The fall semester has just begun for college students across the globe, and with it comes the anticipation of the NCAA Hockey season. Along the east coast of the United States, that patient (or not so patient) wait has turned into eagerness. The Hockey East was a competitive conference last season with Boston College, Northeastern, and Providence all making bids to finish atop the standings.
In the end, it was BC who locked down the honor of first place though Boston University was able to snag the Hockey East Championship. Looking ahead to the 2018-19 campaign, it is expected that the conference will once again remain competitive. Even those outside the top-four last season, such as UMass-Lowell, UConn, and UMaine cannot simply be tossed aside.
One must wonder if this season will see completely different results than the last. The turnover in college hockey makes for some unpredictability; as freshmen enter seniors depart, and while programs can maintain dominance, they can also see their reigns end as quickly as they begin. Will BC once again take the regular season crown? Can BU repeat as champs? We’ll have those answers come Spring, but there’s no fault in making some predictions of our own.
2017-18 Finish: 1st Place
2018-19 Prediction: 1st Place
The BC Eagles took the Hockey East regular season crown last year with an 18-6-0 record within the conference. Freshman Logan Hutsko claimed the title of leading scorer on the team with 12 goals and 19 assists throughout his 37-game campaign. Now entering his sophomore year, Hutsko is expected to once again make a sizeable contribution to the Eagles’ offense.
Three sophomores followed Hutsko on the BC scoring charts: David Cotton (28 points), Julius Mattila (27 points), and Graham McPhee (24 points). The trio is entering their junior seasons and, like Husko, are expected to make solid impacts once more. Defensemen Michael Kim and Casey Fitzgerald will be leading the charge on the back end. They played sound defense and are a huge reason why BC gave up no more than one goal in 11 games last season. Also contributing to that factor was goaltender Joseph Woll. The goaltender has represented the United States on the world stage and had a world-class sophomore season, producing a record of 17-11-2 accompanied by a 2.48 GAA and a .915 SV%.
For the 2018-19 season, the Eagles are adding a New York Islanders first-round pick in Oliver Wahlstrom and Minnesota Wild third-round pick, Jack McBain. This is in addition to eight other freshmen who will be competing for spots on BC’s roster heading into October. Better yet, the Eagles are only losing one senior in Kevin Lohan who tallied two goals and six assists in 22 games during the 2017-18 campaign. The Eagles could very well find themselves winning the regular season title once again, and should be determined to do much more than that throughout the 2018-19 season.
2017-18 Finish: 3rd Place
2018-19 Prediction: 2nd Place
The Providence Friars took the hockey world by storm last year. They competed at a high level not only along the east coast but on a national stage as well, earning themselves high marks in the weekly NCAA Hockey rankings. The 2018-19 season promises to be a good one for the Friars as they look to improve on a great performance.
Out of Providence’s top-10 point producers, only one was a senior in Brian Pinho. However, the Friars are losing their top scorer from the 2017-18 campaign in Erik Foley. The forward passed on the possibility of a senior season in Providence to sign an entry-level deal with the St. Louis Blues (to whom he was traded at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline). Foley produced 35 points in 38 games during his junior year and that production will certainly be missed.
On a high note, the Friars have young players poised for improvements such as sophomores Josh Wilkins, Brandon Duhaime, and Jacob Bryson who ranked third, fourth, and fifth in 2017-18 scoring respectively for the team. In addition, Providence will see the return of Hayden Hawkey for his senior campaign. The goaltender put up a record of 24-12-3 last season and maintained a 2.04 goals-against average (GAA) and .919 save percentage (SV%). So, while the Friars are losing their top two scorers, they have plenty to look forward to in the return of their starting goalie and a number of younger players who seem determined to make up for the lost production.
2017-18 Finish: 4th Place
2018-19 Prediction: 3rd Place
There were two big news items on the BU Terriers front this summer. The first was the replacement of head coach David Quinn who was swept away by the New York Rangers. Filling those shoes is BU alumn Albie O’Connell who is a first-time at the helm of a coaching staff, though he has been an assistant coach at the university level since 2003.
