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Goaltending a key topic as new Hockey East season begins

Personnel losses are significant at several Hockey East schools as the 2016-17 season begins, especially in between the pipes.

Collin Delia
Collin Delia
Matt Dewkett

BOSTON -- It should be a fun season in Hockey East, and optimism for the road lies ahead was apparent as the league held its annual Media Day festivities Tuesday at Legends Restaurant inside TD Garden.

Significant personnel losses are an overarching theme across the league entering this season seemingly more than before any in recent memory, especially in the department of goaltending.

Some of the league’s best netminders in, to name a few, Boston College’s Thatcher Demko, Providence’s Nick Ellis and UMass Lowell’s Kevin Boyle are gone, but the position in general is a major topic of preseason conversation around the league.

Take, for example, Maine. Things did not go the Black Bears’ way quite often last year, but sophomore Rob McGovern and senior Matt Morris split time last year and actually made the position a strength.

"I’m fond of saying that you get confidence in one of two ways," Maine head coach Red Gendron said. "You’ve either done it before, or prepared diligently and you feel like you’ve earned the right to be successful. Both Matt and Rob had their moments in the sun last year, so that’s certainly reason for optimism."

While Maine averaged just two goals per game on offense during its 8-24-6 season gone by, both McGovern and Morris posted save percentages above .900. That is good news, and it bodes well for the near future.

The wins did not come last year, but there is reason to believe the Black Bears can compete if their goaltending output remains positive and some balance in scoring ― with the help of a talented incoming freshman class that includes three National Hockey League draftees ― is achieved.

Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon's net is a bit of a question mark after Packy Munson’s departure to Denver, but the man tasked with filling in the hole between the pipes is a familiar one. Now a senior, Mike Santaguida is back to full health and ready to guide the Catamounts.

Despite Munson’s strong play, validated by a 2.37 GAA and .920 save percentage, Santaguida’s 18-game absence due to a serious lower-body injury took some of the wind out of UVM’s sails.

It was a key loss, at a position Santaguida took over quickly and ran with as a freshman in 2013-14.

"I think it’s big," Sneddon said of the confidence Santaguida instills in his team. "Our guys have extreme confidence in Mike, but also (freshman Stefanos Lekkas). He’s shown already that he’s an elite goaltender. Michael obviously went through a really tough injury and missed 12 or 13 weeks, but he’s back and ready to lead the troops as a senior."

Lekkas comes to Vermont after spending each of the last two seasons as the starter for the United States Hockey League's Sioux Falls Stampede. His .924 save percentage and 25 wins were both marks among the top five in the USHL last year.

Merrimack’s Mark Dennehy calls goaltending "a position of depth" for his team as both Collin Delia and Drew Vogler proved they can handle the starting job in a grueling conference during chunks of last season.

Now, it’s about making sure one always is ready when the puck drops on Fridays. Dennehy always enjoys turning to golf for comparison’s sake, and he did just that in addressing his proven goaltenders.

"If you can hit the ball 300 yards down the middle once, you’ve physically proven you can do it," Dennehy said. "Look at Collin Delia. In first five games, I think he had a .945 save percentage. And at the back end of Drew Vogler’s season, he was about a .930.

"The way I look at it, both of those guys are capable of being really good goaltenders at this level, but we just need to make sure one of them is playing well at any given point."

At UMass Lowell, goaltending has not been a question mark over the past several seasons, thanks to the likes of Doug Carr, Connor Hellebuyck and Boyle. Now, the position is up for grabs as Christoffer Hernberg is the only one of four River Hawk goaltenders with any collegiate experience, albeit just two games.

"The position is very much unproven, but it’s going to be a great opportunity for somebody to grab some minutes," UML head coach Norm Bazin said. "A couple of them will get an opportunity right away and we’ll see which one emerges."

Former NHL picks Garrett Metcalf and Tyler Wall are the two Bazin is speaking of in Lowell, but the crease is also a position to watch at several other Hockey East schools this year.