Nothing about this year’s Hockey East season will feel normal, so neither then will be this year’s season preview.
Yes, all 11 men’s team, as of the date of publication, are still planning on playing their seasons. At publication time, six teams were already supposed to have begun their seasons. Yet, only two have.
COVID-19 canceled last year’s Hockey East tournament, as well as the NCAA tournament immediately thereafter. It already forced postponement of six league games with more on the horizon as both Maine and Vermont are currently not allowing visiting teams to the respective campuses.
So there, we have the negative news out of the way.
Is there a positive? Sure.
We still have 11 Hockey East men’s teams attempting to play hockey. Coaches want to return to competition sooner rather than later. And the league has worked diligently with the member institutions to make sure that safety precautions – including a robust testing and contact tracing program – reduce the risks of contracting COVID for all involved.
“It’s been a long progression that’s gone well,” said UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin about returning to play after eight months. “We’re not taking anything for granted to anticipating too far in advance. The world has bene moving in two-to-three-day increments. We [were] scheduled to play [on Friday, November 27] but we have to concentrate on just getting to the next practice before we focus on games.”
“There’s still a great uncertainty,” added New Hampshire coach Michael Souza, whose team had both of its games against Boston College this past weekend postponed because of a positive test and related contract tracing on the UNH team. “Anyone who follows college sports knows, the ups, the downs, the uncertainly has been interesting.”
For Hockey East commissioner Steve Metcalf, in his first season after taking over for Joe Bertagna over the summer, it’s been a lot of work just to get to a point that a schedule could be developed.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of work just getting to this point,” said Metcalf. “We spent a lot of time to ensure we can do this safely.”
The goal isn’t to play the season as normal. Instead, it’s to play “as full and complete as season as possible,” Metcalf said.
Hockey East members will only play other Hockey East teams. Though each team has scheduled six nonconference games, they are only against other nonconference teams and will be eliminated if league games need to be postponed.
In addition to placing a wrinkle in the standings by adding 3-on-3 overtime and shootouts in league games, it’s so unlikely that all of the league games get played that standings will likely be determined by percentage of overall points earned (3 points for a regulation win, 2 for OT/shootout win, 1 for OT/shootout loss and 0 for a regulation loss).
Yes, this will be a strange season.
Though fans won’t be allowed in the buildings at the start (and likely for the entire season), fans will still have the chance to follow the league better than ever. NESN will be showing more league games than ever and, those that aren’t broadcast on the regional sports network will be available 100 percent free-of-charge on collegesportslive.com.
Watching certainly will be worth it. Once again, Hockey East possesses a tremendous amount of talent, and preseason favorite Boston College likely leads the way in the depth of talent overall.
Sophomore forward Alex Newhook has to be a strong candidate for player of the year and is already being mentioned as a potential Hobey Baker candidate. That, though, will be impacted by the fact that he could miss upwards of 60 days to begin the season while participating in Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp and the subsequent tournament. Newhook left for camp more than a week ago.
That’s hardly where talent stops in the league. Goaltenders Matt Murray and Filip Lindberg at UMass are easily the best netminding duo in the nation. Tyce Thompson at Providence has been electric through his first two seasons.
Boston University returns one of the best all-around defensemen in David Farrance, though Michael Callahan at Providence and Jordan Harris at Northeastern might make arguments to dispute that.
And while newcomers will likely have an impact on multiple teams, there is another fresh face who will also give Hockey East a new look.
Brian Murphy, a veteran National Hockey League referee, will take over as the Supervisor of Officials. Murphy, himself, was a member of the Hockey East officiating staff from 1986 to 1988 before beginning his career at the game’s top level. He went onto officiate more than 2,000 NHL games, joining outgoing Hockey East supervisor Dan Schachte as the only two American officials to crack the 2,000-game milestone.
One other change that hasn’t been made yet, but one might anticipate in this strange season may be the league championship.
Should we successfully get to the end of the regular season, expect that the league tournament won’t look the same as normal.
If fans aren’t allowed into the building, don’t expect TD Garden, the tournament’s typical home, to be the venue. It is more likely to be moved to a smaller arena where the cost to turn on the lights isn’t as high.
There also, then, becomes the possibility of reducing the scope of the tournament in general. It’s quite possible that the two-weekend format with best-of-three quarterfinals played the first and the semifinals and finals played on the second weekend could be traded in for a more compressed, single-elimination event played at one site over three or four days.
That, though, is speculation and so far down the road. Right now, let’s hope that teams get on the ice, play safely and stay healthy so that we can be considering a postseason come March.
