September 16, 2012

Five can't-miss college hockey storylines for 2012-13

By Mike Zhe

If it’s September, it must be college hockey season. Division 1 programs get back to work this month. On Sept. 25, Hockey East will host its annual media day at the TD Garden, the first indication of which teams will have the bull’s-eyes on them heading into the new season.

Every program has a story to tell at this time of year, most of them banking on a happy ending. New England Hockey Journal takes you on a quick spin around the region to see which storylines should be followed more than others as a new season comes into full view.

Jerry York is poised to become college hockey's winningest coach this season. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

King of the rink

He’ll certainly try to downplay it, but it’s likely that at some point this season, maybe even before players are sent home for their holiday breaks, Boston College mentor Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) will become the winningest coach in college hockey history.

The 67-year-old York, who’s guided BC to three of the last five Division 1 national championships, owns 913 wins during a career that brought him back to The Heights in 1994 after successful stints at Clarkson and Bowling Green. Ron Mason, the longtime Michigan State coach who retired in 2002, has 924 wins. 

Calm and collected behind the bench, York exudes a “never too high or too low” demeanor. In a recent podcast with the Positive Coaching Alliance, he explained his thinking:

“You just got to kind of stay calm, stay focused,” York said. “I see some coaches get so out of whack with a call that I’ve really tried to learn from (it). … Because your players will get excited too, and they’ll start losing focus.”

Graduation, plus the loss of standouts Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) and Brian Dumoulin (Biddeford, Maine) to the pros, will have a makeover effect on the roster, to some extent. But no staff has recruited better in recent years and no head coach has found a way to keep the focus where it should be. Figure on York ascending to the top spot before Beanpot talk heats up in February.

Homegrown hopes

Harvard’s NCAA tournament drought has reached six seasons, but ninth-year coach Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.) steadily has been amassing some of the region’s best talent in an effort to halt that trend.

This fall, the Crimson welcome high-scoring forwards Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) and Brian Hart (Cumberland, Maine) to Cambridge. The respective stars of the South Shore Kings and Phillips Exeter Academy were the top two local selections in the NHL Entry Draft in June.

They’ll join a team that got productive freshman years from prep stars Colin Blackwell (North Andover, Mass./St. John’s Prep), Tommy O’Regan (Needham, Mass./St. Sebastian’s) and Patrick McNally out of Milton Academy last winter. Next year, Devin Tringale (Medford, Mass./Lawrence Academy) and Phil Zielonka out of Salisbury School are two of the freshmen slated to enroll.

“I’m not sure if Coach Donato only recruits in New England,” leading scorer Alex Killorn told NEHJ after last season, “but he obviously likes local kids.”

An Amherst bounce?

Last season, three new coaches were behind the benches at Hockey East schools — Nate Leaman at Providence, Norm Bazin at UMass-Lowell and Jim Madigan (Milton, Mass.) at Northeastern — and all provided their fan bases with early returns.

The biggest impact was made by Bazin, who guided Lowell to a 24-13-1 record, a second-place finish in Hockey East and the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1995-96, back when cozy Tully Forum was still called home.

Now, UMass fans are wondering what the hiring of former Vermont assistant Jim Micheletto means for their program’s fortunes. He’ll have no shortage of experience, with 22 of the 27 letter-winners back, and at least decent depth at every position.

But cracking the top four in Hockey East — and staying there — won’t be easy, as former coach Don “Toot” Cahoon (Lynn, Mass.) found out. Since the program’s breakthrough 2006-07 season, reaching the Hockey East semifinals and its first NCAA tournament, the Minutemen have finished 8th, 7th, 6th, 8th and 8th in the unforgiving league’s standings.

Movin’ on up

UConn is officially on the clock.

Since the announcement in June that the Huskies would join Hockey East and become the league’s 12th program starting in 2014-15, the talk in and beyond Storrs has been of upgrades. How to establish a foundation for success in a league that’s produced four of the last five national champions?

“We are committed to developing a men’s ice hockey program that can and will perform successfully on the national level, and compete for Hockey East and NCAA championships,” UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said.

Optimists will draw parallels to the move the school’s football program made over a decade ago, when it transitioned to Division 1-A and joined the Big East in 2004. Six years later, it played in a BCS bowl game.

Pessimists will wonder how a program that enjoyed only modest success in Atlantic Hockey will keep its head above water. The Huskies were much improved the past two years in their league, but records in that span of 31-37-8 (overall) and 25-24-5 (AHA) show they weren’t a powerhouse.

Their imminent inclusion should be enough to keep fans from Orono to Amherst interested in their progress.

Generation next

It took players like BC forward Johnny Gaudreau, Quinnipiac forward Matthew Peca and New Hampshire goalie Casey DeSmith (Rochester, N.H.) to remind us there’s a reason those players are called impact freshmen.

While Vesey and Hart will be chased into Harvard by great expectations, they aren’t alone. BC’s recruiting juggernaut welcomes a class headlined by U.S. NTDP products Frankie Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.) and Brendan Silk (Wakefield, Mass.).

Boston University, stung last seasons by the alleged sex assaults that saw Max Nicastro and Corey Trivino kicked off the team, brings in a trio of touted local prospects in forwards Sam Kurker (Reading, Mass.) and Danny O’Regan (Needham, Mass.), and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.).

Not to be overlooked — nor is it possible to — is 6-foot-5 goalie Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine), who will try to fill the void in the Providence net with record-setter Alex Beaudry’s departure; and U.S. NTDP product Cam Darcy (South Boston, Mass.), who should give a jolt to Northeastern.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Email: mzhe@hockeyjournal.com