Hockey East 2008-09 season preview

By DJ Powers

Hockey East is always unpredictable, and it looks to be no different in 2008-09. This season, Hockey East features 53 current NHL prospects. Each conference member team except Merrimack has at least one NHL drafted prospect on its roster. Boston University leads Hockey East with 13 prospects.

Boston College

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 12)

After two failed trips to the Frozen Four in 2006 and 2007, the third time was indeed the charm for the Boston College Eagles to claim college hockey’s greatest prize. The Eagles will look to successfully defend their national championship.

The Eagles lost few players in the offseason and will field an excellent team with tremendous depth. The Eagles were one of four teams, and the only one in Hockey East, that finished in the top ten nationally in both team offense and defense, finishing third and tenth respectively. And that’s not likely to change much this season.

The Eagles suffered their most significant losses up front when Dan Bertram (CHI), Joe Adams, Pat Gannon and Matt Greene graduated. But the biggest loss of all was to Hobey Hat Trick finalist Nathan Gerbe, who opted to forego his senior season to sign with the Buffalo Sabres. The diminutive dynamo led the nation in scoring with 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) and points per game (1.57). His 35 goals also ranked first. Gerbe became a one-man wrecking crew in the Frozen Four, posting eight points.

The best news for Boston College coming into this season is the return of senior Brock Bradford (BOS). The Burnaby, BC native was limited to just five games last season after suffering two injuries to the same arm last year. Bradford, who will serve as captain this season, posted five points (three goals, two assists) in his limited junior season.

Joining Bradford upfront are returning top scorers in sophomore Joe Whitney, junior Ben Smith (CHI) and senior Benn Ferriero (PHX). The trio, along with Gerbe, gave Boston College four 40-plus scorers last season. Whitney led the nation with 40 assists and finished second on the team with 51 points. After posting just 11 points in his rookie season two years ago, Smith exploded for 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) last season. Ferriero, who will serve as one of the assistant captains this season, finished with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists).

Five outstanding newcomers will add to the already-deep Boston College forward lines, including Cam Atkinson (CBJ), Paul Carey (COL) and Jimmy Hayes (TOR). Atkinson is coming off of a stellar prep career at Avon Old Farms, where he captured Prep Player of the Year honor after posting 63 points (26 goals, 37 assists). Carey comes to the Heights from Indiana (USHL) where he posted 66 points (34 goals, 32 assists). Hayes, who saw his playing time cut last season due to a release issue with the USNTDP, posted 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 29 games with Lincoln (USHL).

Aside from losing Mike Brennan (CHI) to graduation, Boston College’s blueline returns intact. Among those returning are senior Tim Kunes (CAR) and sophomore Nick Petrecki (SJ). Kunes made some greats strides in his development last season, which could be seen in his increased ice time. He posted eight points (one goal, seven assists) and finished third on the team with a plus-22. Petrecki, a Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection, enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign that was highlighted by his performance in the Beanpot Championship game versus Harvard. The Clifton Park, NY native posted 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and led the Eagles with 102 penalty minutes.

The Eagles blueline will welcome three newcomers, led by the offensively skilled Tommy Cross (BOS). Played most of last season with before moving on to a brief stint in the USHL with the Junior Blue Jackets.

Sophomore John Muse also returns after a sensational rookie season last year. The East Falmouth, MA native became one of the best stories coming out of Hockey East last season. Muse led the nation in minutes played (2725:05), playing every minute in all 44 games. He posted a 25-11-8 record that included three shutouts. His 2.20 goals against average also led Hockey East.

Boston University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 13)

Despite finishing second in Hockey East, the Boston University Terriers failed to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament last season. They hope to change that this year.

While they lost some key players, we may actually see a vastly deeper and more successful Boston University team this season. The best news that the Terriers could hope for coming into the season was the return of two significant cogs to last season’s team in senior defenseman Matt Gilroy and sophomore Colin Wilson (NSH). Gilroy, an All-America East First Team selection led the Terriers in defenseman scoring last season with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) and co-led the team with a plus-17. Wilson, the top collegian taken in the June draft (seventh overall), lived up to his billing last season, posting 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) to led all Terriers rookies and capturing the Hockey East Rookie of the Year honor.

