Hockey East action kicks off tonight with a home & home series between the University of New Hampshire Wildcats and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks @ 715pm in Lowell @ Tsongas Arena. The season will begin where it ended for the Wildcats last season, who were knocked out of Hockey East tournament action by Lowell in 3 games. This is a new season however, with new players, new goals, and new heights to reach for each school. For UNH it’s the beginning of what must be a bittersweet season, Coach Dick Umile’s 28th and final season at the helm. Can the Wildcats turn back the clock to the UNH Golden Era or will it be more like the last few years? Competitive but inconsistent. As for the River Hawks will this be the season that they finally reach NCAA glory? Each team has something to prove, and each gets a chance to showcase in front of their home crowds this weekend.
UNH lost Hobey Baker hopeful Tyler Kelleher to graduation but still have plenty of production to wear down the opposition. Led by Seniors Jason Salvaggio (36 points), Michael McNicholas (43pts) & Shane Eiserman the offense is well balanced. It will be interesting to see how the incoming Freshmen Charlie Kelleher and Eric MacAdams mesh with the likes of Juniors Marcus Vela, Frankie Cefalu, Ara Nazarian & Sophomores Liam Blackburn, Patrick Grasso (33pts) & Brendan van Riemsdyk. It will be fun to watch that talent especially on the huge Whittemore Center ice. The big question is can the defense be consistent in front of Senior goalie Danny Tirone? Tirone led the nation in saves last season which is great but it also means his team’s defensive zone play wasn’t spectacular. With 3 hulking Freshman defensemen patrolling the backline there will be some growing pains. Washington Capitols draft pick Benton Maass is 6’-2”, as is James Miller. USNDT product and Florida Panthers pick Max Gildon is 6’-3” and already clicking scoring a goal and an assist in UNH’s preseason tie with St. Francis Xavier last weekend. Adding those 3 to the likes of Seniors Dylan Chanter 6’-3”, Cameron Marks 6’, and Richard Boyd 6’-3 and Sophomores Anthony Wyse 6’-3” & Nick Nonis 6’-3”. Looking to get back to his Freshman year form is Junior Matt Dawson. Marks led Hockey East with 94 blocked shots last year, Chanter and Wyse had 54 & 44 a piece. This team isn’t afraid to lay it out there. It’s a solid mix of veteran’s and newcomers whose compete level will be high every game. UNH hasn’t been to the NCAA’s since the 2012-13 season. That drought ends this year. Whether its a rallying point to send Umile out on a high note or the Wildcats finally gel in all 3 zones it will be an entertaining and nostalgic year for the Whittemore faithful.
UML comes into this season poised to stay on top of Hockey East, sharing the regular season title and winning the Tournament title last year, but falling in the NCAA’s in the Regional Final to Notre Dame 3-2 in OT. Lowell graduated some serious talent from last year, Joe Gambardella, Dylan Zink, & Michael Kapla. However for this team it has the “next man up” mentality. The River Hawks are loaded still, returning Senior John Edwardh (39pts), Sophomore Ryan Lohin (29pts) & Senior Jake Kamrass (22pts). The remaining forwards Kenny Hausinger, Nick Master, Connor Wilson and Ryan Collins are ready to step up and take on a bigger role. While incoming Freshman Connor Sodergren, Cole Paskus, and Charlie Levesque are expecting to step into the line-up. The blue line corp is one of the best in the country. Seniors Tyler Mueller, Chris Forney, & Tommy Panico plus Junior Niklas Folin and Sophomore Mattias Goransson will anchor the offensive attack from the back out. 3 Freshmen 6’-0” Anthony Baxter, 6’-1” Jonathan Waring, and behemoth 6’-5” Croix Evingson look to crack the line up. Tyler Wall had a pretty solid Freshman year going 26-10-1 and registering a .918 save % and a 2.06 GAA. It should be a safe bet that Head Coach Norm Bazin, in his 7th year, will ride the New York Ranger draft pick all season. Junior back-ups Christopher Hernberg and Sean Cleary haven’t seen much action over the last 2 years. Bazin has been one of the best coaches in all of college hockey since taking the reigns at UMass-Lowell. A 151-68-21 record has led to 5 NCAA appearances, 2 Hockey East regular season titles, and 3 Hockey East Tournament titles in 6 seasons. His system is highly regarded as UML is able to plug in player after player every year. There’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case this season.
This weekend kicks off with a bang in Lowell and Durham. Business as usual in a tightly contested Hockey East.