2005-06 Hockey East Preview
have felt something like a stick-check to the gut, or maybe
getting hit from behind and diving head-first into the boards.
way, it wasn’t fun to swallow.
NCAA Tournament teams from Hockey East last year walked off
the ice for the last time with a similar fate. Their season
was over, and another squad from the Western Collegiate Hockey
Association was moving on to the next round.
East was dethroned, overtaken during a 16-day attack staged
by the WCHA, which stretched from the end of March into the
beginning of April.
Dakota disposed of both Boston schools just a few miles west
in Worcester, dropping Boston University 4-0 in the first
round before eliminating conference champion Boston College
6-3 in the quarterfinals. Minnesota outlasted another gutsy
postseason performance by Jimmy Howard and topped Maine in
the first round, 1-0, in overtime at the friendly Gopher confines
of Mariucci Arena. And back in New England, the New Hampshire
Wildcats couldn’t keep up with the depth of eventual
national champion Denver, getting sent home with a 4-2 second-round
loss in their Easter basket.
East’s record streak of sending a team to the championship
game in eight consecutive seasons was snapped, and to make
matters worse, Denver repeated as champs to give the WCHA
its fourth consecutive national title following Minnesota’s
is a new gang in town, and it has taken a firm grasp on the
college hockey world.
East Commissioner Joe Bertagna were a United States president,
he would call for Warren G. Harding’s “return
to normalcy,” trying to get a fresh start after going
through a tough time.
he is getting just that, and the conference is launching a
with three new coaches comes a new team. The arrival of Vermont
has immediately added depth to the now 10-team league. Greg
Cronin will be looking to toughen up Northeastern by taking
his Huskies on regular trips to a local gym’s boxing
ring. Tim Army is going back to the future by taking over
the Providence job, where he played for Lou Lamoriello in
the 1980s. And long-time Hockey East veteran Mark Dennehy
is taking over at Merrimack, trying to transform the Warriors
into a winning team after doing the same as an assistant under
Don Cahoon at UMass over the last five seasons.
East is indeed a new conference this year with a wide open
race for the top, especially after seeing the National Hockey
League pluck away some of its brightest stars in BC’s
Patrick Eaves, Maine’s Jimmy Howard and Lowell’s
the loss of Howard, though, this conference still has the
deepest amount of talent between the pipes, which is always
the single most important position for a team trying to make
a playoff push.
teams – Maine, BU, UMass and BC – have a shot
to dent the WCHA armor before the new year, as each of them
has Denver circled on their schedules.
Still, it won’t be until April 8 in Milwaukee that the
fate of Hockey East’s quest to take back some of its
dominance will actually be determined.
like Brady Leisenring could have Vermont ready to contend
in its first season in the league.
was entering its 10th season in the league this year,
the Catamounts would certainly have gotten a couple first
place votes in the conference’s preseason polls.
their leading scorer in Scott Mifsud, but they still return
14 forwards including fifth-year senior Brady Leisenring,
who scored three goals and had six assists in the team’s
first six games before suffering a season-ending injury. UVM
reaped the benefits of his presence in the lineup, as it knocked
off No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 on the road in Leisenring’s
has lost only one defenseman from last year’s team,
which was the most improved in the country in terms of wins,
and it returns ECACHL Rookie of the Year Joe Fallon. The freshman
goalie set a school record with five shutouts last year, a
1.96 goals-against average and currently sits atop the program’s
save percentage list with a mark of .921. It was no coincidence
that the Catamounts killed 86.9 percent of their penalties
last year, either, the sixth-highest ratio in the country.
FOR A FALL
was playing tremendous hockey during the final month
of the regular season, finishing at a 6-3-1 clip before hiccupping
at UNH in the first round of the playoffs.
goalie Keni Gibson through a tremendous year, and Jason Guerriero
carried the offense with 17 goals and 31 assists. Both players
were candidates for Player of the Year, and both have since
will see a brunt of the defensive pressure as the only pure
goal scorer on the team now, and he will really need his teammates
to step up on the offensive side since Northeastern has lost
five of its top eight defensemen, too.
group will have to be ready as soon as the puck drops on Oct.
14 and carry its intensity for a treacherous six-week span
to start the season. NU opens with two against North Dakota,
then takes on Boston College, Rensselaer, Vermont, UNH twice,
UMass and Providence, before re-visiting with BC and the Wildcats.
team can’t adjust early, it may blink and find itself
winless at the beginning of December.
College was an uncharacteristically defensive minded
team last year, but that doesn’t mean the Eagles didn’t
have players who could find the back of the net. However,
four of its top-five scorers – Patrick Eaves, Ryan Shannon,
Dave Spina and Ned Havern – have left The Heights along
with their 56 goals, 87 assists and 143 points.
