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Hockey East: 5 Biggest News Stories of Off-Season

Charlie McAvoy
Charlie McAvoy
Matt Dewkett

With classes having started or close to starting at all 12 Hockey East member schools, the college hockey season is quickly approaching.

While some diehard fans stay tuned with each and every movement of the college hockey landscape throughout the summer months, others might have catching up to do.

There was coaching movement, high profile draft selections and defections to the pro ranks. Here’s a look at the top five stories of the Hockey East off-season:

1. A New Coach for UMass

The University of Massachusetts hired Greg Carvel to lead the school’s hockey program, it was announced at the end of March. The St. Lawrence alum had spent the past four seasons guiding his alma mater. Prior to that, he had stops in the NHL as an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators.

Carvel has New England ties despite much of his experience coming outside of the region. The Hotchkiss (Conn.) School alum also boasts a master’s degree from UMass. While his career head coaching record is just nine games over .500 at 72-63-15, this hire can be categorized as nothing other than a home run.

Carvel will run a professional program at UMass and has assembled a staff that will be able to at least compete on the recruiting trail with the upper echelon of the league. Ben Barr is one of the hottest up-and-coming names in the coaching circuit. He comes to Amherst from WMU, but the RPI grad also was an assistant under Nate Leaman at Union and Providence. Jared DeMichiel, the goaltender for RIT’s Frozen Four squad in 2010, followed Carvel from Canton.

2. Seven Underclassmen Left BC for Pro Hockey

It’s not unusual for top programs to lose a few players to NHL contracts each summer. However, Boston College was hit particularly hard this off-season. Goaltender Thatcher Demko, defensemen Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini, and forwards Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford, Miles Wood and Adam Gilmour all left The Heights for greener pastures.

While all seven guys brought something unique to the table, the two that are hardest to replace are McCoshen and Santini. The two blue line stalwarts brought an element of pro-ready defenders that very few other teams in the country could boast.

BC wasn’t the only Hockey East team to lose a player early. Providence junior goaltender Nick Ellis signed a free agent deal with the Edmonton Oilers. Maine junior defenseman Dan Renouf signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent. UNH sophomore forward Andrew Poturalski signed with the Carolina Hurricanes. Northeastern junior defenseman Matt Benning graduated a year early to pursue free agency, ultimately signing with the Edmonton Oilers.

3. A Terrier Takeover at NHL Draft

It began with recruit Clayton Keller going seventh overall to the Arizona Coyotes, but it didn’t stop there. Three more current or future Terriers were pegged off the board in the first 19 picks. Charlie McAvoy went No. 14 to the Boston Bruins while incoming freshman Dante Fabro was taken by Nashville at No. 17. Kieffer Bellows went No. 19 to the New York Islanders.

Two more recruits, Chad Krys and Patrick Harper, were taken in the second and fourth rounds, respectively.

It’s no secret that David Quinn and his staff have been dominating the recruiting scene over the past few years. Much of the credit goes to assistants Albie O’Connell and Scott Young, but Steve Greeley, now with the New York Rangers, really got the ball rolling.

UConn sophomore right wing Tage Thompson was the only other player with Hockey East ties to be taken in the first round. The nation’s leading power play scorer as a rookie was selected by the St. Louis Blues at No. 26.

4. Hockey East Players Shined at NJEC

The National Junior Evaluation Camp moved from Lake Placid, NY to Plymouth, Mich. this summer. The showcase, which helps the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland figure out who to bring to the 2017 World Junior Championship, had no shortage of highlight reels for current and future Hockey East stars.

McAvoy showed his continued development as a player. What most fans will remember were two bone-crushing hits, but the NTDP alum was just as good with the puck on his stick and pushing possession in favor of the U.S.

Providence sophomore Erik Foley drew plenty of praise from the coaching staff, led by St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko. He was very good below the dots and used his size and strength to score two goals from right on top of the goalmouth.

Thompson and BU’s Jordan Greenway also were singled out by Motzko as top performers. Keller, Bellows, Krys and incoming freshman goaltender Jake Oettinger were also there for the Terriers on the U.S. side. Fabro was there for Canada.

BC incoming freshman goaltender Joe Woll was there as well for the Americans. The top future Eagle was in a Finnish uniform. Top 2017 NHL Draft prospect Eli Tolvanen wowed scouts with his skating, play-making ability and hockey IQ. He’ll play for Sioux City in the USHL this season before matriculating to BC next fall. Incoming freshmen Jesper and Julius Mattila were also representing the Eagles on the Finnish squad. The Fins also had Merrimack recruit Sam Tavernier and Providence recruit Kasper Bjorqvist.

5. Frozen Fenway is Back

One of the most debated issues in all of college hockey is back again this year. Love it or hate it, outdoor games are good exposure for the sport and will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

The ice conditions and the sight lines for fans are poor, but each team has to deal with the issue so it really is not much of a competitive advantage one way or the other. The only real complaint can come from the team that has to give up a home game for the Fenway contest.

A few coaches are against it, but the vast majority of coaches and players are excited to play in one of the most historic sporting venues in the country. This year’s edition will span two weekends with doubleheaders on consecutive Saturdays.

Boston University and Massachusetts kick off the festivities at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, followed by Boston College and Providence. A week later, Maine squares off against UConn at 4 p.m. The nightcap of the second twin bill will feature defending Hockey East champion Northeastern against New Hampshire.