Hockey East preview: UMass gearing to motor forward

  • With last year’s Hobey Baker Award winner Cale Makar, right, now playing for the Colorado Avalanche, the UMass hockey team will try to make another deep run this season. The club opens its 2019-2020 campaign Friday against RPI. AP FILE

  • Massachusetts goalie Filip Lindberg (35) makes a save against Minnesota-Duluth during the second period of the national championship game in April. Lindberg and the Minutemen open Friday night at home against RPI. AP FILE

  • Massachusetts defenseman Marc Del Gaizo (2) and Denver defenseman Griffin Mendel (4) race to the puck behind the net during Frozen Four action earlier this year. Del Gaizo is back along the blue line this season. Jeffrey T. Barnes

For the Recorder
Published: 10/10/2019 9:50:31 PM
Modified: 10/10/2019 9:50:20 PM

UMass rolls out the Zamboni tonight when the Minutemen host RPI in the season opener at the Mullins Center. The USA Today/USA Hockey national preseason poll picks UMass to finish third, and the U.S. College Hockey poll picks them to finish fourth. Providence is the only other team in Hockey East to be in the top 10 of both polls.

The Minutemen are without Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar, top scorer Jacob Pritchard and defenseman Mario Ferraro. The team returns all but five skaters however, in addition to goalie Filip Lindberg who can lead them to the Frozen Four promised land in the Motor City.

Here’s a capsule look at every team in Hockey East, together with last season’s overall record and where they’ll finish this season:

1. UMASS (31-10-0)

Take away the 42 goals scored by Cale Makar, Jacob Pritchard and Brett Boeing, and the Minutemen still out-scored every team in Hockey East last season except Providence.

John Leonard is the rare sort who can tweak the twine and battle in the corners, classmate Mitchell Chaffee is a first-team All-American and unsung NMH grad Oliver Chau set up the winning goal to beat Denver in the NCAA semis.

Designated hitters Jake Gaudet and Bobby Trevigno will rule the boards, Anthony Del Gaizo is a Phil Esposito garbage collector and Bobby Kaiser was blossoming into a star when he was lost for the season after seven games.

Sophomore Marc Del Gaizo heads a cast of blue liners that includes Ty Farmer, whose upside is now, and freshman Zac Jones who was taken by the New York Rangers in the third round of this year’sNHL draft. “Jones is a star,” says coach Greg Carvel.

Once regarded for its youth, this year’s team is composed of veterans. Defenseman Jake McLaughlin and forward Niko Hildenbrand have suited up for over 100 games while George Mika, Jack Suter, Leonard and Jake Gaudet have all played at least 65 games.

After overcoming a bout of mono in February, Lindberg, now a sophomore, emerged as the team’s top goaltender and held Minnesota-Duluth to three goals in the NCAA championship that was otherwise a contest of men against boys.

Carvel’s nine freshmen will mostly be watching from Section C at the Mullins Center. The exceptions are Jones and forward Eric Faith, a Central Canada Hockey League first-teamer and its outgoing MVP.

Anyone who expects UMass to falter will be mistaken. This team is better than last year.

2. PROVIDENCE
(24-12-6)

Jack Dugan scored 39 points to lead the conference in freshman scoring last season. Veteran blueliners Spenser Young, Vincent Deshharnais, David Bunz and Ben Mirageais are back, and the Friars landed grad transfer Ben Lackey from Harvard to compensate for the loss of HE goals-against leader Hayden Hawkey. Coach Nate Leaman interviewed for the Ottawa Sens job landed by Maple Leafs assistant D.J. Smith, and also wanted the Buffalo Sabres job but he’s back in Providence, where he won the 2015 NCAA title. Last year’s team lost to Minnesota-Duluth 4-1 in the Frozen Four semis, and opened this season with a 7-0 win against Maine.

3. UMASS-LOWELL
(19-13-5)

Norm Bazin’s defensive-oriented River Hawks swept UMass and held the Minutemen to one goal in two games last season. Tyler Wall (.921 save percentage/2.09 GAA) figures to get the bulk of the action between the pipes while NMH’s Eric Green waits in the wings.

The team with 19 freshmen or sophomores lost playmaking defenseman Ryan Dmowski, who had a team-high four power play goals and six game-winners last season.

Sophomore forward Connor Sodergren played in every game and tied with returning defenseman Mattias Goransson for assists. 

Deceased Hall of Fame goaltender Terry Sawchuk is the great uncle of UMass-Lowell defenseman Nolan Sawchuk. According to Wikipedia, Sawchuk died of injuries suffered in an off-ice fight with his Rangers teammate Ron Stewart in 1970. According to the police report, “Sawchuk suffered severe injuries from falling on top of Stewart’s bent knee,” reported.

He died after two surgeries failed to stop a bleeding liver and gallbladder. No charges were filed, and Sawchuk took complete responsibility for a fight that began over house expenses.

The River Hawks swept Alabama-Huntsville last weekend, and play at defending champion Minn.-Duluth this weekend.