The other loss for the Terriers was that of 2018 fourth-overall pick Brady Tkachuk who signed an entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators. The winger ranked fourth in BU scoring last season with eight goals and 23 assists in 40 games. However, the Terriers still have a wealth of young talent, namely in Shane Bowers who is entering his sophomore season, and Nashville Predators prospect Dante Fabbro who will be a junior.
Between the pipes is the always impressive Jake Oettinger who, like Woll, has also manned the crease at the national level. A 2.45 GAA and .915 SV% earned the Dallas Stars prospect a 21-13-4 record last season with five shutouts. He will be expected to carry the torch once more this season if BU is to climb up the Hockey East standings.
2017-18 Finish: T-5th Place
2018-19 Prediction: 4th Place
The University of Maine Black Bears are my dark horse in the Hockey East this season. It may shock some to see them ranked above schools such as Northeastern but they have a number of weapons that could propel them passed some of the best schools in the conference. One of those weapons is goaltender Jeremy Swayman.
Swayman had a phenomenal 2017-18 campaign, registering a 2.72 GAA and .921 SV% en route to a 15-12-3 record during his freshman year. This is in addition to stealing the starting role from then-junior Rob McGovern. The pinnacle of the Alaskan natives’ season, however, was a 95-save weekend against the Quinnipiac Bobcats. Swayman won both games despite being left hanging throughout both contests.
In addition to their goaltender, the Black Bears have a young team with the majority of skaters entering their sophomore and junior years. Mitchell Fossier led the charge as a sophomore last season with 34 points in 37 games followed by fellow sophomore Chase Pearson with 27 points in those same contests. What is even more encouraging is Maine’s well-rounded scoring; 13 Black Bears registered a double-digit point total. Their highest ranked graduating student, Canon Pieper, potted 12 points in 33 games. Though he will be missed, it’s a modest amount of production that can be replaced by underclassmen.
2017-18 Finish: 2nd Place
2018-19 Prediction: 5th Place
The Northeastern Huskies had a strong 2017-18 campaign and they have a few tools that could help them improve as we head into fall. The most prevalent of those tools in Cayden Primeau. As a freshman last season, the Montreal Canadiens prospect came up with a 1.92 GAA and .931 SV% en route to a 19-8-5 record. He was named as a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, which is dished out to the most valuable goaltender in NCAA Hockey annually.
The Huskies’ roster also featured a Hobey Baker Finalist in another freshman named Adam Gaudette. The Massachusetts native scored 30 goals and 30 assists in 38 games during the 2017-18 campaign, scoring on 19.6-percent of his shots. It was enough for Gaudette to win the Hobey Baker Award. Unfortunately for Northeastern, Gaudette signed an entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks as the college hockey season concluded. This means he will not be returning for his sophomore year, which leaves a gaping hole in the Huskies’ offense.
Adding to that void are Dylan Sikura (54 points) and Nolan Stevens (42 points). Both were 2018 graduates and their production will be sorely missed. While the Huskies have a young team that could make up for that loss in the future, is that future this season? Gaudette, Sikura, and Stevens were the only Northeastern players who were able to pot more than eight goals last season. In fact, the three exiting forwards scored over 55-percent of the team’s goals throughout the 2017-18 campaign. Those are tough skates to fill for a group of players who were unable to break the 20-point threshold last season.
2017-18 Finish: 8th Place
2018-19 Prediction: 6th Place
The University of Massachusetts Minutemen finished with a 9-13-2 record within the Hockey East last season but could very well improve upon that performance. Five freshmen led the team in scoring throughout the 2017-18 campaign in John Leonard (28 points), Oliver Chau (24), Mitchell Chaffee (24), Mario Ferraro (23), and Cale Makar (21). Similar to UMaine, the Minutemen benefit from well-rounded scoring from a roster that is chalk full of young talent.
Last season, freshman Matt Murray and sophomore Ryan Wischow shared the crease. Murray produced a record of 9-12-2 with a 2.70 GAA and .911 SV%. Wischow came up with a 3.17 GAA and .892 SV% en route to an 8-8-0 record.
