November 2, 2012

Hockey East Journal: Freshman phenoms aplenty

By Andrew Merritt

The midterms are over, the campus isn’t such a maze anymore, the best dining hall food and the worst professors have been identified. For freshmen across the country, November is a time to finally settle into college life. A few weeks are left before the Thanksgiving break, and there’s still plenty of time before the fall semester comes to an end with those terrifying first final exams.

For some freshmen, however, the exams have already begun. In Hockey East, there isn’t much time to get one’s footing, and the steep learning curve pretty efficiently weeds out the fumbling freshmen from the ready rookies. Now that we're a few weeks into the 2012-13 season, it’s a perfect time to take a look at some of the league’s freshmen to watch. We’ll add the universal caveat that four to six games isn’t exactly a big sample size, but so far, these are the rookies who have made the most of their debuts.

Providence goalie Jon Gillies was selected 75th overall by Calgary at the 2012 NHL Draft. (Getty Images)

Jon Gillies, G, Providence – Providence started the season without the only consistent highlight from the last three and a half years after Alex Beaudry graduated. That put a big spotlight on Gillies (South Portland, Maine) after he decommitted from Northeastern and opted to join the Friars. So far, he’s put on quite a show. Entering the weekend’s games, Gillies leads the league with a 1.72 goals against average, and he’s second with a .938 save percentage. He’s also played more minutes than any goaltender in Hockey East.

Matt O’Connor, G, Boston University ­– The guy ahead of Gillies on the save percentage chart is also a freshman, and he’s also being asked to fill quite a big role. BU needed an answer to the gaping hole left by Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser, who both graduated in the spring.  Fellow rookie Sean Maguire might also see some time this year, but O’Connor has gotten the bulk of the time so far, and with a 1.75 GAA and league-leading .945 save percentage, it might be hard for Maguire to steal any significant minutes anytime soon.

Brody Hoffman, G, Vermont – The Catamounts were missing a lot of pieces last year, and goaltending, unexpectedly, was one of them. Going into this season, UVM would almost certainly have settled for a warm body in net. What it got was a big, cool-headed netminder who also ended early speculation about a rotation or competition. Through three games, Hoffman has played every available minute, and posted solid numbers – a 2.53 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Michael Matheson and Teddy Doherty, D, Boston College – Matheson and Doherty (Hopkinton, Mass.) stepped into the only area where the defending champions were even a little bit vulnerable. The graduations of Edwin Shea and Tommy Cross, compounded by the early departure of Brian Dumoulin, left the Eagles without the experience on the blue line to match their deep attacking corps. While Jerry York’s boys would have loved to win a bunch of 10-6 games, it’s not usually feasible in Hockey East. Enter Matheson and Doherty, who are both in the top 10 among freshman scorers. Matheson has augmented his two assists in five games with a plus-four rating, making him the only rookie in the top 10 in points and plus-minus. Doherty has also acquitted himself well, and has four assists so far. It helps that both freshmen have been paired with veteran blueliners – Doherty with Patrick Wey, Matheson with Patch Alber.

John Gilmour (D), Paul de Jersey (RW) and Steven McParland (RW), Providence – The Friars are already building from the back with Gillies, but they’re not just stopping pucks – they’re putting them in the net, too, and this trio is at the forefront of that effort. Gilmour is tied (with de Jersey) for the scoring lead among the league’s freshman, and his 2-3—5 totals have him third among all of the league’s blueliners. De Jersey and McParland are also making waves, with de Jersey matching Gilmour’s numbers to join him in the top 10 in overall scoring. McParland isn’t far behind with 1-3—4 totals, putting him in the top 20 overall and third among the Hockey East rookies. That’s a mighty big step for a program that didn’t have a single skater in the top 20 in scoring last year.

Danny O’Regan (F) and Matt Grzelcyk (D), Boston University ­– The two Terrier freshmen came in with some big expectations, and thus far they seem to be living up to them. O’Regan (Needham, Mass.), a San Jose draftee, has four points in his last two games, including two goals against UMass on Oct. 26. Grzelcyk, a Charlestown, Mass., native who was selected in the third round this year by the Bruins, is just a quarter step behind his classmate with three points, all assists, and is settling into the BU defensive corps quite nicely. The lockout may not be giving Bruins fans much to be happy about, but Grzelcyk certainly puts a bright point on the horizon.

