2007-08 Hockey East Preview
coach offers a history book. The other opens his checkbook.
Who wins? When the options entail leaving practice in an Escalade
rather than with a Gatorade, collegiate athletes often find
it hard to say no to NHL execs. And that was certainly true
in the offseason for a number of Hockey East squads. Cory
Schneider (Boston College), Teddy Purcell (Maine), Jon Quick
(Massachusetts), Torrey Mitchell (Vermont) and Trevor Smith
(New Hampshire) all bolted for a payday over the summer, and
the league suffered as a result.
And, despite the Eagles' surprising loss to
Michigan State in the national championship last April, Hockey
East was riding high. Five teams qualified for the NCAA tournament
(two advanced to the Frozen Four), and the schools combined
to win six games. All appeared to be good for New England's
Until the pros came a callin'.
Teddy Purcell had a breakout year last season. Then he
broke out of Orono and signed a contract with the Los
Now, everything is wide open in Hockey East,
and the unfaithful departed left a litter of questions to
be answered over the next six months as well as a bunch of
what-ifs that could make for some interesting barstool discussion.
Could Schneider have led BC to a third straight title tilt?
Would Purcell have grown into the next legend in Orono? Could
Smith have put UNH over the top in his junior season? With
Quick in Amherst for two more years, would the Minutemen have
become a mainstay in the national tournament? And could Mitchell
have finally helped Vermont break the ice with a trip to the
The question everyone wants answered nowadays,
though: Can any of these guys help my fantasy team?
There's a theme running through this Hockey
East seson preview, and it's a call for consistency. With
so much of last year's talent gone for the pro ranks, the
league is wide open this year. The teams that bring it every
night will reap the rewards, and Northeastern is a squad that
has been doing that under the watch of Greg Cronin.
Northeastern won't overwhelm its opposition
with blue-chip talent (the Huskies have two NHL draftees,
tied for seventh in HEA), and the scoring will be the biggest
concern. But, Northeastern is tough in the corners, grinds
with teams and isn't afraid to get dirty. Goalie Brad Thiessen
(2.48 GAA, .921 save percentage) is coming off a fantastic
freshman season, and he'll do his part to keep the team in
games. If the Huskies continue with their gritty style, expect
good things on Huntington Ave.
PRIMED FOR A FALL
Maine's departures are absolutely astounding.
The Black Bears lost forwards Josh Soares (20-25—45),
Michel Leveille (19-26—45), Teddy Purcell (13-20—33),
Keith Johnson (10-14—24), Mike Hamilton (9-13—22)
and Brent Shepheard (8-8—16), and defenseman Mike Lundin
The team lost seven of its last 11 games last
year (including six of eight before the NCAA tourney), and
goalie Ben Bishop struggled to stay healthy after injuring
his groin in the second half. And Maine's first two regular-season
contests this year are at Denver, although the rest of the
out-of-conference schedule is cake.
When asked about this year's freshman class,
Tim Whitehead gave a vote of confidence. When asked if he
had any more Teddy Purcells in the mix, that confidence shied
away. Sounds like a rebuilding season in Orono.
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
MacDonald and the River Hawks saw their program survive
amid some offseason turmoil. They're hoping to make an
impact on the ice this year.
The River Hawks suffered through a 20-game winless
streak (0-17-3) through a three-month span. Then, they learned
their program's Division I status was up in the air. In the
offseason, Blaise MacDonald was arrested for drunk driving
and suspended by the school as a result. Whether or not there's
a D-I program in Lowell's future, local boy MacDonald would
probably like to find out first-hand. Amid all of the recent
controversy, the bench boss needs to rally his ridiculously
young roster (one senior, two juniors, 16 sophomores, seven
freshmen) to keep him out of the unemployment line.
TOUGHEST ACT TO FOLLOW
Maybe it's a good sign that John Muse looks
like a cross between Chris Collins and Cory Schneider (and
that he shares his last name with a pretty solid band). But
we digress. Muse, BC's freshman netminder who Jerry York has
already tabbed his No. 1 guy this season, has the daunting
task of replacing Schneider.
