The Northeastern Huskies will open their 2011-2012 season tonight as they host Hockey East foe UMass Amherst. Puck drops at 7, but you’ll want to be there before then.
The Huskies will be looking to get off to a quick start under new coach Jim Madigan. Last year a 1-8-3 start killed fan support and any chance at the NCAA’s. They recovered, but the only thing they have to show for it was knocking BU out of the playoffs.
Unlike previous seasons, the Huskies will get right into conference play. So a fast start is essential and tonight will be a good chance against a school they have been 4-0-1 against in their last 5 meetings.
UMass is a young team that struggled last year. But they do return their top 4 scorers. They will be led by TJ Syner, Mike Pereira and Daniel Hobbs. The biggest question for them is how to replace standout goalie Paul Dainton. That will be the key to their season.
With Cody Ferriero, Steve Quailer, and Ludwig Karlsson all out, there isn’t much to figure out for the lines. Purely speculation, but I’m assuming they use the same ones from the exhibition:
Players to Watch
Vinny Saponari: The former BU player has quickly shown himself to be a major talent. This doesn’t come as any surprise, but its still good to see Vinny making a smooth transition. He got time on the Power Play last Sunday and he will likely be back on it tonight. He showed off his stickwork in the penalty shootout at Wednesday’s fanfest. Saponari may be the best player on the team and he is definitely one to watch.
Justin Daniels: Daniels put up a solid freshman season, but seemed to take a step back last year. He was dealing with ankle problems and did see a lot of time on 3rd line, however. This year he has no excuses. He will likely be centering a line with Saponari and Braden Pimm. Like Saponari, he is going to need to score. This line could be the replacement for last years first line, with Saponari and Daniels filling the scoring roles that Wade MacLeod and Tyler McNeely played so well. And Pimm racking up the assists like Steve Silva. (Hopefully with a lot less penalty minutes). Daniels looked great in the exhibition game and could be ready for a breakout year.
Robbie Vrolyk: Vrolyk is another one who dealt with injury last year. He missed almost all season and never really got enough time to get back to his old self before the season ended. He finds himself on the first line with fellow speedster Rob Dongara and Mike McLaughlin. Vrolyk has 3 goals in 3 games against UMass and he will be hoping to add to that tally tonight in an effort to jump start his junior year.
Tonight will be a back test for the Huskies. Its a game they can win, but there will be some anxious players out there, especially the freshman. Joseph Manno was actually committed to UMass before coming to NU at the last minute. So I’m sure he will have some nerves. But hopefully they can overcome it with the help of a packed house and start the season of with a win.