Hockey East: What to Watch, 2012-13
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
The story of Boston College hockey this century has been one of dominance. The Eagles, led by legendary coach Jerry York, enter the 2012-13 season with four national championships in the 2000s, including three of the last five. The most recent, of course, came just five months ago in Tampa., when BC dispatched upstart Ferris State, 4-1. The lasting image of the game came courtesy gifted forward Johnny Gaudreau who sealed BC's win with a breathtaking jaunt through the slot, before a few flicks of the wrist left a defender and a goaltender helpless.
Gaudreau headlines a typically strong BC team looking to win its second consecutive national title. Before that whole business, though, York leads his club through a demanding Hockey East season. Massachusetts-Lowell and Boston University figure to compete; it seems inevitable at this point, though, that it won't just be Terriers and River Hawks hunting Eagles this season. UML's shocking season last year — from five-win season to NCAA Tournament berth — came out of the blue. Of the seven teams picked to finish behind BC, UML and BU, at least one will make a run at some point. Naming the most likely candidate, at this point, seems like a waste of time.
"Last year, in our poll, only three of the 10 schools finished where they were picked to finish and that's probably normal," Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna said. "What's exciting about the start of the year is that there is usually one … school that comes out of nowhere. Lowell last year was a fairly extreme example of that. A team gets a new coach and only wins five the game the year before, and I don't think anyone thought they'd end up a game away from the Frozen Four and win 24 games."
John Micheletto takes over at UMass
For many, the news of Don "Toot" Cahoon's retirement from Massachusetts came as a shock. After 12 years, Cahoon decided both he and the program needed a change. The circumstances of his resignation remain unclear, and the following month left many with a lessened view of the state of the program in Amherst. Names like Quinnipiac's Rand Pecknold, Holy Cross' Paul Pearl and others surfaced, but UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon eventually settled on Vermont assistant John Micheletto, who begins his first year with the Minutemen on Oct. 14 in a home game against future league foe UConn.
"It's the best part of the job. You don't get into coaching for the offseason," Micheletto said. "To get coaching and start building relationships, getting on the ice the first few handfuls of time, and seeing what you have. The difference now being that I'm not seeing (UMass) from across the bench. I know what they have in terms of skill sets. Now I see how guys interact and what they bring in terms of leadership. It's a pretty exciting time."
That excitement for Micheletto could, however, be short-lived should the Minutemen struggle as they have for each of the last five seasons. Not since 2006-07 has UMass finished the year with a winning record, and both the league's coaches and media slotted them ninth in preseason polls. There is talent on the UMass roster, led by junior forwards Mike Pereira and Conor Sheary, as well as defenseman Joel Hanley, joined by a group of grinding seniors and underclassmen. Cahoon struggled a year ago to find consistent lineups, and the difficulty revealed manifested itself with uneven performances and frequently uninspired hockey.
Regardless, Micheletto remains certain he and assistants Joey Gasparini and Len Quesnelle can mold UMass into a competitive team in Hockey East.
"I'm a firm believer that kids like (structure and consistency)," Micheletto said. "They may push up against it to test the limits, but they have to know where they are. Accountability is a big part of what our staff is going to do with our guys. I think it gives them a comfort level. It lets them know what expected of them. I can let you know how impressed I am, and I'll do it just as loudly when you're meeting the expectation as I may have to when you're not meeting that expectation. When that becomes the norm, guys can start holding each other accountable when they hear it from the top."
Lowell the favorite
In more positive news for state-funded hockey programs in Massachusetts, UML enters the 2012-13 season prepared to deal with a title it earned for itself last season: contender. The River Hawks suffered through a woeful 2010-11 season that brought the Blaise MacDonald era to an end. Alumnus Norm Bazin stepped in and quickly transformed his alma mater into an uptempo team that succeeded in forcing opponents to play faster than they wanted to.
Despite a 22-win regular season, UML suffered a defeat to Providence in the first round of the Hockey East tournament. An at-large bid to the national tournament extended its season, but struggles in the final few weeks left Bazin and his club looking to prove the success they enjoyed for most of last year wasn't an aberration. However, the only expectations holding any weight for the club are those they placed on themselves.
"We don’t pay attention to (outside expectations) because If we would have paid attention to expectations last year we were picked ninth, and there would have been no reason to the play the games we would have gotten depressed," Bazin said. "We focus on trying to get better every single week and hopefully we are in contention at the end of the year with some of the elite teams in our conference."
Bazin's demeanor suits his club perfectly, especially as the transition from surprise team to favorite continues.
The champs rebuild on the fly
Returning five of 10 top scorers and an all-world goaltender from a national championship team doesn't seem like it merits the "rebuilding," and Boston College isn't exactly starting from scratch. The Eagles don't necessarily have to replace departed talent with unproven quantities, but there are elements that drove their 19-game run that ended with a celebration in Tampa that aren't easily replaced.
