Another weekend of college hockey is in the books. Here are three things that caught my attention in the third weekend of the men’s college hockey season.
Hockey East has looked like a garbage fire so far this year. Traditional powers Boston College and Boston University are both winless for the first since the 1930s, which, to put that in context, is just a few years after Jerry York started coaching. New Hampshire doesn’t have a win. Maine was thoroughly out-classed on their trip out to Duluth last weekend. Northeastern got swept by Union. Vermont followed up their big win at Michigan with a dud against Quinnipiac. Merrimack was swept by Lake Superior State and lost to Army. UMass Lowell has splits with RIT and Miami. Even Providence tied Sacred Heart last weekend.
But if there is one saving grace for the conference this year, it looks like perennial bottom-feeder UMass is a real contender this year. The Minutemen invested heavily by bringing in a top-notch coaching staff led by Greg Carvel in 2016, and that is beginning to pay dividends. UMass swept their opening series against RPI, and last weekend, went on the road to play a very good Ohio State team and came away with a very respectable split.
Carvel and assistants Ben Barr and Jared DeMichiel are excellent recruiters, and the influx of talent they have brought in is a big reason for the turnaround. Of the 15 players that have scored for UMass this year, just three players aren’t in either the sophomore or freshman class, and that includes a senior grad transfer and a transfer from another school, both brought in by the new coaching staff. Leading the team in scoring and shots on goal is sophomore defenseman Cale Makar, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and could have a really breakout year.
UMass has only won 20 games in a season once since joining Hockey East in 1994-95. That came in 2006-2007 when sophomore Jonathan Quick helped lead the Minutemen to the only NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. In all, they have just three winning seasons in 23 years in Hockey East. A good team, combined with a down conference means this could be a very special season for UMass.
2. St. Cloud State
It’s strange how quick people were willing to forget that St. Cloud State was by far the best team in the country last year because they happened to have a very unlucky two-and-a-half hours at precisely the wrong time.
The Huskies lost a couple big contributors over the off-season—Mikey Eyssimont, Will Borgen, and Judd Peterson were all key players last year—but they caught some huge breaks in getting a couple guys back that maybe could have signed NHL contracts and returned a lot of talent. The biggest question mark was what would be the effect of seeing their head coach, along with an assistant, walk out the door to go to a rival program, both schematically and psychologically.
So far so good. The Huskies are 4-0 on the season with four pretty convincing wins. They went up to Fairbanks to open the season, and while Alaska isn’t very good, the Alaska schools have found ways to steal games from very good teams in the past thanks to the arduous trip up there and the Alaska schools having more practice time under their belts. They followed that up with impressive 4-1 and 5-0 wins over Northern Michigan, including allowing just 10 shots on goal in Saturday’s win. I’m not sure Northern Michigan is as good as last year’s 25-win team that was buoyed by the enthusiasm of a new coaching hire and snuck up on some people. But they should still be at least middle-of-the-pack in the WCHA, if not contending for the top, so to see SCSU blow them out like that is worth noticing.
3. Emilio Pettersen, Denver
Denver has played two games against Alaska and one against Alabama-Huntsville, two teams that will likely finish as among the worst in the country, so it’s a bit early to start throwing parades. But Pettersen is tied for the national lead in scoring with eight points in his first four collegiate games.
Pettersen is one of the rare super-young recruits to actually work out. Carbon-dating of ancient runes puts his commitment in early-April of 2014, which would have been just a few days after 14th birthday. The big stories a few weeks later would be Union winning their first national title and a then-unknown kid named Auston Matthews out-shining Jack Eichel for Team USA at the World U18 Championships.
But the wait appears to have been worth it. Pettersen, along with fellow NHL drafted freshmen Cole Guttman, Brett Stapley, and Slava Demin, are all scoring for the Pioneers, and junior forward Liam Finlay has five goals and appears ready for the breakout season I’ve been predicting for some time. It appears that rumors of Denver’s demise post-Borgstrom/Terry/Gambrell/Montgomery may have been deeply exaggerated.