It's time for CHN's pre-season Top 10 prognostication, one that, if history shows, will look a lot different at year's end. But, you never know.
1. Denver: The Pioneers' offensive game will be reminiscent of last year's NCAA Champion Boston University. Rhett Rakhshani, Tyler Ruegsegger, Joe Colborne, Anthony Maini, and Patrick Wiercioch form a returning nucleus that lose only 15 goals from last season's 132, good for second in the WCHA. Freshmen Drew Shore and Chris Ostrow should pick up some of the scoring slack along with sophomore Luke Salazer. Incoming defenseman William Wrenn will help to solidify a seemingly questionable defensive corps in front of netminder Marc Chevrie, who led the way for the 14th-best defensive team in the country, despite playing more games than eight teams in front of them.
2. Miami: There's no reason that college hockey's winningest program over the last four years won't continue its trend. Four of the team's top-five scorers return, including Hobey Baker candidate Carter Camper, as well as postseason performer Tommy Wingels. Having Chris Wideman continue to quarterback the power play won't hurt, either, nor will his strong defensive play in front of the sophomore goaltending tandem of Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard.
3. Boston University: They say defense wins championships, and this is a team that returns five of last year's starting six. While Matt Gilroy takes his game to Broadway, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen return to anchor the blueline, and Kieran Millan is back to tend the crease. That's a good thing, as the loss of Colin Wilson, Jason Lawrence, Chris Higgins and John McArthy on the offensive side means the team won't necessarily be able to score at will this season, though Nick Bonino showed why he's ready to be the featured weapon on Jack Parker's 2009-10 Terrier squad.
4. Cornell: The Big Red's string of big-time goaltenders continued last season with Hobey Baker candidate Ben Scrivens, who's back for more. Last season, he was fifth in the country in wins, third in GAA, fourth in save percentage, and second in shutouts with seven. Those are some pretty big numbers, and with Brendon Nash leading the defense in front of him and Riley Nash and Colin Greening returning to the frontlines, there's no reason Cornell shouldn't be better across the boards this season.
5. Michigan: Sure, the Wolverines lost Mark Mitera and Aaron Palushaj, but they also spent the majority of the season without the big defenseman, and you can bet Red Berenson already has plans to replace Palushaj's 50 points. They almost certainly include Louie Caporusso, who scored 24 goals and 49 points last season. Freshmen Kevin Lynch and Chris Brown will provide an extra big physical presence, as well as contribute some good numbers up front. Junior Bryan Hogan, coming off a campaign in which he put up some all-time single season numbers for the Maize-and-Blue, should continue to wall off the nets.
6. Minnesota: A usual NCAA postseason staple, the Gophers fell short of expectations last season, but if their late-season run showed anything, it was that they'd be back with a vengeance in 2009-10. They lose top scorer Ryan Stoa to the pro ranks, but return Jordan Schroeder, who excelled as a freshman, and Jay Bariball on a deep offense that will be complemented by a defense led by Cade Fairchild and Aaron Ness, both of whom matured nicely as the roller coaster season continued. The biggest piece of the puzzle will be seeing which Alex Kangas shows up in net — the one who gave up 42 goals in a 12 game mid-season stretch, or the one who allowed just 19 over the final nine matches of the season.
7. Princeton: Despite an agonizing, heartbreaking loss in the NCAA, the Tigers have a lot to build on with two straight seasons of school-record win totals and back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. Stalwart Zane Kalmeba returns to the crease for the Tigers, and Dan Bartlett and Mark Magnowski will lead a strong offense that will benefit from a full season from sparkplug Cam MacIntyre — if you can call a 6-foot-1, 215-pound body-banger a "sparkplug." Jody Pederson will be an integral piece of the defensive corps that adds freshman Michael Sdao, an Ottawa draft pick in the 2009 draft.
8. Notre Dame: Despite some big losses in Erik Condra and Christian Hanson, Kevin Deeth and Ryan Thang will lead an incredibly deep bunch of forwards that ranked eighth in the NCAA last year with 135 goals. Teddy Ruth and Ian Cole are among five blueliners back in the fold that provide plenty on both sides of the puck. The Irish skaters will have to be strong at each end of the ice, as Jordan Pearce's graduation leaves a trio of goalies who have a combined seven collegiate games played under their belts.
9. Mass.-Lowell: Could this be the year for the River Hawks? They've flirted with taking the leap, bouncing from mediocre to good, and now to the elite class. Led by Junior-to-be defenseman Maury Edwards, Lowell's special teams found a sweet spot towards the end of last season that took them all the way to the TD Banknorth Garden for the Hockey East Final against a juggernaut BU team. The goaltending duo of Nevin Hamilton and Carter Hutton has proven to be a solid base for the team that has a huge upside, and plenty to gain in a league that lost a number of high-scoring marquee stars.
10. Yale: Offense isn't a question for the Bulldogs/Elis, a team that won the ECACs last season, as their top-10 scorers from 2008-09 return, including four-double-digit goal scorers. Defensively, Yale has all the answers as well, with all six full-time blueliners back for another season. The biggest punctuation mark — whether it be exclamation point or question mark — is in the net, where Alec Richards graduated and gave the crease back to Billy Blase, who hopes to hold off the relatively untested Ryan Rondeau for the starting position.