Hockey East: an alternative to the NHL during lockout
Thursday night was supposed to be Opening Night in the NHL. Instead, the rinks remained dark and the players remained home or off in some European country playing for another team and another fan base.
Here in New England, hockey is sorely missed since the Red Sox haven’t made the playoffs, the Celtics’ season has yet to start and the Patriots play only once a week. We New Englanders are not used to only having one team playing at a time.
But for those looking for a hockey fix, do not fear. New England is lucky to be the home of arguably the best college hockey league in the country, Hockey East. The games are spirited and exciting, and many players go on to compete in the NHL (when there’s no lockout, of course). Hockey East teams have won the Division I national championship in four of the last five years (BC three times, BU once).
Hockey East games are great for the family. The tickets are relatively cheap, the talent is top-notch, and there is no fighting allowed (although there is the occasional scrap) so the action on the ice is often kid-friendly. As a former Hockey East writer (I covered BU) who has been to every rink in the league, I’m here to give you the lowdown on where to go and what to pay attention to in Hockey East this season.
We’re going alphabetical, so we’ll start off with good old BC. As a BU graduate, I don’t think too highly of games at Conte Forum, but some people enjoy going there. I guess it’s a draw to be the defending national champion.
Conte Forum itself isn’t the best rink in Hockey East. The place is built for basketball so some of the angles aren’t great, but it’s pretty easy to find seats close to the ice. Plus, for about $15- $20, you can watch one of the most talented teams in the country. BC has seven drafted players (second-most in Hockey East) and coach Jerry York is a hockey legend.
If you do head to a BC game, try to go to a BC/BU game. The atmosphere is fantastic as the Comm Ave. rivalry brings out the best in the BC students. Many BU students are known to make the trek out to Chestnut Hill for BC/BU games as well, so you can enjoy some entertaining back-and-forth between the two schools. On the ice, keep an eye out for Johnny Gaudreau. The young forward looks like he’s 12, but he has some of the best hands in Hockey East.
NHL Draft picks:
- Colin Sullivan, freshman defenseman (Montreal Canadiens)
- Michael Matheson, freshman defenseman (Florida Panthers)
- Patrick Wey, senior defenseman (Washington Capitals)
- Isaac MacLeod, junior defenseman (San Jose Sharks)
- Kevin Hayes, junior forward (Chicago Blackhawks)
- Johnny Gaudreau, sophomore forward (Calgary Flames)
- Bill Arnold, junior forward (Calgary Flames)
- Teddy Doherty, freshman defenseman (Hopkinton)
- Brendan Silk, freshman forward (Wakefield)
- Kevin Hayes, junior forward (Dorchester)
- Cam Spiro, sophomore forward (Hingham)
- Steven Whitney, senior forward (Reading)
- Bill Arnold, junior forward (Needham)
- Brad Barone, sophomore goaltender (Medfield)
As a BU grad and former BU hockey beat reporter, I may be a bit biased when I say if you’re only going to go to one college hockey game this season, I highly recommend going to a BU game. But bias aside, BU is a great college hockey venue. Agganis Arena was built and designed for hockey and has some of the nicest facilities you could find even amongst pro rinks. The student section is always lively and entertaining, and the team is pretty good too.
BU has the most drafted players on its roster of any team in Hockey East this year, but the Terriers will be a bit of a question mark as nine of its 26 players, including both starting goalie prospects, are freshmen.
Tickets to BU games are expensive by college hockey standards, costing you about $25 each, but it’s well worth it to get to a BU game. Keep an eye out for Garrett Noonan, BU’s most skilled defenseman who sometimes jumps up on offense as well, and Matt Nieto, a talented forward who could easily go pro after this season. Also, Bruins fans will want to watch Charlestown native Matt Gryzelcyk. The freshman was drafted by the Bruins in June.
NHL Draft picks:
- Matt Grzelcyk, freshman defenseman (Boston Bruins)
- Wesley Myron, freshman forward (Vancouver Canucks)
- Danny O’Regan, freshman forward (San Jose Sharks)
- Yasin Cisse, sophomore forward (Winnipeg Jets)
- Garrett Noonan, junior defenseman (Nashville Predators)
- Sam Kurker, freshman forward (St. Louis Blues)
- Wade Megan, senior forward (Florida Panthers)
- Matt Nieto, junior forward (San Jose Sharks)
- Sean Maguire, freshman goaltender (Pittsburgh Penguins)
- Anthony Moccia, junior goaltender (Medford)
- Matt Gyzelcyk, freshman defenseman (Charlestown)
- Danny O’Regan, freshman forward (Needham)
- Mike Moran, freshman forward (Marshfield)
- Garrett Noonan, junior defenseman (Norfolk)
- Jake Moscatel, senior forward/defenseman (Lexington)
- Sam Kurker, freshman forward (Reading)
- Matt Ronan, junior forward/defenseman (Woburn)
University of Maine
If you are a real hockey buff, you have to go up to Maine for a game at Alfond Arena. The place is an old hockey barn, and the students sit on a balcony above the visiting goaltender for two of the three periods, which makes for quite the entertaining atmosphere. The seats are old, meaning they aren’t the most comfortable in the league, but for about $20, you and your family can enjoy a classic New England hockey experience.