Head coach Jack Parker was both thrilled and a bit surprised that both players have returned to don the scarlet and white for another season.

“We really thought that we were going to leave. Matt had 23 NHL teams chasing him as a free agency. Paul Fenton, whose a former player of mine, had told me that they wanted to sign Colin and get him going on his NHL career. So we thought that we were going to lose both of those guys to tell you the truth, and we had planned on losing both of them. They both made great decisions as far as we’re concerned to come back and play their senior and sophomore years for us. Obviously this will be Gilroy’s last year, no matter what and I think in all probability, this will be Wilson’s last year too. But to get an All-American defenseman and the league Rookie of the Year back will help us immensely. So having those two guys back this year were big surprises and big pluses for us.”

The biggest issue facing Boston University coming into season is goaltending. Last season’s top two netminders are gone. Brett Bennett (PHX) was dismissed from the team back in May and Karson Gillespie has graduated. The lone returning netminder is sophomore Adam Kraus, who played in only two games last season.

However, coming in this season are a pair of talented newcomers in Grant Rollheiser (TOR) and Kieran Millan. Rollheiser comes to Boston University from Trail (USHL) after a 19-26-0 season that included .911 save percentage. Millan comes to Boston University from Spruce Grove (AJHL) after a 29-19-8 season that included two shutouts.

With the uncertainty of the goaltending situation, the Terriers defense will be relied on to help bring some stability to the back end. In addition to Gilroy, Boston University returns virtually of their defensemen, but the emphasis this season will be on defensive zone play.

One new addition to the defensive corps to watch is the excellent-skating David Warsofsky (STL). The Marshfield, MA native comes to Boston University after a stellar year with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP), where he posted 40 points (nine goals, 31 assists).

The forward lines may the Terriers deepest area this season, despite the losses of Peter MacArthur and Bryan Ewing to graduation. In addition to Wilson, the returning top scorers also include outstanding sophomore Nick Bonino (SJ). The Unionville, CT native posted 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists).

While returning to the NCAA Tournament is something that the Terriers hope to achieve, Parker says that there is one goal before then that is equally, if not more important to him to achieve.

“We only have one goal and that’s something that I feel we’ve lacked the couple of years and that is that we want a team made up of ‘BU hockey players’. We picture ‘BU hockey players’ as guys that are very competitive, unselfish and disciplined that care about their teammates and is a good representative of us around the campus and around the community. Just because you put on a BU hockey uniform doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a ‘BU hockey player’. That’s the only goal that we have, and if we do meet that goal, then we’ll be very, very successful.”

University of Maine

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 7)

The 2007-08 season was a tough one for the Maine Black Bears. After two consecutive Frozen Four appearances in 2006 and 2007, Maine failed to make the NCAA Tournament and struggled to a disappointing ninth place finish in Hockey East. The Black Bears will look to get things back on track when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 17 facing off against Alaska-Anchorage in the Alaska Gold Rush tournament in Fairbanks.

Coming into the season, Maine will have two pressing issues to address. The first is goaltending. Ben Bishop, who played in all but two games last season, opted to forego his senior year to sign with the St. Louis Blues. He posted a 13-18-3 record that included two shutouts. The lone returning netminder is junior Dave Wilson, who saw action in only four games without recording any decisions.

Competing with Wilson for playing time in goal this season are two newcomers, including Scott Darling (PHX). The Lemont, Ill. native comes to Maine from Indiana (USHL), where he posted a 27-8-2 record. As head coach Tim Whitehead explains, Darling is welcome addition to the team and along with Wilson should be a very good tandem this season.

