesses: If the Friars want to return to the playoffs, they’ll need those returnees to show some significant improvement. While returning 11 of 14 five-point scorers is good, having only 14 five-point scorers isn’t. While returning Beaudry is good, his 3.50 goals-against average and .888 save percentage aren’t.
Outlook: “I don’t have any expectations,” Army said. “Where we ended last year, we just want to rebuild our confidence in our program. When you go through a year like we went through, and it certainly wasn’t what we expected, it can rattle your confidence and your trust.”
Head Coach: Kevin Sneddon
2008-09 record: 22-12-5 (15-8-4, T-3rd HEA)
Key Returnees: Josh Burrows D Jr., Pat Cullity D. Sr., Dan Lawson D. Jr., Drew MacKenzie D So., Kevan Miller D. So., Justin Milo F Sr., Rob Madore G So., Brian Roloff F Sr., Wahs Stacey F Sr.
Key Losses: Corey Corlson, Peter Lenes, Viktor Stalberg (underclassman), Dean Strong
How they finished: After advancing to its first Frozen Four since 1997 and falling to eventual champion Boston University in the semifinals 5-4 in Washington, it’s safe to say expectations have been raised in Burlington.
So what’s next for Vermont?
Strengths: The Catamounts return more than 60 percent of their scoring. Back are senior co-captain Brian Roloff (29 points) and senior Colin Vock (56 career points). Then there is Justin Milo (12 goals) and Wahs Stacey (19 points). A quick look up and down the depth chart and it appears things aren’t too bad in the Green Mountain state.
Vermont also should be sharp in net with Rob Madore back for his sophomore campaign. Madore took hold of the top spot last year and never looked back. On his way to guiding the Catamounts to the Frozen Four, Madore collected plenty of fans. But this season, he’ll also have a quality back-up behind him in senior Mike Spillane, who will likely test him for the top job.
Weaknesses: Still, everything isn’t rosy for the Catamounts. The top two scorers from last year, Viktor Stalberg and Peter Lenes, aren’t going to be easy to replace. Missing will also be Lenes’ frenetic energy and passion. It was the same love for the game that fellow graduated seniors Corey Carlson and Dean Strong always skated with too.
But then again it wouldn’t come as a complete surprise to see the new upperclassmen following the steps already laid out to them by one of one Vermont’s top senior classes in the last decade.
Outlook: There shouldn’t be too steep a drop off from last season. Already, the Catamounts have showed themselves admirably, going into top-ranked Denver last weekend and coming out with a split.