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October 7, 2008 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

CCHA Season Preview

by Nick Lowman/CHN Reporter

Notre Dame

Head Coach: Jeff Jackson
2007-08 record: 27-16-4 (15-9-4 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Jordan Pearce Sr. G, Erik Condra Sr. F, Ryan Thang Jr. F, Ben Ryan So. F, Kyle Lawson Jr. D, Kevin Deeth Jr. F, Dan Kissel Jr. F.

Key Losses: Mark Van Guilder RW, Evan Rankin RW, Brock Sheahan D, Dan VaNard, D.

Season Outlook: Finishing last season ranked 11th in the nation with a 22-12-4 overall record, the Irish struggled to score goals in the second half of the season and finished 3-3-3 down the stretch heading into postseason play. Coming off consecutive 2-1 losses in the conference tournament, Notre Dame got back on track offensively outscoring their opponents 15-8 to reach the NCAA title game before faltering to Boston College.

Entering the 2008-09 campaign, Notre Dame returns a balanced attack that ranked amongst the top defensively in the conference. Despite losing team captains Mark Van Guilder, Brock Sheahan and Dan VeNard, the Irish roster remains loaded, which includes last season’s leading point scorer Erik Condra (who missed the NCAAs with an injury) and top goal scorer Ryan Thang.

"We’re trying to build a program that makes it to Detroit every year and build a tradition that has consistency and be in the hunt every year," head coach Jeff Jackson said. "We have a lot of impact players returning that are going to be difference makers."

Notre Dame will welcome seven freshmen to the roster this season.

"We only graduated four seniors last season," Jackson said. "A few of them will have to challenge to play on a nightly basis but I think they will make positive contributions when they do come in and play."

Returning between the pipes will be Jordan Pearce, the recipient of the CCHA’s Top Goaltender Award last season. Pearce led the conference with a 1.80 goals against average. Kevin Lawson will anchor a solid defensive corps that ranked first in the conference in penalty killing and second respectively in goals allowed.

Since Jackson took over at the helm in 2005, the Irish have made strides in becoming one of the most prestigious programs in the conference. This season looks to be no different.

The Irish appear to be well stocked from top to bottom and should be in position to make another run for their first National Championship.

Predicted Finish: 1st

Michigan

Head Coach: Red Berernson
2007-08 Record: 33-6-4 (20-4-4 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Aaron Palushaj So. F, Travis Turnbull Sr. F, Mark Mitera Sr. D, Chad Langlais So. D, Chris Summers Jr. D, Billy Sauer Sr. G.

Key Losses: Kevin Porter F, Chad Kolarik F, Max Pacioretty F.

Season Outlook: Heading into the 2007-08 season, the Wolverines were picked to finish fourth in the conference and ranked 10th in the preseason by USA Today. By the end of the season, Michigan finished with a 29-5-4 record and was crowned CCHA Regular Season Champions. On a mission, the Wolverines won four straight playoff games and beat a very good Miami team to win the CCHA Tournament, earning a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

Making it to their first Frozen Four semifinal since 2003, the Wolverines came back to force overtime, but fell just short of reaching the title game with a disappointing loss to Notre Dame.

It’s going to be an interesting year for the Wolverines, who have lost the highest scoring line in the country last season. The top line of Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik and Max Pacioretty combined for a total of 158 points last season.

A program that is known to reload season after season will now look to sophomore forwards Aaron Palushaj, Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust to carry the load offensively. With a reshaped offense — with defenseman Chris Summers moving up front — don’t be surprised to see a new outlook this fall.

"We’ll be molding a different group this year," head coach Red Berenson said.

Senior captain Mark Mitera — a Preseason All-CHN First Team pick will anchor a young and inexperienced blue line that saw Mitera and sophomore defenseman Chad Langlais play every game last season. In the 43 games played last season Mitera led all Michigan defensemen with a plus-30 rating and 65 block shots.

In the crease, Billy Sauer remains the centerpiece for the Maize and Blue. Last season Sauer recorded a career-best 30 wins, just the fourth Wolverine to notch as many wins in a single season. The senior goaltender will have to be Michigan’s best player this season in order to have a similar performance a year ago.

After Sauer’s performance last season, there will be no controversy in goal this season. Though Bryan Hogan, who missed the start of last season with mono when he could've competed for the job, will get playing time. Sauer had a great season but an ugly performance in the NCAA semis.