“We’re excited about the possibility of Scott helping our team succeed this year. He’s coming in with the confidence that he’s ready to play at the collegiate level. I know that he’s excited about his expanding role since Ben signed. He and Dave already have a very good competitive relationship, supporting and pushing each other. So I think they’ll work very well together. Scott moves surprisingly well for a tall man. He’s very athletic and loves to compete. He handles the puck well and has good instincts. And he’s oozing with potential. So Scott is a guy that we’re very excited to work with because he’s very driven to improve and elevate his game. And we’re very confident that he will do that and be a real strong goalie for us.”

The second issue to address is offense, and this includes the power play. The Black Bears ranked 48th in the nation last season with an offense that averaged 2.26 goals per game. Even worse last season was the team’s power play, which finished 52nd in the nation, converting at 12.8 percent. The 19 total power play tallies were the fewest in Hockey East.

Compounding matters is the fact that Maine lost their top six scorers in the off-season. Forward Andrew Sweetland opted to forego the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the Florida Panthers and the rest all graduated. Senior defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin (CHI) is the top returning scorer after posting 12 points (four goals, eight assists) last season.

In order for the Black Bears to increase their offensive production, it will have to come by committee. Returning players such as sophomore Robbie Dee (EDM) and senior co-captain Jeff Marshall will be relied on to help pick up the slack. The Black Bears will also have six new additions upfront, including Dartmouth transfer Kevin Swallow and Swedish-born forwards Gustav Nyquist (DET) and Theo Andersson to help the cause as well.

Where Maine will be strongest coming into season will be on defense. With the uncertainty in goal to start the season, the blueline will go a long way to bring some stability to the defensive end. Senior co-captain Simon Danis-Pepin and fellow senior Matt Duffy (FLA) lead an outstanding defensive group. The versatile Duffy finished third on the team in defenseman scoring with eight points (six goals, two assists).

Adding some depth to the Maine blueline will a trio of newcomers including Ryan Hegarty (ANA) and Will O’Neill (ATL). Hegarty comes to Maine after an outstanding year with the USNTDP where he posted 22 points. O’Neill, who had originally committed to New Hampshire, comes to the Orono campus after a solid season with Lincoln (USHL), where he posted 24 points (five goals, 19 assists). Whitehead notes that the duo will bring similar qualities to the team’s defense.

“Those two guys are coming in with a great deal of experience and they’re definitely ready to step right in and play. Both of them are big, strong kids that play with a good edge. They can both play in all situations. They’re very solid defenders that can contribute a bit on offense as well. I think that they’re going to have good careers here at Maine.”

University of Massachusetts

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 5)

After a very strong first half that saw them surge up the national rankings last season, the UMass Minutemen struggled in much of the second half and wound up finishing eighth in Hockey East. They’ll look to build on last season’s successes while also looking to stay healthy, especially on defense.

Though UMass didn’t lose many players in the off-season, they did lose some key players who leave some significant holes that need to be filled. Michael Kostka and David Leaderer are the two on defense that have graduated. Kostka, an All-Hockey East Second team selection, led the Minutemen in defenseman scoring last season with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists). Where he’ll be particularly missed will be on the power play, after leading the team with seven tallies. The stalwart Leaderer was also valuable cog on the UMass blueline, finishing the season with eight points (three goals, five assists) playing in all 36 games. UMass does return an outstanding group on the blueline, led by juniors Justin Braun (SJ) and Martin Nolet (LA). Braun is the top returning scorer among defensemen after posting 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) last season. Nolet, along with Braun, has become a key component on UMass’ power play. He posted six points (two goals, four assists) in 31 games.

One returning defenseman who will not be in the lineup when the season starts is senior John Wessbecker (TB). The Victoria, MN native struggled through last season with injuries and will start his senior campaign out of the lineup recovering from two surgeries. He saw action in just 15 games, posting three assists. As head coach Don Cahoon explains, Wessbecker’s presence was greatly missed last season when he was out of the lineup.

