2017-18 NCAA Preview: Hockey East

The Beasts of the East are ready for 2017-18

Trade your board shorts and flip flops in for skates and pads because Hockey East is right around the corner. As the warmth of summer begins to fade and we all retreat to the nearest rink, its time to take a look at this coming year in the best conference primarily based in the Northeast.

There is plenty of conference news to discuss, so let’s kick things off with a recap of last season.

Last Year’s Standings

  1. Boston College, 37 pts (17-4-3)
  2. Northeastern, 30 pts (14-8-2)
  3. Boston University, 28 pts (12-8-4)
  4. Providence, 25 pts (11-10-3)
  5. Vermont, 25 pts (9-8-7)
  6. New Hampshire, 24 pts (11-11-2)
  7. Connecticut, 20 pts (9-13-2)
  8. Merrimack, 14 pts (7-17-0)
  9. Maine, 13 pts (6-17-1)

In the first round of the WHEA Tournament, BC swept Merrimack, NU swept Connecticut, BU defeated New Hampshire 2-1, and Vermont defeated Providence 2-1.

In the semifinals, BC defeated Vermont and NU defeated BU, and BC ultimately won the conference championship, their second in a row.

Look Back at Last Season

Hockey East is a conference of haves and have nots. The Eagles led the haves with 37 points, two freshmen on the All-Rookie team, three players selected in the NWHL Draft, and the Cammi Granato Player of the Year Award Winner, Megan Keller. On a team that lost the likes of Alex Carpenter, Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno, Katie Crowley was able to finish atop the regular season standings and with the conference tournament trophy in her hands.

Northeastern and Boston University were also able to overcome major losses from graduation and put themselves back in the top three for yet another season. With Kendall Coyne departing from Huntington Avenue, McKenna Brand emerged as a new top-line threat for the Huskies. The Terriers were able to put together standout seasons from graduate transfer Mary Parker and conference scoring leader Victoria Bach in the wake of an eight member graduating class from 2015-16. Both teams ultimately fell short of a conference title and NCAA appearance though.

Providence enjoyed a good amount of success with their fourth place finish, and found a fresh face to lead their defense in years to come in Whitney Dove. Dove became the first player in conference history to be named Rookie of the Year. Their season ended early with a first round tournament exit, but with their team so young they have time to build on the success they were able to find this season.

Vermont were also be able to ride the waves of a rookie sensation in Eve-Audrey Picard. Alongside Madison Litchfield, who may have been the most underrated player in the conference, the Catamounts made it to the conference semifinals and put on a good showing against a dominant BC team. Maine joined the rookie club with co-Rookie of the Year recipient Tereza Vanisova, but found themselves in the basement of the conference and out of the playoffs.

New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Merrimack found minimal success and were all bounced from the playoffs in the first round.

Looking at the Top (in the Future)

You know who the top three teams will be. It’s the same three teams every year. I know I have to spell it out, but this is not going to shock anyone.

It’s BC, then it’s NU, then it’s BU, or maybe flip the last two, but no one is dethroning those three. Katie Crowley is a future Hockey Hall of Famer and even with Andie Anastos graduating and Megan Keller and Kali Flanagan leaving for the Olympics they can still roll three scoring lines and always have Katie Burt bail them out if the offense stalls.

Northeastern returns two-thirds of an incredibly potent top line and has an impressive recruting class that will make up for a large graduating class this past season. BU has continued to manage to find solutions to top line talent graduating, but Bach is not even graduating so it hardly matters. There may be questions in goal with Erin O’Neil, but head coach Brian Durocher was able to add transfers Reagan Rust from RIT and Abbey Stanley from North Dakota. Both will be able to make a big impact from day one.

You can slice it any way you want, but these three teams are the most well coached, have the best talent, and own track records of success in a tough conference.

Dark Horses... or Catamounts... or Friars?

The two teams not located in Boston (or Chestnut Hill) that are mostly likely to challenge for a top three finish in the conference are Vermont and Providence. The signs are all there for the Catamounts to field a highly competitive team in 2017-2018: a young forward core consisting of Picard, Saana Valkama, and Alyssa Gorecki; a strong incoming class including Valerie Caldwell and North Dakota transfer defenseman Taylor Flaherty; and a track record of success last season including a sweep of Northeastern in Historic Matthews Arena.

The biggest surprise team, ironically, is the team that came in fourth place last season - the Providence Friars. They finished third in scoring offense last season and were really pulled down my substandard defense and goaltending. This will change this season and it all comes from the incoming class. Goaltender Sandra Abstreiter is coming over from Germany after spending time as the German National U18 team goaltender. She will challenge for time against incumbent starter Madison Myers. Abstreiter is 5’11” or 6’0” depending on who you ask, but at the end of the day she is much taller than 5’7” Myers, and big goaltenders are all the rage these days. Add in defenders Ariane Julien, Giana Savastano and Chloe Gonsalves and this Friars team is sneaky good.

