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There’s a nip in the air and some hot apple cider on the stove. Unraked leaves cover the lawn. The Red Sox have missed another World Series. It’s time to select a preseason all-rookie team.

Although half the teams have played a real game or two, these picks were made before the first “W” or “L” went into the standings. Honest. If not, may a Zamboni run over my PC and my son trade our Paul Kariya rookie card for a nose ring.

Before we get started, though — blow on that hot cider, it’s steaming — let’s take a look at how we did last year.

Last Year’s Hockey East All-Rookie Team

Forward: Cory Larose, Maine
Forward: Greg Koehler, UMass-Lowell
Forward: Mike Souza, New Hampshire
Defense: Tom Poti, Boston University
Defense: Mike Mottau, Boston College
Goaltender: Sean Matile, New Hampshire

Last Year’s USCHO Preseason All-Hockey East Rookie Team

(in order of first team through third)
Forward: Jeff Farkas, Boston College
Forward: Dan Lacouture, Boston University
Forward: Fernando Pisani, Providence
Forward: Sandy Cohen, Merrimack
Forward: Chris Heron, Boston University
Forward: Mario Leblanc, UMass-Lowell
Forward: Billy Newson, Northeastern
Forward: Cory LaRose, Maine
Forward: Greg Koehler, UMass-Lowell
Defense: Tom Poti, Boston University
Defense: Mike Mottau, Boston College
Defense: Jayme Filipowicz, New Hampshire
Defense: Andrew Fox, Merrimack
Defense: Josh MacNevin, Providence College
Defense: Dan Enders, New Hampshire
Goaltender: Alfie Michaud, Maine
Goaltender: Sean Matile, New Hampshire
Goaltender: Marc Robitaille, Northeastern

All in all, not too shabby. Picking three lines certainly stacked the deck in our favor, though we missed Souza (not to mention Blake Bellefeuille) and picked some third-liners that should have instead topped our list. Still, given the Russian-roulette nature of assembling this team, we at least didn’t humiliate ourselves.

So who is it going to be this year? Without further ado…

GOALTENDERS

Our third-string netminder is Merrimack’s Tom Welby. The primary criteria for freshmen goalies to excel is opportunity, and right now, there’s that in spades for this stand-up style, 5-8, 165-pounder, who last year played for the Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Sophomore Cris Classen has the inside track, but it’s still anyone’s race.

“We saw pretty much what we thought we were going to see out of [our goalies],” said coach Ron Anderson after an exhibition game in which they saw few shots. “That being the case, we’re still not settled on who we think are our best [goaltenders] or who we’re going to play.”

For a rookie netminder, that is spelled O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y.

BC’s Scott Clemmensen broke his foot catching a football in a preseason conditioning drill, but is still our choice as the number-two guy. Unlike the diminutive Welby, Clemmensen stands at 6-2, 185 pounds. He starred for the Des Moines Buccaneers in the United States Hockey League (USHL) last year, posting a 3.26 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage, a performance which earned him a berth on the USHL All-Star team.

Providence College’s Boyd Ballard takes our top spot between the pipes. Like Welby, Ballard hails from the Saskatchewan JHL, where, to steal a line from Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder, “when the cable goes out, you watch the Northern lights.”

Ballard, a league all-star, posted regular-season marks of 23-3-4, a 2.90 goals-against average (second in the league) and a .908 save percentage (fourth in the league).

“Boyd Ballard has been a pleasant surprise,” said PC captain Mike Mader after just a handful of practices.

We think he’ll keep that up all year.

Hey, if we do as well this time as last year — Michaud, Matile and Robitaille — we’ll be very happy indeed.

DEFENSEMEN

Our number five and six defensemen are Providence’s Jay Leach and UNH’s Eric Lind. Both of these two will provide some serious size on the blue line.

“Jay Leach is a big defenseman,” said Mader. “He’s 6-4, 210, [but] he’s a mobile defenseman for a big kid.”

UNH coach Dick Umile similarly expressed optimism about Lind, who is 6-2 and 195 pounds. “He’s going to help us,” said Umile. “He’s a good, strong kid.”

Our second-team defensemen are Northeastern’s John Peterman and BC’s Marty Hughes.

In an exhibition game against Ottawa, Peterman, a first-team USHL all-star, looked like the power-play quarterback that Northeastern lacked last year. He scored a goal, moved the puck and played strong defense.

“Recruiting-wise, that’s an area that we felt we really missed last year,” said Crowder. “[Peterman] has the potential.”

Hughes, a skilled offensive defenseman, scored the game-winning goal in BC’s first official game. He faces questions about his size — only 5-10 and 165 pounds — but the rest of the package is exceptional.

“That adds such a dimension to your team when you can add an offensive threat from the blue line,” said BC coach Jerry York after Hughes and fellow freshman blueliner Bobby Allen scored in their first game. “They both have had a history of scoring goals. They’re dangerous players.”

Maine’s Adam Tate and BC’s Bobby Allen form our top pair of blueliners.

Unless you’ve been in Outer Mongolia during the offseason, you’ve heard of Allen. He’s made every U.S. Select team in memory, and was even featured in Sports Illustrated. Allen scored a goal in BC’s first game, played great defense and also became the co-captain of the All-Interview team (along with our Rookie of the Year choice).

“That was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said a beaming Allen after the game. “Its just a dream to be out there.

“I’m gonna have fun playing college hockey. This is a blast….This is a special team. The sky is the limit for this club.”

Hey, Bobby, knock off the deadpan.

