Hockey East Preview: Eagles Poised for Another Successful Campaign


Hockey East Preview: Eagles Poised for Another Successful Campaign The last three national champions have come from Hockey East, and the conference looks to be strong again during the 2010-11 season.

The USA/USA Hockey Magazine ranks Boston College as the team to beat this season, and three other teams, Maine (7), New Hampshire (8), and Boston University (14) cracked the preseason poll. In addition, the entire conference posted a .623 winning percentage against teams outside Hockey East last year. This season could be even more impressive with 10 freshmen already drafted into the NHL.

Here's a closer look at each school.

Boston College
2009-10 season: After a disappointing 2008 season, the Eagles rebounded by winning the national title. They had the best overall record of 29-10-3 but actually finished second in Hockey East, going 16-8-3.

Key returning players: The Eagles return all three of their leading point scorers– junior forward Cam Atkinson, and senior forwards Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney. The leadership and talent of these players will be key for this year's success.

Key losses: Forward Ben Smith graduated and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. Smith earned the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player Award during the Eagles' run toward the championship. He played in all 165 of Boston College's games during his tenure.

Burning question: Can Boston College become the first Hockey East team to repeat as national champions since the 1971-72 Boston University Terriers?

BC has the pieces in place to return to the finals. The Eagles have every reason to believe they can repeat as long as they play up to their potential and their strong recruiting class comes through. But before the Eagles advance to the tournament, they'll be looking over their shoulder all season long at Maine, New Hampshire and maybe even BU.

Coach's take: "I'd like to find the key [to repeating], cause I haven't been able to do it. We haven't lost as many players as we did in 2008 or 2001 … that's one of the keys, and also how they are focused."
Jerry York

York knows from experience how tough it is to repeat, and he's been studying the successes of Minnesota and Denver — who each tallied back-to-back national championships in the early 2000s. Luckily, he has the advantage of keeping most of his team from last year.

2010-11 outlook:
The Eagles are the favorite  in the coaches' poll to win Hockey East, and some polls have them ranked No. 1 in the nation. Still, history isn't on the Eagles' side in terms of repeating, and the conference is so tight that it would barely be a surprise if BC finishes second or even third. But they're the favorite for a reason, and this group has just as good of a chance as it did last year.

Boston University
2009-10 season: The Terriers followed a national title with a mediocre season, finishing with a 13-12-2 conference record and 17-16-3 overall record. The Terriers did not qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Key returning players: Junior goaltender Kieran Milan will return for his third season at BU. Milan excelled during the Terriers' championship run two seasons ago, but his numbers took a dip last year. Junior forward Chris Connolly notched 31 points last season and was elected co-captain along with senior forward Joe Pereira.

Key losses: The Terriers lost three key players who jumped to the pros. RBK First-Team All-American Colby Cohen signed with the Avalanche in April. He will join fellow defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whom the Avalanche drafted 14th overall in the 2007 draft. BU will also be without leading point-getter Nick Bonino who joined the Anaheim Ducks.

Burning question: How will the Terriers replace all their losses and get back to contention?

BU needs to improve on defense. Milan showed how good he can be during the championship run, but last year the team gave up the most goals in the conference. Freshman defenseman Adam Clendening could make an immediate impact filling in for Shattenkirk.

Coach's take: "We only have three returning defenseman that played a lot last year, and they'll have to play a lot again this year, with [David] Warsofsky being the key to that group."
–Jack Parker

Warsofsky, a junior and Massachusetts native, looks ready to take on the challenge of an increased leadership role. This summer, he had his rights traded to the Bruins, so he should have even more motivation to succeed in Boston. The other two players Parker refers to are sophomores Max Nicastro and Sean Escobero, who should succeed in increased roles.

2010-11 outlook: The Terriers are a long shot to win the conference, but you can never count out Jack Parker's team. Parker instilled a greater sense of commitment and work ethic in his players over the offseason, because he believes their attitude led to last year's early exit. If the defense comes together, the experience in the forwards could propel the Terriers to the national tournament.

University of Maine
2009-10 season: The Black Bears shared an identical record with Terriers both in the conference and overall. However, Maine excelled in the Hockey East Tournament, reaching the finals and losing in overtime 7-6 to Boston College.

Key returning players: Junior Gustav Nyquist returns as one of the premier players in the country. Nyquist finished in the top three of the Hobey Baker race and tied for the most assists in the nation with 42 (61 points overall). Junior Brian Flynn also returns as Maine's second leading scorer with 47 points.

Key losses: Maine suspended starting goalie Scott Darling toward the end of last season due to violating the team's personal conduct code, and Darling is no longer on the Black Bears' roster. Dave Wilson filled in for Darling during the Hockey Easy tournament before graduating at the end of the year.

Burning question: Did Maine improve enough to overtake BC?

While the Black Bears didn't lose any to the pros early, the loss of both goalies means they will have to start the inexperienced Shawn Sirman in net. Maine has talented forwards, but there's not enough evidence to suggest that there will be much of a change this year, which means that they probably won't be able to win the conference.

