If it weren’t for six months of golf since they last dropped the puck, many of the fans of the NCHA wouldn’t even know it was a new hockey season, to judge from the rosters.
Perennial powers Wisconsin-Stevens Point and St. Norbert both return 20-plus letterwinners from last season’s squads, Wisconsin-River Falls and Wisconsin-Superior both return 16.
The preseason Coaches’ Poll reflects this pretty directly:
Team (first-place votes) (1999-00 Record)
1. UW-Stevens Point (4) (23-7-1) 58
2. St. Norbert (3) (22-5-2) 56
3. UW-River Falls (16-9-4) 47
4. UW Superior (1) (24-10-1) 45
5. Lake Forest (15-11-0) 29
6. UW-Eau Claire (9 17-1) 25
7. St. Scholastica (6-21-0) 15
8. UW-Stout (5-21-1) 13
Team capsules follow, in the order of prediction by the coaches.
Coach Joe Baldarotta enters his 10th season (171-85-22) at the helm of the Pointers as the defending regular-season champion, with nearly the same lineup that won it last season. The Pointers return 23 of 27 letterwinners from last season, including seven of their top 10 scorers (Ryan Maxson 23-17-40, David Boehm 16-23-39, Mikhail Salienko 14-23-37, Josh Strassman 4-28-32, Matt Interbartolo 11-12-23, Marco Capizzano 7-11-18 and Zenon Kochan 6-10-16). The Pointers have plenty of leadership this season; the roster is chock-full of seniors with 12.
Goaltending is another strong suit for the Pointers, who return junior goalies Bob Gould and Dave Cinelli, both of which have shown that they can control a game from start to finish. Add to the mix redshirt freshman Ryan Scott and you’re looking at one of the strongest corps in the country.
Newcomers to the team include the transfer from Minot State-Bottineau, Kelly Kisell, former Stevens Point high-school standouts Nick Molski and David Lee, and defensemen Ernie Thorpe, a transfer from River Falls. All the newcomers look to see significant ice time for the Pointers this season.
Head coach Tim Couglin enters his eighth season (126-61-14) behind the bench for the Green Knights with his team in much the same position as the Pointers. The Knights return 24 of 29 letterwinners from the 1999-00 season, but one of the glaring omissions from the roster this year will be goaltender Mike Szkodzinski (32-9-4, 2.21 GAA, .971 SV%). Stepping into the crease this season will most likely be junior Derrick Myers (7-0, 1.94 GAA), though included in the goaltending mix are freshmen Chancy Colquhoun and Ryan Gill, who could see time in net if Myers doesn’t hold up.
The Knights’ offense should be there again this season, as they return 83% of their scoring from last year after losing just two players from the offense (Tommy Cianflone 9-30-39, and Jayce Politoski 14-12-26). Players to watch for the Knights this season are senior’s Adam Sedgwick (15-16-31), Patrick Gruber (7-17-24) and Shane Dickson (11-20-31). Not to be left out, the junior class will also be relied upon to put the puck in the net. Returning juniors Chris Bodnar (15-16-31), Wayne Brown (12-12-24) and Ryan Wempe (7-8-15) will be asked help out up front. Newcomers to the Knights this season are few, including Michael Buchan, Ryan Cooper and Faron Duthie up front and the lone defensive recruit Brian Youngson, who will most likely see some quality ice time this season.
After losing just two players to graduation, one would think that the Falcons would feel pretty good about their situation. Well, not exactly. Coach Steve Freeman (sixth season, 80-37-5) wasn’t entirely happy with the direction his team was going last season, so he brought in numerous recruits to try and shake things up at Hunt Arena.
Added to the Falcons this year are forwards Dan Miller, Matt Elsen, Brad Bolger, Jamie Steinert, Jess Johnson, and Rob Novak. On the blue line, Freeman adds Tyler Sawchyn, Joe Dustin and Erik Ste. Marie to an already strong defensive corps including Eliot Komar, Adam Kragthorpe, Ryan Saverine and Pat Gundersen.
Jacque Vezina returns to the Falcons as the starting goaltender after racking up a 12-8-2 record with a 2.92 GAA and .917 SV%. Freeman also added freshman goaltenders Landon Luther and Kris Unise to challenge Vezina for the starting spot.
