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October 7, 2011 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

2011-12 Hockey East Preview

CHN Staff Report

Alex Chiasson had 14 goals and 34 points for BU last season.

Alex Chiasson had 14 goals and 34 points for BU last season.

A team-by-team look at the 2011-12 season.

Boston College Eagles

Head Coach: Jerry York

2010-11 Record: 30-8-1, 20-6-1 Hockey East (1st)

Who's Back: Jr. D Brian Dumoulin (3-30-33), Jr. F Pat Mullane (8-21-29), Sr. F Paul Carey (13-13-26), Jr. F Chris Kreider (11-13-24), Sr. F Barry Almeida (8-13-21), So. F Bill Arnold (10-10-20), Sr. D Tommy Cross (7-11-18)

2011-12 Outlook: After winning the national title in 2010, the Eagles asserted themselves as the best team in Hockey East again last season. They led the league in offense, defense and special teams en route to winning both the regular-season and tournament crowns. They entered the NCAA tournament on a 15-1-1 run and appeared ready to reach another Frozen Four, but wound up getting flattened by Colorado College in a shocking 8-4 first-round loss. The Eagles have some shoes to fill this season after losing four of their top five scorers, including early departures Cam Atkinson and Jimmy Hayes.

As usual, though, BC has loads of talent returning. Brian Dumoulin and Tommy Cross lead what should once again be the league's best defensive corps. Up front, Chris Kreider could emerge as the best all-around forward in the conference, while Paul Carey and Pat Mullane are also capable of making the jump into the top tier of forwards. If some others step up and a couple freshmen contribute, BC could be lethal on offense again.

The biggest uncertainty is in net, where the Eagles will need to replace two-time national champion John Muse. Junior Parker Milner did an admirable job two years ago when he split time with Muse for part of the season, but struggled in limited time last year. He'll open the season as the starter, but don't be surprised to see freshman Brian Billett push him for playing time.

"Our expectations are very, very high. That's always the case at BC, and this year's no exception," said BC coach Jerry York. "We're kind of looking at who's gonna step up. I think Chris Kreider, Pat Mullane, Paul Carey — we've got a number of players I think can really step up. That's what the season's all about — who's gonna step up? Who's gonna become those dynamic players for us?"

Prediction: The Eagles probably won't be quite as dominant as they were last year, but they should still be one of the top teams in Hockey East, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see them take home some more league hardware. Expect another NCAA tournament appearance and, if the offense comes together and the goaltending is solid, another opportunity to make a Frozen Four run.

-Scott McLaughlin

Boston University Terriers

Head Coach: Jack Parker

2010-11 Record: 19-12-8, 15-6-6 Hockey East (3rd)

Who's Back: Jr. F Alex Chiasson (14-20-34), Sr. F Chris Connolly (10-18-28), Sr. F Corey Trivino (8-20-28), So. F Charlie Coyle (7-19-26), So. D Adam Clendening (5-21-26), So. F Sahir Gill (6-19-25), So. F Matt Nieto (10-13-23), Sr. G Kieran Millan (16-10-8, 2.68, .919)

2011-12 Outlook: The Terriers opened last season on a 10-game unbeaten streak and rose to No. 1 in the nation in early November, but they failed to sustain that success. Plagued by inconsistency — which can at least partially be blamed on their youth — the Terriers ultimately bowed out to Northeastern in the conference quarterfinals, marking the first time they missed the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons since the late 80s. As disappointing as the last two seasons have been, there is reason for BU fans to be optimistic this year.

The Terriers return all but two everyday players, including their top seven scorers and goaltender Kieran Millan. Alex Chiasson and Charlie Coyle are two of the conference's most talented power forwards, and they can give teams nightmares down low. Add speedsters Chris Connolly and Matt Nieto and playmakers Corey Trivino and Sahir Gill, and BU has the capability to score in bunches.

The Terriers, however, will need to be better defensively after relying too heavily on Millan for much of last season. They will also have to improve on the power play after ranking 47th in the country with a meager 14.9-percent conversion rate last year.

