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October 1, 2009 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

What to Watch in 2009-10

Part I of II of Things to Look Out For as the New Season Begins

by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter

BU coach Jack Parker embraces Miami coach Enrico Blasi after last year\'s NCAA championship game. The two teams will contend again.

BU coach Jack Parker embraces Miami coach Enrico Blasi after last year's NCAA championship game. The two teams will contend again.

The scene was etched into the minds of college hockey fans across the nation fewer than six months ago. Boston University defenseman Colby Cohen’s slapshot from the left point, deflecting off the skate of Miami’s Kevin Roeder and fluttering over the shoulder of Red Hawk goaltender Cody Reichard in Washington D.C. It was, for the Terriers, the culmination of a season fraught with expectation and demand, and an emphatic punctuation mark on a comeback that cemented their position as the best.

For the rest of the nation, it marked the beginning of new season – a chance to regroup with all eyes focused on Ford Field in Detroit some six months from now.

The lead up to a new season raises issues for every team; but the summer of 2009 was especially hectic, and, as opening night approaches on Oct. 8 in Amherst, Mass., and Columbus, Ohio, no one is immune to the uncertainty. From the defending national champion Terriers to newly-orphaned Alabama-Huntsville, there are holes to fill and questions to answer.

Changes for the champs

Despite the losses of Hobey Baker winning blue liner Matt Gilroy and Hobey Baker finalist Colin Wilson, the Terriers have much to look forward to in 2009-10. On Oct. 10, they will raise their fifth national championship banner as they open their season against the U.S. Under-18 National Team before beginning regular season play on Oct. 16 in Amherst against Massachusetts.

“All the returning guys are pretty excited [to raise the banner],” BU captain Kevin Shattenkirk said. “It’s part of the process, but I don’t think any of us will realize how special it is until we see it next to all the previous banners and know that we’re in the same company as those guys who won it before.”

BU is not the only team dealing with player departure, but the Terriers are without their top defensive pair – Gilroy and Brian Strait – and five of their top six scorers from a season ago. Strait was initially named a captain for 2009-10 before forgoing his senior season to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Parker hopes to fill the void left on his scoring lines with freshman forwards Alex Chiasson and Wade Megan – both players were selected in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Goaltender Kieran Millan was also drafted in June after winning 29 games and posting a 1.94 goals-against average in his first season of college hockey. Millan finds himself in a situation similar to Boston College goaltender John Muse, who backstopped the Eagles to a national title as a freshman only to struggle with consistency and health as a sophomore.

“Kieran came back this year in great shape, and I think he’s ready to go,” Shattenkirk said. “Having such a good year as a freshmen was a huge confidence builder for him. He’s going to need that confidence as a sophomore to step up and perform, knowing what the level of competition is like and how he has to play.”

With so many new players rotating into the BU lineup this season, Millan’s success and health are imperative if the Terriers plan to play as long as they did in 2008-09.

Perhaps the most talented freshman now calling Agganis Arena home is defenseman Max NiCastro. Gilroy and Strait provided Parker with so much more than just solid blue-line play. NiCastro, who spent the last two seasons in the United States Hockey League, is a polished defensive defenseman, but doesn’t project as a two-way threat. Then, neither did Gilroy — a converted forward — before Parker got his hands on him.

Coaching changes

Dean Blais made his name as the head coach at North Dakota from 1994-2004 before venturing to the professional ranks for a three-year stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL. He spent the last two seasons with the Fargo Force of the USHL. On June 12, Blais was named the head coach at Nebraska-Omaha and, days later, the Mavericks joined the WCHA after 11 seasons in the CCHA.

For Blais and his new side, there is still one more season left in the CCHA, though. The Mavericks open CCHA play on Oct. 30 in Omaha against Bowling Green.

Prior to accepting the position in Omaha, Blais was named head coach of the U.S. World Junior team and still plans to coach the team.

Roger Grillo left Brown after 12 years and four consecutive losing seasons. The Bears hired alumnus Brendan Whittet, who served as an assistant coach at Dartmouth for the past 11 seasons.

The Bears have more than one hole to fill as they look rebuild their program, but Whittet’s mastery of penalty killing and the defensive side of the puck provides a strong base to build from; his primary responsibilities on the bench at Dartmouth were to organize the penalty kill and manage the defensemen. In 2008-09, the Bears allowed nearly three-and-a-half goals per game and killed 81.1 percent of penalties, meanwhile Whittet’s unit in Dartmouth allowed fewer than three goals per game and killed 86.1 percent of opponent’s power plays.

Bowling Green also lost its head coach, Scott Paluch, to USA Hockey. The offseason began with rumors of the program’s demise, but $4 million from the University and the state of Ohio saved the program and represented the potential for the program to flourish beyond the 2009-10 season. Paluch’s assistant coach Dennis Williams, 29, was named interim coach of the Falcons almost immediately after Paluch’s resignation. He’ll look to guide his alma mater back to CCHA prominence given the vote of confidence from the University’s Board of Trustees – the Falcons haven’t finished above .500 since the 1996-97 and haven’t qualified for the NCAA tournament since qualifying for four consecutive from 1987-90.

Sacred Heart is still without a head coach following the resignation of Shaun Hannah on Sept. 9.

