Hockey Banter: Preseason Hockey East Ballots

Justin K. Aller

Real talk about hockey? Real talk about hockey!

Joseph Gravellese: The Hockey East preseason polls are out -- both the media poll and the coaches poll have taken a crack at predicting the upcoming Hockey East season. It's always amusing to look back at these polls at the end of the season, because they're almost never right. And surely, ours will be way off, too. But let's take a look back at our picks, and debate the differences.

Grant Salzano: Joe and I each had a vote in the Hockey East media poll -- here is how we voted:

Grant Salzano's Team Rankings

UMass-Lowell
Notre Dame
Boston College
Providence
New Hampshire
Merrimack
Boston University
Maine
Vermont
Northeastern
UMass

Preseason First Team

F - Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College
F - Mike Collins, Merrimack
F - Scott Wilson, UMass-Lowell
D - Mike Matheson, Boston College
D - Trevor van Riemsdyk, New Hampshire
G - Connor Hellebuyck, UMass-Lowell

Joseph Gravellese's Team Rankings

UMass-Lowell
Providence
Boston College
Notre Dame
New Hampshire
Boston University
Merrimack
Vermont
Maine
Northeastern
UMass

Preseason First Team

F - Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College
F - Dan O'Regan, Boston University
F - Scott Wilson, UMass-Lowell
D - Trevor Van Riemsdyk, New Hampshire
D - Michael Matheson, Boston College
G - Jon Gillies, Providence

JG: Let's start with where we agreed, and that's the top, where UMass-Lowell has been named everyone's overwhelming favorite to start the season... other than the Hockey East coaches, who split their first-place votes between Lowell and BC. Obviously, on paper, it's hard to pick against Lowell, who returns most of their firepower from a team that, in my opinion, looked like the best team in the nation up until Frozen Four weekend.

GS: Definitely. I'm actually surprised they didn't get more of the first place votes. They were the class of Hockey East last year and didn't lose much. Plus their top end talent as well as depth at goaltender matches up with just about anyone in the country.

JG: Now granted, Lowell has had a few goaltenders in recent years who have risen one year only to fall back to earth the next: Nevin Hamilton, Doug Carr... but I think what's different is that nobody thought Hellebucyk was single-handedly carrying Lowell. He had an amazing season, statistically, better than Hobey candidate Eric Hartzell of Quinnipiac. But Lowell was strong all around. With Scott Wilson and Joe Pendenza leading the way up front, Lowell is stout everywhere. So on that, we agree.

GS: After Lowell, we flip-flopped our 2 and 4 teams, leaving BC in third.

JG: Yes. I had Providence at #2, you had Notre Dame. Let's discuss.

Here's my reasoning on how I lined up the teams.

I actually think that by the end of the year, BC and Notre Dame will be better Frozen Four contenders than Providence. But I based these votes on how I think the teams will finish in the regular season standings. I think BC and Notre Dame will struggle early on for various reasons, but I think Providence will be really good from the get-go.

BC needs to deal with integrating a huge crop of rookies, including a new goalie and another year of being inexperienced on the blue line. Notre Dame needs to adjust to the grind of Hockey East as well as their increased travel, to teams that usually don't do much traveling. It's going to be an adjustment.

Providence has the best goalie in the nation in Jon Gillies (lol nu), and a team that gained steam as the year went on under coach Norm Leaman. They were awfully close to being a tournament team. They'll be on the right side of the bubble this year.

GS: They were on the wrong side of the bubble last year, but Notre Dame was solidly on the correct side -- and as a #1 seed!

It's tough to place Notre Dame in Hockey East without seeing them stacked up against conference competition last year and seeing where they shook out, but they are really loaded with talent.

They do lose CCHA leading scorer Anders Lee to the pros, and Providence didn't lose anyone. But Notre Dame had much more top-end talent than the Friars did, at least relative to the rest of each teams' '12-'13 conference.

Notre Dame returns 4 of last year's top 21 CCHA point getters. Providence has exactly none from last year's top 30 of Hockey East. They're different style teams, I know, but that's a pretty big difference.

I really like Notre Dame ahead of Providence. Threw them ahead of BC as well since they have a more experienced team, but I went back and forth on that.

JG: Fair enough. Again... I think Notre Dame is a national championship contender. I'd put BC in that category (fringe)... but not so much Providence. But I still think PC ends up 2nd to Lowell due to having the most continuity from last year. They do return (checks) 86.7% of their goals scored from last year.

We both have BC in third, and I think we'll go into our outlook for BC specifically in more detail next week. But they will be in contention, for sure.

GS: We do have pretty clearly divided tiers, with minor shuffling in between.

JG: We agree quite a bit on our ballots... it's actually quite boring... as we both have New Hampshire in 5th. They were also a young up and coming team last year, and looked pretty good until the last few weekends when they somehow managed to ride the down elevator to 4th in the Hockey East standings.

I did not even realize until doing research for this piece that they were #3 in Hockey East in goals scored last year. This year, they will need better goaltending.

GS: It's funny -- I don't think UNH has a problem with goaltending at all. Or defense, for that matter. Casey DeSmith was 2nd in the conference in both goals against and save percentage, behind UML's Connor Hellebuyck. And they also had the best in-conference goal differential.

They don't even lose a particularly large amount of scoring. Kind of scary that with that goal differential how they still ended up 4th in the conference.

JG: Their defense corps is great, I was just never af an of DeSmith in net. Though I guess you can't argue with the save percentage... I think he's not in the category of elite league goaltenders. Maybe he'll punch his ticket into that group this year. Last year was just weird with how tight everything was at the end. They went cold at the wrong time and dropped like a rock, but they could have easily won the league regular season title again. Look for them to be back in the hunt this year.