"Because we're only losing two guys who played regularly, and we're bringing in some talented freshmen, we'll have a lot more depth, a lot more competition for jobs," said BU coach Jack Parker. "We've got more seniors and juniors in the lineup, which is good. We just feel like we have more experience and more talent. Having a lot of guys back is always nice."

Prediction: The Terriers have all the tools to be a national title contender, but they need to find a way to be more consistent and more focused on a game-to-game basis than they've been the last two years. If the struggles two years ago were caused by a national championship hangover, and last year's struggles were due in part to youth and inexperience, then there are no excuses this season. Anything short of a deep run in the Hockey East and NCAA tournaments would be another disappointment.

-Scott McLaughlin

Maine Black Bears

Head Coach: Tim Whitehead

2010-11 Record: 17-12-7, 14-8-5 Hockey East (5th)

Who's Back: Sr. F Spencer Abbott (17-23-40), Sr. F Brian Flynn (20-16-36), Jr. F Joey Diamond (11-10-21), Sr. D Will O'Neill (4-17-21), So. G Dan Sullivan (10-7-2, 2.73, .890)

2011-12 Outlook: The Black Bears entered last season with high expectations after reaching the conference title game in 2010. Unfortunately for the Maine faithful, they didn't live up to the hype. Despite finishing the regular season on a seven-game unbeaten streak, the Black Bears fell short of home ice in the conference tournament, got swept by Merrimack in the quarterfinals and missed the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. If Maine wants to end that NCAA drought, it will need to replace five of its top nine scorers, including two-time Hobey Baker finalist Gustav Nyquist.

Topping the list of returning players are Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn, two of the most dynamic forwards in the league. Joey Diamond has also shown flashes of brilliance when he's stayed out of the penalty box, where he spent a conference-high 130 minutes last year. After that, though, the Black Bears will need some secondary options to emerge.

Maine also has some question marks on the blue line after losing Jeff Dimmen and Josh Van Dyk, but the biggest question mark of all is in net. Coach Tim Whitehead juggled three goalies last year before finally settling on Dan Sullivan down the stretch. Although Sullivan did record three straight shutouts in February, he struggled with bouts of inconsistency and ended the season by giving up 17 goals in his last four games.

"One key for us will be to stay focused on our team defense," Whitehead said. "When we did that down the stretch last year, we went on a seven-game unbeaten streak. And that's why we were effective at that point — we were really concentrating on team defense. And then offensively, we'll need to get more contributions from our depth players."

Prediction: Whitehead also said he expects Sullivan and fellow sophomore Martin Ouellette to surprise some people in net. If the offense, defense and goaltending do all step up, Maine should finally return to the NCAA tournament. That's a lot to ask, however. The more likely scenario is that the Black Bears struggle with some of the same problems as last year and end up in a similar position at the end of the season — on the bubble for both home ice and an NCAA berth.

-Scott McLaughlin

Massachusetts Minutemen

Head Coach: Don Cahoon

2010-11 Record: 6-23-6, 5-16-6 Hockey East (8th)

Who's Back: Sr. F Danny Hobbs (12-16-28), Sr. F T.J. Syner (9-18-27), Sr. D Mike Marcou (4-7-11), So. F Mike Pereira (12-13-25), So. D Joel Hanley (3-15-18), So. D Adam Phillips (10-5-15), So. F Conor Sheary (6-8-14), So. F Braden Gracel (4-9-13)

2011-12 Outlook: Last year was unquestionably a rebuilding season for the Minutemen. With 14 freshmen – the most in Hockey East – UMass experienced significant growing pains despite the senior leadership of goaltender Paul Dainton. It's coach Don Cahoon's bet that this group of players, which has a combination of depth and high-end talent, will mature and carry his team up the standings.

"I think everyone's interested in seeing what was considered a young team last year – with 14 freshmen now sophomores — whether they've grown and are at a new level of achievement," Cahoon said. "We're hoping that this progression takes shape."

