Part II: CCHA Preview
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
The bottom half of the CCHA (well, not technically half now that the league has been reduced to 11 teams with Nebraska-Omaha's departure), features three coaching changes.
6. Ferris State
Head Coach: Bob Daniels
2009-10 Record: 21-13-6 (13-9-6); Finished 3rd in the CCHA standings, lost in CCHA semifinals
Key Returnees: Pat Nagle (G), Taylor Nelson (G) Zach Redmond (D)
Key Losses: Blair Riley (F), Casey Haines (F), Cody Chupp (F), Aaron Lewicki (F)
The top three scorers for Ferris State graduated in May, leaving the Bulldogs with a big question about how they will be able to generate enough offense.
"That is going to be the question," agreed coach Bob Daniels. "A year ago, at this exact same time, people were wondering where the goals were going to come from, myself included. I think as we look at this year, we have the same thing, and we have the same possibilities of other players to emerge."
With the graduation of scorers Blair Riley, Casey Haines and Cody Chupp, Daniels looks to rising seniors Justin Menke, Mike Embach and Todd Pococke to be among the forwards to lead the way for the Bulldogs' offensive attack in 2009-10.
Still, the pressure will rest on the Ferris State goaltenders — on the shoulders of Pat Nagle, who posted a 2.13 goals-against average in 26 games last season, and Taylor Nelson. The pair of netminders was instrumental in allowing Ferris State to lead the nation last season in penalty killing efficiency.
And although Nagle won the starting job over Nelson in the latter half of last season, Daniels has other plans for the start of this season's campaign.
"There's a healthy competition between the two of them," said Daniels. "These goaltenders know that they're constantly battling with one another. We will start by splitting, but I'm not married to that idea."
Playing in front of the netminders is captain Zach Redmond, whom Daniels calls "a first-team All America Candidate" and "the best skating defenseman in the CCHA." Over the summer, as players from all around the CCHA were lured to the NHL, Redmond opted to return to Ferris State instead of signing with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Said Daniels, "We feel like the defense and goaltending that we have returning — we figure that both are a top four spot for our team in the league this year."
7. Northern Michigan
Head Coach: Walt Kyle
2009-10 Record: 20-13-8 (13-9-6); Finished 4th in the CCHA standings, lost in CCHA championship game, advanced to NCAA tournament first round
Key Returnees: Greger Hanson (F), Justin Florek (F)
Key Losses: Mark Olver (F), Erik Gustafsson (D), Ray Kaunisto (F), Brian Stewart (G)
Greger Hanson and Justin Florek return for coach Walt Kyle's team, looking to fill the void created by early departures Mark Olver and Erik Gustafsson, who signed pro contracts over the summer.
In March, Northern Michigan advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999, when Rick Comley was the coach in Marquette. After scoring a late-third period goal to tie the game, the Wildcats lost a heartbreaker to St. Cloud, falling 4-3 after Tony Mosey's power-play goal 23 seconds into the second overtime session.
Said Kyle, "We really lost a ton of guys who were impact players. Gustafsson and Olver, along with Ray Kaunisto, were really our catalysts. We are a team who are looking for who's going to fill those roles offensively. Hanson has been a real strong offensive contributor throughout his career here, and he's probably the one returning guy we have who has some dynamic offense to his game.
"Florek is a guy who really came into his own last year, put up some numbers, and made himself dangerous."
Florek scored two goals in Northern Michigan's season-opening exhibition win against Nipissing, and if the 11-0 final score is any indication, perhaps the offensive firepower is still there.
Freshman CJ Ludwig added two assists and will be a regular in the Wildcats' lineup this year, along with rookies Reed Seckel and Stephan Virgier, both of whom Kyle has singled out in his pre-season comments as "freshmen to watch."
"Goaltending is another position where we lost our most experienced guy," said Kyle, in reference to the graduated Brian Stewart. "[Junior] Reid Ellingson comes in, and Reid is certainly a guy who's paid his dues. He's really matured as a kid. We're pleased with his development and his mentality."
8. Ohio State
Head Coach: Mark Osiecki
2009-10 Record: 15-18-6, (10-12-6); Finished 8th in the CCHA standings, lost in CCHA quarterfinals
Key Returnees: Peter Boyd (F), John Albert (F), Shane Sims (D)
Key Losses: Zac Dalpe (F), Hunter Bishop (F), Matt Bartkowski (D)
On April 24, Mark Osiecki was named to replace John Markell as Ohio State's head coach. Osiecki was previously an assistant at Wisconsin for the past six seasons, and he was in Madison for the Badgers' national championship in 2006. He also served as an assistant coach to Nebraska-Omaha's Dean Blais on last year's goal-medal winning run by Team USA at the World Junior Championships.
Osiecki inherits a team that, like many teams in college hockey, experienced early departures over the summer. Underclassmen Zac Dalpe, Hunter Bishop, and Matt Bartkowski all chose to leave the Buckeyes — for Carolina, Montreal and Boston, respectively.