UMass does have some exiting seniors in Niko Rufo and Jake Horton, but the team has the young talent who, if they improve with another season of college hockey under their belts, can fill those skates. They have a surplus of 13 freshmen entering the program this fall which bodes well for the Minutemen’s near future. A sixth-place finish come Spring would be a major improvement for UMass and is a solid goal to set their eyes on.
2017-18 Finish: T-5th Place
2018-19 Prediction: 7th Place
The University of Connecticut Huskies knotted a tie with UMaine for fifth place in the Hockey East last season. They were led offensively by junior Maxim Letunov who registered 12 goals and 16 assists in 36 appearances. Senior Spencer Naas followed closely with a dozen goals and a dozen assists. Both will not suit up in a Huskies uniform next season – Naas graduated from the school in the Spring while Letunov signed a two-year deal with the San Jose Sharks in March.
On the bright side, UConn has their No. 3 and No. 4 scorers, Benjamin Freeman and Alexander Payusov, returning for their junior years. Despite senior goaltender Tanner Creel, who appeared in 13 contests last season, taking his leave, the Huskies will rely upon Adam Huska who is returning for his junior season. He will likely be backed up by Bradley Stone throughout the Englishman’s sophomore year. This is in addition to Czech native Tomas Vomacka who will join UConn’s international slew of goaltenders as a freshman this Fall.
The Huskies will start off the season with a road trip in October visiting Army, Quinnipiac, Providence, and Rensselaer. They will then be tested by the ECAC’s Brown University as well as Hockey East opponents such as Vermont, Northeastern, and UMass-Lowell. This leads up to the Friendship Four in Belfast, Ireland where they will compete with Boston University for the right to play the winner of the Yale University and Union College matchup. All in all, it is a pretty tough schedule featuring a February run against Boston College, Northeastern, Merrimack, BU, and UMass which will be decisive in their placement among their Hockey East peers.
2017-18 Finish: 7th Place
2018-19 Prediction: 8th Place
As recently as the 2016-17 season, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks found themselves atop the Hockey East standings tied in first place with Boston University and Boston College. To make that feat even more challenging, it was when Notre Dame was still in the conference. They had the best overall record among their peers that season resting at 27-11-3 while also achieving the best conference record of 14-7-1.
Since then the River Hawks have executed quite the dive, finishing in seventh place in the Hockey East last season. They are losing a plethora of 20-point producers in seniors Tommy Panico, Chris Forney, and John Edwardh. Both are considered some of Lowell’s best defensemen along with blueliner Tyler Mueller who was added to the graduation bill. On the other hand, the River Hawks have a number of younger players sticking around.
Leading scorer and Tampa Bay Lightning draftee Ryan Lohin will be a junior this season after putting up nine goals and 16 assists in his 36-game sophomore year. Just a hair behind him with 22 points through the 2017-18 campaign was Ryan Dmowski who is returning as a senior this season. Kenny Hausinger, who produced 20 points, will also be returning. This means the River Hawks will keep their top-three scorers around, but it is the depth that is somewhat puzzling. That depth is made up of a number of freshmen – many whom only played in a handful of games. The ones who found themselves playing all season were just barely breaking into the double-digit point totals and the sophomores weren’t exactly flying high either.
Splitting the cage last season were Christoffer Hernberg and Tyler Wall who will be seniors and juniors for the 2018-19 campaign respectively. Hernberg finished the year with a 2.08 GAA and .921 SV% while Wall struggled with a 3.98 GAA and .868 SV% en route to a 3-9-0 record. The River Hawks will have to rely on Hernberg to turn out another solid year as well as their top scorers in order to fail to digress. If Lowell is seeking improvement over their seventh-place finish, their incoming freshmen will have to pick up the slack left by their depth last season which isn’t exactly something that Lowell can count on.
