2003-04 Hockey East Preview
celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2003-04, and in case a score
of seasons doesn’t convince you of the conference’s
status, consider its recent record. At least one Hockey East team
has participated in each of the last seven national championship
games, and conference teams posted wins in more than 70 percent
of their non-league games last season.
it from somebody who hears a lot these days about the strength of
conferences – Boston College’s Jerry York.
“There’s been a lot of talk around here
about conferences in football and basketball, and switching conferences,”
he said. “I look around Hockey East and we’re a high-powered,
BCS conference in hockey. It’s not just the top teams, either,
but one through nine there’s a lot of depth in this conference.”
All talk of Hockey East’s strength in 2003-04
must begin with York’s BC team, which loses just five players
from last year’s co-regular season champion team, and none
of the top 16 scorers. York’s three best players, Ben Eaves,
Tony Voce and J.D. Forrest, are all seniors who were part of the
2001 national championship team and have led the Eagles back to
Any number of teams could jump up and challenge
BC, led by the two best goaltenders in the conference at New Hampshire
(Mike Ayers) and Boston University (Sean Fields). But for now, it’s
the Eagles who have the best shot at success in Hockey East’s
fit this category last year, jumping from last place to sixth in
the league and upsetting Maine in the playoffs to earn a spot at
the FleetCenter. But the key, head coach Don Cahoon says, is maintaining
that success; if they can, it could be a breakthrough year of a
different sort for the Minutemen. “Last year was an important
step,” Cahoon said. “It gave us a sense of what it’s
like to succeed. But it’s another thing to sustain that success.
A lot of teams take little runs, but we want to take that bigger
step.” He should have the foundation to do it. Tim Turner
is the lone regular from last year who’s not back, with defenseman
Thomas Pöck and forwards Greg Mauldin and Stephen Werner leading
the way. Pöck mans the point on a power play that converted
20.4 percent of its chances last season.
FOR A FALL
The trio of
Jon DiSalvatore, Peter Fregoe and Devin Rask accounted for an amazing
47.6 percent of Providence’s goals last season, and with each
of them lost to graduation a repeat of last year’s home ice
in the first round of the playoffs is highly unlikely. While all
three of those players had at least 44 points last year, no other
Friar posted more than 29. That was defenseman Stephen Wood (9-20—29),
a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior who leads the team into this season.
Providence also loses goaltender Nolan Schaefer, who was fantastic
last year, especially in the second half. The Friars shouldn’t
suffer a dropoff in net, however, thanks to sophomore Bobby Goepfert
(6-6-1, 2.39 goals-against average, .924 save percentage).
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
When asked if it was fair to say that BU defenseman Ryan
Whitney was a disappointment last season, head coach Jack Parker
doesn’t sugar coat it. “That is a gross understatement,”
Parker said. “And he’d be the first one to tell you
that.” The No. 5 overall pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in
the 2002 NHL Draft, Whitney was too worried about living up to that
billing, Parker says. That, combined with a high ankle sprain early
in the year, led to some woeful performances. With heart-and-soul
defenseman Freddy Meyer gone, it’s Whitney’s turn to
take over the blueline. Parker contends that Whitney can be among
the very best in the college game, and thinks that this might be
the year: “The monkey’s off his back,” he said.
ACT TO FOLLOW
Last year Maine
sent talented forwards at its opposition in the same unrelenting
manner that TV execs hoist reality shows on us. But seven forwards
have graduated, and what was once a strength for the Black Bears
suddenly looks like a weakness. They’ll count on some new
faces to provide depth up front, and hope that senior Colin Shields
can recapture the scoring touch he displayed as a sophomore. Shields
didn’t have a goal from Dec. 15 to March 29 of last year (17
games), and finished with 14 goals, down from 29 in 2001-02. Seven
freshmen join the likes of Shields and Greg Moore, and they’ll
be given immediate opportunities to contribute. Expect Luch Aquino,
younger brother of former Merrimack Warrior Anthony, to lead the
way among the rookies.
how good is Ben Eaves? One coach called him both the conference’s
best set-up man and its best pure goal scorer. In short, he could
be New England’s best young talent this side of Theo Epstein.
And if what you see on the ice isn’t enough, Jerry York says
that his leadership and presence in the locker room is what stands
out when comparing him to the other elite players he’s coached.
