CCHA Team-by-Team Preview
CHN Staff Report
Head Coach: Red Berenson
2011-12 Record: 24-13-4 overall, 15-9-4 CCHA, (2nd)
Changes: One of the Wolverines’ top forwards, Chris Brown left the program in late March, opting to sign an entry-level deal with the Phoenix Coyotes rather than return to Ann Arbor for his senior season. Also gone is goalie Shawn Hunwick who started 39 games in his senior season, and David Wohlberg, who tied for the team lead in scoring with 33 points in his senior season. The good news for Michigan is that the Wolverines have one of the top recruiting class in the league coming in. The biggest name is defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was drafted ninth overall in the NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets in June. Also coming on board for the Maize and Blue is goaltender Jared Rutledge and New York Rangers 2012 second round draft pick, forward “Boo” Nieves.
Strengths: Year after year, the Wolverines always seem to be loaded with talent and while this year is no expectation, the team is young and lost most of its notable on-ice leaders from last year. The biggest strength this year – beyond the incoming freshmen, an established defensive corps, and offensive talent boasted by the likes of Alex Guptill – is the steady hand of head coach Red Berenson, who has a 752-352-77 career record, all behind the Michigan bench. With only five seniors and 16 freshmen or sophomores, Michigan will be relying on Berenson for leadership early in the season to handle the expectations of being the third ranked team in the country.
Weaknesses: If the Wolverines struggle, it will be in goal, where they lack a proven starter. For the first time in his career, Berenson will carry four goaltenders on his roster. Freshman Jared Rutledge is expected to be the starter but has had issues with his contacts, which may force the Wolverines to go with fellow freshman Steven Racine or junior goalie Adam Janecyk, according to Berenson.
2012-13 Outlook: Once again, expectations are sky high in Ann Arbor, with Michigan picked to win the CCHA by the media and picked to finish second in the conference by the coaches.
"We are always shooting for the top of the league," said head coach Red Berenson. "It's the last year in the CCHA, and I'm sure everyone wants to finish it off well."
Despite losing forward Chris Brown, the Wolverines got some good news this summer when junior defenseman Jon Merrill decided he would return to Michigan instead of turning pro. Merrill missed the first half of his sophomore season after he was suspended for violating team rules but still managed to put up 11 points in 19 games. Look for Merrill, who is Michigan's only All-CCHA Preseason First Team selection, to progress by playing a full season and exceed his number form his freshman year where he tallied 25 points.
Top forwards to watch for the Wolverines are sophomore Alex Guptill and senior A.J. Treais. Guptill led the team is scoring last year with 16 goals and 17 assists, followed closely by Treais with 15 goals
Western Michigan Broncos
Head coach: Andy Murray
2011-12 record: 21-14-6 overall, 14-10-4 CCHA, (2nd)
Changes: The central missing piece this season will be last year’s captain, Ian Slater. Having led the Broncos through a last-place finish and two coaching changes to the Mason Cup last March, his absence will not go unnoticed.
Despite Slater’s departure, coach Andy Murray knows last season’s run will prove invaluable, saying, “Winning the championship last year I think was just an indication first of all how of tough it is to do [and] what great teams there are in the league.”
Also gone is Best Offensive Defenseman finalist Matt Tennyson, who signed with the San Jose Sharks in March. While the remainder of the defensive unit returns, Tennyson's departure represents the loss of a significant source of scoring, as the Pleasanton, Calif. native provided 24 points for the Broncos, including five (2g, 3a) during the Broncos’ CCHA championship run.
Replacing five graduated forwards are three freshman and junior Mike Cichy, who is eligible to play after transferring from North Dakota last year. Defensively, freshman Kenney Morrison looks to take Tennyson’s spot while goalie Lukas Hafner comes in to provide depth in net.
Strengths: The Broncos’ top line of Chase Balisy, Shane Berschbach and Dane Walters returns after taking the top three scoring spots on the team last season, combining for 39 goals and 98 points.
Defensively, junior Dan DeKeyser and goaltender Frank Slubowski will provide a solid support system. Among other recognitions, DeKeyser was named last year's CCHA's Best Defensive Defenseman, blocking 74 shots and averaging 30 minutes a game.