“John is starting to make great progress and has been practicing with us every day. We’re going to hold him out cautiously over the next couple of weeks, but we expect that he’s going to be ready for the beginning of the Hockey East season for us, which we open up at the end of this month. I think John could play right now, but given the nature of the couple of surgeries that he had, we think that it’s better to be safe than sorry. He had a couple of injuries that needed some attention and he’s mending very, very well. So I think he’ll be a hundred percent when he returns. John was a huge loss for us last year just because of the minutes that he played. He was our best penalty killer and that affected the other guys because they had to assume more minutes. So we’re anxious to get John back.”

Another area where holes will need to be filled is up front. Matt Burto and excellent two-way forward P.J. Fenton have graduated. Fenton finished second on the team with 19 assists and posting 28 points overall. Burto finished with 11 points (five goals, six assists).

Last season, the Minutemen averaged 2.72 goals per game, which ranked 31st in the nation, but they will need to find a way to more goals out of all of their forward lines collectively. Seniors Alex Berry (TOR) and team captain Cory Quirk were the only two players on the UMass roster last season to tally ten or more goals. Quirk led the team with 11 goals and finished with 29 points overall. Berry, who became a dominant presence on special teams, finished the season with 17 points (ten goals, seven assists) and led UMass with 63 penalty minutes.

Four newcomers join the group upfront including Danny Hobbs (NYR) and Casey Wellman. Both players come to UMass after playing in the USHL last season with Ohio and Cedar Rapids respectively. One recruit that the Minutemen lost was the highly touted John Carlson. The 2008 first round pick of the Washington Capitals opted to play in the Canadian Major Junior League with London (OHL) instead.

“Well, there’s no question that John’s a terrific player,” said Cahoon. “It was disappointing for us, but he made the decision to go to up there (Canadian Major Junior). Quite honestly, I think John is going to be an NHL player. And what I will say is that I think John will be an NHL player regardless of whether he played college hockey or Major Junior. I’m certain of that because his passion (for the game) has always been there. So we wish him all the best.”

The area that should continue to develop quite nicely For UMass this season is in goal. Sophomore Paul Dainton and junior Dan Meyers give the Minutemen a solid one-two punch between the pipes. Dainton, a Hockey East All-Rookie team selection, enjoyed a very good freshman campaign posting a 12-14-6 record that included one shutout. Meyers, who saw action in just five games, posted a 2-2-0 record.

University of Massachusetts-Lowell

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 1)

After a 2006-07 campaign that saw the UMass-Lowell RiverHawks finish ninth in Hockey East with just eight overall wins, the 2007-08 season saw a much improved team. The RiverHawks climbed up to finish seventh and doubled their total number of wins. When they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 11 against host Colgate, UMass-Lowell will be looking to build on what they’ve achieved. And that could actually be attainable because with the exception of defenseman Kelly Sullivan graduating, the RiverHawks return all of their regulars from last season.

One area on the UMass-Lowell roster where notable improvement has been made has been in spreading out the offense, which resulted in better offensive numbers and balanced production. Junior Kory Falite returns as the top scorer this season. Falite, an All-Hockey East Second team selection, posted 32 points (18 goals, 14 assists) last season. Fellow junior and assistant captain Ben Holmstrom returns as the team’s co-assist leader with 20 after posting 27 points.

A player UMass-Lowell hopes to get increased scoring from this season will be junior Chris Auger (CHI). The RiverHawks lone NHL prospect saw his offensive production plateau last season, posting 14 points (four goals, ten assists) in 33 games.

In addition to the returning players upfront, UMass-Lowell will bring in four newcomers. Three are freshmen and there is one junior in UMass transfer Sam D’Agostino. Matt Ferreira could be one of the best feel good stories coming out of Hockey East this season. Originally slated to come to Lowell last season, Ferriera needed to have emergency surgery prior to the start of the 2007-08 season due to a brain tumor and ended up playing another year of junior hockey with his hometown Brampton Capitals (OPJHL) team in Ontario. Ferriera was able to play a full season last year and he finished with 65 points (43 points, 22 assists).

