Hockey East 2011-12 season preview

By DJ Powers
Photo: After leading Boston College in points from a defenseman last season, even more will be expected out of Brian Dumoulin in the 2011-12 season. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

This season, Hockey East will feature 46 NHL prospects. All member schools have at least one prospect on their roster. Boston University leads all conference teams with 12, followed by Boston College with nine and Northeastern with seven.

Boston College

Number of NHL prospects: 9

The Eagles would look to successfully defend their Hockey East regular season and tournament championships when they open their 2011-12 season on October 7th facing off against Michigan State in the Icebreaker tournament in Grand Forks, ND.

After claiming both Hockey East titles last season, Boston College saw their 2010-11 season come to an unceremonious end at the hands of Colorado College in the NCAA Tournament West Regional semi-final last March. This season, the Eagles will look to change that.

Boston College lost just six players, but they were all significant players on last season’s squad.

Where the losses will be felt the most will be in goal due to All-America East Second team and All-Hockey East First team selection John Muse graduating.

Muse was a key factor behind the Eagles’ stellar defensive and penalty-killing numbers last season. Boston College possessed the nation’s tenth-ranked defense that allowed an average of 2.41goals per game. Their equally good penalty-kill ranked sixth with an 85.8 percent efficiency rating.

Junior Parker Milner, who attended the Dallas Stars prospects camp this past summer, returns as the likely starter in net this season. The Pittsburgh, PA native appeared nine games in the backup role last season, posting a 3-2-0 record that included one shutout.

In addition to Muse, the Eagles also lost four of their top five forwards. Brian Gibbons (PIT) and Joe Whitney both graduated. Cam Atkinson and Jimmy Hayes opted to forego their senior years to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks respectively. The four players accounted for 41 percent of the team’s offense that will need to be replaced this season.

The foursome was also driving forces behind Boston College’s superb offensive and power play numbers last season. The Eagles ranked third in the nation, averaging 3.92 goals per game. Their 153 total goals scored were second only to North Dakota nationally. Boston College’s equally strong power play ranked sixth in the nation, clicking at 23.4 percent. The Eagles also co-led the nation with 13 shorthanded tallies as well.

Junior defenseman Brian Dumoulin (CAR) returns as the team’s top scorer this season. He led all Boston College defensemen and finished fourth on the team with 33 points (three goals, 30 assists) in 37 games last season. Dumoulin, who joined Atkinson on the All-America East and All-Hockey East First teams, finished tied for sixth in the nation in defenseman scoring. Dumoulin has added leg strength which has greatly enhanced his already excellent skating ability by giving him smoother, stronger strides. That in turn has made Dumoulin much more effective in shutting down opposing forwards. The Biddeford, ME native had the chance to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes this off-season, but opted to return to Boston College.

"Brian has always had a good head for the game and pretty good offensive skills, but I think where he has made tremendous strides has been in our weight room," said associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh of Dumoulin. "I think that has helped take his game to a stronger level. Brian has become a more physical player from the standpoint that he can rub out opposing players, steal the puck and start our transition game. So I think he’s made excellent strides there. Brian has also developed a point shot that can beat a goaltender now. He’s done a better job of developing a much harder shot."

Dumoulin was a cornerstone on the Eagles’ stellar blue line that returns this season nearly intact. And as good as the Boston College defensive corps was last season, they could potentially be even better this season. The lone loss was that of Philip Samuelsson, who gave up the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Another player who chose to return to the Heights this season is junior Chris Kreider (NYR). The Boxford, MA native posted 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 32 games last season. While his numbers may seem underwhelming, Kreider’s play wasn’t. He has begun to really round out his game, and where that was particularly evident was on the defensive side. Kreider utilizes his tremendous speed not only in transitioning, but quite effectively in getting to loose pucks in the defensive zone as well. This has enabled Kreider to be stronger in penalty-killing situations as well as five-on-five. He’ll be among those that the Eagles will be counting on for stepped up offensive production this season.

"People may look at Chris’ goal numbers last year and say that he didn’t have a good year, but I think he became a much better player last year," Cavanaugh noted of Kreider. "He had an understanding of where to play away from the puck and provided a lot of energy for our team. I think Chris as made some terrific strides not just towards his pro career, but with us as well. This year, I think you’ll see that Chris puts all of that together because he’s just become a better player."

Another returning forward that Boston College will be looking to step up is sophomore Bill Arnold (CGY). The Needham, MA native led the Eagles in rookie scoring last season with 20 points (ten goals, ten assists) playing in all 39 games. One area where Arnold really excelled was on the penalty-kill. He was an effective shot-blocker and tallied a pair of shorthanded goals as well.

"Billy was a kid that we were counting on in big situations last year," said Cavanaugh. "Billy could play down low defensively and was an excellent penalty killer. He was also pretty good on face-offs too. Billy elevated his game towards the end of the year where he was chipping in some big goals for us. I see him not only doing all of those things and getting better, but I also see Billy becoming more of a goal scorer for us this year as well. I think that would be the next step in his progression as a player."