Coach's take: "We feel like we're going to be a little better this year, but we got to wait and see. … We feel we got a good core. We're looking forward to this challenge."
–Tim Whitehead

Whitehead seemed less enthused about his team than some of the other coaches, which could have been the result of a full stomach from the buffet at media day, or perhaps he is unsure if Maine can truly compete at the highest level. This team is no doubt solid, but they are essentially the same team as last year.

2010-11 outlook: The coaches' poll has Maine at No. 2, but the team is pretty much even with UNH. They have the ability to beat anyone in the country, but they might not be strong enough on defense to go deep in the postseason.

University of Massachusetts
2009-10 season: The Minutemen went 18-18 overall with a 13-14 Hockey East record and had the distinction of being the only team in the conference without a tie.

Key returning players: Senior Paul Dainton returns for another year as goaltender, and junior T.J. Syner returns as the team's best forward, tallying 20 points last season.

Key losses: Forward James Marcou left after his junior season to sign with the San Jose Sharks (younger brother Michael remains with the team). Other star forward Casey Wellman also went to pros, signing with the Minnesota Wild after his sophomore year. The duo combined for 96 points last season.

Burning question: Can the Minutemen stay competitive with such a young team?

The 13-player recruiting class bodes well for the future, but there will be some bumps in the road this season. Hockey East is just too good for the inexperience Minutemen to succeed.

Coach's take: "There are so many unknowns on our team. There's a bunch of guys that have been role players that have been on the periphery that are really needed to step up. And we have a group of freshman that we'll see how they respond to the pressures of playing at this level and the intensity of Hockey East."
–Don Cahoon

It might be a long year for UMass, but coach Cahoon is realistic in his expectations. He's optimistic about the future of his team, but knows they will face an uphill battle this season.

2010-11 outlook: The defense should be the bright spot for this team, but they'll be scrapping just to make the eight seed in Hockey East. Consider this season a rebuilding year with a few upsets over the conference favorites sprinkled in.

University of Massachusetts- Lowell
2009-10 season: The Riverhawks went 19-15-4 overall with a 12-11-4 conference record before losing a close opening round of the playoffs to Maine. Lowell finished the regular season ranked.

Key returning players: Senior forward Scott Campbell is back for his final season after tying for the team lead in points last season with 30. Senior captain Ryan Blair has been a stabilizing presence on defense throughout his tenure.

Key losses: The majority of Lowell's scorers graduated, including leading scorer Kory Falite. Goalie Carter Hutton graduated and signed with the San Jose Sharks, and backup netminder Nevin Hamilton also graduated.

Burning question: Who will step in as Lowell's goalie this year?

Three freshman, T.J. Massie, Doug Carr and Marc Boulanger will all battle for playing time. No matter who plays, he'll have a hard time filling Hutton's skates.

Coach's take: "The net's wide open. We have three very good goaltenders. I'm not sure who's going to play in the exhibition game, let alone [in the season opener] against Maine."
–Blaise MacDonald

If the coach doesn't know, that can't be a great sign. The Riverhawks need someone to step up and assume the starting role.

2010-11 outlook: Lowell had much improved seasons over the last two year's, but with so many players graduating, it'll have to rebuild again. Lowell might still have enough returning talent to get into the playoffs, but don't expect the Riverhawks to go far.

Merrimack College
2009-10 season: Merrimack surprised most people with their first trip to the Hockey East playoffs since 2004. The Warriors went 16-18-2 with a 12-13-3 conference record.

Key returning players: Sophomore forward Stephane Da Costa and senior forward Chris Barton return as the Warriors leading scorers. Da Costa won every Rookie of the Year honor during his freshman season and decided to put the NHL on hold.

Key losses: Defenseman and captain Pat Bowen graduated. Bowen chipped in 18 assists last season.

Burning question: Can the Warriors' meet the raised level of expectations this season?

Merrimack seems ready to rise to the occasion. They have a winning culture starting to take root in North Andover, and they retained the core group of guys who made such strides last season. There doesn't seem to be an overload of pressure on Merrimack, just deserved recognition.

Coach's take: "We don't use the word expectation. I don't like the word and I don't want the guys to expect anything. We have some goals that aren't a whole lot different from last year, except maybe they're a bit more attainable."
–Mark Dennehy

Dennehy is excited about the rebirth of the program in which he has been so instrumental in turning things around. He's confident and knows that he's built a program that can finally compete in Hockey East for years to come.

2010-11 outlook: This should be a huge year for Merrimack. The Warriors won't make the NCAA tournament, but they could make some noise in Hockey East, possibly finishing as high as a five seed. Da Costa could be a Hobey Baker candidate, and the team already has received a few votes in the USA Today Top 15 preseason poll.

University of New Hampshire
2009-10 season: UNH won the conference during the regular season, going 15-6-6 in Hockey East and had a 17-12-7 overall record. But the Wildcats slipped in the first round of the Hockey East tournament and then in the NCAA tournament, ending their season early.

