CHN Preseason Top 10
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
More than any other time in college hockey history, your fate for the next season hinges as much on the players you didn't lose to the pros than anything you could've lost to graduation or whether you have a good recruiting class.
1. Boston College
Is there any reason the Eagles shouldn’t be tops in the country? Starting from the net out, they return one of the deepest teams in Division I. Last season, Parker Milner was a great foil to John Muse, and the two tag-teamed the crease en route to a National Championship. Their top three scorers all return, led by junior sniper Cam Atkinson, whose stock rose exponentially with big goals after the regular season, and he wound up the nation's leading goal scorer. The loss of power-play quarterback and all-around defenseman Carl Sneep will hurt, but the leadership of Tommy Cross, plus the seasoning of sophomores Patrick Wey, Philip Samuelsson and Brian Dumoulin should give the backline a more-than-capable replacement. All the elements are in place for another BC run to the Frozen Four.
2. North Dakota
“I feel like I let my teammates down a little bit last year, not having the opportunity to be out there with them,” senior Chay Genoway said when he announced his return to the team May 6. “I have a lot of high expectations for myself and for the team, and I'm pretty excited about this team, and there's a lot of motivation for this team.”
This is virtually the same team that won the WCHA postseason in 2010, minus seniors Chris VandeVelde and Darcy Zajac — and the lone early departure, 4-goal scorer David Toews. Those losses should be offset by the re-addition of Genoway (whom North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol called one of the top-5 players in college hockey last season — and that was before the exodus of talent across the NCAA this summer), who recieved a medical waiver after dealing with a concussion last season, as well as the continued development of Danny Kristo and Jason Gregoire, the second- and third-leading scorers from 2009-10. Junior Brad Eidsness will continue to be a force in net, and the D-corps — last year’s third-best squad (2.12 goals/game) in the country — should continue to be strong.
The RedHawks are still not going anywhere. They were scary enough last season, and another postseason letdown makes them a bit more dangerous — especially when you consider they’ll have junior goalies Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp healthy and pushing one another for the a season. Up front, a very strong senior class in Carter Camper, Pat Cannone and Andy Miele will give opposing teams a handful, and defenseman Chris Wideman is fast becoming one of the top defenders in college hockey. Continued growth from sophomores Reilly Smith and Curtis McKenzie well help to offset the 17 goals and 42 points Tommy Wingels took with him to the pros.
“I don’t want to say the pressure, but we had to play at a high level all year long,” head coach Enrico Blasi said after a 7-1 loss to the Eagles in Detroit. “We had a lot of questions to answer, sometimes it’s taxing. You don’t want to make excuses, but that did not look like the Miami team we coached the entire season."
Could there be a resurgence in Ann Arbor? After a few seasons mired in mediocrity, the Wolverines injected some life back in the blue-and-maize. These days, just getting guys to stick around is a big plus, and after getting the cupboard raided in recent seasons, the Wolverines kept all would-be returning players. Seniors Louie Caporusso, Matt Rust and Carl Hagelin return as a formidable trio on an offense that ranked third in the country in goals scored last season, and will continue to give opposing defenses fits. Expect an impact from freshman blueliner Jon Merrill, a first-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
The real excitement will take place between the pipes, as once-incumbent Bryan Hogan will have to battle Shawn Hunwick — who put the team on his shoulder pads on a run through the postseason — for starting time in net.
“I think it was great because now Bryan Hogan knows he has to win the job every day in practice,” Rust told TheWolverine.com. “Competition always makes you a better player. We're coming back this year with the intention of making it back to the Frozen Four.”
The Elis have cemented themselves as the class of the ECAC — and in recent years, that’s become no small feat. This year, the league looks to take a bit of a step back, which should help Yale again internally, but whether that translates into another step forward nationally is almost wholly dependent on whether it can figure out its goaltending woes. Last we saw Yale, three different netminders were getting raked over the coals against BC in the NCAA Regional Final, when any good goaltending whatsover would've sent the Elis to Detroit. While the graduation of Mark Arcobello and Sean Backman are a big hit to a deep offense, junior Brian O’Neill and senior Broc Little should have no problem leading the Yale frontlines back among the top scoring teams in the country. And the defense is solid and experienced, with another good recruiting class.
6. St. Cloud State
Sure, last year’s leading scorer Ryan Lasch has gone the way of graduation, but four of the Huskies’ top five scorers from last season return to a squad that ranked 17th in goals-per-game in 2009-10. Senior Garrett Roe has a new running mate in classmate Tony Mosey, who is fresh off a career season, and with two capable netminders in sophomore Mike Lee and senior Dan Dunn, there’s no reason not to believe St. Cloud will take a good, hard run at the WCHA crown this season, attempting to better last season’s second-place finish in the league, and a first-ever long-awaited NCAA win.
That’s right: they’re back, rebuilt, and poised for big things in Orono.
“Our team took a good step forward last season, and we are excited to build on that progress again this season," head coach Tim Whitehead said.
