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October 12, 2011 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

2011-12 CCHA Preview

by Jill Saftel and Taylor Lewis/CHN Reporter

Ohio State goaltender Cal Heeter

Ohio State goaltender Cal Heeter

A capsule look at the CCHA for 2011-12.

Alaska

Head Coach: Dallas Ferguson

2010-2011 Record: 16-17-5 (10-13-5-3), Finished 7th in the CCHA standings,

Key Returnees: Cody Kunyk (F), Andy Taranto (F), Nik Yaremchuk (F), Aaron Gens (D), Jarret Granberg (F), Scott Enders (D), Scott Greenham (G)

Key Losses: Kevin Petovello (F), Joe Sova (D), Derek Klassen (F), Bryant Molle (D)

Following a seventh-place finish last season, Alaska’s preseason rankings have the Nanooks fifth in their conference, a step down from last year’s fourth from coaches and third from the media.

Despite the numbers, Alaska has a dependable goaltender and veteran players slated for breakout years.

Scott Greenham has made 77 consecutive starts for the Nanooks and had a .917 save percentage last season.

“He shows up every day with a good attitude and seems to get stronger as every game goes on,” said head coach Dallas Ferguson. “You knew he was going to give you a chance to win every night and there’s certainly a comfort factor with that with the rest of the team.”

Ferguson said he’ll be looking for Greenham to bring leadership to the team as well as stability as a goaltender.

With Greenham in net, Ferguson is counting on players like forwards Andy Taranto and Chris Kunyk to take the next step in making goals and have breakout years.

A wrist injury set Taranto back last year, but he is 100 percent again and should be able to get pucks in front of the net.

Ferguson said Kunyk’s strengths lie in his ability to change his speed quickly and see passing angles where a lot of other players don’t.

“They both need to use their strength and keep the game simple,” Ferguson said of his forwards. “Sometimes they want to get a little too fancy with things.”

One of Ferguson’s challenges this season will be working with three freshmen defensemen and minutes left empty by former defenders Joe Sova and Bryant Molle.

Scott Enders and Aaron Gens will be two of the defenders Ferguson is relying on to elevate their game.

Overall, Ferguson said he has seen hard work from his players and is hoping his veterans they make their senior season the best they’ve had as a Nanook.

In Alaska’s Blue vs. Gold game, Ferguson used two lines for 50 minutes and said the pace was good from start to end but what really stood out to him was the amount of scoring chances his team was creating.

“Our guys seem to be focused and they know what they want to try and accomplish this year,” Ferguson said. “They’ve been working hard day to day and in the locker room the culture seems to be really strong.”

Bowling Green

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron

2010-2011 Record: 10-27-4, (3-21-4-2), Finished 11th in the CCHA standings

Key Returnees: Andrew Hammond (G), Brett Mohler (F), Cam Wojtala (F), Marc Rodriguez (F), Jake Sloat (D)

Key Losses: David Solway (F), Jordan Samuels-Thomas (F), Nick Eno (G)

A staggering 10 freshmen join the Falcons this year, a fresh look for a team ready to improve upon last season’s 11th place finish.

Despite their low standing, Bowling Green did win the first-round playoff series at No. 6 Northern Michigan in double overtime in the deciding Game 3, a feat head coach Chris Bergeron said he hopes will help his team with their confidence.

“We’re right there,” said Bergeron. “But we found ways to lose more than we found ways to win.”

With his first season as head coach at Bowling Green under his belt, Bergeron said he’s happy to have the chance to mold the new class of freshmen within the foundation and team culture the staff is trying to create.

However, there is something the freshmen will be lacking, and that’s sheer experience.

“You can’t teach experience. Of the 19 people in the lineup on most nights, most of them don’t have experience,” Bergeron said.

Of the four freshmen defenders in that group, Bergeron said three of them will be playing every night.

He does have a veteran in junior goalie Andrew Hammond, whose strengths lie in his everyday approach and ability to self evaluate and examine his game.

“We expect him to be one of our better players, lots of good things about him but it’s still a work in progress,” Bergeron said.

Forwards Marc Rodriguez and Brett Mohler are both dealing with injuries and won’t be seen on the ice just yet, but Bergeron is looking to players like Cameron Sinclair to help lead the way as far as forwards are concerned.