Defense will be another area that should be vastly improved, if for no other reason because of added experience. While the UMass-Lowell’s blueline will have no seniors on it this year, it should still be quite good. Junior Barry Goers and sophomore Maury Edwards lead the RiverHawks defensive corps. Goers returns as the team’s top scoring defenseman, posting 24 points (four goals, 20 assists). Edwards was one of the best young defensemen coming out of Hockey East last season. The Hockey East All-Rookie team selection posted 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists). Of Edwards’ eight goals, seven came on the power play, a category that he led the team in.

Joining the returning group on the blueline are two freshmen including Tim Carr. He is the son of former UMass-Lowell standout forward Mike Carr. The younger Carr comes to Lowell from Burlington (OPJHL), where he posted 38 points (10 goals, 28 assists) last season.

Behind the defenders, will be the very solid tandem of juniors Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton. The two split time last season. Hutton went 7-11-2 with two shutouts, while Hamilton went 8-6-2. Both Hutton and Hamilton also put up very good save percentages, posting a .909 and.911 save percentage respectively.

Merrimack College

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

Though they still finished in the Hockey East basement, the Merrimack Warriors greatly improved their record from two seasons ago from three wins to 12. When they open their 2008-08 season hosting Robert Morris on Oct. 11, they’ll look to improve that in hopes of getting out of the Hockey East cellar.

The issue facing Merrimack coming into the season is offensive production. The Warriors ranked 55th in the nation last season in offense, averaging 2.09 goals per game. The 71 total goals that they scored were the fewest in Hockey East and third fewest in the nation. Only Alabama-Huntsville and Brown scored fewer goals. Compounding matters is the loss of Matt Jones, who opted to forego the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the San Jose Sharks. The Kentwood, MI native led Merrimack in goal scoring last season with 15 and finished second on the team with 22 points. While the Warriors do return top scorer Rob Ricci, they won’t start the season with him in the lineup due to injury. Ricci, who will serve as a co-captain this season, tallied 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) last season.

Aside from Jones and Ricci, the only other player to post ten or more goals last season is returning junior J.C. Robitaille. The Des Ruisseaux, Quebec native finished fourth on the team with 16 points (ten goals, six assists).

Merrimack will welcome four newcomers upfront that should help boost the Warriors offensive production, including two high-scorers from the AJHL in Jesse Todd and Elliot Sheen. The gritty Todd comes to Merrimack from Camrose, where he posted 70 points (35 goals, 35 assists). The agile Sheen, who is the brother of Holy Cross sophomore forward Everett Sheen, comes to Merrimack from Okotoks, where he led the Oilers with 70 points (35 goals, 35 assists).

One area where the Warriors look very solid coming into the season is on the blueline. Junior assistant captain Joe Loprieno leads Merrimack’s defensive corps. The Warriors also welcome back junior Pat Bowen. Back in July, Bowen underwent emergency surgery to have his spleen removed and the Merrimack faithful couldn’t be happier to see the Marshfileld, MA native back on the ice. Bowen played in 25 games last season posting eight points (two goals, six assists).

The position on the Merrimack roster that all eyes will be on is in goal. This also looks to be the Warriors’ strength heading into the season. Senior Patrick Watson and junior Andrew Braithwaite, who split time last season, both return. Watson played in 13 games, posting a 4-7-2 record. Braithwaite emerged as one of Merrimack’s top players last season. He posted an 8-11-2 record. His 2.38 goals against averaged ranked 26th in the nation, while his .922 save percentage ranked 15th.

Merrimack also welcomes an outstanding goaltender in Joe Cannata this season. He comes to Merrimack after an excellent year with the USNTDP, where he compiled a 16-14-3 record. He also posted a 2.56 goals against average and .899 save percentage. Though he was not drafted this past June, Cannata will be eligible again for the 2009 NHL Draft. He’s an average-sized goaltender who is noted for his exceptional positional play, composure and mental toughness. And he will certainly challenge the returning netminders for the starting job this season.

University of New Hampshire

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 6)

After finishing up the 2007-08 regular season as Hockey East champions, things didn’t end the way that the University of New Hampshire Wildcats had hoped in the post-season. They suffered a heartbreaking triple overtime loss to Boston College in the Hockey East tournament semi-finals before being unceremoniously bounced from the NCAA Tournament by Notre Dame. New Hampshire will look to remedy when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 11 hosting Wisconsin at the Whittemore Center.