Key returning players: Senior forward and captian Mike Sislo is expected to take the leap forward and improve on his 29-point season last year. Senior forward Paul Thompson also returns as a proven scorer, notching 19 goals last season.

Key losses: Top goal scorer Bobby Butler graduated and signed with the Ottawa Senators. Goalie Brian Foster also graduated and his rights currently belong to the Florida Panthers.

Burning question: Can UNH succeed in the postseason this year?

The Wildcats have had disappointing losses in the playoffs in recent years. UNH has the second longest active streak of NCAA tournament appearances, but no national titles. There's no real rhyme or reason to it. Hockey East is just so tight that the Wildcats could win the conference again and still lose early, or they could make a run. The key could be in how senior Matt DiGirolamo performs as the new starting goalie.

Coach's take: "Our goal is just to get to the tournament and then compete from there"
–Dick Umile

Of course Umile is saying this now, but this might be the school's best chance to win the title with a strong senior class. Umile should be commended for his success with the program, but a small recruiting class means that the window could be closing on UNH.

2010-11 outlook: Nine of the 10 leading scorers return, so UNH should be prolific on offense. The goaltending position could be a question mark, but Umile has a lot of confidence in DiGirolamo and thinks he could be one of the top goalies in the conference. UNH should finish in the top three of Hockey East and gain a bid to the national tournament, but the team might not have enough to outlast Boston College.

Northeastern University
2009-10 season: Northeastern missed the playoffs during a disappointing year, going 11-14-2 in the conference with a 16-16-2 overall record.

Key returning players: The Huskies have two senior forwards who will provide leadership to a young squad. Captain Tyler McNeely has amassed 71 points over his three seasons at NU, and Wade MacLeod returns after having a 30-point season to lead the pack for the Huskies last year.

Key losses: Top goal scorer Kyle Kraemer graduated and went on to win gold with the US Inline Hockey team over the summer. Key defender Jake Newton graduated and signed with the Anaheim Ducks

Burning question: Can the Huskies get back to winning now that they're healthy?

Junior forward Steve Quailey missed all of last season after an impressive rookie year when he won Hockey East All-Rookie honors. He should be a huge addition to the offense. On defense, senior Randy Guzior missed the last six games of last season, but he's healthy now and should make a big impact, especially with his leadership. The Huskies improved just by getting their old players back.

Coach's take: "We have a lot of guys who got valuable experience due to other players getting injured last year, and I hope that experience translates this year."
–Greg Cronin

Northeastern has a lot of guys who can step in if injuries accumulate again this year, and the sophomore class should be strong. Garret Vermeersch led the team in assists during his freshman year and will have the chance to do more in a larger role this year.

2010-11 outlook: The Huskies should improve from last year, and they looked tough even with all of last season's injuries. Northeastern doesn't have as many big names as some other schools, but they should be in the playoffs no question.

Providence College
2009-10 season: The Friars struggled all through the year, enduring a 5-18-4 conference record with 10-20-4 overall record.

Key returning players: Senior forward and captain Kyle MacKinnon leads the way for Providence and posted 25 points last year. Junior Alex Beaudry returns  as goalie for another season.

Key losses: Defenseman Mark Fayne graduated and signed with the St. Louis Blues.

Burning question: Can Providence climb out of the cellar?

The Friars didn't lose much this offseason, and with the return of MacKinnon, they might not be stuck at the bottom.

Coach's take: "Our players look great and are very excited about the upcoming season."
–Tim Army via Twitter

Army knows he does not have the most talented team, but he can stretch the players' talent for a few extra wins. Still, the rest of Hockey East must look daunting to Providence.

2010-11 outlook: UMass and UMass-Lowell both suffered many losses, so they might slip to the bottom of the standings, but Providence can't expect to get much further than an eighth seed. Reaching the playoffs would be a big step for this team.

University of Vermont
2009-10 season: Vermont won an at-large bid to the national tournament last year going 19-13-7 overall but struggled in the conference with a 9-11-7 record.

Key returning players: Junior Rob Madore will return for another year between the pipes, and senior forward Jack Downing returns as the Catamounts' leading scorer with 21 points last season.

Key losses: UVM's three top scorers all graduated, forwards Brayden Irwin, Colin Vock, and Brian Roloff. Irwin signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Roloff signed with the Providence Bruins after the season.

Burning question: Does Vermont have enough firepower to makeup for those they lost to graduation?

Vermont will almost certainly take a hit on offense. The Catamounts will struggle trying to replace the production of Irwin, Vock, and Roloff, so look for them to lean more on defense this season.

Coach's take: "We had [the Stanley Cup] in the locker room. … We're hoping that that will give us some luck going into the season."
–Kevin Sneddon, as told to WPTZ

Vermont has yet to win a national championship despite being competitive on a national level the last few years. If Vermont does take the leap, they might need a bit of luck.

2010-11 outlook: Vermont still looks strong, but with an improved Merrimack team, a healthy Northeastern and a recharged BU, Vermont might have a hard time improving its conference rank. The Catamounts won't have a problem making the playoffs though.

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