BU won a share of the Hockey East regular-season title Saturday night. (WEEI.com)

BU won a share of the Hockey East regular-season title Saturday night. (WEEI.com)

For the first time in Hockey East history, three teams will split the regular-season championship. Boston University beat Notre Dame 4-1 at Agganis Arena Saturday night to finish the campaign tied with Boston College and UMass Lowell at the top of the standings.

BC had the clearest path to the title entering the season’s final weekend, but the Eagles got swept by Lowell in a home-and-home series, losing 4-1 in Chestnut Hill Thursday and 3-1 in Lowell Friday. That moved the River Hawks into a tie with BC at 29 points apiece and opened the door for both BU and Notre Dame to get in on the action.

Notre Dame beat BU 3-1 Friday night to move to 28 points, putting the Fighting Irish in position to win the title outright — in their final season in the league — if they could complete the sweep Saturday. BU, sitting at 27 points entering Saturday’s finale, had other ideas.

After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, the Terriers got a pair of goals from Kieffer Bellows and John MacLeod in the second to take a 2-1 lead. Then they made it 3-1 early in the third when Clayton Keller tipped in Dante Fabbro’s shot from the point. Keller scored again with 3:30 to go on a nice snipe over Cal Petersen’s glove for his team-leading 19th goal of the season.

While BU, BC and Lowell will share the regular-season title and all get to call themselves champions, Lowell will be the top seed for the Hockey East tournament due to tiebreakers, with BU the second seed and BC third. BC also split the regular-season title last year (with Providence), while BU last won the regular-season crown in 2015 and Lowell in 2013.

Those three, along with fourth-seeded Notre Dame, will get first-round byes and host best-of-three quarterfinal series in two weeks. The conference tournament opens next weekend with best-of-three series between seeds five through 12, with the matchups as follows:

(12) UMass at (5) Providence
(11) Maine at (6) Vermont
(10) New Hampshire at (7) Merrimack
(9) UConn at (8) Northeastern

Regardless of what happens in the Hockey East tourney, Lowell and BU are both in good shape when it comes to making NCAAs, as they are currently sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Pairwise rankings used to determine the 16-team field.

Providence is also in a pretty good spot at 11, while Notre Dame is sitting right on the bubble at 15. Vermont, BC and Northeastern are on the outside looking in at 18, 20 and 23, respectively, and each of them probably needs to win the Hockey East tournament to make it. BC, sunk by a poor out-of-conference record and brutal 0-5-2 stretch to close out the regular season, could become the first team to win the Hockey East regular-season title and miss NCAAs.

************************

In the ECAC, Harvard beat St. Lawrence 6-3 Saturday to win a share of the ECAC regular-season championship, its first since 1994. Bruins prospect Ryan Donato scored his team-leading 17th and 18th goals of the season and also had two assists.

Harvard entered the night one point behind Union, but Union tied Cornell Saturday to give the Crimson an opening. Harvard wins the seeding tiebreaker and will be the top seed in the ECAC tournament. It will host a best-of-three quarterfinal series in two weeks.

The Crimson, who have the best winning percentage in the country, are already a lock to make NCAAs and have a great shot at getting one of the four one-seeds, as they are currently third in the Pairwise.

Union, Cornell and St. Lawrence get the other three opening-round byes in the ECAC. The best-of-three first-round matchups are as follows:

(12) Brown at (5) Quinnipiac
(11) Rensselaer at (6) Clarkson
(10) Colgate at (7) Princeton
(9) Dartmouth at (8) Yale

Blog Author: 
Scott McLaughlin

Good morning, here is your Tuesday Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories and scores from our news wire.

It has been well documented how much Boston University and Boston College have dominated the Beanpot, and thus the college hockey scene in Boston. The Hockey East schools boast two of the best programs in the nation, and their strength in the tournament has reflected that.

The word “legacy” might be overused in sports, but the group at Harvard this season might be creating just that. On Monday night, it was the Crimson that brought home the Beanpot title for the first time since 1993. While the victory is certainly historic, it also reflects a changing of the guard in college hockey.