We have a disagreement!!! for 6th place... you say Merrimack, I say BU. I assume you give Merrimack the edge due to their returning scorers, whereas BU has a TON of turnover -even by BU standards.

That being said... I think we saw what BU's talent level is capable of down the stretch when they got their heads on a little straighter and actually appeared motivated to play hockey. The new coach effect will have them ready to go off the bat, I think. They also have one of the best freshman classes in the nation, and a forward in Dan O'Regan who might be a darkhorse hobey contender.

GS: It really feels like BU lost a ton. Who is going to put the puck in the net for them this year? Grzyzyghdwcxzlyk?

JG: Well, and O'Regan. And several freshmen.

GS: O'Regan a darkhorse Hobey contender? The hell are you smoking?

JG: O'Regan had 38 points as a freshman on a "meh" team. Would you be SHOCKED if he scored 45-50 points this year?

GS: Uh, yup. Who's going to feed him the puck? Who's he going to feed it to?

JG: Let me put it another way: he had more points than Kevin Roy. Would you think someone was smoking if they called Roy a darkhorse Hobey contender?

GS: No, because Roy did it with literally *NOBODY* else around him. He's like Hobey Gensler over there.

Which, by the way, is *not a thing.* Shut up, New Guy.

JG: I don't even know who that is.

GS: I believe he is an old, old wooden ship, used in the Civil War era.

JG: Oh, the guy on Bentley. Yes. My sister went to Bentley. Go Falcons.

Look, far be it from me to sit here and rattle off the attributes of BU's incoming forwards. I don't want to. I don't like them. But they are going to have talent on the roster. Talent on the roster has never been the issue down there... talent *leaving* the roster during the season, is another issue entirely.

Anyway, that's why I have BU over Merrimack for 6th. But I still have the Mack at 7th. They've remained decent after several years of me picking them to plummet to the bottom of the standings; I've learned my lesson. But I guess that means this will be the year they drop.

Mike Collins is another kinda-sorta Hobey dark horse. He also had 38 points last year.

GS: They'll stick around in the middle of Hockey East for a while. As long as UMass and Northeastern are doing their thing they won't drop too far.

JG: Just so we're clear, though --- their second-leading scorer was a defenseman, Jordan Heywood, who had 15 points. This is not exactly a well-balanced team. I don't see them really pushing the top teams.

Moving past the Mack Attack... I have Vermont, then Maine; you have Maine, then Vermont.

GS: Yeah basically they both aren't that great, but aren't Northeastern/UMass bad either.

JG: This isn't really something I feel passionate about debating. They're both going to be there, being, you know, meh. Maine, I think, has the right coach in place, but a long way to go to get the kind of talent level they'll need to compete.

GS: That coach looks like he could down a moose with a crossbow.

JG: Vermont has been stuck in neutral for a few years, but they always look, when I watch them play, like a team with more talent than their results indicate.

They bring back most of their scoring, not that there was much of it.

And on to the dregs... I have Northeastern in 10th over UMass... you have NU in the cellar again.

GS: Yeah, I mean... take your pick.

JG: By all accounts, NU has a good freshman class coming in, so we'll have to see how they manage to screw it up. But if they are any good at all, them, plus Roy, should put NU ahead of UMass, who appear to be in all kinds of trouble, honestly.

GS: Indeed, Roy is a big help, but NU was still a substantial step behind everyone else last year. I mean, they were in their own level of bad.

JG: UMass lost their expected incoming recruit in Frank Vatrano to continued eligiblity issues; he won't be back until tournament time, at least; and then there was the loss of former BC recruit KJ Tiefenwerth, who transferred to Quinnipiac. Tiefenwerth also had unexpected open heart surgery over the summer; I certainly wish him success in his recovery.

GS: That sounds like a Northeastern-level awful offseason.

JG: So basically we're in agreement on most of the standings.

GS: Pretty much. We're boring.

Why did someone give us a vote anyway?

JG: Let's try to offer up a hypothetical to mix it up a bit. What is the one team with the most volatility... a team who you wouldn't be SHOCKED to see way out of the tier we placed them in? In one direction or the other.

I'm going to say BU. Life After Parker could blow up in their face. But sort of like the Yankees, who always seem to end up near the playoff race regardless of what group of castoffs they've assembled as their lineup, BU always seems to be top 4 in Hockey East.

GS: Well, if I'm going one way or another, I would say Providence. They could surprise everyone and Gillie their way to the top of the conference, or a total lack of scoring could see them sink down into the depths of the non-UMass/Northeasterns.

On the other hand, I could totally see UNH finish at the top of everyone, but not fall all that much lower than we have them.

In fact, I'm going on record to call UNH a conference dark horse.

JG: I agree that UNH could surprise everyone and finish on top.

We had only two differences on our all-conference-team ballots. I had O'Regan over Collins, and you had Hellebucyk over Gillies. We've already outlined our thoughts on those players earlier. But basically, again, we were pretty boring.

GS: Basically.

JG: One thing IS exciting: the return of hockey season. It's here. The women play an exhibition on Saturday (!!) and then next Sunday brings a doubleheader at Conte, with the men playing an exhibition against some Canucks, and the women opening their real season against Maine.

Get excited.

GS: I can't even express how excited I am... both teams have realistic chances at the national title for the first time in, what, ever?

JG: I think you could say the women had a realistic shot last year, if you ignored the fact that the Gophers were mutant, hockey-playing aliens from outer space.

GS: The Chicago Blackhawks wouldn't have had a realistic shot against the Lady Gophers last year.

JG: How long will it take for someone to take that comment seriously and say how dumb you are? It would be a fitting start to our BCI hockey coverage for the year.

That'll do it, I think. Go Hockey.

GS: AHHH

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