In addition to the returning veterans, Boston College will also bring in a stellar, nine-member freshman class led by the highly-touted Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau, a 2011 fourth round (104th overall) selection of the Calgary Flames this past June, is a small (5’7, 150lbs), dynamic center that plays bigger than his size. He is noted for his great hockey sense and creativity with the puck.

"Johnny has a high hockey IQ and he really understands the game, "Cavanaugh said of Gaudreau. "He’s excellent at body positioning. Johnny protects pucks well and it’s hard to get the puck off of him. He also plays extremely well without the puck. I think Johnny is going to be a fun player to watch because of the way he plays the game."

Boston University
Number of NHL prospects: 12

The Terriers open their 2011-12 season on October 8th hosting New Hampshire.

Boston University is coming off of a 2010-11 campaign that was hampered by some inconsistent play, particularly in the middle of the season. This year, the Terriers will look to remedy that.

With only three offseason losses and a small, but stellar incoming class, Boston University is poised to make a strong bid for both the Hockey East and National championships this season.

Forward Joe Pereira, goaltender Adam Kraus and defenseman David Warsofsky were the Terriers’ only losses. Pereira and Krause have graduated, while Warsofsky opted to forego his senior season to sign with the Boston Bruins. Pereira and Warsofsky were also key players for Boston University last season, particularly on power play.

Pereira led the Terriers in goal scoring last season with 15 and finished with 21 points playing in all 39 games. The West Haven, CT native was one of Boston University’s clutch performers last season. Of his 15 goals, four came on the power play, one came shorthanded and two were game-winners.

Prior to his departure, Warsofsky had established himself as one of the nation’s best puck-moving defensemen. He finished second on the team in defenseman scoring with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 34 games last season, and capped his outstanding junior campaign with a selection to the All-Hockey East Second team.

With the tremendous amount of depth and talent on the Terriers roster this season, finding players to fill the hole that Pereira and Warsofsky have left won’t be difficult.

Last season, Boston University averaged 2.97 goals per game, which ranked 26th in the nation. The traditionally strong Terriers power play struggled mightily last season, clicking at just 14.9 percent. And those numbers are expected to rise considerably this season.

Junior Alex Chiasson (DAL) and sophomore Charlie Coyle (MIN) are among those that will be leading the Terriers potent offensive charge this season.

Chiasson led Boston University with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 35 games last season. The St. Augustin, QC native was a clutch scorer for the Terriers last season. Of his 14 goals, six came on the power play, two came shorthanded and five were game-winners. Chiasson led Boston University in all of those categories as well. In addition to his outstanding numbers, Chiasson also made great strides in his development too. His added strength has made him a more difficult player to move off of the puck and defend against. His continued improvement on the defensive side contributed to Boston University’s success on the penalty kill last season.

Coyle enjoyed a terrific freshman campaign that saw him post 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in 37 games. The East Weymouth, MA native was especially in good Hockey East play last season. He led all Hockey East freshmen with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 27 conference games en route to capturing the Hockey East Rookie of the Year honor. Until the last month of the season where he played at right wing, Coyle played much of the season at center. And where he proved to be quite effective was on face-offs, winning over 47 percent of his draws.

One returning player that could miss the season opener is redshirted freshman Yasin Cissé (WPG). The Westmount, QC native suffered a season-ending ankle injury last October in Boston University’s 2010-11 season opening game versus Wisconsin in the Icebreaker tournament. Now it appears that Cissé’s first full game in the scarlet and white could be delayed once again due to a concussion he suffered in practice about two weeks ago.

Despite losing Warsofsky, the Boston University defensive corps is shaping up to be a deep and excellent one this season. Sophomore Adam Clendening, a second round (36th overall) selection of the Chicago Blackhawks this past June, returns as the Terriers’ top rearguard. The Wheatfield, MY native led the team in defenseman scoring last season with 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) playing in all 39 games. He also finished third among all Hockey East defensemen with 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 27 conference games. Clendening capped his stellar freshman campaign with a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team.

Senior starter Kieran Millan (COL) returns as Boston University’s main man in goal this season. The Edmonton, AB native appeared in 36 games last season, posting a 16-10-8 record that included one shutout. As good as Millan was in the first half of the 2010-11 season, he was even better in the second half, especially in the month of February, where he went 5-2-1 in that stretch. Millan set a new single-season school record with 1,085 saves. He capped his outstanding junior campaign with a selection to the All-Hockey East Second team.

The Terriers add just four newcomers this season. The one to keep an eye on is Cason Hohmann. Hohmann is a small (5’9, 165lbs) center that is noted for his superb puck skills.

University of Maine

Number of NHL prospects: 4

The Black Bears open their 2011-12 season on October 7th hosting Merrimack.

Despite being swept by Merrimack in the Hockey East tournament quarterfinals, Maine had a strong finish to their 2010-11 campaign. This season, Maine will look to advancing further in the Hockey East tournament and earn a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

The Black Bears was one of the nation’s top offensive teams last season. They averaged 3.39 goals per game, which ranked 12th. Maine’s 122 total goals were fourth among all Hockey East teams. The Black Bears got great offensive contributions throughout their lineup, despite the number of injuries to key players that plagued the team last season.

Maine lost six players this offseason and one area where it will be felt most is upfront.