In addition to his team, Bergeron is looking to make changes to his own approach.

“The first and foremost thing I learned is that people care about hockey at Bowling Green, both on campus and off,” he said. “I have to do a better job of getting more out of each person.”

When Bergeron joined Bowling Green last season, he hadn’t had a chance to recruit 2010’s new players, and therefore didn’t have a standing relationship with them. He said after making too many assumptions, he realized he needs to do a better job of making relationships with his young players.

“I need to know what makes each individual tick.”

When asked if he thinks any teams in the division are going to surprise, Bergeron said he’d like to think it could be his team, though he knows they haven’t proven themselves yet.

Bowling Green certainly has something to prove, both the media and coaches have ranked them last in the preseason polls.

Ferris State

Head Coach: Bob Daniels

2010-2011 Record: 18-16-5 (12-12-4-3) Finished 5th in the CCHA standings,

Key Returnees: Travis Ouellette (F), Matthew Kirzinger (F), Chad Billins (D), Brett Wysopal (D), Kyle Bonis (F), Jordie Johnston (F)

Key Losses: Pat Nagle (G), Zach Redmond (D), Mike Embach (F), Mile Fillinger (F), Scott Wietecha (D)

With the losses of All-Americans goaltender Pat Nagle and defenseman Zach Redmond and forward Mike Embach, Ferris State is looking at a team that has sustained significant losses.

“We did sustain some pretty big losses last year with some key players and key losses but beyond that we also lost players who filled some important roles who always don’t get the highlight reels,” said head coach Bob Daniels, who enters his 20th season with the Bulldogs this October.

Replacing Nagle in net will be senior Taylor Nelson, who split tim with Nagle for the past one and a half years. While the loss of Nagle is certainly big for the program, Nelson is third all time in saves in FSU’s goalie program, and his numbers aren’t far off from Nagle’s. Daniels, who said he likes to see a little competition in the net, said freshman goaltender C.J. Motte will be there to push Nelson.

Ferris State will be seeing its top scorer Travis Oullete return to the ice, but after a case of mono, Daniels said Oullete’s conditioning is not where it needs to be. Daniels cited a slow start for Oullete last year as a disappointment.

“It wasn’t until he got back to the things that make him good; the hard work, playing gritty in high traffic areas, that his numbers came around in the second half [of the season].”

Forward Matthew Kirzinger is also on Daniels’s radar. As a mainstay on the penalty kill, Daniels said Kirzinger deserves a lot of credit for his contributions there that don’t show up in any statistical category.

The one place FSU’s penalty kill numbers do show up is in national rankings – it's received the nation’s top ranking two years in a row.

While Daniels said their effective PK did start with Nagle playing so well, he has some forwards who have been fully committed and take great pride in their penalty killing ability.

A common theme for the Bulldogs is players that the staff feels are ready for a breakout season, said Daniels.

“We’re going to press them to be a little more offensive minded,” he said. “We were pressed to score goals last year and I see that possibly turning around this season. I’m looking forward to increased goal production.

“There’s enough reasons to win, the polls have nothing to do with that but I do feel over the years we’ve been a bit short changed. More often than not we finish higher than what we’ve been pegged.”

Lake Superior

Head Coach: Jim Roque

2010-2011 Record: 13-17-9 (8-12-8-5) Finished 8th in the CCHA standings

Key Returnees: Domenic Monardo (F), Zach Trotman (D), Kyle Jean (F), Fred Cassiani (F), Kyle Haines (D), Kevin Kapalka (G)

Key Losses: Rick Schofield (F), Will Acton (F), Matt Cowie (D), Brian Mahoney-Wilson (G)

CCHA All-Rookie team goaltender Kyle Kapalka boasted the league’s third best save percentage in the 2010-11 season.

Kapalka returns to the team this season in full health after a shoulder injury, looking to repeat last year’s success.

“It's just a matter of him not putting too much pressure on himself and our team not relying on him to bail them out,” said head coach Jim Roque of Kapalka. “His number one strength is his demeanor, his calmness. Nothing bothers him. You don’t see him hit his stick or get mad.”

