Miami Tops Preseason Top 10
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
It’s impossible to accurately predict how an entire hockey season will play out. That has never stopped us from trying.
Throughout the course of the 2011-12 season, there will be injuries, defections, adversities, and other uncontrollable factors teams will face. Creating a preseason list of what we believe the end of the season will look like is just that – a prognostication based on paper with things we already know: who’s back, who’s not, which players are poised to make impact, and which ones will hit their expectations.
With that out of the way, a few notes about the Top 10: The CCHA has the most teams on the list with four making the cut. The WCHA has three, Hockey East has two, and the ECAC one. Seven teams (Michigan, North Dakota, Notre Dame, Boston College, Yale, Denver, and Miami) finished ranked 2-8 in the final USA Today/USA Hockey poll at the end of the 2010-11 season. Colorado College and Western Michigan came in at 11th and 13th in the same poll.
1. Miami (Record: 23-10-6 Overall, 16-7-5-2 CCHA)
It’s easy to assume the RedHawks will suffer from the loss of a five-man senior class that included two of the country’s top-five scorers in Andy Miele and Carter Camper but there’s no reason to fret in Miami. Seniors Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp return as one of the best goalie tandems in the nation, anchoring the nets behind a defense that features standouts in seniors Will Weber and Chris Wideman.
Offensively, the team shouldn’t see too much of a drop-off with junior Reilly Smith and senior Alden Hirschfeld returning and the addition of freshmen Tyler Biggs and Blake Coleman to the mix. There’s no time for reloading, as the RedHawks are out to prove their first-round exit in last year’s tourney was the exception and not the rule.
2. Boston University (Record: 19-12-8 Overall, 15-6-6 HE)
With a few exceptions, the Terriers ice the same team that finished third in Hockey East in 2010-12 — and there’s no reason they won’t better that mark this season. They return their top eight scorers; seniors Chris Connolly and Corey Trivino along with junior Alex Chiasson will continue to provide offense to go with upperclassmen leadership, while sophomores Charlie Coyle, Matt Nieto, and Sahir Gill are ready to take over the reins on Comm Ave.
The loss of David Warsofsky leaves a hole in the defensive corps, though sophomore Adam Clendening and junior Max Nicastro will make the leap among Hockey East’s best — and having veteran senior Kieran Millan tending the nets behind them can only help.
3. Notre Dame (Record: 25-14-5 Overall, 18-7-3-2 CCHA)
T.J. Tynan and Anders Lee caused teams fits as freshman for the Irish last season, but can they avoid the sophomore slump? Notre Dame will rise and fall with the second-year duo, both of whom were candiates for CHN’s Rookie of the Year award, which Tynan took home. Senior Billy Maday and junior Riley Sheahan will pick up some of the scoring slack left by the departures or Ryan Guentzel and Calle Ridderwall.
Defensively, the Irish — who move into a brand new arena in November — return five of their top-six blueliners, though junior-to-be Mike Johnson showed he was more than capable in net, with big 30-plus save wins over Merrimack and New Hampshire in the NCAAs.
4. Colorado College (Record: 23-19-3 Overall, 13-13-2 WCHA)
The hopes and dreams of Tigers’ fans rest largely on the shoulder of sophomore Jaden Schwartz. Despite a first year plagued by injuries and off-ice issues, he still managed to lead the team with 47 points in just 30 games — including a dominant two goals and four points in a West Regional win over Boston College. Any Colorado College crusade starts with the dynamic forward.
Jaden’s brother, junior Rylan, is no offensive slouch either, and will look to continue improving his point totals for a second straight year, while senior Nick Dineen hopes to bring his power play touch back to Colorado Springs. Senior Gabe Guentzel is at the forefront of the Colorado College defense, while Eamonn McDermott is ready to build on a solid freshman crusade from the blueline.
Junior Joe Howe has strung together two straight years of near-identical numbers, and the Tigers certainly won’t complain with another 18-win, sub-3.00 GAA. three-shutout campaign.
5. Boston College (Record: 30-8-1 Overall, 20-6-1 HE)
For any other team in the country, the loss of Cam Atkinson, Brian Gibbons, Joe Whitney and John Muse could be too much to overcome — not for the Eagles, who reload instead rebuild.
Juniors Chris Kreider and Pat Mullane will be the cornerstone of an offense that will go four lines deep with the additions of freshmen John Gadreau and Destry Straight – the BCHL’s Coastal Rookie of the Year. Brian Dumoulin and Tommy Cross are seniors at the forefront of what might be the best set of defensemen in the country.
That will play a big role with the loss of Muse; junior Parker Milner played sparingly as a sophomore, but has shown himself to be capable going 13-4-1 in 22 career games. Though incoming freshman Brian Billet — the EJHL’s top goalie in 2009-10 — is sure to challenge him for the top spot.
6. North Dakota (Record: 32-9-3 Overall, 21-6-1 WCHA)
Did any team have a bigger exodus in the offseason than the Sioux? They lost six of their top seven scorers, their top two defensemen, and a big-time recruit in J.T. Miller.