Until then, sit back and enjoy as we preview the 11 men’s teams, following, in alphabetical order:
HOCKEY EAST TEAM CAPSULES
Head coach: Jerry York (27th season)
2019-20 overall record: 24-8-2 (17-6-1 Hockey East, first)
Key returning players: Sophomore forward Alex Newhook (19-23-42), Senior forward Logan Hutsko (19-14-33), Sophomore defenseman Matt Boldy (9-17-26), Sophomore goaltender Spencer Knight (23-8-2, 1.97 GAA, .931 SV%)
Key losses: Forward Julius Mattila (10-32-42), forward David Cotton (15-24-39), forward Aapeli Rasanen (11-13-24)
Key additions: Defenseman Eamon Powell (USNTDP), forward Danny Weight (Penticton, BCHL), Nikita Nesterenko (Chilliwack, BCHL)
2020-21 predictions: Boston College returns a significant part of its core to the 2020-21 team and was not hit by NHL departures (Rasanen was the only loss, returning to Finland to play professionally). Look for players like Newhook and Boldy to take some major steps forward and be the leaders of this team’s offense. There is no surprise that coaches picked the Eagles as the top team in Hockey East as this BC team might have some of the highest preseason expectations in the last few years.
Jim’s prediction: First
Marisa’s prediction: First
Head coach: Albie O’Connell (third season)
2019-20 overall record: 13-13-8 (10-9-5 Hockey East, sixth)
Key returning players: Junior defenseman David Farrance (14-29-43), sophomore forward Robert Mastrosimone (7-10-17), sophomore defenseman Domenick Fensore (3-13-16), junior forward Jake Wise (2-11-13)
Key losses: Forward Patrick Harper (14-23-37), forward Trevor Zegras (11-25-36), forward Patrick Curry (19-13-32)
Key additions: Defenseman Cade Webber (Penticton, WHL), forward Nick Zabaneh (Green Bay, USHL), forward Luke Tuch (USNTDP), forward Dylan Peterson (USNTDP), forward Max Kaufman (Vermont)
2020-21 predictions: The Terriers were preparing for a series with UMass Lowell in the Hockey East quarterfinals when the season came to a screeching halt. Instead, the next time they take the ice in Vermont at the start of December, they’ll be without much of the star power that composed their roster. Patrick Harper is NHL bound after four seasons, Trevor Zegras is moving on after just one, and captain Patrick Curry will be playing in the AHL. In many ways, this is a fresh start for the Terriers. David Farrance is the key carryover player, entering his junior season, as a leader among a young group. Luke Tuch has the potential to make some noise as a freshman, and Robert Mastrosimone is sure to make a leap as a sophomore. Despite shortcomings, the Terriers still received votes in the USCHO preseason poll and landed just outside the top 20. With five other Hockey East teams inside the top 20, though, BU still has a lot of work to do.
Jim’s prediction: Seventh
Marisa’s prediction: Fifth
Head coach: Mike Cavanaugh (eighth season)
2019-20 overall record: 15-15-4 (12-10-2 Hockey East, fifth)
Key returning players: Junior forward Carter Turnbull (12-12-24), sophomore forward Vladislav Firstov (11-12-23), junior forward Jachym Kondelik (8-15-23), sophomore defenseman Yan Kuznetsov (2-9-11), goaltender Tomas Vomacka (15-15-3, 3.13 GAA, .898 SV%)
Key losses: Forward Benjamin Freeman (7-21-28), forward Alexander Payusov (12-10-22), defenseman Wyatt Newpower (3-19-22)
Key additions: Forward Nick Capone (Tri-City, USHL), forward Artem Shlaine (Shattuck St. Mary’s, Prep), defenseman John Spetz (Chicago, USHL)
2020-21 predictions: The COVID-shortened 2019-20 campaign was UConn’s best since joining Hockey East in 2014, posting a .500 overall winning percentage and tying their best finish in Hockey East (2017-18). Though graduating players like Freeman and Payusov, both high-end forwards, the Huskies return a significant portion of their offense. If there is room for improvement it comes on the back end, where UConn allowed the third-most goals in Hockey East a season ago.
Jim’s prediction: Fourth
Marisa’s prediction: Seventh
Head coach: Red Gendron (eighth season)
2019-20 overall record: 18-11-5 (12-9-3 Hockey East, fourth)
Key returning players: Senior forward Eduards Tralmaks (14-16-30), junior forward Adam Dawe (9-11-20), junior forward Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup (9-9-18), senior defenseman Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi (2-8-10)
Key losses: Forward Mitchell Fossier (10-32-42), goalie Jeremy Swayman (18-11-5, 2.07, .939), forward Tim Doherty (14-23-37)
Key additions: Forward Keenan Suthers (St. Lawrence), defenseman Kabore Dunn (Fort McMurray, AJHL), forward Tristan Poissant (Johnstown, NAHL), forward Donavan Villeneuve-Houle (Flin Flon, SJHL), forward Zachary Aughe (Aberdeen, NAHL)
2020-21 predictions: Of all the teams that got a raw deal from last season being canceled before the Hockey East tournament, Maine might be at the top of the list. The Black Bears were on a roll and Jeremy Swayman was playing like one of the best goalies in the country. Now he’s moved on to the pros, and the Black Bears lost their leading scorer, to boot. There’s still a lot of returners, but it feels like Maine will be dealing with “what if” fever if things don’t start off well out of the gate.