Roque indicated that middle classmen will need to elevate their game to replace top scorers Rick Schofield and Will Acton, who made up much of the team’s firepower. He said he expects to have six to eight players really contributing scoring wise.

Senior defenseman Kyle Haines is looking to step up as more of an offensive contributor, said Roque, but the head coach doesn’t want that to take away from the defensive part of Haines’s game that the team needs.

Joining Lake Superior’s staff as an assistant coach is alum Doug Laprade.

Said Roque of the hire: “I thought it was important to get a guy that was part of the Lakers family, he had been part of championships as a player and assistant. I just thought he had a wealth of experience and a real calmness about him.”

Miami

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi

2010-2011 Record: 23-10-6 (16-7-5-2), Finished 3rd in CCHA standings, Won CCHA Tournament

Key Returnees: Reilly Smith (F), Alden Hirschfeld (F), Chris Wideman (D), Will Weber (D), Cody Reichard (G), Connor Knapp (G)

Key Losses: Andy Miele (F), Carter Camper (F), Pat Cannone (F)

After a record season for Miami, the Redhawks have an awful lot to live up to in the upcoming season. The 2010-2011 season brought Miami their first Mason Cup, first Hobey Baker Award winner, and three first-team all conference selections.

What they still need is that elusive national championship.

Head coach Enrico Blasi has had his sixth straight 20-win season, and Miami is ranked second overall by both coaches and the media. No pressure.

But Blasi is looking to replace a departing senior class that included Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele and fellow All-American Carter Camper, who combined for a 43-85-128 scoring line last season.

Despite these key losses, Blasi said the staff is excited with the infusion of a young freshman class with a good group of veterans who know how to prepare and play at a high level.

“We’ve been through it before and the same questions came up then,” said Blasi of losing key players.

As for who will fill the gaps left by Miele and Camper, a talented Reilly Smith will have to step up his game.

“I think Reilly Smith is going to do his thing,” Blasi said. “He’s a gifted hockey player and he’ll obviously have a lot of opportunities to score for us.”

Joining Smith will be a cast of veteran forwards like Alden Hirschfeld who Blasi said will look forward to stepping up and providing more offense for the team.

As for the defensive end, nothing will be changing between senior goaltenders Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp who split time in the Redhawks’ net as a huge part of the program. Reichard joined Miele, Smith and defenseman Will Weber on the CCHA All-Tournament team last year.

“We’re not afraid to go with either one,” Blasi said. “They have a pretty good healthy competition going on at this point.”

With both Reichard and Knapp well prepared and in great shape, Blasi said decisions would be made from week to week.

Manning the ice in front of the net will be veterans Chris Wideman and Will Weber, both of whom have been named to the preseason All-Conference 2nd Team.

“As a group of defensemen, they will lead the way and hopefully stabilize the rest of the team and allow forwards to play more aggressive because they have a pretty good group back there holding down the fort,” Blasi said.

After an exhibition win against Windsor last weekend, Miami kicks off their season with two home games against Bemidji State.

“We’re excited to get started and hopefully we can continue to improve daily which is part of our culture at Miami,” Blasi said. “Hopefully we’ll be playing our best hockey at the right time.”

Michigan

Head Coach: Red Berenson

2010-11 Record: 29-11-14 (20-7-1); Finished 1st in CCHA standings, runner up in CCHA tournament, advanced to NCAA Frozen Four championship game

Key Returnees: Shawn Hunwick (G), David Wohlberg (F), Scooter Vaughan (F), Jon Merrill (D)

Key Losses: Carl Hagelin (F), Louie Caporusso (F), Matt Rust (F)

Despite the loss of Michigan's top three scorers, in CCHA preseason polls, the team remains among the top three contenders.

Forwards Carl Hagelin, Louie Caporusso and Matt Rust combined for 106 points last year, almost a third of the team's total. To adjust, Coach Red Berenson expects the leadership of forward David Wohlberg and teamwork to fill that void.

"We need him to lead our team offensively, but the rest of our offense remains a question," said coach Red Berenson, "We need players like Chris Brown, Kevin Lynch, A.J. Treais ... to have big years for us. Scoring will probably be by committee rather than one or two players."

