As Hockey East
enters the 2004-05 season, it's unlikely to throw a raging 21st
birthday party. If anything, the esteemed conference’s drink
of choice might be a snifter of port in front of a crackling fire.
East is truly among the rich and famous when it comes to college
hockey conferences. It's got a wealth of nationally-ranked teams
and top players, and top-to-bottom it compares favorably with any
of the other five conferences.
With that elevated
status comes a sense of routine every year. We’ve had a Hockey
East team reach the national championship game for eight straight
years. We haven’t even had a coaching change in four years.
But just because
something’s routine doesn't make it boring. Tara Reid’s
routine includes a party every night – it may not be the life
for us, but we’d hardly call it boring.
East’s nightlife offers plenty of excitement. A new team (Vermont)
arrives next year and a new rink (BU's Agganis Arena) opens in January.
And as we all know, every Friday and Saturday night in New England
offers a few good reasons to party.
things are expected from Ben Walter and UMass Lowell.
One nugget that
didn’t make our preseason
feature on UMass Lowell: as much as he feels
that his team is poised for a breakthrough this fall, head coach
Blaise MacDonald thought they were almost there at the end of last
year. “If we had done a better job on the power play late
last year,” he said, “and gotten a little better goaltending
– not a lot, but a little – we would have been right
in there at the end of the year.”
year of experience and, with any luck, no worries about midseason
forfeits, this year’s River Hawks should be good enough to
overcome any flaws in their game. They won’t need a power
play goal every night, and the goaltender – whether it’s
John Yaros, Chris Davidson or Peter Vetri – won't need to
be great. At least not for this team to crack the top four in the
FOR A FALL
missed its first NCAA Tournament berth a year ago, falling to Maine
in the Hockey East championship game, and afterwards players and
coaches talked about getting back in that position – and winning.
Then, just hours later, Thomas Pöck was on his way to play
for the Rangers, and the realization set in that he and defense
partner Nick Kuiper were gone. Greg Mauldin soon followed, leaving
before his senior year, and it now appears that another trip to
the FleetCenter would be a surprise, rather than the natural progression
of a program on the rise.
84 games in three years at Boston College and returns after earning
second-team All-Hockey East honors last season. Yet despite that
impressive resume, and consistent praise from teammates and coaches,
Matti Kaltiainen remains the perceived weak link
at The Heights. Opposing coaches cite his tendency to allow soft
goals, and to endure stretches of every game when it seems like
he’s fighting the puck.
If he falters
this season, head coach Jerry York has a more-than- viable option
waiting in the wings. Cory Schneider, originally recruited to arrive
next fall, comes to campus a year early as a first-round NHL draft
pick and a top American goaltending prospect along the lines of
Jimmy Howard or Al Montoya. He'll certainly see time for the Eagles
– Kaltiainen’s play should dictate how much.
ACT TO FOLLOW
following another player, per se. But the New Hampshire winger does
head into the 2004-05 season with the burden of producing results
without the help of running-mate Steve Saviano. Collins and Saviano,
teammates for years at UNH, Reading (Mass.) High School and youth
hockey, formed one of Hockey East’s most feared offensive
duos last season, combining for 91 points in 41 games (more than
any other pair of teammates in the conference).
plenty of hope for Collins and Wildcat fans, however. First, he
has produced without Saviano in the past – he was the MVP
of the Middlesex League as a senior in high school, and started
his freshman year at UNH strong before Saviano was added to his
line. Plus, Collins is a skilled finisher who can score as long
as someone gets him the puck – skating alongside Justin Aikins,
who had 31 assists last year, that shouldn’t be a
Howard allowed one or zero goals in five of six playoff starts
a teammate of Ryan Miller's at Michigan State, once called the eventual
Hobey Baker-winning goaltender “unscoreonable.” As far
as we know, nobody has coined any new words to describe Maine’s
Jimmy Howard, although he’s left more than a handful
of opposing forwards muttering things we choose not to print on
this web site.
After two years
of splitting time with Frank Doyle, Howard should play the vast
majority of games for the Black Bears this season, as he did in
their playoff run to the national championship game last spring.
Some might wonder if the increased workload will burden Howard,
but it could actually help him stay sharper – a frightening
thought for those opposing forwards who saw him post a 1.19 goals-against
average and .956 save percentage last year.
Capitals general manager George McPhee drafted Boston University’s
Chris Bourque in June, he knew he was getting a player
with an NHL pedigree. But Bourque’s game doesn't really resemble
that of his Hall of Fame father, Ray. Chris, an undersized forward
with great skills and unmatched competitiveness, is much more like
McPhee on the ice. That’s great news for the Terriers, since
McPhee was a Hobey Baker Award winner at Bowling Green. Bourque
should add both talent and energy to a BU lineup that was lacking
in both areas too often last season.