Though the Wildcats only graduated five players, they are five significant losses that New Hampshire will have to find a way this season to replace. And nowhere is that going to be more important than in goal. Hockey East Player of the Year and an All-America East First team selection Kevin Regan (BOS) was one of the nation’s best goaltenders last season. He posted a 23-8-1 record that included three shutouts. His .930 save percentage ranked tied for fifth in the nation and his .734 winning percentage ranked third. Regan’s successor is junior Brian Foster (FLA). The Pembroke, NH native only played in six games last season, going 2-2-2. Rookies Tyler Scott and Matt DiGirolamo will also be competing for ice time in net as well this season.

The defense lost two key cogs in Craig Switzer and Brad Flaishans. Both rearguards led the team in defensemen scoring last season posting 24 and 20 points respectively. Though the losses of Switzer and Flaishans are significant, the Wildcats do return a very good corps, anchored by seniors Jamie Fritsch and co-captain Joe Charlebois (CHI). The stalwart Fritsch played in 37 of 38 last season, posting ten points (four goals, six assists). Charlebois is coming off of a stellar junior campaign that culminated with being named Hockey East’s Best Defensive Defenseman. The Potsdam, NY native emerged as one of the best rearguards coming out of Hockey East last season. Charlebois posted nine points (one goal, eight assists) and a team-best plus-26.

Two newcomers join the Wildcats defensive corps this season, including Blake Kessel (NYI). The Verona, WI native is the younger sibling of current Boston Bruin Phil Kessel. The younger Kessel is coming off of a sensational year with Waterloo (USHL), where he led the league in defenseman scoring with 57 points (19 goals, 38 assists) and captured the USHL Defenseman of the Year honor. Blake Kessel, like his older brother, possesses an electrifying element to his game that the New Hampshire faithful will be able to simply marvel at.

The forward lines will be one area on the Wildcats roster that will be an interesting one to watch unfold coming into the season. The daunting task of replacing two 40-point players in Matt Fornataro and Mike Radja may have to come by committee this season unless someone really steps up. The duo alone combined to post a quarter of all the team’s points (89) last season. One player that has the capability of taking that big step up offensively is sophomore sensation James vanRiemsdyk (PHI). There had been speculation that the Middletown, NJ native would leave New Hampshire in the off-season to sign with Philadelphia. Fortunately for the Wildcats, vanRiemsdyk has returned. And he is poised to potentially better the 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) that he posted last season en route to being named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team.

Another returning player that could help replenish the lost offense that New Hampshire suffered is junior Peter Leblanc (CHI). After posting just five points in his rookie season two years ago, Leblanc tripled his point total last season as one of the Wildcats’ best utility guys upfront. The Hamilton, ON native finished the year with five goals and ten assists.

Northeastern University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 2)

The 2007-08 season saw a Northeastern Huskies team that continued to build and make strides in many areas, resulting in a strong sixth place finish in Hockey East. They look to continue the building and development process.

With the exception of two forwards, the Huskies return completely intact. Jimmy Russo graduated and Chad Costello opted to forego the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to turn pro, signing with the Texas Wildcatters (ECHL). Offense may prove to be one of Northeastern’s strengths this season. Seniors Joe Vitale (PIT) and Ryan Ginand lead a very good group of forwards. Vitale emerged as Northeastern’s “Mr. Everything” last year, excelling both offensively and defensively. He more than doubled his point totals from his freshman and sophomore seasons combined as a junior. He led the Huskies in a number of categories last season, including points (35), goals (12), assists (23) and plus/minus (plus-5). Vitale’s stellar junior campaign earned him a spot on the All-Hockey East Second team, and this season he will once again serve as team captain. Ginand blossomed into one of Northeastern’s most reliable and versatile forwards last season. One area where he flourished was on the power play. Of the ten goals, Ginand scored, five came on the power play. He finished the year with 20 points and led the team with 142 shots.

