A Look Ahead: An Early Top 10 for 2009-10
CHN Staff Report
An early look at a projected Top 10 for next year.
10. Lowell — The best news for Lowell last year was that both junior goaltenders — Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton — continued to improve from their first two years, and had their best years yet. This bodes well for their senior seasons, in which they will likely — at least at first — split time once again. Lowell had a nice run to the Hockey East final, which has gotten everyone excited, though the RiverHawks have been in this kind of position before — with most everyone back — and disappointed. Here's another shot. NCAAs or bust.
9. North Dakota — There are other possibilities for these last two slots, like Northern Michigan, Boston College, New Hampshire — and particularly St. Cloud State (assuming everyone returns). But North Dakota is a team that has proven to consistently find its way into the Top 10 no matter what, every season, and with junior Chris VandeVelde (and his 18 goals) stating his intention to return, and with goalie Brad Eidsness expected to take a step forward from his .906 save percentage, there's no reason to believe the Sioux can't be back here again.
8. Minnesota — There are two huge keys here, obviously. One, Jordan Schroeder has to decide to stay. He'll be drafted highly in the upcoming NHL Draft, and if he stays, like BU's Colin Wilson did, then all is well. The other is goalie Alex Kangas, who took a big step backward last season, after a pretty good start. Does he become just another Minnesota goalie thrown to the scrap heap? Another flash in the pan that goes nowhere? Or does he turn into a four-year backbone? If those two things work out in Minnesota's favor, it will be fine.
7. Princeton — First, the Tigers have to get over the devastating loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAAs — allowing two goals in the last 35 seconds and losing in OT. Perhaps, they can take some solace in Miami's championship game loss, which was even more devastating just because of the circumstances. Misery loves company. Losing two solid forwards in Lee Jubinville and Brett Wilson is a blow. And if the Tigers also lose Cam McIntyre — being heavily scouted by the pros, but who missed a lot of time last season — then it will be tougher to absorb. But Princeton does have a lot coming back, including goalie Zane Kalemba, a Hobey finalist, and its coach, Guy Gadowsky, which has led Princeton to school records in wins the last two seasons. Last year, Princeton had its first-ever at-large bid to the NCAAs. The only step left to achieve is some NCAA wins.
6. Michigan — Like North Dakota, Michigan always finds its way near the top of the ratings each season, and next year will presumably be no exception. Aaron Palushaj has moved on, which is a blow to the offense, but does anyone doubt others will step up? The real question is in goal, with whether Bryan Hogan will return the Wolverines to Marty Turco-era levels — or even freshman-year Al Montoya levels — or if someone else emerges.
5. Boston University — The defending champs will lose quite a bit of firepower and leadership up front, including sophomore-turned-pro Colin Wilson. The backline loses Hobey winner Matt Gilroy. However, the five other defensemen return, there's plenty of talent remaining up front, more coming in, and Kieran Millan in goal with a year under his belt. It's true Millan could take a step back, like John Muse did at BC after winning, but not a big step — and he'll have plenty of help again.
4. Cornell — The key, clearly, is making sure junior-to-be Riley Nash and senior-to-be Colin Greening return. Cornell already missed an even bigger season last year because of lack of key scoring punch, and losing them could drop Cornell to also-ran status quick. And it's possible either or both could depart (Nash is a first rounder, and Greening is highly regarded by his draft team, Ottawa). If that all comes into place, this could be another one of those seasons like 2005 and 2006, where the Big Red get a couple key non-league wins, roll through the ECAC, and get a very high seed in the NCAAs. Even last year, when Cornell was a No. 3 seed coming in, it managed to get past the first round again, and was tied in the third period with Bemidji State with a Frozen Four bid on the line. Cornell has won six straight NCAA first round games, but only won the Regional Final once. Last year, was the only time they were "favored" among those five losses, which made it that much more disappointing. But they could easily get another crack next season.
3. Miami — Miami is a chic preseason No. 1 pick, thanks to its NCAA championship-game run (and subsequent mother-of-all-devastating-losses). But, remember, the RedHawks only barely made the NCAAs last season, and will lose the services of some good players — namely Justin Mercier and Kevin Roeder. However, with four freshman defensemen coming back, two freshmen goalies returning, and a still-dynamic offense, led by Carter Camper, it is safe to say that Miami should contend once again, and be near the top of the pack all season.
2. Notre Dame — The Irish have a proven formula now for long-lasting, marathon, regular-season success. Their style and work-ethic plays to that. Getting it to translate consistently into the postseason, is a work in progress. But Notre Dame will be near the top again, despite the losses of Christian Hanson, Erik Condra and goaltender Jordan Pearce. The cornerstone defense has five of six players remaining, including All-CHN pick Ian Cole. And the forward losses are better absorbed with a team like the Irish, since their offense is so deep and balanced.
1. Denver — The Pioneers look stacked for a big run, assuming (again) that everyone comes back that's supposed to. Rhett Rakhshani and Tyler Ruegsegger already say they're returning. Throw in the likes of Patrick Wiercioch — who dazzled as a freshman defenseman last year — Marc Cheverie in net, and more scoring punch from Luke Salazar and Kyle Ostrow, and Denver is as healthy as ever. Keeping things in one piece, and keeping it together for a whole season, have been elusive concepts lately for Denver, but it has fewer questions marks and more talent than any team going into next season.