This week, SB Nation's three Hockey East reporters got together for a round table discussion on what they saw at last week's exhibition contests and what they're looking forward to at this upcoming weekend's games.
Jeff Cox will be at the 2015 IceBreaker Tournament at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine. University of Maine is the host with North Dakota, Michigan State and Lake Superior in town. Joshua Kummins is at Tsongas Arena for Friday's UMass Lowell-Rensselaer tilt. A night later, he'll be at Matthews Arena for Northeastern and Colgate. Conor Ryan makes the trek out I-90 for Boston University's nonconference matchup at Union College on Saturday night.
What were your initial impressions after watching exhibition games last weekend?
Out of all the Boston College and Boston University freshman that were hyped prior to the season, one name not mentioned very much, if at all, was Shane Switzer. The Alberta Junior Hockey League product was a standout in the Terriers' 4-2 exhibition victory over Acadia. His skating ability was very good and he looked poised with the puck.
Sean Maguire was good in net for BU, after sitting out last season with a medical leave. So was Thatcher Demko in his period of work down the road later in the evening. That fact shouldn't be overlooked considering the Vancouver Canucks prospect had off-season hip surgery.
Several of Northeastern's freshmen looked very good in the Huskies' lopsided victory over Simon Fraser on Sunday. Jason Cotton had a hat trick and Adam Gaudette, Lincoln Griffin and Eric Williams also found the score sheet.
Boston College played a good first period, but unraveled a bit as time wore on against New Brunswick on Saturday night. BC's biggest question before facing New Brunswick was the health of Thatcher Demko, but he looked strong in pitching a shutout in his period of work and should be ready to roll for this weekend's games in New York. Also, the Eagles' freshmen showed themselves well with Miles Wood scoring right off the bat and Chris Birdsall bouncing back for a nice third period in net after allowing all five goals in the second.
I saw some offensive promise from Northeastern, and it didn't just come off Kevin Roy's stick. The game came against a greatly inferior Canadian opponent, but offensive contributions came from 18 different Huskies skaters.
Boston University vs. Acadia University - 10/3
Even with captain Matt Grzelcyk sidelined with a knee injury, BU is still expected to roll out one the top D-corps in the country this season.
Overlooking a few early turnovers in the defensive zone, BU's blue liners performed as advertised in their 4-2 victory over Acadia University, with sophomore John MacLeod standing out in particular.
While the Tampa Bay prospect did not register a shot on goal, MacLeod showed a level of assertiveness that occasionally waned throughout last year, winning battles along the boards and instilling a level of grit out on the ice.
Speaking of physicality, freshman winger Jordan Greenway was a force on BU's first line, using his 6-foot-5, 230-pound body to impose his will in the ice. If the USNTDP product continues to see time with senior snipers Danny O'Regan and Ahti Oksanen, look for Greenway to clean up on rebounds and deflections in the slot.
Ultimately, BU's versatile unit of rookies made the biggest impression at Agganis Arena. Bruins prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson did the heavy lifting, tallying two goals — including a highlight-reel penalty shot — while logging significant time on special teams. With a cerebral, two-way style of play, look for "JFK" to be an impact player throughout the winter for the Terriers.
Northeastern vs. Simon Fraser - 10/4
There wasn't a whole lot for Huskies coach Jim Madigan to hang his head on following Northeastern's 10-2 obliteration of Simon Fraser University. Freshman Jason Cotton's hat trick served as the haymaker in a 63-shot barrage for the Huskies, as 18 different players recorded a point in the fracas at Matthews Arena.
While it can be easy to point to Northeastern's freshmen as the biggest difference in Sunday's contest, credit must also be paid to the Huskies' crew of returning forwards. Kevin Roy looked like. ... well, Kevin Roy, while junior winger Zach Aston-Reese was dangerous on the second line, compiling five shots and lighting the lamp in the first period.
Admittedly, Madigan stated that he has few concerns in regards to offense, but noted that his team's defensive pairings will have to continue to gel if the Huskies want to chase NCAA tournament aspirations. With returning D-men like Matt Benning, Colton Saucerman and Garret Cockerill in tow, NU certainly has the personnel necessary to put together a successful campaign.
What are you most looking forward to at the games this weekend?
It will be really interesting to see how Maine plays to begin its third season of the Red Gendron regime. The Black Bears face two tough opponents from out west as they try to break in several young defensemen. Maine will be minus its top two players from a year ago -- Devin Shore and Ben Hutton -- who both left early to sign NHL deals.
Gendron and his staff have made a concerted effort on the recruiting trail to get bigger, but will that pay off if the speed and skating ability isn't there? There's no doubt Gendron and assistant coach Ben Guite are knowledgeable hockey guys who know what it takes to win. But, can they get the Black Bears program back on the right track with the horses in place currently?
The opening of every season brings excitement, but I think that feeling is even greater this year with many Hockey East teams looking for answers to some big questions. How will Boston University replace Jack Eichel's 71 points? Can Nick Ellis take full control in goal at Providence? How will highly touted freshman classes at Boston College and UConn blend in with some solid returners? We'll begin to find out some answers this weekend.
Ellis will be thrown right into the fire to start the season as the Friars have an exciting series at Miami on tap, so it won't take very long to see what he can do against a competitive team. Providence and Miami played one heck of a game at the East Regional back in March, so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in that series.
As far as the games I'll be covering, I'm excited to see a UMass Lowell team that loses virtually nobody from a year ago. Last year's River Hawks played in a third consecutive Hockey East title game and I think they can compete to be back there again. Star power isn't as evident with Lowell, but Norm Bazin always has a complete team.
Northeastern's Saturday night matchup with Colgate looks to be very interesting. The Raiders boasted one of the nation's top defenses last year and goaltender Charlie Finn is more than capable of taking a third game in two years from the Huskies.
BU's defense is stout and its forward depth is impressive, but its situation in net is still shrouded in uncertainty.
Terrier bench boss David Quinn has hinted at a potential rotation between Sean Maguire and Connor LaCouvee to open the season, with the preferential nod yet to be determined between the pipes.
Maguire impressed in his appearance against Acadia, stopping all 15 shots he faced over 1 1/2 periods of play, while LaCouvee compiled 12 saves on 14 attempts from the Axemen.
Despite the loss of senior Daniel Ciampini, the Dutchmen still boast an impressive offense, anchored by explosive forward Mike Vecchione and defenseman Jeff Taylor. Regardless of who Quinn decides to start in net on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how they fare in their effort to secure a starting gig.