“For that senior class, they want to be the group that broke the curse and leave a legacy,” said Crimson head coach Ted Donato. “They did that.”

Both BU and BC should be heading toward the national tournament, but it might be Harvard that has the best shot at success there.

“Our group felt like it was their night and they were willing to work to make sure it was their night,” said Donato. “It’s been a long time coming and I’m very happy for these guys.”

Donato, who won a Beanpot championship with Harvard in 1989 as a player, has been coaching Harvard since 2004, and it’s been a rocky road for a team that has produced plenty of talent, but hasn’t found much tournament or postseason success.

“I didn’t think it was going to take 13 years, I’ll tell you that much,” he said.

Now on an eight-game winning streak and ranked third in the PairWise, this is a Harvard team that is a force to be reckoned with.

In the program’s first season post-Jimmy Vesey, the Crimson have still found a way to get great production from its lineup through a combination of senior leadership and emerging freshmen.

With the third-ranked offense in the nation, averaging just over four goals per game, it’s no surprise to see the Crimson put a six on the scoreboard, even against a strong defensive team like BU.

The Harvard group is a close-knit bunch, as evidenced by how they spread the puck around; five different goal-scorers contributed to the six-goal night.

There are eight seniors on the Harvard roster, including Hobey Baker candidate Alexander Kerfoot, who scored in both Beanpot games. He, along with the rest of his class, hadn’t played a Beanpot night game before Monday.

“You think about it leading up to games like this and after games like this,” said  Kerfoot. “You hear a lot about the history and are proud to be part of the history, but going into games, you need to treat it like it’s any other game.”

There’s still a long way for Harvard to go; they haven’t won an NCAA tournament game or an ECAC regular-season title since 1994. But if there was ever a team to make a championship run, it could very well be this Crimson crew.

“This is a group that has really tackled making sure that our culture was right, had great leadership,” Donato said. “I think this was something they really wanted. They wanted to leave that legacy, that they were going to break the curse, so to speak. I’m happy for them.”

Now with a Beanpot title, its a feather in the cap of the Donato-led Harvard team, and they aren’t taking it lightly.

“These guys might not choose to talk about it much but I think they really wanted to win this Beanpot,” Donato said.

Blog Author: 
Marisa Ingemi
Harvard celebrates its first Beanpot since 1993. (WEEI.com)

Harvard celebrates its first Beanpot since 1993. (WEEI.com)

Finally. For the first time in 24 years, someone other than Boston University or Boston College has won the Beanpot. Harvard beat BU 6-3 Monday night to capture its first Beanpot title since 1993 and end a drought that was older than all but one player on its current roster.

It was supposed to be a heavyweight bout between two top-five teams, but instead the Crimson dominated all night, minus a brief hiccup early in the second period. The Crimson outshot BU 18-2 in the first period and went on to finish with a 46-17 advantage, as they continuously generated possession, pressure and chances, drawing five power plays, including two extended 5-on-3s, along the way.

The one point in the game when the Terriers showed some life was early in the second period, when they turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead with a pair of goals three minutes apart. But the Crimson weren’t deterred. They went right back to work and found themselves in control once again by the second intermission.

Harvard began to reset itself with some good shifts after BU’s second goal, then tied the game with 9:14 left in the second on a beautiful through-the-legs tip by Luke Esposito on a slap pass from Clay Anderson.

The Crimson once again assumed the driver’s seat and regained the lead with 1:06 left in the frame after some sloppy play by BU. Following a bad Terrier turnover in the neutral zone, defenseman John Marino led a rush into the BU zone and dropped a pass for Nathan Krusko. That shot was blocked, but the puck went right to Marino, who then centered a pass that deflected to Krusko for the easy finish and his second goal of the game.

BU’s Dante Fabbro took a penalty on the same play Krusko scored, then Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy took a bad penalty late in the period when he stuck his foot out and tripped Alexander Kerfoot as Kerfoot cut inside him. The Crimson made BU pay, scoring their second 5-on-3 goal of the game 31 seconds into the third. Tyler Moy hit Kerfoot with a cross-crease pass and while Jake Oettinger made a great save on Kerfoot’s first try, Kerfoot was able to jam in the loose puck.

