Three Things I Think, Nov. 13: Hockey East

Posted by: Joe Meloni

To an extent, the Hockey East season has produced its share of surprises thus far. Boston College’s race to the top of the league may not qualify exactly, but it’s still a little interesting that BC has been this good in the season’s first two months. In its three recent national championship seasons, BC posted a combined .526 winning percentage in October and November. Compared to its current 8-1-0 record, these seasons didn’t see the same hot starts. The Eagles were as talented as ever in these seasons, but certain parts of Jerry York’s machine took a little longer to start clicking.

In 2007-08, BC began the year with 4-4-5 record. The next title run saw BC begin the year with a 6-3-2 record, while last year looked a bit more like this one with the Eagles racing to a 10-4-0 start. York preaches simple philosophies designed to get his club peaking at the right time of year. Last season, that process began in late January and continued through early April. With eight consecutive wins after a season-opening loss to Northeastern, BC has steadily improved with every game this year. This early-season success suggests another year of consistent improvement may very well make the 2012-13 Eagles a team college hockey will never forget.

It’s a goaltenders’ world

Around the country, conversation about Hockey East begins, rightfully so, with BC’s Johnny Gaudreau, BU’s Wade Megan and some of the conference’s other more dominant goal-scorers. The story, though, has been goaltending. BC’s Parker Milner seamlessly carried his momentum from a season ago into the 2012-13 campaign. Somehow, his .933 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average are actually a step back from his performance during the Eagles’ 19-game run to a title season ago. UNH’s Casey DeSmith maintained his second-half form as well, backstopping the Wildcats to a start that suggests last season’s struggles will quickly become a memory for the program.

BU’s Matt O’Connor and Massachusetts’ Kevin Boyle have emerged as No. 1s for their teams. Overall, there seven Hockey East goaltender with GAAs under 2.30 and six with save percentages greater than .920. Merrimack’s Sam Marotta is one good start away from adding another to each of these categories.

Cries for more offense have come at every level of hockey in the last decade. At this point, though, it just looks like Hockey East may have a pretty talented crop of goaltenders. Some of the league’s top scorers haven’t found their strides just yet, and there’s a gifted group of freshman skaters finding its rhythm with every game. Regardless, goaltending will be the difference in Hockey East this year. Much like the 2006-07 season, the last time Hockey East sent five teams to the NCAA tournament, the fate of Hockey East teams will be decided in creases around New England. That year, John Curry (BU), Cory Schneider (BC), Ben Bishop (Maine), Kevin Regan (UNH) and Jonathan Quick (UMass) awed crowds throughout the region and country and stifled opposing offenses in leading their teams to the national tournament. This year could see the same.

Seniors off to career starts

UNH’s Austin Block, Merrimack’s John Heffernan and UMass’ Rocco Carzo are just three of the seniors putting together career seasons in their final years of college hockey. Each club began the year with certain uncertainties, and these three upperclassmen have filled these roles well.

In Amherst, Carzo earned he captain’s C and has found a place within UMass’ top six. The gritty winger adds physicality to line featuring center Steven Guzzo and winger Conor Sheary. Recruited to UMass because of an ability to score goals, his first three seasons resulted in minimal offensive contributions. After six goals as a freshman, he added just three total in his sophomore and junior years. Through seven games this year, Carzo has scored three goals and assisted on another. These are hardly all-American or even all-league numbers. Still, the Minutemen need a steadying presence in their top six to make John Micheletto’s first year a successful one. Consistent three-zone play is critical for such an unproven team, and Carzo has provided it.

The seven goals Austin Block has chipped in for UNH answered a similar question for the Wildcats. Dick Umile expected there to be a bit more scoring diversity on his club this year. Block was just one of the names Umile mentioned as a source of scoring. Block’s seven goals is by far the most on the UNH roster, as no other player has more than three. Whether or not he can sustain the individual success throughout the season will be important to watch, but scoring prowess early on has guided UNH to a 6-1-1 start. Prior to this year, Block had never scored more than five times in a single season.

Perhaps nowhere in Hockey East was offense as much of an issue as Merrimack. Like UNH, a collection of players has filled in to create a stronger-than-expected offense. Senior John Heffernan has scored twice and assisted on five goals in nine games played this season. Heffernan hadn’t totaled more than four points in a season before this year, nor had he managed to find  a regular spot in the Merrimack lineup. He won’t finish the Hockey East season as a leading scorer, and most fans probably won’t notice him on a nightly basis. His contributions, though, will keep Merrimack in the race for a favorable playoff spot, and that’s what most important for Warrior fans.

Cam Darcy will be back

CHN’s Mike McMahon reported on Tuesday that Northeastern freshman Cam Darcy opted to leave the university and head to Muskegon of the USHL. According to sources, Darcy was happy with playing time, his role on the team and most things related to hockey. His problems were mostly off-ice, and it’s not an easy transition for any athlete to balance college coursework with the rigors Division I college hockey. Regardless of Darcy’s status at Northeastern, I expect to see him in Hockey East again soon.

It won’t likely be at Northeastern, but Darcy’s connections to the area (a South Boston native) suggest he’ll look to stay local. There are plenty of options for a player as talented as Darcy looking to transfer. Either way, Cam Darcy will be back in Hockey East at some point, I think.

 

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