Much less is known about the 5-9, 173-pound Tate, other than his selection as his junior league’s Best Defenseman the season before leaving for Maine. Somehow, he was even omitted from his team’s roster in the Hockey East Media Guide.

Tate joined the Black Bears in midseason last year, one replacement for the seniors who left the program when the NCAA announced its sanctions. Rather than use an entire year of eligibility for a half-year with no postseason, Tate redshirted.

The scuttlebutt coming out of Orono early this year, however, points to Tate as a significant contributor.

“Adam Tate is just a terrific freshman defenseman,” said Maine coach Shawn Walsh recently. “He’s playing the point on the power play, is killing penalties and taking a regular shift.”

FORWARDS

BU’s Carl Corazzini, UMass-Lowell’s T.C. Harris and Merrimack’s Vince Clevenger make up our third line.

Corazzini comes to BU from prep school powerhouse St. Sebastian’s. With the Terriers’ many graduations from an already thin front line, freshmen like Corazzini will get the opportunity to play quality minutes — in BU’s home opener, freshmen dotted the second, third and fourth lines. We think Corazzini will contribute.

Harris could be a great bargain or a great bust for UMass-Lowell. Off-ice problems scared away most teams, and Lowell only recruited him as a walk-on. Still, the kid has some of the best hands and moves around. However, he will have some major adjustments. In high school, he was allowed to pick his spots and freelance because he logged so many minutes. That will change now, but if he keeps his head screwed on straight, this kid can play.

“He’s just getting over mono right now,” said UMass-Lowell coach Tim Whitehead, “but when he’s able to dress, he’ll be an electrifying player.”

Clevenger and linemate Ron Mongeau will try to be the poor man’s Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin. Much like that Vermont duo, which combined to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts, Clevenger and Mongeau have been joined at the hip for so long that knowing each other’s intentions is second nature.

And Merrimack coach Ron Anderson is no dummy. He has the two playing together, just as they were for years at Canterbury Prep. They’ve impressed in preseason action.

UMass-Amherst’s Kris Wallis, Maine’s Dan Kerluke and BC’s Mike Lephart form our second line.

Wallis ranked as the third-highest scorer in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League last year. No flash in the pan, he earned team MVP honors three times and a berth on the league all-star team twice. His team’s leading career scorer, he also ranks as the league’s sixth all-time scorer. This, by the way, is the same league that sent players like Paul Kariya and Dan Shermerhorn to Hockey East.

Wallis would have been joined by Minuteman teammate Jeff Turner, the USHL’s second-leading scorer last year, if not for Turner breaking his leg in the first practice this year. The two, at least on paper, represent the recruiting breakthrough that coach Joe Mallen has been waiting for.

Kerluke is yet another speedburning sniper to have migrated to Orono. Last year, he scored 62 goals and added 48 assists in just 51 games for his Brampton, Ont., team. Although many recruitniks obsessed more over fellow freshman Mattias Trattnig, Kerluke has more the style to get things done in a big way his first year.

“[Trattnig] certainly is a top player, but he’s only 18,” said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. “He may be the youngest player in the league. I’m not sure if guys like that make a big impact unless they’re real small waterbugs…”

Which is what Kerluke could be.

Lephart led the USHL in scoring with 90 points in 54 games, earning the league’s Top Forward award.

“His physical strength is impressive,” said York. “He goes to the net extremely well on offense. And he’s certainly one of the top skaters in our program, so he’ll be an immediate impact player for us, no question.”

Our top line makes no attempt to mix brawn with finesse like we did last year, when we stirred Dan Lacouture in with Fernando Pisani and Jeff Farkas. This year, we’re just gonna fill the back of the net with BU’s Nick Gillis, Maine’s Anders Lundberg and BC’s Brian Gionta and let the bad guys try to match up with us as best they can.

Gillis hails from hockey factory Cushing Academy, where one year earlier he and linemates Ryan Moynihan (Cornell) and Jayson Philbin (Merrimack) shattered records with impunity, though with a little bit of help from two blueliners named Bobby Allen and Tom Poti. Gillis headed for Commonwealth Avenue, where he will reunite with Poti, as Cushing’s all-time leading scorer. No mean feat, that.

The New England Hockey Report describes him as “a strong skater with a dead-eye shot, wonderful passing ability, and a nasty mean streak.”

Unlike Gillis, no one knew Lundberg from a hole in the wall two months ago. No one, that is, except for the Black Bear recruiters sharp enough to find him and his twin brother Magnus in Lulea, Sweden. As soon as he hit the Alfond Arena ice, though, everyone noticed.

“Anders Lundback might be the real surprise to college hockey fans,” said Shawn Walsh early in the preseason. “He’s a tremendous player. I’m speaking with just three practices under my belt, but he’s one guy that really stands out.”

Gionta, a feisty 5-6 waterbug, completes our first line and all-rookie team. He is also our selection as Rookie of the Year.

Despite playing for an also-ran in the Metro Toronto Hockey League, Gionta led the league in scoring. He’ll have plenty of help this year, however, as he opened the season playing on a line with Marty Reasoner. Opposing defensemen, beware.

Gionta also possesses a charming effervescence, much like his teammate Bobby Allen. When asked how far Boston College could go this year, he hedged no bets.

“I think we can win it,” he said.

Win what? Hockey East? Further than that?

“Further than that,” he said with a sparkle in his eyes and a wide smile.

Guess whose jersey is gonna get our captain’s C?


Thanks to Chris Warner, whose New England Hockey Report is always a great source of recruiting information.