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October 4, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Hockey East Team-by-Team Preview

by Michael King/CHN Writer

Boston College Eagles

Head Coach: Jerry York

2011-12 Record: 30-10-1, 19-7-1 Hockey East (1st)

Who's Back: Soph. F Johnny Gaudreau (21-23-44), Sr. F Steven Whitney (16-23-39), Sr. F Pat Mullane (19-
29-39), Jr. F Bill Arnold (17-19-36), Sr. D Patch Alber (1-13-14), Sr. G Parker Milner (29-5-0, 1.66, .937)

2012-13 Outlook: There's little to be said about Boston College beyond lauding the program for its incredible run of success. Though the Eagles sustained losses after winning their third national championship in five years, the team posesses enough returning and incoming talent to make a return to the top of Hockey East likely.

But these expectations are nothing new to the Eagles.

"There's nothing wrong with that," coach Jerry York said about being picked to finish first in both the coaches' and media polls. "We like that. That's our mindset. So we won't shy away from that. If you use it as, 'Oh, we have to do this, and we have to do that,' then it's not good. But we've always been of the idea that you didn't come here to be average. You came here to be very, very good, so let's be good."

Junior Bill Arnold leads a strong group of forwards. The center brings a powerful blend of scoring ability and focus on defensive responsibilities. Meanwhile sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau was the Eagles' best player last year at times as a freshman. Poised in the biggest games, Gaudreau scored critical goals in every major competition, including the national final.

The blue line is less of a positive story, though, is far from a weakness. The challenge is to replace Brian Dumoulin who was one of the nation's truly dominate defensemen last season. He consistently took-over games for BC, playing critical minutes against opponents' top players. The Eagles, who maintained only seven true defensemen on their roster last year, will look for freshmen to take prominent roles. Even with three returning starters, it remains to be seen if any can become as dominant as Dumoulin.

Fortunately, these defensemen will get to play in front of Parker Milner, now arguably the conference's best and most experienced goaltender as a senior. Milner's play in net will considerably help to determine if he is to win his second national championship as a starter.

Prediction: The Eagles have proven that it's unwise to predict anything but a Hockey East championship until they fail to. Though the losses noted above are again staggering for yet another year, expect the younger players who saw limited ice their first few years to step in and fill the avoid. It's likely the Eagles will repeat as both regular season and tournament champions.

Boston University Terriers

Head Coach: Jack Parker

2011-12 Record: 23-15-1, 17-9-1 Hockey East (3rd)

Who's Back: Jr. F Matt Nieto (16-26-42), Jr. F Sahir Gill (12-19-31), Sr. F Wade Megan (20-9-29), Jr. D
Garrett Noonan (16-11-27), Soph. D Alexx Privitera (4-10-14), Sr. D Sean Escobedo (3-10-13)

2012-13 Outlook: Last season was a coaching challenge for Jack Parker. The program suffered through the dismissal of leading scorer Corey Trivino and defenseman Max Nicastro, as well as, the early departure of strong center Charlie Coyle to junior hockey — all mid-season.

This year, there's even more to replace, but also a lot coming in. Leading scorer Alex Chiasson left for professional hockey, as did star defenseman Adam Clendening. But the real story with BU is its large group of freshman. This nine-person class is considered by many to be highly-skilled top-to-bottom. Consequently, the Terriers could find themselves with several impact first-year players

Junior Garrett Noonan leads a strong set of defensemen. Noonan is arguably the league's best two-way defender and a pre-season candidate for player of the year. Replacing Clendening is a challenge, but seniors Ryan Ruikka and Sean Escobedo offer experience, while Alexx Privitera showed signs of a dynamic two-way game as a freshman.

In net, Parker appears content with the approach of bringing in two freshmen, having them compete for the job. It worked with Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser, starting in 2008-09, with one national championship and three Hockey East tournament semifinal appearances. This time it will be Matt O'Connor and Sean Maguire fighting for the role.

"I think the competition will be good," Parker said. "I think they'll be pulling for each other. We'll go every other game with them for a while, which is what we did with Rollheiser and Kieran for a while before Rollheiser got hurt. The next year, we went every other game then Rollheiser got hurt again. These guys will be helping each other, and we know they'll give us good goaltending."

