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What are Hockey East Coaches Thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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Boston College has reloaded nicely, after being besieged with off-season departures to the NHL, something Jerry York has to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Matt Dewkett

With the Thanksgiving holiday marking the first third of the season in the books for the college hockey season, Joshua Kummins and Jeff Cox discuss what each Hockey East coach is thankful for.

BOSTON COLLEGE

Joshua Kummins: This was a challenging semester healthwise for Jerry York as he underwent an outpatient eye procedure several weeks ago and just returned to the bench last week. But, thank goodness for associate head coach Greg Brown. With a young team and after losing seven players early to the pro ranks, BC did not have an easy schedule at the outset, but has posted just three losses overall, built a five-point lead on UMass Lowell in the Hockey East standings, and had a ten-game unbeaten streak running before Friday’s loss at Harvard. One of those early personnel losses to the pros was goaltender Thatcher Demko, but Joe Woll has been more than an adequate replacement and ranks third in the league in save percentage as a freshman.

Jeff Cox: Jerry York is thankful for his program’s ability to reload instead of rebuild. Almost any other program in the country that was besieged with the off-season departures the Eagles were handled would be down in the doldrums. Instead, BC is 11-3-1 overall and 6-0-1 in Hockey East. Senior Austin Cangelosi has led the way with associate head coach Greg Brown calling him the best forward on the team after the win over UNH. Fellow senior Ryan Fitzgerald is leading the team in scoring. Players like Matt Gaudreau, J.D. Dudek and Chris Brown have stepped up offensively. And to think, Colin White, arguably the top offensive player in the league, hasn’t really gotten going yet. Three rookies have dotted the blue line on most nights and two rookie goaltenders have split the goaltending duties. An impressive start would be an understatement.

BOSTON UNIVERSITY

Kummins: Besides Thanksgiving itself, David Quinn is most certainly thankful for the ten-day break that his banged-up Terrier team began after Tuesday night’s win over Harvard. Defenseman John MacLeod missed last weekend’s series with UConn but returned against the Crimson, while the team’s forward group is still a bit depleted with Niklas Olsson and Clayton Keller both remaining on the mend from injuries. Despite the trials and tribulations for many talented but very young players, 7-4-1 is still a fine place to be.

Cox: While Josh hit the nail on the head with the break coming at a good time for a banged up BU squad, David Quinn has to be most thankful for his and his staff’s ability to recruit some of the top players in college hockey to his end of Commonwealth Ave. Sure, BU has lost four games and not looked like the world beaters many predicted, but one has to think this is a team that will peak in February and after. People have to remember it is a very young team with true freshmen and sophomores starring in many key roles.

CONNECTICUT

Kummins: Mike Cavanaugh's team is one with some sneaky depth, and that certainly something to be thankful for. Tage Thompson and Max Letunov are rightfully going to see the headlines, but UConn has had 16 different players score goals this season. It's a rather young team too, as only Evan Richardson and Brian Morgan are seniors up front. Thompson and Letunov are both sophomores, while Corey Ronan is a junior who has used outstanding speed to find his way onto the scoresheet at a strong rate already. With all that Cavanaugh has to work with, don't count out the Huskies.

Cox: The secondary scoring is something I wrote about following the win over BU last weekend, but I’m going to go in a different direction here. While freshman goaltender Adam Huska’s numbers have been up and down on paper, he’s a goaltender with game-changing abilities. Cavanaugh has to be thankful for one of the top young goaltenders in college hockey who will help his team down the stretch.

MAINE

Kummins: Red Gendron’s Black Bears lack some of the offensive firepower that their Hockey East opponents have, but freshmen Mitchell Fossier and Patrick Shea have been vital to where this team stands entering Thanksgiving, both playing on the top line together at times. Fossier burst onto the scene with a season-opening hat trick against RPI while his ten points are tied for second on the team. Shea scored two of his three goals in the first three games of the season, but has also been a consistent player in the lineup every night. While playing in such a crucial position is never easy, both are proving they have what it takes to be successful at the Division 1 level.

