Hockey East 2007-08 season preview

By DJ Powers

The 2007-08 season in Hockey East is once again shaping up to be another hotly contested race. This season, Hockey East features 49 current NHL prospects. Each member team except Merrimack has at least one prospect on its current roster. For the second consecutive year, Boston College leads all Hockey East teams with 10.

Boston College

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 10)

Despite an excellent overall season, Boston College once again fell short of achieving their ultimate goal of taking home another national title. After losing to Wisconsin in the National Championship game in 2006, it felt like deja vu, this time falling to Michigan State. While the Eagles lost few players in the off-season, it won’t be the same Boston College team this season when they open their 2007-08 campaign on Oct. 12 versus CCHA powerhouse Michigan in the Icebreaker Tournament at the Xcel Energy Center.

While the Eagles lost very few players, they were all significant contributors. And no loss will be felt more this season than in goal. The incomparable Cory Schneider opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Vancouver Canucks. The Marblehead, MA native was a workhorse in virtually every sense of the work last season. He was one of two D-I netminders (Michigan State’s Jeff Lerg was the other) that started every game for his team. Schneider played all but 13:12 minutes last season. His 1,111 saves and 2517 minutes played both led the nation.

With the loss of Schneider, along with the departure of backup Joe Pearce, the Eagles will be both exceedingly young and inexperienced between the pipes coming into the season. Two very good incoming freshmen in John Muse and Andrew Margolin will be vying for the starting job. As assistant coach Greg Brown explains, while losing Schneider was tough, he has complete faith in the abilities of his two rookies to step in and gradually re-establish the team’s stability in goal.

"Well, that’s certainly our biggest question mark. We’d had hoped that Cory would stay but it wasn’t a huge shock to us that he decided to move on. We certainly knew that there was the possibility that Cory was going to leave. We have a couple of freshmen coming in that are eager for the opportunity, so hopefully they’ll play as well as we think they can. We think that both of them have a lot of talent and a lot of upside. John and Andrew are positional goalies. They both rely on good angles and technique. They’re both competitive kids and are looking forward to playing here."

Two other major cogs in the Boston College machine that have also departed, due to graduating, were Brian Boyle (LA) and Joe Rooney. The towering All-American led the Eagles in several categories including points (53), assists (34) and penalty minutes (104). Though Boyle played the majority of last season at the forward position, he proved to be equally as, if not more dangerous on the blueline. Boyle was moved to the blueline out of necessity due to injuries and the payoff was enormous – literally and figuratively, going into the NCAA Tournament. Rooney, Hockey East’s Best Defensive Forward Award recipient, enjoyed his greatest year in an Eagles uniform when he exploded for 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists). The Canton, MA native was also one of the best two-way forwards in the nation last season.

Though it will be a daunting task to replace what Boyle and Rooney brought to the team, Boston College will once again be very deep upfront. The Eagles return an astounding 75 percent of their goal scoring and are led by the lethal junior trio of Nate Gerbe (BUF), Benn Ferriero (PHX) and Brock Bradford (BOS).

One player that emerged as Boston College’s newest offensive threat was sophomore Ben Smith. Last season, the Avon, CT native was brought up to play on the Eagles top line when Boyle was shifted back to defense and the move was a boon for Boston College. Smith led the team in rookie scoring with 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) and was the only freshman that played in all 42 games.

With the goaltending situation as uncertain as it, the defense will be relied upon to aid the young netminders in their adjustment to the rigors of the collegiate game. And with the defensive corps returning nearly intact, that won’t be a problem. Like their forward lines, the Eagles are also incredibly deep on the blueline. Senior and team captain Mike Brennan and junior offensive defenseman Brett Motherwell leads the superb defensive group.

The Eagles have just one addition to their blueline and what an addition it is. The highly touted Nick Petrecki is a 2007 first round draft selection of the San Jose Sharks.

"Nick is a big, strong kid who is a very good skater for his size," Brown said. "He plays more of a prototypical pro game. He’s physical, moves well and makes excellent first passes that ‘s hard and on the tape. I think that’s what Nick is going to bring to our team. He’s steady and hard to play against. He reads the play well and we expect that he’ll be contributing a lot this year."

Boston University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 9)

2006-07 was certainly an interesting year to say the least for Boston University. If you looked at it from a defensive standpoint, it was a terrific year. If you looked at it from offensive standpoint, it was a terrible year. Regardless of how the previous season was viewed, that was then and this is now. Boston University has a lot to look forward to when they open their 87th season on Oct. 12 in Anchorage, AK facing off against Wayne State in the Nye Frontier Classic.