The Black Bears lost three of their top five scorers in Gustav Nyquist (DET), Robbie Dee and Tanner House (EDM). The trio accounted for 36 percent of the team’s offense last season that will need to be replaced this season.

Nyquist, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, led the Black Bears last season with 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) playing in all 36 games. He was especially good in Hockey East play. Nyquist finished tied for third with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 27 conference games. His 15 goals also were tied for third in Hockey East. Nyquist was also one of Maine’s clutch scorers last season too. Of his 18 goals, six came on the power play, two came shorthanded and one was a game-winner. Nyquist’s stellar junior campaign earned him selections to the All-America East Second team and the All-Hockey East First team. He was also named a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

Dee finished tied for fourth on the team with 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 36 games.

House, the Hockey East Best Defensive Forward of the Year, also finished with 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in 35 games. He centered one of the best lines coming out of Hockey East last season that included Nyquist and returning senior Brian Flynn. At season’s end, House signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

Flynn returns this season after leading Maine with 20 goals last season. He finished with 36 points in 36 games. Flynn, who will serve as one of the team’s co-captains this season, is a player who is dangerous around the net. Many of his 20 goals last season were scored off of rebounds and tips. And that’s not likely to change much this season.

Fellow senior Spencer Abbott returns as the Black Bears’ top scorer. The Hamilton, ONT native finished second on the team with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 36 games. Abbott is a player to keep an eye on. He plays bigger than his size (5’9, 170lbs), and is blessed with great hands and feet. While he is excellent five-on-five, Abbott is just lethal on the power play. He led Maine with eight tallies last season and will once again be a catalyst on the team’s power play this season.

Another returning player to watch this season is junior Nick Pryor (ANA). The Woodbury, MN native’s collegiate career has been marred by injuries and last season was no exception. Recovering from offseason hip surgery and a shoulder injury limited Pryor to just five games and two assists last season. He’s an excellent skater with some good speed. And he uses it quite effectively, particularly in drives to the net and going one-one-one against opposing defenders. He is versatile in that he can proficiently play forward and on defense. If he can stay healthy, Pryor could add some great offensive depth to an already deep Maine forwards unit this season.

The other area where the Black Bears suffered significant losses was on the blue line. Stalwarts Jeff Dimmen, Mike Banwell and Josh Van Dyk have all graduated. But Maine returns an outstanding veteran group, led by senior co-captain Will O’Neill (WPG). The Salem, MA native led all Black Bears defensemen in scoring with 22 points (four goals, 18 assists) in an injury-shortened season that limited him to 28 games.

Goaltending will be Maine’s primary concern heading into the season. Sophomores Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette (CBJ), along with senior Josh Seeley all return. Shawn Sirman, who appeared in 12 games last season, has transferred to Queen’s University in Canada. Sullivan, Ouellette and Sirman played last season. And while all three netminders posted winning records, none emerged as the undisputed number one guy. Of the three, Sullivan was perhaps the best. He appeared in the most games (21), posting a 10-7-2 record that included three shutouts and earned a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team. If the Black Bears can get some consistent goaltending, it will make them that much more difficult to go up against this season.

University of Massachusetts
Number of NHL prospects: 1

The Minutemen open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at Northeastern.

Last season, UMass amassed just six overall wins, and all but one came in Hockey East play. The lack of experience on the predominantly young Minutemen team really showed through last season.

Two areas where the team struggled mightily were on defense and special teams. The Minutemen allowed an average of 3.49 goals per game last season, which ranked 51st in the nation. The 122 total goal allowed were the second most of any Hockey East team. The Minutemen’s special teams also struggled. Both their power play and penalty-killing ranked near the bottom nationally. UMass was also one of only two teams (Alabama-Huntsville was the other) in the nation that did not post a shorthanded goal last season.

But with a new season just around the corner, there is renewed optimism. And the Minutemen will look to better those numbers.

The most pressing issue facing UMass coming into the season is in goal. Starter Paul Dainton has graduated. He appeared in 32 games, posting a 6-18-5 record that included one shutout. Dainton was one of, if not the only netminder in college hockey last season that served as his team’s captain.

Sophomore Jeff Teglia could be tapped to start the season. He posted a 0-5-1 record in just nine appearances last season. Challenging Teglia for the starting netminding job are two newcomers in Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz. The success of the Minutemen will be based largely on who can get it done between the pipes this season.

With the uncertainty in goal, UMass will be looking to an experienced, albeit predominately young defensive corps that returns nearly intact this season. Senior Michael Marcou anchors the Minutemen blueline this season.

One player to keep an eye on is towering sophomore Adam Phillips. At 6’6, it’s tough to miss him. Phillips led the team in defenseman goal-scoring with ten and finished second among all Minutemen defensemen with 15 points in 33 games. He was also one of just three players on the UMass roster last season that tallied ten or more goals. Phillips, who attended the Philadelphia Flyers prospects camp this past summer, skates remarkably well for his size, but lacks power in his strides. That should come as he fills out and strengthens his enormous frame. He’s very poised with the puck and possesses a bomb of a shot.