Jim’s prediction: Ninth
Marisa’s prediction: Ninth
Head coach: Greg Carvel (fifth season)
2019-20 overall record: 21-11-2 (14-8-2 Hockey East, second)
Key returning players: Sophomore defenseman Zac Jones (3-20-23), junior forward Bobby Trivigno (9-11-20), junior defenseman Marc Del Gaizo (4-11-15), senior goaltender Matt Murray (13-6-0, 1.86 GAA, .919 SV%), junior goaltender Filip Lindberg (8-5-2, 1.91 GAA, .927 SV%)
Key losses: Forward John Leonard (27-10-37), forward Mitchell Chaffee (16-13-39), defenseman Jack Suter (4-16-20)
Key additions: Defenseman Lindon Alger (Youngstown, USHL), forward Jerry Harding (Providence), forward Ryan Sullivan (Sioux Falls, USHL), forward Oliver MacDonald (Fargo, USHL)
2020-21 predictions: If not for early departures, there is no doubt that UMass would be considered a favorite to win Hockey East. But with Leonard and Chaffee signing early, forgoing their senior season, the Minutemen lose 43 of their 107 goals (40.1%) from a season ago. The good news is that UMass does return two of the best goaltenders in the nation in the tandem of Murray and Lindberg, two goaltenders with Frozen Four experience (2019). In a shortened campaign, it will be important for UMass to get off to a strong start. But there is certainly plenty of potential in this lineup once again.
Jim’s prediction: Third
Marisa’s prediction: Third
Head coach: Norm Bazin (10th season)
2019-20 overall record: 18-10-6 (12-7-5 Hockey East, third)
Key returning players: Sophomore forward Carl Berglund (12-11-23), sophomore forward Matt Brown (6-18-24), sophomore forward Andre Lee (8-12-20), junior defenseman Chase Blackmun (5-12-17), junior defenseman Jon McDonald (4-11-15)
Key losses: Goaltender Tyler Wall (18-8-6, 2.10 GAA, .931 SV%), forward Kenny Hausinger (7-12-19)
Key additions: Defenseman Ben Meehan (Cedar Rapids, USHL), goaltender Henry Welsch (Aberdeen, NAHL), defenseman Brehdan Engum (Waterloo, USHL), forward Matt Kinash (Drayton Valley, AJHL)
2020-21 predictions: The River Hawks were playing their best and most consistent hockey of the season when COVID-19 forced the season to be canceled last March. They’ll hope to pick back up on that this season but will have to do so without all-star goaltender Tyler Wall, who graduated. Logan Neaton returns, though with just two career starts under his belt, while the River Hawks add Welsch and are reported to also be bringing in junior transfer Owen Savory, who will be available in the second semester after his former team, Rensselaer recently canceled its season. With sufficient fire power up front and a solid corps of defensemen, goaltending becomes the biggest question for this team.
Jim’s prediction: Second
Marisa’s prediction: Fourth
Head coach: Scott Borek (third season)
2019-20 overall record: 9-22-3 (7-14-3 Hockey East, tenth)
Key returning players: Senior defenseman Patrick Holway (3-7-10), sophomore defenseman Zach Uens (4-14-18), sophomore defenseman Declan Carlile (4-18-22), junior forward Logan Drevitch (7-11-18)
Key losses: Forward Tyler Irvine (13-14-27), forward Sami Tavernier (6-15-21)
Key additions: Forward Conor Lovett (Lawrence Academy, NEPSAC), forward Alex Jefferies (The Gunnery, NEPSAC), forward Jakob Lee (Brooks, AJHL), forward Filip Karlsson-Tagtstrom (Sioux Falls, USHL), forward Filip Forsmark (Tri-City, USHL)
2020-21 predictions: As ugly as the numbers work, last season was one of progress for Merrimack. Patrick Holway fit in well and Zach Uens broke out on the blue line. Alex Jefferies is a big addition after starring as one of the leading prospects in prep hockey last season, and he should give the offense a boost, something the Warriors severely need. Filip Forsmark jumps in a year late as well after having to sit out last season. There’s some promise there, especially with a weird schedule for everyone, for the Warriors to sneak up on some unexpecting opponents.
