2011-12 Hockey East Preview: Part 1

Take an in-depth swing through the league and its teams with the first of my two-part Hockey East preview series, which begins with team capsules for the bottom half of the league from the 2010-11 season.

BOSTON – Hockey East uncaps the lid on its 28th season on Saturday, October 1 with a pair of Canadian exhibition games and the 2011-12 campaign should bring a fresh start to the conference with three new bench bosses taking on new challenges in their coaching careers.

10. UMass-Lowell: Alum Norm Bazin returns to his alma mater to coach the River Hawks after a successful career behind the bench at D-III Hamilton. UML, which loses graduate defenseman Maury Edwards and forward Scott Campbell, finished in the cellar of the Hockey East standings last year and will have an extremely young core of talent with which to work.

Senior David Vallorani, who scored 12 goals and a team-best 19 assists last season, will lead the River Hawk offense. Riley Wetmore led the team with 14 goals and returns to UML as a junior captain. On the blue line, Chad Ruhwedel was the team’s leading freshman scorer with two goals and 15 points.

It will be another rebuilding year in goal as both netminders are just returning sophomores with Doug Carr at the top of the depth chart. Carr won just four of his 20 starts last season as a freshman, posting a 3.63 goals-against and .896 save percentage.

9. Providence: Nate Leaman takes over a Friars squad that owned the fourth-worst offense in the country last season and will now return just 27 of its goals from last season. PC their top three leading scorers—Ian O’Connor, Kyle MacKinnon, and Matt Germain—all to graduation, a trio that combined for 32 goals in their senior seasons.

Senior goaltender Alex Beaudry, one of Hockey East’s most promising netminders, will need to improve on his seven wins and 3.27 goals-against average if the Friars want to enjoy any success in Hockey East. PC’s leading returnees include juniors Tim Schaller and Chris Rooney up front as well as senior Daniel New on the blue line.

Things could not get much worse for the Friars as last season’s team went a stunning four months from November 2010 to March 2011 without a conference victory en route to a ninth-place finish.

8. Massachusetts: Last year’s UMass squad squeezed into the quarterfinal playoffs on the final day of the regular season and with a host of returning players, it could be a good ride this time around.

The team returns a pair of accomplished forwards in local Springfield product T.J. Syner and his linemate Danny Hobbs, who were the top two Minutemen in scoring a season ago, a duo that combined for 20 goals and 55 points. On the blue line, Joel Hanley returns after a solid rookie season in which he tallied 18 points.

Another returnee expected to make a big impact again is sophomore Michael Pereira, who netted 25 points in his rookie year. Goaltender Jeff Teglia is also coming back for his second year and will take the majority of time in place of the departed Paul Dainton.

UMass has a pair of impressive defensive recruits, including Oleg Yevenko, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound product of Belarus, who recorded a staggering 197 penalty minutes in 52 games last season for the USHL’s Fargo Force.

7. Vermont: The Catamounts return a pair of strong offensive and defensive players as well as their top goaltender, but it could be a bit of a struggle with seven freshmen and a transfer coming in to fill the void.

UVM, who was led by the departed Jack Downing’s 13 goals and 18 points on the offensive side, struggled last season and fell in the first round of the playoffs to border rival New Hampshire as a seventh seed. The Green and Gold was only able to muster eight wins and 19 conference points, finishing just ahead of UMass.

The Cats graduate four of their top defensemen, including Josh Burrows and Kevan Miller, who was a two-year team captain and is now with the Providence Bruins. Wahs Stacey scored 15 points in 17 games before leaving midseason, but still finished sixth on the team in scoring at the end of the season.

Leading the offense will be juniors Sebastian Stalberg and Chris McCarthy, who both finished the season with 20 or more points. They were the only Cats to reach that plateau. Senior Drew MacKenzie and sophomore Nick Bruneteau were both 15-point scorers from UVM’s blue line last year, a pleasant surprise to an offense that was second-worst in the conference.

It will be senior Rob Madore making up the backbone of the defensive unit again this year as he looks to improve on his league-worst mark of 105 goals allowed.

Freshman Kyle Reynolds put up an impressive 38 goals and 40 assists in 49 games for the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL, while his classmate and Connecticut native Michael Paliotta posted 21 points from the blue line for the USA Hockey Under-18 Team last year.

6. Northeastern: Former Husky Jim Madigan came home to Huntington Avenue as he was the second to last head coach to be hired during a summer of change in college hockey.

“Mad Dog” as he has been named by NU’s passionate fan base will be thrown into the fire with a bunch that lost some key faces from a team that fell to Boston College in the conference semifinals last season, including its top three scorers in seniors Wade MacLeod, Tyler McNeely, and Steve Silva, all of whom eclipsed the 30-point mark.

The Huskies also lost two top freshmen in Brodie Reid and Jamie Oleksiak, who both departed for the NHL ranks when Greg Cronin left to become an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sophomore blue liner Anthony Bitetto is the team’s top returnee with 20 points a season ago, while senior Mike McLaughlin returns as the captain after a 11-goal, 15-point output. NU also returns junior Chris Rawlings, who finished last season with 12 wins and eight ties, while also finishing with over 1,000 saves.

Also joining the Huskies this season is Vinny Saponari, who is an accomplished forward in Hockey East after two seasons at Boston University.

This year’s recruits include Abington, Mass. native Dan Cornell, who will be part of a defensive corps that lacks a member of the senior class this season.

Joshua Kummins is the associate editor of BostonSportsU18.com and an InsideHockey.com Hockey East contributor. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKummins and contact him via e-mail at jkummins@bostonsportsu18.com.

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