As the dog days tick down to the fall of leaves in October, we all know what that means. Hockey is back. Well, not yet, but we’re around the time when preseason polls come to fruition and you get in the mood to make some picks.
I was honored to be selected for the 2023–24 Hockey East Writers Preseason Prediction Poll. But along with other writers, I was genuinely surprised as to the results of the prediction. But then again, it’s hard to figure out the most difficult conference in the college hockey realm. Let’s get into it and review how the rankings turned out.
- Vermont Catamounts
2022-23 Record: 5-16-3-2-1-1
Let’s get this out of the way. Vermont respectfully doesn’t have much going for them. If the firing of Head Coach Todd Woodcroft wasn’t enough damage for morale, try losing your starboy freshman talent, Alex Bump, to Western Michigan. On another note, Vermont last season, despite having the worst record, advanced to the second round of the conference tournament last year. Stunning UMaine at the Alfond, so don’t be surprised if that happens when spring comes around.
- UNH Wildcats
2022-23 Record: 6-15-2-2-2-1
New Hampshire has had a difficult time restoring its early 2000’s dominance. Especially in the last few seasons, they’ve forgotten to clean the litter box. Not having a winning record in Hockey East since 2013. This past season, the big loss was Captain Chase Stevenson, who went to Merrimack for his graduate year. Obviously, they’ll have a few wins that surprise us, but I can’t see it being much better than that.
- Maine Black Bears
2022-23 Record: 9-11-3-1-1-1
Personally, I’m surprised the Black Bears weren’t rated higher. Head Coach Ben Barr was a finalist for Hockey East Coach of the Year and led Maine to some gritty wins. Most notably, they beat the eventual National Champion Quinnipiac Bobcats in a 4-0 blowout at the Alfond. Big names like Lynden Breen, Ben Poisson, and goaltender Victor Ostman are the cornerstones of this program’s resurgence to former glory. With the addition of Carolina Hurricanes 2023 1st Round Pick Bradly Nadeau, don’t be surprised if Maine starts climbing up the standings.
- UMass Amherst Minutemen
2022-23 Record: 7-14-3-1-3-2
Greg Carvel’s boys haven’t found much success since the early 2020’s dynasty that won back-to-back Hockey East championships and a National Title in 2021. Last season was a surprise to most, as the Minutemen forgot the gunpowder and fell to 9th place in the conference. This offseason wasn’t much of a relief, as the militia lost some troops in the transfer portal. To point out, star goaltender Luke Pavicich left as well as forwards Reed Lebster and Cal Kiefiuk. While they gained a few replacements for those lost skaters, I’m unsure if they can fill Pavicich’s shoes in the pipes. I can see some competitiveness from this team, but it won’t be enough compared to the others.
- UMass Lowell Riverhawks
2022-23 Record: 11-10-3-2-2-3
Lowell should be happy about their finish in the Hockey East. While ending lower in the regular season standings, they made the semifinals against Merrimack and took them to overtime. This team plays a gritty, dig-in style of hockey. With the 6th-best defense in the NCAA last year and the addition of former Amherst star goalie Luke Pavicich, they should look to contend again for conference glory. The roster is composed of a much younger group, so they should look to be revamped, faster, and hungrier.
- Northeastern Huskies
2022-23 Record: 14-7-3-0-2-2
The Huskies are a premier program. They finished third last season in a year where not many teams wanted to play them due to their stacked talent. This year they’re without Richter Award-winning goalie Devon Levi, top scorer Aidan McDonaugh, and Sam Colangelo. While retaining a well-put-together team and a difficult neutral zone defense to break. I’m sure they’ll be as formidable as last year without their star goalie. But what softens the losses are the likes of Clarkson’s Alex Campbell from the transfer portal, who should fit into this group nicely.
- Providence Friars
2022-23 Record: 9-9-6-3-0-2
The lowest-ranking Hockey East team made it to the semifinals. The Friars had quite a run last year and are looking to build on it. They had a pretty decent summer transfer portal for acquiring three players who are all point-getters. Fans can’t forget about goalie Philip Svedback; with him, the sky’s the limit. To sum it all up, the Friars have gone through 12 seasons with Nate Leaman as head coach. They’ve only had one losing season; I don’t expect this one to be his second.
- UCONN Huskies
2022-23 Record: 13-9-2-4-2-2
The prediction is right where they were last season. The Huskies have been building towards something special. Last year, behind Matthew Wood, Nashville’s 15th overall pick in this year’s draft, UCONN was quite the opponent. Not only were they in the top 10 in penalty kill percentage, but Mike Cavanaugh’s system makes their offense even more difficult to play against. Don’t let them settle into a rhythm in the offensive zone, and you certainly don’t want to let them catch you slacking off in transition.
- Merrimack Warriors
2022-23 Record: 16-8-0-2-4-0
The reigning Hockey East Finalists Merrimack had a Cinderella season where they finished second in the Hockey East and made the national tournament for the first time in ten years. This offseason, they lost quite the veteran depth from the graduates they had before. However, Coach Scott Borek managed to bring back key pieces like Ben Brar, Alex Jefferies, and Mac Welsher, among others. This team looks to continue the dominance they put on last season. But this time, they have high expectations. And with a retooled roster, the question is, can they meet them?
- Boston College Eagles
2022-23 Record: 8-11-5-0-0-1
A post-Jerry York hangover looks to be quickly remedied. The Eagles were flying blind without their Hall of Fame coach last season. However, confidence looks to be restored. They bring in a freshman class that includes the all-American trio from the US National Under-18 team: Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, and Gabe Perrault. (All went to the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft.) These guys tallied a total of 353 points together last year. Along with that, they bring in goaltender Jacob Fowler, who led the USHL with a .927 save percentage and 2.28 goals against across 40 games. Last year was enjoyable while it lasted for the conference, having BC finish so low. We are not ready for this team.
- Boston University Terriers
2022-23 Record: 18-6-0-2-2-0
Coming off a Hockey East championship and Frozen Four appearance, BU looks to emulate their previous achievements this year. Star defenseman Lane Hutson is coming back on the blue line for the Terriers, and he’ll have some help from freshman Tom Willander, who went 10th overall to Vancouver. The Dog Pound is also adding the projected number-one overall pick, Macklin Celebrini, to center the offense. Coach Jay Pandolfo has no excuses not to dominate the Hockey East and attempt to claim a national championship. Keeping most of the roster intact, along with some new young pups, it feels like no one will stop the Terriers.
To sum this article up, the Hockey East is on to their 40th season, and it’s sure to be another year of intrigue, drama, and suspense. So many questions come to mind when thinking of who will rise to the occasion, who will fall into the limelight, and who, in the end, will raise the Lou Lamoriello trophy and attain glory in the toughest hockey conference the NCAA has witnessed. We’re sure to have some fun this year, and I can’t wait for the puck to drop.