Predicted Finish: 2nd

Miami

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi
2007-08 record: 33-8-1 (21-6-1 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Carter Camper So. F, Justin Mercier Sr. F, Brian Kaufman Sr. F, Jarod Palmer Jr. F, Kevin Roeder Sr. D.

Key Losses: Ryan Jones F, Alec Martinez F, Jeff Zatkoff G.

Season Outlook: Coming off a stunning loss to Michigan in the CCHA Championship game, Miami closed out the season with a 32-7-1 record before heading into NCAA tournament play. With not much success against Boston College in the playoffs, last season turned out to be no different. For the third consecutive year the Redhawks were ousted in tournament play by the Eagles, losing in overtime 4-3. Miami had entered the postseason leading the nation with a 4.02 goals per game and also allowing 2.00 goals per game.

This season Miami returns four of their top five scorers from a season ago (minus Hobey finalist Jones). Leading the way will be senior forward Justin Mercier, Miami’s top goal scorer and sophomore standout Carter Camper. Both players played a key role in helping make the offense as dangerous as any in college hockey.

Defensively, the Redhawks became younger on the blueline and will look to Kevin Roeder to lead an inexperienced defense corps that includes four freshmen.

"I think some of our younger defensemen will end up being pretty good players in our league," said head coach Enrico Blasi. "We want them to have an impact and we’ll work with them daily to help them improve."

Goaltending will be a different story this year in Oxford as freshmen Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard will battle it out for the starting job.

Reichard heads to Miami after being named the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Most Valuable Player and the leagues goaltender of the year. He posted a 2.05 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. His 33 wins and 7 shutouts were tops in the league.

Knapp enters his freshman year after garnering the Best Goalie Award and helping his Junior Bruins to a league championship. Although he’s put up very respectable numbers, it will not be the stats that open eyes, but rather his size. Knapp has a 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame that will show very little net.

With two unproven netminders and a young and inexperienced defense, Miami will have a hard time closing out games in a grueling conference.

Predicted Finish: 3rd

Michigan State

Head Coach: Rick Comley
2007-08 Record: 25-12-5 (19-6-3 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Tim Crowder Sr. F, Jeff Petry So. D, Jeff Lerg Sr. G.

Key Losses: Tim Kennedy F, Bryan Lerg F, Justin Abdelkader F.

Season Outlook: The Spartans followed up their 2007 National championship with solid play throughout the 2007-08 season, but was eventually ousted in the NCAA West Regional Final against Notre Dame. Not ending the season as planned, Michigan State was served a little payback from its conference foe, Notre Dame. Knocking out the number one seed in the 2006-07 season en route to a third title, the defending champions got the favor returned.

After losing the top three point scorers from a season ago, including seniors-to-be Abdelkader and Kennedy, the Spartans will return a very young lineup this season that includes 11 newcomers. Headlining the freshmen class will be Daultan Leveille, a first round draft pick by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Leveille has blazing speed and should provide some offensive help.

Senior forward Tim Crowder returns as the top point scorer and will look to lead a reshaped offense.

Sophomore Jeff Petry will look to steady an inexperienced defensive unit that returns just two blueliners that saw action in over 30 games last season. Emerging late last season was junior Justin Johnston, who showed steady improvement and will provide a different dimension defensively for the Spartans.

There’s no question that the play of Jeff Lerg in goal was the key to success for the past three seasons in East Lansing. With such a young team, Lerg will have to be at his best if the Spartans are going to be competitive in the conference. Earning numerous accolades, the senior captain led the CCHA last season with a .935 save percentage and will more than likely surpass Ryan Miller on Michigan State's all-time wins list this season.

Predicted Finish: 4th

Ferris State

Head Coach: Bob Daniels
2007-08 record: 18-16-5 (12-12-4 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Cody Chupp Jr. F, Blair Riley Jr. F, Zach Redmond So. D, Scott Wietcha So. D, Pat Nagle So. G.

Key Losses: Adam Miller F, Adam Welch D, Mitch O’Keefe G.

Season Outlook: Not expecting to do much last season, Ferris State finished with an 18-16-5 record with a solid 5-3-2 finish with wins against Miami, Notre Dame and Michigan before heading into postseason play. The Bulldogs advanced to the CCHA Quarterfinal round of the playoffs, beating Western Michigan before being knocked out by a very good Notre Dame team.