Adding some depth upfront for Northeastern this season are five newcomers led by Steve Quailer. The 2008 third round selection (86th overall) of the Montreal Canadiens comes to Northeastern from Sioux City (USHL), where he had 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) last season in 60 games. Quailer brings a very nice combination of size, power and great hands.

Between the returning forwards and a very good freshman class, Northeastern should be able to boost their offensive numbers this season. The Huskies ranked 39th in the nation last season in team offense, averaging 2.49 goals per game. Even worse, was their power play. Northeastern ranked 54th in the country on the man advantage, converting at a dismal 11.9 percent.

With no losses on the defensive side, Northeastern will look to try and improve the 2.84 average goals allowed of last season. Senior Louis Liotti and junior David Strathman lead the Huskies defensive corps. Liotti has developed into one of Northeastern’s steadiest rearguards. He posted five points (one goal, four assists) along with a plus-3 last season. The fluid-skating Strathman led the team in defenseman scoring last season with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and was named the team’s Most Improved Player at year’s end.

Newcomer J.P.Maley is the lone freshman on the Huskies blueline this season. Maley comes to Northeastern after an injury-riddled season with Des Moines (USHL) last year.

It is difficult to talk about Northeastern’s success in the last two years without mentioning junior Brad Thiessen. After a sensational rookie campaign two years ago, Thiessen went through some struggles in the second half of last season. Nevertheless, he still ranks among Hockey East’s best netmiinders. Thiessen posted some very respectable numbers last season going 16-17-3 that included two shutouts. He also posted a .914 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average. This season, the team hopes to see Thiessen return to top form.

Providence College

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 3)

In what looked to be a very promising 2007-08 season for the Providence College Friars, it didn’t end the way they had hoped. Injuries became a problem going down the stretch. Providence ended up finishing fifth in Hockey East before being ousted by Boston College in the conference quarterfinals. When the Friars open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 17 hosting Hockey East rival Northeastern at Schneider Arena, they’ll look to continue to build on last season’s accomplishments and to stay healthy as well.

Coming into this season, the Friars will have some significant holes to fill. And nowhere is that more evident than on their blueline. Trevor Ludwig and Marc Bastarache have graduated. Cody Wild opted to forego his senior season to sign with the Edmonton Oilers. Despite the three losses, however, Providence’s defensive corps should be very good this season. Senior Matt Taormina and junior Mark Fayne (NJ) lead the defense. Taormina was Providence’s best defenseman last year and returns this season as the team’s top scorer. He finished second on the team with 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists). Taormina, an All-Hockey East Second team selection, also led the Friars with a plus-10. Fayne continues to be a dominating presence on the Friars blueline. The Sagamore Beach, MA native finished with six points (two goals, four assists) and was one of only three defensemen who played in all 36 games last season.
 
The Friars will welcome three to their defensive corps this season, including David Brown. The Centennial, CO native is coming off of a very solid year at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (MN) high school, where he served as team captain and posted 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists).

Another hole to be filled on the Providence roster is the one left by Tyler Sims, who has graduated. Sims posted a 13-15-4 record that included three shutouts. The two returning netminders in sophomore Chris Mannix and junior Ryan Simpson combined to play in eight games last season. With the addition of newcomer Justin Gates, the starting job between the pipes for the Friars coming into this season remains up for grabs.

Where Providence looks to be their strongest coming into the 2008-09 campaign is upfront. The lone departure was that of top scorer Jon Rheault (PHI), who has graduated. The Deering, NH native posted 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) to lead the Friars.

Providence returns a very good group of forwards led by senior Pierce Norton (TOR) and junior John Cavanagh. Norton enjoyed an outstanding junior season, posting 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists). Where he really made his mark was on the Friars power play. Of Norton’s 14 goals, seven came on the man-advantage, leading the team in that category. Cavanagh emerged as one of Providence’s top centermen last season. He finished the year with 18 points (five goals 13 assists). Cavanagh will also serve as one of the team’s co-captains this season.