UMass’ greatest strength this season may be their forward lines. While the Minutemen graduated five of them from last season, they do return their top three scorers in seniors Danny Hobbs (NYR) and T.J. Syner, and sophomore Michael Pereira. While the trio could potentially end up as the team’s top three scorers again this season, UMass will need stepped up production from their other forwards as well.

One reason is to boost the team’s lackluster offensive numbers. UMass averaged 2.51 goals per game last season, which ranked 43rd in the nation. Hobbs, Syner and Pereira alone accounted for 34 percent of the team’s 237 total points.

Hobbs, who will serve as one of the team’s co-captains this season, enjoyed a breakout year last season. He led the team with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 31 games. Hobbs’ development has progressed quite nicely too. He has continued to strengthen his 6’1 frame and that has really helped elevate his offensive side. This was particularly evident in his shots, which had more velocity and power behind them than in previous years.

Syner, will serve as the team’s other co-captain this season, finished second on the team with 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) playing in all 35 games. Syner is a really fun player to watch. He’s not big (5’9, 173lbs), but he is very fast. He can dart in and out of traffic and is difficult to contain because he utilizes his speed so effectively.

Pereira was one of the most dynamic freshmen to emerge out of Hockey East last season. He co-led the team with 12 goals and finished third overall with 25 points in 34 games. Pereira earned a unanimous selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie team and was the runner-up as Hockey East Rookie of the Year after posting 20 points (ten goals, ten assists) in 26 conference games. His 10 goals led all Hockey East rookies, while his 20 points ranked second. Although Pereira went undrafted in his final year of eligibility this past June, he is still very much on the NHL radar. And if he can continue to build on his excellent rookie campaign this season, Pereira will make it even more difficult for NHL teams to ignore him.

Joining the returning veterans this season are seven newcomers. One intriguing player to keep an eye on is 6’7 defenseman Oleg Yevenko. The native of Minsk, Belarus will certainly add to an already-sizeable UMass defense, but he’ll also bring some very good puck-moving skills to the blue line as well.

University of Massachusetts-Lowell
Number of NHL prospects: 1

The River Hawks open their 2011-12 season on October 14th at Minnesota State-Mankato.

UMass-Lowell was one of the youngest teams in D-I last season and it showed. Not surprisingly, the River Hawks finished in the Hockey East cellar. The team posted just five wins last season, all of them coming in conference play.

But change is in the air at UMass-Lowell. And the team is reaching into their past to build for the future.

This season, there is a new man behind the bench. Former River Hawk Norm Bazin takes over for the departed Blaise MacDonald. Bazin, who is in his second stint at his alma mater, established himself as one of college hockey’s best recruiters while an assistant at Colorado College from 2000-08. Among the former Tigers that have gone on to play in the NHL under his watch include Joey Crabb (TOR), Brett Sterling, and Mark Stuart. The River Hawks are hoping that Bazin can bring that kind of success to UMass-Lowell as well.

Bazin will be working with a River Hawks team that will be quite young again this season. And he will have his work cut out for him.

UMass-Lowell struggled mightily on defense last season. The team allowed an average of four goals per game, which ranked 54th in the nation. Their penalty-killing was equally bad, finishing at the bottom nationally with a 76 percent efficiency rating.

The River Hawks fared better offensively. The team averaged 2.44 goals per game, which ranked 45th nationally. Their 83 total goals were among the lowest in Hockey East.

Where UMass-Lowell actually did quite well last season was on the man-advantage. The team ranked 23rd in the nation with a power play that clicked at 18.5 percent. However, the nine shorthanded goals they allowed tied them with Maine for the most in Hockey East.

The River Hawks lost nine players this offseason. And among their biggest losses came on the blue line. Three of their top defensemen in Maury Edwards, Chris Ickert and Ryan Blair are gone.

Sophomore Chad Ruhwedel is UMass-Lowell’s top returning rearguard. The San Diego, CA native finished second among the River Hawks defensemen in scoring last season with 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 32 games. Aside from Edwards and Ickert, Ruhwedel was UMass-Lowell’s best defenseman last season and he’s a player well worth watching this season.

Rudwedel isn’t big (5’11, 180lbs), but he is solid at both ends of the ice. He possesses some soft hands and moves the puck really well. One attribute that made Ruhwedel so effective for UMass-Lowell last season was his decision-making. It was smart and simple. He has also become a mainstay on the River Hawks power play, where his two goals were scored.

UMass-Lowell will be relying on an experienced group of netminders to help stabilize the back end this season. Sophomores Doug Carr and Marc Boulanger, and junior T.J. Massie all return after seeing time last season. Carr and Boulanger saw the bulk of time, playing in 22 and 15 games respectively. But the goaltending trio will need to be more consistent if UMass-Lowell expects to make a serious push up the Hockey East standings this season.

The River Hawks lost four forwards, most notably graduates Patrick Cey and Scott Campbell, but do return their top three point producers and all four of their top goal-scorers.

Senior David Vallorani leads the UMass-Lowell offensive attack this season. The Hamilton, ONT native led the River Hawks with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists). He was one of only four players to appear in all 34 games last season. Vallorani was the left wing on UMass-Lowell’s terrific top line last season that included returning top goal-scoring junior Riley Wetmore and senior Michael Budd.

