(Before we start, I did a Q&A with the guys over at the Northeastern Hockey Blog, which you can find here. Thanks for having me, guys!)
Sometimes, I like being an armchair coach/GM. As in, I’m glad I don’t have to make these hard decisions.
Sunday afternoon is one of those times. Four players suspended for hazing (including the top two scorers from last year) return, but with UVM clicking so well, how best to integrate them? In addition, the foe is going to be a formidable one in the defending Hockey East champions, and Kevin Sneddon admitted in postgame that this game would be tougher than Michigan.
The Huskies have started very well at 3-1-2, continuing their white-hot form from the end of last season. A quick look at the schedule shows that the lone blemish was never going to be easy, a 5-2 road loss at then-#2 Quinnipiac. That said, they’ve had some cake matchups early, including two each against Bentley (a fairly mediocre Atlantic Hockey school with arguably the worst arena in college hockey) and Arizona State (who’s not even in a conference). We’ll see if the Huskies are a legitimately good team or one that feeds off the weak.
The goaltending has seen some changes this year. Ryan Ruck keeps the bulk of the work, and has sported a .905 save percentage so far while playing every game. His backup last season was Derick Roy, who was to put it lightly, subpar (.840 SV%). However, this year, he’s been replaced by the Curtis Frye, who has yet to make his NCAA debut. The third-stringer is junior Jake Theut, who has yet to play in his college career either, so expect Ruck to start.
Defensively, Northeastern is similar to UVM in that it’s less physical and more skill. Freshman Ryan Shea, a Chicago Blackhawks pick, has started his season well with 3 points from 6 games, and sophomore Eric Williams and junior Garrett Cockerill have built on their solid seasons before. Jeremy Davies is one to watch; he’s been hyped by Northeastern fans since committing in 2014 and has started solidly enough this year. The team also added some additional experience in Garrett Cecere, a transfer from Colorado College. This defense is solid, deep, and has helped Ruck mask his mediocre SV% by suppressing shots.
The forwards is where Northeastern shines. The only major losses are Kevin Roy and Mike McMurtry to graduation, but the rest is relatively the same. Last year’s leading scorer, Zack Aston-Reese, has picked up where he left off last year with 10 points so far. Adam Gaudette (9 points) has thus far built on an excellent freshman campaign. Nolan Stevens is still a dangerous player. This is probably UVM’s biggest test: shut down this attack that has clicked so far to the tune of almost four goals per game. The return of Chris Muscoby will be a huge help.
I have no idea how Sneddon plans on reintegrating the guys coming back. If I were in his shoes, here’s how UVM would line up:
Puskarich and Bradley compliment Colton better than Best/Alvaro and Irwin do, and Irwin hasn’t been that great so far this year anyway. Privitera and Puffer are killing it so I don’t want to break up that pairing, and the fourth line has also been great. As for the D, well, the imbalance of having more LHD than RHD really limits the options if Sneddon wants to keep having three pairs of lefty-righty. But hey, that’s why I’m not a DI NCAA head coach. Probably roll with Lekkas in goal while he’s hot, though I can also see the argument for Santaguida.
Northeastern, like any team that’s joined in 2016, streams their games for free, so expect a recap of this matinee.