Joining the returning group upfront are five newcomers including winger Matt Bergland. The Fairbault, MN native is one of three freshmen coming to Providence this season from a Minnesota high school program. Bergland posted 70 points (38 goals, 32 assists) in helping to guide Benilde-St. Margaret’s to a third place finish over 2007 Class AA champion Roseau.

University of Vermont

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 4)

Though they fell short of getting into the NCAA Tournament, the Vermont Catamounts made huge strides in Hockey East last season. They finished third in the conference and made it all the way to the Hockey East championship game. When they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 11 versus RPI at the Pavilion de la Jeunesse in Quebec City, the Catamounts will look to build on last season’s success.

“Well first and foremost, I think we’re a team built on speed,” said head coach Kevin Senddon. “We’ve been really impressed with what we’ve seen so far out of our forward lines, as well as our defense. Our defensemen are not only big and strong, but also very mobile. So we’re excited that we could put that speed to good use. Obviously, Joe Fallon had graduated, but we feel very confident with the three goalies that we have right now.”

Vermont lost few players in the offseason, but their most significant loss was in goal. Fallon and third-stringer Jeff Hill have both graduated. Junior Mike Spillane, who served as Fallon’s backup last season, is the lone returning netminder. The Bow, NH native appeared in eight games last season posting a 2-2-2 record. Pushing Spillane this season will be a pair of newcomers in Rob Madore and John Vazzano. Madore comes to Vermont from Chicago (USHL), where he posted a 21-16-5 record that included one shutout last season. Vazzano comes to Vermont from Gunnery Prep, where he compiled a 19-3-8 record.

With the inexperience, a rock solid defense will be key in stabilizing Vermont’s back end. The Catamounts should have no problem with that, even with losing Mark Lutz and Slavomir Tomko to graduation. While Vermont’s blueline will be predominantly young, they certainly won’t lack for experience. Junior Patrick Cullity and sophomore Kyle Medvec (MIN) are among the returning defensemen. Cullity posted two assists and led the team with 60 penalty minutes. Medvec saw action in 30 games, posting five points (one goal, four assists).

One area where the Catamounts will need to improve to be successful this season is their offensive production, including their power play. Vermont ranked 50th in the nation in team offense last year that averaged 2.26 goals per game. Equally dismal were their power play numbers, which ranked 51st in the nation with a 12.9 percent conversion rating. In order to begin to address the issue, Vermont will have to get scoring from some players other than their top line of seniors Dean Strong, Peter Lenes and Corey Carlson. The trio accounted for 33 percent of the team’s entire offensive production last year. Strong, who will again serve as captain, led the Catamounts in scoring last season with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists). Lenes co-led the team with 10 goals and finished with 22 points. Carlson also finished with 22 points.

In addition to the vast returning group upfront, Vermont welcomes two newcomers. The one to keep an eye on is lone freshman forward Matt Marshall (TB). The Hingham, MA native comes to Burlington after a terrific year at Nobles and Greenough prep school, where he amassed 51 points (25 goals, 26 assists) in 29 games last season. As Sneddon notes some much-needed scoring won’t be the only thing that Marshall will bring to Vermont this season.

“Matt is a player that possesses such incredible speed," Sneddon said. "I think he’s one of our fastest players already. The transition for him will be that much easier because he has one of the best weapons in college hockey, which is speed. Matt is going to make the adjustment, but he still needs to get a lot stronger. He has a pretty slight frame, but he’ll work with our strength coach on that. He has very good offensive instincts and once he really learns the college hockey game and what it takes, then I think he’s going to be a very dynamic player. But the most important part about his development is that unlike in years past is Matt is going to be able to ease into this a little bit. So we’re excited about that. I think that’s going to allow Matt to really develop. And when the time is right, his role will increase. Matt is an elite player and has a great upside as an NHL prospect. Obviously Tampa Bay is very interested in Matt’s development as are we. I think if he continues to bring the work ethic that he brings every day throughout the year and in the future, he’s going to be a great, top line forward for us.”