USCHO.com’s Division III men’s poll expanded from 10 to 15 teams this season, beginning with the recently released preseason poll. Look for a new poll each Monday. To kick things off, here’s a brief outlook for the top 15 teams in the nation.
1. Norwich — The Cadets were less than two minutes away from a national title last March, and are the favorites to win it all this season. Norwich returns its top nine scorers including Kurt McLean, who was an All-American as a freshman last season, scoring 52 points.
“It’s an honor to be first,” said head coach Mike McShane. “I figured we’d be up there somewhere, but there are 10 or 11 teams that could be No. 1 as well.”
The Cadets are solid on defense, losing just one regular blueliner, and Norwich returns both of its main goalies, senior Randy Hevey and sophomore Kevin Shieve. The duo have a total of 76 games under their belts and combined for a GAA of just 1.64 last season.
2. Wisconsin-Superior — Are the defending national champions getting enough respect? The Yellowjackets are ranked second in both the USCHO national poll and the NCHA preseason poll.
Superior returns most of its firepower, including Chris Hackett, (10-32-42), Josh Liebenow (14-29-43) and NCAA hero Colin Kendall (19-22-41). Nate Ziemski is back between the pipes as well.
The main question mark is the Jackets blueline corps, which lost a lot of experience to graduation.
“We had to recruit five new defensemen to replace the four we lost from last year’s championship team,” says Stauber. “Those four defensemen provided a lot of leadership, and that is hard to replace. We only recruited three new forwards. We feel that our strength will be in our offense in returning our top goal scorers.”
3. RIT — The Tigers will need to overcome the loss of Division III Player of the Year Jerry Galway, but return most of their offense as well as goaltender Tyler Euverman. Coach Wayne Wilson has brought in the largest recruiting class in his tenure, including five new defensemen to complement four upperclassmen.
“I feel really good about our team this season,” Wilson said. “We’re much deeper in goal than we have been since I got here, and we have a mature defense.
“The trademark of this team has always been offense. We lost some good role players up front, some chemistry players, but most of our offense is intact from last season.”
4. St. Norbert — The Green Knights have something to prove this season. After going undefeated in league play last year, something done only once before in the history of the NCHA, St. Norbert lost in the conference playoffs and then again in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
The good news for Green Knights fans is that this team may be the best set of Green Knights yet.
“When you add a couple of very talented freshmen with a lot of depth, by position this is the deepest we’ll have been since I’ve been here,” said head coach Tim Coghlin.
St. Norbert returns 75 percent of its offense, including 2001-2002 NCHA Player of the Year Maris Ziedins (21-20-41).
5. Middlebury — The Panthers will go this year without head coach Bill Beaney, who is taking a one-year sabbatical. Assistant Bill Sinclair will take over in the interim, but don’t expect much change in the traditional Middlebury system that stresses defense and speed.
It’s the defense that has the most gaps to fill with the graduation of goaltender Christian Carlsson (1.39 GAA), who played in all 29 games last season. Also gone is All-American defenseman Matt Dunn (33 points last season).
Juniors Adam Foote and Kevin Cooper lead an offense that returns four of its top five scorers.
6. Plattsburgh — Will the loss of all-everything goaltender Nik Sundberg and sparkplug Mark Colletta topple the Cardinals from atop the SUNYAC? Not likely. Plattsburgh was again the unanimous choice to win the league in the SUNYAC coaches preseason poll.
Playmaker Jason Kilcan (10-31-41) and sniper Brendan Hodge (121 career points) lead the offense, while hard-hitting Peter Ollari leads a group of four veteran defensemen.
The key for coach Bob Emery is to find a replacement for Sundberg — big skates to fill. Backup Tony Seariac only had four starts last season. He’ll battle recruit Curtis Cribbe, who played over 2,600 minutes in juniors last year.
7. St. Thomas — When last seen, the Tommies were dropping a hard-fought 2-1 decision to eventual champions Wisconsin-Superior in the first ever NCAA “play-in game” in Division III.
The MIAC champions should have been granted a quarterfinal series with a lower-seeded opponent, but that’s in the past now.
The main issue for head coach Terry Skrypeck as he continues his march towards the 300-win mark (287-126-26) is how to replace five seniors, including MIAC Player of the Year and All-American Tony Lawrence (22-27-49). Combined with the graduation of Eric Wenkus, the Tommies lose almost 50 percent of their offense.