In net, Slubowski returns with the title of reigning CCHA Tournament MVP after coming up big for the Broncos in his freshman year. In 32 games, the British Columbia native went 17-11-4, finishing the season with three shutouts, a 2.03 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Behind him, Murray expects senior Nick Pisellini and Hafner, who helped the Cornwall Colts to a seven-game series CCHL Championship loss, to battle for the starting spot.
“There’s competition going on right now,” said Murray. “Obviously [Slubowski] because of his play last year needs to be recognized as our number one guy going in, but the bottom line is Frank needs to play up to the standard that he set last year.”
Weaknesses: Secondary scoring is the biggest question facing Western Michigan. Trevor Elias will be central among the returning forwards who will have to step up and fill the void left by the graduated five forwards. Fortunately for the Broncos, freshmen Colton Hargrove and Nolan LaPorte bring promising numbers from the USHL. How they perform and how others accept new roles will be key in how the Broncos stand up to traditionally well-performing teams.
2012-13 Outlook: Following a championship year is hard in any sport, on any level. The Broncos go into the season with a target on their backs and though they look solid, the off-season losses will probably be the source of most of their struggles. With coach Andy Murray, a core returning crew and high expectations of the newest additions, there is a better chance of bouncing back from those trials quicker.
With some uncertainty hanging over offensive support, the defensive unit will face a greater burden. Slubowski is no longer a surprise to the league, and even with Pisellini and Hafner behind him, he may struggle in his sophomore year. Nevertheless, Western Michigan should remain a top contender.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Head coach: Jeff Jackson
2011-12 Record: 19-18-3 overall, 12-13-3 CCHA, (8th)
Changes: Key losses for the Irish include an early departure by Riley Sheahan, a former first-round NHL draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, as well as reliable forward Billy Maday, who played in 153 games as a member of the Fighting Irish, scoring 105 points. Notre Dame also loses Sean Lorenz, a dependable defenseman who played regularly against opposing CCHA top lines. Attempting to fill those voids will be a group of incoming freshmen highlighted by Mario Lucia, son of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. However, Lucia will miss the opening month or two of the season after suffering a broken left leg in August.
Strengths: The undisputed strength of this team, in addition to playing for a coach that’s already raised the national championship trophy in his career, is the offensive firepower provided by Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan, polar opposites in both appearance and style but consistently prolific contributors on the nightly scoresheet. Tynan was second in the league in scoring a season ago, while Lee has led the Irish in goals each of the last two years.
“They both bring a lot to the table,” said Jackson. “T.J. is obviously a dynamic player that makes things happen when he’s on the ice. His energy level and skill level make a difference in almost every situation that we play. Anders, he’s more of a power guy. Good shot and goal scorer, and we’re moving him to center this year, so he and Tynan will not be isolated individually. I expect great things from both of them.”
Weaknesses: Despite stumbling in the second half of the season last year, expectations remain high this fall in South Bend. But a weakness that the Irish must overcome is its penalty kill, which was second to worst in the CCHA last season. The Irish were only able to successfully kill 76 of 95 opponent power play chances, thereby allowing a power play goal 20 percent of the time while a man down. Look for Jeff Jackson to strengthen what has historically been a strong special teams system at Notre Dame. In addition, the lack of a clear-cut No. 1 starter – with Steven Summerhays and Mike Johnson both in the early season mix – may prove to be a weakness as well.
2012-13 Outlook: Notre Dame will play more consistently than it did a year ago, but much of the season may be determined in the early going, when the Irish play defending CCHA champion Western Michigan, defending national champion Boston College, and powerhouses Michigan and North Dakota – all before Thanksgiving.
Ferris State Bulldogs
Head Coach: Bob Daniels
2011-12 Record: 26-12-5 overall, 16-7-5 CCHA (1st)
Changes: Ferris State has a strong group of returning players, but the Bulldogs have also taken a hit defensively. They’re two lines deep with veteran forwards including the likes of Matthew Kerzinger, Kyle Bonis, Travis Oullette, Garrett Thompson, Cory Kane, and Eric Alexander. Key losses were goaltender Taylor Nelson and Chad Billins, a standout defenseman and team captain. But three freshmen defensemen are hoping to help fill the void, and they’re Simon Denis, Jason Binkley, and Travis White.
