Last year Hockey East was a two horse race. Despite thoughts that either Vermont or UMass-Lowell could challenge in the conference, New Hampshire and Boston College went down to the final weekend before UNH took home the title. The Eagles got the last laugh however as they won the program’s 4th national title. Vermont meanwhile went from Frozen Four participant to 8th in the league, and Northeastern went from NCAA tournament team to 9th.
This year Hockey East figures to add a team to the two horse race as Maine, who just narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, returns the best player in the country. Hockey East also looks to be perhaps the deepest conference in the country, with a potential deep deep sleeper.
It is impossible to discuss the 2010-11 Hockey East landscape without starting at Boston College. The Eagles have three solid goaltenders on campus, but right or wrong I think it will be tough for Jerry York to go with anyone other than John Muse. Regardless of who York goes with, the Eagles will have a very solid D corps in front of him. A trio of Sophomores lead the young yet experienced attack. Brian Dumoulin has been getting a lot of ink, but I think a pair of future rivals are even better. Future Capital Patrick Wey and future Penguin Phillip Samuelsson each are vying for a spot on the World Junior team and each could emerge as the best defenseman on the team.
Up front the Eagles have scoring in spades. They are led of course by Junior Cam Atkinson, who ended up having 30 goals last year and 53 points. BC will be very experienced up front as well, with Seniors Brian Gibbons (16 goals) and Joe Whitney (17) joining Juniors Atkinson and Jimmy Hayes (13) to form maybe the deepest attack in the country.
Defending champion New Hampshire loses Bobby Butler, who was the regular season NCAA leader in goals last year, but they return a solid forward corps of Paul Thompson (39pts), Phil DeSimone (37), Mike Sislo (29), and Stevie Moses (24). They also have perhaps the best defenseman in the country and a Hobey candidate in Junior defenseman Blake Kessel.The Wildcats will have to replace Senior goalie Brian Foster. Junior Matt DiGirolamo played in only 3 games last year. Recruit Jeff Wyer may get the chance to take the job early.
The third team with serious title aspirations is Maine. The Black Bears made the Hockey East title game last year and return a lot of depth. Chief among that depth is 2011 Hobey favorite Gustav Nyquist. The Sweden native led the country with 61 points last year (1.56) points per game, and while he had only 19 goals he has said he’d like to shoot the puck more next year. The Black Bears will return their top 8 scorers, including Brian Flynn (19 goals), Tanner House (18), Robby Dee (13) and Jeff Dimmen (12). Like a lot of other top teams, Maine has questions in net. Dave Wilson graduated and Scott Darling will not be back after being suspended for alcohol related issues last year. Dan Sullivan, who played with Texas in the NAHL last year, will perhaps be another recruit who could take a job between the pipes early.
One sleeper that I think could make a solid run in Hockey East is Merrimack. Yes, Merrimack. Some solid, underrated recruits, including Tom McCarthy who won an NAHL title with Bismarck, join a solid returning group. Stephane Da Costa, who had 16 goals and 45 points last year, is the 4th leading returning scorer in the conference, and Chris Barton (19-19–38) helps form a solid 1-2 punch. Merrimack should have a young yet experienced group, and with their power play (21.1%, 3rd in Hockey East) should be able to put up some goals. Defensively Merrimack needs to either cut down on the penalties (16.7 PIM/G, 1st in HE) or improve their penalty kill (81.2%, 5th in HE). Merrimack won’t be an NCAA tournament team unless everything breaks right, but they could make a nice run in conference.
Player of the year – Gustav Nyquist, Maine
F – Nyquist
F – Cam Atkinson, Boston College
F – Stephane Da Costa, Merrimack
D- Blake Kessel, New Hampshire
D – Will O’Neill, Maine
G – Alex Beaudry, Providence
F – Brian Gibbons, Boston College
F – Brian Flynn, Maine
F – Tanner House, Maine
D – Phillip Samuelsson, Boston College
D – David Warsofsky, BU
G – John Muse, Boston College