Bruins prospect Ryan Donato made it 5-2 Harvard with 7:13 to go when he made a great play cutting past two BU defenders before beating Oettinger for his 16th goal of the season. Clayton Keller scored his second goal of the game 33 seconds later to cut the lead to 5-3, but that was as close as BU would get. Adam Fox added an empty-netter with 1:50 to go.

The first period set the tone for the game, as it was all Crimson. Harvard outshot the Terriers 18-2 in the frame and out-attempted them 33-4. A big part of that was the fact that the Crimson got three power plays in the period, but they were dominating even before that. Their early pressure forced BU to burn its timeout just 9:05 into the game after back-to-back icings.

Harvard’s power plays all came in a six-minute stretch beginning at the 10:53 mark, including an extended 5-on-3 on which it scored. The Crimson moved the puck well on their first two power plays, but couldn’t score.

Then they caught a break when McAvoy got called for boarding on a clean hit on Donato that only looked bad because Donato was already off balance before the hit. Harvard took advantage when a Sean Malone shot squeaked behind Oettinger just enough for Krusko to scrape the puck off Oettinger and knock it in.

The second period got off to a much more promising start for BU, as Jordan Greenway drew a penalty 52 seconds into the period on a hard drive to the net. The Terriers took advantage of their first power play of the game, as Brandon Hickey found Bobo Carpenter for a redirect in the slot that led to a juicy rebound for Kieffer Bellows to bury.

The Terriers, while still getting nearly quadrupled in shots on goal, then took the lead three minutes later when Keller scored on a pretty deflection of John MacLeod’s shot from the point. But the Crimson weren’t going to let BU hold onto the momentum. What could’ve been a turning point in the Terriers’ favor wound up being just a blip on the radar as Harvard cruised to its 11th Beanpot title and denied BU its 31st.

Blog Author: 
Scott McLaughlin
BU's Clayton Keller has 11 goals and 14 assists during a 15-game point streak. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

BU’s Clayton Keller has 11 goals and 14 assists during a 15-game point streak. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Boston hockey fans may be familiar with Bruins prospects Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Ryan Fitzgerald, but in Monday night’s Beanpot semifinal between Boston University and Boston College, it was an Arizona Coyotes prospect who stole the spotlight.

Clayton Keller, the seventh overall selection in the 2016 NHL draft, extended his point streak to 15 games in the Terriers’ 3-1 win over BC, the third win of the year for BU over its archrival. He has 11 goals and 14 assists during the streak.

Keller’s streak ties current Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo for the most consecutive games with a point in BU history. Keller, who scored his fourth shorthanded goal of the season on Monday night, is also one man-down tally shy from tying Pandolfo’s shortie record.

Keller’s scoring streak also passed Jack Eichel, who had points in 14 straight games in 2009. Any time a player is mentioned in the same breath as Eichel, especially one who plays on Comm Ave, it’s worth noting.

“It’s pretty cool, but it’s something I’m not worrying about,” said Keller. “The most important thing for me and my team is just getting ready for the next game. It’s pretty cool to do that, but not really paying attention to it.”

All in all, the freshman forward is leading BU on what might be a special run.

“He’s such a threat out there,” BU head coach David Quinn said after the game. “He’s got such great instincts and when you’re on a power play and you have him coming at you, I think you get a little nervous.”

The BU center missed a stretch in the middle of the season with a knee injury after falling awkwardly into the boards against Northeastern and didn’t return to the lineup until a December series at Vermont. With the injury in mind, there are only two games all season Keller has played in where he hasn’t tallied a point; the third game of the season at Denver and a late October matchup against Quinnipiac.

In games Keller has played this season, the Terriers are 14-4-1.

Keller gained national attention in the World Junior Championships at the end of December, when he was a key factor in the United States’ gold medal-winning run. He, along with five BU teammates, helped lead the Americans to a shootout win over Canada in the final.

Since then, Keller and his WJC teammates have led BU on an 11-2 run.