Among the returning forwards, the one to keep an eye is sophomore Joseph Pendenza. The Wilmington, MA native posted 13 points (ten goals, three assists) in 32 games last season. Pendenza is a centerman with an excellent stick that transitions really well. He was particularly dangerous on the penalty-kill, where three of his ten goals were scored.

This season, UMass-Lowell’s roster will feature 11 freshmen. The most notable is the team’s lone NHL prospect in Scott Wilson. Wilson, a seventh round (209th overall) selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins this past June, is noted for his speed and superb puck skills.

Merrimack College
Number of NHL prospects: 2

The Warriors open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at Maine.

Merrimack was one of the best stories coming out of Hockey East last season. In addition to making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1988, the Warriors also made to their first-ever appearance in the Hockey East tournament championship game. This season, Merrimack will be looking to build on that success.

The Warriors lost eight players and among them were their top three scorers in Stephane Da Costa (OTT), Chris Barton and Joe Cucci. The trio accounted for 31 percent of Merrimack’s offense last season.

Senior Ryan Flanigan returns as the team’s top scorer this season and he’s a player well worth watching. The Rochester, NY native finished fourth on the team with 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 38 games. Flanigan was a part of one of the nation’s hottest lines in post-season play last season that also featured returning seniors Carter Madsen and Elliott Sheen. The 6’0 175 pound left wing has established himself as a clutch scorer and is very good around the net. One of Flanigan’s greatest attributes is the fact that he never seems to give up on plays. He’s not afraid to go into the tough areas and is willing to do whatever it takes to make or finish plays. This past summer, Flanigan attended the New York Rangers prospects camp.

"I think Ryan typifies what it is to be a Merrimack College hockey player," head coach Mark Dennehy said of Flanigan. "Ryan plays to his strengths and his game is grounded in hard work. I think one of his underrated attributes is his shot. I know that some of the NHL guys that have been here to see Ryan have begun to recognize how good it is. He can really zip the puck. He’s done a really good job of hitting the net with them and finishing plays. I think last year was sort of a coming out party for Ryan and we’re expecting good things from him again this year."

Merrimack possessed the nation’s fifth-best offense last season that averaged 3.67 goals per game. Almost equally as good was their power play, which ranked 11th in the nation clicking at 84.5 percent. It remains to be seen whether the team can match or better those numbers this season. The Warriors’ forward lines are will have depth and are shaping up to be excellent again this season with an outstanding group of veterans and promising newcomers.

As good as Merrimack was offensively last season, they were just as good defensively. The Warriors allowed an average of 2.49 goals per game, which ranked 13th in the nation. Their equally good penalty-kill also ranked 11th with an 84.5 percent efficiency rating.

The man behind those stellar numbers is returning senior Joe Cannata (VAN). The Wakefield, MA native was brilliant between the pipes last season. He posted a 25-10-4 record that included one shutout playing in all 39 games last season. Cannata ranked fifth in the nation in minutes played (2251:58) and his .692 winning percentage ranked tied for seventh. His 25 wins, which set a new school single-season record, ranked tied for fourth in the nation. In addition to the stellar numbers that he put up last season, Cannata has also made great strides in development too. One notable area was in controlling rebounds, where he routinely (and successfully) stopped the second and third chances.

"I think Joe is one of the most underrated goalies in the country", said Dennehy. "Last year, he established a new record here at Merrimack for most wins in a season. Since he has arrived here, Joe has really grown and I think the area where he has developed the most has been in that maturity. I know that he has worked hard over the last couple of years to be in the best shape that he needs to be in for the long haul. I think last year was a bit of a learning curve for Joe because he played in every game and I think that experience will help us again this year."

With Cannata returning, goaltending will be one of Merrimack’s strongest positions this season.

The other is their blue line. With the exception of graduate Fraser Allan, the Warriors defensive corps returns intact. Anchoring the Merrimack defense this season is senior Karl Stollery. The Camrose, AB native led the team in defenseman scoring last season with 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) in 39 games.

Returning junior Kyle Bigos (EDM) will bring both size (6’5, 240lbs) and some muscle to Merrimack’s defense again this season. The Upland, CA native played in 33 games last season, posting eight points (two goals, six assists). The 127 penalty minutes that he racked up ranked third in the nation. One notable area where Bigos has begun to really improve is his mobility. His added leg strength has not only enhanced his skating, but his footwork as well. And while they’re still works in progress, it is a positive step towards making Bigos a better and more complete player.

"With the premium that college hockey has placed on protecting players, I think it has taken away part of the benefit of being a bigger player. I think it’s been good for Kyle because what it has done is forced him to defend players not only with his size and physicality, but also with his feet and hand-eye coordination. They’re two things that Kyle continues to work quite a bit on and he has made huge gains in those areas. He’s also working on getting himself leaner too. And I think by Christmas time, Kyle could be down to 230 lbs, which is a good weight for him."

University of New Hampshire

Number of NHL prospects: 2

The Wildcats open their 2011-12 season on October 8th at Boston University.