Prediction: With many BU faithful probably asking 'what-if' over last year's in-season upheaval, they have to be encouraged by how the team coalesced to make the HEA semifinals and the NCAA tournament. Whether the Terriers can challege for the conference title this year largely depends on how well their acclimate to Hockey East.

Maine Black Bears

Head Coach: Tim Whitehead

2011-12 Record: 23-14-3, 15-10-2 Hockey East (4th)

Who's Back: Sr. F Joey Diamond (25-22-47), Sr. F Adam Shemansky (11-10-21), Sr. F Kyle Beattie (6-21-27), Sr. D Nick Pryor (2-11-13), Jr. D Brice O'Connor, Jr. G Dan Sullivan (22-11-3, 2.59, .909)

2012-13 Outlook: The Black Bears brilliantly parlayed an absurdly productive top-line and reliable defending into an appearance in both the Hockey East final and the NCAA tournament. Though both competitions ended in defeat the season finally appeared to meet the consistently lofty expectations of the Maine fanbase. It was their first NCAA appearance since the Frozen Four run of 2006-07.

However, building on that progress will be a challenge. Though senior forward Joey Diamond returns, it remains to be seen how much of last year's leading goal scorer's success was attributable to the peerless playmaking abilities of the graduated Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn.

"[Flynn and Abbott] had a great year, but having said that, Joey [Diamond] brings a lot of other things besides just putting up points," coach Tim Whitehead said. "He was a top goal scorer on our team but again, he set up a lot of goals, and is such a fierce competitor. He won so many loose pucks, so he can contribute in a lot of ways. It remains to be seen if we're going to have a dynamic first line the way we had for the past two years. We have some guys that I think have the potential to expand their roles, guys like Adam Shemansky, Kyle Beattie, Nick Pryor and Brice O'Connor. These are guys that I'm confident have the ability to expand."

Beyond replacing the scoring abilities of Abbott and Flynn, the team also lost defenders Will O'Neill and Ryan Hegarty. Underclassmen will need to step-up and prominently fill these roles. Though, the return of experienced goaltender Dan Sullivan will ease the transition.

Prediction: Expect the Black Bears to take a step back this year, as Whitehead looks to navigate a slight rebuilding phase and compete within the league at the same time. Maine is probably talented enough to comfortably secure a playoff spot, but home ice in the first round is likely unattainable unless Diamond can find his form from a year ago offensively.

Massachusetts Minutemen

Head Coach: John Micheletto

2011-12 Record: 13-18-5, 9-14-4 Hockey East (8th)

Who's Back: Jr. F Mike Pereira (17-17-34), Jr. F Conor Sheary (12-23-35), Jr. F Branden Gracel (7-14-21) Jr. D Joel Hanley (7-18-25), Jr. Conor Allen (7-7-14), Soph. G Kevin Boyle (8-7-4, 3.00, .895)

2012-13 Outlook: Again this season, the story of the Minutemen is their junior class. With a deep and wide talent breadth, this group forms the nucleus from all four sets of forwards to the blue line.

John Micheletto begins his first season as coach after Don "Toot" Cahoon retired over the summer. Having seen this primary core of Minutemen three times a year for the past two seasons, the UMass coach had an impression of his new team before even stepping on campus.

"I've always been impressed with their speed and their work ethic," Micheletto said. "Those things continue to impress me. You never know how coachable or receptive guys are going to be when you're on the outside. That's one thing that's really struck me. Their sponges. They're wide-eyed. They're assimilating information into their everyday work habits. Those things are good to see. I shouldn't be surprised, because I've always admired their work ethic. To see it first hand has been great, but you never really know until you're there."

UMass needs to replace forward T.J. Syner, who was one of the fastest and overall best skaters in Hockey East. Other than Syner's offensive dynamic, the reliability of forward Danny Hobbs and defenseman Michael Marcou, the core returns for UMass.

In net, the Minutemen have a genuine competition among junior Jeff Teglia and sophomores Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz. Boyle proved to be the most consistent, but didn't prove to be immune from several horrid performances throughout the year. Mastalerz, meanwhile, showed periods of brilliance, including earning a shutout of then-No. 1 Boston College. Expect this pair to primarily share time in net again this year.

Prediction: Picked ninth in the preseason coaches' poll, UMass is perhaps the hardest team to characterize. A finish anywhere from out of the playoffs to contending for home ice is all possible. But it falls on the juniors to mature and utilize their experience to improve upon eighth-place finishes their first two years.

Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks

Head Coach: Norm Bazin

2011-12 Record: 24-13-1, 17-9-1 Hockey East (2nd)

Who's back: Sr. F Riley Wetmore (14-25-39), Soph. F Scott Wilson (16-22-38), Jr. F Derek Arnold (17-17-34),
Jr. D Chad Ruhwedel (6-19-25), Soph. D Zack Kamrass (1-10-11), Jr. G Doug Carr (22-10-1, 2.13, .928)

2012-13 Outlook: First-year head coach Norm Bazin undoubtedly had the conference's best coaching performance last year. He inherited a team that won only five games in 2009-10 and turned largely the same group of players into an NCAA tournament squad and to near the top of Hockey East.

Now, with minimal losses, expectations are high. However, Bazin also realizes that the River Hawks must improve all facets of their game if they are to pry the Hockey East championship away from BC.

"We've got a lot of areas to improve," he said. "We bowed out in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, and we wanted to get further. We have several areas we pinpointed that we want to improve in, and our overall defense was certainly one of them."

Senior forward Riley Wetmore returns as a second-year captain and is one of the most dangerous playmakers in Hockey East. He, along with league freshman of the year Scott Wilson will pace the offense. The story for Lowell last season was depth and consistent contributions from a series of forwards, something that will have to continue this year.

Goalie Doug Carr was one of the league's breakout players after splitting time in net as a freshman a year earlier. His steadiness helped carry the team all the way to an overtime victory over Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Prediction: Given last year's success and the similarity of the current-year squad, a Hockey East championship is well within reach. But these can be difficult expectations to handle for teams not used to consistently competing for trophies. Expect the River Hawks to stick toward the top of the league throughout the season and content for a league championship and a second consecutive NCAA tournament berth.

Merrimack Warriors

Head Coach: Mark Dennehy

2011-12 Record: 18-12-7, 13-9-5 Hockey East (5th)

Who's Back: Jr. F Mike Collins (14-16-30), Jr. F Shawn Bates (6-11-17), Soph. F Connor Toomey (7-9-16), Sr.
D Kyle Bigos (4-13-17), Jr. D Jordan Heywood (4-15-19), Jr. D Brendan Ellis (2-15-17)

2012-13 Outlook: It's been well-documented how coach Mark Dennehy brought this perpetual Hockey East bottom dweller and took it to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 2010-11 since 1988. Despite losing offensive phenom Stephane Da Costa to the National Hockey League, Merrimack appeared poised to remain among the nation's elite, as the team started the year 9-0-1. But mediocre hockey in the final four months led to a season-ending, three-game series loss to Maine in the conference playoffs.

Beyond how the Warriors couldn't quite maintain the success of 2010-11, this will be a defining year in the evolution of Dennehy's program. Though Da Costa's play was flashy and helped keep the scoreboard in favor of the Warriors, it was really last year's senior class — scrappy forwards Ryan Flanigan, Carter Madsen and Jeff Velleca, reliable defenseman and captain Karl Stollery, and the perpetually excellent Joe Cannata in net — on which the foundation of this program was built.

All are gone and must be replaced. The loss of Cannata is the most concerning, given he was among Hockey East's best goaltenders for all his four years. The solution could be the talent and experience returning on the blue line, especially senior Kyle Bigos and junior Jordan Heywood. But again, it's uncertain how this group will look in front of a goalie without Cannata's special qualities. Junior Sam Marotta and sophomore Rasmus Tirronen will split time early in competing for the No. 1 job.

On offense, junior Mike Collins will lead a group of unproven forwards, but this is a team that will have to rely on stout defense to counteract the young offense.

"We've got a lot of younger players," coach Mark Dennehy said. "A couple years ago we were top-heavy with a lot of juniors and seniors. We've got four seniors this year we're going to rely on, but we've got a lot of younger players. As a college coach, that's always good, because they're not sick of listening to you yet. They're bright- eyed, and they almost have to listen to you. But I'm really excited. You can look at this way — we've got some important holes, and to a coach that's exciting. It's an opportunity for some of these guys to step up."

Prediction: Narrowly missing out on the NCAA tournament last season was a disappointment for the Warriors. And this year the challenge will be even greater. Unless young goaltenders Sam Marotta or Rasmus Tirronen can fill Cannata's void, expect the Warriors to be fighting for the final playoff spot in Hockey East.

