Hockey East Asscociation Season Preview

TJ FergusonCorrespondent IOctober 1, 2010

Hockey East Asscociation Season Preview

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    Its October.  That means one thing.  College Hockey is about to begin.

    This weekend kicks off the college hockey season with several match ups.

    But the point of this article is to specifically address the Hockey East Association and how I think it will pan out.

    In the next few slides I will rank each team starting from the bottom, highlight their performance last year and give you some names you might want to follow.

    At the end I'll give my picks for preseason awards.

Recapping The 2009-2010 Season

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    For the third year in a row the National Championship was won by a Hockey East team.  Boston College and Boston University have been dominating the national stage over the last three years.  BC won two Championships and two Beanpots, while BU won one of each.

    Last season marked one of the tightest playoff races in the only conference that doesn't let everyone into the playoffs.  Ninth place finishers Northeastern University missed the playoffs by one point despite having a .500 record.

    The University of New Hampshire had to wait til the last day of conference play to claim the regular season title.  Merrimack finally got out of the HEA cellar and made the playoffs, and I would be surprised if they didn't get back again this year.

    There was however, no domination in the Hobey Hat Trick last year as opposed to two seasons ago when all three finalists (winner Matt Gilroy and BU teammate Colin Wilson and Northeastern goalie Brad Thiessen) were from Hockey East.

    This upcoming season looks like it can be just as messy and jumbled up, and while my predictions mean nothing, I'm going to sort out how I think it will go down.

10. Providence College Friars

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    Alex Beaudry - Providence Goaltender (college hockey news)
    Alex Beaudry - Providence Goaltender (college hockey news)

    Despite upsetting Notre Dame early last year and riding that win to a hot start, Providence College finished dead last in Hockey East.

    Unfortunately for the Friars, I think they will again be at the bottom of the barrel.  There is a slight bit of hope for this team though, and his name is Alex Beaudry.

    The star goalie will be entering his first full season in net for the Friars, he got a late start leaving juniors midway through the 2008-2009 season to join the struggling team.  While he is pegged as one of the conferences best tenders, he will have the weakest team in front of him.

    Beaudry could very well finish the season by being given top goaltending honors or at least an all conference selection, but he likely won't be in the playoffs.

    Then again, ask Merrimack, it only takes one star recruit to get out of the basement, maybe Providence got their man this summer.

    Or if the league has as much parity as it did last season, it may only take a couple stolen games by Beaudry to push the team into one of the last two playoff spots, but I don't think it will happen.

9. University Of Massachusetts at Amherst Minutemen

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    Amherst Scoring vs Maine - Taken from
    Amherst Scoring vs Maine - Taken from

    The UMass Minutement have played some very good games in recent years.  Some nights you would watch them and think, this must be one of the best teams in the country.

    Then other nights you watch them and think, this must be one of the worst teams in the country.  Inconsistency has plagued Amherst squads of the past and left them stuck in playoff races and going on the road in the playoffs as opposed to being able to take it easy down the stretch or host a play off series.

    Consistency shouldn't be a problem this year, unfortunately I think you will see the bad version of the Minutemen more consistently.  With the early departure of several players, most notable James Marcou, who probably would've challenged for the Hobey Baker award this year, UMass's quality takes a nose dive.

    Michael Marcou will look to follow in his brothers foot steps as one of the nations best scorers, but he is just not at his brothers skill level.

    UMass Amherst has a better team than Providence, but compared to the rest of the league, that doesn't say much.

8. University Of Massachusetts at Lowell RiverHawks

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    Forward David Vallorani - taken from
    Forward David Vallorani - taken from

    The Riverhawks are coming off a season where they didn't quite meet the expectations everyone had of them.  Last season they came off a Hockey East Final appearance, they were one of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch and were expected to come out firing.

    Long story short, they didn't.  They made the playoffs, but were no where near the team they were expected to be, this time around, they haven't really addressed their issues, a forward who will dominate their scoring, and I don't think the outlook is very good for them.

    The one bright side this team has had is they are very good defensively.  The defensive corps is usually solid and I don't think they will be easy to score against again.  However, they lack scoring prowess up top and instead rely on the whole team to chip in goals.

    In Division I hockey, and in Hockey East especially, a star player is something that every team needs.  David Vallorani could become that player, assuming he is able to build on his freshman campaign as opposed to hit a sophomore slump, but I'm not too sure he is that good.

7. University Of Vermont Catamounts

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    Goaltender Rob Madore - taken from
    Goaltender Rob Madore - taken from

    Vermont is a team that is similar to Lowell in that they don't have one forward who dominates the scoring for them.  But they do have a few players who tend to be involved when the puck does go in the net.

    They also have solid defenders in front of a very solid goalie in Rob Madore.  The Catamounts were also another team last year that had really high expectations and failed to meet them.

    This year, they will be slightly better but the rest of the league will be much better.  One guy to watch might just be Sebastian Stalberg.  His older brother Viktor was one of Vermont's former dominant forwards and is currently a Toronto Maple Leaf.

    If Sebastian can develop into his brother, then this offense could be very dangerous.  Other key offensive figures will likely be Kyle Medvec and Wahsontiio Stacey.

    This team will likely depend on its blue line group and lean on its goalie into the playoffs.

6. Merrimack College Warriors

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    Forward Stephane DaCosta - taken from
    Forward Stephane DaCosta - taken from

    Merrimack was the surprise team last year after setting themselves as the perennial bottom dweller in Hockey East.  Their resurgence can be very largely credited to the freshman phenom Stephane DaCosta.

    The French Forward won every Rookie of the Year award there was and could challenge for the Hobey Baker award this year.

    The most important thing DaCosta did was make the rest of the Warriors better.  The team morphed over the course of the season.  Early on, DaCosta ran the show and his teammates just tried to keep up with him.

