Hockey East preseason picks

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October 10, 2012 by Casey Hart

While two Hockey East squads have already begun their competitive seasons, head-to-head action within the conference gets underway tonight, when No. 19 Merrimack visits historic Matthews Arena to face Northeastern.

Below, quickly, are my picks for Hockey East this season. (Longer-form previews of several top teams were included in my preseason national ranking.) Merrimack’s season-opening thumping of Union and Maine’s loss to Quinnipiac were not considered when compiling this list.

1. Boston College
2011-12 finish: champion, 19-7-1
Tournament champion

Duh.

2. UMass Lowell
2011-12 finish: second (tie), 17-9-1
Tournament quarterfinalist

Netminder Doug Carr and five double-digit goal-scorers are back for a team that came within one win of the Frozen Four.

3. Boston University
2011-12 finish: second (tie), 17-9-1
Tournament semifinalist

The Terriers need to find a replacement in goal for four-year starter Kieran Millan, but an offense led by Matt Nieto, Wade Megan and defenseman Garret Noonan should buy them some time.

4. New Hampshire
2011-12 finish: sixth, 11-14-2
Tournament quarterfinalist

The Wildcats were inconsistent but showed flashes of brilliance last season. They return much of their lineup, led by Nick Sorkin, as well as goaltender Casey DeSmith. That experience should help UNH play close to its best on a nightly basis this time around.

5. Maine
2011-12 finish: fourth, 15-10-2
Tournament runner-up

Of the five highest-scoring Black Bears, only 47-point-scorer Joey Diamond returns. That’s a pretty good place to start, and having goaltender Dan Sullivan back is good, too.

6. Northeastern
2011-12 finish: eighth (tie), 9-14-4

The Huskies knocked off a slew of highly ranked teams during an outstanding stretch in the middle of last season but failed to even make the Hockey East tournament. With three of their top four scorers back, paced by Ludvig Karlsson, I see more consistent play in Northeastern’s future.

7. Merrimack
2011-12 finish: fifth, 13-9-5
Tournament quarterfinalist

Like Maine, the Warriors lost four of their top five scorers, leaving Mike Collins, who registered 25 points, as their top returning point man. The key to Merrimack’s success, though, was defense. Five defensemen are back after playing in 20 or more games, but All-America goaltender Joe Cannata is not.

8. Providence
2011-12 finish: seventh, 10-14-3
Tournament semifinalist

The Friars added six overall and six conference wins in Nate Leaman’s first year as head coach and even took a quarterfinal series at UMass Lowell. Seven of Providence’s top eight scorers are back. Four of those, including scoring leader Ross Mauermann, were rookies last year. The team’s defensive numbers weren’t good, but incoming goaltender Jon Gillies was a third-round pick at the National Hockey League draft in June.

9. Massachusetts
2011-12 finish: eighth (tie), 9-14-4
Tournament quarterfinalist

Last season’s young group of Minutemen was formidable on the big ice sheet of the Mullins Center, where it topped Boston College twice, but posted a dreadful 2-13-2 mark on the road. The team gets a fresh start under John Micheletto, but much of the on-ice cast remains the same. Freshmen started 29 of the team’s 36 games in goals, and only three skaters were lost to graduation. The offense is led by the now-junior duo of Michael Pereira and Conor Sheary.

10. Vermont
2011-12 finish: 10th, 3-23-1

The Catamounts managed just seven points in Hockey East play, and there is room for improvement in both ends of the rink. Vermont will look to Kyle Reynolds, its top returning scorer, and Connor Brickley, who scored nine goals in an injury-shortened campaign.

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