Like other teams in the league, much of the Minutemen's success will derive from the quality of its goaltending. Sophomore Jeff Teglia struggled through injury and the adjustment to Hockey East as a freshman last season. If Teglia can't earn the starting job early in the season, then freshmen Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz will be given ample opportunities. Although it now looks as though Mastalerz will miss some time early in the season with a groin injury.

Seniors Danny Hobbs and Mike Marcou add leadership and experience, while forwards T.J. Syner and Mike Periera — along with Hobbs — will have to carry much of the scoring load.

Prediction: The Minutemen are capable of showing best progression of any team in the league and finishing a respectable sixth place. A lack of proven goaltending and upperclassman defensive depth will likely prevent a higher finish. Contending for home ice in the first round of Hockey East playoffs is probably a year away, but improving significantly on last year's eight-win campaign is the primary goal.

-Michael King

Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks

Head Coach: Norm Bazin

Last Season: 5-25-4, 4-21-2

Who's back: Sr. F David Vallorani (12-19-31), Jr. F Riley Wetmore (14-16-30), Sr. F Matt Ferreira (10-7-17), So. D Chad Ruhwedel (2-13-15), Jr. D Chris Ickert (3-8-11)

2011-2012 outlook: After a rough 2010-11 campaign that saw the River Hawks go 5-25-4, UMass-Lowell will have to rebound with a new coach. Norm Bazin will take over the reins at UMass-Lowell this season after spending three years as the head coach of Division III Hamilton. Bazin is a UMass-Lowell alumnus and played at the school from 1990-1994. Bazin will look to rebuild UMass-Lowell into a force in Hockey East but he will have a monumental amount of work to do before the River Hawks can get back to that point.

UMass-Lowell will enter the 2011-2012 season as one of the youngest teams in Division I, boasting 23 underclassmen mixed in with 9 upperclassmen. Bazin will lead his charges into battle with questions throughout the lineup. One of the biggest issues coming into this season will be the same question that the River Hawks asked all of last year. Using three different starting goaltenders a year ago, UMass-Lowell will look to gain consistency in net this season. All three goaltenders that the River Hawks used last season have returned while incoming freshman, Brian Robbins, will look to join the rotation.

Doug Carr (4-13-3, 3.63, .896), a returning sophomore, should be the front runner coming into the season followed by another sophomore, Marc Boulanger (0-11-1, 3.96, .889).

Along with goaltending, the defense has the same questions. UMass-Lowell enters the season with almost exclusively underclassmen on defense with only two upperclassmen in senior Tim Corcoran and junior and Boston College transfer Malcolm Lyles.

Sophomores Chad Ruhwedel and Daniel Furlong seek to gain the most playing time on defense while four freshmen will vie for spots on the roster. With all the inexperience on the blue line the Lowell goaltending will be tested early and often.

The strong suit, among many questions, coming into this season is that UMass-Lowell will return six out of their seven top scorers from last season and only lost one key player from their offensive rotation. Lowell should receive scoring on their top lines and will look to notables David Vallorani (12-19-31), Riley Wetmore (14-16-30) and Matt Ferreira (10-7-17) to lead the way offensively. Other returning forwards that could step up this season are Joseph Pendenza, Josh Holmstrom and Shayne Thompson.

Prediction: With all the inexperience throughout the roster, UMass-Lowell may be in for another rough season. The strength should be seen on the offensive side of the puck with some experience returning, but, for any success in the upcoming season, the River Hawks will need to receive better goaltending than they did last year. With any hope, the goaltending will improve to back up the young defense. If they fail to receive better goaltending, the inexperience on the blue line will loom large for the upcoming season. Look for Lowell out of the playoffs come season's end suffering another struggle 2011-2012.