4. UCONN (12-20-2)

Winners of five of their last eight games last season, coach Mike Cavanaugh’s squad returns 19 lettermen. Sophomores Jachym Kondelik and Ruslan Iskahov combined for 37 assists and Alexander Payusov had a team-leading 16 goals. Goalie Adam Huska signed with the Rangers, paving way for the Czech Republic’s Thomas Vomacka, who beat UMass in last year’s regular season finale and finished with a solid .922 save percentage and 2.32 GAA. In Saturday’s season opener he made 45 saves in a 3-3 tie at Sacred Heart.

5. BOSTON UNIVERSITY (16-18-4)

Not a lot of reason to think the Terriers will be any better than they were last year when they finished fifth, although they did beat Union 7-3 in their season opener last weekend. Several heralded underclassmen left last season — Joel Farabee is in Flyers training camp, Shane Bowers is in the AHL and Mark Cheremeta was returned to juniors. 

Meanwhile Dante Fabbro signed with the Predators, Chad Krys signed with the Blackhawks, and first-round pick goalie Jake Oettinger signed with Minnesota.

The void will be filled by forwards David Farrance and Ty Amonte, defenseman Patrick Harper and the nine incoming freshmen. Between the pipes, 23-year-old grad transfer Sam Tucker was second team All-Ivy at Yale.

The biggest reason to watch BU play this season might be to see freshman Trevor Zegras, the Anaheim Ducks’ first pick (9th overall) in this year’s draft who’s on record saying he expects to be one-and-done in the college ranks.

6. NORTHEASTERN
(27-11-1)

The Huskies had the fifth-most wins of the 60 teams in Div. 1 in 2018-19. First team defenseman Jeremy Davies and D-1 goaltender of the year Cayden Primeau went to the pros, but Northeastern boasts seven NHL draft picks on this year’s roster and senior forward Brendan van Riemsdyk who transferred from UNH after scoring 13 goals in two seasons.

The question is who replaces Primeau in net. Numbers don’t equal quality and at this writing the Huskies had four goalies on the roster. Senior Curtis Frye is a known quantity, grad transfer Craig Pantano posted a porous .889 save percentage in 28 games at Merrimack and sophomore Nick Scarpa seldom dressed and never played last season. That might leave it to 6-foot-4, 21-year-old freshman Connor Murphy of Hudson Falls, N.Y. via the Central Canada Hockey League.

Coach Jim Madigan’s team hasn’t had a losing season in six years, but the Huskies might struggle to keep their noses above water in the leap year.

7. BOSTON COLLEGE (14-22-3)

Eight coaches picked Boston College to win Hockey East despite coming off their worst season since 1996-97. Freshman Spencer Knight of the Under-18 USA team is expected to replace Joseph Woll between the pipes. The latter is Toronto-bound and the former was the Florida Panthers’ first pick and 13th overall selection in the June NHL draft. Logan Hutsko and David Cotton combined for 29 goals (10 on the power play) and 33 assists last season.

8. UNH (12-15-9)

The Wildcats went to the Frozen Four four times during coach Dick Umile’s tenure in Durham, but haven’t had a winning conference record in five years. Last season’s swan song under first-year coach Mike Souza was a 6-0 whitewash against UMass in the Hockey East quarterfinals at the Mullins Center. 

UNH returns two of it three top scorers, senior Liam Blackburn (10-14-24) and sophomore Angus Crookshank (10-13-23). A pair of NHL draftees — junior Mike Robinson (Rangers) and sophomore Ty Taylor (Tampa Bay) will vie for time in the crease.

9. MAINE (15-7-4)

The early look isn’t good for coach Red Gendron’s men of the north country. The Black Bears opened with a 7-0 loss to Providence on Saturday and were blanked 5-0 by New Brunswick in an exhibition game on Sunday. Blame it on the long bus ride to Orono, or that last season’s only double-digit goal scorer Chase Pearson signed with the Red Wings.

Simon Dawe was a Canadian Junior Hockey League rookie of the year, but Maine’s real hope is between the pipes where Bruins’ fourth-rounder Jeremy Swayman had an above-average .919 save percentage in 35 starts last season. Swayman made 52 saves in the season opener against Providence, but Michael Lackey’s 29 saves stoned the Black Bears.

Gendron likes planting tall timber on the blue line, notably 6-foot-2 sophomore Simon Butala and 6-foot-5 JD Greenway, brother of the Minnesota Wild’s Jordan Greenway. He was Toronto’s third-round pick in 2016, but squandered two years of eligibility at Wisconsin and must be deemed little more than a reclamation project.

Defenseman Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi and forward Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup are a PA announcer’s worst nightmare.

10. UVM (12-19-3)

Goaltender Stefanos Lekkas was second in save percentage (.930) last season, but the Catamounts scored only 41 goals in conference play and Martin St. Louis isn’t coming over the boards.

11. MERRIMACK
(7-24-3)

The Warriors scored half as many goals as they allowed in 34 games last season (134-67) and the trend continued last week when they lost back-to-back games at Lake Superior State by a combined score of 10-5. Chase Gresock was Merrimack’s only double-digit goal scorer with 11.


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