Offense shouldn’t be a problem for Freeman this season as the Falcons return the scoring co-leader Shane Fukishima (16-25-41) and Jeff Bernard (17-20-37). Those two combined to score over half of the Falcons’ points last season.
First-year coach Dan Stauber takes over the reins of the Yellow Jackets this season following Steve Nelson’s resignation to take a position in the American West Hockey League. The good news is that Stauber is now the head coach for a perennial tournament power; the bad news is that the ‘Jackets have some big holes to fill this season.
Gone from last year’s squad are Tom Pink, Cint Johnson, Randy Barker, Kevin Paschal, Scott Wagner and Tim Walsh. Pink was the main man in goal and finished with a 20-9-1 record, a 2.39 GAA and a .916 save percentage. Paschal (8-25-33) led the team in scoring while Johnson (6-11-17), Barker (5-10-15), Wagner (14-14-28) and Walsh (5-9-14) added plenty of help.
The cupboard is far from bare, however. The ‘Jackets return seven seniors to this year’s team, led by Ivan Prokic (6-23-29). Others relied on to lead the team back to the tournament will be Chris Bell (1-8-9), Jeff Glowa (12-15-27), Bryan Grycan (5-5-10), Allen Hasbargen (13-15-28) — the squad’s third-leading scorer a year ago — Chad Matushak (2-4-6) and Eric Pitoscia (9-8-17).
With Pink gone, Stauber has four goaltenders on the roster to try and fill the void. Sophomore Nathan Ziemski leads the way, but will be challenged by freshmen Justin Wagner, Christian Oppel and Kip Martin.
Tony Fritz enters his 23rd season at the helm of the Foresters with a record of 250-277-22, by far the senior of the head coaches in the NCHA. The Foresters return all but three of their players from last season in hopes of improving upon their fifth-place finish.
Returning are the Foresters’ top four scorers in All-NCHA honorable mention Matt Bruni (15-15-30), David Evans (11-17-28), Frankie DeMasi (14-11-25) and James Austin (13-9-22). Senior defensemen back include honorable-mention Scott McClure (5-8-13) and Bruce Mutch (2-11-13). Goalies Mason Black (6-0, 2.68 GAA, .907 SV%) and Justin Howard (9-11, 3.88 GAA, .895 SV%) also return.
Newcomers to the Foresters this season include forwards Rob Bilcox, Andrew Fenton, Mike McKenna and Adrian Wong. On defense, the Foresters add Mark Grumetza and Beau Liewellyn.
Marlin Muylaert enters his sophomore season (9-17-1) as the head coach of the Blugolds looking to continue last season’s late success, at the end of which Eau Claire narrowly missed taking UW-Superior into overtime during the first round of the NCHA playoffs.
Muylaert will mix in a talented recruiting class with a solid core of veterans in an attempt to climb into the top four teams of the NCHA. Veteran returnees include forwards Adam Sklader (10-11-21), Troy Goodweiler (6-12-18), Chad James (8-17-25), Erik Strand (7-10-17), Jamie Minor 9-9-18), Joe Byrd (8-10-18) and Ian Sgambelluri (3-3-6). Defensemen Jeff Pradahl (0-4-4), Ben Hammargren (0-3-3), Tim Murphy (1-10-11) and Matt Plummer (0-0-0) will anchor the blue line, which is backstopped by goaltender Jon Walker (7-10-0, 3.84 GAA, .892 SV%).
Blue Devils head coach Terry Watkins opens his fifth year (30-74-4) with a basic premise.
“They have worked very hard so far,” said Watkins. “I think we will be a lot more blue-collar this season. There may be more talented teams out there, but no one will outwork us.”
The Blue Devil bench will be a bit more crowded this season as Watkins has added depth to his squad. Returning vets include Brad Weappa (10-4-14), Andy Anderson (3-5-8), Cullen Flaherty (3-10-13) and Matt Olson (0-2-2). Watkins hopes that newcomers Mitch Kellin, Dan Riffe, Nathan Legler, Cale Finseth and Dan Winkler will be able to step in and help out as the season winds along.
Goaltending is the one place that Watkins doesn’t have much controversy to handle. Justin Wiskie, an all-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) pick last season, returns, as does Ben Plester, who two seasons ago set the school record for goals-against average, then broke it last season.