With the Hockey East schedule set to kick off Friday night, here's a quick glimpse of the teams, and their predicted finish according to the league's preseason coaches poll (teams are listed with their 2012-13 records):
UMass Lowell (28-11-2; 16-9-2 Hockey East)
There's little doubt that River Hawk coach Norm Bazin will miss the leadership of departed senior Riley Wetmore and standout junior defender Chad Ruhwedel, who joined the NHL's Buffalo Sabres last spring. But don't cry for UMass Lowell. Bazin has one of the best goaltending tandems in college hockey, with sophomore Connor Hellebuyck and senior Doug Carr, and a raft of team-first grinders that lifted the River Hawks to last year's Hockey East championship and the Frozen Four. Look for big years from junior Scott Wilson, seniors Joseph Pendenza and Derek Arnold, and hulking blueliner Christian Folin.
Boston College (22-12-4; 15-9-3 HE)
The embarrassment of riches never seems to ebb at The Heights. Led by Hockey East leading scorer and Hobey Baker finalist Johnny Gaudreau, the Eagles have simply reloaded, added NHL draftees Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini on defense, and Adam Gilmour and Ryan Fitzgerald at forward. And goaltender Thatcher Demko, the league's youngest player, is expected to be a high draft pick next spring. One of the team's most significant losses might be associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh, who left the Eagles to take over the Connecticut program, which joins Hockey East next season. Early season games against Michigan (a 3-1 loss on Thursday), Wisconsin, and Minnesota (twice) should be a good gauge.
Notre Dame (25-13-3; 17-8-3 CCHA)
The league's newest addition, fresh off winning the final CCHA title last season, ought to make waves from the first drop of the puck. The Irish lost top forwards Anders Lee and Nick Larson, but still have plenty of firepower in the likes of NHL draft picks T.J. Tynan, Bryan Rust, Jeff Costello, and Mario Lucia. Seniors Kevin Lind and Stephen Johns shore up the blueline, and senior goaltender Steven Summerhays is more than capable of stealing a few games.
New Hampshire (20-12-7; 13-8-6 HE)
The Wildcats early season success last year catapulted Dick Umile's squad into the postseason despite the fact that New Hampshire sputtered down the stretch, failing to earn home-ice for the Hockey East playoffs and getting bounced by the Providence Friars in the quarterfinals. To get back to the TD Garden in March, and the NCAAs, New Hampshire will need continued strong play by stalwart netminder Casey DeSmith and airtight defense led by Trevor van Riemsdyk and NHL draftees Eric Knodel and Brett Pesce. With the loss of Austin Block and John Henrion, young forwards will need to pitch in to help Kevin Goumas and Jeff Silengo.
Providence (17-14-7; 13-8-6 HE)
If anyone knows the importance of college hockey's Pairwise Rankings, it's Providence's Nate Leaman. Despite being one of the hottest teams in the country come playoff time, the Friars lost out on an NCAA bid because of uneven play in the early season. Sophomore goalkeeper John Gillies (a Calgary draft choice) is one of the best in the league, though he might miss games due to national team duties. If sophomore forward Nick Saracino can continue with the hot hand he had at the end of last season, and classmate Mark Jankowski can deliver on his promise (first-round NHL draftee), the Friars could make noise this year.
Boston University (21-16-2; 15-10-2 HE)
There's no question that coach David Quinn inherited a solid nucleus, starting with Sean Maguire and Matt O'Connor in between the pipes. If the squad's nine freshmen are as good as advertised, and superb sophomores Danny O'Regan, Matt Lane and Sam Kurker continue to elevate their game, expect the Terriers to be right back in the mix for the league's top honors.
Merrimack (15-17-6; 13-11-3 HE)
After a magical run to the NCAAs two years ago, the Warriors have slipped ever so slightly. On a team nearly devoid of NHL draft picks (freshman forward Chris LeBlanc is an Ottawa selection), Mark Dennehy's squad has typically thrived on its underdog role, and it will need to again. Senior forward Mike Collins is a big-time talent, as is Connor Toomey when he's focused. The goaltending tandem of Sam Marotta and Rasmus Tirronen will need to be consistently solid.
Maine (11-19-8; 7-12-8 HE)
Another sub-.500 season spelled the end of coach Tim Whitehead's tenure behind the Black Bears bench, and new coach Red Gendron will have his work cut out for him, especially since Maine was the league's lowest scoring outfit last year. Maine faithful are surely hoping that Gendron can bring some of the magic he was a part of last year as an assistant to national champions Yale. But the Black Bears better get great goaltending from senior Martin Ouellette, or the season can go south quickly.
Vermont (11-19-6; 8-13-6 HE)
As goes goalkeeper Brody Hoffman, so go the Catamounts. Coach Kevin Sneddon will need to continue to rely on his sophomore goaltender if Vermont is going to make any progress in the league standings. This is still a very young squad, with the notable exception of senior forward -- and Florida draft choice -- Connor Brickley, and that translates to more growing pains.
Massachusetts (12-19-3; 9-16-2 HE)
John Micheletto's second year at the helm of the Minutemen got harder the moment defenseman Conor Allen opted to leave for the pro ranks, joining four departing seniors. Junior goalie Steve Mastalerz has been inconsistent in his first two years, but he no longer has classmate Kevin Boyle looking over his shoulder (Boyle transferred to Lowell). But if Mastalerz falters, UMass only has freshmen Mac Haight and Alex Wakaluk to call on. Ohio State transfer Ben Gallacher, a Florida draft choice, is expected to shore up the blueline.
Northeastern (9-21-4; 5-18-4 HE)
There were glimpses of the spectacular from the Huntington Hounds last year, but not nearly enough to sustain Jim Madigan's team for any length of time. Sophomore forward Kevin Roy is a special talent, but the Huskies will need contributions from Braden Pimm, Cody Ferriero, and the other forwards. Goaltender Clay Witt has the inside track to replace Chris Rawlings, but Bryan Mountain could challenge for playing time.