Gophers Are Good As Gold
Minnesota Tops CHN's Preseason Top 10
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
There are now 59 Division I NCAA hockey teams, and it’s an ever-changing landscape. It’s impossible to accurately predict how any one team will do in any given weekend, let alone a full season. Players will break out, teams will come together, and unexpected things will happen. Based on tangible results and filled gaps, here’s how we think things look heading into 2012-13.
1. Minnesota (28-14-1, 20-8-0 WCHA)
Where to start with the Gophers? Coming off a Frozen Four appearance, they boast the deepest set of forwards in the NCAA, led by 6-foot-5 superstar junior Nick Bjugstad (25-17—43 in 2011-12), who assumes a leadership role in addition to his standout offensive play. Classmates Erik Haula (20-29—49), Zach Budish (12-23—35) and Nate Condon (11-19—30), teamed with sophomore Kyle Rau (18-25—43), know how to put up big numbers, and will contribute to a four-lines-deep Minnesota offense. On the other end of the ice, third-year defenseman Nate Schmidt (3-38-41) will quarterback the power play, while junior Mark Alt (5-17—22) excels in all three zones.
The incoming freshman class, among the best in the WCHA, will contribute right off the bat. Brothers Mike and Ryan Connor will assert themselves on the blueline and offensive zone immediately, while Ryan’s twin brother Connor sits the season out due to a knee injury. Perhaps the biggest fresh face on campus is goaltender Adam Wilcox, who will take over for Kent Patterson in the crease. With Minnesota able to put up plenty of goals and provide steady defense, Wilcox will have plenty of time to get some seasoning.
2. Boston College (33-10-1, 19-7-1 Hockey East)
The defending national champion Eagles will be right back in the hunt again this year, as usual. Expect the offense to hum with sophomore Johnny Gaudreau (21-23—44) poised to be the next in a long line of small forwards who have stood tall for Jerry York. Junior Kevin Hayes (7-21—28) is ready to take the leap to offensive beast this season. The backline will suffer from some big losses, but some big-name newcomers will fill the holes and slowly emerge, led by freshman Mike Matheson, who is expected to immediately take over power-play duties. The senior duo of Patch Alber and Patrick Wey continue to provide their standout brand of defense. First year defender Colin Sullivan will show why he was highly sought after as a recruitm, but senior Parker Milner, the reigning NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player following his mid-season turnaround, has the edge to start in net.
3. North Dakota (26-13-3, 16-11-1 WCHA)
Dave Hakstol got the most out of an injury-depleted, undermanned roster last season, taking them all the way to the West Regional Final. North Dakota faces some early-season self-imposed adversity this time around with the suspension of numerous players, but are otherwise healthy, and should be ready to go as soon as that gets sorted out. North Dakota has replaced goalies Brad Eidness and Aaron Dell with highly-touted freshman Zane Gothberg and Huntsville transfer Clarke Saunders, who should perform admirably behind possibly the strongest defensive unit in all of college hockey, Seniors Andrew MacWilliam and Joe Gleason will be the anchors, along with juniors Derek Forbort and Dillon Simpson. Up front, the senior duo of Corban Knight and Danny Kristo are well-known scorers, while classmate Carter Rowney is looking forward to building on his breakout junior season. Losing Brock Nelson leaves a big hole, but getting Rocco Grimaldi back after losing most of his first season to injury (he got a medical redshirt and retains four years of eligibility) will help fill the game.
4. Union (26-8-7, 14-4-4 ECAC)
Union's run to the Frozen Four did more than just earn them street cred. Now, it's back, knowing how to win on the big stage, and are hungry for more. Of course, it will have to live up to the expectations now of having to produce an encore. The pieces are there to do it, though. Junior Daniel Carr has back-to-back 20 goals seasons and can score in every situation — he and senior Wayne Simpson (18-13—31) will be the go-to guys for an offense filled with players waiting to break out. Josh Jooris (8-20—28) is on the cusp of the big time after two seasons rounding out his game. Junior Troy Grosenick (22-6-3, 1.65 GAA, .936 SV%) proved his worth as a sophomore with a coming out party that saw him place among the national elite in every major category. Sophomore defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (5-17—22) followed up a strong freshman campaign with a standout National Junior Evaluation Camp, and looks ready to make the jump to star, and is a key part of what should be an excellent defense again.
