Hockey East Preview: Providence Atop Pile, UMass Aims To Exceed Expectations

BkPE9A7CEAAzoHsBOSTON — If history is any indication, UMass and UConn shouldn’t give up on this season before it starts.

Despite being ranked at the bottom of both the media and coaches’ preseason Hockey East polls, the Minutemen and Huskies don’t have to look too far back for inspiration. The preseason polls can provide an idea of what to expect for the upcoming season, but they’re far from being a sure bet.

“What’s always exciting about these polls is they very rarely match up to what the final standings are,” Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said Monday at the conference’s media day. “Last year, Northeastern was an example of a team that the coaches had picked at the bottom of the league, and they ended up tied for fourth.”

Providence is the consensus pick for No. 1 in this year’s poll, with two-time defending conference champion UMass Lowell picked to finish somewhere in the middle. Any team could end up being this season’s Northeastern, though.

Here’s a look at how the conference stacks up this year.

Providence
Last season: 22-11-6 (11-7-2 conference)
Final result: Lost to Union in NCAA East Regional Final (3-1)
Key returners: G-Jon Gillies, F-Ross Mauermann, F-Nick Saracino, F-Noel Acciari, F-Shane Luke
Key departures: D-Kevin Hart, F-Derek Army, D-Steven Shamanski
Outlook: Expectations are sky-high for the Friars, who rank No. 1 in both the media and coaches preseason polls. Star goaltender Jon Gillies will return with a roster filled with immense talent.

Boston College
Last season: 28-8-4 (16-2-2 conference, regular-season champion)
Final result: Lost to Union in NCAA Semifinal (5-4)
Key returners: F-Ryan Fitzgerald, F-Austin Cangelosi, D-Michael Matheson, F-Adam Gilmour, D-Scott Savage
Key departures: F-Johnny Gaudreau, F-Bill Arnold, F-Patrick Brown, F-Kevin Hayes, D-Isaac MacLeod
Outlook: The Eagles — ranked second in both preseason polls — lost last year’s first line but enter the new season with blue-chip recruit Noah Hanifin looking to carry the load.

Notre Dame
Last season: 23-15-2 (9-9-2 conference)
Final result: Lost to St. Cloud State in NCAA West Regional Semifinal (4-3)
Key returners: D-Eric Johnson, D-Robbie Russo, F-Peter Schneider, F-Austin Wuthrich, F-Mario Lucia, F-Sam Herr
Key departures: F-Jeff Costello, D-Stephen Johns, F-Kevin Lind, F-Bryan Rust, G-Steven Summerhays, D-Shayne Taker, F-T.J. Tynan
Outlook: Notre Dame’s season came to an end after its loss to St. Cloud State in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament. The Fighting Irish lost some key talent to pro signings but are still poised to make a run with a well-rounded roster.

Northeastern
Last season: 19-14-4 (10-8-2 conference)
Key returners: F-Kevin Roy, F-Mike Szmatula, D-Colton Saucerman, F-Dalen Hedges, F-Zach Aston-Reese
Key departures: F-Braden Primm, D-Josh Manson
Outlook: Northeastern ranked at the bottom of the pack heading into the 2013-2014 season, but proved critics wrong as it tied for fourth in the conference with UMass Lowell. The Huskies are finally earning the respect they deserve, entering the season ranked fourth.

New Hampshire
Last season: 22-18-1 (11-9 conference)
Key returners: F-Matt Willows, D-Brett Pesce, F-Grayson Downing, F-Tyler Kelleher
Key departures: F-Kevin Goumas, D-Eric Knodel, F-Nick Sorkin, D-Trevor van Riemsdyk, D-Justin Agosta
Outlook: UNH thrived off the success of its defensemen last season, and will look for another strong showing this year. The Wildcats lost a few key players but return with enough experience to be a competitive squad in the conference.

Boston University
Last season: 10-21-4 (5-12-3 conference)
Key returners: F-Robbie Baillargeon, F-Danny O’Regan, F-Evan Rodrigues, D-Matt Grzelcyk, D-Ahti Oksanen
Key departures: D-Garrett Noonan, D-Patrick MacGregor
Outlook: The Terriers will return 10 of their 11 top-scorers from last season and introduce a freshman class that looks ready to give the team a major improvement.

UMass Lowell
Last season: 26-11-4 (11-6-3 conference)
Final result: Lost to Boston College in NCAA Northeast Regional Final (4-3)
Key returners: F-Adam Chapie, D-Zack Kamrass, F-A J White, F-Ryan McGrath, D-Michael Kapla
Key departures: D-Christian Folin, G-Connor Hellebuyck, G-Doug Carr, F-Josh Holmstrom, F-Joe Pendenza, F-Scott Wilson
Outlook: The River Hawks have lost a plethora of talent to pro signings and graduation. While they likely won’t be quite as feared in the 2014-2015 season, Norm Bazin’s squad still has enough talent to compete with the likes of any team in the conference.

Vermont
Last season: 20-15-3 (10-10 conference)
Key returners: F-Mario Puskarich, D-Michael Paliotta, F-Brendan Bradley, F-Jake Fallon
Key departures: F-Connor Brickley, D-Nick Bruneteau, F-H.T.Lenz, F-Pete Massar, F-Chris McCarthy, D-Caylen Walls
Outlook: The Catamounts lost a sizable amount of talent, but star forward Mario Puskarich looks to help UVM exceed its preseason expectations.

Maine
Last season: 16-15-4 (9-8-3 conference)
Key returners: F-Devin Shore, D-Ben Hutton, F-Connor Leen, F-Mark Anthoine, D-Dan Renouf
Key departures: D-Brice O’Connor,  F-Jon Swavely
Outlook: Forward Devin Shore and the Black Bears look to improve off a season in which they finished sixth in the conference. Maine has plenty of returning talent, but it will be an uphill battle against the powerhouses of the Hockey East.

Merrimack
Last season: 8-22-3 (3-15-2 conference)
Key returners: F-Quinn Gould, F-Brian Christie, F-Chris LeBlanc, F-Vinny Scotti, F-Hampus Gustafsson
Key departures: F-Rhett Bly, F-Mike Collins, D-Brendan Ellis, D-Jordan Heywood, G-Sam Marotta
Outlook: Merrimack finished last in the 2013-2014 Hockey East standings and is ranked toward the bottom (10th) this season as well. The Warriors lost their top scoring forward in Mike Collins and will look to junior Quinn Gould to produce in his place.

Massachusetts
Last season: 8-22-4 (4-13-3 conference)
Key returners: F-Steven Iacobellis, F-Ray Pigozzi, F-Troy Power, D-Ben Gallacher
Key departures: F-Branden Gracel, D-Joel Hanley, F-Mike Pereira, F-Conor Sheary
Outlook: UMass finished 10th in the Hockey East last year, and like Merrimack, expectations for the upcoming season aren’t any higher. The Minutemen lost some talent to pro signings and graduation, so forwards Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi will be counted on for production.

Connecticut
Last season: 18-14-4 (15-9-3 Atlantic Hockey conference)
Key returners: F-Shawn Pauley, F-Trevor Gerling, F-Brent Norris, F-Patrick Kirkland, D-Jacob Poe
Key departures: F-Brant Harris, F-Billy Latta, F-Jordan Sims
Outlook: Entering their inaugural Hockey East season, Mike Cavanaugh’s Huskies have their work cut out for them. They will depend on a defense that was among the best in Atlantic Hockey in 2013-2014 to help them compete in the tough conference.

Photo via Twitter/@FriarsHockey

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