Brian Boyle, the 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior forward as the
leading returning goal- and point-scorer. He really got it
going during the Hockey East Tournament, when he was given
MVP honors for his four goals and two assists, and he also
grabbed the game-winner in the championship game against UNH.
does have everything moving in the right direction, he is
a monster on the ice, particularly in the faceoff circle and
in the crease. Jerry York is going to need him to play like
that all season if the Eagles have a chance at winning their
second consecutive league title.
ACT TO FOLLOW
goalie Jimmy Howard was on the ice, he was in the
zone. And when he was on the ice in the postseason, he was
him lead the Black Bears in playoff hockey was about as fun
as anything to do over the past three years, unless of course,
you were an opposing skater. The things he could do to keep
Maine in the game – a sprawling kick save while lying
on his stomach, a stick save after diving across the crease
or a glove save behind his head – were jaw-dropping,
73 saves during his last two collegiate performances, a 2-1
double-overtime loss to Boston College in the Hockey East
semifinals and a 1-0 overtime loss against Minnesota in the
first round of the NCAA tournament.
saves, and he walked away from the campus life with a two-game
Matt Lundin, you have your work cut out for you. The sophomore
netminder wasn’t even going to attend school this year
for the chance to play junior hockey for the Tri-City Storm
in Nebraska, but he had to pack his things to return to Orono
once finding out Howard had signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
Sure. It took him a mere three days to get everything together
so he could get an early start on the new era in Maine hockey.
only played in nine games last season, making just two starts.
He and freshman Ben Bishop, a third-round selection of the
St. Louis Blues, will tag team the goaltending duties until
one of them is able to take the fulltime job.
have a lot to overcome – an offense that saw zero players
score more than 14 goals last year, a complex defense that
lost four players and an Alfond Arena crowd that hasn’t
seen a Black Bear goalie struggle in quite some time.
have gone to any one of the four guys – Jimmy Howard,
Patrick Eaves, Ben Walter or Chris Bourque – who signed
pro contracts over the summer but, then again, there is a
reason why they are getting cash, rather than credits, to
else in the conference this year, this is another wide open
category. The preliminary favorite would be Brett
Hemingway, the second edition of the Hemingway scoring
forward model released in Durham.
score because that is what UNH forwards do. He’ll win
games because that is what the Wildcats will do plenty of
in 2005-06. And because his last name pulsates off the blue
and white jerseys with the same resonance as “Black
Betty” from the Whittemore Center PA system, he’ll
probably get some Hobey Baker consideration, too.
of the hype surrounding the Eagles’ newest recruiting
class, comes just as much with freshman forward Brock
Bradford. BC has lost a ton of veteran scoring, so
Jerry York will once again find ways to get his freshman talents
into the offensive equation. Bradford, who tries to model
his game after Joe Sakic, scored 24 goals and picked up 33
assists in 60 games last year for the Omaha Lancers of the
also a winner. The seventh round draft pick of the Boston
Bruins was on the Canadian team that took home the gold medal
at the 2004 Under-18 Junior World Cup in Slovakia. He contributed
a goal and four assists during the five-game tourney.
success in the new league will come from a number of different
areas, but the Catamounts will rely heavily on the backbone
of their defense, three-time captain Jaime Sifers.
The reigning ECACHL Defensive Defenseman of the Year was a
big factor in rookie goalie Joe Fallon’s success. He
won’t open any eyes with his scoring ability, as he
only racked up four goals and 14 assists last year. If he
were taken out of UVM’s lineup, though, the team would
lose its heart and soul. It will be the grit that Sifers brings
to the Catamounts that they will need to earn the respect
of their new peers.
Following one of the most exciting regular season finishes
in the league’s history, what kind of an encore does
Hockey East have in store this year? The top of the
conference will sing a familiar song in 2005-06, with UNH,
BU and BC taking home the top-three spots, but the middle
of the pack will make things a lot closer in what is such
a rebuilding year for nearly every team. Don’t be surprised
if the top-seven teams finish the season separated by 10-12
points in the standings.
