The first half of the college hockey season has come and gone. Hockey East has been the most unpredictable conference this year. The teams are loaded with quality talent, but no one has separated themselves from the pack as a championship contender. With 2018 on the horizon, let’s take a look at how Hockey East’s teams fared in the first semester, their prospects for future success, and expectations for tournament season.
Vermont Catamounts: 4-10-3 Overall, 1-6-2 Conference
Stefannos Lekkas and Ross Colton have performed admirably for the Catamounts. Lekkas has kept the team in games between the pipes and Colton has 10 goals. Sadly, that’s the extent of things going right for Vermont. The offense is dead last in the conference, the defense is not giving Lekkas much help, and Head Coach Kevin Sneddon is searching for answers. This is particularly surprising because the Catamounts were a 20 win team last year and returned many of their top players. The talent level is much better than the last place performance. If the Cats can improve the offense around Colton, they’ll give the fans more to cheer about. If not, then Sneddon will have even more soul searching to do. UVM is hosting the Catamount Cup in Burlington to start the second half of their season. They face Harvard and St. Lawrence on the 29th and 3oth.
Merrimack Warriors: 4-9-4, 2-6-2
Craig Pantano found his way as the Warrior’s starting netminder late in November and early in December. The Junior has languished on the bench behind star Colin Delia for the last two years and has become the bonafide starter this year. Brett Seney, Ludvig Larsson, and Jace Hennig form a skilled and veteran top line that has paced the offense. The Warriors have the second best Power Play in the conference. The problem is that the defense has not given Pantano or back up Drew Folger much help and when the top line is not clicking, the offense can be caught in neutral. The Warriors closed the first half well with a win over UNH and a tie against Northeastern. If Pantano keeps up his performance and the top line keeps firing, Lawler Rink will see Merrimack continue their reputation as heartbreakers and spoilers in the conference. Mark Dennehey has a plucky group of underdogs that will make life miserable for opponents in North Andover. The Warriors close out the calendar year with a road trip to Colorado, facing Denver and Colorado College on the 29th and 30th.
Massachusetts Minutemen: 9-7-0, 3-4-0
Greg Carvel has brought excitement and optimism back to Amherst. The Minutemen are over .500 at the break for the first time since 2010 and top talent is playing at the Mullins Center. Ryan Wischow has been stellar in net and Cole Makar is representing Canada in the World Juniors. Oliver Chau, Mitchell Chaffee, and Mario Ferraro are among the top scorers and most exciting players. The concern about the team this year is youth. Eight of the top ten scorers are freshman. The team has made rookie mistakes and is learning the ropes of high-level competition while showing great promise. Carvel will continue to develop his unit and recruit more quality talent. The team isn’t a major contender yet, but it’s only a matter of time before Amherst is home to hockey championships. UMass returns to action against Yale in New Haven, CT, on January 5th.
New Hampshire Wildcats: 9-7-1, 4-5-1
Dick Umile’s final season began with plenty of reason for optimism. The Wildcats got off to a 5-1 start, including upsets over 5th ranked UMass Lowell, Colgate, and Colorado College. After the hot start, the injury bug hit. Six of UNH’s leading skaters have missed considerable time with various injuries and the Wildcats lost six of nine games to close out 2017. There’s still plenty to be excited about in Durham. Senior Michael McNicholas is a point-a-game player and freshmen Benton Maas and Max Gildon have solidified the defensive corps. Danny Tirone has performed well in net and has a solid backup in Mike Robinson. If the Wildcats can stay healthy, they will see their legendary coach off with a title. UNH begins the second half at the Ledyard Bank Classic in Hanover, NH. The Wildcats face Dartmouth and Yale in the tournament on the 29th and 30th.
Maine Black Bears: 8-7-1, 4-4-1
The Black Bears have long been removed from their glory years. The success looks like it’s returning. Freshman goalie Jeremy Swathorn has dazzled and led his team to wins. The Bruins draft pick has the second-best save percentage in the conference (9.32) and the offense has the second highest goals per game rate in Hockey East (3.38). Mitchell Fossier, Patrick Holway, and Eduards Tralmaks lead the Black Bears in points. The problem is that while Maine has good balance, there isn’t the top tier talent needed to win tournaments. The leading goal scorer only has 7 and only three players have more than five. The talent will come to Orono with time and more recruiting work. For now, the Black Bears are a fun team with a star goalie and a building that no team wants to enter. Maine begins the second half of their season with a road trip to Troy, NY, to play the RPI Engineers.
Connecticut Huskies: 8-11-2, 5-7-1
Mike Cavanaugh’s work in the Nutmeg state has resulted in a tough team with good goaltending and a quality top line. UConn has progressed nicely in the conference since entering in 2014-2015. Adam Huska is the leader of the team in net and has made the most saves in Hockey East. Maxim Letunov leads the forward line with the most assists in the conference and Alexander Payusov has the second most power play goals. The problem for the team is one gripping every young team: learning how to win. UConn has never won a playoff series in Hockey East and they’ve struggled this season against the regular contenders, like BU, BC, and Lowell. Still, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.