Boston University lost six players to graduation and none were bigger than that of All-American and Hobey Baker finalist John Curry (PIT). The netminder from Shorewood, MN was the backbone of a miserly Boston University defense that allowed just 2.00 goals per game last season, tying them for second in the nation and in Hockey East. In 36 appearances last season, Curry went 17-10-8 and posted a nation-best seven shutouts.

While the loss of Curry will be felt, the Terriers have a pair of very good returning netminders in senior Karson Gillespie and sophomore Brett Bennett (PHX) that should eventually stabilize Boston University’s goaltending situation. Between the two of them they played just over 243 minutes last season. But as head coach Jack Parker explains, he and the team have a lot of confidence in their tandem coming into the season, despite their lack of playing time.

"We think that our two returning goaltenders who have not had a lot of chances to shine as of yet are very, very capable guys that will be able to fill John’s shoes. I don’t think that it’s as a big of a question mark as it might look like on paper because we know how good these two guys are. I think both Brett and Karson will get a chance to play quite a bit in the early going here. We’ll rotate them for sure to start off with and give both of them the opportunity to become the number one guy. But frankly, we hope that both are playing well enough to keep it for a while. There’s no question that both of them can be the number one guys but we’d like them to be 1 and 1A, so to speak."

Though some will point to the Terriers goaltending being the main issue coming into the season, the bigger concern that Boston University wants to address is the lack of offensive production last season. For a team that is traditionally loaded with high-end talent, particularly upfront, it was quite unusual to see them struggle as much as they did to put the biscuit in the basket. The Terriers averaged a mere 2.54 goals per game. Amongst Hockey East’s top five teams last season, Boston University was the only one that did not break the 100-goal plateau. Furthermore, the Terriers only had three players – senior Peter MacArthur, junior Chris Higgins and the now-departed Kenny Roche that posted 10 or more goals last season. With most of their forward lines returning this season and an excellent group coming in, Boston University should see a significant rise in their offensive production this season.

One returning players that will certainly give the Terriers a significant boost, particularly on the power play, is junior Brandon Yip (COL). The Maple Ridge, BC native battled ankle and shoulder injuries last season that limited him to just 18 games and 11 points (five goals, six assists. With a healthy Yip returning, Boston University is expecting some big things from him this season.

In addition to the depth up front returning, the Terriers will also welcome a quartet of incoming forwards as well. The one player to watch is Colin Wilson.

The son of former NHLer Cary Wilson is a centerman that has many in the scouting community buzzing. The younger Wilson is expected to be a top ten pick in the 2008 NHL Draft and is widely considered the top current collegian eligible. As Parker explains, Wilson will be able to fulfill and/or strengthen many of Boston University’s needs at the center position.

"We drastically needed another centerman and Wilson will fulfill that role for us. He takes pride in being able to make his linemates better. I think he’ll create for his linemates and help them out. He’ll probably be playing with a couple of upperclassmen that are proven goal scorers, so he’ll get the opportunity to set them up. Wilson looks more to set up plays before he looks for his own goals. I think that’s something that we’ll try and get out of him. To tell you the truth, we want Colin to look for his own shot as well. He’s a very, very good centerman that makes the people around him better."

Another position that the Terriers also look quite strong coming into the season is on the blueline. Despite the loss of top defensemen Kevin Schaeffer and Sean Sullivan (PHX) to graduation, they return a stellar group led by outstanding junior Matt Gilroy.

Adding to the defensive corps mix will be a pair of excellent Colorado Avalanche-drafted newcomers Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen. Shattenkirk, who is the younger brother of former Princeton standout Keith Shattenkirk, is a superbly gifted offensive defenseman who is very good in transition. Cohen, like Shattenkirk is also a defenseman blessed with tremendous offensive skill and is also noted for his great stick.

University of Maine

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 6)

For the second consecutive year, the University of Maine earned a trip to the Frozen Four. While they earned the trip thanks to a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament East Regional, where they defeated St. Cloud State and UMass, they struggled coming into post-season play and nearly missed getting an NCAA Tournament bid. But getting to the Frozen Four and coming home empty two years in a row is a trend that the Black Bears are going to look to reverse when they open their 2007-08 season Oct. 12 at Denver in a rematch of the 2004 National Championship game participants.

Despite their struggles in the latter stages of the regular season, Maine actually enjoyed a very good year. Coming into this season however, the Black Bears return with some significant personnel changes.

The one area they won’t have to worry about is in goal. The tandem of junior Ben Bishop (STL) and sophomore Dave Wilson both return. There had been speculation that Bishop would sign with the Blues, but much to the relief of the Maine hockey community that didn’t happen. Bishop appeared in 34 games last season posting a 21-9-2 record that included three shutouts. His 2.14 goals against average ranked eighth in the nation while his .923 save percentage ranked tied for ninth.

After battling a groin problem late last season, Bishop came back strong for the Black Bears, and helped guide them all the way to the Frozen Four. Now with the start of the regular season around the corner, Bishop may be out of action again after suffering a leg injury last week in practice. His status for the season opener is unknown.

The Maine blueline returns nearly intact. The biggest loss was that of Mike Lundin (TB), who graduated. Senior team captain Travis Ramsey will anchor the Black Bears defensive corps that is shaping up to be quite a force this season.

One returning defenseman that has blossomed into a more rounded player last season was junior Matt Duffy (FLA). Usually known for his imposing presence and strong work ethic, Duffy began to show that he could score some goals when called upon as well, especially on the power play. Nowhere was this more evident than in the NCAA Tournament East Regional final, where his clutch power play goal against UMass sealed a victory and propelled the Black Bears back to the Frozen Four. The Windham, ME native appeared in 39 games and posted ten points (five goals, five assists). All five of his goals came on the power play.

The most significant off-season changes for Maine occurred upfront, which is certain to have a huge impact on the offensive production. The Black Bears lost seven of their top ten scorers from last season. Hockey East Rookie of the Year, Teddy Purcell opted to forego the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with Los Angeles. The other six players all graduated. Senior Billy Ryan (NYR) returns as the team’s scorer with 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists).

Two areas where Maine was excellent were on offense and special teams, specifically the power play. The Black Bears averaged 3.33 goals per game last season, which ranked 12th in the nation. But where Maine was absolutely deadly was on the man-advantage. The Black Bears possessed the nation’s top power play that clicked at an astonishing 25.4 percent efficiency. In addition, the penalty kill clicked at just under 86 percent, which ranked 16th in the nation.

While the outstanding penalty killing looks to be back in place again this season, the large number of offensive producers lost will affect the overall team offense and nowhere will it be felt more than on the power play. The departures accounted for a whopping 70 percent of Maine’s power-play goals. So while the big concern is replacing the offense, the bigger one may be trying to replace that many power play goals.

The large number of departures also means that Maine will be considerably younger upfront and re-establishing line combinations will be a difficult task to say the least. Joining the returning group are seven incoming freshmen. The one player to watch is Robby Dee. The 2005 draft selection of the Edmonton Oilers is a smooth skating winger that can get shots to the net. Dee’s great scoring capabilities will help to replenish some of the offense that Maine lost in the offseason as well.

University of Massachusetts

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 5)

The 2006-07 season was one to remember for UMass. The Minutemen finished fourth in Hockey East and earned their first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. While UMass wants to continue to build on the successes of last season, they know that this year’s team will be quite different from last year’s. It’ll also be a very difficult road that they’ll have to travel. The Minutemen open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 12 at Clarkson in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament East Regional semi-final game.

The Minutemen lost several players in the off-season and by far the most significant loss was that of outstanding goaltender Jon Quick, who opted to forego the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the Los Angeles Kings. The Hamden, CT native was the backbone of a very good UMass defense last season that ranked ninth in the nation allowing just 2.33 goals per game. Quick posted a 19-12-5 record that included three shutouts. His 9.29 save percentage ranked fifth in the nation while his 2.16 goals against average ranked tied for 11th.

With the loss of Quick, the starting job will fall to sophomore Danny Meyers. The Voorhees, NJ native served as a competent backup to Quick, despite only five appearances. As head coach Don Cahoon explains, while the goaltending situation will some need time, he feels confident that it will be rock solid again.

"The question that remains is who will replace Jon Quick because of the importance of that position and the quality of his play. We think that we recruited over the last two years to ensure that we have some depth at that position, but it’s always unknown until you get into game situations. We have got three people, including Danny Meyers, with good athletic ability that are going to compete for the spot. Danny has the benefit of being a part of the program last year and seeing how Jon handled his responsibilities. When Danny was called upon to contribute, he did a pretty good job. I think Danny understands the rigors and the difficulty of college hockey and he prepared himself for this year."

Another big off-season hit that UMass took on defense was the loss of top defenseman Mark Matheson (NSH). The versatile Matheson, who played both at forward and defense last season, led all UMass blueliners in scoring with 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists). His 13 goals led the team. Though the loss of Matheson is significant, the Minutemen will have a superb group of returning blueliners that should help to solidify the team’s defensive side.

Sophomore Justin Braun returns after having excellent rookie season. The 2007 draft selection of the San Jose Sharks, led UMass in rookie scoring 14 points (four goals, ten assists). He became a very solid contributor in both even strength and special team situations. Braun’s stellar season also earned him a selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.

Junior John Wessbecker (TB) made great strides in his development last season. He played in all but one game last season and did an effective job of shutting down many of the top opposing forwards. The Victoria, MN native also posted his first career goal when he notched the game winner in the opening match versus Maine in the Hockey East quarterfinals. The goal was also his only point of the season.

The UMass forward lines suffered a number of losses. Top-scoring forwards Chris Capraro, Matt Anderson and Kevin Jarman have all graduated. While several other players transferred, including Sam D’Agostino, who will be playing for UMass-Lowell in the fall of 2008.

Senior P.J. Fenton (SJ) will lead the "Mass Attack" upfront this season. Fenton is coming off of a strong junior campaign that saw him play a more balanced role on the team, playing effectively on both sides of the puck. He finished the year with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) and was one of the seven players to play in all 39 games.

With a very good, experienced group returning and a nice infusion of promising newcomers, Cahoon stresses that the greatest challenge that his squad faces as team this season is just paying attention to the details and not getting complacent.

"It’s about getting the team to pay attention to details and not to think that just because we have a veteran defense that we’re necessarily going to be real solid defensive team. We have to pay attention to what we’re doing on both sides of the puck. We have to develop a special teams unit that executes because they have to pay attention to every nuance of each area of the power play and not just say that we’ve got experienced people and that we’ve done this before. It’s more than that. You need to be down there and paying attention to the details. If we do those things, then we’ll get better as a team throughout the season and then maybe we can enjoy some success when it matters most."

University of Massachusetts-Lowell

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 1)

For UMass-Lowell, the start of their 2007-08 season, which opens on Oct. 19 at UMass, cannot come soon enough. The RiverHawks ninth-place finish in Hockey East last season paled in comparison to the tumultuous off-season that they’ve had to endure. Between an off-ice incident involving head coach Blaise MacDonald and nearly having the program fold because of financial issues with Tsongas Arena, UMass-Lowell is eager to get things rolling with the new season fast approaching.

The RiverHawks face many challenges coming into the season, not the least of which is their massive youth movement. UMass-Lowell features just three upperclassmen on their roster this season in defenseman Kelly Sullivan, and forwards Mike Potacco and Mark Roebothan. With such a young team the leadership of the three aforementioned players will be crucial to UMass-Lowell’s success this season.

One area that the RiverHawks struggled in last season was offensive production.     UMass-Lowell ranked 57th in the nation in team offense, averaging just 2.06 goals per game. Their 74 totals goals tied them with American International for the second fewest in the nation. Furthermore, the RiverHawks only had two players on their roster last season that tallied 10 or more goals and one of them has graduated. The good news for UMass-Lowell is the fact that they return seven of their top 10 scorers from last season.

Two players who’ll be leading the offensive charge for UMass-Lowell this season are top-notch sophomores Kory Falite and Chris Auger (CHI). Falite returns as the team’s top scorer after posting 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) last season. Auger, the lone NHL prospect on the RiverHawks roster, is coming off of a very good rookie year that saw him play in 34 games and notch 12 points (two goals, 10 assists). The two, along with the returning group will have to find a way to try and fill the large holes left by graduates Jason Tejchma, Jeremy Hall, Todd Fletcher and Rene Gauthier.

The RiverHawks will also welcome several newcomers that should also help their cause. The one player to watch is winger Scott Campbell. The Navan, ON native captained the Pembroke Lumber Kings (CJHL) to the Fred Page Cup Championship after posting 107 points (53 goals, 54 assists) last season. Campbell brings a wonderful combination of size, mobility and a knack for scoring timely goals to UMass-Lowell.

UMass-Lowell suffered perhaps their greatest losses on the blueline. Top scoring defenseman Cleve Kinley, along with J.R. Bria and Jake Pence have all graduated. The senior Sullivan will anchor the UMass-Lowell blueline that will have the daunting task of replacing three very good defensemen. Kinley, who also provided much of the team’s offense from the blueline as well as quarterbacking their power play, will be the most difficult of the three to replace.

The likely player to fill much of Kinley’s role is sophomore Jeremy Dehner. The diminutive Madison, WI native led all RiverHawks defensemen in scoring last season with 16 points (three goals, 13 assists). His 13 assists also co-led the team. Of Dehner’s three goals, two came on the power play.

Goaltending was one area where UMass-Lowell was quite good last season, despite having only eight wins to show for it. The exceedingly youthful RiverHawks will have their sophomore tandem of Nevin Hamilton and Carter Hutton back. Hamilton fared better of the two netminders. He appeared in 14 games and posted a record of 4-6-1 with an impressive three shutouts. His counterpart Hutton appeared in 19 games posting a record of 3-10-5 that included one shutout.

Merrimack College

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 0)

Measuring success and improvements for Hockey East’s perennial cellar dwellers to a certain extent can’t be done in the same manner as that of many of their conference counterparts. So whatever accomplishments, no matter how minute they maybe, are positives to build on. Last season, the Warriors actually had a few of them. Now Merrimack will be looking to continue the building process when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 12 hosting CHA foe Niagara.

One area where the Warriors were quite good was in goal. Jim Healey and Patrick Watson gave Merrimack some stability, which helped them to not only stay competitive but also limited the number of goals allowed in many games. The bad news is Healey has graduated. But the return of the junior netminder Watson along with the return of sophomore Andrew Braithwaite will give Merrimack some much needed experience on the defensive side. Though Watson only posted two wins, one came by shutout. He also posted a respectable 3.17 goals against average.

The stability in goal will be crucial to the Warriors this season, particularly early on, with the off-season changes that have taken place on the blueline. The always-reliable Ryan Sullivan, along with defensive partner Brian Boulay both graduated. While Brock Wilson and Jordan Hart both opted to forego the remainder of their collegiate eligibility to turn pro. Wilson is now with the ECHL‘s Stockton Thunder, while Hart is with the ECHL‘s Utah Grizzlies. The losses hurt the Warriors from the standpoint that they lose both leadership and experience. It also means that the blueline will be extremely young but also sizable this season. The only upperclassman on defense is UMass-Lowell transfer junior Grant Farrell, who did not play with the team last season due to NCAA transfer rules. While Farrell may be able to provide some leadership eventually, he follows a tough act in Sullivan. The now-departed Sullivan was the cornerstone of the Merrimack defense. His strong leadership, tireless work ethic and calming presence brought stability and cohesion to the defensive corps.

Among the defensemen playing for the Warriors this season are two newcomers. Adam Ross, who comes to Merrimack from the Olds Grizzlies of the AJHL, is an imposing defenseman who will add size and toughness to the blueline. Fraser Allan is a very good two-way defenseman also with good size who played for the Melfort Mustangs of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League last season.

The greatest challenge facing Merrimack this season is increasing their offensive production. The Warriors ranked dead last in the nation in both team offense and power play. Merrimack averaged a dismal 1.09 goals per game last season. Their 37 total goals were by far the fewest in the nation. The Warriors power play didn’t fare any better, clicking at just 8.0 percent. Niagara’s Ted Cook and North Dakota’s Ryan Duncan each scored more power play goals individually than the entire Merrimack team did. Compounding matters is the fact that the Warriors also lost two of their top four scorers when Matt Byrnes and Mike Alexiou graduated.

However, the news wasn’t all bad for Merrimack. The sophomore line of Pat Kimball, J.C. Robitaille and Matt Jones return this season. The three were the most productive players last season, accounting for one quarter of the team’s scoring. Kimball led the team with 11 points (five goals, six assists). Robitaille returns as the top scorer on the power play after posting all three of his goals on the man-advantage.

The Warriors offense should also get a boost from the return of Rob Ricci, who sat out all of last season due to injury.

University of New Hampshire

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 7)

The old saying goes like this. It’s not how you start that matters most, it’s how you finish. For the University of New Hampshire those words rang true last year. After wrapping up the Hockey East regular season title, the wheels seemed to have fallen off of the Wildcats in the post-season. They fell to Boston College in the Hockey East Championship game before being unceremoniously bounced out of the NCAA Tournament Northeast Regional semi-finals by Miami. Now, there is a great sense of excitement leading up to the 2007-08 regular season opener on Oct. 19 at Boston University.

New Hampshire was one of the more balanced teams in the nation last season. The Wildcats were one of only three teams (Clarkson and Notre Dame were the other) that ranked in the top ten in the nation in both team offense and defense. New Hampshire averaged 3.56 goals per game offensively, which ranked tied for fifth. Defensively, they allowed an average of just 2.28 goals, which ranked seventh.

With the off-season changes that have occurred, the offensive numbers will certainly be impacted. New Hampshire lost four forwards to graduation in Jacob Micflikier, Josh Ciocco, Brett Hemingway (COL) and Shawn Vinz. In addition, they also lost top-scorer Trevor Smith, who opted to forego his final two years of eligibility to sign with the New York Islanders. For the Wildcats, the losses mean that three of their top five scorers are gone. The returning top scorer is senior Matt Fornataro. The Calgary, AB native, who will serve as team captain, finished second on the team with 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists).

In addition to returning a strong group upfront, New Hampshire will also bring in a stellar group of six forwards.

Aside from Wisconsin’s Kyle Turris, no incoming player’s arrival has generated as much anticipation as that of instinctive power forward James vanRiemsdyk. The second overall pick in this summer’s draft by the Flyers was one of the most heavily recruited players coming out of the USNTDP. At least a half a dozen schools across the country, including the Ivies, were after the Middletown, NJ native. As head coach Dick Umile explains, his rookie sensation will bring many things to New Hampshire and the team is absolutely elated that he chose to come to Durham.

"Well, James is someone that has proven that he can do it all. He’s a big, strong kid who can skate, score goals and help create scoring opportunities. I think that his (USNTDP) experience is going to help him with the fact that when he comes in here early in the season he’s going to be well adjusted. There’s no question that we’re very happy that James chose UNH. It’s all about these recruits finding the right match and they want to go to a top hockey program and go to a school that they’re very comfortable with the size and location. Obviously James felt very comfortable with UNH. Academically, it’s a school that he knows that he can be challenged as well as be challenged as a hockey player. So we’re excited that he’s here."

Along with vanRiemsdyk, two other forwards to watch are Phil DeSimone and Danny Vranek. DeSimone, a 2007 NHL draft pick of the Washington Capitals, is a superb skating centerman with great playmaking ability. The diminutive Vranek, who hails from New Port Richey, FLA, will remind New Hampshire fans a little bit of Jacob Micflikier. Vranek possesses speed, quickness and is very creative with the puck.

While the New Hampshire offense went through some changes, the defensive side of the team remains nearly intact. The only loss was that of defenseman Chris Murray, who graduated. Senior assistant captain Craig Switzer (NSH) will anchor a very experienced returning defensive corps. The Peachland, BC native has developed into one of New Hampshire’s steadiest and most reliable defenseman. He finished last season with 17points (three goals, 14 assists) playing in all 39 games.

One of, if the not strongest area for the Wildcats this season will be in goal. New Hampshire will have one of the nation’s best tandems between the pipes this season. Senior Kevin Regan (BOS) and sophomore Brian Foster (FLA), both return after sensational previous seasons. Regan, who carried the bulk of the load last season, posted a 24-9-2 record that included three shutouts. His excellent .935 save percentage was the best in the nation, while his 2.01 goals against average ranked fifth. Not to be outdone was Foster. The Pembroke, NH native saw action in seven games. He posted a 2-2-0 record with both of his wins being shutouts.

Northeastern University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 2)

Last season, the Northeastern Huskies proved that they had a lot more bite than bark. Despite a seventh place finish in Hockey East, the Huskies came to play on most nights. There were a number of positives that came out of last season that Northeastern hopes to build on when they open their 2007-08 on Oct. 19 hosting Providence.

The Huskies went through a number of personnel changes in the offseason. Most of the changes occurred on the forward lines. Northeastern lost six players to graduation, the most notable of which was Mike Morris (SJ). In spite of the losses, the Huskies return most of their top point producers, including three of their top four scorers. Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection Chad Costello led the team in scoring last season with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists).

Though Northeastern does return much of their top point producers, the team needs to find a way to generate more offense, specifically goals this season. The Huskies ranked 51st in the nation in team offense last season, averaging just 2.33 goals per game. Furthermore, Costello was the lone player on the Northeastern roster last season that notched 10 or more goals. Equally as bad, if not worse was the Huskies power play. Northeastern had a 10.9 percent efficiency rating on the man-advantage last season. In addition, they surrendered seven shorthanded tallies.

One returning player that enjoyed a very good season was junior Joe Vitale (PIT). The St. Louis, MO native made his presence felt almost every time he was on the ice. Vitale’s ultra-aggressive style, much-improved defensive zone play and work ethic served Northeastern quite well last season. One area where it was particularly evident was in penalty killing. Vitale finished his sophomore campaign fourth on the team in scoring with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists).

While offensive production is an area of concern coming into this season, the Huskies defense doesn’t look to be.

One of the best feel good stories coming out of Hockey East last season was the emergence of goaltender Brad Thiessen. The Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection got his chance between the pipes early on in the season and never looked back. The confidence and consistency that he brought to Northeastern’s goaltending position translated into outstanding defensive and penalty killing numbers. The Aldergrove, BC native posted an 11-17-5 record that included four shutouts in 33 appearances. He also posted a sparkling 2.48 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. What makes those numbers even more amazing is the fact that Thiessen faced an average of 31.5 shots per game last season.

The Huskies defense allowed just 2.61 goals per game, which ranked 20th in the nation. But where Northeastern proved to be at their very best was on the penalty kill. Their outstanding 86.7 percent efficiency rating ranked them ninth in the nation. They also ranked tied for ninth in the nation with eight shorthanded tallies.

The Northeastern blueline returns this season nearly intact, but the big task will be in filling the roles that stalwarts Steve Birnstill and Brian Deeth leave behind. The two players have both graduated.

Among the group of newcomers to Northeastern this season are four defensemen. The one to keep an eye on is Daniel Nycholat. The tall, slender defenseman from Calgary, AB is the youngest member of Northeastern’s freshman class as well as the brother of Ottawa Senators defenseman Lawrence Nycholat. The younger Nycholat is a very fluid skater that sees the ice remarkably well. In 62 games with the Canmore Eagles (AJHL) last season, he posted 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists).

Providence College

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 6)

The 2006-07 season wasn’t as successful as Providence College had hoped it would be. The early season struggles that the team dealt with would be costly near the end of the season as they finished eighth in Hockey East. The Friars made a late season push before being swept by New Hampshire in the conference quarterfinals. Although Providence will again be relatively young, they’ll also be a more experienced group. The Friars are hoping to turn their fortunes around when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 12 at St. Lawrence.

The biggest problem that plagued Providence last season was offense production. The Friars ranked 56th in the nation in team offense, scoring an average of just  2.11 goals per game. Their 78 total goals were amongst the fewest in Hockey East. Compounding matters for Providence was their anemic power play. With a dismal 9.2 percent efficiency rating, it ranked 58th in the nation. The Friars 16 total power-play goals were the second fewest in the nation and in Hockey East. Only Merrimack scored fewer on the man-advantage.

As head Tim Army explains, generating more offense this season is a top priority for Providence.

"Well, that’s absolutely something that we’re trying to focus on. Now the question is how do we get there? Last year, we found it difficult to score because we were playing catch up so often. We obviously need to be more disciplined early in games without the puck. We need to get our defensemen scoring just as they had been. Although we didn’t score a lot of goals last year, we had more production from our defense last year than we had the year before. That was a real positive. With the experience that we have back and the consistency I’m expecting we’ll have, will help us find ourselves in a better situation offensively going into the season."

Providence graduated five forwards, including top goal-scorer Colin McDonald (EDM), however they do return four of their top five scorers from last season.

The returning player that the Friars are expecting to really step things up this season is senior co-captain Jon Rheault (PHI). Although the Deering, NH native led Providence in scoring with 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists), he struggled to find his groove, especially in the first half.

Another issue that Providence hopes to remedy this season is consistency in goal. After a stellar sophomore campaign, starter Tyler Sims battled through a 7-19-2 junior season. He also saw his save percentage drop to .898. Now going into his senior year, the Friars are hoping that Sims can recapture the magic that he had two years ago.

Despite the loss of Dinos Stamulis to graduation, the blueline looks to be Providence’s strongest position coming into the season. The Friars defensive corps returns nearly intact.

Sophomore Mark Fayne (NJ) is coming off an excellent freshman campaign that saw him post 12 points (five goals, seven assists). His strong two-way play benefited his team in a variety of areas, most notably on special teams. Fayne capped his first year with a selection to the Hockey East All-Team.

In addition to the very solid returning group, Providence will also welcome two outstanding newcomers to their defensive corps in Eric Baier and Joe Lavin. Baier is the younger brother of Brown senior defenseman Paul Baier (LA). The younger Baier, who was originally a Dartmouth recruit, comes to Providence from the EJHL’s New Hampshire Monarchs. Lavin, a 2007 draft selection of the Chicago Blackhawks, holds the distinction of becoming the first player out of the U.S. National Team Development Program to play at Providence. Both players bring size, mobility and an abundance of skill.