Player of the Week

Mike Collins, Jr., Merrimack

The Boston native immediately leapt into the league scoring race, dishing out a career high three assists in Friday’s 6-3 win over Vermont, and he scored both of the Warriors’ goals in a draw with the Catamounts the next night. The big weekend put him second in the league with 4-3—7 totals.

Games of the Week

Merrimack vs. Northeastern, Friday and Saturday, 7 and 7:30 p.m.

A couple of years ago, the Warriors were the league’s team on the rise. Now, the Huskies would like to be. Northeastern quickly won its first two games, but has gone 0-2-1 since, while Merrimack took three points from Vermont last weekend to pull out of a three-game slide.

Power Rankings

1. Boston College (4-1-0, 4-1-0 HEA) – The Eagles turned an intriguing-on-paper weekend against UMass-Lowell into their latest conquest, outscoring the River Hawks 7-3 in a sweep that included Parker Milner’s 38-save shutout on Friday.

2. 
Boston University (3-1-0, 3-1-0 HEA) – The Terrier offense woke up big time last weekend, outscoring UMass 8-4 in a home-and-home sweep. Friday’s 5-2 victory featured a pair of goals from Danny O’Regan, and both were assisted by fellow rookie Matt Grzelcyk.

3. 
New Hampshire (4-0-1, 2-0-1 HEA) – The Wildcats surrendered three goals in the first period against Northeastern Friday night, but they came back to score three unanswered and edge the Huskies on John Henrion’s goal with 53 seconds left in regulation. The next night was a scoreless draw with Northeastern that pushed UNH’s unbeaten streak to five to start the year.

4. 
Northeastern (2-2-1, 2-2-1 HEA) – The Huskies’ hot start has slowed down a bit, with an 0-2-1 run over the last three games that includes two shutout losses. Those defeats came to BC and UNH, the league’s two hottest teams.

5. 
Merrimack (2-3-1, 1-1-1 HEA) – The Warriors broke their three-game losing streak with a win and tie at home against Vermont. While Mike Collins handled all the scoring in Saturday’s draw, the night before was a more democratic affair, as six different Warriors had goals in the 6-3 win.

6. 
Providence (3-2-1, 2-1-0 HEA) – Just like that, the Friars are in the game. A pair of wins over Maine – both at home – will do that. Jon Gillies, the freshman from South Portland, Maine, shut out the team from his home state Saturday, and the 3-0 victory marked the rookie’s first clean sheet.

7. 
UMass-Lowell (1-3-1, 0-2-1 HEA) – The River Hawks’ return to the ice after last season’s NCAA run has been pretty sluggish, and a sweep at the hands of BC put UML even deeper in the hole. The bright side is a pair of home games this weekend against Maine, which is winless over its last four.

8. 
Vermont (0-1-2, 0-1-2 HEA) – After a two week layoff, the Catamounts could only pick up a tie over two games against Merrimack. While Hoffman has provided some strong work in net, the Cats haven’t developed much of a scoring touch, and it’s only going to get harder against rising Providence this weekend.

9. 
UMass (1-3-0, 0-3-0 HEA) – The search for Hockey East win No. 1 continues for new coach John Micheletto and the Minutemen, who dropped two games to BU last weekend. The road doesn’t get any easier any time soon, as UMass has New Hampshire at home and Boston College on the road this weekend.

10. 
Maine (1-6-0, 0-2-0 HEA) – The Black Bears are winless over their last four since a mostly meaningless victory over Army in the IceBreaker Tournament third-place game on Oct. 13. They’ve been shut out twice over that stretch, including Saturday against Providence. This weekend brings them home for the first time in two weeks, but they’re hosting UNH and BC. It’s hard to think even Alfond Arena can come up with a home-ice advantage strong enough to turn the tide for Maine right now.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @A_Merritt.