Even with Chris Kreider, Barry Almeida and Paul Carey gone from their forward lines, the two most notable holes come on the blue line with Brian Dumoulin and Tommy Cross now playing professional hockey. Both defensemen played valuable minutes for BC in the club's biggest games. The graduation of Edwin Shea, who appeared in all 44 games, last season compounded problems further.
"We may play four freshmen defensemen at times this season," BC coach Jerry York said. "You don't just replace a Brian Dumoulin or a Tommy Cross. Not just their talent, but their leadership. We're going to miss it. We're going to rely on Pat Wey to really come in and be strong for us. He had some injury problems last year, but he returned and was good down the stretch."
Wey, a senior, is joined by Isaac MacLeod and Patch Alber as the lone upperclassmen on the club for the Eagles. In typical BC fashion, though, the rookies boast major talent and the type of upside that could lead to more banners hanging in Conte Forum in the future. Freshman defenseman Mike Matheson, a first-round draft choice of the Florida Panthers, will likely make the biggest impact for the Eagles. Even as BC's defense comes together, the presence of Parker Milner, who carried BC on its remarkable run with a 1.09 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage, provides a steadying presence.
Aside from the defensemen, graduation and early departures left holes on each of the Eagles' three top scoring lines last year. York's magic doesn't usually kick in until mid-January, so he certainly has some time to find the right combinations. With gifted players like Johnny Gaudreau, Pat Mullane and Bill Arnold around, it's inevitable that York will locate the right groupings, as his lines gel and freshmen find their roles.
Goaltending battles are open
There are only two Hockey East teams that enter this season with nothing but certainty in goal. Parker Milner's presence in Chestnut Hill has the Eagles as favorites to win the league, while UML's Doug Carr makes the River Hawks the best challengers to unseat BC.
For each of the remaining eight teams, however, there are questions in the crease. For some it's who will emerge, while others wait to see if they can receive consistency. Two of the more interesting battles are shaping up at BU and Vermont, where each club will start the season with two freshmen battling for playing time.
Like other levels of hockey, the college game demands a high-quality goaltender to build a truly successful club. Finding the player who can calmly stop shots and win games for a team is never easy. A steady presence in goal can be enough on stronger teams, as was the case with Maine a year ago. The Black Bears' Dan Sullivan had a strong sophomore season, and enters the year as the clear No. 1 for coach Tim Whitehead. Others will challenge, and it will take further progression and consistency from Sullivan to keep Maine in contention.
Meanwhile, Maine's primary rival, New Hampshire, has opted, instead, to keep its job open even as Casey DeSmith put up a 2.35/.925 line in 21 games to end the season. Jeff Wyer will get a chance to compete for time, and UNH coach Dick Umile believes the competition will keep his team in contention.
Northeastern has an entirely different problem with a talented senior goaltender still looking to piece together a successful season from beginning to end. Chris Rawlings season hit its usual booms and busts a year ago, and Clay Witt failed to emerge as a reliable alternative in his limited action. The disappointing year ensured Rawlings would remain with the Huskies for his senior season, which leads to Providence. The Friars graduated Alex Beaudry, but coach Nate Leaman managed to draw Jon Gillies to Schneider Arena after he decommited from Northeastern due to, among other things, Rawlings' decision to return.
Gillies, a third-round pick of the Calgary Flames, will likely see a majority of the starts for the Friars. Dylan Wells is expected to push for starts as well, though.
"We don’t have any experience in net so we are pretty unique in that aspect," Leaman said. "Both guys are working their tails off and competing hard. As long as both of them continue to work hard and continue to compete I think we will be ok. I like what we have but we still haven’t played a game yet."
"Jon has a great opportunity to step into the net for us," Leaman continued. "We don't have a returning goalie. We have no experience in net. For any goalie at this level, it's an adjustment (from lower levels). But he's been working hard, competing extremely well and he's going to continue doing that. If he continues working and getting better, I think he's going to be a really good college goaltender."
Similar competition is likely at Merrimack where junior Sam Marotta and sophomore Rasmus Tirronen will likely battle for action, as coach Mark Dennehy looks to replace Joe Cannatta.
Progress report for second-year head coaches
Norm Bazin's success from a year ago speaks for itself, with UML earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but both Providence's Nate Leaman and Northeastern's Jim Madigan enter their second seasons as Hockey East coaches as well.
Leaman helped guide his club to the Hockey East tournament for the first time since 2008 and past the first round for the first time since 2001.
"We have a lot of work to do to get among the elite in our league," Leaman said. "I thought last year, we took a little bit of a step, but we still have a lot of work to do to get up there. That's what we're focused on is the process of continuing to get better every day, every week and every month to take steps to continue to improve the program."