He won last year’s Hockey East scoring race by 10 points and
shared player of the year honors with New Hampshire goaltender Mike
Ayers. Eaves is made even more dangerous by his linemates, Tony
Voce and younger brother Patrick Eaves, and it’s no surprise
that York would like to keep that trio intact as much as possible
College made perhaps the biggest waves in the recruiting world,
landing Adam Pineault and Brian Boyle, but with all the Eagles’
talent up front the chances to make an impact on The Heights might
be limited. Instead, the choice here is Boston University’s
Kenny Roche, a skilled center from St. Sebatian’s. Roche posted
25-28—53 in 29 games for St. Sebastian’s last year,
and figures to play on one of BU’s top two lines and on the
power play. The departure of Justin Maiser to major juniors opens
up even more ice time for Roche.
a time in a lot of presidential campaigns when the public meets
the running mates and thinks, ever so briefly, “I’m
kind of tired of the candidate, but his wingman might be all right.”
The Frozen Four provided a glimpse of this for UNH; the leaders
all year, Lanny Gare and Colin Hemingway, were silent (Gare because
of injury), and Steve Saviano took center stage. He was brilliant,
adding goal-scoring to a repertoire that is highlighted by his relentless
skating and gifted set-up skills. With Gare and Hemingway gone,
Saviano and linemate-for-life Sean Collins will be presiding over
the Wildcats’ offense in 2003-04. It remains to be seen whether
Saviano can assume that leading role for an entire season, but put
it this way – he reminds us a lot more of Dick Cheney than
1. Can Matti
Kaltiainen be an elite goaltender for BC? The Eagles’ top
challengers, Boston University and New Hampshire, appear much more
solid between the pipes with Sean Fields and Mike Ayers.
Merrimack get a break? This has been one star-crossed program for
the last few years, from bad luck like Steve Crusco’s injury
in practice to devastating blows like Joe Exter’s injury.
If Chris Serino’s team got enough good luck to balance the
bad, the Warriors would run away with the league title.
Northeastern climb out of the conference cellar? They should, thanks
in large part to a solid recruiting class for Bruce Crowder. Steve
Birnstill, Bryan Cirullo and Brian Deeth are three freshmen defensemen
who could all make a difference for the Huskies.
Five things you can take to the bank in Hockey East this season
1. Maine will
extend its NCAA Tournament appearance streak to six years, even
if it means the Black Bears need to earn the automatic bid that
comes from winning the Hockey East Tournament. Somehow Tim Whitehead’s
troops will find a way.
2. Two conference
foes will end up playing each other at the Northeast Regional (Manchester)
for the second season in a row. Having the second Eastern site in
Albany – outside of Hockey East country – it’s
even more likely to happen this year.
top two scorers in Hockey East – and possibly the top three
– will come from Boston College. If Jerry York keeps Ben Eaves,
Patrick Eaves and Tony Voce on the same line, as he hopes to, they
should dominate the top of the scoring list.
4. New Hampshire's
Eddie Caron and Boston College's Patrick Eaves will be ready to
go from the drop of the puck. Both have missed so much hockey over
the last year, they can't wait to get back on the ice.
5. Joe Exter
will sign a professional contract and continue his remarkable comeback
from the fractured skull he suffered last March.
league’s best offense is backed by some impressive defensemen
as well, led by J.D. Forrest and Andrew Alberts.
goaltending, a strong and deep recruiting class and the return
of Eddie Caron should offset significant losses to graduation.
is key for the Terriers, and they’ll need to get goals
from a group of forwards that’s balanced, but lacking
Minutemen appear ready to take the next step after the school’s
best season ever in 2003-04. Twenty-two letterwinners return,
led by the conference’s best defenseman in Thomas Pöck.
lineup will look much different, with nine players gone, but
returning are a pair of goalies who can steal games for the
Black Bears: Jim Howard and Frank Doyle.
Bobby Goepfert, the best U.S. player at the World Junior Championship
last season, will get a chance to shine for the Friars.
coach Chris Serino couldn’t have asked for more from defenseman
Bryan Schmidt as a freshman. He’s got a strong leader
up front as well in Marco Rosa.
Guerriero, one of the conference’s best offensive talents,
leads the Huskies up front, but they are young. Only four seniors
dot the roster, and none are defensemen.
freshmen and sophomores make up the bulk of the River Hawks’
roster, which lowers expectations, but as head coach Blaise
MacDonald says, “The evolution of a young player and team
can be unpredictable.”
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