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October 13, 2006 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

CCHA Preview, 2006-07

by Courtney Lewis/CHN Reporter

CCHA games begin this weekend. A capsule look at the league:

Michigan

Coach: Red Berenson
2005-06 Record: 21-15-5
League finish: 3rd (3rd in conference tournament)
NCAAs: Lost first round
Changes: The Wolverines lost second-leading scorer Andrew Ebbett, scrappy forward Brandon Kaleniecki and goalie Noah Ruden to graduation. And they lost top recruit Trevor Lewis before he ever suited up in the Maize and Blue — he signed with L.A. Kings in July. There are five freshmen on the roster, including goalie Steve Jakiel and defenseman Chris Summers, who was with the US National Team Development Program last season and was picked 29th overall the 2006 NHL Draft.
Strength: Michigan has some very talented scorers returning. Senior forward T.J. Hensick was named Second Team All-Conference last season after he led the team and ranked second in the CCHA with 52 points. On the blueline, the Wolverines boast senior Matt Hunwick, another Second Team selection in 2005-06, and Jack Johnson, who lived up to high expectations as a freshman, foresaked the NHL, and should play an even bigger role this season.
Weakness: The question mark is goaltending, where the Wolverines are still pretty inexperienced. When Al Montoya left a year early, it upset Berenson's four-year goalie trend, where he brings someone in and they play almost every game for four seasons, and then the next guy comes in. Billy Sauer had to come a year early, and it showed. Sauer started the season-opener but had an up-and-down year and ended up splitting time with Noah Ruden. Sauer didn't see any time in the playoffs and finished 11-6-4 with a 3.04 GAA and an .898 save percentage. The other goalies are newcomer Jakiel and senior Mike Mayhew, who has played just three career games.
Outlook: "Our team ... has to improve from last year," Berenson said. "We did some good things offensively, and we did some good things defensively but we weren't as consistent as we needed to be. And I think we'll have the ingredients to (get better). Billy Sauer will be a more experienced, more confident goalie, and we should be a better team."
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 1st

Michigan State

Coach: Rick Comley
2005-06 Record: 25-12-8
League finish: 2nd (won CCHA tournament)
NCAAs: Lost Regional Final
Changes: Drew Miller and Dominic Vicari decided to leave school a year early. Vicari was upset over losing his No. 1 goalie job to Jeff Lerg, and not foreseeing an opportunity to win it back.
Strength: Senior presence, and work ethic. Jeff Lerg has to avoid a sophomore slump in goal.
Weakness: Consistent scoring.
Outlook: "I think in our locker room, we believe in what's there. We believe we have the opportunity to be a good team. We believe that if we go though the process properly, and that we do everything it takes to become a good team, that we will get rewarded," said Comley.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 2nd

Miami

Coach: Enrico Blasi
2005-06 Record: 26-9-4
League finish: 1st (lost CCHA tournament final)
NCAAs: Lost first round
Changes: All-America Andy Greene is gone, but the biggest change is the "awesome" (in Blasi's words) new arena, Steve Cady Rink.
Strength: Juniors Ryan Jones and Nathan Davis lead what could be a potent offense. Marty Guerin and Matt Christie didn't take a leap into the elite echelon last season that many thought they would, but they still have that potential. The defense is experienced, with everyone back except Greene, led by Mitch Ganzak. The goaltending, a rotation of Charlie Effinger and Jeff Zatkoff, the possible starting goalie on this year's U.S. World Junior team, was strong last season.
Weakness: Inability to win in the NCAAs. The first weekend showed some discipline issues in the Icebreaker, but the games were also called tight. "We took a lot of penalties out of aggressive play
and I like that," Blasi said. "We're going to continue to play that way. The foolish penalties, the slashes, those are things that we don't stand for, our team does not stand for that, so we'll correct those."
Outlook: "As far as our team is concerned, our focus a year ago was to improve daily and I think that is going to stay a part of our mantra and we're not going to change that. We're a close team, maybe even closer than a year ago," Blasi said.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 3rd

