Things to Watch 2008-09
by Tim Rosenthal/Staff Writer
With the 2008-09 season upon us approaching, it's worth a look at the things to watch for this season.
Change, No Change
While there has been a lot of stability in the head coaching world in recent years, there were some prominent assistant coaching moves. When Colorado College lost Norm Bazin to a D-III head coaching job, long-time Minnesota defensive guru Mike Guentzel filled his spot, leaving open speculation why he left the Gophers. When Cornell's Brent Brekke left for Miami, Ohio State No. 2 man Casey Jones went back to his alma mater. And legendary goaltending coach Bill Howard stepped down from his spot at Wisconsin.
Then, of course, there were the ever-common lengthy list of players leaving early for pro careers. Though surprisingly, Boston University's Colin Wilson, the top college player chosen in last summer's draft, by Nashville, chose to stay. Twenty-four players left school early to sign NHL deals in the offseason, two shy of the record from the previous summer.
The Kicking Rule
There's changes following the controversy in the Notre Dame-Boston College National Championship game in April — when a wouldbe Notre Dame goal (which would've cut the lead to 3-2) was disallowed, because of a deflection off a skate in which the replay official thought it was a "distinct kicking motion."
This new rule creates more leeway for the players to use the skate on the ice. If a player just deflects a puck off the skate, then it should be a goal, which is the right decision; However, if an official realizes that the player is showing a distinct kicking motion, then it should not be a goal. Good rule by the NCAA Rules Committee, let's see how this plays out in games.
Two Referees, Two Linesmen
This was optional previously, but has now been mandated.
This will speed up the game. With two referees calling penalties, instead of one, this will create an easier environment for all officials. However, there won't be as much open ice as there was. It works in the NHL, but will it work in college hockey? It was tried before.
This can be the turning point in college hockey, if the CCHA does it right this year. The shootout has been talked about on many occasions since the new NHL started adapting the rule, after the five-minute overtime. The CCHA is doing basically the exact same thing, except shootout losses are counted as ties. However, if a team loses in overtime, then it loses the game and doesn't even grab one point in the standings. A risky proposition there.
We'll see if it works for the CCHA this year, and if it does, look for most conferences (if not all of Division I) to get the shootout rule by 2009-10 or 2010-11.
The shootout results will not count towards NCAA tournament selection criteria.
Critics, of course, continue to deride this move as an affront to their sensibilities.
Players to Watch:
Brock Bradford, SR. F, Boston College:
Bradford should be poised to return to the ice after missing the majority of last year. The Burnaby, British Columbia, native will be one of many offensive threats for the Eagles.
Mark Mitera, SR. D, Michigan:
As one of the top defensemen in college hockey in 2007-08, it's his turn now to lead the Wolverines and try to replace the leadership from the graduated Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik.
Shane Connelly SR. G, Wisconsin:
Without legendary goaltending coach Bill Howard — who stepped down recently — how will Connelly fare in 2008-09?
Joe Finley SR D: North Dakota:
Didn't go pro, so the team is on his shoulders.
Ryan Lasch JR. and Garrett Roe SO. F's St. Cloud State:
Can will these two offensive talents respond to the departure of Andreas Nodl? Ninety-eight points are coming back and that's the majority of the offense. But they've had postseason disappointments.
Richard Bachman, SO. G, Colorado College:
Can he have the same success last year and get CC over the hump? The Tigers have not won a National Title since '57.
Teams to Watch:
Princeton: After the success in 2007-08 with their first NCAA appearance in 10 years, can the Tigers retain the momentum? Only five seniors depart from last year.
Boston University: With Colin Wilson returning, and a potent offense, the Terriers are poised to get back on track. A good defense returns as well, led by Matt Gilroy, however, can head coach Jack Parker solve the goaltending situation?
Minnesota State: Majority of the team — that would've made the NCAA tournament had it not been for a loss to Minnesota on home ice in the WCHA playoffs — is back.
Notre Dame: Will this be another Jeff Jackson dynasty? Only four seniors depart, and they get Erik Condra back from a late season injury.
Games to Watch:
The Icebreaker, October 10 and 11 at Agganis Arena:
Four games in two days featuring BU, North Dakota, Michigan State and Massachusetts. Should make for some exciting hockey. Also October 10 features the raising of the national championship banner on the other side of Commonwealth Ave., as BC takes on Wisconsin.
Notre Dame at BC November 7th:
The Rematch of last year's national title game could be the best non-conference game in 2008-09.
Home and Home series between Notre Dame and Michigan, January 30 and 31
The Wolverines will want revenge after a disappointing overtime loss in the Frozen Four to the Irish. Also could be a shift between first and second place in the CCHA by the end of the series.
Princeton at Harvard February 28:
The last regular season game in the ECAC should be the game of the year.
North Dakota at Wisconsin March 6 and 7:
These two sleeper teams in the WCHA meet in the conference's best finale on paper.