Strengths: The Bulldogs are coming off a hugely successful 2011-2012 season that not only culminated in a trip to the Frozen Four, but a spot in the NCAA Championship game where they lost 4-1 to the Boston College Eagles. While Daniels and his team have always had high expectations, they’re returning to the ice after fulfilling the goal of getting a bid into the NCAA Tournament. With those results come players who have experienced college hockey at its highest level of competition and a renewed level of excitement around their program.
“I think a lot of the experience that our returning players garnered, I think that’s going to be very beneficial,” coach Bob Daniels said. “I guess our expectations this year would be no different than what they were going into last year, and the year prior to that.
“So while last year was a great season, and we hope to build on that, and maybe prove that what we did a year ago we can do again, our goals haven’t changed at all from what they were going into last season.”
Weakness: While Ferris State still has enough potential from its remaining players and incoming freshmen to be strong offensively (despite the graduation of leading scorer Jordie Johnston), the Bulldogs’ key losses from last season came from the back end, with defense and goaltending suffering the biggest blows. Without their key defensemen, the team’s biggest challenge might be sustaining a defense that allows their forwards to shine.
“As we look back toward our defense and goaltending, that’s where the question marks arise. We graduated four seniors from last year, defensemen, as well as our netminder Taylor Nelson and that’s a big hit,” Daniels said. “It’s going to be the ability of our incoming freshmen defensemen, and our returning defensemen, it’s going to be their ability to move the puck to break us out of our end that’s going to allow us to utilize our veteran forwards.
“If we’re not successful in getting out of our own end and breaking the puck out. then that could lead to issues.”
2012-13 Outlook: The Bulldogs were chosen 5th in the coaches’ poll and fourth in the media poll with three first-place votes, but after their 2011-2012 season, Ferris State certainly showed what they’re capable of despite the expectations of outsiders. If the Falcons can keep their defense at the same caliber as their offense, they could be poised for more success, especially with revitalized interest and support in the program.
Head Coach: Enrico Blasi
2011-12 Record: 24-15-2 overall, 15-11-2 CCHA, (2nd)
Changes: The biggest loss of the offseason, without question, is Reilly Smith, who departed Oxford one year early to join the Dallas Stars organization. Smith was the CCHA leading scorer last season with 48 points, 28 of which came in conference play. Tyler Biggs, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, also decided to forego his remaining years of collegiate eligibility to play for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. The RedHawks also lost a talented senior class featuring the netminder duo of Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp.
Sean Kuraly, Riley Barber and Ryan McKay lead the way for a large, talented recruiting class for the RedHawks. Kuraly, a San Jose draft pick back in 2011, brings to the table good size and a prolific scoring ability. Barber, a USNTDP product and a Washington Capitals draft pick, will also be a scoring threat up front for Miami. McKay is a winner of two Clark Cups in the USHL for the Green Bay Gamblers and will try to provide continued stability at the goaltender position after four years with the likes of Reichard and Knapp. The RedHawks have also added Marc Hagel, a transfer and former Princeton captain. Hagel is in his last year of eligibility after taking a medical redshirt his junior year at Yale.
Strength: Scoring ability. Three of the RedHawks’ top five scoring forwards from last season return in the form of Austin Czarnik, Jimmy Mullin and Blake Coleman. They combined for 86 points last season and each of them are headed into their sophomore seasons.
Weakness: Experience- Eighteen of the twenty-six players on the roster are underclassmen.
2012-13 Outlook: The RedHawks certainly have the scoring ability to compete in every game this season, but the big question is in net with three freshman goaltenders. They will be in the mix for a CCHA Championship and another NCAA tournament bid, but expect a slow start from this young, still-developing team.
Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Tom Anastos
2011-12 Record: 19-16-4 overall, 14-11-3 CCHA, (5th)
Changes: The Spartans took a huge hit when Torey Krug decided to sign with the Boston Bruins following his junior year. He led the team in scoring with 12 goals and 22 assists but made the decision to jump the college hockey ship before finishing out his senior season. As if the loss of Krug wasn’t detrimental enough, the Spartans graduated a large class in 2012 and are left with 12 new players entering the 2012-2013 season.