    As the nation grew aware of his talents, his teammates started getting better so he no longer needed to do everything himself.  This season Merrimack should see more improvement and could soon develop into a team that can dominate this league.

    I don't think they are quite there yet, and there is always the chance that Stephane experiences a sophomore slump.

5. Northeastern University Huskies

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    Forward Steve Quailer - Property of Melissa Wade
    Forward Steve Quailer - Property of Melissa Wade

    This image was burned into the brains of Husky fans last year.  It was taken in an exhibition game after Quailer was hit low in the knee by a St. Thomas player.

    He needed surgery on his knee and went on to miss the entire season, a season that he was expected to play a major role in and a season where Northeastern was just one point worse than they needed to be to make the playoffs.

    This year, Quailer is back and after rehabbing his knee all summer and getting back into game shape, the expectations on both him and the team might be higher than ever.

    However, the Huskies lost a lot of key components on the blue line and will be filling those holes with freshman, forward turned defender Randy Guzior, who also missed most of last season with an injury, and a few other faces who haven't quite lived up to the expectations while dealing with injury.

    One thing the Huskies will boast now is size though.  They have been quite a small team in recent years, but with the addition of this years freshman, they add their fair share of six+ footers.

    Wade MacCleod and Tyler McNeely will likely provide most of the scoring but with each freshman class rated better than the last, scoring shouldn't be a problem for the Huskies.

    They also return Sophomore Goaltender Chris Rawlings who, at times last year, was the best goalie in the country.  But consistency was his problem, and if he can develop that, he will easily surpass Brad Thiessen in the Northeastern record book.

4. Boston University Terriers

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    Goalie Kieren Millan - taken from
    Goalie Kieren Millan - taken from

    Boston University is a perennial power in Hockey East and last year you kind of got the feeling that they weren't.  They were coming off one of the best seasons in history winning every tournament they entered and not losing once to an out of conference opponent.

    They lost several key players from that national champion side and the ones that stuck around weren't ready for the spotlight.  The best players for the Terriers last year were actually freshman forwards Wade Megan and Alex Chiasson.

    Goalie Kieren Millan didn't match his stellar numbers from his freshman season and they actually used back up Grant Rollheiser quite a bit down the stretch.  I think last season is more of an indication of Millan's skill level because lets face it, two years ago, BU had the best defense in the nation, had the best offense in the nation and didn't need a good goalie.

    Millan put up stellar numbers and a near perfect winning percentage, but I wouldn't expect him to be able to do it again without a high quality team in front of him.  He will be good enough to get this year's team home ice advantage in the playoffs though.

3. University Of New Hampshire Wildcats

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    UNH is going to be without starting goaltender Brian Foster and lead scorer Bobby Butler.  But they do return some decent forwards, Mike Sislo and Paul Thompson top that list.

    Also returning is defense-man Blake Kessel who plays a very tight and solid game.  The Wildcats might be HEA's definition of a team from top to bottom.  They consistently lose stars, and replace them with new stars by just sliding the next players up and recruiting solid classes every year.

    On top of that, they consistently finish at or near the top of the Hockey East standings and in the NCAA tournament.  And they do it with teamwork and not making mistakes.  Over the course of my five years at Northeastern and last year as an alum, UNH has been the best team over that time span.

    They have however earned the nickname, the University of No Hardware, for a reason.  They can't get it done come play off time.  They had home ice the last two seasons and were upset by the visitors on both occasions.

    I expect this team to be a contender for the regular season title down the stretch, but don't think they have quite what it takes to get there.

2. University Of Maine Black Bears

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    Forward Gustav Nyquist
    Forward Gustav Nyquist

    The Bears have kind of been a Hockey East after thought the last few years.  But they are most definately back this season.  They boast what will likely be a very high scoring core of juniors led by Gustav Nyquist, who is poised to have a very high scoring season.

    Nyquist will likely win Hockey East Player of the Year and could very well end up winning the Hobey Baker Award.

    While they will probably lead the conference in scoring, Maine's defense and goaltending will be what holds them back from anything they fall short of accomplishing this season.

    Gustav Nyquist is scary good and anytime Maine is coming to your school or near your school, even if you don't like your hockey team or don't care about college hockey, go watch him.

    Sometimes you talk about goalies stealing games, this season we will likely see Maine's goal scoring stealing games.

    I will even go out on the limb and say that Maine is probably Hockey East's best chance of winning a fourth consecutive National Championship.  That does break the mold of the Beanpot Champion being the National Champion, which has happened the last three seasons, but Harvard is far from being a National Title Contender, Northeastern isn't quite there and I'm bored of BU and BC winning.

1. Boston College Eagles

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    The Eagles are coming of their second National Championship in three years and the third straight Hockey East team to be crowned champions.  What did the last two (07-08 BC, 08-09 BU) have in common?  They won the Beanpot, they won the Hockey East Tournament, they got #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament and then they were much worse the following season.

    Part of the problem for the post championship teams was that they lost a large chunk of their important players, and each lost their top performer (Nathan Gerbe from BC and Colin Wilson/Matt Gilroy from BU).

    This BC team is returning its top scorer in Cam Atkinson and Chris Kreider who will be a sophomore and coming off a very strong second half of last season and a playoff run.

    Initially I thought BC would not be very good, the past several National Champs have come off their title run and had poor seasons.  However, BC isn't losing nearly as much as any of those teams, it will just come down to being a matter of whether or not the work ethic is there, which is what lacked with BU last season and BC two seasons ago.

    If the Eagles can maintain the work ethic that got them to the top last season, they could repeat all the trophies they won.

Pre Season Awards

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    First Team All Conference: Gustav Nyquist Cam Atkin