Hallelujah for hockey news in September.
Hockey East media day was held at TD Garden on Tuesday with head coaches from all the league’s men’s and women’s teams in attendance to speak about the upcoming 2023-24 season.
The Boston Hockey Blog got to catch up with both Jay Pandolfo and Tara Watchorn about outlooks and updates on their respective groups.
A notebook from the day, below:
Case McCarthy, Macklin Celebrini Injury Timeline
Both graduate defenseman and captain Case McCarthy and freshman forward Macklin Celebrini have joined the team on-ice for practice, but in non-contact jerseys. Pandolfo did not have a clear date for when either would officially return.
“I don’t want to put a timeline on anything yet. They’re both progressing very well with their rehab. So we’ll continue probably keeping them in non-contact jerseys until they’re fully cleared,” Pandolfo said.
McCarthy is still working his way back from the reported broken clavicle he suffered against Providence during the Hockey East semifinals in March. Pandolfo said McCarthy underwent surgery in the offseason.
Celebrini –– the biggest name to hit Comm Ave this year as the projected No. 1 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft –– is also on the mend. Celebrini re-injured his shoulder while playing at the U18 World Championship with Team Canada which sidelined him in the Eastern Conference finals game with the USHL’s Chicago Steel. Following the conclusion of Chicago’s season in May, Celebrini reportedly had a procedure to fix a tear in his shoulder.
“For right now, they’re both looking very good and they’re gonna continue to rehab and, you know, hopefully they’re ready for the start. But like I said, I don’t want to put a timeline.”
Battle for Starting Position in Net
It seems junior goaltender Mathieu Caron is, expectedly, leading the race for the starting position in net this season. Caron is entering his first season with the Terriers after transferring from Brown University in April.
“I would suspect Mathieu is going to start as the starter but we also want the other guys to push as well,” Pandolfo said.
BU also picked up graduate Nick Howard and senior Henry Graham during the offseason to add some depth to their netminder pool. Pandolfo said he welcomes the internal competition and nothing is set in stone before the season starts.
“All three goalies are competing hard,” Pandolfo said. “Right now, it’s really open competition to see how everyone shakes out. We still have plenty of time here to evaluate all of our players, including the goaltender.”
New Year, New Team
The Terriers have 13 new players, including nine freshmen, to transition into the team system this season. The first-years bring a boatload of talent to the roster, but there will no doubt be an adjustment period after graduating nearly ten seniors last season.
“Basically half our team is new, so I’m going to learn from that [last season] how to integrate these guys into our group,” Pandolfo said.
“With Case McCarthy, it really helps having him back and Sam Stevens and Cade Webber. These guys kind of know what we expect, what the coaching staff expects, so we’re ahead of it that way.”
It also helps that three classes –– including a sophomore group that’s ceiling is sky-high –– still have the taste, and sting, of making it to the Frozen Four. This team proved themselves last year, and there’s got to be an elevated level of believability coming into this season.
“I think a lot of times –– even as a player in college hockey, I was fortunate to go to the Frozen Four four times –– and you realize how hard it is to win,” Pandolfo said.
“You almost need to get there and fail to learn how to win. I think it’s beneficial for our group that half our team has been there and they have a better understanding of what it takes.”
WIH Opening New Chapter
Tara Watchorn is at the helm for her first season as head coach as the women’s hockey team enters a new era of the program. Watchorn was hired in April following Brian Durocher’s retirement in February, and is ready to get things going at her alma mater.
“It’s an exciting time for our program. Obviously a lot of history that has been created by Brian [Durocher] and all of the alumni that have come before us,” Watchorn said.
“But exciting fresh start, and one of our messages has been ‘respect the past and represent the future.’ And we really dove in with the leadership group this summer and built that trust and relationship.”
It’s a full-circle moment for Watchorn who played four seasons at Walter Brown from 2008-12 before working alongside Durocher as an assistant coach from 2017-21. Watchorn now has the opportunity to put her own stamp on the squad as they look to find their competitive edge once again.
“I think we have the talent and the people to be competitive every game. I think the biggest thing is, hockey is such a long season that spans both semesters, and very rarely are you going to go undefeated,” Watchorn said.
“So it’s more about defining success for ourselves and not just in the outcome. If we really focus on what our goals are and how we’re gonna get better every day, I truly believe the wins will come.”
Beanpot at TD Garden
TD Garden will –– finally –– host the Women’s Beanpot Championship this season. Set for Jan. 23, both the championship and consolation games will take place at the Garden, giving women’s hockey the platform so many have been fighting for.
“Grateful for all the work from the coaches and administrators that have come before me to get to experience this in my first season,” Watchorn said.
The women’s Beanpot was formerly hosted by one of the four schools (BU, Harvard, Northeastern or Boston College), but this year’s move represents an important shift in women’s hockey at the collegiate level.
“Such an exciting time for women’s hockey to be able to play the Beanpot at TD Garden. I truly believe our game has come a long way and if you build it, they will come,” Watchorn said.
Offense on the Mind
One of WIH’s biggest struggles last season was getting pucks in the back of the net. Scoring one to two goals a night in a league as good as Hockey East rarely does the trick, and it’ll need to be an area of improvement for consistent success this season.
“As a group, we just focussed on goal scoring yesterday, and for the entire team it was the focus of getting quality chances instead of quantity. So that’s going to be a focus for us moving forward,” Watchorn said.
With a new system and a forward-loaded incoming freshman class, BU will likely have a more aggressive look on the front-end. The team also picked up Lilli and Luisa Welcke from the University of Maine out of the transfer portal –– the two will look to have an immediate impact in their sophomore showings.
“They have great experience at the college level, international level,” Watchorn said. “They bring all those experiences to the locker room on and off the ice. We’re really excited to see what they’re going to bring.”