Keller’s goal on Monday night to advance BU to the Beanpot final vs. Harvard was a momentum changer; BC had earned itself a power-play chance just minutes after cutting the Terrier lead to 2-1. With a chance to steal momentum, a McAvoy pass found Keller in space and he beat his US national teammate and Eagles goalie Joseph Woll.

“Joe Woll is a guy that I’ve played with ever since I was about 10 years old,” Keller said. “I know about his game a little bit.”

McAvoy’s pass at center ice was a reminder of the chemistry between the USA teammates, and two NHL first-round draft picks from this past June.

“Charlie made a great play and found me breaking on the breakaway,” said Keller.

“Clayton’s really good on breakaways when he’s pressured, but not as much when he has time,” said Quinn. “I felt good because I knew he had a guy chasing him, he’s been pretty good on breakaways when he has that.”

Since joining the Terriers, Keller has become a leader on the ice in more ways than just as a scorer. He won a puck battle along the blue line to end an Eagles power play chance and earn the Terriers a power play themselves. His 30 points lead the team in what is already a freshman-heavy roster, but he has gone even above and beyond the rest of his class.

It’s that kind of compete level that Quinn is looking for out of his team.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a guy who has the hand-eye coordination that he has,” said Quinn. “He’s just so dangerous killing penalties, that was his fourth or fifth shorthanded of the year.”

Now Keller and his teammates have one more game against Harvard to win a Beanpot title, and it’s his and the rest of the freshman class’ first taste of the local tournament.

“It’s pretty special, especially playing Boston College, and the atmosphere, it’s pretty close to the World Juniors,” said Keller. “It was great to get the win and now we’re focused on Friday and the next game on Monday.”

Keller has a chance to don the Garden ice once more this season following the Beanpot, if the Terriers were to advance to the Hockey East semifinals. After that? Don’t be surprised to see him as a Bruins opponent in a Coyotes sweater.

Blog Author: 
Marisa Ingemi
Harvard University has been roiled by a controversy involving its men's soccer team. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Harvard University has been roiled by a controversy involving its men’s soccer team. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Harvard University on Thursday canceled the rest of its men’s soccer season after discovering that players have been compiling online documents rating the women’s team on physical appearance and sexual attractiveness since 2012.

Harvard president Drew Faust announced the news.

“I was deeply distressed to learn that the appalling actions of the 2012 men’s soccer team were not isolated to one year or the actions of a few individuals, but appear to have been more wide-spread across the team and have continued beyond 2012, including in the current season,” she said in a statement.

The Harvard Crimson reported last week the existence of a Google document, written in 2012 by unidentified members of the men’s team, rating freshmen women’s players on their looks and perceived sexual abilities, in graphic terms. Six of those women, who still play soccer at Harvard, wrote an op-ed in the Crimson on Saturday entitled, “Stronger Together,” that took their classmates to task.

The school launched an investigation and discovered the ratings system was not a one-time occurrence, but in fact continued into this season.

Athletic director Robert Scalise e-mailed students on Thursday informing them of the harsh discipline.

“We strongly believe that this immediate and significant action is absolutely necessary if we are to create an environment of mutual support, respect, and trust among our students and our teams,” he wrote. “As we move forward, Harvard Athletics will partner with the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and other Harvard College resources to take additional steps to further educate the members of our men’s soccer team, and all of our student-athletes, about the seriousness of these behaviors and the general standard of respect and conduct that is expected. Harvard Athletics has zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”

The Crimson are 10-3-2 and have won six straight, but they have withdrawn themselves from consideration for the Ivy League title or postseason play.

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

Maybe Providence coach Ed Cooley has his bulletin board material?

And perhaps the Friars also have a lot of work to do before the season gets started next month. Both thoughts figure prominently into Cooley’s sixth team at Providence College for the 2016-17 season.

With Big East media day taking place at Madison Square Garden in New York on Tuesday, the Friars were selected ninth out of the 10 league teams in the preseason vote of the coaches. Of course, when you lose two NBA draft picks (Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil) from your roster, a rebuild is to be expected.

