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Four Things to Watch in Hockey East This Weekend

Vinny Scotti is one player Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy will look for to help with the offense.
Vinny Scotti is one player Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy will look for to help with the offense.
Matt Dewkett

Exhibition contests are meaningless scrimmages that do not count for anything as far as the NCAA is concerned and often times can be sloppy games due to the US college team's lack of practices leading up to them. That being said, this weekend's exhibition slate signifies the start of the Hockey East season and the dawn of a new era. Here's three things Hockey East fans should be on the lookout for Saturday and Sunday.

1. Highly regarded 2015 NHL Draft prospects Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin will debut in Boston University and Boston College uniforms, respectively. Both local products will immediately contribute to their teams. Eichel, a terrific skater with an extra gear, has elite skill and a wingspan that some compare to former NHL greats. Hanifin is a poised blue liner with a smooth skating stride and immense puck skills. Both fanbases have been waiting for the day to see these players in their school's colors. Eichel and BU hit the ice at 4 p.m. against St. Thomas while Hanifin and the Eagles host New Brunswick at 7 p.m.

2. UMass Lowell, Maine and New Hampshire will be breaking in new goaltenders this weekend. The River Hawks have to replace two-year starter Connor Hellebuyck who left early to sign with the Winnipeg Jets. Looking to replace him will be a trio of program newcomers, including freshman Jeff Smith, who is the favorite to take the reigns in the crease. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native comes to UML after a highly successful junior career in the BCHL. Fellow freshman Olli Kälkäjä and transfer Kevin Boyle from UMass Amherst are also competing for playing time.

Martin Ouellette and Dan Sullivan both graduated, leaving a void in the Alfond Arena crease. Redshirt sophomore Matt Morris is the favorite to start the season as the top goaltender for the Black Bears, but breathing down his neck will be freshman Sean Romeo and redshirt freshman Nik Nugnes. On Sunday, Maine fans will have their first opportunity to see two big, rugged freshmen defenders in Mark Hamilton and Malcolm Hayes. The duo will bring some much needed muscle to the blue line.

Freshman Adam Clark will start the season as the number one goaltender for Dick Umile's Wildcats following the indefinite suspension of senior Casey DeSmith after he was charged with domestic violence assault and resisting arrest. Clark, a big six-foot-five tender from Salmon Arm of the BCHL, will fill DeSmith's shoes for the foreseeable future. UNH is looking to bring in recruit Danny Tirone for the first semester, adding to speculation that DeSmith's days in a UNH uniform are over. Tirone has left Cedar Rapids in the USHL to play for the Junior Bruins in the USPHL.

3. Merrimack hits the ice for the first time on Sunday against St. Francis Xavier and will do so without last year's leading scorer Mike Collins and defensive mainstays Jordan Heywood and Brendan Ellis. All three players graduated, leaving many question marks, including how an already inept offense will function in 2014-15. The Warriors, picked to finish 10th by both the coaches and media in preseason polls, will be breaking in 10 newcomers. Rookie forwards Brett Seney and Jace Hennig are the two incoming players expected to help out the offense the most. Mark Dennehy's squad has a plethora of big forwards that will need to create space and get into better scoring areas to be more effective this season. Sunday's game doesn't count, but could show if any returning players are ready to step up and it will be the first glimpse of the rookies looking to make an impact.

4. UConn will host Dalhousie in an exhibition game, marking the first time the Huskies will hit the ice as a member of Hockey East. Mike Cavanaugh's team will begin its transition from Atlantic Hockey to one of the premier conferences in college hockey.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.