New Hampshire Wildcats

Head Coach: Dick Umile

2011-12 Record: 15-19-3, 11-14-2 Hockey East (6th)

Who's back: Jr. F Nick Sorkin (9-26-35), Jr. F Kevin Goumas (9-25-34), Soph. F Grayson Downing (10-13- 23), Soph. D Trevor van Riemsdyk (4-15-19), Sr. D Connor Hardowa (6-10-16), Soph. G Casey De Smith (9- 10-1, 2.33, .926)

2012-13 Outlook: Last season was a difficult year for the Wildcats, after letting a Frozen Four appearance slip away in 2010-11 with a deep, senior-laden team. The good news is that Stevie Moses, who emerged as one of the conference's best forwards, is the only loss of consequence. The bad news is that Moses accounted for more than 20 percent of the Wildcats' goals.

This deep group of young, yet talented forwards should provide plenty of firepower for the Wildcats. On defense, UNH boasts one of the league's better two-way defenders in sophomore Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Perhaps the most positive development of last season was the rapid progression of goalie Casey De Smith. He unseated the struggling Matt Di Girolamo as a freshman and appears poised to make goaltending a strength for this team going forward. However, Umile insists that DeSmith will split time with Jeff Wyer early on. Wyer suffered a season-ending injury midseason that forced DeSmith into the No. 1 role he never relinquished.

Prediction: By virtue of earning the only other first-place vote in the Hockey East coaches' poll, Jerry York thinks highly of UNH (coaches can't vote for their own team). However, it's more likely that the Wildcats will be in strong contention for the fourth home-ice spot behind BC, BU, and UML. Though, the emergence of more consistent goal scoring could propel them soundly into that elite group. Conversely, major goal-scoring issues may make 2012-13 a difficult one for UNH to bear.

Northeastern Huskies

Head Coach: Jim Madigan

2011-12 Record: 13-16-5, 9-14-4 Hockey East (9th)

Who's Back: Soph. F Ludwig Karlsson (10-16-26), Sr. F Garrett Vermeersch (10-14-24), Sr. F Vinny Saponari
(7-16-23), Jr. Cody Ferreiro (9-6-15), Sr. D Drew Ellement (3-7-10), Sr. G Chris Rawlings (12-13-8, 2.68, .920)

2012-13 Outlook: Few programs experienced as much roster upheaval last season as Northeastern under new coach Jim Madigan, whether it was on the recruiting front, early departures or program attrition.

As much as the team struggled in conference, the Huskies strung together several impressive out-of-conference wins, including against Notre Dame (twice), Michigan and Minnesota — all on the road.

On the recruiting front, the Huskies lost the talented Jon Gillies to Providence, once goalie Chris Rawlings decided to return for his senior season. Rawlings' return now means he'll be one of the players expected to help restore Northeastern to the Hockey East playoffs.

"For Chris, the physical preparation and talent is there," Madigan said. "Last year, when he was struggling with consistency, it was because he was trying to do too much. We were hurt, or we were playing poorly in front of him, and he tried to do more than what he was capable of doing. He tried to make up for our lack of offense, and he can't do that. These are minor tweaks he has to make. He prepares very well. He's looking to continue playing after college, and this is his opportunity to do that."

However, the Huskies may have earned a net gain with the loss of Gillies, considering they enrolled the Roy brothers, Kevin and Derick — also late in the recruiting cycle. Kevin could be immediate impact player for Northeastern this season. He adds to an already talented group of Northeastern forwards that will need to aid in overcoming a shallow, inexperienced group of defensemen.

Prediction: Though strong senior goaltending is an asset in Hockey East, the Huskies have experienced simply too much roster turnover in the past two offseasons to build tangible momentum. Expect the team to again show signs of progress this year, but consistency could be their undoing, as they battle for positioning in the bottom half of the league.

Providence Friars

Head Coach: Nate Leaman

2011-12 Record: 14-20-4, 10-14-3 Hockey East (7th)

Who's back: Soph. F Ross Mauermann (10-15-25), Jr. F Derek Army (11-11-22), Sr. F Tim Schaller (14-7-21),
Jr. F (6-17-13), Soph. F Damian Cross (4-12-16), Sr. D Myles Harvey (7-10-17), Sr. D Alex Velischek (0-7-7)

2012-2013 Outlook: Few programs that have struggled largely over the past decade now appear to have the momentum of Providence. With Nate Leaman now in year No. 2, it's clear that the Friars are on the upward swing, with a leader whom some consider the nation's best young coach.

