September 29, 2012

Quintet of Hockey East teams have questions in net

By Andrew Merritt

Whoever replaces Kieran Millan as BU's No. 1 netminder will have big shoes to fill. (Dave Arnold Photography)

BOSTON -- Five Hockey East teams – Boston University, UMass, Merrimack, Providence and Vermont – enter the season with their goaltending situations unsettled.

The Terriers enjoyed four good years with the tandem of Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser in net, with Millan earning the bulk of the playing time but backed up well by Rollheiser. But both goalies graduated this year, so the Terriers have added a pair of freshmen, Pittsburgh draft pick Sean Maguire and Matt O’Connor, setting up a competition and potential rotation.

“I think the competition will be good, I think they’ll be pulling for each other,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “We’ll try to go every other game with them for a while, which is what we did with [Rollheiser] and [Millan]. These guys will be helping each other, both of them will be giving us good goaltending.”

Merrimack, Providence and Vermont all start 2012-13 in search of the replacement to a longtime No. 1 starter. Joe Cannata (Wakefield, Mass.) played the lion’s share of the minutes during his four years at Merrimack, helping to lead the Warriors to their best seasons as a Division 1 program.

Of the three goaltenders on the roster, only junior Sam Marotta (Bridgewater, Mass.) has seen any ice time, mostly in relief of Cannata. He’ll compete with sophomore Rasmus Tirronen of Finland for the job this year.

“I think I’ve got two guys that can stop the puck,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “Now if we have to piece it together and use some kind of alternation, we’ll alternate. Our goaltending situation is pretty deep. Now, whether someone steps up and takes the bull by the horns, we’ll see.”

Providence will be replacing Alex Beaudry, who, after joining the Friars midway through the 2008-09 season as a midyear stopgap, became their most dependable player. The Friars added highly touted recruit Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) after he decommitted from Northeastern, and he’ll compete with fellow sophomore Dylan Wells.

Vermont also has to replace one of its few consistent bright spots, although Rob Madore’s senior season left something to be desired. The Catamounts will also have a rookie competition, between freshmen Billy Faust and Brody Hoffman, both of whom come with solid junior credentials.

UMass is essentially in Year 2 of the search to replace Paul Dainton. Kevin Boyle played the majority of the minutes as a freshman last season, but was pushed by classmate Steve Mastalerz and then-sophomore Jeff Teglia. None separated himself from the pack, leaving the question mark still hanging over UMass’ net.

What’s next?

Goaltending is one question that, for now, Jim Madigan (Milton, Mass.) doesn’t have to answer. With Chris Rawlings opting to stick around for his senior year, Northeastern can build from the net out as it looks to improve in the second year of Madigan’s tenure. 

NU coach Jim Madigan (Dave Arnold Photography)

“I think that opportunity is there for any of our seniors now,” Madigan said. “Kids are coming to Hockey East wanting to have a real good college career, with the opportunity to play at the next level. Chris Rawlings is at that stage, as are some others. It’s almost like a contract year for them.”

Step 1 this year for the Huskies will be to buck a penchant they’ve developed for starting slow. They went 1-7-2 last year before firing off an eight-game unbeaten streak. One more win during that 10-game opening stretch would have landed them in seventh place rather than out of the playoffs last year. 

“You hit a point where your record’s your record. We were one point not only from the playoffs, but out of seventh place,” Madigan said. “We look back on numerous occasions to see where we could have made it up. Our goal is to get to Hockey East, to win Hockey East, to get to the national tournament, but we’ve simplified it. The first 10 games of the year, let’s build a foundation. Let’s have a real good start, everything we do, creating good habits, creating a foundation, on the ice, off the ice, and get ourselves in the right spot.”

On the other end of the spectrum sits UMass-Lowell, which had one of the best seasons in its history last year. That was keyed by goaltender Doug Carr (Hanover, Mass.), who emerged from an unspectacular freshman season to be one of the league leaders as a sophomore, posting a .928 save percentage and 2.17 goals against average.

Carr was an unknown quantity in 2011-12. This year, he’s anything but, and the River Hawks are hoping for him to live up to expectations.

“Doug’s a fantastic kid, he’s mature, he’s a lot of things, but the proof’s in the pudding as far as results,” second-year coach Norm Bazin said. “But he’ll have competition at that position, [sophomore] Brian Robbins is a year older and [freshman] Connor Hellebuyck is coming in to compete for that spot too, so it’s an exciting time for our team.”

Late departure

Boston College’s highly touted recruiting class got a little smaller last week, as Frank Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.) decided to leave the program two weeks before the start of the season.

As reported by the Eagle-Tribune’s Mike McMahon, Vatrano decided to return to junior hockey, and will play this year for the Boston Junior Bruins of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. U.S. Hockey Report has reported that Vatrano did not get the OK from the NCAA Clearinghouse to play, and plans to play college hockey once he’s eligible.

Andy Merritt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @A_Merritt.