Last season, New Hampshire advanced to an NCAA Tournament Regional final game for the third consecutive season. They accomplished the feat in the Northeast Regional. After handing CCHA powerhouse Miami a stunning 1-3 loss in the semi-final, the Wildcats fell to Notre Dame in the final. This season, New Hampshire will look to take the next step in hopes of advancing to the Frozen Four.

The Wildcats lost seven players this offseason, including their top four scorers. Nearly all of their losses were key components to the team’s successful run in 2010-11.

Last season, the Wildcats possessed one of the nation’s best and most prolific line combinations in Paul Thompson (PIT), Phil DeSimone, and Mike Sislo. The team also possessed one of the nation’s top scoring defensemen in Blake Kessel (PHI) as well. The four players accounted for a whopping 47 percent of the team’s offense last season. The quartet was also the driving force behind the superb New Hampshire offense, which ranked 15th in the nation, averaging 3.36 goals per game.

The bad news is all of the aforementioned players are gone. Thompson, DeSimone and Sislo all graduated. Kessel opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers. Of the four, Thompson and Kessel are the most notable.

Thompson enjoyed the greatest season of his collegiate career, leading New Hampshire with 52 points (28 goals, 24 assists) playing in all 39 games. His 52 points also ranked tied for tenth in the nation. Thompson was especially good in Hockey East play, where he posted 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) in 27 conference games en route to capturing the Hockey East Player of the Year honor. He was also named a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and selected to the All-America East First team. At season’s end, Thompson signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Joining Thompson on the All-America East First team was Kessel. He led all Wildcats defensemen in scoring with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 39 games. His 27 points tied him for 13th nationally among all defensemen. Of Kessel’s 27 points, 18 (four goals, 14 assists) came in Hockey East play. His 18 points in 27 conference games ranked second among defensemen.

With their top four scorers gone, New Hampshire will be looking to both their outstanding returning players and newcomers to fill the massive offensive hole left by the departed players.

Senior Stevie Moses is the team’s returning top scorer and one that the Wildcats will be relying on to help fill that hole. The Leominster, MA native was fifth on the team with 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) playing in all 39 games. Moses is a player to keep an eye on. His greatest asset is his blazing speed. He can simply flat-out fly. And Moses utilizes that speed quite effectively, especially in transition and making plays. He has caught the attention of a few NHL teams, including the Chicago Blackhawks, whose prospects camp Moses attended this past summer.

Junior Greg Burke (WSH) is another veteran that New Hampshire will be looking to for offensive contributions this season. The Lee, NH native is coming off of an injury and illness-plagued sophomore campaign that limited him to just 18 games and three points (two goals, one assist) last season. If Burke can stay healthy, he could among the team’s top scorers by season’s end.

In addition to Kessel, the Wildcats also suffered other significant losses on the blue line as well. Stalwarts Matt Campanale and Mike Beck have both graduated.

With the loss of three key defensemen, towering sophomore Eric Knodel (TOR) may finally see some ice time this season. The West Chester, PA native, who stands 6’6, did not appear in a single game last season.

Coming into the season, goaltending looks to be New Hampshire’s greatest area of strength. Senior Matt Di Girolamo, one of the nation’s workhorses last season, returns as the Wildcats’ main man between the pipes. The Ambler, PA native appeared in all 39 games last season, posting a 22-11-6 record that included two shutouts. He led the nation in minutes played with 2362:14, while his 22 wins ranked tied for sixth.

In addition to their returning veterans, New Hampshire also welcomes eight newcomers, including LW Casey Thrush and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Thrush is a 6’1, 185 pound forward that is noted for his grit and excellent two-way play.

Trevor van Riemsdyk is the younger brother of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman and former New Hampshire standout James van Riemsdyk. The younger van Riemsdyk is noted for his size (6’2, 185lbs) and great athleticism.

Northeastern University
Number of NHL prospects: 7

The Huskies open their 2011-12 season on October 7th hosting UMass.

This past offseason saw numerous departures from and changes at Northeastern. One of the most notable was behind the bench. Head coach Greg Cronin left the team to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. His successor is former Huskies standout Jim Madigan, who is actually in his second stint with the Huskies after serving as an assistant coach from 1986-1993.

With the Madigan era getting underway, the Huskies will have some significant holes to fill and some issues that need to be addressed.

Two of them are their offense and power play.

Northeastern averaged 2.84 goals per game last season, which ranked 30th in the nation. Their power play ranked 36th, clicking at 81.2 percent. While those numbers aren’t abysmal, the Huskies will look to improve on them this season, but it could be challenging task.

The primary reason is because the Huskies lost seven players this offseason, including their top four scorers in graduates Wade MacLeod, Tyler McNeely (NYI), and Steve Silva, along with then-freshman Brodie Reid. Reid opted to forego the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with the San Jose Sharks. The quartet accounted for 48 percent of the team’s offensive production last season that will need to be replaced this season.

Senior Mike McLaughlin, who will serve as team captain this season, returns as the team’s top scoring forward. The Seaforth, ONT native played in 34 games last season, posting 15 points (11 goals, four assists).

Two returning players whose services Northeastern will be without to start the new season are junior Steve Quailer (MON) and sophomore Cody Ferriero (SJ). Both players have been suspended due to unspecified team rules violations that occurred at the end of last season.

