Things to Watch, Part II
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Second in a two-part series.
5. Last season's championship game participants
In last season's championship game, Boston College found itself just over 10 minutes away from a national title, leading Michigan State 1-0 in a tightly contested defensive game. But in one of the most shocking turn of events in recent championship game history, the Spartans not only tied the game in the third period but scored the game-winner only 18 seconds before what seemed like an imminent overtime period. The result? An ecstatic Spartan squad on one end, and on the other, a heartbroken Eagles team coming up short for the second consecutive season.
After a long offseason, the Spartans and Eagles should be among the best teams in college hockey. Will Michigan State be able to repeat? With a strong senior class and Jeff Lerg returning between the pipes, they should be considered the favorites in the CCHA, and a return trip to the NCAA tournament is certainly a team expectation.
As for BC, a return to the Frozen Four is never out of the question, especially under coach Jerry York. But with Cory Schneider leaving the team over the summer, the Eagles face a considerable question mark in net. Look for incoming freshman John Muse to take over the starting role and for the Eagles' fate to rest largely on his shoulders. Another issue for the Eagles will be the strong leadership they have lost in Joe Rooney and last year's captain Brian Boyle, who memorably switched from forward to defenseman when his team needed it the most. Nevertheless, this season's BC team still boasts a veteran defense corps that will look to take the pressure off their rookie goaltender. A national championship run may be more difficult than last season, but expect them — as always — to stay in the picture.
6. The Freshmen
Last season, we saw the emergence of Andreas Nodl at St. Cloud, Brandon Wong at Quinnipiac, Teddy Purcell at Maine and Kyle Okposo at Minnesota. In a year in which the Hobey Baker winner (Ryan Duncan, North Dakota) scored 57 points, nine freshmen topped the 40-point plateau.
Now, as the 2007-2008 season gets under way, there are several freshman classes to watch. At the top of the list is Wisconsin, as the Badgers boast one of the top incoming forwards in the country in Kyle Turris, the third overall pick in this past summer's NHL draft. On defense, Wisconsin brings in Ryan McDonagh, also a first-round NHL draft pick. Predictably, Wisconsin is not the only WCHA team that is reloading. Denver will look to overcome the loss of last year's senior class and a flurry of summer departures by welcoming talented forwards Tyler Bozak and Kyle Ostrow from the BCHL. A teammate of Ostrow, highly-touted goaltender Marc Cheverie, will also join the Pioneers this season and could conceivably challenge senior Peter Mannino for the starting position.
While Wisconsin's Turris was drafted third overall, New Hampshire's top incoming freshman forward, James vanRiemsdyk, was drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers. The U.S. National Team product will be joined by freshman forward Phil DeSimone and defenseman Mike Beck, among others. Wildcats head coach Dick Umile recently expressed excitement over his incoming recruits, telling CHN, "I am really excited about this class. This class has great potential, and they will contribute one way or another."
Other classes to watch are those brought in by legendary coaches Jack Parker (Boston University) and Red Berenson (Michigan). BU will bolster its defense considerably with the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen, and they add solid forwards in Nick Bonino and Colin Wilson. Bonino and Wilson in particular will be asked to strengthen an offense that struggled considerably all last year. Similarly, Michigan will rely heavily on its freshmen; six incoming players were drafted by NHL teams over the summer, including first- rounder Max Pacioretty. With only two seniors on the team, the freshman class will largely determine the fate of the 2007-2008 Wolverines.
7. The teams waiting in the wings
Last year, it was Notre Dame and, to a lesser extent, St. Cloud. Two years ago, it was Miami. Which surprise team might emerge this season?
One team to watch is Northeastern. After winning 13 games last season, a 10-game increase from the year before, the Huskies return their top two scorers from a year ago; both are only sophomores. Another team ready to make a splash on the national picture is Quinnipiac. Last year, in just its second season in the ECAC, the Bobcats were minutes away from an ECAC tournament championship. Still, they won at least 20 games in the regular season for the third consecutive year and return a slew of top players, including an amazing 16 of its top 17 scorers from a year ago.
Another potential surprise team is Michigan Tech, who last season finished with a record over .500 for the first time since 1993. Last year was also the first time that the majority of the team consisted of players recruited by head coach Jamie Russell himself, and the Huskies reeled off at least one win against Minnesota, Colorado College, Wisconsin, and Denver in the final two months of the regular season alone. Look for Michigan Tech to make some considerable noise in the WCHA.
8. The extensions
During the offseason, several coaches received lengthy contract extensions. Among them were Enrico Blasi (10-year contract extension at Miami), Dave Hakstol (five-year contract extension at North Dakota), and Rand Pecknold (two-year contract extension at Quinnipiac). All three coaches have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in their respective leagues over the past several years, and each coach's team is a favorite — if not, the favorite — to win its league this season.
These three coaches are in the prime of their careers. Blasi has been named the CCHA Coach of the Year three times and has taken his alma mater from relative obscurity to the top echelon of the CCHA. Meanwhile, Hakstol has turned his North Dakota squad into a perennial national championship contender, and Pecknold has taken his Bobcats to the top of the ECAC standings just two years after joining the league. Last year, after sweeping Cornell in a best-of-three quarterfinal series in Lynah Rink, Pecknold led his team to within an inch of the ECAC championship and an NCAA tournament berth.
For all three coaches, one thing is for sure: for each contract extension, it's money well spent. And don't be surprised to see at least two of these coaches in Denver next April at the Frozen Four.
Speaking of which...
9. The Pairwise and the Frozen Four
When the holiday tournaments are over and the new year arrives, keep an eye out for the debut of the 2007-08 Pairwise. And in the Spring, remember to use John Whelan's You Are the Committee application on CHN to explore the seemingly endless Pairwise scenarios as the conference tournaments kick off.
This all leads up to the NCAA tournament selection show in March and the Frozen Four in Denver in April.