2015-16 Hockey East Preview: Providence attempts championship repeat in tough conference

By DJ Powers
Mark Jankowski - Providence College

Photo: Providence College forward and Calgary Flames prospect Mark Jankowski will be an important player in his school’s quest to win back-to-back NCAA championships (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

This season, no NCAA hockey conference features more NHL prospects than the Hockey East Association (HEA). 62 drafted players representing all 12 member schools will be in action in the 2015-16 season with Boston College leading all Hockey East teams with 13 prospects, followed by Boston University with 10 and Notre Dame with 9.

Boston University took the regular season title in 2014-15, then went on to defeat the University of Massachusetts Lowell, 5-3, to win the Hockey East Tournament. Boston University and Providence College advanced from the NCAA Tournament to the Frozen Four, with Providence winning the National Championship after beating the Terriers, 4-3, in the title game.

In the latest NCAA Hockey rankings, four HEA schools are among the top 10 teams with Providence leading the way at #3.

Below is a 2015-16 season preview for the Hockey East Association.

Providence College
NHL prospects: 8

The reigning National Champions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Miami in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament East Regional semi-final.

The Friars are coming off a magical season that culminated with that school capturing their first-ever National Championship.

The biggest issue facing Providence College this season is in goal. All-American Jon Gillies opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Calgary Flames. The South Portland, ME native finished his sensational junior campaign with a 24-13-2 record that included four shutouts in 39 appearances.

Vying for the daunting task of filling Gillies’ role this season will be junior Nick Ellis and freshman Hayden Hawkey (MTL). Ellis played well in his limited time as Gillies’ backup last season, posting a 2-0-0 record that included one shutout in five games. The highly-touted Hawkey is coming off a season-ending knee injury while with the Omaha Lancers last season.

With the uncertainty in goal to begin the season, Providence College will be looking to their superb defensive corps to stabilize things on the back end. Among those patrolling the Friars blueline is sophomore Jake Walman (STL). The Toronto, ON native is coming off of a terrific freshman campaign where he finished second among Providence defensemen with 16 points (one goal, 15 assists). Walman was also one of just five Friars’ players to play in all 41 games last season.

Providence College returns most of their top scorers from last season including senior assistant captain Mark Jankowski (CGY). The Dundas, ON native is coming off an outstanding junior campaign where he finished with 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 37 games. One area where Jankowski excelled last season was on face-offs, where he won a team-best 58 percent of his draws.

In addition to the aforementioned Hawkey, the Friars welcome six other newcomers this season. One player to watch is left wing Erik Foley (WPG). Although the Mansfield, MA native isn’t big (5’11”, 180 lbs.), he is remarkably strong and possesses some deceptive speed as well.

Boston College
NHL prospects: 13

 

The Eagles opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Army.

This season, no NCAA team has more NHL prospects on their roster than Boston College.

The Eagles also possess one of the nation’s best incoming classes. Heading this group are elite forwards Colin White (OTT) and Jeremy Bracco (TOR). White is a center noted for his tremendous offensive skills and strong skating. Bracco, who had an impressive showing with Team USA at the recent World Junior Championship, is a left wing noted for his magnificent hands and playmaking ability.

Among the veterans joining White and Bracco on Boston College’s prospect-laden forward lines is sophomore Alex Tuch (MIN). The Baldwinsville, NY native is coming off an impressive freshman campaign where he led the Eagles with 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 37 games en route to earning a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.

The biggest question mark heading into the season is the status of junior starting netminder Thatcher Demko (VAN). The San Diego, CA native had offseason hip surgery and it isn’t known when he will make his season debut. Demko is coming off an outstanding sophomore campaign where he finished with a 19-13-3 record that included one shutout in 35 appearances.

The biggest losses that Boston College suffered in the offseason were of top defensemen Michael Matheson (FLA) and Noah Hanifin (CAR). The duo opted to forego the remainder of their collegiate eligibility to sign with the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes respectively. Matheson finished his stellar junior campaign leading all Eagles defensemen with 25 points (three goals, 22 assists) in 38 games. Hanifin finished his exceptional freshman campaign with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 37 games en route to earning a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.

While the losses of Matheson and Hanifin are significant, Boston College’s blueline will be quite good again this season. Anchoring the Eagles defense is junior assistant captain Ian McCoshen (FLA). The Faribault, MN native returns as Boston College’s top scoring defenseman after posting 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 35 games. Where McCoshen really made his mark last season was on the power play where three of his six goals were scored.

Boston University
NHL prospects: 10

 

The reigning Hockey East regular season and tournament champions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 10th at Union College.

The Terriers are coming off their 22nd Frozen Four appearance that saw them reach the NCAA title game before falling to Providence College.

And thus the post-Jack Eichel (BUF) era begins.

As expected, Eichel signed with the Buffalo Sabres shortly after this past June’s NHL Draft. The phenom from North Chelmsford, MA capped his extraordinary freshman campaign leading the nation in virtually every statistical category en route to garnering both the Hobey Baker Award and the National Rookie of the Year honor.

While Boston University won’t be quite the same without Eichel up front this season, they do possess a stellar group of forwards that will fill replace at least some of the scoring vacuum.

Leading the Terriers offensive attack is senior assistant captain Danny O’Regan (SJS). The Needham, MA native returns as BU’s top scorer after a sensational junior campaign that saw him amass 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games en route to earning a spot on the All-Hockey East Second Team.

Another notable loss that Boston University suffered this offseason was that of goaltender Matt O’Connor, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Ottawa Senators. The Toronto, ON native is coming off a brilliant junior campaign where he finished with a 25-4-4 record that included one shutout in 35 appearances.

The good news for the Terriers is that redshirted senior netminder Sean Maguire (PIT) returns this season. The Powell River, BC native missed the entire 2014-15 campaign due to injury. The lingering question is whether Maguire will bounce back from that injury.

With the uncertainty in goal to begin the season, Boston University will be looking to their top-flight defensive corps to stabilize things on the back end. Anchoring the Terriers blueline is senior captain Matt Grzelcyk (BOS). The Charlestown, MA native is coming off a magnificent junior campaign where he led the Terriers in defensive scoring with 38 points (10 goals, 28 assists) in 41 games en route to earning a spot on the All-America East First Team.

In addition to the returning veterans, the Terriers also welcome seven newcomers. Heading the talented group is Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (BOS). The Stockholm, Sweden native is a 6’1”, 192-pound center noted for his great hockey sense and superb two-way game.

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