Wohlberg's 15 goals were the fourth most on team, while his 21 combined points made him the eighth-ranked team scorer. Offensively, Berenson predicts a big year for junior forward Kevin Lynch.

"He's had some stretches where he was one of our best players. And then he's had some stretches where he just couldn't find the net but he was always a competitive player and that's what I like about him. I think Lynch is ready to have a breakout season."

Michigan retains its defensive core of senior Greg Pateryn, junior Lee Moffie, and sophomore Jon Merrill, who came in sixth in freshman scoring and second in defenseman scoring. Goaltender Shawn Hunwick also remains a major feature.

With a .925 save percentage and 2.21 goals-against-average, Hunwick earned the CCHA's Best Goaltender award and lead the Wolverines to the NCAA Frozen Four championship game.

"He was the reason we were in that game. I think he's come a long way. ... When he got a chance to play and he got a little confidence, and he realized the team was behind him 100 percent he became a much better goalie. And he just continues to improve with confidence and with experience."

The Wolverines bring back 16 players, and will introduce eight freshmen to both the fans and the outdoor game experience.

On Jan. 15, Michigan will play Ohio State in the "Frozen Diamond Faceoff". Set at Progressive Field, home of the MLB Cleveland Indians, it will be the Wolverines' third stint outdoors, having taken on Michigan State in 2001's Cold War game and last year's "Big Chill at the Big House."

Said Berenson, "It's a great experience for all the players as well as the fans, and the coaches. I didn't think you could ever duplicate the Cold War that we had in Spartan Stadium in '01, but we definitely did that with the Big Chill. That might've been the biggest and best that we'll ever see."

Michigan State

Head Coach: Tom Anastos

2010-11 Record: 15-19-4 (11-15-2); Finished 10th in CCHA standings, lost in CCHA first round

Key Returnees:Torey Krug (D), Brett Perlini (F), Drew Palmisano (G), Will Yanakeff (G)

Key Losses: Derek Grant (F), Dustin Gazley (F)

"The most important thing for us is to find an identity for our team and that's gonna take a little bit of time, " said new head coach Tom Anastos.

A Michigan State alumnus, Anastos served as CCHA commissioner for 13 years before stepping down and taking the coaching job.

Both he and the team are looking for some grounding as they embark on their first season together.

Though lead scorer, forward Derek Grant, signed with the Ottawa Senators this past March, there is a large returning crew that have the ability to make up those points. Senior forward Brett Perlini came in second with 30 points; including 18 goals, the seventh most in the league.

"He's in really good shape, I think he's gotten leaner and quicker over the course of the summer," said Anastos, "He's real motivated to have an excellent senior season. He wants his team to have lots of success and hopefully position himself where he'll be a National Hockey League signee at the end of the season."

While Anastos expects Perlini and senior forward Daultan Leveille to lead offensively, he recognizes the value of CCHA Best Offensive Defensemen and captain Torey Krug.

Krug, also named to the All-CCHA First Team, lead the league in defensive scoring with 28 points, the third most overall on the Spartans' roster. He was also a factor on special teams as 16 points of his total scoring came on the power play.

"He's highly competitive. He's small but he plays big. He's been our most physical guy. And we don't have a particularly physical team, I don't believe, but he's been very tenacious in how he's approached everything," said Anastos.

Krug will be the key to fixing the Spartans' special teams. Combined, the power play and penalty kill were last in the league, and the penalty kill ranked only above Western Michigan's at 78.8 percent.

Part of bolstering those numbers will come from the net. Senior Drew Palmisano, who posted a .905 save percentage and 2.87 goal-against-average in 26 games, is expected to play most games. Anastos though, sees potential in sophomore Will Yanakeff.

"We expect that to be a strength of the team. Both of them are very capable players at a very high level. ... I think Will's game is emerging. He certainly has demonstrated that he has a very high talent level."

The Spartans' road play also has cause for improvement, having taken most of last season's losses away from Munn Ice Arena. They start this season with two games at Lake Superior State, and only two more of their first 10 at home.