Attracting high-quality talent to Providence is the first step, and Gillies, along with fellow Flames draft pick Mark Jankowski, signals that Leaman is certainly headed in the first he wants to take PC.
On the other hand, Madigan's first season at his alma mater was a disappointment. Northeastern missed the Hockey East tournament for the second time in three years, and it seemed as though Madigan struggled to establish strong relationships with some of his players. As a result, the departures came en masse at the end of the season, but many chose to remain on St. Botolph Street and try to build a winner. The Huskies boast a gifted group of forwards, along with Rawling's experience in goal. Another missed playoff performance is unacceptable for Madigan and his club, and they'll look to amend that with players that respond to Madigan's coaching.
"We're excited about the year," Madigan said. "We've been together as a staff for the year. The players have a better understanding of how we want them to play. We know the players better, and we think we'll be able to put them in position to be more successful. We know their strengths and weaknesses. I've got a year under belt, and it was a long reflection period after the season.
"We missed the playoffs last year, but one point would have gotten us to seventh place not eighth place," he continued. "We can look to a lot of different places where we lost that one point. At the end of the day, your record is your record. We didn't make the playoffs, and we learned that we can't afford to take a night off or even have an off night. That one point will keep you out of the playoffs."
Players to Watch
Derek Arnold, Junior, Forward, UMass-Lowell
Much of the acclaim for Lowell's success last season went to goaltender Doug Carr and forwards Riley Wetmore and Scott Wilson. The true story of their year, though, was the remarkable depth that Derek Arnold was a major contributor to that. His 17 goals led the club, and the River Hawks need further progression for the winger to compete for a league championship.
Connor Brickley, Junior, Forward, Vermont
After a successful freshman season, Brickely began his sophomore campaign with an eight-goal first half. A major injury while playing for the United States at the World Junior Championships forced him out of the lineup for 11 games in the second half. Upon his return, UVM's season was essentially over, and the Catamounts struggled to field full lineups due to severe injury problems. Brickley's talent is unquestioned, and UVM needs a full return to form to compete in Hockey East this season.
Yasin Cisse, Redshirt Sophomore, Forward, Boston University
Yasin Cisse's first two seasons on Commonwealth Avenue haven't been easy, but the winger seemed to improve with every game last year. After missing his entire freshman year with a leg injury and slowly working himself back into game shape at the beginning of last season, Cisse's potential was evident from the start. While he finished the season with just two goals to his credit, he steadily looked more comfortable on the ice. BU coach Jack Parker insists he brought Cisse to his program because he believes he can be dominant college hockey player.
Grayson Downing, Sophomore, Forward, New Hampshire
With Stevie Moses' graduation went more than 20 percent of New Hampshire's offense. Wildcat coach Dick Umile believes replacing those goals will take more than one player, but Grayson Downing could provide a bulk of that on his own. His 10 goals last season were second on the club to Moses' 22, and his 23 points were fourth behind Moses, Nick Sorkin and Kevin Goumas. Like most freshmen, Downing encountered the occasional dry spell last season. Still, he scored a game-winning goal against Boston University in double overtime in the first game of a playoff series.
Steven Guzzo, Redshirt sophomore, Forward, Massachusetts
Losing Danny Hobbs and T.J. Syner takes away diverse scoring options from Massachusetts. Last year, Steven Guzzo, however, provided the Minutemen with a more physical dimension to their offensive game. Guzzo certainly isn't afraid to battle in the low slot. His 10 goals and 10 assists provided a strong complement to UMass' top six, and he'll need to assert himself into that role even further if the Minutemen want to compete.
Ross Mauermann, Sophomore, Forward, Providence
Ross Mauermann was one of just three Providence players with at least 10 goals last season, and he'll need to build on that to keep the Friars moving in the direction they established last season. As a freshman, his 10 goals and 15 assists earned him a team-high 25 points. The state of the Friars' goaltending and defensive play aside, they'll need more offensive production than they received a season ago. Mauermann scored important goals for PC and provided a strong dimension to their attack.
Nick Pryor, Junior, Defenseman, Maine
The losses of Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn are all anyone wants to talk about with Maine, but Will O'Neill and Ryan Hegarty also left from the club's blue line. Nick Pryor has struggled with injuries throughout his career, and missed a pair of games last year. Coach Tim Whitehead believes he is fully healthy entering the season, and Pryor's presence will temper the losses of Maine's reliable seniors on defense. Maine may spend more time defending and battling for the puck than they did last season. Pryor's a strong defender who knows how to win pucks and move them to his forwards.