Cox: Red Gendron has to be most thankful for having one of the most underrated goaltenders in Division I. Sophomore Rob McGovern, who was once thought to be an NHL prospect out of Thayer Academy before falling off the radar some, has a .917 save percentage playing in front of a lackluster and young defense. When he’s on, he can steal games. He’s lost a lot of weight, gotten in better shape and is skating well and not letting in some of the soft goals that plagued him as a rookie. While the goal support has been better at times, Maine will only go as far as McGovern can take them the rest of the way.

MASSACHUSETTS

Kummins: Greg Carvel has to be thankful for frequent traveler miles as his Minutemen will be spending quite a bit of time on the road in the coming weeks and months, beginning with the Friendship Four in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this weekend. UMass has already played seven home games and has four more to come in December. After that, just six remain in January and February. Perhaps the Minutemen, who now stand just 3-6-1, can use their trip abroad as a jumping off point like Northeastern did last year. The road ahead could make that challenging, but only time will tell.

Cox: Greg Carvel can be thankful this year for the future. The first year for the new regime in Amherst will be a rough one, but the outlook is seemingly bright. He has two of the better young assistant coaches in the country, and the Minutemen are securing some nice commitments for down the road. With the lack of goaltending and a team adjusting to the systems of a new coaching staff, there will be growing pains this year. Carvel can be thankful that more wins and excitement will be coming to the Mullins Center in the future.

UMASS LOWELL

Kummins: This could very well be an answer every year for Norm Bazin, but the River Hawks have to be thankful for depth and the impact of freshmen as a whopping 18 different players have recorded points, including five with ten or more. Joe Gambardella and C.J. Smith have been prominent on the scoresheet once again for Lowell, but freshman Ryan Lohin has been a nice addition playing as the fourth-line center. Once again, the hallmark of Bazin’s team is that you just never know where a goal will come from because scoring is so spread out.

Cox: What Josh said couldn’t be more accurate. The River Hawks have relied on a next man up philosophy since Bazin arrived back at his alma mater. However, the sixth year head coach has to be thankful for two of the most under-appreciated forwards in Hockey East. C.J. Smith has a great shot and can create offense from anywhere with his speed to make time and space for linemates and his imagination in the attacking zone. Gambardella is the type of player Bazin loves the most. He’s a hard worker who creates offense from his speed, puck pursuit and relentless forecheck. The two of them deserve more recognition across the league than they receive.

MERRIMACK

Kummins: I’m going with goaltending here, especially after Collin Delia played less than half a period in the Warriors’ season opener before going down with injury. Drew Vogler stepped into the crease for Mark Dennehy’s team from there, earning four wins and posting a .908 save percentage. In such a scenario, all you can ask is for a goaltender to keep his team in the game, and that’s exactly what Vogler did. When Delia returned to action Saturday night in Wisconsin, he pitched a shutout with 33 saves. Dennehy has often said that goaltending “is a position of depth” for his team, and that’s been true to date.

Cox: Dennehy must be thankful for junior Brett Seney. The New Jersey Devils prospect is the best offensive threat the Warriors have. His speed and puck skills can change a game in an instant. Over the past few seasons, Merrimack has made a concerted effort to get faster on the recruiting trail. While that has paid off in terms of possession numbers, Dennehy’s club has had trouble finishing and winning games it should. Seney will have to lead the way if Merrimack is going to rebound from its slow start to finish in a spot where it will get home ice for the first round.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Kummins: Dick Umile has to be thankful for a senior leader like Tyler Kelleher, especially in what has been a tough start to the season for the Wildcats. Kelleher lost both of his linemates (Andrew Poturalski and Dan Correale) from a year ago, but has not skipped a beat as the team’s leading scorer with eight goals and 16 assists. He was a quarterback ― so to speak ― last year as well, and he’s on his way to rivaling the 36 helpers he recorded. In short, no matter who a player like Kelleher is matched with, he’s going to make them better.

Cox: He hasn’t received the accolades of many past UNH scoring stars due to the team’s struggles, but any coach has to be thankful for a player the caliber of Tyler Kelleher. The senior has eight goals and 16 assists in 13 games played. Along with freshman Patrick Grasso, Kelleher will be relied upon to carry the offense and provide enough support for a defense and goaltending corp that has struggled.