The Friars do have four players with starting experience returning (Kyron Cartwright, Rodney Bullock, Jalen Lindsey, Ryan Fazekas), but the Big East coaches have favored the teams with league-wide stars, and perhaps that’s the smart play for the start.

But each year in the first five seasons under Cooley, Providence has finished higher than selected by the coaches in the preseason.

Defending national champion Villanova, with preseason Player of the Year Josh Hart, is the overwhelming choice to defend its conference crown, with Xavier receiving the only other first-place vote (coaches can’t vote for their own teams). Creighton, Georgetown and Seton Hall round out the top five.

The first-team preseason All-Big East squad includes Villanova’s Hart and Kris Jenkins — who hit the shot against North Carolina to win the national title in April — Xavier guards Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner, Butler forward Kelan Martin and Creighton guard Maurice Watson (a Boston University transfer).

The second team includes DePaul guard Billy Garrett Jr., Marquette center Luke Fischer, Seton Hall’s Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado, and Georgetown forward Isaac Copeland. Honorable mention honors were received by Creighton newcomer Marcus Foster, Georgetown’s L.J. Peak and Villanova sophomore guard Jalen Brunson. No Friar made the preseason All-Big East teams.

St. John’s freshman guard Shamorie Ponds was selected as the preseason Freshman of the Year, coming from Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School where he was a consensus four-star recruit and the New York State Player of the Year in 2015-16.

Providence will begin its quest for a school-record fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Nov. 14 against Vermont. All regular-season and postseason games will be broadcast on 103.7 WEEI-FM. PC’s only exhibition game also will be held at the Dunk, on Oct. 29 against Carleton University of Canada.

BIG EAST MEN’S PRESEASON POLL 2016-17

1. Villanova
2. Xavier
3. Creighton
4. (tie) Georgetown
4. (tie) Seton Hall
6. Butler
7. Marquette
8. St. John’s
9. Providence
10. DePaul

Blog Author: 
John Rooke

The third-ranked team in the country had far too much fire-power for Boston College Friday night.

Heisman Trophy hopeful Deshaun Watson threw for four touchdowns and was 14-of-24 for 267 yards to lead No. 3 Clemson to a 56-10 win over the Eagles Friday night at Alumni Stadium.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Boston College

Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) catches a touchdown over the defense of Boston College Eagles defensive back Gabriel McClary (14) during the first quarter at Alumni Stadium. (Stew Milne/USA Today Sports)

The third-ranked team in the country had far too much fire-power for Boston College Friday night.

Heisman Trophy hopeful Deshaun Watson threw for four touchdowns and was 14-of-24 for 267 yards to lead No. 3 Clemson to a 56-10 win over the Eagles Friday night at Alumni Stadium.

The 56 points were the most ever allowed by Steve Addazio in his coaching career and came just two weeks after suffering a 49-0 shutout to Virginia Tech.

Boston College (3-3, 0-3 ACC) came out inspired for their annual Welles Crowther “Red Bandanna” game, a tribute to the 1999 graduate who was a hero during the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City.

The Eagles took a brief 3-0 lead when Clemson fumbled a punt at their 9. John Johnson recovered. The Eagles could not punch it in and had to settle for a Mike Knoll 21-yard field goal just under four minutes into the game.

But Clemson took over the first half and the rest of the game from there. The Tigers used a pair of big plays to score three touchdowns before the half. Wayne Gallman ran it in from 59 yards to give Clemson the lead for good. Later in the first quarter, Watson connected with Mike Williams for a 50-yard play. That set up a Watson-to-Williams touchdown pass of nine yards.

The Tigers wrapped up their 21-point first quarter when Jordan Leggett hauled in a 56-yard score.

Clemson added a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter when Deon Cain caught touchdown passes of 29 and 16 yards from Watson.

Boston College collected their only touchdown when fullback Bobby Wolford caught a one-yard pass from Patrick Towles with 27 seconds left in the third quarter. Clemson’s Tyshon Dye continued the scoring when he ran it in from three yards early in the fourth quarter.  Running back Tavien Feaster added to the scoring with three minutes left on a 45-yard touchdown run.