Strengths: The Spartans do have returning players who have proven they can step up, improve their game, and contribute when needed. Head coach Tom Anastos cited Greg Wolfe and Lee Reimer as two players he said “took big steps” last season and should continue to do so this season. Michigan State’s biggest strength might lie in goaltender Will Yanakeff, whom Anastos said he’ll being relying on this season. Yanakeff, a junior, concluded his sophomore season with a .927 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average.
Weaknesses: The 2012-2013 Spartans won’t just be wearing green – they very well might be feeling green. The team’s biggest weakness lies in the fact that a majority of its members have no college hockey experience, and while they bring with them certain vigor, the fact that so many players are new to this level of hockey could cause problems.
“We have 12 new players here, and with that, it’s a lot of newness and enthusiasm for sure and that’s going to be exciting, and at the same time, we’re very green and inexperienced and that will present a challenge for us,” Anastos said.
2012-2013 Outlook: The coaches chose the Spartans to finish 7th while the media put them one better at 6th. The program is on an upswing with Anastos in his second season as head coach, especially with an ever-improving Yanakeff between the pipes for the Spartans.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Mark Osiecki
2011-12 Record: 15-15-5 overall, 11-12-5 CCHA, (9th)
Changes: Ohio State had a small senior class of four last year, but all will be missed. And the biggest difference for the Buckeyes is in goal, with the departure of Cal Heeter who started 30 games for the Buckeyes last season. Ohio State also loses 2011-12 co-captains Sean Duddy and Cory Schneider, two players who were key leaders on a young team.
Meanwhile, the incoming freshman class of six for the Buckeyes features two goaltenders, two forwards and two defensemen. Netminder Collin Olson moves to Columbus from the U.S. National Team Development Program and was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the sixth round of the NHL draft last June.
Strengths: The Buckeyes will be strong on offense, returning seven of their top eight scorers from last season, including top scorer junior Chris Crane who tallied 14 goals and 10 assists as a sophomore in 2011-12.
Weaknesses: The biggest question mark for the Buckeyes comes between the pipes, where the Buckeyes have little experience with two freshman goalies along with redshirt junior Jeff Michael and senior Brady Hjelle. Last season was Hjelle's first with the Buckeyes after transferring form Minnesota-Duluth. He played in eight games, started five, and managed a 2-4 record.
There will be a battle for paying time in the Buckeye goal. Hjelle's play last season was a lot like the Buckeye team as a whole: successful early but a struggle later in the season. Challenging Hjelle for the starting job will be freshman Collin Olson, who is considered to be the goalie of the future for Ohio State. Olson comes from the U.S. National Team Development Program, where he won the gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship last April.
"It's truly going to be a competition, I think at least to start the year you are going to see us splitting those guys quite a bit," head coach Mark Osiecki said.
2012-13 Outlook: Last season was a year of surprises for the Buckeyes. First they took the college hockey world by storm winning 14 games by the end of December and starting the New Year as the No. 2 in the country.
Then Buckeyes had another surprise by falling out of the polls as quickly as they moved up them. Ohio State only won one game the rest of the year and ended 2011-12 losing two straight games in the CCHA tournament to Notre Dame. Now, the Buckeyes are hoping a young team that only had four seniors in 2011-12 can learn from the success and failures of last year and play more consistently.
Up front, look for junior Chris Crane and sophomores Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick to lead Ohio State in scoring. McCormick only played in 27 games last year due to injury but still managed to score 10 goals and 12 assists and should have a big year. On the blue line, seniors Brandon Martell and Devon Krogh, along with junior Curtis Gedig, lead a strong core of defenseman. Gedig is a 2009 draft pick of the New Jersey Devils who has continued to improve over his career and posted 14 assists last season.
"The unfortunate part for Curtis is he has gone through some injuries here, so he missed all this summer, as well as last summer, he missed with another injury, so he has never really had a full summer to train," said head coach Mark Osiecki. "That being said, he looks outstanding, he looks fresh. He is probably one of the best skaters on our squad. His skating ability is tremendous."
Repeating the early success they enjoyed last year will be hard for the Buckeyes as the team plays 10 of their first 14 games on the road.