-Joshua Seguin

Merrimack Warriors

Head Coach: Mark Dennehy

2010-11 Record: 25-10-4, 16-8-3 Hockey East (4th)

Who's Back: Sr. F Ryan Flanigan (16-18-34), Sr. F Jesse Todd (17-14-31), Soph. F Mike Collins (14-16-30), Sr. D Karl Stollery (6-21-27), Sr. F Carter Madsen (10-11-21), Sr. F Elliott Sheen (7-13-20), Sr. G Joe Cannata (25-10-4, 2.48, .911)

2011-12 Outlook: Much will be made of whether the Warriors can overcome the loss of Stephane Da Costa, who signed with the Ottawa Senators at the conclusion of last season. His 90 points in two years will be tough to replace, although the Warriors do return its top two goal scorers in seniors Ryan Flanigan (16) and Jesse Todd (17), with the former only suiting up with Da Costa on his line once all of last season.

While they should still be able to score, a lot will rely on senior goaltender Joe Cannata, who passed on the opportunity to sign with the Vancouver Canucks — the team that drafted him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft — in order to return for his senior season.

You could certainly make the argument that Cannata was the Warriors' best player last season and until a forgettable weekend at Maine in February (he was pulled in back-to-back nights) he was considered a a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award.

The defense will be led by senior Karl Stollery, who has quietly put together one of the best careers for any defenseman in the history of the program. Jordan Heywood, who will serve as an alternate captain despite being in just his second year, led all Hockey East rookies with a plus-24 rating last season.

Prediction: The Warriors have lofty expectations after a run to the Hockey East title game last season and a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988. They should once again be on the top-half of Hockey East and, if they win the right games and the national picture plays itself out right, could be in line for a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

-Mike McMahon

New Hampshire Wildcats

Head Coach: Dick Umile

Last Season: 22-11-6, 17-6-4 Hockey East (2nd)

Who's back: Sr. F Stevie Moses (12-14-26), Sr. F Mike Borisenok (6-14-20), Jr. F John Henrion (12-7-19), Sr. D Damon Kipp (3-10-13), Jr. D Brett Kostolansky (5-14-19), Sr. G Matt Di Girolamo (22-11-6, 2.43, .923)

2011-2012 Outlook: Last year, the Wildcats had a typical UNH season, which saw them go to a 10th straight NCAA tournament. The season started well, with UNH losing just twice in their first 16 games.

Despite the fast start, UNH stumbled into the Hockey East tournament and the second seed going 2-4-2 in their final 8 games.

The highlight of UNH's season was a 3-1 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Miami, the top seed in the Northeast regional. The win marked UNH's third straight in the first round of the tournament, but that team was vastly different than the team that will hit ice this October.

Entering the 2011-12 season, UNH has questions to answer on both ends of the rink. Gone from last year's team are the top three scorers, in Paul Thompson, Mike Sislo and Phil Desimone, the top offensive defenseman in Blake Kessel and reliable blue liner Matt Campanale.

The one returning bright spot is a proven and experienced goalie, in Matt Di Girolamo.

Di Girolamo played in all 39 games last season, finishing the season with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. Di Girolamo will be tested early and often by a young defensive corps with only three returning players with game experience.

Damon Kipp, Connor Hardowa and Brett Kostalansky will lead the way on defense with a cast of highly touted underclassmen. Sophomores Justin Agosta and Eric Knodel are seemingly the favorites to fill two of the three spots left vacant in the offseason. Also look for freshman Trevor van Riemsdyk to fill the third open defensive spot to be challenged by fellow classmates Eric Chevrier and Ryan Randall.

Up front UNH will have an interesting mix of youth and experience. Despite the loss of nearly its offensive output, a UNH team never has problems scoring and somebody always seems to step up when there are huge questions. This season, UNH returns the speedy Stevie Moses who picked up his game near the end of last season. Moses is joined John Henrion, Dalton Speelman and Mike Borisenok, all of which could be poised for big seasons.