The Black Bears will have to revamp their offense, as four of their top five scorers from last season are gone, but Joey Diamond, the third leading scorer in the league last season, will lead the way.
If you do make the trip up to Alfond, be sure to stop by Dysart’s truck stop for some blueberry pancakes and fresh baked cookies. The food is plentiful and delicious.
NHL Draft picks:
- Ben Hutton, freshman defenseman (Vancouver Canucks)
- Martin Ouellette, junior goaltender (Columbus Blue Jackets)
- Nick Pryor, senior defenseman (Anaheim Ducks)
- Devin Shore, freshman forward (Dallas Stars)
Local kids (from Maine):
- Jake Rutt, sophomore defenseman (Scarborough)
- Kyle Williams, freshman defenseman (Bowdoinham)
- Mark Anthoine, junior forward (Lewiston)
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
The Minutemen will be considered an underdog in Hockey East this season as they are the only team in the league without an NHL draft pick and have a new coach this year. Don “Toot” Cahoon resigned over the summer and will be replaced by former Vermont associate head coach John Micheletto.
The Minutemen are still a team worth watching. They have a tandem of exciting forwards in Conor Sheary and Mike Pereira, who were second and third respectively in scoring on the team last season.
The Mullins Center is an interesting place to watch a hockey game. Tickets range from $10 to $20, so if you want to see BC or BU play, consider watching them at Mullins for the cheaper ticket. The arena is built for basketball, but its ice sheet is Olympic-sized and sometimes proves difficult for visiting teams. If you do go to a UMass-Amherst game this season, be sure to stop by Antonio’s Pizza in Amherst center. They make every type of pizza you can think of from traditionals like cheese and mushroom to more unique pies like tortellini and chicken bacon ranch.
NHL Draft picks:
- Kevin Czepiel, senior forward (Holyoke)
- Colin Shea, junior defenseman (Shrewsbury)
- Rob Dongara, junior forward (Scituate)
- Conor Sheary, junior forward (Melrose)
- Andrew Tegeler, sophomore forward (Hopkinton)
- Shane Walsh, freshman forward (West Roxbury)
- Patrick Kiley, junior forward (Reading)
- Connor Doherty, freshman defenseman (Holden)
- Peter DeAngelo, junior forward (Milford)
- Steve Mastalerz, sophomore goaltender (North Andover)
University of Massachusetts-Lowell
The Riverhawks are expected to be one of the top teams in Hockey East this season. Second-year head coach Norm Bazin led UML to its best season since 1996 last year, and after barely losing any significant players from last season, the Riverhawks look to be just as good, if not better, this year.
One of the best rookies in Hockey East last year, Scott Wilson, returns this year with a target on his back. The Riverhawks also return their captain and leading scorer, senior Riley Wetmore, as well as goaltender Doug Carr.
Tsongas Center is one of the more entertaining arenas in Hockey East. They always have interesting in-between period spectacles, such as eating contests and a remote control blimp that flies around the rink. Tickets cost less than $20, and children’s tickets are only $9. Be sure to get there early. Traffic around Tsongas can be rough.
NHL Draft picks:
- Dmitry Sinitsyn, freshman defenseman (Dallas Stars)
- Scott Wilson, sophomore forward (Pittsburgh Penguins)
- Connor Hellebuyck, freshman goaltender (Winnipeg Jets)
- Derek McCoy, junior forward (Newburyport)
- Daniel Furlong, junior defenseman (Stoneham)
- Joseph Pendenza, junior forward (Wilmington)
- William Eiserman, sophomore defenseman (West Newbury)
- Derek Arnold, junior forward (Foxboro)
- Doug Carr, junior goaltender (Hanover)
Merrimack is the smallest venue in Hockey East, but it’s still a fun one. Fans are closest to the action at Lawler Arena, and the visiting team has to walk through the crowd to get to its locker room. With its low ceiling, Lawler gets loud, especially when the Warriors get physical (which happens often).
The Warriors will be a bit of a question mark this year. They lost many of their stars, including one of Hockey East’s best goaltenders, Joe Cannata. They will miss their top two scorers from last year, Ryan Flanigan and Jesse Todd, but the Warriors do have junior Mike Collins back to lead the attack.
The price is right at Merrimack: youth and senior tickets range from $10-$15 while adult tickets cost anywhere from $15-$20. If you’re headed to Lawler, be sure to bring comfortable shoes and dress warmly. The parking lot is far away and the rink is one of the coldest rinks in the league.
