Part II of my Hockey East preview continues with the top half of the league’s standings from a season ago. Click here to read the first installment of the preview, featuring the bottom half of the conference.
5. Maine: Gone are the likes of 50-point scorer Gustav Nyquist and 35-point scorer Robby Dee, but the Maine Black Bears have several key pieces still in place to make themselves contenders in the league this season.
Nyquist led the offensive charge last season, scoring 18 goals and dishing out a team-best 33 assists. The Sweden native is now a professional as a member of the Detroit Red Wings organization.
Dee and fellow forward Tanner House both depart after scoring 35 points last season, while Josh Van Dyk and Jeff Dimmen leave what will now be a very young defensive corps that will be led by Salem, Mass. native and senior Will O’Neill, who posted 21 points last year.
Dan Sullivan will be the lead goaltender after he had a solid freshman season, compiling a 10-7-2 record and three shutouts.
This year’s freshman class is led by Canadian Prep School forward Pietro Antonelli, who scored 29 goals and 66 total points in 48 games as the captain at Standstead College in Quebec. Pelham, N.H. native Andrew Cerretani scored 50 points at Lawrence Academy last season and is also a member of the talented incoming group.
4. Merrimack: One of the finest hockey Cinderella stories in recent memory, Merrimack made a school-record run, winning 25 games and 14 at home in advancing to the NCAA Regional semifinals. This season’s team will be missing three big pieces up front, but should have a solid core to remain competitive as well as a strong recruiting class.
The Warriors will be without the likes of last year’s top scorer Stephane Da Costa and the graduated duo of Chris Barton and Joe Cucci. Da Costa, the Parisian would-be junior, scored 14 goals and 45 points in 33 games last season. Barton and Cucci were second and third in scoring, respectively, each also scoring 14 goals.
The team returns goalie Joe Cannata after a stellar junior season in which he earned all 25 victories and a .911 save percentage. Karl Stollery, who contributed 21 assists and 27 points, and Kyle Bigos return to anchor the defensive unit.
Ryan Flanigan and Jesse Todd lead the forwards along with last year’s rookie superstar and Boston native Mike Collins, who was second to Brodie Reid in rookie scoring.
3. Boston University: The Terriers were tabbed third nationally in the College Hockey News Pre-Season Poll and are the consensus favorite among many members of the media to win the conference this upcoming season.
Heading into the new season, the team loses defenseman David Warsofsky, who is in the midst of training camp with the Boston Bruins as he left after three seasons. The graduated Joe Pereira—an incredible team leader and captain who exceeded the 20-point plateau for the second-straight season—is the team’s only significant loss due to graduation in addition to goaltender Adam Kraus.
BU returns the likes of Charlie Coyle and Adam Clendening for their second seasons as well as a Player of the Year candidate in junior Alex Chiasson after a team-best 34-point season last year. Kieran Millan, who led Hockey East with 1,085 saves last year, will have one last hurrah as he enters his senior year between the pipes.
Just four new skaters were added to the Terriers roster, a class that is headlined by freshman defenseman Alexx Privitera, who posted 34 points—fourth-most among the league’s defensemen—for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks in 2010-11.
2. New Hampshire: Despite their inability to cash in with the key playoff victory, the Wildcats always find a way to put the pieces together and that will be the case again before this regular season.
A solid group of returnees will make up for the completely graduated line of Paul Thompson, Mike Sislo, and Phil DeSimone as well as the likes of Blake Kessel and Matt Campanale on defense.
All three pieces of the STD line from last season were ranked among the top ten in Hockey East scoring, while Kessel was ranked in a tie for second among blue liners.
UNH’s top leading scorers are seniors Stevie Moses and Mike Borisenok, who were both above the 20-point mark. Junior Brett Kostolansky scored 19 points last year and will anchor the defensive corps that will be relatively young.
After finishing a respectable 22-11-6 with a 2.44 goals-against last season, Matt DiGirolamo will return for his senior season in Durham as the go-to goaltender for the Wildcats.
One of the familiar names in UNH’s recruiting class is that of defenseman Trevor van Reimsdyk, who is the brother of current Philadelphia Flyer and former Wildcat James. He, too, has some solid offensive numbers with 38 points for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs last year.
Another exciting recruit—at least on paper—is New Jersey Hitmen offensive product Matt Willows, who recorded an Eastern Junior Hockey League-best 70 points in 40 games.
1. Boston College: After a league-record tenth league title in 2010-11, the Eagles return 18 lettermen from last season’s 30-win team and are poised to make another strong run this time around.
News hit early in the offseason that would-be senior Cam Atkinson had decided to forgo his senior season in order to join the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. The Connecticut native posted a team-leading 31 goals and 52 points, beating out graduated senior Brian Gibbons whose 33 assists were tops on the offensive unit.
Senior assistant captains Barry Almeida and Paul Carey lead ten returning forwards this season. 48 percent of BC’s goal scoring from a season ago comes back this year, coupled with juniors Chris Kreider, Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney—all 20-point scorers.
Senior captain Tommy Cross and his classmate Edwin Shea are the senior members of the Eagle blue line, while three juniors—Patch Alber, Brian Dumoulin and Patrick Wey—who have a combined 194 games of experience, join them. The lone loss on the defensive side is Phillip Samuelsson, who played two years on The Heights before turning pro in the Pittsburgh Penguins system.
Perhaps the most vital loss is that of the graduated John Muse between the pipes, who posted league-bests with 27 wins and a 2.30 goals-against, while finishing with a .920 save percentage.
In his place, junior Parker Milner and senior Chris Venti will be at the top of the depth chart, along with a pair of locally grown newcomers in Brad Barone and Brian Billett. Barone comes to BC out of Medfield, Mass. and the EJHL’s South Shore Kings, while Billett—a Brunswick, Maine native—won 62 regular-season games over the last three years as an EJHL All-Star for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs.