Huskies Even Weekend Series, Defeat Colgate 5-2

By: Justin Littman

BOSTON, MA — After a hard fought battle on Friday night that resulted in Northeastern’s first loss of the season, the Huskies came out energized today. The Huskies put a lot of pressure on goaltender Julia Vandyk early on, and they scored three goals in the first period to set the tone for the night en route to a 5-2 victory. Matti Hartman scored first for the Huskies on a fast break opportunity down the right side. It was her first goal of the season. Andrea Renner and Kasidy Anderson followed suit. Renner was able to sneak one into the net, and then Anderson scored on a point blank opportunity.

Colgate was able to get a lot of shots on goal, but great goaltending by Brittany Bugalski kept a majority of the shots out of the back of the net. Bugalski finished the game with 39 saves, a season high. She stopped 14 of 15 Colgate shots in the first period.

Tired legs appeared to hit the Huskies in the second period. They seemed to play with less energy, and Colgate was able to cut the lead to a goal after a goal by Coralie Larose. The Huskies caught a break at the end of the third, when a crucial turnover in Colgate’s end resulted in a prime scoring opportunity for Veronika Pettey. She made them pay, and put the puck in the back of the net to push the Northeastern lead back out to two with just a minute remaining in the second period.

This goal energized the Huskies, and they controlled the third period. Matti Hartman scored another goal for good measure, and Northeastern skated to the finish line with ease. The Huskies move to 2-1-1 on the season, and will prepare for Maine next Friday.

Colgate outlasts women’s hockey 3-2 in opener

By: Matt Neiser

Hockey is a game of inches sometimes, and that has never been more apparent than it was during tonight’s matchup between the Northeastern and Colgate women’s hockey teams. A frantic comeback from the Huskies fell short after two near misses, one sitting right on the line of the goal and the other pinging off the crossbar, refused to find their way into the back of the net.

The game started inauspiciously for the Huskies, as an early shot by Jessie Eldridge (3) snuck by goaltender Aerin Frankel less than two minutes into the game, giving the Raiders a 1-0 lead. From there, most of the first period was dominated by Colgate, whose defense shone throughout the gamy by blocking shots and preventing the Huskies from any sort of sustained offensive attack.

In a bad case of deja vu, the Raiders again scored just over a minute into the second period through Eleri MacKay (1). Down 2-0, the Huskies finally found a foothold in the game, sustaining some decent attacking for much of the frame. With just over two minutes to go, senior Kasidy Anderson (3) slotted a shot home on the break, reducing the deficit to one.

A hectic third period saw Colgate widen the lead to 3-1 off the stick of Malia Schneider (1) halfway through, only to be matched by Veronika Pettey’s third of the season three minutes later. What ensued was an offensive onslaught from Northeastern, putting everything into finding an equalizer. Anderson showed her true ability during this stretch, weaving around players and firing dangerous shots on net (including the two mentioned above). Try as they might, the Huskies were unable to hit paydirt and the game ended 2-2.

The two teams meet again tomorrow, 10/13, at 3 P.M. as Northeastern will look to avenge tonight’s loss. Justin Littman and Mack Krell will be on the call.

Men’s hockey rallies to win opener at Sacred Heart, 5-2

by Matthew MacCormack

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. —

It didn’t look good for the Northeastern men’s hockey team after two periods of Friday night’s season opener against Sacred Heart at Walter Brown Arena.

The Huskies trailed, 2-1, to a Pioneers team that lost by a combined 14-3 tally in last year’s two-game series at Matthews Arena in Boston. Northeastern was 0 for 5 on the power play; especially troubling for a team that ranked second in the country in Power Play Points a season ago. To make matters worse, Sacred Heart’s Mike Lee had scored a shorthanded goal on one of those power plays to seize the lead for the Pioneers.

Everything changed seven seconds into the third period, when redshirt senior forward Brandon Hawkins buried a feed from classmate Liam Pecararo to give Northeastern an equalizer. From there, the Huskies rolled, scoring four unanswered goals in the third period to seize a decisive 5-2 victory to open the season. Five different players scored for the Huskies.

“I liked how we stayed to our game-plan even though we were down 2-1” said head coach Jim Madigan after the game.

“We’re gonna be in a lot of these games this year, up a goal, down a goal going into the 3rd period, and as a team we gotta find a way to win.”

Matt Tugnutt scored the first goal for Sacred Heart.

Freshman Tyler Madden — a third-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks who comes to Northeastern by way of the USHL — scored his first collegiate goal in his first game in black and red. The Huskies are working hard to replace the high-scoring trio of Hobey Baker winner Adam Gaudette, Dylan Sikura and Nolan Stevens, who powered the Huskies’ offense last season.

Northeastern is back in action on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Webster Bank Arena, against Sacred Heart once again.

Hockey East Preview: Vermont Catamounts

0146985f69a40a2d4993aeea2b76e298-300x300Coach: Kevin Sneddon (16th Season)

Last Season: 10-20-7 (6-12-6 Hockey East, 9th)

Additions: D Carter Long, D Andrew Petrillo, F Nic Hamre, F Joey Cipollone, F Johnny DeRoche, F Dallas Comeau

Losses: F Travis Blanleil, F Jarrid Privitera, F Rob Darrar, F Anthony Petruzzelli, F Drew Best, F Ross Colton, D Trey Phillips

Projected Finish: 10th

By Patrick Milne

After a lack luster season 10-20-7 season , the Vermont Catamounts look to make improvements in the 2018-19 season and get back to being in the top half of the Hockey East standings. While it will be a challenge for them to be among the top contenders like BU, BC, and Providence, the young Catamount team, which had 12 freshmen on it last year, should see some noticeable improvements after gaining some much-needed experience. Vermont will also have junior goalie Stefanos Lekkas between the pipes, who, despite not being the best goalie spastically last year, is a very capable goaltender. Still, it is yet to be seen if seasoned coach Kevin Sneddon will be able to take the Catamounts into a top 5 position in the standings, having finished no better than 6th in the past nine years.

Last year Vermont got off to a very slow start, winning only 4 of their first 23 games. This can be attributed to the inexperience of the squad, having graduated a large portion of their team the year before. However, the Catamounts did see some improvements down the stretch in mid-January and into February, winning games against UMass Lowell, Merrimack, UNH, and UMass Amherst and playing a couple of tight games against BU and Northeastern. While the Catamounts did lose some senior players as well as their top goal scorer Ross Colton, I would expect the Catamounts will be able to pick up where they left off last season and will not be the pushover team that they were at the beginning of last year.

Heading into this year, UVM will need to continue to come together as a team in order to be successful. Unlike other teams who have a top few players that are relied upon heavily, the Catamounts will need different players to make big plays for them on any given night. This offense by committee style was seen last year as well, with only eight points separating the top point getter and the sixth point getter. In comparison, last year 43 points separated Adam Gaudette (1st in points for Northeastern) and Brandon Hawkins (6th in points for Northeastern). Still, Vermont will need a drastic change in their offensive production if they want to be successful, finishing last in Hockey East with 2.14 goals per game last year.

Defensively it is no different for UVM. They will have to do a much better job with their team defense and limiting the shots on their goaltender. Last year, goaltender Stefanos Lekkas made 1049 saves, the most of any goalie in Hockey East. As a result, they gave up 3.03 goals per game, good for second to last. While the Coach Sneddon was able to bring in six new faces, I do not expect any of the incoming freshmen to be super impactful. However, a couple of the new recruits show some promise, especially Dallas Comeau, who had 69 points in 60 games last year in the American Junior Hockey League and John DeRoche, who put up 62 points in 50 games in the National Collegiate Development Conference. While those are impressive stats, as last year’s freshmen learned, there is a big difference between junior hockey and college hockey in Hockey East. Still, with the young team a year older now, I would expect to see some moderate improvements in both these areas as the twelve sophomores now know exactly what to expect when playing in Hockey East.

Bottom Line: The University of Vermont Catamounts will definitely be a tougher team to play against then they were last year, but they will need some drastic improvements in order to be a real competitor to the top teams in the league. They have gained some much-needed experience and should have better chemistry as a team heading into this year. Moreover, Vermont will continue to be very team focused and will need everyone to buy into their offensive and defensive systems. They will especially have to do better at relieving the pressure on their goalie if they want to be able to stay competitive in close games.

Hockey East Preview: Providence Friars

skt friar with prov on topCoach: Nate Leaman (8th Season)

Last Season: 24-12-4 (13-7-4 Hockey East, 3rd Regular Season, 2nd Hockey East Championship), Frozen Four Quarterfinalists

Additions: D Michael Callahan, D Carl Ehrnberg, D Luke Johnson, D Luke Perunovich, F Matthew Allen, F Ryan Brushett, F Jack Dugan, F Parker Ford, F Mikael Hakkarainen, F Jerry Harding, F Matt Koopman, F John McDermott, F Jonny Mulera, F Jay O’Brien, F Riley Prattson

Losses: F Bailey Conger, D Tommy Davis, F Brian Pinho, F Alex Cromwell, F Robbie Hennessey, G Jake Beaton, D Truman Reed, F Erik Foley

Projected Finish: 2nd

By Patrick Milne

Coming off another very successful season, the Friars look to continue their trend as being one of the main competitors in Hockey East as well as in the nation. Over the past six years under the tutelage of coach nate Leaman, the Friars have been in the top five in hockey east every year and won a national championship in 2015. In fact, much of their success can be attributed to the coaching of Leaman and his ability to develop players to create a team that buys into the system that Leaman implements. While the team lost a couple of their most productive offensive players, the incoming class brings a lot of promise for immediate and long-term success. Plus, with Hayden Hawkey, one the best goaltenders in college hockey, going in to his senior year, Providence seems poised to be one of the teams to fear in Hockey East and capable of making a deep run into the Frozen Four.

Last year, the Providence Friars posted an outstanding 24-12-4 record and were the runner ups at the Hockey East Championship. Much of their success came from their impressive defense, which only allowed 85 goals all season, tied for 5th in the nation, and an 85.4% penalty kill percentage. A lot of Providence’s defensive prowess can be attributed to the consistent reliability of net minder Hayden Hawkey. Hawkey played in all 40 games for the Friars posting an impressive 2.04 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. Yet while Hawkey is without a doubt one of the key players on this team, he does rely heavily on his supporting defenders. For instance, despite starting 40 games (3rd in the nation), Hawkey only had to make 891 saves (24th in the nation). This stark discrepancy exemplifies the defensive minded team that Nate Leaman has created at Providence. This disciplined, stalwart defense combined with an offensive that can quickly counter attack with speedy goal scorers like Erik Foley (graduated), Josh Wilkins (Junior), and Kasper Bjorkqvist (Junior) made Providence a very difficult team to play against, especially for the strong offensive teams like Northeastern. It was this defensive minded combination that got Providence to the quarterfinals of the Frozen Four before bowing out to the runner ups, Notre Dame.

Heading into this year, the Friars have a lot of potential new faces despite to replace the eight players they lost. The most notable players who have moved on include Erik Foley (15 G, 17 A), Brian Pinho (11 G, 19 A), and Tommy Davis (1 G, 10 A). Foley and Pinho both had obvious impacts on the team offensively and both had a +13 plus minus. Defenseman Tommy Davis was one of the back bones of Providence’s defense, playing in 38 games with a +17 plus minus (2nd on the team). While losing these players does hurt the Friars, there are plenty of capable players to pick up the slack. It is expected that the Junior class of Brandon Duhaime, Josh Wilkins, Vimal Sukumaran and Kasper Bjorkqvist will provide most of the scoring along with senior Scott Conway. Defensively the Friars will lean heavily on senior Vincent Desharnais, juniors Jacob Bryson and Spencer Young, and sophomore Ben Mirageas, who were the top shot blockers last year. Of course, it goes without saying that senior goalie Hayden Hawkey will be the backbone of this team and will be relied upon heavily.

In terms of new faces, Providence has recruited a large Freshman class that should be able to come in and contribute immediately. The most exciting recruit is the 6’0″, 174lb 18-year-old forward, who was drafted in the first-round (19th overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers, out of Jay O’Brien. O’Brien, who was born and raised in Hingham Massachusetts, played at Thayer Academy last year, racking up 80 points in 30 games. The Friers also added two other players taken in the 2018 draft in forward Mikael Hakkarainen and defenseman Michael Callahan. Callahan, the 6’2″, 196lb Franklin Massachusetts native, was drafted 142nd by the Arizona Coyotes and spent time in the USHL with the Central Illinois Flying Aces and the Youngstown Phantoms. Hakkarainen, who was born in Finland and stands 6’0″ 194lbs, was drafted 139th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks. Hakkarainen spent the past two years in the USHL playing mostly for the Muskegon Lumberjacks, tallying 15 goals and 31 assists in 36 games last year. With these big-name additions, along with plenty of other young players for Leaman to develop, the future looks very bright for the Friars.

Bottom Line: Going into the 2018-19 season, the Providence Friars are absolutely contenders in Hockey East and have a chance to end there 22-year Hockey East Championship drought, dating back to 1996. While this will not be an easy accomplishment with BU, BC, Northeastern, and UMass Lowell looking just as capable as them, they have the right pieces to make a run. If they are able to be as stingy defensively as they were last year, keep Hayden Hawkey healthy, and get some offensive production from expected Freshman phenom Jay O’Brien, the Friars will be a very dangerous and capable team.

Hockey East Preview: UNH Wildcats

unh-logoHead Coach: Mike Souza (1st season)

Last Season: 10-20-6 (5-14-5 Hockey East); Lost to Maine in the Hockey East Tournament First Round

Key Losses: G Danny Tirone, F Michael McNicholas, D Cameron Marks

Newcomers: F Joseph Cipollone (Purchase, NY), F Angus Crookshank (North Vancouver, BC), F Filip Engaras (Stockholm, Sweden), F Eric Esposito (West Haven, Conn.), F Jackson Pierson (Zionsville, Ind.), D Drew Hickey (New Canaan, Conn.), D Will MacKinnon (Plymoth, Michigan), D Ryan Verrier (Reading, Mass.), G Ty Taylor (Richmond, B.C.)

Projected Finish: 9th

By Mack Krell

The University of New Hampshire Men’s Hockey team enters the 2018-19 season looking to improve on a .361 winning percentage in 2017-18. They will look to do this with a new head coach as Coach Mike Souza takes hold of the reigns. However, he will be without the Wildcats record-breaking goalie Danny Tirone, who graduated this past May.

After coming in last place in Hockey East in the 2017-18 season, The Wildcats season ended early in the Hockey East tournament when they lost in consecutive games to Maine. Between the two games, they were outscored 7-3. The Wildcats were only able to win the 5 conference games they did because of the play of two important seniors,  Tirone and forward Michael McNicholas.

Each of these players will be deeply missed by this UNH squad. Tirone broke the school’s all time records in multiple categories, including games played and career saves. He also holds the Hockey East Tournament record for career saves with 544 saves during the tournament. He has created large shoes to fill by incoming goalie Mike Robinson, a sophomore already drafted by the San Jose Sharks.

In addition to losing their netminder, the Wildcats will also be without their leading points scorer, Michael McNicholas. During his senior season, McNicholas led the team in assists and points with 19 and 24, respectively. The Wildcats will be without a leader on the other end of the ice as well, defenseman Cameron Marks. Marks led the team with 62 blocked shots.

Having lost core seniors at each position, the Wildcats will turn to rising senior forward Ara Nazarian to be the leader on this team. He will be joined by a cast of young talented players. Nazarian last season was awarded the team award for best offensive player. He finished last season with 9 goals and 13 assists, and will have to do even more this season for the Wildcats to improve on their 10 win season from last year.

Nazarian will be joined as a leader of the team by rising junior defenseman Anthony Wyse, who was awarded the team’s award for best defenseman last season. In the 2017-18 season he stacked the score sheet with five goals, three assists, and 40 blocked shots. Even as a junior, he will be looked at to be a leader on the defensive end of the ice for the Wildcats.

These team leaders will be joined by a cast of freshmen looking to make their mark on the team. One of those players is defenseman Will MacKinnon, who Coach Souza is excited to have on the team. Souza said about MacKinnon, “He is a strong defenseman that can move the puck. He will bring character to our team on and off the ice.” Along with his fellow freshmen, MacKinnon will look to make an immediate impact.

Bottom Line: The Wildcats finished the 2017-18 season at the base of the mountain in Hockey East. The only choice they have is to try to climb the steep mountain and see what they can hold onto. With a new coach in Mike Souza, and a team that has nowhere to go but up, the Wildcats will look to throw everything they have into this season. If Coach Souza can get his players to focus on the fundamentals and not getting down when things get tough, they have the chance to create some upsets in Hockey East and gain some momentum.

Hockey East Preview: Merrimack Warriors

merrimackCoach: Scott Borek–1st season (0-0-0)

Last Season: 12-21-4 (7-15-2 in Hockey East, 10th place); lost to top-seeded Boston College in quarterfinals of Hockey East Tournament

Losses: Aaron Titcomb (D), Marc Biega (D), Jace Hennig (F), Ludvig Larsson (F), Brett Seney (F), Jared Kolquist (D), Mathieu Tibbet (F)

Additions: Ethan DeStefani (F), Jordan Seyfert (F), Chase Gresock (F), Chase Olsen (F), Logan Drevitch (F), August Von Ungern-Sternberg (F), Christian Simeone (F), Tyler Heidt (D)

Projected Finish: 11th

by Justin Littman

After a couple of seasons competing among the middle of the pack in Hockey East, last year was a disappointing return to the bottom for Merrimack. The Warriors finished 10th in the conference, and ultimately lost to Boston College in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament. This poor result ended up costing head coach Mark Dennehy his job. Dennehy, who took the job as a rebuilding project 13 seasons ago, had not seen his Warriors advance beyond the Hockey East quarterfinals since an NCAA Tournament berth in 2011.

Stepping into the head coaching role is Scott Borek, who spent the last 16 seasons as an associate head coach. Borek will be tasked with a similar challenge that Dennehy faced 13 years prior, looking to build this program from the ground up. The Preseason Coaches’ poll has the Warriors finishing last in Hockey East, and this season figures to have a strong emphasis on growth and development.

Merrimack will have to find a way to make up for lost production. Their top three points leaders from last season (Seney, Hennig, Kolquist) were lost to graduation, along with defenseman Marc Biega. Additionally, leading goal-scorer Ludvig Larsson chose to transfer to Penn State. For a team that already finished at the bottom of the conference last season, moving up in the standings will be a steep hill to climb.

This team will rely heavily on Johnathan Kovacevic and Alex Carle to hold down the line defensively. Kovacevic, a prospect of the Winnipeg Jets, was one of Merrimack’s top defensemen last season, and will be relied on heavily for a team that has more questions than answers at goalie. Junior forward Sami Tavernier is the top returning scorer for the Warriors, and he will be asked to take on a bigger offensive role alongside Logan Coomes and Cole McBride. The Warriors add seven freshmen forwards to this roster, where there will be plenty of opportunity to make an impact.

Bottom Line:

The Warriors struggled last season, and have lost many of their top forwards and defensemen since. With a new head coach, the emphasis this season will be on establishing a culture, and growing this program for years to come. In the short-term, this team has very few established options, and they return zero double-digit goal scorers from last season. Aside from the seniors, losing Ludvig Larsson to transfer was a big blow this team could hardly afford. They lack offensive options, and goaltending remains a significant question. Merrimack will need a lot of things to break right in order to finish anywhere outside the bottom tier of Hockey East.

Hockey East Preview: UMass Lowell

UMASS-2NDARY-LOGO-UMLRHCoach: Norm Bazin–8th season (168-87-21)

Last Season: 17-19-0 (11-13-0 in Hockey East, 7th place); lost to 10th-seeded Merrimack in first round of Hockey East Tournament

Losses: Tommy Panico (D), Chris Forney (D), Tyler Mueller (D), Jake Kamrass (F), Ryan Collins (F), John Edwardh (F)

Additions: Dominick Procopio (D), Sam Knoblauch (F), Chase Blackmun (D), Jon McDonald (D), Austin O’Rourke (F), Reid Stefanson (F), Cale List (D), Michael Dill (F), Lucas Condotta (F), Nolan Sawchuk (D), Seth Barton (D), Eric Green (G)

Projected Finish: 7th

by Milton Posner

Last season was a difficult one for UMass Lowell’s men’s hockey team. With all the members of their 2014 Hockey East championship team finally gone, the River Hawks posted their first losing record in six seasons (their lowest winning percentage during that span was .615). They limped into the Hockey East Tournament as the seventh seed and were quickly eliminated in the first round by 10th-seeded Merrimack College, their longtime rival.

The primary reason for their lackluster play was the disparity between their offense and defense. Lowell’s offense ranked sixth in the 11-team conference with a respectable 2.83 goals per game. They also logged a solid 19.1 power play percentage, good for fifth in Hockey East. But it was defense that doomed the River Hawks. They tied for last in Hockey East in scoring defense, allowing 3.12 goals per game. That imbalance makes this year’s roster turnover a worrisome development for coach Norm Bazin’s squad.

Four of the River Hawks’ seven leaders in points (Tommy Panico, Chris Forney, John Edwardh and Tyler Mueller) graduated. Their departure makes offense–which kept Lowell from the bottom of the standings–more difficult. To overcome this exodus, the River Hawks will have to rely in large part on their mob of incoming freshman.

A few players stand out among the dozen first-years, ten of whom stand taller than six feet. Seth Barton, labeled a four-star recruit by Neutral Zone, is a third-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings. Goalie Eric Green posted a 1.75 goals against average and a .941 save percentage during his senior year of high school at Northfield Mount Hermon. Dominick Procopio was the third-leading scoring defenseman in the North American Hockey League and was the South Division’s Defenseman of the Year. Reid Stefanson, another Neutral-Zone-labeled four-star recruit, can play all three forward positions. How they adjust to the rigors of college hockey will prove pivotal in the team’s fate.

Bottom Line: UMass Lowell had a difficult season last year, one in which their middling offense shone in comparison to their poor defense. With several key players graduating and a crowd of mostly unproven freshmen replacing them, the River Hawks’ outlook for the 2018-19 season isn’t too bright. With Hockey East adopting a new tournament format–the top eight seeds make the tournament instead of all 11–Lowell will likely be right on the bubble come March. If they make the tournament at all, expect a swift first round exit at the hands of a conference championship contender.

Hockey East Preview: UMass Minutemen

umassHead Coach: Greg Carvel – 3rd season (22-49-4)

Last Season: 17-20-2 (9-13-2 in HE, 8th); Lost to Northeastern in HE Quarterfinals

Losses: Austin Albrecht (F), Josh Couturier (D), Jake Horton (D), Griff Jeszka (F), Austin Plevy (F), Niko Rufo (F), Jack Suter (F), Eetu Torpstrom (D), Ryan Wischow (G),

Additions: Anthony Del Gaizo (F), Marc Del Gaizo (D), Ty Farmer (D), Colin Felix (D),  Bobby Kaiser (F), Fille Lindberg (G), Jacob Pritchard (F – Graduate Transfer), Bobby Trivigno (F), Kolby Vegara (D)

Projected Finish: 6th

by Matt MacCormack

It looks like there might be something brewing out in Amherst. The Minutemen haven’t posted a winning record in Hockey East in 11 years, but with a bevy of young talent returning from last year’s squad, it looks like that streak could come to an end in 2018-19.

Coach Greg Carvel’s second season at the helm went much better than his first, with the Minutemen posting a 12-win improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18: one of the biggest turnarounds in Division 1 hockey. While the Minutemen weren’t a conference threat — they finished 8th in Hockey East and bowed out of the Hockey East Quarterfinals in two games to Northeastern — several young players, especially in a loaded sophomore class, got vital experience along the way that should pay dividends this season.

The Minutemen return four of their top five scorers, headlined by Amherst native John Leonard, a 6th round pick by the San Jose Sharks in the NHL Entry draft. The sharpshooting sophomore lefty had 13 goals and 15 assists in his freshman season, and is poised to pump those numbers up significantly. He’s joined up front by a terrific trio of sophomores — Mitchell Chaffee, Oliver Chau and Jake Gaudet. Those three combined to be UMass’ most prolific line last season, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be even better in their second seasons of college hockey.

At the blue line, UMass will be led by another pair of sophomores in Cale Makar and Mario Ferrero, who were taken 4th and 49th overall, respectively, in the NHL Entry Draft.  Makar registered five goals and 16 assists, and Ferrero posted four scores and a team-leading 19 assists. Both players made the Hockey East All-Rookie team last year.