Another area where the Huskies’ losses were significant was on the blue line. Stalwarts Mike Hewkin and Randy Guzior have both graduated. But the greatest loss was that of Jamie Oleksiak, who left the team for the OHL. Oleksiak, a first round selection (14th overall) selection of the Dallas Stars this past June, was one of the most promising young rearguards to come out of Hockey East last season.

Despite the losses of the three aforementioned players, Northeastern’s blue line is shaping up to be an outstanding one this season. Among those who’ll be leading the offensive corps this season are sophomore Anthony Bitetto (NSH) and junior Drew Daniels (SJ).

Bitetto, a Hockey East All-Rookie team selection last season, is the team’s top returning scorer. The Island Park, NY native led all Huskies defensemen with 20 points (three goals, 17 assists) in 38 games. His 20 points ranked fifth on the team.

Drew Daniels played virtually all of last season on defense, even though he originally came in as a forward. And the Suffern, NY native has really developed quite nicely into his new role too. Daniels appeared in all 38 games last season, posting nine points (three goals, six assists). Daniels utilizes his speed quite effectively, particularly in transition. And his added size and strength has simply enhanced that as well as his overall game.

"Drew played with Drew Ellement last year as a part of a pure shutdown pairing for us," said Madigan. "He’s been very good in pre-season play and we’re thrilled to have Drew back there because he gives us a strong, returning player that played an awful lot and has done a good job for us."

Goaltending will be Northeastern’s greatest strength heading into the season with the return of towering junior Chris Rawlings. The North Delta, BC native has developed into one of the nation’s best netminders. In 35 appearances last season, he posted a 12-13-8 record that included five shutouts. The two strong seasons that he has put together at Northeastern has also garnered Rawlings considerable NHL interest as well. This past summer, he attended the prospects camps of the Dallas Stars, New York Islanders and the Vancouver Canucks. And with NHL teams continuing to line up to get glimpses of the 6’5" netminder, Rawlings is almost certain to be one of the most highly-sought after collegiate free agents available come spring.

"Chris is a workhorse and he constantly strives to be better," Madigan said of Rawlings. "Even though he’s a goaltender, Chris leads our team by example. The guys all look up to him. I think Chris’ most underrated attributes are the fact that he utilizes his size so well, especially in his positioning, and his quickness. He’s got a lot of upside and I think could be successful at the next level."

Five freshmen join the Huskies’ returning players this season. Leading the group is defenseman Josh Manson. Manson, a sixth round (160th overall) selection of the Anaheim Ducks this past June, is the son of former NHLer Dave Manson. The younger Manson is noted for his excellent puck-moving skills.

Providence College
Number of NHL prospects: 2

The Friars open their 2011-12 season on October 14th hosting Boston University.

The biggest change for Providence College this past offseason was the arrival of new head coach Nate Leaman. Leaman replaces the departed Tim Army, who has moved on to become an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche organization. Leaman comes to Providence College after successfully guiding Union College to their first-ever ECAC regular season title and berth into the NCAA Tournament. He will have the daunting task of turning around a program that hasn’t had a winning record since the 2005-06 season.

Leaman built Union College into a well-balanced team that was also one of the nation’s best offensive teams last season. And he did it without the benefit of a lot of elite talent. With the Leaman-era set to begin this season, the Friars are hoping that he’ll be able to do the same with them.

Last season, Providence College posted just eight wins. The severe lack of point production was a key factor in their demise. The Friars offense averaged just 2.21 goals per game, which ranked 55th in the nation. Their 75 total goals were tied with Michigan Tech for the second-fewest in the nation. Equally as dismal was the Providence College power play, which ranked 57th in the nation with a 10.1 percent efficiency rating.

The challenge of increasing point production this season has been made all the more difficult by the fact that the team graduated four of their top five scorers from last season in Ian O’Connor, Kyle MacKinnon, Matt Germain and Ben Farrer.

Of the four players, the most significant is MacKinnon. The Walnut, CA native led the Friars in goal-scoring with 14 and finished second on the team with 23 points playing in all 34 games. MacKinnon was one of just two players who posted ten or more goals, and one of only three players to post 20 or more points last season. Most recently, MacKinnon signed with the AHL‘s Providence Bruins.

Junior Tim Schaller returns as the team’s top scorer this season. The Merrimack, NH native finished fourth on the team with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 34 games last season. He was also one of Providence College’s top players on face-offs as well. Schaller is a player that is well worth watching this season. He possesses size (6’2, 210lbs), some real good hands and his compete level is quite high. This past summer, Schaller attended the Chicago Blackhawks prospects camp.

Schaller leads a returning group of forwards that scored a combined 23 goals last season. So getting increased offensive production throughout their forward lines will be crucial to the Friars’ success this season.

The Providence College defense gave up an average of 3.41 goals per game last season, which ranked 47th in the nation. That number should improve this season with the Friars defensive corps returning nearly intact and some excellent newcomers added to the mix.