Northern Michigan

Coach: Walt Kyle (5th season, 87-60-15)
2005-06 Record: 23-16-2
League finish: 4th (4th in conference tournament)
NCAAs: N/A
Changes: The defense will be without Nathan Oystrick, who was First Team All-CCHA and Second Team All-America as a senior last season. Senior forward Dirk Southern and Andrew Contois were two of the team's top offensive players. Skilled forward Matt Butcher and goalie Brian Stewart lead a large freshman class.
Strength: The Wildcats' group of returning forwards includes tough senior captain Pat Bateman, senior Darin Olver and junior Mike Santorelli. Olver paced the team with 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) last season, and Santorelli wasn't far behind with 33 (15 goals, 18 assists).
Weakness: Northern Michigan lost eight seniors from 2005-06, and many of those guys played some serious minutes. It will take some time to sort out everyone's new role and see how many of the nine freshmen can be effective. Butcher is a fourth-round draft pick who had 101 points for Chilliwack of the BCHL last year. Stewart, another BCHL standout, could push junior Bill Zaniboni.
Outlook: Kyle called the Wildcats "a team in transition." They're counting on consistent goaltending from Zaniboni and significant contributions from some freshmen.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 4th

Nebraska-Omaha

Coach: Mike Kemp
2005-06 Record: 20-15-6
League finish: 5th (lost in second round of conference tournament)
NCAAs: Lost first round
Changes: Bill Thomas left for the pros after his illustrious sophomore season, one in which the Mavericks made the NCAAs for the first time.
Strength: Nevertheless, Hobey Baker finalist Scott Parse turned down pro offers from the L.A. Kings to stay for his senior year. He's led the team in scoring the last three years, and last year topped the nation in plus-minus. ... "Our biggest key to the year was a recruiting battle we won over the summer; that battle was with the Los Angeles Kings. We've got Scott Parse returning to be our captain," said Kemp. ... Having seven seniors will be big. ... "These seniors have experienced the absolute low of finishing in 12th place in the CCHA, they've experienced a trip to the Joe [Louis Arena] as sophomores, and a trip to the NCAA Tournament as juniors and we hope their experiences and what they've gone through in the past four years will help to influence the rest of our young guys and assimilate them into college hockey."
Weakness: Replacing Thomas will not be easy. And will walk-on goalie Jerad Kaufmann repeat last year's performance? ... "Goaltending will fall on the shoulders of Jerad Kaufmann. Last year he was a walk-on for us at the start of the season and was third on the depth chart and did not get any playing time until mid-November, but was one of the keys to us in achieving our first opportunity to play in the national tournament," Kemp said.
Outlook: "Our 10th season is exciting, for me as a coach, is one of the first years, in which we've had a wealth of upperclassmen," said Kemp. "We'll have seven seniors and that senior leadership is key to success."
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 5th

Notre Dame

Coach: Jeff Jackson
2005-06 Record: 13-19-4
League finish: 9th
NCAAs: N/A
Changes: Jeff Jackson's first big recruiting class should unearth some talent. Next year's group should be even better. "Kevin Deeth and Danny Kissel are not big guys, but they play big," said Jackson of his freshmen. "Ryan Thang plays a physical game and all three of them are smart forwards."
Strength: "The senior defensemen, Wes O'Neill, Noah Babin, Tom Sawatske along with junior Brock Sheahan, I think will give us a real good skating defense that will allow them to be more of a factor on 5-on-5," Jackson said. "Up front, we're excited about the prospects of Josh Sciba, a senior coming back and having another tremendous season. He was a very pleasant surprise for me not knowing him before the season."
Weakness: Still looking for depth and consistent goaltending ... and a new arena. "We have more balance this year and more competition for playing time. Our depth will be a little bit improved and our most exciting thing is hoping we can start off this season where we finished last season."
Outlook: "We made tremendous gains last season and I feel we were a much better team the second half of the season mostly because of our defense. ... As we approach the second half, hopefully we will be in a much better position than last year," Jackson said.
Predicted Order of Finish: 6th

