Hockey East has officially returned to its glory days. Back-to-back national championships by Boston College in 2008 and Boston University in 2009 coupled with all three of last season’s Hobey Baker “Hat Trick” finalists hailing from Hockey East certainly give the conference a reason to pound its collective chest.
Not since the mid-to-late 1990s and early part of this decade, when Boston University, Maine and Boston College won national titles in 1995, 1999, and 2001, respectively, and the league produced three straight Hobey Baker winners from 1998 to 2000, has the conference had such a feeling of being college hockey’s royalty.
So the question heading to the 2009-10 campaign is whether or not the league can sustain this momentum.
The prospectus shows that the league no doubt will remain competitive against the remainder of the nation’s teams. Boston University lost some key players, including Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy and Hobey Hat Trick finalist Colin Wilson. But the club still returns a key nucleus of players including goaltenders Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser.
Boston College, after a down year following their national title, could return to greatness thanks to one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory.
And then there’s the X factor.
The Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks may be the most interesting team entering 2009-10. A year ago the club reached the Hockey East championship game, falling 1-0 to BU, and aside from the national champs they were probably the hottest team in the country down the stretch. League coaches picked Lowell to finish second, the highest preseason ranking in the program’s history. But the question now remains how Lowell will respond to being the hunted, target square on backs, as opposed to the hunter.
There will also be plenty of noise made by perennial powers New Hampshire and Maine, with the Black Bears desperate to return to form of old after two mediocre seasons. Vermont, coming off the school’s second trip to the Frozen Four, also could be dangerous.
Then there’s the group of Northeastern — decimated by graduation and early departures after the best season in school history — Massachusetts, Providence and Merrimack, all of whom are looking to make their way closer to the top of the league but certainly facing a major hill to climb.
Here, then, are individual commentary on each of the league’s 10 clubs (click on links to read preview), as well as preseason rankings from league coaches, and your faithful columnists, Dave Hendrickson and Jim Connelly. The teams are listed according to their order in the coaches’ poll.
Holes to fill but still one of the most talented teams in the country.
Coaches: 1st, Dave: 2nd, Jim: 2nd
Need to handle life with a target on their backs, but if they do this could be their best showing ever.
Coaches: 2nd, Dave: 1st, Jim: 1st
A healthy goalie and freshman contributions are all Jerry York wants. Though it’s not just Christmas, yet.
Coaches: 3rd, Dave: 8th, Jim: 3rd
In the Hockey East logjam, the Wildcats could make a run at first place or miss home ice by a mile.
Coaches: T-4th, Dave: 4th, Jim: 5th
Forget any Frozen Four hangover.Â If the Catamounts score, the sky’s the limit.
Coaches: T-4th, Dave: 3rd, Jim: 4th
If the Huskies get decent goaltending, they could contend yet again.Â Of course, that’s one big honkin’ if.
Coaches: 6th, Dave: 5th, Jim: 7th
Will be the best seventh-place team in the country.Â Or sixth.Â Or fifth.
Coaches: 7th, Dave: 7th, Jim: 8th
Not ready to return to greatness just yet but count the Black Bears among the home ice contenders.
Coaches: 8th, Dave: 6th, Jim 6th
Lots of question marks to start the season make the Friars a major underdog.
Coaches: 9th, Dave: 10th, Jim 10th
Improved? Definitely. Playoffs? Not sure about that.
Coaches: 10th, Dave: 9th, Jim 9th