Since taking over at Providence College, Army has established a system where his defensemen are very active. As he points out, his two freshmen will fit the mold perfectly.

"I think that Joe and Eric kind of fill that type of defenseman that we’re trying to add and integrate. We encourage our defensemen to be extremely active. I’m a big believer that the better offenses are really initiated by defensemen that can move the puck and add the know-how, intelligence and skating ability to get up into the play. So, I think that Joe and Eric will just further strengthen that because of their speed, size, mobility, intelligence and puck skill that they bring to our hockey club. I’ll push both of these kids hard too because I want to get them up the ice and get them to be a key element to our offensive production."

University of Vermont

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 3)

The University of Vermont was in the thick of the hotly contested Hockey East race for pretty much the duration of the season. The Catamounts finished tied with Maine for fifth in the Hockey East standings. Their season ended after a grueling three-game set against Boston University. Vermont will look to shake things up even more in Hockey East when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 12 at Miami. This is the second consecutive year that the Catamounts will travel to Cady Arena to open their season.

Vermont has developed a reputation as being one of the nation’s stingiest teams. Last season, the Catamounts defense once again ranked amongst the best in the country. Their 2.00 goals against average tied them with Boston University as the best in Hockey East and second in the nation. In addition, Vermont’s penalty kill was equally as good. The Catamounts posted a terrific efficiency rating of just under 89 percent. That ranked third in the nation.

The heart of the Vermont defense is senior netminder Joe Fallon (CHI). The Bemidji, MN native continued posting sensational numbers. He went 17-14-3 last season that included six shutouts. His miniscule 1.86 goals against average ranked second in the nation, while his .920 save percentage ranked tied for 15th. He, along with his counterpart sophomore Mike Spillane return to give Vermont a solid one-two punch between the pipes again this season.

The solid goaltending that the Catamounts will have this season will be crucial in helping to stabilize the team’s much younger and much bigger defensive corps. Vermont lost four defensemen to graduation in Kenny Macaulay, Evan Stoflet, Ryan Gunderson and Art Femenella. While there will be significant holes to fill, particularly in replacing Macaulay and Gunderson, the Catamounts defense should be very good once the necessary adjustments are made. Anchoring the Catamounts blueline this season is outstanding senior captain Mark Lutz. The Stevens Point, WI native appeared in all 39 games last season, posting 14 points (three goals, 11 assists). Lutz is one of Vermont’s most durable players, and his strong, shutdown style has contributed greatly to the stellar defense that has been established.

Joining the returning blueliners this season are four players who bring both size and skill to the Catamounts. The most notable is the behemoth Kyle Medvec. The 2006 draft selection of the Minnesota Wild is a very tall (6’6), lanky two-way defenseman that moves remarkably well for a man of his stature. As head coach Kevin Sneddon explains that while his newcomers do add size, they also bring a lot more to his team as well.

"We’ve been undersized at the defensive position (excluding Art Femenella) and we felt that there were times that we got a little bit pushed around back there. What we wanted to make sure was that if we did increase size that we maintained mobility and skill. We didn’t want to bring in players that just had size and could only hit. Based on the style of play that we want, we want our defensemen very involved in all aspects of the game. They’re all guys that can make the play, can get pucks up to our forwards and can join the rush when it’s appropriate. So we’re very excited about those four young men."

Though the Catamounts were excellent defensively, they struggled to generate offense. Vermont averaged just 2.23 goals per game last season, which ranked 54th in the nation. Their 87 total goals were the lowest amongst the top six teams in Hockey East. With the Catamounts returning nearly all of their top scorers, as well as welcoming in a superb freshman class, their overall offensive production should see a big improvement this season.

A trio of talented juniors in Dean Strong, Peter Lenes and Corey Carlson lead the Catamounts offensive attack. Strong returns as the top scorer after posting 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) last season.

One noticeable name not on this year’s roster sheet is sensational top scorer Torrey Mitchell, who opted to forego his final year of eligibility to sign with the San Jose Sharks. Mitchell led the Catamounts in several categories last season, including points (35), assists (23) and shots (129).

"Obviously, we’re going to miss Torrey Mitchell this year," Sneddon said.  "Losing a player like that who is not only a great leader but also a fantastic player is tough. Torrey was certainly ready and we’re certainly proud of his accomplishment of fulfilling his lifelong dream of signing an NHL contract. We had all anticipated it and were pretty sure that it was going to happen, so we were very prepared for that in our recruiting by not getting blindsided by that signing."

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.