Ohio State

Coach: John Markell (12th season, 215-192-37)
2005-06 Record: 15-19-5
League finish: 10th (lost in first round of conference tournament)
NCAAs: N/A
Changes: Goaltender David Caruso graduated, and would-be junior Ian Keserich left early, leaving the Buckeyes with a freshman tandem in net. Joe Palmer is a product of the USNTDP, and he'll be backed up by Nick Filion, who played in the CJHL last year. Ohio State lost three other seniors from last season, including defenseman Nate Guenin and forward Rod Pelley, and forward Tom Fritsche is out indefinitely with ulcerative colitis. Defenseman Kevin Montgomery, another former USNTDP player, headlines the freshman class.
Strength: The Buckeyes have a veteran defense with six returners. Senior Sean Collins played all 39 games last year and ranked third on the team with 18 points. "The strength of our program is going to be our defense," Markell said. "We have returning seniors that I think are ready to play. They're mobile. And we have a good junior defensemen in Johann Kroll, and young Kevin Montgomery coming in. So we're looking to them for our strength, because they're going to have to defend two young goalies."
Weakness: Putting the puck in the net was a problem in 2005-06 — Ohio State finished eighth in the CCHA in total goals scored — and one of the players who did it best could be out for the season. Fritsche was the leading scorer and was expected to power the offense this year. With only three new skaters on the squad, the Buckeyes will need upperclassmen like senior Mathieu Beaudoin to step up.
Outlook: Ohio State is looking to bounce back after the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament and finishing near the bottom of the CCHA. "I think the guys are coming together," Markell said. "They certainly had a bad taste in their mouth from last season." The coach acknowledged that to be more successful this season, the Buckeyes will need to regain their scoring touch. "They all have the equipment, but they have to have the presence, and hopefully we can develop that in our kids this year," he said. "We certainly think we have the players in place to do it and we can generate the opportunities, but it's up to them to finish."
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 7th

Ferris State

Coach: Bob Daniels
2005-06 Record: 17-15-8
League finish: 7th (lost in second round of conference tournament)
NCAAs: N/A
Changes: Nothing out of the ordinary.
Strength: "Our strength will be in net. Mitch O'Keefe returns after having a great freshman year," Daniels said. "On defense, we are led by our captain Adam Welch. He's a great leader and player and we're thrilled to have him. He [Adam Welch] leads a very strong defensive core with a lot of returning players."
Weakness: "Up front, it will be our challenge to try to find a way to score some goals," said Daniels. Daniels said the Bulldogs looked better than he may have thought offensively in their first weekend, but then senior captain Mark Bomersback broke his leg, and will miss up to 10 weeks. "We have the pieces there, we just have to work on putting them together. With hard work, we can be a good team. The negative was our discipline. We have to correct the misconducts we had. They hurt our chances."
Outlook: "Every year, someone emerges in this league, and its not one, two or three teams. You just never know which team may emerge," Daniels said. "I don't know who it may be, but I guarantee there will be a couple of teams that emerge and surprise some people."
Predicted Order of Finish: 8th

Alaska

Coach: Tavis MacMillan
2005-06 Record: 18-16-5
League finish: 8th
NCAAs: N/A
Changes: There have been a lot of changes in recent years, but now, the players who stayed have grown up. "We have a young kid, a 17-year old, Dion Knelsen, that we think is going to be an elite player at this level and can contribute right away, even as a 17-year old," MacMillan said.
Strength: "We return two goaltenders, Wylie Rogers and Chad Johnson, and that is probably the strength of our team," MacMillan said. "On defense, we are fairly experienced with several older guys, but we will probably be led by a sophomore, Tyler Eckford, a young man with some great upside potential." Junior Kyle Greentree is a key to the offense, and could be ready to break out.
Weakness: Scoring goals is a problem, but 17-year old freshman Dion Knelsen may be able to add punch right away. "Up front, its no secret: we've struggled to score goals. It's something we need to get better at and we feel we have the right kids, and better yet, we feel we can put them in better places to succeed this year."
Outlook: "This will be an interesting year for us. We have evolved from a team that has been fairly young for my first two seasons to a team that is mostly veterans."
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 9th

