Hockey is back – for real this time – as the defending Hockey East Champion Northeastern Huskies (#14/#15) travel to Hamden, CT to take on the defending ECAC Champion Quinnipiac Bobcats (#2/#2) in the first regular season game of the 2016-17 campaign. The Bobcats and Huskies were linked in fortune last year, as Quinnipiac started the year on a massive 17-1-2 tear in 20 games before coming to Matthews Arena as the #1 ranked team in the country over winter break. The then-cellar dweller Huskies led the Bobcats for most of the game before allowing Quinnipiac to score a goal in the waning seconds of the third and force a tie. Nonetheless, Northeastern used the game as a catapult to have a second half run even better than the first half Quinnipiac put up, as the Huskies would go 18-1-1 in their next 20 games on the way to capturing the Hockey East Championship. Both teams would be eliminated in the NCAA tournament in one-sided affairs at the hands of the National Champion North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
This is a new year, though, and Quinnipiac has lost some considerable firepower. While they do return much of their scoring depth and an elite head coach in Rand Pecknold, top forwards Sam Anas and Travis St. Denis both departed Hamden this offseason, as did stud goaltender Michael Garteig. Those are big shoes to fill for the Bobcats, especially in net. Junior Chris Truehl, an Air Force transfer, is seemingly the favorite to start in net for the Bobcats, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see freshman Andrew Shortridge in the goal as well.
On the Huskies’ side of things, Ryan Ruck should play goal in both games. On the forward end, expect roughly the same lineup as the Huskies’ rolled out on their top four lines last week, with the possible addition of Patrick Schule. Schule did not dress among the fifteen forwards in the Huskies’ exhibition game after playing regularly last spring, leaving his status among the Huskies’ extremely deep forward corps in question. On the defensive side of things, five defensemen should be a lock to start for the Huskies, Garret Cockerill, Jeremy Davies, Trevor Owens, Ryan Shea, and Eric Williams. As we await the debut of junior transfer Garrett Cecere, the sixth spot is up for grabs and could go to any of Jon Barry, Anthony Fiorentino, or Jake Schechter. This writer would most like to see Barry in that spot, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of that group of three were to start. Jake Schechter skated in that sixth spot to start the exhibition game, but defensive pairings were shuffled throughout the night.
Overall, the Huskies would like to come out of this weekend with at least a split. Quinnipiac may be the higher ranked team, but the Huskies return everything the Bobcats don’t, a strong first line of proven scorers and a proven goaltender. Those holes may be filled for Quinnipiac over the course of the season, but it’s unlikely those questions will be answered in the very first weekend, and the Huskies should be able to use their experience to their advantage as they look to build their Pairwise ranking before entering the grind that is the Hockey East slate.