Junior Alex Velischek (PIT) returns to Providence College after leaving the program last December. In the nine games that he played in last season, Velischek posted a goal and an assist. He’ll be eligible to play this season in January. Velischek’s return will help the Friars in many areas, most notably the team’s power play.

Of Providence College’s eight incoming freshmen, three are defensemen. The one to watch is Craig Wyszomirski. The Mahwah, NJ native possesses size (6’4, 210lbs) and is noted for his toughness and strong skating. Wyszomirski, who was passed up in this past June’s NHL Draft, will be eligible again in 2012.

Goaltending is another strong area for Providence College heading into this season. Senior Alex Beaudry returns as the Friars’ starter after appearing in 31 games last season, posting a 7-16-8 record that included one shutout. Beaudry’s record isn’t indicative of his outstanding play. He was able to keep Providence College in numerous close games last season, often facing a ton of rubber in the process. If the Friars can give Beaudry better support this season, his and the team’s numbers should rise significantly.

University of Vermont
Number of NHL prospects: 6

The Catamounts open their 2011-12 season on October 21st at Minnesota.

After advancing to the NCAA Tournament in the previous two seasons, Vermont had difficulty recapturing that magic last season. This season, Vermont will look to get things headed back in the right direction again.

The Catamounts finished the 2010-11 season winning just eight games. And one of the biggest reasons behind their demise was their inability to generate offense. Vermont ranked 53rd in the nation, averaging 2.28 goals per game. Equally poor was the Catamounts power play, which clicked at just 13.3 percent.

With most of their top offensive players returning, along with some skilled incoming freshmen, those numbers should rise significantly this season.

Vermont lost just six players in the offseason, but among them was their top goal scorer Jack Downing, who graduated.

Junior Sebastian Stalberg leads the Catamounts offensive attack this season after leading the team with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) playing in all 36 games last season. Stalberg is the younger brother of former Vermont standout and current Chicago Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg.

Another returning player that Vermont will be relying on for stepped up offensive production this season is sophomore Connor Brickley (FLA). The power forward from Everett, MA played in 35 games last season, posting 13 points (four goals, nine assists). Brickley’s ultra-aggressive style has fit in nicely with that of his team’s. The area where Brickley was particularly noticeable last season was in his relentless puck pursuits and drives to the net. If Brickley can find his scoring touch this season, he could be among Hockey East’s top point producers by season’s end.

"Connor is sort of a blue-collar guy with a lot of speed, skill and a huge upside," head coach Kevin Sneddon said of Brickley. "I think he’s coming into this season much more physically prepared. He’s stronger and faster. I think Connor was trying to do too much at times last season, but that’s just part of the maturation process. I think he’ll have a better understanding of the game this year and will be ready to take that next step. We’re relying on Connor to have a good year for us."

Six of Vermont’s losses this past offseason were from the blue line. Stalwarts Kyle Medvec (MIN), Kevan Miller and Dan Lawson have all graduated. And while losing those players is significant, the Catamounts blue line is shaping up to be an excellent one this season with a great mix of solid veterans and promising newcomers.

Anchoring Vermont’s defense this season is senior Drew MacKenzie (BUF). The New Canaan, CT native led all Catamounts defensemen with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 34 games. MacKenzie has also made some great strides in his development too. One notable area has been in his elevate level of confidence with puck. His passes are crisper and his decisions with the puck have been smarter and better. If MacKenzie can add some consistency to his overall game, he could potentially become one of the top defensemen to come out of Hockey East this season.

"I think Drew has the ability to be great, but I don’t think he’s reached that level yet," Sneddon said of MacKenzie. "We’ve had to get him to understand what it takes to be great because we believe he can be. I think this summer Drew has worked as hard as he’s ever worked in getting into the best shape possible. He has always been in good shape, but this year I think he’s in great shape. We’re hoping that it will translate into a more consistent year for him. If he can put it all together this year, I think Drew can become not only one of the top defensemen in Hockey East, but also in the country as well."

In addition to the returning veterans, Vermont will welcome three new defenders. Among them are NHL prospects Nicholas Luukko and Michael Paliotta.

Luukko, a 2010 sixth round (179th overall) selection of the Philadelphia Flyers, is an outstanding puck-moving defenseman with size (6’3, 196lbs) and superb skating ability.

Paliotta, a third round (70th overall) selection of the Chicago Blackhawks this past June, possesses a nice combination of size (6’3, 203lbs), superb skating ability and toughness.

"It’s great to have size, but you have to be mobile and be able to make plays as well, and I think that’s what really drew us to Nick and Michael," Sneddon said of Luukko and Paliotta. "They both have great instincts and can make plays under pressure. It’s nice to have size, but Nick and Michael can both skate very well too. They’re both agile and can make plays. So if we want to be more of a puck-possession team this year, then they can both help us do that."

Goaltending will be the Catamounts’ strength again this season. Senior Rob Madore, who attended the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects camp this past summer, returns as Vermont’s go-to guy between the pipes. The Pittsburgh, PA native appeared in all 36 games, posting an 8-20-8 record. Madore’s record doesn’t reflect the superb play that he demonstrated throughout last season. He was instrumental in giving the Catamounts an opportunity to win in the many close games that they were involved in, especially in the last month of the 2010-11 campaign.