The Huskies won their final two games of the semester; an 8-2 smoking of UMass and a 4-2 win over ranked non-conference foe, Colgate. UConn will contend for a home playoff series and will be a difficult team to knock out. The Huskies start their second half against BC on Saturday, the 30th, at Conte Forum at 3 pm.
Massachusetts-Lowell Riverhawks: 9-8-0, 6-6-0
Norm Bazin’s squad opened the season poorly. The Riverhawks went 1-3 in their first four games and switched goaltenders. Tyler Wall went from starting in the NCAA Regional Final as a freshman to a 5.71 GAA and a .823 save percentage. Christoffer Hernberg replaced him and has been the best goalie in the conference. The junior has a 1.85 GAA and .931 save percentage, both topping the conference. Kenny Hausinger and Ryan Lohin have paced the offense, backed up by senior John Edwardh and a veteran defensive corps.
While the Riverhawks turned the season around after September, there were some concerning losses. Blowouts against Maine and BU and a shocking overtime loss to Bentley have kept Lowell from the top tier of the conference. Bazin has led his team to five consecutive conference title games and the talent is there for another title run. The Riverhawks start their second half in the Catamount Cup.
The Riverhawks face ECAC foes Harvard and St. Lawrence at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, VT, on the 29th and 30th.
Boston University Terriers: 8-10-1, 6-6-1
Boston University is the most talented team in the conference and is the biggest disappointment. Twelve players have been drafted with several other soon to be taken by NHL teams. Despite all the talent, not a single Terrier has double-digit goals and the team sits under .500 for the season. The talent has shone brilliantly at points. Shutout victories against Providence and New Hampshire show Jake Oettinger and Max Prawdzik as quality goalies. Offensive outbursts against Maine, Lowell, and Boston College have shown the offensive punch on the team, particularly Bobo Carpenter and Patrick Harper.
Sadly, poor defensive outings against Minnesota State and Northeastern, repeated poor starts, and mental mistakes have kept BU from capitalizing on their talent. If BU plays up to their potential, they can win the Lou Lamoriello Trophey and compete for the Frozen Four. If they don’t, it will be one of the most disappointing teams the program has ever fielded.
BU hosts the US Under-18 Team for an exhibition on January 5th before hosting Maine to kick off the 2nd half of the season on January 6th.
Providence Friars: 10-7-1, 6-4-1
The Friars are a confusing team to analyze. Their top talent can hang with the best in the nation. Erik Foley has 21 points in 16 games. Hayden Hawkey has won games by himself in net. Brian Pinho and Josh Wilkins join Foley on the forward lines to give Providence a potent offense. Despite the talent, the Friars have stumbled in games they should have won. They outshot BU for much of their November 3rd meeting but lost 2-0. They were shutout by RIT and UNH, and fell flat in the Friendship Four Title game against Clarkson. They have been talented since winning the 2015 National Championship. However, after that game, the Friars have not fared well in big games.
The Friars postseason chances depend on how well they handle big game situations late in the regular season. Providence takes on Arizona State and either Lake Superior State or Robert Morris at the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh. Games are on the 29th and 30th.
Northeastern Huskies: 10-5-2, 8-3-1
Matthews Arena is hosting it’s the best team in Jim Madigan’s tenure. The Huskies have the top scoring tandem in the conference, with Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura lighting lamps from Hartford to Orono. Cayden Primeau and Ryan Ruck form an elite goalie tandem and the team ranks first in the conference in most offensive categories.
The Huskies are first in goals, assists, points, and power play points. Northeastern does have some adjustments to make with senior defenseman Garrett Cockerill leaving the program and Collin Murphy arriving from the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. Madigan should make the needed adjustments and have his team ready for a run at their second Hockey East Title in three years.
The talent, desire, veteran guile, and coaching are all there to make it a special season on Huntington Avenue. Northeastern hosts American International College on the 30th to open the second half.
Boston College Eagles: 9-7-2, 9-3-0
The powerhouse Eagles stumbled badly out of the gate. At the end of October, BC sat at 1-5-1 and looked dead in the water. When the conference schedule got going, BC turned it around, going 8-2-1. Joseph Woll has led the way with dazzling performances in net against BU and New Hampshire. No offensive player has taken the starring role, but many have had flashes of excellence. Julius Mattila, David Cotton, and Logan Hutsko are the leading point getters on the team. No one has double-digit goals or assists, though. In low scoring games, BC can pull out a win with timely When the game turns into a shootout, the Eagles have struggled, particularly against BU and Northeastern. BC needs to get more out of the offense and give Woll more breathing room to work with. The Eagles will contend for another championship if they can either keep playing in low scoring games or improve their goal scoring. BC opens with a home game against UConn on the 30th before traveling to Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Invitational on January 5th and 6th.