NORTHEASTERN

Kummins: Even with injuries to John Stevens and Nolan Stevens, the Huskies ​have played their first three Hockey East opponents tough and accumulated four points in the standings without finishing any weekend in league play completely empty handed. Jim Madigan's team has had several players step into bigger roles from the outset and especially since the aforementioned pair went down, most notably Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura. Those two and senior assistant captain Zach Aston-Reese are all among the top-15 scorers in college hockey, developing a connection that I'd expect to see continue.

Cox: Madigan has to be thankful for Adam Gaudette. While the Braintree, Mass. native put together a solid freshman campaign, he’s taken his game in the offensive zone to a whole new level as a sophomore. His shot, always his strongest asset, comes off his stick with an explosiveness that few other players in Hockey East can duplicate. He’s strong on pucks and making players around him better. If he can just shore up his play away from the puck and get better on face-offs, this might be the last season Gaudette plays in a Huskies’ uniform. He’s that good.

NOTRE DAME

Kummins: Entering the season, the Irish were a team I considered right near the top of Hockey East. Besides goaltender Cal Petersen, the main reason I felt that was was the depth with which head coach Jeff Jackson has to work. Notre Dame can strike from anywhere as evidenced by its 14 different goal scorers, but no scorer has been more important to their success and more underrated, as Jeff and I discussed a few weeks ago, in the league than Anders Bjork. Although seven of his 20 points on the season came against Arizona State, he’s still averaging more than a point and a half per game

Cox: The maturation of this young defensive group, made up of two freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors, is going to be what makes or breaks this season from an Irish standpoint. When they’re on their game, they can push the pace in transition and create offense from defense. Players like Jordan Gross, Andrew Peeke and Bobby Nardella do a great job of skating the puck up ice and getting it to the forwards. Last week’s series against UMass Lowell is a good indication of where this team is at. One night it let the River Hawks assert the type of game they wanted. The next night, the Irish returned the favor. Jeff Jackson has to be thankful for a defense that will only get better, and one that should help bolster an offense that lost a lot of talent to graduation.

PROVIDENCE

Kummins: As evidenced by the Friars’ Saturday night win, it’s tough to come back against Nate Leaman’s bunch. Northeastern cut into a 2-0 deficit in the first period and tied the game from 3-1 down in the second, but the Friars responded with two more to take a 5-3 lead and earn the win. In fact, just five of PC’s 13 losses since the start of the 2014-15 season have been in regulation, and the Friars have not lost a game when leading after two periods in more than two calendar years. It’s that resiliency and a tough style of play that have made Providence a tough opponent for the past several seasons.

Cox: Nate Leaman has to be thankful for the college hockey season being a marathon and not a sprint. If this was college football, the Friars would have already done themselves in with inconsistent performances. Even their star players, Erik Foley and Jake Walman, have been hot and cold in the early going. In Leaman’s time in Providence, he’s been able to rely on the stellar goaltending of Jon Gillies and Nick Ellis. He’s going to need Hayden Hawkey to step up and be a plus goalie more often than he has been so far this season.

VERMONT

Kummins: The Catamounts have a rather large roster this season, but there’s no position larger in college hockey than the net. I’ll go back to goaltending here and say that Kevin Sneddon has to be thankful for freshman Stefanos Lekkas stepping into a slot that could have been a question mark as senior Mike Santaguida was returning after missing a large chunk of last season with injury. Lekkas, a four-time Hockey East honoree already, has been the league’s top netminder with a .933 save percentage and 1.77 goals against average. Like in Merrimack’s case, having two goaltenders with experience will be important for UVM going forward.

Cox: Kevin Sneddon has to be thankful for the senior leadership and the team rallying around some adversity in the preseason. One has to be impressed with the way this team has come out of the gate after a challenging few weeks. No one would have predicted the Catamounts were going to be four games over .500 heading into Thanksgiving, even before the bad news broke. To agree with Josh, UVM hasn’t lost in four straight games, in large part due to Lekkas posting a .938 save percentage during that span. When UVM has given up two or fewer goals, it is unbeaten.