Sophomore goalie Matt Murray returns in between the pipes after he registered the lowest goals against average (2.70) by a UMass goaltender since 2008-09.

One area the Minutemen must improve in is the power play; UMass was dead last in the conference in power play conversion percentage last season.

Bottom Line: Long the butt of many Hockey East jokes, it seems the time has come for UMass to vault themselves into the conversation as a legitimate conference threat. The powerful sophomore class has a chance to be special, and a top-half finish certainly isn’t out of the question for the Minutemen. Improving the power play will go a long way in helping continue Carvel’s turnaround of the UMass program.

Hockey East Preview: UConn Huskies

uconnHead Coach: Mike Cavanaugh; 6th season

Last Season: 15-19-2 (11-12-1 in HE, 5th); Lost in Hockey East Quarterfinals to Boston University

Losses: F Max Letunov, F Spencer Naas, F Corey Ronan, F Jesse Schwartz, F Jeff Wight, F Kasperi Ojantakanen, D Derek Pratt, D, David Drake, D Johnny Austin, D Joe Masonius

Additions: F Ruslan Iskhakov, F Jáchym Kondelík, F Kale Howarth, F Jordan Timmons, F Cart Furnbull, D Corson Green, D Roman Kinal, D Ryan Wheeler, G Tomas Vomacka

Projected Finish: 8th

by Christian Skroce

After several years of slow improvement under head coach Mike Cavanaugh, the University of Connecticut Huskies seemed to finally find their place in Hockey East last season. In the program’s fourth season in the conference, UConn made its biggest leap, winning seven games in a row to finish the season fifth in the conference standings. As a result, the Huskies earned a bye in the first round of the Hockey East tournament — making it to the Hockey East Quarterfinals for the first time in the school’s history — before ultimately falling to Boston University.

While UConn might have finally found its key to success in Hockey East last season, head coach Mike Cavanaugh will still face several obstacles, primarily a large turnover between last year’s squad to this year’s team. When the Huskies suit up for the first time to try to improve upon last season’s run, they’ll do so with several new faces. UConn graduated nine seniors this offseason, all of whom contributed to the program’s best season in Hockey East. The team also lost defenseman Joe Masonius (2 goals and 14 assists) and forward Max Letunov (12 goals and 16 assists), who led the team in points and assists last season. Both players decided to forgo their senior seasons and head to the NHL.

Despite losing several key players this offseason, the Huskies should have few reasons to panic, as Cavanaugh will bring in a 12-player recruiting class this season that ranks second in the nation. The talented class is headlined by Russian-born forward Ruslan Iskhakov, a 2018 second round NHL draft pick. The 18-year-old will figure to be a focal point of UConn’s attack this season, as his elite speed should cause problems for Hockey East defenses. In addition, Iskhakov comes to a Huskies team that already has a strong Russian connection, which should make the transition much easier. Joining Iskhakov in this freshman class are seven other forwards, including fellow draft picks Jáchym Kondelík and Kale Howarth. Both players will look to use their size (Kondelík at 6-6 and Howarth at 6-5) to add a great deal of physicality to the speed Iskhakov will bring.

The biggest weakness in this UCONN team will most likely be on the defensive end, which finished middle of the pack in Hockey East last season. While the three blue-liners from this freshman class will add nice depth to the unit, the team lacks a true superstar defensive player, which could ultimately be its downfall against the elite offensive units of Hockey East. The saving grace for this unit however comes between the pipes, as UConn’s goaltending will certainly take a step forward this season. The team returns junior goalie Adam Huska, who finished fifth in Hockey East last season with a save percentage of 0.916. The Huskies also add freshman Tomas Vomacka, a fifth round 2018 NHL draft pick. Despite being incredibly raw, Vomacka adds a lot of pure talent to the goaltending unit and serves to be a solid backup for Huska this season as he learns more about the college game.

Bottom Line:

The Huskies improved their attack this offseason, but the payoff might not come until the second half of this upcoming season. Losing 11 contributing players means there will be a lot of growing pains for this new group, as the number two ranked class in the country will most likely spend the first few months of the season gettin acclimated to the speed and physicality of Hockey East. Although it might be another middle tier finish for the Huskies this season, expect this program to compete for a top four finish in the near future, and eventually, a Hockey East title.