The addition of Vermont means that two teams will now miss
the conference playoffs. What will that do to the bottom portion
of the standings? It will keep teams from backing
into the postseason for two reasons. First, if a team in the
8-10 spots in the standings gets hot in February, the mad
dash by its closest contenders will definitely provide a more
intense final few weeks than normal. Second, if a rare occasion
occurs and a top-tiered team has a locked-in seed during the
final two weeks, it also won’t want to risk backing
in and squaring up with a hot No. 7 or 8 seed in the first
With so much talent between the pipes, what is the chance
a goalie is named Player of the Year? Slim. There
isn’t necessarily one goalie who can break away from
the pack like Howard did over the past two seasons. Netminders
such as BC’s Cory Schneider, BU’s John Curry,
UMass Lowell’s Peter Vetri, UNH’s Kevin Regan,
Vermont’s Joe Fallon and UMass’ Jon Quick are
all underclassmen and will face the same battle for top dog
next year. Also, in Hockey East’s first 21 years of
existence, only four goaltenders – UNH’s Mike
Ayers in 2002-03 and Ty Conklin in 1999-2000, UML’s
Dwayne Roloson in 1993-94 and Providence’s Chris Terreri
in 1984-85 – have won the award. Roloson and Terreri
were the only ones to win Player of the Year outright.
things you can take to the bank in Hockey East this season
1. UNH will finish the season with the top-two scorers
in the league for the second year in a row. Last
year’s top-five scorers in the conference are gone,
including Sean Collins and Preston Callander, who finished
one-two with a combined 110 points for the Wildcats. That
leaves Jacob Micflikier, Brett Hemingway and Daniel Winnik
as the top-three scorers returning to the conference this
year. Oh, and UNH senior Brian Yandle was the top-scoring
defenseman last year, too. It looks like the Whittemore Center’s
electric bill will continue to be the highest one in the league.
Burlington will be one of the tougher places to play. The
glass boards at Gutterson Fieldhouse were raised from five
feet to eight feet, making the rink closer resemble a gladiator
arena than anything else. UVM sold out its last 17 games at
the 4,035-seat venue, and the streak is expected to continue
with its new slate of conference games. With tougher competition,
the Catamounts may not improve on its 13-6-2 home record of
last season, but the resurgence of the athletic department
over the past few years has created more excitement and will
certainly create a scary environment for teams thinking they
can breeze through Burlington with a victory.
Chris Bourque will be as missed by Boston University as any
player in the league. His second-half heroics put
a spark in the Agganis Arena crowd the way his father lit
up the Boston Garden in years past. Peter MacArthur will miss
the other half of the tenacious freshman tandem and will need
to adjust to new linemates. And the league’s fifth-best
power play, which ran through Bourque at the point, will definitely
suffer as well.
Gabe Winer’s starting job is on the line in Amherst.
Winer has started 92 of a possible 112 games in three
years under Don Cahoon with a record of 41-41-9, but his wins
have declined each year. Jon Quick comes into the Mullins
Center as one of the best young goalies in the nation, and
he will see plenty of ice time this year to go along with
the Mass Attack’s youth movement. If Winer struggles
in the first half, this could be Quick’s team by January.
Three teams will qualify for the NCAA Tournament. That’s
right, just three. Though parity will be good for the league
this year, it will mean one less team gets the invitation
to dance after St. Patrick’s Day. Look for the usual
suspects – UNH, BU and BC – to earn these three
schedule is fairly easy from the middle of November until
the two-game road trip to Maine in the first week of February.
That will give UNH plenty of time to learn how to play
without Collins and Callander before things get serious
Parker didn’t bring in any new defensemen or goalies
this season. His confidence in that area plus the return
of two very good lines result in a very scary combination.
Schneider lost once in 18 games last year. He will have
to make the transition from being a pleasant surprise
to being a full-time anchor in net while the offense figures
team knows how to distribute the puck. With 5.47 assists
per game last year, the River Hawks ranked second in the
conference, but will any of their forwards step up to
take over the goal scoring responsibility left behind
by Ben Walter?
a healthy return, Brady Leisenring could be this year’s
version of Jason Guerriero.
of healthy returns, Matt Anderson does a better job at
making his teammates better than anyone else in the league,
and if UMass makes a jump into the top-three at season’s
end, Anderson could get considerable Player of the Year
Lundin and Ben Bishop could wind up being a great goaltending
tandem, but the Black Bears still have issues on defense
and their forwards aren’t pure goal scorers.
goalie Tyler Sims can definitely hold his own between
the pipes, but it doesn’t matter because his team
just doesn’t score for him and the penalty killing
unit never gave him any help.
Cronin’s blue collar, hard-nosed system will make
the Huskies an entertaining bunch to watch, but the loss
of their top forward (Jason Guerriero), defenseman (Tim
Judy) and goalie (Keni Gibson) will cause a ton of uncertainty
on the ice this season.
do have a couple pieces in place with goal scorers such
as Matt Johnson and Brent Gough, and blueliner Bryan Schmidt
held down the third-best penalty killing unit in the league
last year. It just takes a lot more than that to win in