"We're a new staff, so we've got to try and give them what we want and have them feel our passion," said Osiecki. "We'd like to play an up tempo, very aggressive offensive game, but I'm not sure we'll have the ability to do that with the guys we have in the locker room."
Six of the first seven games for Ohio State are on the road.
And Osiecki likes it that way.
"It will bring our team a lot closer together and push into a team quicker than if we played all at home," said the first-year coach. "We're not going to have the distractions from being at home. Now we can focus on hockey only.
"It will really tell us what we have, who can play in tough situations. We'll learn a lot after the first few games."
9. Lake Superior
Head Coach: Jim Roque
2009-10 Record: 15-18-5 (10-15-3); Finished 10th in the CCHA standings, lost in CCHA first round
Key Returnees: Rick Schofield (F), Will Acton (F), Brian Mahoney-Wilson (G)
Key Losses: Zac MacVoy (F), Simon Gysbers (D), Steven Kaunisto (D)
Senior forwards Rick Schofield and Will Acton were Lake State's top two scorers last season, while sophomore forward Ben Power was fourth on the team in points and 10th in the CCHA in freshman scoring.
All three playmakers return to a team looking for its first winning season since 2006-07.
Said Lake Superior coach Jim Roque of Schofield, "When he's played well, we've usually had success. Not just as a player but also as a leader and as a student. I just look for him to have a tremendous season this year."
The returning firepower for the Lakers may allow Roque's team to fly under the radar in the early part of this season. Roque indicates that six freshmen will likely be in the lineup every night, but again, the core of the team returns from a season ago.
In net, Brian Mahoney-Wilson returns healthier than last year after having major hip surgery (torn labrum) in April.
"He's fully recovered and feels good," said Roque of Wilson, the nephew of Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson. "I look for him to build on last year. The last month, he never practiced and tried to do it that way. And it didn't really work out. Brian still gave us the best chance to win the games. We're going to really look to him for leadership."
10. Western Michigan
Head Coach: Jeff Blashill
2009-10 Record: 8-20-8 (4-17-7); Finished 12th in the CCHA standings, lost in CCHA first round
Key Returnees: Greg Squires (F), J.J. Crew (F), Max Campbell (F), Mike Levendusky (D)
Key Losses: Riley Gill (G), Jared Katz (F), Tyler Ludwig (D)
Like Ohio State, a new era begins for Western Michigan this season thanks to a coaching change. Ferris State alum, and one-time Miami assistant, Jeff Blashill takes the reigns in an effort to rebound from last season's last-place finish by the Broncos.
Turning things around will have to start with an improved offense. Last season's team averaged a mere 2.11 goals per game, and although last season's top three scorers — Greg Squires, J.J. Crew, Max Campbell — all return this year, no Bronco reached the double-digit goal plateau last season.
"A lot of times, goal scoring doesn't happen on your first effort," said Blashill. "It's going to take a second, third, or fourth effort. We've got to learn to be relentless, and if we do that, we're going to be successful because we do have some offensive skill."
On defense, the Broncos return some depth, led by senior Mike Levendusky, who played in 36 games a season ago.
Said Blashill, "The leadership is the number one component for us to start to build our success in terms of creeping up the CCHA standings. There is talent in place here.
"Standards will be set high. Whether we reach them or not in our first year remains to be seen. The standard is what I would call a championship standard."
11. Bowling Green
Head Coach: Chris Bergeron
2009-10 Record: 5-25-6 (4-18-6); Finished 11th in the CCHA standings, lost in CCHA first round
Key Returnees: Jordan Samuels-Thomas (F), David Solway (F)
Key Losses: Tomas Petruska (F), Kyle Page (D), Tommy Dee (D), James Perkin (F)
As an assistant coach at Miami since 2000, Chris Bergeron was part of eight 20-win seasons and six trips to the NCAA Tournament. Bergeron played at Miami from 1989-93 and was a two-year team captain, leading the team to a CCHA Championship as a senior.
Now, he takes over as head coach at Bowling Green, a program that managed just five wins last season. Bowling Green won the National Championship in 1984 and won at least 25 games eight times in a nine year stretch from 1981-1990.
However, the team has not finished above .500 since 1996-97. Making matters worse is that six of the eight leading scorers for last year's Falcons team have graduated.
On the other hand, this gives Bergeron the opportunity to start anew, with a large incoming freshman class.
Said Bergeron, "The focus will be details. On and off the ice. The personality on the ice, we're going to work extremely hard. We're going to be relentless in all three zones, with or without the puck. It's been something we've been harping on since April 12, when we first took over here."
Returning for the Falcons is last season's leading scorer and a finalist for the CCHA rookie of the year award, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, as well as senior David Solway.
"Jordan is a guy who turned some heads last year," said Bergeron. "He needs to realize that this is not a show about one person. This is a team aspect. I know he's taken strides in that area from last year to this year.
"As for David, he has taken a leadership role. He's made it very clear that this is his team. He wants to be held to those expectations."
On the plus side for Bowling Green, its program appears back on solid footing, thanks to a renewed commitment from the administration, and an infusion of cash from the state and alumni. Renovations to the aging Bowling Green Ice Arena are in the works.