Adam Reid, Sophomore, Forward, Northeastern
Northeastern's Adam Reid scored just six goals last season, but the big winger improved consistently as the year went on. The Huskies boast a highly-skilled group of forwards, and Reid's 6-foot-4 frame brings some muscle to support the efforts of the flashier NU players. Battling for chances in the low slot is never easy, but Reid's difficult to move and can make life difficult for both defensemen and goaltenders.
Rasmus Tirronen, Sophomore, Goaltender, Merrimack
Merrimack's Joe Cannatta graduated last year as the best goaltender in program history. Rasmus Tirronen doesn't need to be Cannatta, but he will need to find his stride quickly to keep Merrimack in games. Offense is going to be a problem for the Warriors this season. Tirronen is likely to split time with Sam Marotta until one of them grasps the top job. Tirronen is highly regarded and Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy has already proven he find reliable European talents to guide his program.
Pat Wey, Junior, Defenseman, Boston College
Wey missed 12 games for Boston College last season, but his return coincided with the beginning of BC's run to a national championship. With so much youth on defense, upperclassmen like Wey need to provide a strong example for their younger teammates along with consistent play. As the freshmen on BC's blue line grow into the college games, the Eagles need consistent strong defensive play from Wey to guide them through the process.
New faces to remember
Losing Kieran Millan wasn't easy for Jack Parker, as the goaltender became one of the most celebrated in program history upon his graduation. However, when Millan arrived in Boston, he was part of a two-man rotation with Grant Rollheiser. With both players now moved on, Parker looks to another pair of freshmen to lead the Terriers from the back — Sean Maguire and Matt O'Connor.
Jon Gillies, Goaltender, Providence
Chris Rawlings' decision to stay at Northeastern for his senior season led Jon Gillies to reconsider his commitment to the program. In the end, the winner was Providence and Nate Leaman, which landed Gillies earlier this summer. As strong as PC is, none of that can happen without reliable play for Gillies.
Mark Jankowski, Forward, Providence
Providence coach Nate Leaman's impact on the program since arriving in April 2011 was, perhaps, best illustrated by attracting Mark Jankowski to the school. Jankowski, a first round pick of the Calgary Flames, was rumored to be heading to the USHL for a season, but he'll begin the process of adding weight to his rail-thin 6-foot-3 frame this season. Jankowski absolutely lesser Canadian competition in recent years, leading some to question his ability to play college hockey as a freshman. However, Leaman is confident, and he expects Jankowski to be a difference maker in a Providence offense desperate for goals.
Mike Matheson, Defenseman, Boston College
There is no doubting that Boston College's defensive corps will be a little thin to start the season. With prominent upperclassmen gone, the Eagles may have to start as many as four freshmen on the blue line at times. In terms of skill, though, there isn't a better rookie defenseman to have than Mike Matheson. The Florida Panthers' first-round draft pick is likely already among the better skaters in Hockey East, and his two-way game is likely to impact the Eagles' power play from Day 1.
Kevin Roy, Forward, Northeastern
When Kevin Roy decommited from Brown earlier this summer, rumors about him landing at Northeastern began instantly. After a dominant season with Lincoln of the USHL, Roy became a hot commodity. Rumors swirled briefly that he'd land in Quebec, but his decision to play for Northeastern adds a potential star to an already strong group of forwards. Roy is a creative player who can score goals and develop chances for his teammates by commanding attention from opponents.
Devin Shore, Forward, Maine
A second-round draft pick of the Dallas Stars, Devin Shore brings a strong offensive pedigree to a Maine lineup looking to replace a lot of points. Last year, the Black Bears found contributions from players like Mark Anthoine, Adam Shemansky and other to complement the scoring of their top line. With the stars graduated, it'll be up to others, including Shore, to score goals.
Dima Sinitsyn, Defenseman, Massachusetts-Lowell
Dima Sinitsyn arrived in Lowell midway through last season and sat out the remainder of the year. Though he practiced with the River Hawks and came in highly regarded, Norm Bazin opted to preserve a full year of eligibility. Despite not playing hockey last season, Sinitsyn was drafted by the Dallas Stars this summer and should challenge for minutes with the River Hawks.
K.J. Tiefenwerth, Forward, Massachusetts
Once a Boston College commit, K.J. Tiefenwerth opted to seek a new path. A star for the Eastern Junior Hockey League's Jr. Bruins, Tiefenwerth brings skill and a strong track record of scoring goals and picking up points to Amherst. The Minutemen have two of the league's most prolific forwards in Conor Sheary and Mike Pereira, but they'll need to find more goals.
The struggles of Rob Madore a season ago put a difficult ending on a strong career in Burlington. His graduation left a major hole for the club, and Kevin Sneddon welcomes in both Brody Hoffman and Billy Faust to compete for the No. 1 job at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Both rookies are older than most, and Sneddon believes they can provide stability and strength to a spot that was something a weak spot a season ago.