Northern Michigan

Head Coach: Walt Kyle

2010-11 Record: 15-19-5 (12-13-3); Finished 6th in CCHA standings, lost in CCHA first round

Key Returnees: Tyler Gron (F), Justin Florek (F), Scott Macaulay (D)

Key Losses: Greger Hanson (F), Phil Fox (F)

After a disappointing season, coach Walt Kyle and the Wildcats are working to prove their talent.

The preaseason CCHA coaches' and media polls predict the team to repeat last year's performance, ranking them at sixth and seventh place, respectively.

"When a team doesn't have the kind of success they'd like, it makes a team hungry. Based on what I've seen in regards to conditioning and what the guys have done, they were real diligent and worked exceptionally hard through the offseason to try to elevate their game," said Kyle.

Returning core members, both forwards and defensemen, ensure that the team has a familiar base to build on.

Senior forwards Tyler Gron, Justin Florek, and captain Andrew Cherniwchan return as last year's top team scorers. Junior defensemen Kyle Follmer and Scott Macaulay, who was 10th in CCHA defensemen scoring (18 points), will bolster their output from the blue line.

Kyle also sees sophomore forward Reed Seckel, only played 11 games last season due to a torn ACL, making an impact.

"He's coming in as a freshman in regards to playing time, but certainly not a freshman in terms of experience...He's way ahead of that. He looks like one of our top players right now."

Part of improving should take place on the penalty kill. The Wildcats took the most penalties in the league last year (688 in 39 games) and had the ninth-best penalty kill percentage (79.5%).

In net, sophomore Jared Coreau and senior Reid Ellingson will compete for the top spot. Ellingson played 31 games and ended the year with a 2.52 GAA and .916 save percentage. In 15 games, Coreau posted a .909 save percentage and 3.71 GAA.

"We feel that position has the potential to be a strength for us," said Kyle.

Performance will be what determines who gets the top spot, "It's one position where I think it's pretty black and white who's getting the job done."

Notre Dame

Head Coach: Jeff Jackson

2010-11 Record: 25-14-5 (18-7-3); Finished 2nd in CCHA standings, runner up in CCHA tournament, advanced to NCAA Frozen Four

Key Returnees: T.J Tynan (F), Anders Lee (F), Sean Lorenz (D)

Key Losses: Ryan Guentzel (F), Calle Ridderwall (F)

Despite all the accomplishments of last year, CCHA coach of the year Jeff Jackson says the Fighting Irish are still looking to improve.

"Regardless of what we actually accomplished, we didn't really win anything."

CCHA coaches and media both picked Notre Dame to finish first in polls. Sophomore forwards T.J. Tynan and Anders Lee topped the league in both freshman and overall scoring last season with 54 and 44 points, respectively. Lee also scored the most game winning goals in the CCHA, with seven total.

Lee and Tynan were both selections for the CCHA All-Rookie Team and CCHA Second Team. Tynan also garnered the CCHA Rookie of the Year and Hockey Commissioner's Association National Rookie of the Year awards.

But Jackson is counting on other offensive players to make sure the Fighting Irish remain a top team.

"A guy like Riley Sheahan I expect to have a breakout season. I thought for the last couple months of last year, he was one of our best players, if not our best player."

Sheahan had the second-most shorthanded points last season, topping departures defenseman Joe Lavin and forward Ryan Guentzel who came in third and fourth. Jackson also plans to move senior forward Billy Maday and co-captain to center, his natural position.

Senior defenseman Sean Lorenz, also a co-captain, is expected to lead on the blue-line. Lorenz was awarded the CCHA's Best Defensive Defenseman award with a team-high plus-32 rating.

The defensive unit remains relatively young, with only three of the eight being upperclassmen.

Junior Mike Johnson will retain the top goalie spot. Jackson said he is looking for more consistency from Johnson, who, despite having the league's third-highest win percentage (.647), placed low in goals-against average and save percentage (2.62, .904).

Sophomore Steven Summerhays, while in the second spot, is expected to become a solid back-up with a strong future.

"I'm looking at him possibly developing into a top college goalie as well," said Jackson. "If I have two guys that fill that role that's great. But I do expect Mike to start the season as far as where we are in our depth, as the number one guy."

The Fighting Irish will begin the season playing home games at the Joyce Center, where they have been for the past 43 years. On Oct. 21, the team will play its first game in the new Compton Family Ice Arena against Renssealer Polytechnic Institute.