This is similar to what then-freshman Ben Bishop
went through two years ago when he took the lead role after
Jimmy Howard left after his junior campaign, and that seemed
to work out. Muse enters Boston College as a highly regarded
prospect, ranking 10th among goalies, according to Inside
Scouts around the league believe Muse has the
talent to take the job, but time will tell on whether or not
he can lead the Eagles to a national championship —
the only bar in which BC uses to measure a successful season.
Schneider led his squad to the title game each of the last
two years, but they've come away empty handed. The forwards
have the talent. The defense should be sound. The rest is
up to the kid.
No one was more fun to watch in the second half
last year than BC forward Nathan Gerbe. The kid's a lightning
bolt, who flies around the ice with more electricity than
anyone in Hockey East. It's necessary, though, since he's
only 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds. The junior isn't afraid to take
a hit, either. As we commonly reported last year, Gerbe's
battles with 6-foot-3, 215-pound BU defenseman Eric Gryba
Gerbe, who draws comparisons from Jerry York
to former Eagle Brian Gionta, led the league with 25 goals
and was second to teammate Brian Boyle with 47 points. The
speedster is part of a dynamic trio of BC junior forwards,
along with snipers Benn Ferriero (23-23—46) and Brock
Bradford (19-26—45), who return as the three highest
scorers in Hockey East from a season ago. Look for Gerbe to
capture Player of the Year honors.
Coaches around the league weren't reserved with
their praises of UNH forward James van Riemsdyk, who the Flyers
selected with the second overall pick in June's NHL Draft.
They all thought the 6-foot-3 power forward (listed anywhere
between 190 and 200 pounds) could make an immediate impact
for the Wildcats, the way Teddy Purcell did in Maine last
UNH coach Richard Umile loves van Riemsdyk's
attitude, work ethic and humility despite being the highest
draft selection in program history. van Riemsdyk played for
the U.S. Under-18 Team each of the last two seasons, and he
led the squad with 63 points (33 goals, 30 assists) this past
Much has been made about 6-foot-7 Simon Danis-Pepin
on Maine's blue line, and Travis Ramsey has flown under the
radar as a result. If the Black Bears are to have any success
this year, it has to start on the back end, especially while
the forwards take the time to mesh early in the season.
Now a senior, Ramsey has made serious strides
each year, which Tim Whitehead could only hope to expect.
Ramsey grew up in California, didn't start playing hockey
until he was in middle school and wasn't even on full scholarship
when he entered Maine. He hasn't scored since his sophomore
year, but the blue liner was a team-best plus-nine last year
and is plus-20 the last two seasons. And he's only been called
for 22 penalties while playing in all of Maine's 82 games
over the last two years.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. Can UMass provide an encore?
Kinda sorta. U2 can't close a show, walk off
stage and then return for “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
without Bono. Hyperbole aside, the Minutemen aren't the same
act this season without Jon Quick. And they'll definitely
miss the scoring and leadership provided by Chris Capraro,
Matt Anderson, Mark Matheson, and Kevin Jarman. There's some
optimism around heir-to-the-throne Dan Meyers, and he'll be
protected by a very solid defensive unit, which returns everyone.
There's enough there to ensure UMass wasn't a one-hit wonder.
2. Can UNH survive the loss of its forwards?
Yes. The Wildcats aren't getting hit in this
area nearly as badly as rival Maine, but the losses are painful,
nonetheless. Leading scorer Trevor Smith (21-22—43),
Jacob Micflikier (11-27—38), Brett Hemingway (13-19—32)
and Josh Ciocco (6-9—15) accounted for 128 points last
season. But, they still return Matt Fornataro, Mike Radja
and Jerry Pollastrone, who combined to score 108 points last
year. James van Riemsdyk should make an impact, and the Wildcats
are also high on freshman forward Phil DeSimone. Plus, there's
plenty of depth with Bobby Butler, Thomas Fortney, Greg Collins
and Peter LeBlanc to give UNH a troika of very good lines
and a fourth line that most teams would take as their third.
3. Will Boston University figure out
a way to score?
Another yes. At times last season, the back
of the net seemed to be as much of a myth for the Terriers
as the Bermuda Triangle and second-place finishes in the Beanpot.
