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

By DJ Powers

Kevin Roy - Northeastern University

Photo: Northeastern University forward and Anaheim Ducks prospect Kevin Roy is hoping to cap off an excellent NCAA career with a conference title for the Huskies (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

Merrimack College
NHL prospects: 2

The Warriors opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 16th versus Clarkson.

After a ninth-place finish in Hockey East last season, Merrimack is poised to have a much better year this season with a more experienced group.

The Warriors did not lose many players in the offseason, but the most significant player that they did lose was starting netminder Rasmus Tirronen (CAR), who has graduated. The Espoo, Finland native was stellar between the pipes last season despite his 12-14-3 record in 31 games.

Vying for the daunting task of filling Tirronen’s role this season will likely be between sophomore Collin Delia and freshman Drew Vogler. Delia played remarkably well in his limited time as Tirronen’s backup last season. The Rancho Cucamonga, CA native finished the year with a 4-4-1 record that included one shutout in nine games.

In addition to Tirronen, Merrimack also graduated top defenseman Dan Kolomatis. The stalwart from Basking Ridge, NJ finished his outstanding senior campaign leading all Warriors rearguards with 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 38 games.

Among those patrolling Merrimack’s blueline this season that could help fill part of the role left by Kolomatis is sophomore Marc Biega. The Pointe-Claire, QC native returns as the Warriors top scoring defenseman after a great freshman campaign where he posted 13 points (three goals, ten assists) in 38 games.

Merrimack’s strength this season will be up front as the team returns all of their top scoring forwards from last season including dynamic sophomore Brett Seney (NJD). The London, ON native returns after a terrific freshman campaign where he led the Warriors with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 34 games.

In addition to the aforementioned Vogler, Merrimack will also welcome seven other newcomers this season. One to watch is defenseman Ethan Spaxman. The Brantford, ON native is a highly-touted rearguard that possesses size (6’4”,195 lbs.) and tremendous skating ability. Spaxman could be among this year’s crop of top draft-eligible NCAA players for the 2016 NHL Draft.

University of New Hampshire
NHL prospects: 3

The Wildcats opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 10th versus American International.

After a slow start last season, New Hampshire enjoyed a strong finish, reaching the Hockey East Tournament semi-finals. Although the Wildcats are poised to make another strong run this season, they also have some significant holes to fill.

The most notable loss is that of defenseman Brett Pesce, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Tarrytown, NY native capped his outstanding junior campaign posting 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 31 games last season.

Among the players New Hampshire will be relying on to fill Pesce’s role this season is junior Matias Cleland. The Longmont, CO native is coming off of an excellent sophomore campaign where he led all Wildcats defensemen with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 39 games.

Another issue that New Hampshire will have to contend with heading into the season is replacing the point production that left with three of their top five scorers in graduates Grayson Downing (MIN), Matt Willows (CAR) and Casey Thrush. The trio accounted for 30 percent of the team’s total points last season.

Two players that the Wildcats hope will pick up the scoring slack are rising sophomores Warren Foegele (CAR) and Shane Eiserman (OTT). The two were linemates down the stretch and posted similar numbers last season. Foegele finished with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 34 games while Eiserman finished with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 35 games.

Among the freshmen, one player that will help boost New Hampshire’s offense is Marcus Vela (SJS). The Burnaby, BC native is one of six new Wildcats this season. Vela is a 6’1”, 205-pound center who brings some grit to the table and is noted for his strong two-way game.

One of New Hampshire’s strengths this season will be in goal. All three netminders return this season, including sophomore Danny Tirone. The Trumbull, CT native was one of the most pleasant surprises on the Wildcats roster last season after an impressive freshman campaign where he posted a 14-6-0 record that included two shutouts in 20 appearances.

Northeastern University
NHL prospects: 6

The Huskies opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 10th at Colgate.

Northeastern is coming off a strong sixth place finish in Hockey East and are poised to make another strong push for the conference title again this season.

The biggest issue facing the Huskies heading into the season is in goal. Last year’s starter, Clay Witt, has graduated after a great senior campaign where he posted an 11-10-2 record that included one shutout in 23 appearances. Witt’s successor this season is likely to be redshirted junior Derick Roy. The Lac-Beauport, QC native is the lone returning netminder that saw action last season. Roy played well in his limited time as Witt’s backup, finishing with a 5-6-2 record in 14 games.

With the exception of graduate Dax Lauwers, Northeastern returns all of their top defensemen this season. It is a very experienced group that is shaping up to be quite good.

