By Sam Kirshman
It’s that time of the year again. The weather’s getting cool and the days are shortening, but most importantly, hockey is back! This year’s upcoming Hockey East season is sure to be a great one. Firstly, let’s take a look at last year.
Boston College, Boston University and UMass dominated the regular season all year. The three towered over the standings, all winning over two-thirds of their games. Northeastern, Providence and UConn also had winning seasons, although not on the level of the formerly mentioned. UMass-Lowell had a disappointing season, and New Hampshire, Merrimack and Maine looked quite lost on the ice, all losing over two-thirds of their games. Vermont rounded out the group by amounting just a single win on the year, in a cataclysmically bad season for the Catamounts.
COVID made its impact on the season, limiting the amount of attendance and games that could be played. Merrimack couldn’t even participate in the postseason due to an outbreak. Speaking of, the postseason was wild. UMass-Lowell went on a tear of upsets, knocking off #2 BU and #1 BC in two straight games. Unfortunately, they fell prey to a red-hot UMass squad in the championship, who had previously eliminated Northeastern and Providence. The Minutemen finally secured their first Hockey East championship, and they didn’t stop there.
The three teams atop Hockey East during the regular season all made appearances in the NCAA tournament. The Terriers folded in the first round to St. Cloud State. BC would also fall victim to that very same opponent in the second round. Meanwhile, UMass was on a tear, winning handily in the first two rounds and making it to the Frozen Four. They earned a thrilling overtime victory against Minnesota-Duluth, and faced the dangerous St. Cloud State in the championship. The red hot Minutemen thrashed their opponents to the beat of a 5-0 victory, easily securing their first NCAA championship.
Looking forward to this season, there may be some noticeable changes. First off, Boston College will lose their two most talented players, Spencer Knight and Alex Newhook, as they have both been called up to the NHL, to the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche respectively. As far as some other changes go, Maine has added a dominant center in Grant Hebert of Robert Morris. He recorded 23 points in 24 games last season. Matt Brown is transferring intra-conference, from UMass Lowell to BU. He recorded 13 points for the River Hawks last year for a solid sophomore year. The biggest change comes in the form of a grad-transfer to Boston College. Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brandon Kruse, formerly of Bowling Green State, is taking his formidable offensive capabilities to Chestnut Hill. Kruse scored 34 points last year, and has scored at least 32 in all four years of his college career. His career high of 41 led BGSU in 2018-19.
As for Northeastern, the Huskies added a couple of great talents to their roster. Former Michigan State captain Tommy Miller will be playing at Matthews this year, and he brings with him a gritty spirit and great leadership experience and skill. On the opposite side of the ice, the Huskies added forward Jakov Novak. He recorded 17 points in 15 games last year for Bentley and will bolster an already solid offense.
Fans of the conference will certainly have to check out BU’s Tyler Boucher, who was just drafted tenth overall by the Ottawa Senators. He stands alone as the only freshman to join the conference that was drafted in the first round and will be a delight to watch for the upcoming years.
This year’s preseason poll obviously keeps the reigning national champions at the top. BU and BC slot in behind them, with Northeastern, Providence and UConn to follow. Personally, I’d expect UMass to be dominant once again, as they return four of their top six scorers from their championship squad. BC lost their top talent, but still gained several top players from both transfers and incoming freshmen, so they can be expected to be a top team once again. As for Northeastern, they did lose their top scorer Zach Solow to the AHL but return Aidan McDonough and Jordan Harris, who were number two and three in that regard. The upside is huge for the Huskies, and under new head coach Jerry Keefe, anything is possible.
We’re in for a great year of competitive hockey, and this year, we’ll all actually be allowed in the building. The teams at the top are more closely bunched than ever, and it’s anyone’s year. Get ready for puck drop!