But there’s no reason to dwell in Grand Forks, as diminutive incoming freshman Rocco Grimaldi will join a well-seasoned, highly capable set of forwards led by juniors Corban Knight and Danny Kristo, who returned to his freshman form after missing 10 games with frostbite last season, and sophomore Brock Nelson. Second-year d-man Derek Forbort and senior Ben Blood lead an impressive set of blueliners which will be reinforced with the addition of freshman Nick Mattson.
North Dakta will also ice arguably the best goalie tandem in the NCAA in Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness. Now a junior, Dell seized the starting job last year, breaking Ed Belfour’s single-season wins record, but should he falter, Eidness is no slouch: the senior has recorded the win in 50 of his 89 career starts. The pair should push one another all the way to the finish line.
7. Denver (Record: 25-12-5 Overall, 21-6-1 WCHA)
It’s a youthful look for the Pioneers, and one which will serve them well.
Leading the charge in front is blueline stud David Makowski, a junior whose offensive numbers were among the best in the WCHA. Along with freshmen Joey LaLeggia and Scott Mayfield, they’ll make up one scary set of NCAA defensemen. Up front, Jason Zucker will look to avoid the second-year dregs, and should bear the brunt of the offense along, while fellow second-year forwards Beau Bennett and Nick Shore look to improve on good freshman campaigns. Senior Luke Salazar will continue to contribute on a consistent basis, though he may benefit most from the pressure being on all the youngsters.
In net, Juniors Zack Hope and Adam Murray will look to keep the team afloat until sophomore Sam Brittain returns from offseason knee surgery, with Murray being the more experienced of the two with 19 games played. Should he and Hope play well, Denver will definitely be a national player – especially if Brittain can come back in top form.
8. Western Michigan (Record: 19-13-10 Overall, 10-9-9-5 CCHA)
The Broncos rose to the top of the middle class in the CCHA last season, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t make the jump to the top this time around.
Top point-getter Max Campbell is gone, but the next 10 return — as do 12 players who scored in the double-digits. Leading the way are sophomore forward Chase Balisy and Shane Berschbach. Matt Tennyson is the elder statesman of the defensemen as a junior, though the young blueline corps will get an extra jolt from incoming freshman Garrett Haar — a Northeastern commit that left with Greg Cronin. Nick Pisellini takes over in net, but has shown to be capable with limited exposure in his first two seasons.
Perhaps the biggest offseason change was the departure of coach Jeff Blashill, who bolted for the NHL after one great season on the job, though the Western Michigan brought in former St. Louis Blues bench boss Andy Murray. His experience should bring an upgraded element to the Broncos, and if they adapt as quickly to a second new coach in as many years, they’ll make the leap with room to spare.
9. Michigan (Record: 29-11-4 Overall, 20-7-1-0 CCHA)
The Wolverines lost quite a bit in the offseason: Louie Caporusso, Carl Hagelin, Scooter Vaughan and Matt Rust combined for over a third of Michigan’s 142 goals, and while John Gibson’s decomittment stings — the second straight season Michigan lost a prized goaltender recruit — red-shirt senior Shawn Hunwick returns with the net finally his.
Small and unorthodox in his style, Hunwick proved his success is no fluke, as he took the top spot from Bryan Hogan and ran with it. His leadership will be crucial in the crease, as the Michigan defensive corps are young, though experienced. Sophomores Jon Merrill and Mac Bennett return to anchor a strong blueline.
Dave Wohlberg tallied 15 goals as a junior, and his senior season — a time when Red Berenson’s players tend to shine — should be exciting. Much is expected of sophomore Luke Moffatt, as well, who should improve on his first-year numbers.
10. Yale (Record: 28-7-1 Overall, 17-4-1 ECAC)
Offense is never a question in New Haven, where the Bulldogs have ranked among the top of the nation in goals per game over the last few season. They should be in the mix again with senior Brian O’Neill and junior Andrew Miller — the top two scorers from last season — returning to lead the troops. Despite the loss Broc Little, Denny Kearney, and Chris Cahill, the void should be ably filled, especially if sophomore Kenny Agostino improves upon his first-year totals.
The biggest question mark lies in the crease, where juniors Jeff Malcolm and Mick Maricic will battle for for net supremacy after going 1-1-0 in a combined 175 minutes of play behind departed Ryan Rondeau last season.
Teams to Watch
Holy Cross (Record: 17-16-5 Overall, 14-8-5 Atlantic)
Fourteen Crusaders scored in the double-digits last season; 12 of them are back in the fold for the 2011-12 campaign. Leading the way are the junior tandem of Kyle Fletcher and Rob Linsmayer, who tied for the team lead and 11th overall in the Atlantic Hockey scoring – the highest scoring sophomores league-wide. Also back for Holy Cross are five of their top-six defensemen, including sophomore Jeffrey Reppucci and a well-seasoned senior captain in Mike Daly. Getting a full season from seniors Kyle Atkins and Matt Davis will only help the cause.
