Change, you’ve been a comin’ for quite some time. And for Hockey East, you’re finally here.
The biggest change Hockey East has seen, quite possibly in league history, occurs this season with the addition of Notre Dame. A dominant league that has won four of the last six national titles could get even more powerful with the addition of Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish are considered by most to be an emerging national power because of two Frozen Four appearances in recent years, including a loss to Boston College in the national title game in 2008.
And while the addition of one team may not seem like a major change (say, as opposed to the Big Ten and NCHC, two leagues starting from scratch this year), the implications of Notre Dame’s additions will be far-stretching.
Begin with the league schedule. With a 10-team league, Hockey East members played three league contests against each of their nine other members for a 27-game slate. With each NCAA hockey team allowed a 34-game schedule, that required just seven nonleague contests for each coach to schedule.
This season, each of the 11 members will play two games against each of the other 10 teams for 20 league games. Doing the math, each coach needs to schedule 14 nonleague games to reach the maximum of 34 contests.
For some schools, that’s a piece of cake. Boston College and Boston University relish in the extra nonleague contests. When you consider that two of the previous seven nonleague games were allotted to the Beanpot and each team generally played two nonleague games in holiday tournaments, the opportunities to schedule national powers in nonleague play have been few and far between.
While it may be easy for the BCs and BUs to find non-league opponents, it hasn’t been as easy for schools like Maine, Merrimack and Massachusetts. Those three will play Hockey East opponents in nonconference games this season.
According to BC coach Jerry York, the ability to schedule additional nonleague games has to be looked at as an opportunity, not a problem. It also, according to York, has to be used as a way to grow every program.
“It’s the best thing that’s happened to our league in a long time,” York said. “We’ve got to raise up all these Division III schools that play hockey to say, ‘Here’s where we want to be. We want to aspire to be like the Wisconsins, the Minnesotas.’ That type of fan base and that type of emphasis on hockey.
“We’ve done that here at BC. And look at all of a sudden Lowell is the No. 1 team in the country. Providence is having a terrific resurgence. I think the more we need to assimilate the bigger schools — the BCs, the BUs — and not worry about bringing everyone down to [a lower level]. If you can’t host a Big Ten school at your university, work to make your university more conducive to doing that.”
While there may be issues for schools out of conference, the concentrated, 20-game schedule within Hockey East also will make every league game magnified. Take last year’s regular season champion, Massachusetts-Lowell. A season ago, Lowell began the Hockey East season 2-6-1 yet rallied to win the league title in a 27-game league schedule. This season, a slow start could be a death sentence.
“We’ve reduced Hockey East to 20 league contests and in 20 league contests you better not blink too much,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “You might find yourself in a position you don’t want to be in by the end of the season.”
Another change in Hockey East this season impacts the playoffs. For the first time in nearly two decades, every team will make the postseason. The top five teams will earn a first-round bye.
The remaining six teams, though, will not face one another in best-of-three series as many other leagues do in a four-round playoff. Rather, Hockey East’s first-round will be considered a play-in game, a single-elimination, winner-take-all game that will determine the field for the Hockey East quarterfinals.
On the ice, preseason polls already paint a different picture for Hockey East. Lowell is coming off its first regular season and playoff titles. The River Hawks were tied with Boston College as the preseason No. 1 in the Hockey East coaches’ poll and will begin the season a consensus No. 1 in the national polls, a spot the River Hawks have never held.
Three new coaches also will man benches in Hockey East with Notre Dame’s Jeff Jackson joining first-year head coaches David Quinn at BU and Red Gendron at Maine.
This certainly is a brand new day for Hockey East and should be as unpredictable as ever.
Here’s a quick, alphabetical look at Hockey East’s 11 teams (predictions are below). Click on a team’s name to see its full preview.
The Eagles once again will contend for the Hockey East and NCAA titles; only inexperience in goal could hold them back. Read more
Rookie coach David Quinn will need considerable contributions from his rookie skaters to fill the holes on defense and up front. Read more
Expectations likely will be way too high for the Black Bears despite the maturation of last year’s impressive rookie class; home ice appears out of reach. Read more
The Minutemen could finish eighth or perhaps even seventh, but the ceiling for this club seems pretty low. Read more
Based on last year’s performance and limited losses, the River Hawks are the team to beat. Read more
The Warriors came within three points of third place last year and suffered minimal losses, so don’t be surprised if they secure home ice. Read more
Like most of the top teams, the Wildcats could finish first or seventh; the talent is there, but the competition looks tough. Read more
The Huskies missed the playoffs three of the last four years and sadly, would be favorites to make it four-of-five if not for the new playoff format. Read more
The CCHA perennial power becomes another Hockey East perennial power. Read more
The Friars came within one game of winning the regular season title last year and return most of their key contributors. Read more
The Catamounts could close the gap that exists between them and the top seven teams, but they still look like a bottom-half team. Read more
Jim Connelly’s predictions
2. Boston College
4. Notre Dame
5. New Hampshire
7. Boston University
Dave Hendrickson’s predictions
2. Boston College
3. Notre Dame
5. New Hampshire
6. Boston University