You could tell them such things existed, but they probably
wouldn't believe you. The numbers weren't actually as bad
as they may have seemed, at least compared to the rest of
the league. Boston University scored 69 goals in 27 Hockey
East games (2.56 per contest), fifth in the league. The Terriers
scored four or more goals just 10 times in 39 games, and three
of those instances came in the first three games of the season.
They had two scoreless ties. And they averaged two goals per
game in five postseason contests. Kenny Roche is their only
major loss up front, a healthy Brandon Yip should help, and
the incoming freshmen are expected to make an impact.
MARK IT DOWN
Five things you can take to the bank in Hockey East this season
1. Joe Fallon will finally get the credit
he deserves. Cory Schneider and John Curry stole
the headlines for two reasons: First, they deserved it; second,
they played in the league's biggest media market. With those
two (and Jon Quick) gone, it's Fallon's turn. The UVM senior
led Hockey East with a 1.85 goals-against average last year,
and his .920 save percentage (seventh) wasn't shabby, either.
2. John Muse will get thrown into the
fire right away. The freshman could turn into the
biggest thing at the Heights since Steve Aponavicius with
a strong start in the season's first week. BC opens at the
IceBreaker Invitational with a first-round date against Michigan
Oct. 12, and could potentially see Minnesota the next day.
The Eagles then return home to play North Dakota Oct. 19.
3. The middle of the standings are a
crapshoot. UNH and BC will reign up top, while Merrimack
and Providence will remain at the bottom. But everyone else
is pretty even. There are so many question marks (Can BU,
Maine, UMass or Vermont score? Can Northeastern make the jump?
Is Lowell due for one of its completely random runs?). Simply
put, the teams that play the most consistently from October
to March will see that pay off in the standings.
4. There will be plenty of opportunities
to watch your team on TV. But not as many as in recent
seasons. At first glance, things were looking up when the
league announced there would be 68 games involving Hockey
East teams on television this season. Sounds good, right?
Thinking that was a step up from last year, we researched
the 2006-07 release, which announced 76 games were televised.
There were 70 according to the 2005-06 release, as well as
the 2004-05 release. It turns out, the 68 televised games
are the fewest since the league announced 50 would be on TV
5. BU and BC will again square off at
the Garden on a Monday in February. We're not going
all Miss Cleo on you here. The Terriers and Eagles are scheduled
to duke it out in the first round of the Beanpot on Feb. 4
at 8 p.m.
||What separates the Wildcats from Boston
College is the experience in goal. UNH improved defensively
in front of Kevin Regan last year, and he had a career
season as a result. More of the same in Durham this year.
||There's enough talent on BC's front
line to offset the inexperience in net, but the Eagles
need to prove they can show up night after night, which
they didn't do in front of Cory Schneider last year.
||Those within the BU circles argue
Karson Gillespie and Brett Bennett are more talented than
John Curry, and the Terriers will be fine without the
Hockey East Player of the Year. You can debate talent
all you want, but no one can dismiss Curry's results.
||Dan Meyers is an obvious question
mark, but the Minutemen return three 20-point scorers
this year — only BC (five), BU (four) and UNH (four)
return more. And Chris Davis, who scored 19 points while
battling injuries last season, should improve.
||Here's the wild card. Greg Cronin
has had his plan in place for two full seasons now, and
assistant coach Sean McEachern (who the players really
responded to when he started last midseason) is beginning
his first full year.
||The loss of Torrey Mitchell hurts a lot, especially
for a team that finished eighth in scoring in league play
last year. But, three of their most important forwards
— Dean Strong, Peter Lenes and Corey Carlson —
are entering their junior seasons, when players often
make their big jump.
||Tim Whitehead is really fond of his
10 freshmen, which is a good thing since he'll need most
of them to contribute. The Black Bears lost seven of their
top-10 scorers from last season, a group that combined
to tally 205 points.
||The River Hawks suffered an 0-14-1 stretch against Hockey
East competition last season and finished three points
out of the playoffs. We're going to go out on a limb and
say that won't happen again.
||The Friars finished a disappointing
eighth last season after surprising the league with a
fifth-place spot two years ago.
||If three's a crowd, then someone's got to break up the
party in the Hockey East basement, where Merrimack has
resided for the past three seasons. Get ready for a fourth.