Mark your calendar

Oct. 9-10 – Alabama-Huntsville at Notre Dame – The big news of the summer was the CCHA’s decision not to invite Alabama-Huntsville into the conference after Nebraska-Omaha and Bemidji State jumped to the WCHA beginning in the 2010-11 season. The Chargers first game of the season is against the CCHA powerhouse Fighting Irish.

If the Chargers can go into South Bend, Ind., and take a few points from UND, it may provide just the start they need to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Whenever UAH plays a non-conference game against a team from one of the Big 4 conferences, it means a lot for the Chargers, but this one has a few more storylines than the usual non-conference game.

“I try to approach every series the same. Every series we’re working and trying to improve ourselves,” UAH coach Danton Cole said. “I’m trying not to get caught up in [the realignment talk]. This is a big series. There’s a way we try to play the game of hockey, and we should play it that way all the time.

“That’s the mindset our student–athletes have, and it shouldn’t change no matter who we’re playing.”

Oct. 23-24 – Denver at Minnesota – The Gophers missed the NCAA tournament last season and it isn’t something they plan to grow accustomed to. Meanwhile, Denver has plans for a long run hopefully ending in Detroit.

Any matchup within the WCHA is vital, especially between these two teams; however, if the Pioneers can go into St. Paul and take a few points from the Gophers at Mariucci Arena, the talk of Denver of the early-season favorite will only increase.

The four points at stake in the pair are especially crucial since the teams do not meet again in the regular season.

Nov. 28 – Cornell vs. Boston University at Madison Square Garden – Both of these teams find themselves in the preseason Top 10 after successful 2008-09 seasons. They met at MSG during the 2007-08 season and sold out the world’s most famous arena. The Terriers skated to a 6-3 victory over the Big Red in that matchup.

The game also boasts two of the best goaltenders from a year ago. Cornell’s Ben Scrivens finished with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in leading the Ivy League program to the Midwest Regional final of the NCAA Tournament.

Nov. 30 – Yale at Vermont – The Bulldogs hosted the Bridgeport Regional of the NCAA tournament coming off a remarkable run through the late season and into ECAC tournament. Expectations were high as they skated onto the ice of the Arena at Harboryard to take on Vermont.

UVM coach Kevin Sneddon developed a brilliant gameplan and eliminated Yale’s forecheck in an easy 4-1 win.

The ECAC is even stronger than it was a season ago, and so are the Bulldogs. Revenge won’t necessarily be on the minds of head coach Keith Allain, still a win over the Catamounts would augment Yale’s standing in the national polls and boost the team’s confidence as the season’s first half winds down.

Dec. 11-12 – Mercyhurst at Air Force – The Falcons were an overtime period and an instant play decision away from a trip to the Frozen Four last season. Within Atlantic Hockey, USAFA won 20 of 28 games and breezed through the conference tournament, including a 2-0 win over Mercyhurst in the championship game.

Even with Hobey Baker hopeful Jacques Lamoureux and his 33 goals returning for his junior season, the Falcons were not the unanimous No. 1 in the Atlantic Hockey Preseason Coaches Poll. The Lakers were one of only two Atlantic Hockey teams the Falcons did not defeat in regular-season play last season, and the top spot in Atlantic Hockey will likely come down to these two teams yet again.

Jan. 8 – Boston University vs. Boston College at Fenway Park – Every game between BC and BU draws a big crowd; but with 30,000-plus seats available, it’s sure to be a memorable day for all of college hockey.

One week prior, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers will play the NHL’s third annual Winter Classic. The three games have hockey fans in the Hub excited about the growth of the college game and rebirth of Boston as a hockey town. The event has already sold out and includes a game between the women’s teams from New Hampshire and Northeastern.

The last time these two played, the Terriers scored three third-period goals in a 44-second span to advance to the Hockey East Championship Game on their way to a national championship.

Feb. 6 – Michigan at Wisconsin at Camp Randall - Two of the Midwest’s most storied programs head outdoors nearly one month later when Wisconsin and Michigan take to Camp Randall, home of the Badger football team, on Feb. 6. The defending national champion Badger women’s team hosts Bemidji State earlier in the afternoon.

A win over the Wolverines will loom large for the Badgers should they require an at-large bid to get back to the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers defeated Ohio State on Feb. 11, 2006, on Lambeau Field in their most recent outdoor game – that year, the Badgers won their sixth national championship.

Feb. 26-27 – Nebraska-Omaha at Bemidji State – Games between the Mavericks and Beavers will be vitally important once the 2010-11 season begins. However, February’s matchup will be a great chance to see what these two teams plan to bring to the WCHA.

BSU has 14 games scheduled against teams from major conferences, a strong showing in these final games would bolster the Beavers potential for an at-large bid should they stumble in the final CHA Tournament.

March 5-6 – Bemidji State at Alabama-Huntsville – The final regular-season series for both teams as members of College Hockey America represents more than standoff for tournament positioning. The Beavers were welcomed with open arms into the WCHA, and well you know the rest of the story.

Bemidji is the prohibitive favorite even with the loss of goaltender Matt Dalton. With Niagara and Robert Morris already locked into Atlantic Hockey for 2010-11 and beyond, the Chargers are the only CHA team that nobody seems to want.

There is something to be had with UAH and the Chargers are out to prove it to the rest of college hockey.

“I hope we’re in the mix for first place in the CHA and working on getting a good seed for the playoffs,” Cole said. “There should be a lot on the line going into that last weekend, and that will be our Senior Night. Regardless of where we are next year, we have to finish strong entering the playoffs.”

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