Northern Michigan Wildcats
Head coach: Walt Kyle
2011-12 record: 17-14-6 overall, 11-11-6 CCHA, (6th)
Changes: Despite losing its top scorers, Northern Michigan is destined to remain a consistent force in the CCHA’s final year. Tyler Gron, the league’s fourth-leading scorer, Justin Florek, a CCHA Best Defensive Forward finalist, and Andrew Cherniwchan have moved on, leaving big shoes to fill for both returning and new players.
Brought in to help replace them on offense are six freshman forwards. Ryan Trenz is the only freshman defenseman, and returning junior goalie Jared Coreau will share the net with newcomers Mathias Dahlstrom and Michael Doan.
Strengths: Captain Scott Macaulay and fellow defenseman Kyle Follmer will lead a returning core at the blueline in front of Coreau, who emerged as the Wildcats starting goaltender last year. Macaulay and Follmer led the Wildcats in defenseman point totals, with Follmer fourth in overall team scoring, secured by a team-leading 22 assists.
“They know what I expect, they know the values that we have in the program, they know what it takes to be a hockey player here and the things that are important to us,” said coach Walt Kyle, who will rely on the seniors to lead his defensive group.
Coreau, whose .931 save percentage was third in the league last season, is expected to keep his spot in net and be an anchor for the team who Kyle said will be “built from the goal out.”
Weaknesses: With the departure of his top scorers, Kyle looks to the likes of Matt Thurber and Stephan Vigier to lead offensively. Sophomore Reed Seckel also returns after taking the eighth spot in league freshman scoring in 2011-12.
Despite the Wildcats’ depth at center, scoring goals will be a collective effort. Said Kyle, “I don’t know if we have high first-line guys that are going to put up huge numbers, but I think we may be able to put three second-caliber lines out there that can all contribute.”
The role of some forwards may be easier to predict, like 6-foot-2, 207-pound freshman Cohen Adair, but overall, there will be a transition period before the Wildcats’ lines are settled in.
2012-13 Outlook: Kyle’s experience will help alleviate the degree of difficulties the Wildcats are likely to face this year, but with their offense full of speculation going into the season, the challenge is even greater when competing against teams like Notre Dame and rising Western Michigan.
At the very least, NMU can expect to contend in the regular season, but as always, the real test comes in March when the team must be able to exceed even their own expectations.
Bowling Green Falcons
Head coach: Chris Bergeron
2011-12 record: 14-25-5, 5-19-4 CCHA, (11th)
Changes: The losses of three forwards and a defenseman from last year’s roster have been filled by six freshmen, including two blueliners and a netminder.
Forward Cameron Sinclair may be the biggest loss, but with newcomers like Brent Tate (who attended the Washington Capitals’ prospect camp this summer), the Falcons are in a good position to absorb the departures.
Strengths: Sophomore Dan DeSalvo was a key part in the Falcons’ postseason surge a year ago, with a CCHA record-breaking 10 goals and his first career hat trick against Ferris State in the overtime series winner. His line accounted for more than half of the Falcons’ points in the playoffs.
“We’ve been on the road in the playoffs, we’ve been to Joe Louis arena, we’ve been to all the hard places in our league to play, and we feel like all those experiences can pay off in terms of the leadership,” said coach Chris Bergeron , also praising DeSalvo’s linemates sophomore Ryan Carpenter and junior Cam Wojtala, who will serve as co-captains and were first and third in team scoring.
Goaltender Andrew Hammond also returns for his senior having made the third-most saves in the league (694) and having started all of the Falcons’ 44 games last season. Among six Falcons invited to NHL prospect camps, Hammond has proven his endurance and with fresh face Tommy Burke helping shoulder the load along with junior Scott Zacharias, there should be better balance in net.
Weaknesses: Though Bowling Green was able to make a splash in the CCHA Tournament, they still entered as the 11th seed. A 12-game winless streak and inability to put together more than three wins as at a time may be attributed to the youth of the team, but Bergeron hopes to build on last season.
“With us being a year older and some guys having been around this brand and this culture, we expect to be more consistent on a daily basis,” said Bergeron.