Team: Lake Superior State

Coach: Jim Roque (2nd season, 15-14-7)
2005-06 Record: 15-14-7
League finish: T-6th (lost in first round of conference tournament)
NCAAs: N/A
Changes: The Lakers had a huge 13-member senior class last season, including forward Nathan Ward Nathan Ward, who ranked third on the team with 22 points. They have 12 freshman coming in to help fill those holes. Freshman forward Nathan Perkovich is a New Jersey Devils draft pick who's expected to have an immediate impact. "We graduated a lot of guys last year but we are very enthusiastic about our team. We have some real good freshmen coming in and we have a group of six seniors I think that will do oustanding this year that have been biding their time following the gentlemen that just left last year and getting their chance to lead their team," Roque said.
Strength: Goaltender Jeff Jakaitis was a First Team All-Conference selection last season while going 14-14-7 with a 2.22 GAA. He finished with a .920 save percentage, and his 881 saves were second in the CCHA. Now a senior, Jakaitis should be the team's anchor.
Weakness: Five of the departed seniors were regulars on the blueline, so Lake Superior has three rookie defensemen plus a sophomore, with Barnabas Birkeland as the only senior. But Roque sees some positives with the new defensive corps. "Probably the biggest change to our team will be on defense," he said. "We got a lot younger, but I think we'll skate a lot better back there, be more creative."
Outlook: Lake Superior try to build momentum and follow up on it's first winning season since 1999-2000. There are a lot of new faces on the roster, although the Lakers return their top two scorers from 2005-06. They'll be looking to their six seniors to carry the load. "Even though we're going to be young in a lot of positions, I think our goals remain high," Roque said. "We'd like to build upon last season and just get better and better."
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 10th

Bowling Green

Coach: Scott Paluch
2005-06 Record: 13-23-2
League finish: 12th (lost conference tournament first round)
NCAAs: N/A
Changes: After a good start, the Falcons faded. Now, 13 new faces dot the lineup.
Strength: Defensive depth, and the remaining scorers, led by Jonathan Matsumoto, one of the most skilled offensive players in the league. "Our depth on defense is key. We have six returning players led by junior captain Mike Hodgson. We need to be a better team defensively and I think we can do that," Paluch said. "As an extremely skilled player, we feel (Matsumoto) is one of the top offensive players in college hockey. He is back to lead us in that area."
Weakness: Stopping the puck was a problem this year, but six defenders return, led by junior captain Mike Hodgson. "In goal, we look for Jimmy Spratt to have a good season. He rode the learning curve as a freshman, but finished strongly and we think he can use that as a launch pad into the new season."
Outlook: "We are taking tremendous motivation from last year. We didn't finish the year out very well and it has been a great source of motivation in the off-season to make amends for that," Paluch said.
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 11th

Western Michigan

Coach: Jim Culhane
2005-06 Record: 10-24-6
League finish: 11th (lost in 2nd round of conference tournament)
NCAAs: N/A
Changes: The biggest change is the multi-million dollar renovation to Lawson Arena. There was no change in coach, thanks in part to a first-round CCHA tournament playoff win over Lake Superior.
Strength: Paul Szczechura, a center, is the only senior. Daniel Bellissimo is solid in net. "Ryan will continue to play 20-25 minutes plus with the Broncos. Along with junior netminder Daniel Bellissimo, I think he continues to improve and give us an opportunity to be successful," Culhane said.
Weakness: No depth.
Outlook: "We're looking to improve upon our playoff run from last year, looking at using that as a positive experience, going up to play against a very difficult opponent in LSSU," said Culhane. "We had a great spring and summer, improving our athleticism and our strength."
CHN's Predicted Order of Finish: 12th

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