The Black Bears return junior Hobey Baker candidate and offensive superstar Gustav Nyquist for another season, and seniors Robby Dee, Tanner House, and junior Brian Flynn round out an underrated, if not consistent group of forwards that returns their top seven scorers from 09-10. Expect a big break-out party from junior Will O’Neill on defense — and they’ll need veteran strength and presence on the backline, as Scott Darling’s departure leaves nine games of experience in the Maine goal in Shawn Sirman (1-6) and Josh Seely (0-0). That said, newcomer Martin Ouellette will be given every chance to grab the starting goaltending spot, and if he lives up to expectations, Maine may not have much to worry about. If not, it could be the Achille's Heel, though, then again, most teams not named Boston College have something you can point to as a problem area. And again, it's good enough just keeping all of your players from defection, which Maine did.
The Nanooks — an NCAA Tournament team for the first time last season — lost five players from their roster coming into the 2010-11 season, headlined by leading scorer Dion Knelsen, but they can take plenty of solace in returning nine of their top 11 scorers from last season, including Andy Taranto who put up 18 goals and 42 points as a freshman. Also in the mix are blueliners Joe Sova and Aaron Gens, who surpassed the 20-point on the season as sophomores. Scott Greenham, who went 18-12-9 last season, returns to backstop the Nanooks and improve upon a top-10 team defense (2.83 goals/g) from last season. A second trip to the NCAA postseason isn’t a given, but it’s certainly not a reach, especially with so much uncertainty in the CCHA with teams like Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State, all of which lost a lot and have huge question marks.
“If you take it for granted and think that it (another NCAA Tournament berth) is just going to happen again, you’re not setting yourself up for success, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” head coach Dallas Ferguson told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner recently. “We got a good group of guys and good leadership, but we want to get better.”
The Bulldogs return five of their top six scorers from a team that had good bursts, but faltered down the stretch. It’s not question whether or not they can win as much this season, but also if they’ve learned from last season’s mistakes.
The Bulldogs' disappointing finish is eased a bit by the returns of forwards Jack and Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine, along with senior defenseman and team captain Mike Montgomery, who has progressed amazingly well as a defenseman since making the transition three years ago. Brady Lamb and Dylan Olsen could both contribute to the offense from the blue line with their big shots, and senior forward Kyle Schmidt adds some scoring touch to UMD's second line. Goalie Kenny Reiter has the top job to himself after sharing the gig with Brady Hjelle last year. Hjelle left the team, and Reiter established himself as a capable No. 1 during UMD's stretch run, which included a 2-0 Final Five loss to North Dakota that would have been much worse were it not for Reiter. Given the trend of early departures around the WCHA, UMD should count their blessings that junior Rob Bordson was the only player to leave early and turn pro last spring. It should pay dividends on the ice this winter.
10. New Hampshire
The 'Cats seemed to get over the hump in the NCAA Regionals last year, advancing to the East Regional Championship game before getting blown out by and RIT squad riding high on adrenaline. Granted, UNH lost a lot with the graduation of Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Butler, forward Peter LeBlanc, and goalie Brian Foster, but Blake Kessel returns as a senior defenseman to lead a promising cast that includes scorers Phil DeSimone, Mike Sislo and Paul Thompson. The tending of the Wildcats’ nets leads to some question marks, but not ones Coach Dick Umile hasn’t solved before.
Teams to Watch
One team from each League to keep an eye on:
Merrimack (Hockey East) — Mark Dennehy’s years of recruiting and hard work should start pay off in North Andover. A high-end power play will cause HE foes fits, and while the Warriors may not make the big show, they’ll definitely make some noise. Keeping freshman wunderkind Stephane Da Costa around, despite major wooing from the pros, created an immediate boost to the Warriors.
Ferris State (CCHA) — Were it not for a late-season losing streak, the Bulldogs could’ve made some noice in the NCAAs. Despite losing their top three scorers to graduation, the team returns players that learned to win, and will fight the good fight again this year.
RIT (Atlantic) — After last season, this may be a no-brainer, but questions abound as the Tigers attempt to tackle the AHA again. Top goalie Jared Demichiel is gone, as is Dan Ringwald’s big shot from the blueline. Plus RIT faced the Catch-22 of becoming one of the big boys when it lost sophomore-to-be Chris Tanev — who led the nation in plus-minus a season ago — to the pros. Are the expectations too high?
Rennsaeler (ECAC) — The Engineers excelled last season because of a strong freshman class, but the early departures of Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri — especially coming so late in the summer — place a lot of weight on senior forward Chase Polacek and junior goalie Allen York, and put a damper on what were deservedly high expectations.
Wisconsin (WCHA) — The Badgers lost Hobey winner Blake Geoffrion, leading scorer Derek Stepan, and three top blueliners in Brendan Smith, Ryan McDonagh and Cody Goloubef. So it's hard to view them as anything but decimated. If not for the early departures, the Badgers would be right there with BC as favorites to return to the title game again. But this is a new world order. Stiil, Wisconsin returns a steady goaltending duo in senior Scott Gudmandson and Brett Bennett, who should continue to push one another for starting time this season. The other thing opposing teams should be aware of? It’s hard to dull the sting of a 5-0 loss in a national championship game so soon. Expect Wisconsin to play with a well-deserved chip on their shoulders. ... Minnesota, Denver and Nebraska-Omaha will also all be worth watching, for a variety of reasons, and should make for another wild season in the WCHA, which now has 12 teams.