With Notre Dame making its first visit of the season to the Boston area this weekend, what are you expecting to see from the Fighting Irish?
Joshua Kummins: Notre Dame was cited as a team that had the potential to win Hockey East on its way out this winter, although it has not lived up to such expectations yet. We'll talk about two of the league's most underrated players later, but I'll hit on one here a bit too.
Even with a league-leading 16 points in eight games, to me, Anders Bjork fits into the "underrated" category. Union's Mike Vecchione might be stealing the early Hobey Baker headlines, but Bjork ― who also holds a New England connection as a Boston Bruins draft pick ― has to at least be part of the conversation. The Hockey East Player of the Month for October has upped his game each year with the Irish, and he's been no different as a junior. He already has a pair of four-point games on the season, giving the Irish quite a scoring touch from the second line.
I'm excited to get a look at a Notre Dame team that many had high expectations for at the beginning of the season. Plus, Cal Petersen is a goaltender who is perhaps more capable than any in Hockey East to steal a game. His numbers may not rival those of the league's top goalies last year, but he is fun to watch and can make any game interesting.
Jeff Cox: With the exception of an opening weekend sweep of Arizona State, the Fighting Irish have suffered a loss in each series of the season so far.
It will be interesting to see how Notre Dame looks against the defending Hockey East champion Huskies. Statistically Cal Petersen has struggled a lit bit this season, but he’s one of the better goalies in the league when he’s on top of his game.
Bruins draft pick Anders Bjork is averaging two points per game through eight contests, but seven of those points came against Arizona State.
Keep a close eye on Jake Evans, who has always been a very good two-way center. The Montreal Canadiens prospect will be counted on even more this season to take key draws and play big minutes.
What coach do you think has done the best job so far just over a month into the season?
Jeff Cox: Going a little off the board here, it’s Boston College associate head coach Greg Brown. Leading the Eagles in Jerry York’s absence, Brown has his squad 5-0-1 in Hockey East play.
Yes, the schedule has not been very tough, but the Eagles are routinely dressing eight freshmen, including three on the blue line. It’s a talented team, but Brown is doing a good job of bringing them together and keeping a young roster from getting too high or too low.
Joshua Kummins: I'm giving Vermont's Kevin Sneddon the nod here. Three of the Catamounts' captains were suspended for five games after a preseason hazing scandal, making a challenging start to the season ― with games at Clarkson and Omaha, and against Michigan in that span ― even tougher. UVM won all three of those contests and came out 3-1-1 overall.
To me, the most impressive part of the start Sneddon's team has put forth is the seamless transition Brendan Bradley, Anthony Petruzzelli and Mario Puskarich made back into the lineup at the beginning of the month. Catching up at any point in the season is a challenge, but that is especially true at the start. Still, they looked crisp in their debut couple weeks back at Northeastern and will only continue to develop as the rest of the team did through five games, against some stiff competition. Sneddon had his team in a pair of close games this past weekend at UMass Lowell, and has the goaltending to remain in every game with both freshman Stefanos Lekkas and senior Mike Santaguida going. It seems like UVM deserves more than it was given leading into the season, thanks to a complete team effort.
What Hockey East player still does not get enough credit as he deserves?
Joshua Kummins: Northeastern has been hit by the injury bug as both John Stevens and Nolan Stevens have missed time in the early going, but Adam Gaudette has made the most of his opportunity and been a shining star as a sophomore. Losing two-thirds of NU's top line has forced some shifting in the last few weeks. Gaudette, though, has meshed quite well with any linemate, most notably junior Dylan Sikura (another underrated player in my book) and fellow Thayer Academy product Lincoln Griffin.
He's been equal parts scorer and distributor this season, even getting himself on SportsCenter with a highlight reel goal last week against Boston University, and played well in the defensive end of the rink as well. Gaudette picked up right where he left off during NU's run to the Hockey East title last season, but he's used an outstanding shot to take his game to another level. "He's in a good zone," as head coach Jim Madigan put it, and I'd expect his role to remain large when the Huskies return to full health.
Jeff Cox: While I’ve made the argument for Gaudette as an underrated super star in this league before, I’ll switch it up for my answer here.
A lot of the credit, and rightfully so, for UMass Lowell’s success is given to Norm Bazin and the system he runs. It can be said that the River Hawks are a team with a next-man-up philosophy.
However, senior Joey Gambardella doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves. The Staten Island, NY native has six goals and eight assists on the season. While he doesn’t have quite the skill set as linemate C.J. Smith, he creates opportunities by hard work and a high motor.
He kills penalties, he forechecks hard, he forces turnovers and he does a lot of the little things it takes to win hockey games.