It stands to
reason that the leading scorer on a team that’s chronically
unsung doesn't get the respect he deserves. Such is life for Merrimack
junior Brent Gough, who posted 12-17—29 last year,
the second year in a row he led the team in scoring. Even those
efforts were overshadowed by a similarly unsung teammate, senior
Gough and Rosa
worked incredibly well together, and Gough brings many of Rosa’s
abilities to the table. He can play in any situation, giving a big
lift to Merrimack’s special teams, which are – you guessed
it – unheralded but dangerous. Gough scored nine of his 12
goals last year on special teams (six PPGs, three SHGs) and has
a great chance to become the first player to lead Merrimack in scoring
three times since the program joined Hockey East.
the NCAA’s emphasis on calling the rulebook as it’s
written take hold? We’re naturally skeptical of this
initiative, since the NHL has had as much success with these types
of endeavors as they have drawing television ratings. But optimism
among those close to the decision is high: “We don’t
need new rules to re-claim our game,” said Hockey East commissioner
Joe Bertagna. “But we need to more consistently call the book
midseason “acquisition” will make the biggest impact?
Forwards always get a lot of attention, and Jeremy Hall (a transfer
joining UMass Lowell) and Billy Ryan (a recruit at Maine) could
alter the Hockey East title chase. Also keep an eye also on defenseman
Scott Drewicki at Merrimack, who becomes eligible at midseason after
transferring from Denver.
Providence provide offense for goaltender David Cacciola?
Last year’s Friars finished fourth in the league in scoring,
but never seemed to give Cacciola any support. He was 1-5-4 despite
a 2.06 goals-against average in 2004-05, and should step in as the
No. 1 goalie since Bobby Goepfert was dismissed from the team.
Five things you can take to the bank in Hockey East this season
best race in the conference, once again, will be for the final playoff
spot. That’s just one reason that Hockey East has
it right by not giving every team a spot in the postseason.
fantastic October schedule will be overshadowed. Yes, the
NHL is out of the way, but the Red Sox postseason run will steal
the spotlight from some great games in New England – most
notably, the Ice Breaker Tournament at UNH, North Dakota’s
trips to Maine and Boston College, and defending NCAA champion Denver’s
visit. Of course, none of those games has the potential to alter
the psyche of the entire region in a historical sense, so the Sox
probably deserve first billing.
conference will get four spots in the NCAA Tournament,
up from three a year ago. And toll-takers on the Mass Pike will
see plenty of hockey sweaters drive by on the third weekend of March,
as fans race between regionals in Amherst and Worcester.
will have plenty of chances for holiday cheer. The Warriors
pull off a rare – if not unprecedented – double, playing
in two holiday tournaments this year. They'll skate in Minnesota’s
Dodge Holiday Classic before Christmas, and the UConn Holiday Classic
afterwards. The tournament-happy Warriors will also play in the
Maverick Stampede and the Dunkin Donuts Coffee Pot.
will earn almost as many accolades as goal scorers. Merrimack
continued improvements to Lawler Arena, moving the home bench to
the opposite side of the ice, adjacent to the new Warrior locker
room. The Shawn Walsh Hockey Center will improve the team facilities
at Maine in the initial phase, and fans will see more visible improvements
next season. No one will be able to miss the spectacle of Boston
University’s Agganis Arena, which opens Jan. 3 as the Terriers
host Minnesota. The Terriers will close Walter Brown Arena the night
before against the Gophers.
lose Ben Eaves and Tony Voce, and the Eagles still
have the most potent group of forwards in the conference. And
they might have the best group of defensemen as well.
loss of Dustin Penner doesn’t seem as significant when
you realize that Maine is constantly unearthing and developing
players just like him.
junior forward trio of Elias Godoy, Andrew Martin and Ben Walter
gets a lot of attention, but sophomore defenseman Cleve Kinley
could end up being the River Hawks’ best player.
the Wildcats’ defense early. If freshmen Craig Switzer
and Brad Flaishans step in and make a positive impact, this
team could be very, very good.
year, we expected good things, then watched BU play and wondered
what we were thinking. With lower expectations and an influx
of talent, could the Terriers be a positive surprise this year?
Minutemen’s steady ascension in the Hockey East ranks
may hit a speed bump in 2004-05, but it shouldn’t be the
fault of Stephen Werner, who’s poised for a breakout year.
success hinges on goaltender Keni Gibson, and a former Husky
All-American – Bruce Racine – is back as an assistant
coach to help mentor the senior.
Bobby Goepfert’s dismissal from the team, Friar fans hope
Bill Simmons’ Ewing Theory has a new application.
Warriors got better as the season progressed last year, but
still finished last in the conference in defense and next-to-last