Players to Watch

There’s a ton of talent across this conference, some young and some old, but every team has playmakers and possible stars dressing for them every weekend. Here’s just a few names to watch this season:

Whitney Dove (Providence, sophomore, defenseman)
I’ve already mentioned her and Providence a fair amount of times, but Dove is a premiere player in this conference. As an underclassman she still has some things to work on with her defensive zone play, but in the offensive zone she can function like a fourth forward. Dove isn’t afraid to creep up on the play and go behind the faceoff dots, and still finds herself open at the blue line for her booming one-timer.

Tereza Vanišová (Maine, sophomore, forward)
The Czech Black Bear has positioned herself for a very successful college career. Maine mostly flies under the radar because of their losing records and sub-par geographic location, but there’s nothing lowkey about Vanišová. She skates well, her wrist shot is well above average, her hockey IQ is very high for someone her age, and she’s also very strong on the puck when navigating defenders or driving to the net.

Grace Middleton (New Hampshire, freshman, forward)
New Hampshire will try to catapult themselves out of the depths of the conference this season and Middleton will be a big part of that. Middleton is a product of the Michigan high school system as well as the Little Caesar’s U19 program. In her final season with Little Caesar’s she scored 62 points in 61 games, and participated in the USA Hockey Select 66 Camp. If you are looking for an early candidate for Rookie of the Year, Middleton is a safe bet to earn a lot of minutes and score a lot of goals for the Wildcats.

Maddie Hartman (Northeastern, junior, defenseman)
Defenders often get overlooked because of their lack of point production, but Hartman will be an impact player for Northeastern this season. The Deer Park, Illinois native became a regular on the Huskies top defensive pair, and recorded 16 assists including three in the conference playoffs. There has been a lot of turnover at defense for the Huskies over the past few seasons, but if head coach Dave Flint can keep a solid core around Hartman they can make serious moves for a conference title.

Abby Cook (Boston University, sophomore, defenseman)
Cook scored four goals in her freshman season when she was named to the WHEA All-Rookie Team. Durocher has sung his praises of Cook in his actions and words, giving her time in all three phases of the game and complimenting her abilities especially at such a young age. She scored her second goal of the season against Minnesota in an emotional 6-5 OT victory for the Terriers, and will continue to make big plays on both ends of the ice.

Katie Burt (Boston College, senior, goaltender)
She’s good. She’s real good. I don’t have to explain how good she is. Burt is the best goaltender in the conference. She’s so good she went first overall in this year’s NWHL entry draft. There isn’t a stage too big for Burt (National Championship games notwithstanding) and she will go into her senior season ready to break more school and conference records.

Five Series You Need to Watch

I’m going to cheat a little and name a few out of conference games and series, but there’s some exciting matchups that cannot be left out. These games are in no particular order, but are all vital to the makeup of this season.

Northeastern at Boston College (First Matchup 11/28)
A rematch of the 2017 WHEA Final, the Huskies and Eagles have had a ton of competitive games over the past few seasons including the aformentioned conference final, a Beanpot final, a close tie in Matthews, and NU’s first win over BC in years at Conte Forum. Late November will be the first time these two high powered teams meet this season and it should be a great game.

Merrimack at Boston University (9/23)
Is naming the first game of the season cheap? Maybe. This is the first regular season in-conference tilt of the year between a Merrimack team trying to make a name for itself in a tough conference and a BU team that seems to prove people wrong every season. Not only will this game signal the end of a very long summer, it will give some insight into the off-seasons of these two programs. Can BU keep itself ahead of the curve in Hockey East, or did Merrimack put together the pieces that will remove themselves from the conference basement?

Beanpot 2018 (First round 2/6, BU @ Harvard, NU @ BC)
Nothing says February quite like the Beanpot (no, not even Valentine’s Day) when the best of friends across Boston decide they no longer like shades of red their rival schools wear. BU has yet to win the Beanpot since becoming a DI program, and BC has had a stranglehold on the tournament in recent years. These games are routinely some of the best of the season for all four schools, and this year should be no exception.

Vermont at Providence (10/1)
These two teams represent the upper echelon of the non-Boston schools and meet pretty early in the year. This matchup could set the stage for either the Catamounts or Friars to pull ahead of the other in the standings. Picard versus Dove will be a fun on-ice matchup to watch as both represent the future of their teams at their respective divisions. Can the Cats hold their own without Madison Litchfield in between the pipes? Are the Friars for real this year? Thankfully, these questions may be answered sooner than later.

DC Tournament in Arlington, VA (First game 11/24)
This season, BU and NU will travel down to take on WCHA schools Minnesota State and Wisconsin. On the 24th, the Terriers and Mavericks will take the ice first, followed by the Huskies and Badgers. The following day the schools will swap and get the chance to play the other out of conference opponent. This is a great opportunity for all of the schools involved to travel to the nation’s capital on Thanksgiving weekend as well as face some tough competition they normally will not see in a given season.

Final Take

You want nuts? Let’s get nuts.

Okay, not too crazy, but the conference final is going to feature at least one team not from Boston/Chestnut Hill. Yes, this means either Vermont or Providence will end up playing in a WHEA final game. Providence has not made the final since 2012 when they lost to BU and Vermont has never appeared past the semifinal round. But this is the year when the tables get turned.

This could be a season of wildly increased parity, and hopefully the middling teams in the conference can make the necessary moves to become competitors with the old guard.

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