"Our returning group is strong," said coach Bob Daniels. "I think the chemistry is good and that our guys are really focused."

Ferris State has the potential to have a big season with Michigan and Michigan State losing a number of impact players on their roster. The Bulldogs return six of their top seven scorers led by junior forwards Cody Chupp and Blair Riley. Both players will have a strong supporting cast up front that includes Brendan Connolly, Justin Lewandowski and Justin Menke.

Goaltending will play a key role in determining the fate of the Bulldogs season. With Mitch O’Keefe gone, sophomore Pat Nagle will not necessarily have the starting job sewn up.

"Goaltending is going to have to be solid," Daniels said. "And Taylor Nelson is going to push for a lot of playing time."

With Zach Redmond, a solid two-way defenseman and Scott Wietcha, last season’s leader in plus/minus on defense, the Bulldogs appear to be in good position to make an impact at the top of the standings.

Predicted Finish: 5th

Northern Michigan

Head Coach: Walt Kyle
2007-08 Record: 20-20-4 (12-13-3 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Mark Olver So. F, Nick Sirota Sr. F, Erik Gustafsson So. D, Brian Stewart Jr. G.

Key Losses: Matt Siddall F, Blake Cosgrove D.

Season Outlook: The Wildcats will try to pick up where they left off last season after going 11-6-3 in their final 20 games, which included a 2-1 win over Notre Dame in the CCHA Third-Place game at Joe Louis Arena.

"We finished strong at the end of last season and we’re definitely going to try and take another step and progress this season," head coach Walt Kyle said.

It won't be an easy task for the Wildcats with the departure of their second leading point scorer and team leader, Matt Siddall. The senior forward was clutch down the stretch as he earned CCHA Offensive Player of the Week on February 25th, scoring a goal and an assist in the CCHA Third-Place game.

Looking ahead to this season, Northern Michigan returns all but 2 players from last season, which includes leading point getter Mark Olver, senior sharpshooter Nick Sirota and Erik Gustafsson, who led all Wildcat defensemen in scoring.

"The key to our success is to continue to grow and develop," Kyle said about the upcoming season. "The guys still have a lot more growth as players."

Although the roster includes many young players, the Cats will have to play more consistently if there going to move up the standings. After the abysmal start to the season, the team went 8-3-1 and then stumbled in January with a 2-5 record before getting back on track in February going 5-2-2.

Predicted Finish: 6th

Lake Superior State

Head Coach: Jim Roque
2007-08 Record: 10-20-7 (7-15-6 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Zac MacVoy Jr. F, Nathan Perkovich Jr. F, Simon Gysbers Jr. D, Brian Mahoney-Wilson So. G.

Key Losses: Dan Eves, F.

Season Outlook: After a horrendous start to the 2007-08 campaign, the Lakers made strides in the second half of the season, but were eliminated in the first round of the CCHA playoffs by Bowling Green.

"We played well in the second half of the season," said head coach Jim Roque. "And I’d like to see our team carry that over into this season."

The Lakers return an experienced lineup that will be difficult to crack for the new recruits this season.

"We only lost one scholarship player last season, so I’m not sure they will make a big impact this season," said Roque. "I’m looking for our other guys to make an impact this year."

Leading the way will be last season’s team MVP and top goal scorer Nathan Perkovich. While his numbers stood out amongst the rest of the team, the Lakers underachieved in the goal-scoring department. Including Perkovich, only one other player returning this season reached double digits in goals scored.

Without question, the Lakers goaltending struggled last season, giving up the most goals in the league last year with 101. With both Brian Mahoney-Wilson and Pat Inglis struggling last season, Roque hopes to solidify the position early.

"No one really stepped up to take the position," Roque explained. "I’d like to have one goalie for the season so I hope one of them will emerge as our top goaltender."

Last season, Lake Superior was 1-9-2 under the CCHA’s cluster scheduling format in which they were partners with Michigan, Michigan State and Norther Michigan. This season, they will face Notre Dame, Bowling Green and Northern Michigan four times each and should improve upon their record from last season.

Predicted Finish: 7th

Ohio State University

Head Coach: John Markell
2007-08 Record: 12-25-4 (7-18-3 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Peter Boyd So. F, John Albert So. F, Chris Reed So. D, Shane Sims So. D, Joseph Palmer Jr. G.