NHL Draft picks:
- Kyle Bigos, senior defenseman (Edmonton Oilers)
- Connor Toomey, sophomore forward (Billerica)
- Mike Collins, junior forward (Boston)
- John Heffernan, senior forward (Scituate)
- Justin Mansfield, sophomore forward (Arlington)
- Nick Drew, senior goaltender (Andover)
- Sam Marotta, junior goaltender (Bridgewater)
University of New Hampshire
The Wildcats are in a bit of a rebuilding period after finishing sixth last season in Hockey East. Their finish last season was a bit surprising, and since they only lost one significant player (Stevie Moses), they should do better this year. One of the controversies surrounding UNH is who their goaltender will be. Casey DeSmith put together a strong season last year, but coach Dick Umile says DeSmith will split time this season with junior Jeff Wyer, who was injured last year.
The Wildcats play on a big sheet at the Whittemore Center, which, in Durham, N.H., isn’t too far from Boston. The rinks is a fun place to go because all of the seats are pretty low, thus making fans feel like they’re closer to the players on the ice. The ice surface is the biggest in Hockey East, giving UNH true home ice advantage. Tickets are relatively pricy, running around $24-$26.
NHL Draft picks:
- Eric Knodel, junior defenseman (Toronto Maple Leafs)
- Greg Burke, senior forward (Washington Capitals)
Local kids (New Hampshire):
- Greg Burke, senior forward (Lee)
- Casey DeSmith, sophomore goaltender (Rochester)
- Ryan Randall, sophomore defenseman (Durham)
My favorite rink in Hockey East is Matthews Arena, home of the Northeastern Huskies. Matthews is an old rink, as it opened in 1910 and has served as the home of the Bruins and secondary home of the Celtics in the past. Recent renovations mean the facilities are as up-to-date as they can be, but the rink hasn’t lost any of its old-time atmosphere, making it a unique place to watch a hockey game. The place can feel like it’s rocking when the student section, The Dog House, really gets going.
The Huskies should put on quite a show at Matthews this season. Many don’t see the Huskies as a serious contender this year, but they have some electrifying players in senior captain Vinny Saponari, sophomore forward Ludwig Karlsson and freshman forward Kevin Roy. Defense is a bit thin for the Huskies, but senior goaltender Chris Rawlings is back with something to prove in his final season, as he’s been inconsistent at best during his time at Northeastern.
Individual game tickets are well priced at $15 for adults and $10 for children.
NHL Draft picks:
- Josh Manson, sophomore defenseman (Anaheim Ducks)
- Kevin Roy, freshman forward (Anaheim Ducks)
- Vinny Saponari, senior forward (Winnipeg Jets)
- Cody Ferriero, junior forward (San Jose Sharks)
- Dan Cornell, sophomore defenseman (Abington)
- Torin Snydeman, junior forward (Groton)
- Cam Darcy, freshman forward (South Boston)
- Cody Ferriero, junior forward (Essex)
- Robby Vrolyk, senior forward (Boylston)
The Friars were the surprise of the Hockey East playoffs last year, making it to the semifinals against Boston College despite finish seventh out of 10 in the league. Providence will look to get right back to work this season with a new but highly touted goaltender in freshman Jon Gillies.
If you decide to go to a game last minute, Schneider Arena is the place to go. The Friars rarely sell out, meaning tickets are well-priced. It costs just $10 for an adult and $8 for a youth or senior, and with the product on the ice improving, that’s quite a bargain.
NHL Draft picks:
- Mark Adams, junior defenseman (Buffalo Sabres)
- Mark Jankowski, freshman forward (Calgary Flames)
- Alex Velischek, senior defenseman (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Local kids (from Rhode Island):
- Derek Army, junior forward (North Kingstown)
- Noel Acciari, freshman forward (Johnston)
University of Vermont
Seeing the Catamounts can be a trek. Located in Burlington, Vt., the University of Vermont is in a beautiful but far location. The best way to get to a game is to make a weekend out of it. There’s plenty to do in the area – go skiing or visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory during the day, then go to the game at night.
Vermont is another old rink made more unique by its wooden roof. General admission tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children, and there’s normally plenty of space to sit in the 4,000-seat rink.
The Catamounts will look to improve this season after going 6-27-1 last year, and in order to do so, they’ll rely on talent from players such as Connor Brickley, Colin Markison, Michael Paliotta and Nick Bruneteau. Vermont will also have a new goalie this season out of the freshmen tandem of Billy Faust and Brody Hoffman.
NHL Draft picks:
- Michael Paliotta, sophomore defenseman (Chicago Blackhawks)
- Connor Brickley, junior forward (Florida Panthers)
- Nick Luukko, sophomore defenseman (Philadelphia Flyers)
Local kids (from Vermont):
- Pete Massar, junior forward (Williston)
- Ben Albertson, senior forward (Williston)