Towles completed just 11-of-22 passes for 91 yards. Towles was pulled in the midway through the fourth for Darius Wade. The BC backup threw a pick-6 to Mark Fields, who returned it 42 yards for a score with two minutes left for the final score.  Watson was pulled by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney midway through the fourth quarter.

The Eagles lost their 11th straight ACC game, dating back to a 28-7 win over Syracuse on Nov. 29, 2014. After a bye next weekend, the Eagles will have another chance to end the ACC skid at home on Oct. 22 when they play Syracuse again.

 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Clayton Keller was one of four BU players selected in the first round of this year's NHL draft. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Clayton Keller was one of four BU players selected in the first round of this year’s NHL draft. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox are back in the playoffs and Tom Brady is back on the field, but I think I speak for all Boston sports fans when I say that the return we’re most excited about is that of college hockey. No? Whatever. Here’s a Hockey East season preview, power rankings style.

1. Boston University
Before we get into the reasons to be excited about this BU team, it’s worth pointing out that the Terriers actually do lose a lot from last season, including three of their top four forwards and top defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. They lost 53.1 percent of their points, which is the second-highest mark in the league behind only Providence. Now, onto the excitement. The biggest reason so many people, including myself, are picking them to win Hockey East is that they have what is easily the best freshman class in the country. Forwards Clayton Keller (7th overall, Coyotes) and Kieffer Bellows (19th overall, Islanders) and defenseman Dante Fabbro (17th overall, Predators) were all first-round picks this past summer, defenseman Chad Krys (2nd round, Blackhawks) and forward Patrick Harper (5th round, Predators) were also drafted, and goaltender Jake Oettinger is projected to be a first- or second-round pick next summer. (By the way, those freshmen scored nine of BU’s 10 goals in a blowout exhibition win over the University of Prince Edward Island on Saturday.) Fabbro and Krys join four other drafted defensemen on a loaded blue line, with sophomore Charlie McAvoy (1st round, Bruins) and junior Brandon Hickey (3rd round, Flames) leading the way. Up front, look for sophomores Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (2nd round, Bruins) and Jordan Greenway (2nd round, Wild) to set the pace along with Keller and Bellows. The Terriers are clearly the most talented team on paper and they are rightly being considered the favorite to win the league and one of the favorites to win the national championship.

2. UMass Lowell
The River Hawks certainly don’t have the star power of BU, but Norm Bazin’s teams are never loaded with stars and yet they’ve finished in the top four in each of his four seasons behind the bench. With a strong core of returning players, there’s little reason to think anything will change this year. They bring back all six starting defensemen from a unit that was already very good last year, with seniors Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla leading the way and chipping in on offense as well. Up front, the losses of Adam Chapie and A.J. White could hurt, but their top two scorers — junior C.J. Smith and senior Joe Gambardella — are both back. The biggest question will be in goal, where the River Hawks lose Kevin Boyle and his excellent .934 save percentage. But assistant coach Cam Ellsworth is part-wizard when it comes to working with goalies, and this year he’ll have two NHL draft picks at his disposal in freshmen Garrett Metcalf (6th round, Ducks) and Tyler Wall (6th round, Rangers). Sure, this could be the year Lowell doesn’t figure out its goaltending and the team takes a step back, but that seems unlikely.

3. Notre Dame
I’m still not entirely sure why so many Hockey East fans are so eager to get rid of a high-caliber program that brings the league more TV coverage, but they’ll get their wish when the Fighting Irish depart for the Big Ten after this season. Don’t expect them to go quietly, though, because this year’s team looks like an NCAA tournament team that could potentially compete for a league title. Their strength will be on the back end, where they return Sabres draft pick Cal Petersen — whose .927 save percentage is the highest mark among returning goalies — and four starting defensemen, including offensive contributors Jordan Gross and Bobby Nardella. The Irish do lose four double-digit goal-scorers up front, but top point-getters Anders Bjork (5th round, Bruins) and Jake Evans (7th round, Canadiens) are both back, and freshmen Andrew Peeke (2nd round, Blue Jackets) and Cam Morrison (2nd round, Blackhawks) should play key roles right away.