Joining the returnees up front will be a strong cast of four freshmen, which includes notables Matt Willows (Eastern Junior Hockey League Offensive Player of the Year) and Grayson Downing (70 points and 34 goals in the British Columbia Hockey League). Look for the freshmen to vie for playing time against a solid core of returning sophomores and juniors.

Prediction: With all the question marks coming into the season, Umile might have one of his prototypical coaching jobs to perform. Every time the Wildcats seem to have a major rebuilding year Umile guides them to a high conference finish, home-ice advantage in the Hockey East Tournament and an NCAA berth. The challenge of an inexperienced defense and a front line will be paramount for UNH as it looks to advance to an 11th straight NCAA tournament.

-Joshua Seguin

Northeastern Huskies

Head Coach: Jim Madigan

2010-11 Record: 14-16-8, 10-10-7 Hockey East (6th)

Who's Back: Sr. F Steve Quailer (3-10-13), Sr. F Mike McLaughlin (11-4-15), Jr. G Chris Rawlings (12-13-8, 2.68, .920), So. F Rob Dongara (6-8-14), So. D Anthony Bitetto (3-17-20), 

2011-12 Outlook: Replacing a talented senior class to graduation appeared to be the biggest concern for Northeastern after a valiant loss to Boston College in the Hockey East Semifinals. But a single offseason turned one of the stronger programs in Hockey East to one in turmoil. Not only did the team lose the majority of their scoring, they lost their coach, rising sophomores in Brodie Reid and Jamie Oleksiak and three heralded recruits.

All of that might be a lot to overcome for new coach Jim Madigan in one season. However, there are many positives to the squad he inherits, including junior goaltender Chris Rawlings. In fact, Rawlings is among the best in Hockey East, finishing with a .920 save percentage last season.

"It's always nice as a new coach coming into the league if you have goaltending, because everything starts from the goaltending out," Madigan said during Hockey East Media Day on Sept. 27. "So we're really fortunate that way."

Meanwhile, Northeastern has a young defensive corps that will benefit playing behind the experienced Rawlings. Yet, the group experienced a big blow when shut-down defenseman Jamie Oleksiak bolted for the Ontario Hockey League.

Prediction: Reversing the current direction of the program is the primary goal for Madigan in his first year. The Huskies have the goaltender and blue line talent to keep games close, but it's unlikely they'll have the scoring ability to move up the standings. Qualifying for the Hockey East playoffs and continued development of last year's freshman class would be admirable accomplishments.

-Michael King

Providence Friars

Head Coach: Nate Leaman

Last season: 8-18-8, 4-16-7 Hockey East (9)

Who's back: Jr. F Tim Schaller (5-14-19), So. F (6-17-13), Jr. F Chris Rooney (3-9-12), Sr. D Daniel New (0-6-6), So. D Mark Adams (0-3-3), Sr. G Alex Beaudry (7-16-8, 3.27, .902)

2011-2012 outlook: Last season the Providence almost made the Hockey East playoffs missing out on the last weekend and this season the Friars enter as the third team in Hockey East that made a coaching change in the offseason.

Nate Leaman, who comes to Providence after nine seasons at Union takes over a program that is in much need of a facelift to catapult it back into the national spotlight.

Leaman and the Friars return a team that lost four of its top five scorers. To have a successful 2011-2012 campaign Leaman and the Friars will need to improve on all aspects of the game including goaltending.

The goaltending, this season, is the strong suit for the Friars as they return two seasoned goalies. Even though Alex Beaudry had an impressive sophomore campaign two years ago in which he had 2.87 GAA and .916 save percentage, last year was disappointing with a 3.27 GAA and .902 save percentage.

His backup Justin Gates is also a senior and will test Beaudry for starts all season. With two senior goaltenders the leadership in net will look to be the last line of defense for a Providence team that has a lot of questions in front of them.

Even though the Friars return seven players on the blue line with game experience, they've received little from the group.

To have a successful season on the offensive side of the puck the Friars must find a way to get their defensemen involved in the offense.