5. Michigan (24-13-4, 15-9-4-1 CCHA)
Red Berenson has his roster reloaded with one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Wunderkind defenseman Jacob Trouba becomes an immediate weapon on the Wolverines blueline that also features senior Lee Moffie and juniors Jon Merrill and Mac Bennett. The Michigan set of defenders can do it all, and they’ll have to. Freshmen Steven Racine and Jared Rutledge come in highly regarded and will get the chance to take over Shawn Hunwick’s crease. Up front, the Wolverines have another first-year player in Boo Nieves that’s ready to join the fray immediately. He’ll be a welcome addition to sophomore scorers Phil Di Guiseppe (11-15—26) and Alex Guptill (16-17—33); both will be offensive focal points this season.
6. Denver (25-14-4, 16-8-4 WCHA)
It’s an embarrassment of riches on the Pioneers’ back end, with three goalies and a set of defensemen that can shutdown the oppsition. Despite missing most of last season with a knee injury, junior goalie Sam Brittain (8-4-0, 2.36 GAA, .932 SV%) returned and showed why he’s still George Gwozdecky’s go-to netminder. Senior Adam Murray and sophomore Juho Olkinuora will battle it out for playing time behind Brittain, and possibly even break into his playing time. Defensively, senior Paul Phillips and sophomores Scott Mayfield and Josiah Didier are pro-sized blueliners that are strong in their own end and can also make plays. Sophomore Joey LaLeggia, who ranked among the top scoring defensemen last season, come back to run the Denver power play. Denver has depth up front, but no proven star, though undoubtedly someone will emerge.
7. Massachusetts-Lowell (24-13-1, 19-9-1 Hockey East)
Norm Bazin’s first season injected some life into Lowell, with a huge win turnaround and an NCAA Tournament appearance. Now, looking for an encore, his second season is setting up to be even better. It starts in net with junior Doug Carr (22-10-1, 2.13 GAA, .928 SV%), who put together one of the NCAA’s best statistical seasons in 2011-12. The defense in front of him improves with the addition of Dimitry Sinitsyn; the red-shirt sophomore has been an offensive force at every level, and should become the point man for the power-play unit. Junior Chad Ruhwedel and sophomore Zack Kamrass showed strength at both ends of the ice. Up front, senior Riley Wetmore, junior Derek Arnold, and sophomore Scott Wilson return as one of the most dangerous trios in college hockey.
8. Cornell (19-9-7, 12-4-6 ECAC)
Coming off a season in which Cornell again made the Regional Final only to suffering a disappointing loss, the Big Red face as many expectations this year as any season since the 2003 Frozen Four campaign. Andy Iles (19-9-7, 2.12 GAA, .919 SV%) certified himself as the man last season, playing every minute in net for the Big Red. He’s aided by a set of defenseman that can rival any other team’s in seniors Braden Birch and Nick D’Agostino, junior Kirill Gotovets, and sophomore Joakim Ryan. Up front, the Big Red can expect an improved offense, as the sophomore trio of Brian Ferlin, Joel Lowry, and John McCarron posted impressive freshman seasons. Ferlin, in particular, looked ready to become a star despite playing hurt much of the season then getting his year cut short by a thumb injury.
9. Western Michigan (21-14-6, 14-10-4-4 CCHA)
The Broncos return their top three scorers from last season in senior Dane Walters (16-13—29) and juniors Chase Balisy (13-24—37) and Shane Berschbach (10-22—32). The trio will be counted upon to continue their scoring while sophomores Will Kessel, Robert Francis and David Killip rediscover the magic they made before injuries derailed their freshman season. A class of sizeable first-year forward, led by winger Colton Hargrove, will provide a physical presence and create offense down low. The only major change to the defensive corps is the loss of Matt Tennyson; while WMU will miss his offensive contributions, junior Danny DeKeyser has shown flashes of offensive leadership in addition to his pro-level defensive game. Sophomore goalie Frank Slubowski (17-11-4, 2.03 GAA, .911 SV%) burst on the scene last season and solidified the crease, backstoppping the Broncos to their first CCHA postseason championship.
10. Notre Dame (19-18-3, 12-13-3 CCHA)
The Irish, ranked No. 1 by many in the preseason, suffered an incredibly disappointing season. But there's no reason why Notre Dame can't bounce back. The Irish return a solid veteran core that includes prototypical power forward Anders Lee (17-17—34) and super playmaker T.J. Tynan (13-28—41). The junior duo have led Notre Dame in scoring since their freshman year, and will carry the offense as far as it can go. Losing freshman Mario Lucia until at least November with a broken leg is a setback for the fresh-faced forward and the team, but once he’s back, he’ll provide an extra dimension to the attack. The goaltending could make or break the season. Both junior Steven Summerhays and senior Mike Johnson have been up and down, and must prove ready to take the reins for the full season. The play in front of either goalie is plenty solid, as over-sized junior defenseman Stephen Johns is a punishing anchor.