by Nick Lowman/CHN Reporter
Just how important will this year’s freshmen class in the CCHA be this season?
When the puck drops, several teams will have a different look to their roster from a year ago. You may not know who they are now, but you will.
In Oxford, Ohio, Miami will have a new look in goal this season with two new faces competing for the starting job left vacant by Jeff Zatkoff's departure.
"Right now we have two young freshmen and don’t know who will emerge," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "Obviously, we knew Jeff Zatkoff was going to move on, but we have a great staff here to work with both players and help them develop here at Miami."
Both netminders are coming off impressive seasons in their respective leagues and will need to do more of the same this season.
Entering the season ranked 8th in the nation, the RedHawks will look to pick up where they left off last year with a record-breaking 33 wins. Miami has built itself into a powerhouse program, winning more games than any other team in the country the last three seasons.
"Expectations will be no different than they were last year," Blasi said. "We try to get better every day and will continue to play at a level where we can compete for a championship."
Blowing into Columbus, Ohio, this season will be the second round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, Zac Dalpe. Making his debut for the Buckeyes, the Paris, Ontario, native will look to make an impact on a young and upcoming team that struggled offensively last season.
Projected as one of the top recruits in the nation, Dalpe has the potential to be a star at the collegiate level. His ability to score in different ways makes him a threat in the attack zone every night, and with his high intensity style of play, he brings a lot of energy to the locker room.
With Ohio State not having a lot of success on the recruiting trail the last few seasons; the program will also add forward Taylor Stefischen to their lineup this fall. Last season, the highly-skilled forward put up 81 points (33 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games. In addition to his offensive productivity, the sharp shooter from North Vancouver plays with an edge and has strong leadership skills that one-day could lead to captaincy.
For the Victors of the CCHA last season, Michigan reeled in 12 rookies last season and will head into this year with five new faces, four of which were drafted in 2008.
"With 12 freshmen last season, it was important to get a foundation built last year," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. "This year, we can focus more on the individuals."
Drafted in the second round by the New Jersey Devils, Brandon Burlon brings to the table both a strong transition game and defensive stability that will help the Wolverines generate more scoring opportunities.
"Brandon is a good solid two-way defenseman," Berenson said. "He can pass the puck very well but also defend by putting himself in good position."
Greg Pateryn, a fifth round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs will add more size to the blueline as a physical defenseman. He possesses good hockey sense and has the patience to make the outlet passes from his own zone. But with any rookie defensemen, comes mistakes.
"There is more of a learning curve for defensemen because of the responsibilities they carry," Berenson said. "The mistakes they make are more costly so we try to work with them more to prevent it from happening later on."
With the departure of Michigan’s top scoring line from last season, the Maize and Blue will need to rely on a young offense to carry the load. Adding to the mix will be the Los Angeles Kings third round draft pick Robbie Czarnik and David Wohlberg, a sixth round pick by the New Jersey Devils. Both players will help exemplify that Michigan is worthy of being ranked second in the preseason polls.
"David Wohlberg reminds me of a Kevin Porter," said Berenson. "He can score and make plays and I think he’ll have a solid career here at Michigan."
In addition to Wohlberg’s offensive play, he’s just as good defensively and it wouldn’t be to far fetched to see the freshman forward playing against the opponent’s top lines in his first year. He’s a faceoff specialist and can play sound defense in his own end, potentially being a quality two-way forward.
Czarnik is more of an offensive catalyst, projected to be one of the top goal scorers for the Wolverines. He brings a lot of energy to Ann Arbor and with the ability to pick corners; he’ll ignite a rowdy Yost Arena.
Given the fact Michigan continues to win and compete for national titles every season, regardless of the lineup, the program continues to bring in talent.
"It’s been a combination of things," Berenson said. "The success of the program attracts good players and recruiting is a strength here at the University of Michigan."
Cross-state rival Michigan State will boast one of the top rookies in the CCHA this season in Daltan Leveille. Drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the first round (29th overall), the speedy centerman will help a deflated offense that lost their top three scorers from a year ago.
Only the ninth Spartan in program history to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, Leveille is a rare commodity in that he is one of only a few junior B players to be taken in the first round.
Following a solid season with the St. Catherines Falcons of the Golden Horseshoe Jr. B League, Leveille was close to being non-existent to most NHL teams due to his size. But with a recent growth spurt and a great finish to his season, his stock soared. Now that the highly-touted forward sports the Spartan jersey, he’ll be anything but small.
Heading into the 2008-09 campaign, the CCHA features a talented group of freshmen, nine of which that have been drafted in the NHL 2008 Entry Draft. Other rookies like forward Jordie Johnston of Ferris State and goaltender Scott Greenham of Alaska will also play a big role for their team this season.
As we wonder how good of a college career these kids will have, the bigger question will be, how long will they stay?