Ohio State

Head Coach: Mark Osiecki

2010-11 Record: 15-18-4 (10-14-4); Finished 9th in CCHA standings, lost in CCHA first round

Key Returnees: Cal Heeter (G), Danny Dries (F)

Key Losses: Sergio Somma (F), John Albert (F)

After getting into the swing of coaching the Buckeyes last year, coach Mark Osiecki faces yet another challenge of familiarity. In his second year as head coach, Osiecki will have to introduce 12 freshman and one junior transfer to the Ohio State system.

"We're gonna have a lot more gray hairs. We're gonna certainly have to have the ability to show a lot of patience," said Osiecki.

Though he keeps some key pieces this year, gone are top scorers forwards Sergio Somma and John Albert.

Senior forward Danny Dries is one of those remaing pieces, with the fourth most game-winning goals in the league (4) and the third most points on the team (27), behind Somma and Albert. The team's Most Improved Player and only other senior forward, Cory Schneider more than doubled his points from the 2009-10 season and played in every game last year.

Cal Heeter, the senior goalie who played all of the Buckeyes 37 games last season, is expected to take on most of the game minutes. Despite the workload he faced, Heeter still managed a .923 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against-average.

"We're expecting him to try and take some pressure off of himself, first and foremost," said Osiecki.

But the coach still is looking for that quality, "We're hoping that he can come back and do similar things, which is gonna be tough to match some of the stats that he had. He played extremely well for us and gave us an opportunity to be in every single game."

Junior goalie Brady Hjelle managed to squeeze in 25 minutes last year, and Osiecki hopes he can extend that and give Heeter some rest this year.

Of all the challenges facing Ohio State this year, the funnest will probably be the "Frozen Diamond Faceoff." The Buckeyes host their rival Wolverines on Jan. 15 in the home of the Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field.

"I think it's good for college hockey. I think that college hockey's put in a positive spotlight," said Osiecki.

"I think it just continues to help college hockey grow and open the eyes to the product that we have."

Western Michigan

Head Coach: Andy Murray

2010-11 Record: 19-13-10 (10-9-9); Finished 4th in CCHA standings, lost in CCHA championship game, advanced to NCAA first round

Key Returnees: Chase Balisy (F), Greg Squires (F), Danny DeKeyser (D)

Key Losses: Max Campbell (F), Jerry Kuhn (G)

The departure of coach Jeff Blashill after his first, and successful, season could have jarred the Broncos, but the acquisition of former NHL coach Andy Murray has allowed the optimism garnered from last year's rejuvenation to remain.

While Blashill leaves for the NHL, Murray comes to Western Michigan with 10 years of NHL experience with the Los Angeles Kings, and more recently, the St. Louis Blues. During that time, he achieved a career record of 333-278-58-71.

"I think it would be false to say that you make adjustments for different levels. I always felt that you get from people what you expect of them," said Murray, "I think you need to be demanding but not demeaning."

Murray will have to adjust both to the college environment and the 10 freshmen coming in this season, including two goaltenders.

Junior goalie Nick Pisellini, who backed Jerry Kuhn, starts the season with the top spot. He only played 17 games last season due to a torn meniscus, and ended the year with a .901 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against-average.

Murray expects freshmen Kris Moore and Frank Slubowski, both from the British Columbia Hockey League, to keep Pisellini at the top of his game.

Defensive partners junior Luke Witowski and sophomore Danny DeKeyser will be there to take some pressure of whoever is behind them, as well as top-ten league defensive scorer, junior Matt Tennyson (21 pts).

DeKeyser lead the team in blocked shots (54) and was second in +/- rating, with plus-12 overall. In his freshman year, he earned a spot on the CCHA All-Rookie Team and the CCHA All-Tournament team.

The offensive unit will be lead by top-scorers, forwards sophomore Chase Balisy and CCHA All-Rookie Team selection and senior Greg Squires. Squires was among the top ten in the league in assists (21), and power play points (14).

Murray will rely on senior forward and captain Ian Slater to help him adjust to the team and bring in the new players.

"You're only allowed two full-time assistant coaches and Ian Slater is just like another coach on our staff," said Murray.
 

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