Can Hockey East make it four in a row? With Boston College at the top, it’s very possible.

As the college hockey season gets rolling today, the main question on the minds of anyone who follows Hockey East is whether or not Boston College can continue one of the most dominant stretches in college hockey history. Since 1998, they have made the tournament eleven times (98, 99, 00, 01, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 10), been to the championship game six times (98, 00, 01, 06, 07, 08, 10) and won the whole thing twice (08, 10). Not a bad stretch.

Boston College playing New Hampshire at the Conte Forum

What’s more, you would be hard pressed to find a team that won a national championship that returns as many players as Boston College does this year. I’m not going to lay out a bunch of stats and returning players for you. Suffice it to say that just about every impact player is returning to that team. The Immensely talented Whitney brothers and the quiet, yet very effective Cam Atkinson figure to be the leaders of a team that is deep throughout.

It’s saying something when Boston University coach says it’s “obvious” that BC is the favorite in the league. And when Northeastern coach Greg Cronin predicts the cross-town rivals could win 40 games and calls the Eagles the “thoroughbred” of the conference, that speaks volumes.

To put Cronin’s words in proper perspective, Maine won 42 games in 1993, setting an NCAA record. They went on to beat defending-champion Lake Superior, 5-4.

Maine has been a shadow of itself for the better part of this decade, but appear to be back on track behind the leadership of Gustav Nyquist, a Hobey Baker finalist who racked up 61 points in 39 games. After a rocky start, the Black Bears rebounded and made it all the way to the Hockey East championship game. But Maine needed to win the game in order to have enough of a resume to make the national tournament and failed to do so. Still, the 19-17-3 record indicated that things are on the upswing for Miane.

If there’s one question surrounding Maine, it’s goaltending. However, Maine only graduated one member of its blue line, which should make the job easier.

Can defending Hockey East regular season champion UNH upend Boston College?

New Hampshire is the other team that probably has the most hope of unseating the Eagles. Last year’s regular-season Hockey East champions have the second-longest active streak of tournament appearances with nine and could quite possibly have 10 after this season. As is the case with Maine, UNH is very green in goal. All-American Brian Foster played in 38 games last year, while this year’s starter, Matt DiGiolamo saw just under 93 minutes all season. Still, he’s getting rave reviews from coach Dick Umile, who noted while smaller than previous standouts Foster and former Hockey East Player of the Year Kevin Regan – both were 6-foot-2 – he is remarkably quick and athletic. The Wildcats also return five of their six defensemen, including All-American Blake Kessel.

UNH also is without its Hobey finalist from last year. Bobby Butler scored 29 goals and assisted 24 more for the Wildcats last season, but UNH is never short on scorers. Paul Thompson (19 goals), Mike Sislo (14 goals), Phil DiSimone (10) and Kessel (10) all return and who knows who else might pop up. Butler was not considered a top scorer for the team prior to last season.

BU always has to be in the Hockey East discussion, whether Boston College fans like it or not. After missing the postseason last year, Jack Parker’s crew does have a lot of work to do. BU has just one senior on the roster surrounded by 17 freshman and sophomores. Perhaps that’s what the Terriers need after the team looked very complacent the year after its championship run the year before.

Keiran Millan remains one of the best goaltenders in the conference and while he may never duplicate his outstanding freshman campaign, which included 28 wins and sub-2.00 goals against average, he will keep BU in most games.

Last year’s upstart Merrimack, which almost bumped BU out of the Hockey East Tournament, bears watching in for no other reason than Stephane De Costa, the Warriors’ phenom who scored 46 points in his rookie season.

Northeastern is looking to rebound and returns a lot of talent from a team that was left reeling after the departure of Hobey Baker finalist Brad Thiessen. Chris Rawlings eventually settled into the position and the team finished in the middle of the road in terms of team defense.

But the lack of a truly premier goaltender exposed some real offensive deficiencies for the Huskies, who were ninth in the league overall in scoring. Northeastern was just four points away from third place in Hockey East last year, but there was a severe logjam in the middle of the pack and despite being that close to home ice, Northeastern didn’t go to the postseason at all, so it’s hard to read just how good this team might be or might not be.

Overall, Hockey East does have question marks throughout, with the exception of Boston College, and should once again be the most competitive conference in college hockey.

Projected standings:
1. Boston College*
2. New Hampshire*
3. Maine*
4. Boston University
5. Northeastern
6. Merrimack
7. Vermont
8. UMass-Lowell
9. UMass-Amherst
10. Providence
* indicates NCAA tournament

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