4. Northeastern
Remember that time Northeastern overcame a 1-11-2 start to go 20-1-2 down the stretch and win its first Hockey East title since 1988? That was awesome. Now the Huskies enter the season as the defending league champs and one of the favorites. If there’s one thing we know they’ll do, it’s score. After finishing second in the league in offense last year, they bring back five of their top six scorers in seniors Zach Aston-Reese and John Stevens, juniors Nolan Stevens (5th round, Blues) and Dylan Sikura (6th round, Blackhawks), and sophomore Adam Gaudette (5th round, Canucks), while also adding freshman Matt Filipe (3rd round, Hurricanes) to the mix. There is some uncertainty behind the forwards, though. The Huskies lose four starting defensemen, and while freshmen Ryan Shea (4th round, Blackhawks) and Jeremy Davies (7th round, Devils) will help, the blue line still has to be considered a question mark. In net, sophomore Ryan Ruck was very good for part of Northeastern’s turnaround, but it needs to be noted that he did fall off a bit in the final month and finished the season with a save percentage of just .909.

5. Boston College
The good news is that the defending regular-season champs still have some high-end players at the top of their roster. Senior Ryan Fitzgerald (4th round, Bruins) and sophomore Colin White (1st round, Senators) were two of Hockey East’s top four scorers last season, senior Austin Cangelosi had a breakthrough 20-goal campaign, and defenseman Casey Fitzgerald put up 27 points as a freshman and got drafted by the Sabres in the third round this summer. The bad news is that the Eagles lost seven other high-end players to early departures, including four of their top eight scorers, their top two defensemen and star goalie Thatcher Demko. They bring in a whopping 13 freshmen to help overcome those losses, but while the class is good, it’s not nearly as loaded as previous BC classes that were filled with first- and second-round picks. Joe Woll (3rd round, Maple Leafs) should be a solid replacement for Demko, but only two other members of this class — forwards Graham McPhee (5th round, Oilers) and David Cotton (6th round, Hurricanes) — have even been drafted. It would be foolish to ever dismiss a Jerry York-coached team, but this year’s BC squad may have a tough time competing for the league title.

6. Providence
Nate Leaman is another coach who’s so good that his teams should never be counted out. That said, the Friars return just 40 percent of their scoring from last season, the lowest percentage in the league. Their top four forwards from last year all graduated, as did two of their top four defensemen. On top of that, goalie Nick Ellis, who led the league in save percentage last year, left early to sign with the Oilers. There are still some returning players to be excited about, though, headlined by junior defenseman Jake Walman. The Blues draft pick was arguably the best defenseman in college hockey last year before suffering a season-ending injury in mid-February, and he’ll enter this season as a clear Hobey Baker candidate. Junior Brian Pinho (6th round, Capitals) and sophomore Erik Foley (3rd round, Jets) will lead the effort up front, and sophomore goalie Hayden Hawkey (6th round, Canadiens) will take over the starting job after posting a .940 save percentage in limited minutes last year. The Friars also bring in a pretty strong freshman class, led by forwards Kasper Bjorkvist (2nd round, Penguins) and Brandon Duhaime (4th round, Wild), as well as Penn State transfer Scott Conway, who led the BCHL in scoring last year.

7. UConn
There’s definitely some talent here, led by an impressive sophomore class that features forwards Maxim Letunov (2nd round, originally Blues, now Sharks) and Tage Thompson (1st round, Blues) — who put up 40 and 32 points, respectively, as freshmen — and defensemen Joseph Masonius (6th round, Penguins) and Miles Gendron (3rd round, Senators). The Huskies also add freshman goalie Adam Huska, a Rangers seventh-round pick who was the USHL Goaltender of the Year last season. He’ll be expected to push, and maybe even beat out, senior Rob Nichols, who was basically a league-average goalie last season after slipping a little off his sophomore pace. Once you get past the NHL picks, though, depth still looks like an issue for the Huskies, as only two other returning players had double-digits points last season. They’ll also have to find a way to be a much better possession team, as their 44.6 Corsi-for percentage was the third-worst mark in the league last year.