2017-18 Finish: 9th Place
2018-19 Prediction: 9th Place
The University of Vermont Catamounts certainly struggled last season, but there was one area where they excelled and will continue to excel in this season: youth. UVM’s top-three scorers throughout the 2017-18 campaign, Ross Colton, Alex Esposito, and Matt Alvaro, were all underclassmen. They lost Jarrid Privitera, Rob Darrar, and Anthony Petruzzelli to graduation but have enough youth to keep them afloat. But for the Catamounts to do anything more than stay afloat would require them to exceed expectations.
Vermont is losing Ross to the Lightning after seeing him produce 16 goals and seven assists last season. The next best goal total came from the stick of Esposito with 10 goals who, in his sophomore season, will need to make up for the loss of Ross. Other than those two forwards, the rest of the Catamounts failed to score more than five goals respectively which is certainly something to be concerned about.
Goaltender Stefanos Lekkas, who came up with a 2.84 GAA and .914 SV% last year, will be a junior for the upcoming 2018-19 campaign. Backup netminder Tyler Harmon only saw four appearances last season as a freshman and must be ready to take on some extra weight to give Vermont’s starter a rest. In fact, out of UVM’s 37 games last year, Lekkas appeared in 35 of them. If there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it comes in the form of UVM’s youth who will need to ramp up the production if the program expects to stay out of the bottom three spots in the conference.
2017-18 Finish: 10th Place
2018-19 Prediction: 10th Place
The Merrimack Warriors saw a huge chunk of their scoring from Brett Seney, Jace Hennig, and Jared Kolquist – all of whom were seniors last season and who subsequently will not be lacing up the skates for the squad this year. Sami Tavernier, who is entering his junior year, notched eight goals and 13 assists in 36 appearances during his sophomore season. He will need to pick up some of the slack to keep Merrimack out of last place. In total, the Warriors are losing six seniors who appeared in more than 30 games throughout the 2017-18 campaign.
The bright spot comes in the form of defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic who, in addition to tallying 17 points in 34 games during his sophomore year, has been a great anchor on the blue line. The Winnipeg Jet draftee will be Merrimack’s go-to blueliner after losing Kolquist and Marc Biega to graduation.
Goaltenders Craig Pantano and Drew Vogler are both entering their senior years. Last season, Pantano went 11-14-2 with a 2.33 GAA and .915 SV%. On the other hand, Vogler sported a 1-7-2 record accompanied by a 3.72 GAA and .977 SV%. It would be wise for the Warriors to give Logan Halladay some more minutes. During his freshman year, the goaltender appeared in two games and only gave up three goals. On the flip side, Halladay only made 11 stops but this shouldn’t dissuade Merrimack to give him more time in the crease – after all, he will likely get the call once the two aforementioned seniors exit after this season.
2017-18 Finish: 11th Place
2018-19 Prediction: 11h Place
By now you’ve realized I expect the bottom of the standings remain the same, and the University of New Hampshire Wildcats are no exception. The team will be sporting a new coach this season in Mike Souza. He played both at UNH and professionally from 1996 to 2011 in the NCAA, AHL, ECHL and European leagues. He has assisted on the benches of Brown University, UConn and UNH – hopefully, he can draw upon those experiences now that he has taken the helm.
Losing Michael McNicholas, who led the Wildcats in scoring last season with 24 points, is a big blow. Luckily the team has a number of freshmen poised for solid sophomore seasons. This includes defenseman Max Gildon who potted eight goals and 15 assists in 36 appearances. The Florida Panthers prospect, along with Benton Maass, will be expected to soak up some minutes as they both enter their sophomore seasons along the blue line.
UNH lost two goaltenders to graduation including starter Daniel Tirone who went 10-17-6 with a 2.68 GAA and .917 SV%. Joe Lazzaro and Mike Robinson, who are entering their junior and sophomore years respectively, only made a combined seven appearances for the Wildcats during the 2017-18 campaign. Robinson sported a 0-2-0 record with 12 goals against on 101 shots. Meanwhile, Lazzaro only saw eight minutes last season and was tested on just four shots. This does not bode well for New Hampshire as they will likely have to call on one of them to take on the starting role for the upcoming campaign.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.