Defensively, the Friars finished last season eighth in Hockey East in team defense allowing 3.41 goals per game. Still, at the end of the season, the defense wasn't the biggest problem that plagued Providence. The Friars ranked last in Hockey East in scoring offense, the Friars will need to find scorers and they will need to find them fast.

With the top three scorers gone the offensive production will have to come from a committee of players who will have to bolster their game.

Derek Army (6-7-13), Tim Schaller (5-14-9) and Chris Rooney (3-9-12) will be the forwards to watch this season. As a freshman and sophomore Matt Bergland scored 27 and 23 points respectively. To be successful on offense Providence will need to see his numbers return to the plateau that they were on in his first two seasons.

The inexperience up front on the bottom lines may be the biggest hindrance of the Friars. Along with the returning forwards, the recruiting class up front is six deep. Look for some of these players to test the waters on the bottom lines.

Prediction: The Friars should be improved on the defensive side of the puck, with the experience of the defensive unit and the senior leadership in net. Improved defensive involvement in the offense and young forwards stepping up are going to be the key for the 2011-2012 season. With the lack of experience and scoring touch on the offense Providence will miss the playoffs and struggle another season.

-Joshua Seguin

Vermont Catamounts

Head Coach: Kevin Sneddon

Last Season: 8-20-8, 6-14-7 Hockey East (7)

Who's Back: Jr. F Sebastian Stalberg (9-19-28), Jr. F Chris Mccarthy (8-12-20), So. F Connor Brickley (4-9-13), Sr. D Drew Mackenzie (5-12-17), So. D Nick Bruneteau (1-15-16), Sr. G Rob Madore (8-20-8, 2.98, .907)

2011-2012 outlook: To say last season was a struggle for Vermont is an understatement. Coming off the worst season at UVM since 2001-2002, the Catamounts can only look up after an 8-20-8 campaign that concluded with a first round exit against UNH in two games.

To improve upon last season, the Catamounts will need to improve on both the offensive and defensive sides of the puck. The pieces are seemingly in place for UVM to surprise a few people this upcoming season. It returns one of the most seasoned goalies in the country as Rob Madore returns with 99 games of collegiate experience. In his career, Madore has a 2.68 GAA and a .909 save percentage. Even though Madore has had inconsistencies throughout his collegiate career, Sneddon and UVM are expecting a consistent, strong season from the senior netminder, who has the ability to steal games for the Catamounts.

With the experience in net, Vermont will look to improve on a team defense that ranked third worst in Hockey East last season. With five returning defensemen from last season the Catamounts will have some experience on the blue line. This experience may still be a year away, but it is there and, by the end of the season, Vermont may be where they want to be. The stalwart on the Vermont backline will have to be Drew Mackenzie. The senior is a gifted two-way defenseman who Vermont will have to ride to have any kind of success this season.

Also returning is sophomore Nick Bruneteau — another player Sneddon expects a huge season from. The offensive one-two punch on the blue line will be something that the Catamounts will enjoy for the coming seasons. Adding to the depth on a young defense, Vermont welcomes a pair of freshmen, in Michael Paliotta and Nick Lukko, who will both seek to have an immediate impact on the blue line.

To have a successful 2011-12 campaign, Vermont must score more goals. Last season, Vermont scored 82 goals, which was second worst in the league. With nearly all of its offensive firepower and its top two offensive defensemen returning, the offensive attack may still be a year away from being great but Vermont will be improved. Look for returning forwards Sebastian Stalberg, Chris McCarthy and Connor Brickley to boost the Catamounts offensive production. Vermont also boasts seven others who have considerable game experience from last season and five incoming freshmen who will improve the depth.

Prediction: With most of their offensive firepower returning from last season Vermont seems poised on improving its second worst offense from last season. Even though, this year's Catamounts may not be completely ready to test the Vermont successes of the recent past, these young Catamounts may end up surprising. Look for Vermont to end up in the middle of the pack in Hockey East, a few points out of a home-ice berth.

-Joshua Seguin

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