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October 7, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Things to Watch

Plenty of Intrigue Surrounds 2013-14

by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer

As we streamroll into 2013-14, there are some things you won't want to miss.

1. The Can’t Miss Games

There are, of course, many intriguing games on the schedule, especially early in the season with its heavy non-conference schedule. Here are a few of the many contests

that, on paper, are primed to pique interest.

October 18: Quinnipiac at Massachusetts-Lowell. Both teams were, of course, Frozen Four participants a year ago, and many predicted this would be the national championship game last season in Pittsburgh. The Bobcats – though admittedly with a much different look – and River Hawks will square off in an early-season home-and-home weekend series. Lowell was picked to finish at the top of Hockey East this year and with additional games against Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State, the River Hawks have one of the more intriguing non-conference slates heading into the season.

October 18-19: North Dakota at Miami. New conference foes – and both with legitimate national championship hopes this season – face off in the NCHC opener for both teams.

November 8-9: Minnesota at Notre Dame. Among the many storylines for this game is that Minnesota head coach Don Lucia will coach against his son Mario, a sophomore for the Fighting Irish.

November 30: Cornell vs. Boston University. The Big Red and Terriers renew their rivalry in a location becoming familiar to both – Madison Square Garden. What will be decidedly unfamiliar, of course, will be the absence of Jack Parker behind the BU bench. Both teams have plenty of early season questions, and this game provides an opportunity for each to find some answers.

December 13-14: Denver at Rensselaer. By this time of the season, fans in Denver will have some sense of how they feel about new head coach Jim Montgomery. The Pioneers will have already played NCHC weekend series against Miami, Western Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha, and in-state rival Colorado College. And in this weekend nonconference series in upstate New York, Montgomery will coach against Seth Appert – who also interviewed for the Denver job after the sudden firing of George Gwozdecky last spring. After Montgomery landed the job at Denver, Appert signed a contract extension at Rensselaer through the 2020-21 season.

January 4: Notre Dame at Boston College. Though the programs are familiar with playing each other in nonconference games, this will be the first meeting with points in the Hockey East standings on the line.

January 10-11: Michigan at Wisconsin. Both programs will have already kicked off their Big Ten conference schedules, but this is the first meeting of the season between these storied programs – one (Michigan) having missed the NCAA tournament last season and the other (Wisconsin) having ended a mini-drought by the Badgers’ standards and making the NCAA tourney a year ago. The Wolverines and Badgers square off four times in three weeks in what could be pivotal Big Ten contests.

The Outdoor Games: There are a total of 10, from Minnesota, to Detroit’s Comerica Park (the Great Lakes Invitational), to Boston. And despite the naysayers who would rather stay indoors, these events never get old.

2. The New Normal

Soon enough, it will seem normal that Notre Dame plays in Hockey East, and that Wisconsin and Penn State face off in meaningful Big Ten matchups, just like they do on the football field. The first few weeks of the season, of course, will feel a little odd. Much has been said, speculated, and written, on this site and elsewhere, about the new landscape of college hockey – from the formation of the NCHC to the development of the Big Ten hockey conference. And beginning this week, all those changes come to fruition, at last creating that long-awaited “new normal” that, this year, will culminate in college hockey’s annual celebration, the Frozen Four, in Philadelphia.

With the change, of course, old rivalries will inevitably be rekindled and likely intensified (Denver and Colorado College in the NCHC for example, and Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten) while newer rivalries will have a chance to flourish.

The NCHC combines six former WCHA programs with two former CCHA programs, while the Big Ten joins Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Penn State (previously playing as an Independent) together. The WCHA, no longer with superpowers like the Gophers, Badgers, Sioux, and the like, will allow teams like Northern Michigan and Alaska – along with recent national championship runner-up Ferris State – a much more wide-open shot at the NCAA tournament – opening the door for those teams to make a run at the title.

3. The Title Defense

Speaking of which… Just six months ago, Yale completed one of the most improbable runs to the national championship in NCAA history – ultimately toppling rival Quinnipiac in an all-ECAC final that saw the Bulldogs rely on timely offense, steady defense, and surprising goaltending to raise the trophy in Pittsburgh. But can the Bulldogs repeat?

With many eyes – at least for now – on the defending champs in New Haven, Yale needs first and foremost to overcome the loss of graduated seniors Andrew Miller (F), Antoine Laganiere (F), and Jeff Malcolm (G), all of whom became household names last year – at least for one weekend in April. And despite the attention the Bulldogs will receive early in the season – with the raising of national championship banner at Ingalls Rink – it’s likely that head coach Keith Allain’s squad will quietly play through much of the first half of the season. Yale’s only nonconference games against non-ECAC schools, after all, are against Sacred Heart, Merrimack, Holy Cross, and Vermont – and many of these contests are unlikely to capture the nation’s attention. As a result, in the absence of big television contracts enjoyed by the NCHC, Big Ten, and Hockey East, Yale will embark on one of the more humble, quiet title defenses in recent memory – and in trying to recapture the magic of last year’s postseason, they’ll try to become just the fourth team since 1972 to repeat as national champions, joining Boston University (1971-72), Minnesota (2002-3), and Denver (2004-5).

Of course, Yale as the national champion was predicted by few, if any, prior to last season. Will another unheralded team – just like Minnesota-Duluth in 2011 and Yale last year – overcome the traditional superpowers to earn the national title? It’s a question worth pondering, and there are many teams – Lowell, Rensselaer, Minnesota State, and Providence – that seem poised to make a Yale-like run.

4. Year of the Forward?

Despite the strength of the returning goaltenders heading into the 2013-14 season – Jon Gillies (Providence), Stephon Williams (Minnesota State), Ryan McKay (Miami), Connor Hellebuyck (Lowell), Jason Kasdorf (Rensselaer) – the fact is, the returning class of forwards may be, on paper at least, much more prolific than last year’s. Considering that the likes of Austin Czarnik (Miami), Kenny Agostino (Yale), Kyle Rau (Minnesota), Greg Carey (St. Lawrence), Ryan Walters (Nebraska-Omaha), and Johnny Gaudreau (Boston College) all return to the ice for their respective teams this year, it’s reasonable to expect that the nation’s scoring leader will well-
surpass the 53 total points from last year’s leading point-scorer (Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College).

Even more importantly, many of the prolific scorers this season will likely be seasoned veterans, as almost two-thirds of Division I teams return their top scorers from 2012-13. And many of the names mentioned above – Gaudreau, Carey, and Agostino, most notably – could have signed with pro teams over the summer but instead decided to return to schools, hoping of course that their decision will pay dividends in the 13-14 campaign.

5. New Faces

Certainly, each team will welcome a new freshman class, and in a few months time, we’ll have a sense of who may be the next Riley Barber (39 points as a freshman for Miami last year), Kevin Roy (34 points for Northeastern), or Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck (led the nation in goals-against average, save percentage, shutouts, and winning percentage). But much sooner, we’ll also get to know a new crop of head coaches, as 10 percent of Division I teams welcome a new head coach behind the bench: David Quinn (Boston University), Jim Montgomery (Denver), Red Gendron (Maine), Steve Rohlik (Ohio State), Mike Cavanaugh (Connecticut), and Matt Thomas (Alaska-Anchorage).

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