8. Merrimack
The Warriors are in some ways an inverse of UConn. They’ve been a much better possession team (they had a 52.8 Corsi-for percentage last year), but they don’t have the top-end talent that can make the difference in a close game. Junior Brett Seney (6th round, Devils) and senior Hampus Gustafsson led the team with 26 points apiece last year, and they’ll make for a solid top two centers this year. But the Warriors lost their next three highest-scoring forwards, including their only double-digit goal-scorer, to graduation, and no other returning forward had more than six goals or 13 points. As has generally been the case for Merrimack over the last few years, it’s hard to see where its goals are going to come from. On a positive note, the Warriors’ defense and goaltending should keep them in a lot of games. They return all six starting defensemen from a team that gave up the second-fewest shots per game in the league, and sophomore goalie Drew Vogler, who ran with the starting job down the stretch, is also back after posting a .926 save percentage in 16 games.

9. Vermont
The Catamounts are another positive possession team (53.2 Corsi-for percentage) that struggled mightily to finish their chances last year, as they averaged just 2.15 goals per game, the second-lowest mark in the league. There are reasons to think that number will go up this year, though. Seniors Mario Puskarich and Brady Shaw were the team’s top two shot-takers last season, and they both have a 19-goal season in their past, but they shot just 5.7 and 3.9 percent, respectively, last year and combined for just 14 goals. There’s about a 99 percent chance their shooting percentages will rise, which means their goal totals will too. In addition, the Catamounts add a talented freshman forward in Ross Colton, a fourth-round pick of the Lightning. On the back end, the Catamounts lost their top two defensemen — Alexx Privitera and Yvan Pattyn — to graduation and No. 1 goalie Packy Munson to a transfer to Denver, so there are plenty of question marks there, too. Freshman Jake Massie (6th round, Blackhawks) should help on the blue line. In net, senior Mike Santaguida will look to regain his sophomore form after seeing his save percentage drop from .923 to .913 last year.

10. New Hampshire
Let’s start with the positives. Senior forward Tyler Kelleher is back after ranking second in the league with 1.24 points per game last year, and senior defenseman Matias Cleland, who put up 28 points last season, is one of the more underrated blue-liners in the league. And… that’s about it. Also, it’s a safe bet that Kelleher’s point total will drop after losing linemate Andrew Poturalski, the league’s top scorer, to the Hurricanes. The Wildcats are a bad possession team (44.0 Corsi-for percentage last year), they don’t have much scoring depth, their defense wasn’t very good, goalie Daniel Tirone had his save percentage drop from .924 in half a season as a freshman to .907 as a sophomore, and the freshman class looks underwhelming on paper. The Wildcats should still be better than Maine and UMass, but it really wouldn’t be a surprise if they finished last, which is something we’re certainly not used to saying about a Dick Umile team.

11. Maine
If there’s a reason for optimism for Maine fans, it’s that this year’s freshman class looks promising. It features three NHL draft picks in forwards Chase Pearson (5th round, Red Wings) and Patrick Shea (7th round, Panthers) and defenseman Patrick Holway (6th round, Red Wings). The Black Bears will need those guys to get up to speed quickly because they return the fewest goals and points in the league after ranking last in offense last year, and they also lost top defenseman Dan Renouf to the Red Wings (side note: the Wings really seem to have a thing for Maine players). Goaltending is also a question mark, as senior Matt Morris and sophomore Rob McGovern both fell off a cliff in the second half after getting off to good starts.

12. UMass
New coach Greg Carvel will undoubtedly be an upgrade over John Micheletto, but expectations for Year 1 should be tempered. The Minutemen were bad in every area other than the power play last year and finished the season on an embarrassing 2-21-0 slide. They lose their top two goal-scorers from a year ago, goaltending is still a major question mark, and Carvel could only do so much over the spring and summer to fill out the lackluster recruiting class Micheletto left behind. Carvel is a good coach, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Minutemen move up a spot or two because of that, but he’s not a miracle worker.

Blog Author: 
Scott McLaughlin