The Friars were the surprise of the league in 2011-12 outside of Lowell. Though with a modest seventh-place finish, Providence earned a handful of impressive wins and reached the TD Garden in the Hockey East playoffs after dispatching the River Hawks in three games. Though soundly defeated by Boston College in the semifinal, the meaning of PC's presence on the conference's biggest stage was significant.

The quality of recruits that the coach has convinced to play in Schneider Arena in these two recruiting cycles is an indication that Leaman will bring the Friars to the top of Hockey East very quickly. However, a conference championship is not yet the expectation.

"I believe we have a lot to sell at Providence College," Leaman said. "It's one of the best academic institutions in college hockey. We have a beautiful campus in an incredible city. I think there's a lot to see, and I'm excited about it. With the renovation to our building coming up, it provides an even better opportunity for young men. Clearly I thought there was a talent gap between our team and the top teams in our league. We tried to focus on building depth within our program."

Last season, the Friars played in the same style as under previous coach Tim Army: strong defensive posture and physical play in all three areas of the ice. With highly-touted incoming recruit Jon Gillies poised to take over as No. 1 netminder, expect the Friars to branch out more offensively if the freshman proves to be as reliable as many predict. Having graduated a pair of senior goalies, including the experienced Alex Beaudry, Gillies is virtually assured the starting job if he performs.

Prediction: With everything moving in the right direction, expect the Friars to continue their ascent up the Hockey East standings. Earning home-ice in the Hockey East playoffs should be their season goal, but anywhere from fourth to six are possibilities for the Friars.

Vermont Catamounts

Head Coach: Kevin Sneddon

2011-12 Record: 6-27-1, 3-23-1 Hockey East (10th)

Who's Back: Soph. F Kyle Reynolds (10-13-23), Soph. F Colin Markison (6-8-14), Jr. F Connor Brickley (9-3-
12), Soph. F Mike Montagna (1-10-11), Jr. D Nick Bruneteau (2-16-18), Soph. D Michael Paliotta (4-6-10)

2012-13 Outlook: The contrast between the last two seasons and the team's Frozen Four run in 2008-09 is
significant. A program that was consistently fighting for home ice in the Hockey East playoffs, now consistently finds itself at the bottom of the conference. The Catamounts experienced greater than average injuries last season, but with only three conference wins, that is only one piece of the explanation.

This season may very well prove the same. Not only did the team lose last year's leading scorer, Sebastian
Stalberg to professional hockey, it also suffered from the de-commitment of heralded recruit Zemgus
Girgensons. This in addition to losing the majority of its coaching staff to UMass — three assistants who headed to Amherst, including one to take the head coaching position.

However, some talent does return. Forwards, Connor Brickley, Kyle Reynolds and Colin Markison hope to
continue their development. Defensemen Michael Paliotta, Nick Bruneteau and Nick Luuko bring poise to the
blue line.

"The biggest thing, though, is just getting everybody back healthy," coach Kevin Sneddon said. "A healthy
Connor Brickley, a healthy Nick Lukko, a healthy Chris McCarthy. These were all guys that were out for
lengthy periods last year, and they're key contributors. Connor still played a little last year after he got hurt. Chris was gone the second weekend of the year."

But as with other peer programs, the biggest question is in net. Departed senior Rob Madore, who led the team to the Frozen Four as a freshman, spent nearly all of the past four years protecting the crease in Burlington. The untested replacement options are freshmen Billy Faust and Brody Hoffman with senior John Vazzano likely serving as the No. 3.

Ultimately, the challenge for this team is to persevere through the evident program upheaval to gradually
rebuild confidence and success.

Prediction: The Catamounts were perhaps unfortunate to lose both forwards whom they thought would be among their primary offensive contributors in Stalberg and Girgensons. Vermont has a young nucleus of talented players, Sneddon and newly hired assistants Kevin Patrick and Kyle Wallack can build around, but success may be several seasons away. The team's only chance to exit the conference basement and fight for a playoff spot is to get enough reliable goaltending with a pair of unproven freshmen. While both Faust and Hoffman are older than most rookies, they also play behind a team that has struggled to play consistently in the last two seasons.
 

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