Junior Thomas Tyskowsky and sophomore Derek Kump will have their hands full taking over for the graduated Adam Roy; they combined to go 5-5-2 in 12 games with a 3.22 GAA and an .884 save percentage. They’ll have to tighten up their game with the likes of RIT, Air Force, and Niagara on the hunt. But this Holy Cross team could finally break the RIT/Air Force stranglehold on the conference.
Lake Superior (Record: 13-17-9 Overall, 8-12-8-5 CCHA)
The Lakers lost senior running mates Rick Schofield and Will Acton to graduation, but they return a solid young core that starts in net with sophomore Kevin Kapalka. Kapalka was never officially named the full-time starter in his freshman year, though playing 32 games with a 12-12-8 record, 2.34 GAA and .924 save percentage did plenty of speaking for him. In fact, along with his four shutouts, he ranked among the top goalies in the nation in all major categories. He’ll be able to breathe a bit easier this time around, as his offensive support, led by junior Domenic Monardo, should continue to bloom.
Monardo certified himself as a force last season, exploding for 12 goals and 29 points after a freshman season with just six and 12. Sophomores Kyle Jean and Fred Cassiani hope to make similar jumps for the Lakers, while Zach Trotman will step up to lead the defense after a strong second season.
Union (Record: 26-10-4 Overall, 17-3-2 ECAC)
First, the bad news: The loss of goalie Keith Kinkaid to the pro ranks and coach Nate Leaman to Providence could cause the Dutchmen to take a step back from the progress they achieved in recent years, culminating in last season when they earned their highest-ever ranking in the country to go with their first ECAC championship and NCAA Tournament bid.
The good news, however, is that it won’t be a big enough step back to take them off the national radar. Former assistant Rick Bennett will bring an air of familiarity behind a bench that remains stocked, having lost just three players who played more than 34 games last season. Senior Kelly Zajac, junior Jeremy Welsh, and sophomores Daniel Carr and Josh Jooris should keep putting the puck in the net, and should they find someone to step up in their own, expect some more splashing from Union.
Maine (Record: 17-12-7 Overall, 14-8-5 HE)
The Black Bears' strength lies in their senior class — even with the loss of super-forward Gustav Nyquist — and that senior class is ready to go toe-to-toe with the best of them. Should anyone require proof, look no further than Maine’s 6-0-1 stretch to end the 2010-11 regular season: Brian Flynn and Spencer Abbott took the reins of the team and will no doubt be leaned upon as offensive catalysts. Helping ease the loss of Nyquist, Robby Dee, and Tanner House will be the emergence of junior Joey Diamond, who’s primed to breakout. The senior leadership extends to the blueline, where Wes O’Neill emerged and will be a challeneger for the title of top defenseman in Hockey East.
Perhaps the biggest boon to the Black Bears' success will be in net; Dan Sullivan and Martin Oullette return to Orono with a year of play under their belts. Sullivan seized the opportunity down the stretch, and his play under pressure gave coach Tim Whitehead the confidence to cut junior-to-be Shawn Sirman at the end of the season.
This is a make or break year for Maine, where the natives are already restless.
Nebraska-Omaha (Record: 21-16-2 Overall, 17-9-2 WCHA)
Year two of the Dean Blais era brought with it third place in a tough WCHA and a loss by a hair in the NCAA postseason. What will Year three bring?
From last year’s squad, four of the top-six scorers are gone, but the Mavericks return nine players who scored in the double-digits last year. Alex Hudson leads the way in his senior year, though the impressive sophomore trio of Matt While, Ryan Walters, and Brock Montepetit should up the ante with a year of WCHA play under their belts. Expect junior Terry Broadhurst to keep pace with the youngsters, as well.
Senior John Faulkner racked up 20 wins and six shutouts for Nebraska-Omaha, though his numbers are a bit decieving — he allowed at least three goals in all 15 of his losses. If the dialed-in goalie shows every weekend, it will be a big year for the Mavs.
Minnesota-Duluth (Record: 26-10-6 Overall, 15-8-5 WCHA)
The defending national champs just miss out on being a top-10 team this year — they’ll definitely be a hard team to play against week-in, week-out, but come the end of the season, the Bulldogs won’t sit atop the WCHA. It shouldn't be a problem, however, as they were underdogs last season and they start off with the same chip on their shoulder. Gone are the high-scoring duo of Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly, but don’t count UMD out just yet.
Senior Hobey Baker candidate Jack Connolly returns to headline what Minnesota-Duluth hopes will be the first back-to-back set of championships since Denver in 2004 and 2005. Riding shotgun on his mission will be fellow senior Travis Oleksuk, whose production has increased by at 12 and 11 points from season-to-season. J.T. Brown’s impressive freshman campaign brings with it high expectations.
The Bulldogs blueline took a big hits last season, with the loss of underclassmen Dylan Olsen and Justin Faulk to the pros. Wade Bergman and Brady Lamb put up respectable offensive numbers, though the doors are open for freshmen to jump into the fray.