Jim’s prediction: 11th
Marisa’s prediction: 10th
Head coach: Michael Souza (third season)
2019-20 overall record: 15-15-4 (9-12-3 Hockey East, ninth)
Key returning players: Senior forward Patrick Grasso (13-11-24), senior forward Charlie Kelleher (6-17-23), junior forward Angus Crookshank (16-6-22), junior forward Filip Engaras (8-7-15)
Key losses: Defenseman Max Gildon (7-22-29), forward Liam Blackburn (5-13-18)
Key additions: Defenseman Luke Reid (Chicago, USHL), Carsen Richels (Blaine HS, USHS), defenseman Nikolai Jenson (Youngstown, USHL)
2020-21 predictions: Though the 2019-20 campaign had ended with New Hampshire missing the playoffs prior to the COVID stoppage, the Wildcats showed signs of brilliance at times last season, including wins over nationally-ranked Boston College, Massachusetts, Providence and Northeastern. Though UNH lost Hockey East third-team all-star Max Gildon to the NHL, it brings in a recruiting class that features plenty of size including two 6-foot-3 forwards in Richels and Cam Gendron.
Jim’s prediction: Eighth
Marisa’s prediction: Eighth
Head coach: Jim Madigan (10th season)
2019-20 overall record: 18-13-3 (11-12-1 Hockey East, seventh)
Key returning players: Senior forward Zach Solow (13-18-31), sophomore forward Aidan McDonough (11-16-27), junior defenseman Jordan Harris (3-18-21), redshirt senior forward Grant Jozefek (8-10-18)
Key losses: Forward Tyler Madden (19-18-37), defenseman Ryan Shea (5-26-31), forward Matt Filipe (9-13-22)
Key additions: Forward Michael Outzen (New Jersey, USHL), forward Sam Colangelo (Chicago, USHL), defenseman Johnny DeRoche (Vermont), forward Dylan Jackson (Dubuque, USHL), forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine (Chicago, USHL), forward Marco Bozzo (UMass), goalie Devon Levi (Carleton Place, CCHL)
2020-21 predictions: Devon Levi has big skates to fill in the crease after years of a dominant Northeastern goalie group, and he’s being hyped as such. Goalies take on the heaviest load of expectations, so that’ll likely be the case again. The Huskies lost a lot upfront with Tyler Madden and Matt Filipe gone, so this feels like a season Northeastern could lock in on developing an identity for years to come.
Jim’s prediction: Fifth
Marisa’s prediction: Sixth
Head coach: Nate Leaman (10th season)
2019-20 overall record: 16-12-6 (10-11-3 Hockey East, seventh)
Key returning players: Junior forward Tyce Thompson (19-25-44), junior defenseman Michael Callahan (5-23-28), senior forward Greg Printz (15-12-27), sophomore forward Parker Ford (9-13-22)
Key losses: Forward Jack Dugan (10-42-52), goalie Michael Lackey (16-12-6, 2.25, .932), forward Vimal Sukumaran (4-2-6)
Key additions: Forward Nick Poisson (Prince George, BCHL), forward Chase Yoder (USNDTP), forward Brett Berard (USNDTP), defenseman Uula Ruikka (Chicago, USHL), forward Jaxson Stauber (Minnesota State)
2020-21 predictions: Tyce Thompson is one of the best players in the conference and the Friars are bringing back 21 players from last season’s roster. There are high expectations for Providence, projected to finish third in the coaches’ poll. Chase Yoder and Brett Berard are going to have big roles even with so much of the roster intact. It feels like the Friars are one of the few teams that made definite improvements since a year ago, and that can be dangerous with a condensed schedule.
Jim’s prediction: Sixth
Marisa’s prediction: Second
Head coach: Todd Woodcroft (first season)
2019-20 overall record: 5-23-6 (2-18-4 Hockey East, 11th)
Key returning players: Sophomore defenseman Andrew Lucas (5-10-15), sophomore forward Jacques Bouquot (3-11-14), senior forward Ace Cowans (7-6-13)
Key losses: Goaltender Stefanos Lekkas (5-21-6, 2.76 GAA, .916 SV%)
Key additions: (Sherwood Park, AJHL), defenseman Phip Waugh (Brooks, AJHL), goaltender Gabe Carriere (Waterloo, USHL)
2020-21 predictions: It is a new day in Burlington as former Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Todd Woodcroft takes the reins of the Catamounts team. Certainly, Woodcroft will have challenges right out of the gate, namely replacing Vermont’s best player by far last season, Stefanos Lekkas, who for four years gave an often overmatched UVM club a chance to win. But Woodcroft also has a great opportunity ahead. The chance to lead a program with a rabid fanbase like Vermont comes with both pressure but also satisfaction when successful. Woodcroft will tap his NHL background for advice as former NHL blueliner Mark Stuart will serve as a volunteer assistant and former Stanley Cup champion coach Mike Babcock will serve as an advisor.
Jim’s prediction: 10th
Marisa’s prediction: 11th