In Play, No Outs 2009/2010 Northeastern University Men's Ice Hockey Season Preview
As always, the basis for the success of any collegiate team is the improvement from year to year of players. Since hiring Greg Cronin for the '05/'06 season, all the remnants of Bruce Crowder's regime have been wiped away and replaced, generally to great positive effect. As this is the first true year of Cronin-only players, this will be the defining moment of Cronin's Northeastern career to this point. While I, and many others, already recognize his worth and believe the school needs to offer him a contract extension immediately, this will be his opportunity to show why he might be the Jack Parker of NU.
As far as goalies, you can wipe the slate clean. Brad Thiessen won a Stanley Cup and will be playing in the AHL. Mike Binnington has no cartilage left in his hips, and I'd be surprised if he dressed for another game during his stay at NU. Ryan Mula has left Northeastern. We'll talk about Husky goalie recruits shortly.
The offense brings back some useful players. Gone are top goal-scorer Ryan Ginand, captain Joe Vitale, surprise season Rob Rassey, and goon/awesome guy Dennis McCauley. The Huskies will rely on '08 points leader Wade MacLeod, now a junior, and new captain Tyler McNeeely, also a junior, for top-tier scoring. Both players have shown remarkably upside and didn't have the expected enormous sophomore slump.
Greg Costa and new captain Chris Donovan need to replicate and advance their last-season stats, particularly with respect to goal scoring, and I suspect one or both will see time both on the penalty kill and the power play. Neither player has the physical characteristics of a dominant college player, but both have exhibited the most hustle of anyone on the team, particularly in late-game situations. Conditioning, conditioning, conditioning.
Randy Guzior moves into Dennis McCauley's slot as the team's most physical presence. If he can provide some offense while staying out of the box, he is a 10-goal potential player. We saw it in '07/'08, and we'll see it again if he proves his worth in the preseason and stays out of the box. Steve Silva, also a physical presence, might want to be a little less physical. A great center, by all accounts, but spent far too much time in the training room last season with a variety of ailments. And unlike badass McNeely, he is unlikely to play games at full speed with a broken hand.
Kyle Kraemer, Matt Lipinski, Matt Quigley, and Dylan Wiwchar are unknowns. I wouldn't be shocked if Kraemer didn't see the ice, and I'd be shocked if Wiwchar did. The others are sophomores with between 0 and 5 games played.
Sophomores Mike McLaughlin, Steve Quailer, and Alex Tuckerman are probably the most important returning players on offense. They are also the biggest question marks. All three had stellar freshman seasons, Quailer in particular, and all need to avoid the sophomore slump so typically seen in the NCAA. Quailer has the potential to have a good enough season where he's able to play professionally immediately afterward. If he has a 40 point season, which is not out of the question, it is possible he will have played his last season for the Huskies.
The defense will be an interesting case study in freshmen. Gone are the Huskies' best defensemen in Louis Liotti and Denis Chisolm. Nonfactors Jacques Perrault, and Andrew Linard have also exhausted their NCAA eligibility. Dan Nycholat has left Northeastern, an expected move for someone whose ice time decreased dramatically following an embarrassing performance at the Beanpot against Boston University.
That leaves a gaping hole for returning players and recruits, with the total number of remaining d-men being 5. This means we will see at least one freshman, likely 2 or 3, playing at the blue line this season.
David Strathman and Jim Driscoll enter as the grizzled veterans of the defensive corps, with Strathman being the biggest power play threat for the Huskies, and Driscoll being the stalwart on defense. Both will have jobs, and both will likely play on the top line, with Driscoll seeing plenty of time on the PK and Strathman quarterbacking the power play.
With any luck, we'll see Drew Muench for the first time since the '07/'08 season. Out with chronic back ailments, he was spotted playing golf at the Friends of NU Hockey golf tournament. If you can swing a club, you damn well better be able to play defense for 20 minutes a night. As far as I'm concerned, Muench was the best defenseman on the ice during his freshman year, but who knows if he'll be back, and at what level of effectiveness.
That leaves Mike Hewkin and IPNO-sponsored JP Maley. Hewkin is not my ideal defenseman, as he lacks both a scoring touch and strong defensive instincts. He's on my "most-likely-to-get-cut" list, but Cronin seems to like him, so it's possible he'll beat out the freshmen to keep his roster spot. Maley brings speed back to the #8 jersey (Esner, anyone?), and seemed to improve dramatically after earning his spot last season. If he keeps up his late season play, he's likely to move to the second line.
Two goalie recruits enter Matthews Arena this year, and both of them have great goalie names: Chris Rawlings and Bryan Mountain. Rawlings put up numbers remarkably similar to a previous BCHL-turned-Husky, Brad Thiessen. He is the likely #1 goaltender, and despite the many other areas of doubt for the Huskies, none will have the impact of Rawlings' play. If he can put together a Thiessen/Millan/Muse freshman season, he has the potential to lead the Huskies back to home-ice in the playoffs. Less, and it seems unlikely that Northeastern places top-4 in Hockey East. Oh yeah, he's 6'5".
Mountain brings solid stats as well, albeit from the weaker MJHL. The backup sport is likely his barring some sort of miraculous play from a third, unknown goalie, but he has the chance to take the starting spot away from Rawlings. The ice was laid in Matthews two days ago...hey Bryan, the Time is Now.
If you're looking for in-depth analysis on these guys, I can't provide it. I can tell you that the Huskies will have the Daniels brothers, Drew and Justin, both NHL draft picks. Justin, like Quailer, was a third round pick, and his brother went in the seventh. That's a pretty good example of their relative talents, although I believe drew is a touch better defensively. Playing them on different lines would be criminal...and likely also convenient for the broadcasting crew.
The other two recruits on offense are Robbie Vrolyk and Garrett "Spellcheck!" Vermeersch. Again, imagine putting them on the same line. Vermeersch is a beast on the power play, while Vrolyk put up more consistent numbers. Vrolyk's also going to be wearing #91, which should be a nice compliment to McNeely's 94. There's no superstition like jersey number superstition.
The latest addition to the recruit list was Drew Ellement, a power play specialist from the MJHL. He was a relatively unheralded prospect until he parlayed a ridiculous 17G 5A stat line playoffs. For reference, his line was 13G 28A over 63 regular season games. That, sir, is Clutch City, or possible Gary Matthews Junior Career Year City. We'll know soon.
Chris Student will adopt Ryan Ginand's #3 while providing a stay-at-home look for the defense. He's by far the best defensive prospect with a +28 in his last season in the USHL. I think a good comp is Louis Liotti, which frankly would be fantastic. Finally, we've got Jake Newton, all the way from San Jacinto, California, as the final freshman d-man. He had a nice +/- and reasonable offensive numbers.
There is nothing preventing any of these freshmen from playing right away. I'd suspect many of them will sit and learn through most of the season, but I fully expect to see several of them hit the ice on October 3rd, opening night at Matthews.
I'll talk about scheduling and the rest of Hockey East sometime this week.