Key Losses: Tommy Goebel F, Tom Fritche F, Matt McIlvane F, Jason DeSantis D.

Season Outlook: Thirteen freshmen saw action for the Buckeyes during the 2007-08 campaign. With such a young and upcoming team the Buckeyes struggled throughout the season, posting 12 wins before being bounced from the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

Heading into this season, the Buckeyes will be even younger after losing eight seniors, which includes their leading point scorer Tommy Goebel. The team also lost top assistant coach Casey Jones. However, Ohio State did a tremendous job of recruiting as top newcomers Zac Dalpe and Taylor Stefishen will add a new dimension to the offense, especially to the power play that ranked dead last in the conference.

Between the pipes, Joseph Palmer, who has never developed into the top tier goaltender Ohio State hoped it was getting, will have to be the centerpiece of a new defense that includes four freshmen. Last season, Ohio State ranked near the bottom of the conference in goals allowed and posted a 1-11-1 record when allowing 31 or more shots a game.

With such a young roster, leadership will be a factor in the direction this team will take. Whoever dons the ‘C’ this season will play an important role in establishing a cohesive group.

Offensive production will be the key to the Buckeyes season. Last year, Ohio State was 10-4-2 in games where they scored three or more goals and 1-19-2 when scoring two goals or less.

Predicted Finish: 8th

Bowling Green

Head Coach: Scott Paluch
2007-08 Record: 18-21-0 (13-15-0 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Jacob Cepis So. F, James Perkins Jr. F, Kevin Schmidt Sr. D, Jimmy Spratt Sr. G.

Key Losses: Derek Whitmore F, John Mazzei F, Mike Nesdill D.

Season Outlook: Last season the Falcons surprised many by winning 18 games, but Bowling Green did not end the season the way they would have preferred, playing up and down hockey. Finishing 4-6 heading into the CCHA playoffs, the Falcons barely survived the first round of the playoffs, beating Lake Superior in overtime in the deciding third game. The inconsistent play eventually caught up to them, as the Falcons went on to lose to Miami in the second round.

But it’s no surprise that the key to last season was getting off to a quick start, going 8-4 in their first 12 games.

"We got off to a great start last year and the guys showed positive improvement," head coach Scott Paluch said. "This year we want to exceed that and finish higher."

Bowling Green will return nearly their entire roster, which includes sophomore standout Jacob Cepis. Gone is leading point scorer and team leader Derek Whitmore. With Whitmore’s departure, Cepis is the only returning player with more than ten goals this past season.

This year’s freshmen class will feature five players on the Falcon’s roster. Rookie defenseman Nick Bailen will be a physical presence on the blue line. Although he’ll be the smallest defenseman in the lineup, he’ll make an impact right away.

"Were excited about Nick joining our team," Paluch said of Bailen. "He has an all-around game and that’s something we’re looking forward too."

In addition, Bailen’s presence on defense will help the team’s transition game.

"I think we move pretty well," Paluch said. "We are not big, but we compete well and we want to keep our quickness."

In net, both Nick Eno and Jimmy Spratt will continue to push each other as they continue to share the workload. Eno came on strong in the latter part of the season with a solid performance in the playoffs.

Bowling Green has a number of quality skaters returning to the lineup this season and other than Jacob Cepis, no one is a proven big time goal scorer. The Falcons certainly have a couple of players poised for a breakout season. James Perkin and Dan Sexton will have to step up and contribute more offensively to have another productive season.

Predicted Finish: 9th

Nebraska-Omaha

Head Coach: Mike Kemp
2007-08 Record: 17-19-4 (11-13-4 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Dan Charleston Sr. F, Ed Del Grosso Jr. D, Tomas Klempa Sr. F, Jerad Kaufmann Sr. G.

Key Losses: Bryan Marshall F, Mick Lawrence F, Brandon Scero F.

Season Outlook: After boasting one of the top offenses in league last year, the Mavericks finished the 2007-08 season in disappointment with a 17-19-4 record. After a tough battle with Alaska in the first round of the conference playoffs, Nebraska-Omaha played like they didn’t belong in the second round. Ending the season with a bitter taste, the Mavericks got blown out by Michigan in the first game 10-1 followed up by a better performance that fell short ending their season.

This year will be a different story in Omaha. With their top line gone from last season, head coach Mike Kemp will look to his defense to be rock steady.