The defense looks solid with the return of Drew Palmgren (7-17-24) and Bryan Skrypek (6-13-19), and goaltender Bob Tallarico returns for his senior campaign.
8. Bowdoin — Bowdoin was the last undefeated team to fall in college hockey last season (16-0-3 start), but lost six of its last eight, including two shutout losses to Norwich in the NCAA quarterfinals.
The Polar Bears are rich in defense, returning five of six, as well as workhorse netminder Mike Healey (2.16 GAA)
If Bowdoin can compensate for the loss of NESCAC Player of the Year Mike Carosi, and six other seniors, who combined accounted for 40 percent of the Polar Bears’ offense.
9. Elmira — The Soaring Eagles were perhaps the best team not to make the NCAA tournament last season, victims of a selection process that grants just one bid to teams from the ECAC West and MCHA combined.
Will two hearbreaking, last-second losses to RIT last season help or hinder Elmira as it takes to the ice this season?
“Those were some of the best games in college hockey last season,” said head coach Tim Ceglarski. “But it’s in the past now. We have a different team this season, and so does RIT.”
The main difference — no Steve Kaye this season.
“You can’t replace a player like Steve Kaye,” said Ceglarski. “But we have some good leadership and guys ready to step up,”
As opposed to Bowdoin, Elmira returns most of its offense, but will need new players to gel quickly after losing three veteran defenseman and both starting goaltenders.
10. Wisconsin-Stevens Point — The Pointers were one of the hottest teams around at the end of last season (10-2-2 in its last 14 games) but an 8-7 record before that cost home ice in the semifinals, where Point lost to Wisconsin-Superior in overtime.
The Pointers were a young team last season (15 freshmen), following a typical pattern: take a while to gel, come on strong, but lose in the postseason due to lack of experience.
That shouldn’t be a problem this season. A nice mix of seniors (Zenon Kochan, Nick Glander, Joel Marshall, John Strassman) and sophomores (Mike Brolsma, Ryan Kirchoff, Sean Leahy) make the Pointers a serious contender.
UWSP’s main concern will be replacing goaltender Rob Gould, who finished as the second-winningest netminder in school history.
11. Wisconsin-River Falls — The Falcons return virtually intact this season, losing just two role players from last season.
“Our hockey team is better,” Freeman said. “Whether that’s enough to take another step remains to be seen. We are confident, we have a veteran team and expect to perform at a high level.”
Two-time All-America defenseman Adam Kragthorpe leads the defense, backstopped by experienced netminder Jacque Vezina.
Up front, UWRF returns 90 percent of its offense, including leading scorer Josh Shipp (17-12-29).
12. Oswego — The Lakers have been poised to knock the Plattsburgh Cardinals off their perch for several seasons, but have come up short each time. Picked again to finish second in the SUNYAC in the preseason coach’s poll, the Lakers may have their best chance in recent memory to finish on top.
Oswego returns eight of its top 10 scorers, including Andy Rozak, who led the team with 33 points last season as a freshman.
The goaltending tandem of Joe Loftberg and Tyson Gajda are back, but the Lakers will have a new look on defense, with three freshmen complementing four veterans.
13. Manhattanville — The Variants are in their fourth season, and have tasted a lot of success for such a young program, going 17-7-3 last season and making the ECAC West championship game the season before.
With 22 returning players, this will be the most experienced team in the ECAC West.
“This is the most talented and experienced team yet,” said head coach Keith Levinthal. “We went from zero to being pretty good, but there’s a big difference between pretty good and very good, and that’s the next step we need to take.”
Main goaltender Jon Peczka has decided not to join the team for his senior year, so senior Jeremy Hill, junior Chad Killam and freshman Jay Chrapala will have to step up.
14. Trinity — The Bantams were an overtime goal away from advancing to the NCAA tournament last season, losing to Middlebury in the NESCAC championship game.
The gaping hole left by graduating Geoff Faulkner (1.93 GAA in 23 games) will need to be filled. Other than that, the future looks bright, with Trinity bringing back four of its top five scorers, including three sophomores.
15. Gustavus Adolphus — The Golden Gusties are another team that was an overtime goal away from the nationals, a 3-2 loss to St. Thomas in the MIAC championship game. That was the only game the team lost in the months of February and March last season, and Gustavus will try to build on that momentum.
Departing seniors scored a grand total of one goal last season, so the Gusties return essentially intact, including their entire defensive and goaltending corps.