BOSTON -- While Boston College hockey is looking to defend its national title this season, here's a look at the rest of Hockey East following media day Wednesday.
Legendary BU bench boss Jack Parker has seen plenty of surprises in his 37 seasons at the helm of the Terriers' program, but few could have prepared the 65-year-old for the shock he got late in July. Parker went into the hospital to have a stent implant (which is placed in an artery to help keep it from becoming blocked) but left after having quadruple bypass surgery on his heart.
"I feel fine," Parker said Wednesday. "I was all blocked up. They say I'll have more energy, now that everything's flowing again."
Which leaves the Terriers' coach, who has more wins (834) at a single institution than any other hockey coach in NCAA history, itching to get back on the ice. He also has a team he's excited about, despite losing five of last season's top six scorers (only 31-point man Chris Connolly returns).
"We have 17 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, so we're very, very young," Parker said. "So it's quite a turnaround from the championship season of two years ago."
This coming season, the Terriers must make due without the bruising presence of Eric Gryba (the school's all-time penalty minutes holder), slick puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (who left a year early to pursue his pro career with the Colorado Avalanche) and feisty forward Nick Bonino. The loss of Bonino, a faceoff specialist who was critical to BU's success when he was healthy last season, might loom largest, but Parker wants to make certain his gifted-but-young blueliners continue to mature.
"Our biggest concern will be on defense," Parker said. "The only guy [on defense] back from the championship team is David Warsofsky, but he's a hell of a player."
A talented junior goaltender tandem of Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser returns from last season's 18-17-3 squad as well. Also, keep an eye on the freshman forwards, led by NHL draft picks Charlie Coyle (San Jose) and Yasin Cisse (Atlanta).
"It'll be interesting; I think it's a terrific [incoming] class," Parker said. "We expect two or three forwards to be very important right out of the gate. And from what we've seen in practice, we can expect a lot of them."
The Warriors have one of the league's most gifted offensive threats in sophomore Stephane Da Costa, who ran away with the league's rookie of the year honors last season after tallying 45 points on 16 goals and 29 assists. However, like with BC, Merrimack coach (and Eagles alum) Mark Dennehy must prevent his charges from being simply happy with getting to the Hockey East playoffs.
"We took huge steps, but we didn't achieve a lot of our goals," Dennehy said of last season. "Complacency won't be part of our vocabulary."
To make inroads and possibly gain home-ice advantage in the Hockey East playoffs, the Warriors must improve on last season's woeful 4-15-1 road record.
"What it comes down to is confidence," Dennehy said. "We know we're good enough. Now we have to take that on the road."
A key could well be the play of junior goalie Joe Cannata.
"I think Joe Cannata is floating under everybody's radar," Dennehy said. "I think he's one of the best goalies in the league. And when the lights are shining brightest, he's at his best."
Woe to any Husky who thinks coach Greg Cronin won't be breathing fire this season.
The Huntington Hounds missed the 2010 Hockey East playoffs on the last game of the season, a short 12 months after one of the program's most successful campaigns of recent vintage. Sophomore netminder Chris Rawlings will have another year under his belt, and if he can mirror the same improvements he showed last season, NU will be set in goal. The incoming freshman class looks promising as well, including forward Cody Ferriero (who spurned Boston College) and a quartet of towering defensemen: Jake Hoefler (6-foot-5, 210 pounds), Jamie Oleksiak (6-7, 240), Luke Eibler (6-2, 180) and Anthony Bitetto (6-2, 200).
"Those guys are going to be critical," Cronin said. "I'm tired of being small. We've got to make sure we're defending our net."
Up front, Cronin expects typical tenacious Northeastern hockey from his upperclassman forwards, especially captain Tyler McNeely and fellow senior Wade MacLeod, as well as talented sophomore Steve Quailer, who was granted a medical redshirt after a season-ending injury last fall.
So, who's left to play defense for the River Hawks? UMass-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald acknowledges that the conventional wisdom is to build from the net out, but the reality is he lost his top two goaltenders and four top defensemen from last season's 20-16-2 squad. Perhaps Lowell's best defense will be a strong offense.
"I think we can roll out 12 really good forwards," MacDonald said. "Our forwards are faster and better than last year."
MacDonald said he'll also rely heavily on the leadership of his four captains, especially senior center Scott Campbell.
Coach Don "Toot" Cahoon lost his two most potent offensive players from last season's squad when James Marcou and Casey Wellman turned pro.
"We've got 13 freshmen," Cahoon said. "We're the youngest team in college hockey. We're the great unknown.
"But I love the character of our kids. The joy of this is that it's fresh. I'll have their attention."
Brion O'Connor is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.