It is certainly early to make predictions about next season, but as players graduate and depart for the professional ranks, it is not too early to speculate about how the balance of power in Hockey East might shift come fall. Boston University men’s hockey head coach Jack Parker said he doesn’t foresee any dramatic changes, but that the parity in college hockey across the board makes conjecture tough.
“It’s difficult to think that the usual suspects aren’t going to be around,” Parker said. “[Boston College] is going to be good, BU’s going to be good, [University of New Hampshire] is going to be good. Maine is probably the only one of the usual suspects that might be losing the most, but they still have plenty coming back and they still have very good freshmen classes.”
BC, the defending Hockey East and NCAA champion, will lose key players, including forward Chris Kreider and defenseman Brian Dumoulin, to the NHL teams that own their rights, the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes, respectively.
Parker said he doesn’t see the Eagles’ losses damaging their chances next year, though, especially in light of the breakout year freshman Johnny Gaudreau had.
“BC was going to lose a lot of players,” Parker said. “BC lost a lot of players last year, but the [Barry] Almeidas and [Paul] Careys stepped up, they got Johnny Gaudreau by accident, and all of a sudden it’s a different world.”
One team with a more questionable fate is Merrimack College, which finished fifth in Hockey East after ranking No. 1 in the nation early on. Losing senior goalie Joe Cannata, who finished the year with a .926 save percentage in 36 starts, will be a tough blow for a team that ranked in the conference’s bottom three in scoring and relied on Cannata to keep them in close games.
“I expected them to take a little dip after the year before, after what they lost,” Parker said of the Warriors. “Frankly, I don’t know what will happen to them this year because now they lost a lot of good guys this year, plus the guys that they should have taken a dip this year.”
After vaulting from a five-win season in 2010-11 to the second seed in the conference tournament this year, a relatively young University of Massachusetts-Lowell team is fortunate to have key contributors – sophomore goalie Doug Carr and freshman forward and conference Rookie of the Year Scott Wilson, among others – returning.
Northeastern University, which missed out on a playoff spot this year, will return junior forward Vinny Saponari as well as junior goalie Chris Rawlings, who was previously expected to depart after this season. They’ll join freshman forward Ludwig Karlsson, who led the Huskies in scoring as a rookie, on what Parker said should be an improved team.
Parker noted the difference in the way BU, BC and other nationally-known programs recruit compared to lesser-known schools like Merrimack, which often find success with older players who weren’t recruited out of high school.
“We’ve got three 18-year-old kids coming in next year and guess what, we’re happy to have those three kids. Those three kids are good players,” Parker said. “But . . . it’s one thing for Cason Hohmann, an 18-year-old freshman, to play against a 20-year-old freshman. It’s another thing for him to play against a 24-year-old senior.
“So that gap has changed the other gap, and I think that that will continue until the NCAA does something about it. I don’t even know if the NCAA should do something about it – I’m not saying it’s unfair, it’s just that some schools don’t recruit that way and some schools have to recruit that way.”
Two of those teams that have to recruit creatively, Ferris State University and Union College, made it to the Frozen Four this year opposite two more “traditional” programs in BC and the University of Minnesota, speaking again to the parity of the game.
“One of the things that makes it difficult for coaches these days is that someone can say, ‘Don’t tell me you can’t win. So-and-so is winning at this school,’” Parker said. “‘Ferris State went to the national championship. Union is winning the ECAC. Merrimack was one of the best teams in college hockey two years ago. Lowell was one of the best teams in college hockey this year. Don’t tell me you can’t win.’ So the ‘haves’ don’t have to necessarily be the only ones that win.”
Although that atmosphere hasn’t necessarily been kind to BU in the last few years, Parker said he thinks it is good for the college game overall to have teams like Lowell challenging for conference titles. With a pool of potential players that’s considerably smaller than the pool for college basketball or football, college hockey could become, for instance, the BC-BU-Minnesota-Wisconsin show, but instead, many smaller and less-well-known schools are getting their shots on the game’s biggest stages.
“College hockey is as good as it’s ever been as far as parity and excitement and everybody thinking they’ll get a chance,” Parker said. “Great young coaches in every league. There’s an awful lot of good things happening for college hockey.”