While forwards Adam Berkle and captain Ryan Carpenter can lead the team offensively, they and whoever is in net will need support from their defensemen. As a senior, Robert Shea will be expected to be a source of leadership, especially with five underclassmen serving on the blueline.
Bergeron also admits that presumed starter Hammond will need to improve if the team wants to stay out of the CCHA basement, stating bluntly, “We feel like he’s a guy that should be knocking on the door of an all-league type goaltender, but that’s something that’s going to start with consistency and he knows it.”
2012-13 Outlook: The Falcons proved last year that, when pushed, they can be a force to be reckoned with. This season will show whether Kyle and his team internalized those lessons and can build on them.
While anything can happen in the playoffs, as the Falcons themselves proved, the regular season is paramount in building the confidence and chemistry that carries a team to a championship.
Lake Superior State Lakers
Head Coach: Jim Roque
2011-12 Record: 18-17-5 overall, 11-13-4 CCHA, (7th)
Changes: The Lakers experienced early departures from Zach Trotman and Kyle Jean, both within the team’s top seven scorers. Jean signed with the New York Rangers, while Trotman went to the Bruins. The two departures were a tough blow for Lake Superior, as the Lakers finished in the bottom half of the CCHA last season.
Strengths: Lake Superior’s strength now lies on the blue line, with five strong returning defensemen. Kevin Czuczman, Andrew Perrault, Matt Bruneteau, Zach Sternberg. T.J. Wees are the five men Jim Roque says he’s confident in when it comes to the strong defense. Behind those players will be junior goaltender Kevin Kapalka, whom Roque says is ready to be an elite goalie not only in the CCHA, but across the country. Kapalka was the team’s MVP last season and finished with a .914 save percentage and 2.79 goals against average.
Said Roque, “I just think composure is the best word I can use for Kevin. He’s had it since he walked in the door. If a bad goal goes in, it’s not going to affect him on the next shot.”
Weaknesses: Much like Michigan State, much of Lake Superior’s challenges this season will come from a lack of experience. Roque says it may take his team some time to find themselves offensively. While the Lakers still have their top scorer Domenic Monardo, they’ll need the right player to take Jean’s spot and find chemistry with Monardo around the net.
“Starting the year, we are a little inexperienced in a few areas,” admitted Roque. “We had a couple of underclassmen sign in Zach Trotman and Kyle Jean that set us back a little bit. Then we had a situation over the summer where Colin Campbell is not going to start the year because of shoulder surgery. Not only did we lose some good seniors, we lost some good underclassmen.”
2012-13 Outlook: Picked 11th and last by the coaches and 10th by the media, Lake Superior will have a lot of work to do if they want to prove these numbers wrong. Kapalka will prove to be the key factor in the Lakers’ outlook, with their success or failure resting squarely on his shoulders.
Head coach: Dallas Ferguson
2011-12 Record: 12-20-4 Overall, 8-16-4 CCHA (11th)
Changes: The major change in Fairbanks is the graduation of goaltender Scott Greenham, who finished his career as the most decorated netminder in program history, finishing as the school’s lal-time leader in wins, shutouts, goals-against average, and save percentage. Freshman John Keeney will come in and challenge senior Steve Thompson and sophomore Sean Cahill for the starting job.
Strengths: The Nanooks’ strength lies in two of their top returning forwards – Cody Kunyk, Alaska’s leading scorer last season, and Andy Taranto, who has been reliable and consistent offensively during his three seasons in Fairbanks so far.
Weaknesses: After seeing its win total decline each of the last two seasons, Alaska is looking to recreate a winning culture that was established with an NCAA tournament appearance as recently as 2012. Doing so has been difficult, and a challenge this season will be finding the right goaltender to shoulder the burden of trying to take the Nanooks back to the NCAA postseason.
2012-13 Outlook: Alaska has among the lowest expectations in all of college hockey, at least from the outside looking in – and that may be what the Nanooks need, to focus on playing well, improving every day, and breaking the cycle of losing in Fairbanks. Besides, anything can happen in the CCHA. Just ask Ferris State, Bowling Green, or Western Michigan.
Said coach Dallas Ferguson, “For our group, there was certainly a sense of disappointment. We all expected to not be where we were. Instead of focusing in on that, we wanted to learn from that experience to make us better this season.”