It's a new age for UConn Hockey. Second-year head coach Mike Cavanaugh will lead this team into its inaugural season in Hockey East.
Responsible for four out of the last seven NCAA champions and three teams in the pre-season Top 15, Hockey East is a (if not the) premier collegiate hockey conference. With a new conference comes new faces, so it's only apt to take a full look at UConn's new opponents in the coming year. Here's a rundown of the first half of the Huskies' conference schedule:
Last Year: 8-22-3 (3-15-2 HE)
Three short years ago, I would have been really mad if this was our first Hockey East game. In 2014, however, I don't think UConn could have drawn a better opponent to ease their entry into conference play than Merrimack. Scoring only 62 goals the entirety of last season, Merrimack graduated their top goal scorer in Mike Collins who lead the team with 25 goals (or 40% of their total production, if you're not into doing that math). Merrimack allowed 97 goals last year, good for 2.9 goals per game.
So long as Cavanaugh has the Huskies prepared, I would expect a strong performance in our Hockey East debut on Oct. 18 and a a similar performance in the Liberty Hockey Invitational two weeks later.
No. 3 Boston College
Last Year: 28-8-4 (16-2-2 HE)
I hate BC. We all do. That's why it pains me to say that they will probably be the best team we play all year, and the best Hockey East has to offer. Coming off of a Frozen Four appearance and a strong 28-win year, 21-year head coach Jerry York will return seven seniors (including Connecticut native Quinn Smith). That doesn't mean the Eagles didn't suffer with the end of the 2013-2014 season, as they lost their top four point-scorers, including 2014 Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau (affectionately known as "Johnny Hockey").
To be frank, BC has been a powerhouse for the last decade and a half, perhaps even longer, so don't expect graduation to deplete them in any way, shape, or form. Thankfully, UConn pulled them at home directly after flying home from Denver and before a big pre-Beanpot melee (did you know BC isn't even technically IN Boston? I digress) against Boston University.
The guys over at BC Interruption mentioned their November 5th meeting in Hartford as a possible trap game, which I don't necessarily disagree with, but goals will come at a premium for the Huskies against a stout and experienced defense.
No. 15 Boston University
Last Year: 10-21-4 (5-12-3 HE)
Despite a disappointing 2013-14 campaign, there's a lot of promise in this 2014-15 BU Terriers squad. This is mainly due to a man by the name of Jack Eichel, who has been dubbed "The Next Face of American Hockey." Eichel is expected to go in the top-two in the 2015 NHL Draft, barring anything terrible. (I'm knocking on all the wood in the world right now, Terrier fans. He's our best shot at a Gold any time soon.)
BU has a lot to improve on, however, as they allowed a league-high 113 goals in 35 games (3.22 GA/game) while only scoring 81 (2.3 GF/game). But, four of those goals were scored against UConn in a 4-1 loss for the Huskies in the first meeting between these two teams. Sophomore Robbie Baillargeon, a 2014 Hockey East All-Rookie, will be vital for the Terriers to having a successful 2014-15 season. Odd note: BU won only one game last year away, a 4-2 win against Northeastern.
UConn meets the Terriers in Boston on Nov. 8 and in Hartford on Nov. 22.
University of Vermont
Last Year: 20-15-3 (10-10 HE)
You could tell me three or four different predictions for where UVM finishes next year, and I'd probably agree with any of them after listening to you long enough. Vermont lost their top point scorer in Chris McCarthy, but also retain their top goal scorer in now-Sophomore Mario Puskarich. Vermont is expecting a lot out of Puskarich, along with a BU transfer and best-name-having Alexx (two x's!) Privitera.
Vermont has improved their recorded substantially in each of the last two seasons, and it very well could be the case again. The Catamounts have a duo of goalies in Brody Hoffman and Mike Santaguida that will be the crux of their season. An incoming junior and a sophomore respectively, the two split minutes and combined for a nearly 92% save rate with a 2.29 GA/game.
UConn will play the Catamounts on Oct. 25 in crunchy Burlington, and again on Nov. 21 at the XL Center.
We'll return in the coming days with a look at the rest of the teams on UConn's Hockey East schedule.