"We probably won't be able to do the things we did last year offensively," Kemp said. We’ll have to be better defensively because of the loss of our forwards."

With big holes to fill, the Mavericks welcome eight newcomers to the roster. Highlighting the new additions will be John Kemp.

"John has the offensive ability to be a Bryan Marshall," Kemp said of the talented freshman. "He can pass the puck and sees the ice very well."

Nebraska-Omaha returns nearly their entire defensive unit from last season. With the experience of playing together, they will be more experienced and stable on the blue line.

In the crease, both Jerad Kaufmann and Jeremie DuPont struggled with netminding duties, opening the door for freshman goalie John Faulkner to challenge for ice time.

Dan Charleston will be the only forward returning with 10-plus goals from last season. The Mavericks will need other forwards like Tomas Klempa, J.J. Koehler and Joey Martin to step up this year. All of them will have more opportunity this season to contribute offensively.

The Mavericks enter the season without an offensive identity and will have to improve their defensive play dramatically. Both goaltenders took a step backwards last season, which will be the focal point of this season.

Predicted Finish: 10th

Alaska

Head Coach: Dallas Ferguson
2007-08 Record: 9-21-5 (8-16-4 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Dion Knelson Jr. F, Dustin Sather So. F, Steve Vanoosten Sr. D, Chad Johnson Sr. G.

Key Losses: Tyler Eckford F, Landon Novotney F, Wylie Rogers G.

Season Outlook: Finishing a disappointing season at 9-21-5 last season, it was obvious that Alaska struggled against the higher-ranking teams in the conference.

Five of their nine wins came against the bottom half of the conference, with two wins each against Ohio State and Western Michigan. Showing pride, the Nanooks almost pulled out a first-round series win by taking Nebraska-Omaha to triple overtime in the deciding game of the CCHA playoffs.

This season Alaska will go to battle with new head coach Dallas Ferguson at the helm, the third one in three years. Ferguson served as the Nanooks' assistant coach the last four years and becomes the eighth head coach program history.

Ferguson will be counting on junior forward Dion knelson to lead the way. Knelson returns as the top scoring forward with a team high 33 points last season. Joining the Nanooks this season will be highly touted net minder Scott Greenham. He plays a similar style to teammate Chad Johnson and will compete for the starting job.

Alaska will enter the season looking to get off to a better start. Goaltending will be a key factor in determining what direction the team will go. Last season both Nanook netminders combined for a 3.85 goals against average during the 0-7 start to the 2007-08 season.

Ranked near the bottom of the conference in overall team offense last season, there isn’t enough offense on the roster this season to suggest that they will improve in the conference rankings.

Predicted Finish: 11th

Western Michigan

Head Coach: Jim Culhane
2007-08 Record: 8-27-3 (4-22-2 CCHA)

Key Returnees: Patrick Galivan Sr. F, Max Campbell So. F, Tyler Ludwig Jr. D, Riley Gill Jr. G.

Key Losses: Jeff LoVecchio F, Jeff Pierce F.

Season Outlook: Last season the Broncos took a step backward as they struggled mightily on offense, ranking last in the CCHA in scoring. Finishing the season at 8-27-3, the Broncos were 1-8-1 coming down the stretch getting shutout twice in that span. It would be no surprise as Ferris State dispatched Western Michigan in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

"The big thing last year that was a challenge for us, was scoring some goals," said head coach Jim Culhane. "We learned a lot about ourselves individually and as a team and know what we have to work on this year."

Looking to forget about last season, the Broncos return their top two leading scorers in Patrick Galivan and Max Campbell along with defenseman Tyler Ludwig.

This season Western Michigan adds eight freshmen to their roster in hopes of adding more offense collectively.

"We feel that we’ve addressed that with the group of kids we have coming in this season," Culhane said.

Riley Gill will return as the starting goaltender for the Broncos this season. The junior goalie played solid between the pipes last season, despite what his numbers might indicate. He still ended the season with a .902 save percentage, including a shutout.

The Broncos finished the season with only one double-digit goal scorer. At the other end of the ice, their defense was stagnant. Two players on the entire roster posted an even rating in the plus-minus department while the rest of the team finished with a minus rating.

With a young team this season, leadership will play a vital role in the direction the Broncos take. Team chemistry on the ice and within the locker room will be important as the Broncos try to improve upon last season’s performance.

Predicted Finish: 12th

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