Anchoring the Huskies defense is junior assistant captain Matt Benning (BOS). The St. Albert, AB native is coming off an excellent sophomore campaign where he led Northeastern in defensive scoring with 24 points (all assists) in 36 games.

The Huskies greatest strength this season is their talent-rich forward lines. Leading the offensive attack is senior captain Kevin Roy (ANA). Simply put, the Lac-Beauport, QC native is the motor that drives Northeastern’s offense. For the third consecutive year, Roy led the Huskies with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 35 games. He capped his sensational junior campaign with a selection to the All-America East Second Team.

For the second year in a row, Northeastern adds an NHL-drafted Boston University transfer to the team. After junior Brendan Collier (CAR) joined the Huskies last season, fellow junior Sam Kurker (STL) joins the squad this season.

In addition, seven incoming freshmen have also been added. Heading the group is forward Adam Gaudette (VAN). The Braintree, MA native is a 6’1”, 172-pound center noted for his wonderful skating and tremendous hockey sense.

University of Notre Dame
NHL prospects: 9

The Fighting Irish opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 16th at Penn State.

After finishing fifth in Hockey East last season, Notre Dame is poised to make an even stronger run for the conference title this season.

For Notre Dame, it all begins in goal. Sophomore starter Cal Petersen (BUF) returns after a brilliant freshman campaign where he posted a 13-16-3 record that included four shutouts in 33 appearances en route to earning a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.

With the exception of graduate Robbie Russo (DET), the Fighting Irish return all of their top defensemen this season. Among those patrolling Notre Dame’s outstanding blueline this season is sophomore Jordan Gross. The Maple Grove, MN native returns as the Fighting Irish’s top scoring defenseman after capping his excellent freshman campaign with 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) playing in all 42 games last season. This summer, Gross attended the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect camp.

The biggest loss that Notre Dame suffered in the offseason was that of Vince Hinostroza, who opted to forego the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bartlett, IL native finished his sensational sophomore campaign leading the team with 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 42 games en route to earning a spot on the All-Hockey East First Team.

While the loss of Hinostroza is significant, Notre Dame does return all of last season’s top forwards. Leading the group up front this season is senior captain Steven Fogarty (NYR). The Edina, MN native is coming off a strong junior campaign where he amassed 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 39 games. Fogarty’s noticeably improved defensive game made him a key cog on the team’s penalty-killing unit, and he was also among the Notre Dame’s best shot-blockers.

In addition to the returning veterans, Notre Dame welcomes six newcomers this season. Heading the talented group is Dennis Gilbert (CHI). The Williamsville, NY native is a 6’2”, 200-pound offensive defenseman who is noted for his superb skating. With the attributes that he possesses, Gilbert could eventually help fill the role left by Russo’s departure.

University of Vermont
NHL prospects: 1

The Catamounts opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 10th at Minnesota in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game.

Vermont is coming off a seventh place finish in Hockey East last season. While the team is shaping up to be even better this season, they also have several issues to address.

The most notable loss is that of top defenseman Michael Paliotta (CBJ), who has graduated. Paliotta was the only rearguard in Hockey East that led his team in scoring in 2014-15. The Westport, CT native finished his awesome final season with 36 points (nine goals, 27 assists) playing in all 41 games en route to being named to the All-America East Second Team.

Paliotta’s loss will be especially felt on the Catamounts blueline this season. One veteran that Vermont will ask to fill at least some of the hole left by Paliotta’s departure is senior Alexx Privitera. The Old Tappan, NJ native returns as Vermont’s top scoring defenseman after posting 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in 41 games last season. One area where Privitera really excelled last season was on the power play where five of his seven goals were scored.

The other significant loss that the Catamounts suffered in the offseason was that of goaltender Brody Hoffman, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Minnesota Wild. The Wilkie, SK native finished his outstanding junior campaign with a 13-6-2 record that included one shutout in 22 appearances.

While Vermont has lost Hoffman, they do return his netminding partner junior Mike Santaguida. The Mississauga, ON native is coming off a solid sophomore campaign where he posted a 9-9-2 record that included three shutouts in 25 appearances.

Up front, the Catamounts return most of their top forwards including junior Brady Shaw. The Ottawa, ON native is Vermont’s top returning scorer after a terrific sophomore campaign where he led the team with 19 goals and finished with 31 points in 38 games.

One player that will give the Catamounts some added scoring punch this season is freshman center Liam Coughlin (CHI). The South Boston, MA native is one of nine newcomers and the lone NHL prospect on Vermont’s roster. Originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2014, Coughlin had his NHL rights dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks over the summer.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF

 

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