Editor’s note: this is the second half of USCHO.com’s CCHA season preview, including team previews for Michigan, Michigan State, Northern Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Miami. Included in Part I are a league overview and previews for the remaining six teams.
The air is crisper but the debate is still hot, and isn’t it nice that the national media finally figured out what CCHA fans have known all along, that Michigan and Ohio could go either way?
Too bad they haven’t caught on to Indiana. Add that state, and you’ve got enough intrigue to last an entire campaign.
Last week, we took an in-depth look at the six teams pollsters think will be traveling come March. Even with Nebraska-Omaha’s 7-0 exhibition shutout of Manitoba, little has changed in seven days to swing the voters.
It’s no surprise that Michigan, the regular-season incumbent, tops not merely the CCHA coaches and media polls, but the USCHO national poll as well. The Wolverines added just two players to their 2004-05 roster, giving them a clear edge.
But their instate rivals, Michigan State and Northern Michigan, also return veteran squads, and now that Rick Comley and Walt Kyle are each entering their third seasons, their teams should be well adjusted and ready to run.
Ohio State, Miami, and Notre Dame each graduated large senior classes, but each also brings in talented newcomers to bolster already gifted teams.
You can bet that at least one of these teams has a clear exit strategy. Here’s a look at the predicted top six CCHA teams, in order of expected finish, sixth through first. Click on any team for a full preview.
6. Notre Dame
Head coach: Dave Poulin, 10th season
2003-04 record: 20-15-4, 14-11-3 CCHA
2003-04 CCHA finish: fifth
Predicted ceiling/basement: third/eighth
The issues: The Fighting Irish lose an even third of their overall goal production from the 2003-04 season with the graduation of just two players, Rob Globke and Aaron Gill. There are scorers returning, but with a young defense, it’s a good thing that Notre Dame packs the best one-two goaltending punch in the league, if not the country: David Brown and Morgan Cey. “Some nights I may go with both of them at the same time and only four skaters,” says Poulin. “That would be an option.”
Head coach: Enrico Blasi, sixth season
2003-04 record: 23-14-4, 17-8-3 CCHA
2003-04 CCHA finish: second
Predicted ceiling/basement: second/seventh
The issues: Miami returns without three of the CCHA’s top scorers for 2003-04, Derek Edwardson, Greg Hogeboom, and Mike Kompon. But the RedHawks have an uber-talented sophomore class as well as veteran leadership. Consistency is what Miami needs, and Blasi knows it. “That’s our goal, to make sure that the highs aren’t too high and the lows aren’t too low.” That and avoiding the curse of Coach of the Year.
4. Ohio State
Head coach: John Markell, 10th season
2003-04 record: 26-16-0, 16-12-0 CCHA
2003-04 CCHA finish: fourth
Predicted ceiling/basement: second/seventh
The issues: Like the RedHawks and Fighting Irish, the Buckeyes graduated an influential senior class but return talent with every class and add outstanding recruits. The Bucks captured the 2003-04 CCHA postseason championship, their first title since 1972, and have added motivation this season as host of the 2005 Frozen Four. “It should be a tremendous year for college hockey fans in Columbus, Ohio,” says Markell. Note the emphasis on college.
Head coach: Walt Kyle, third season
2003-04 record: 21-16-4, 13-13-2 CCHA
2003-04 CCHA finish: seventh
Predicted ceiling/basement: second/sixth
The issues: The Wildcats had a rocky ride to the Super Six last season, with the injury loss of senior goaltender Craig Kowalski along the way, and a difficulty in finding the net consistently. Not to worry, though; NMU returns nearly everyone except K-Wall this year, but Tuomas Tarkki proved himself at the end of last season, and sophomore Bill Zaniboni will push Tarkki. “We’re going to toss the ball to those two guys and let them fight it out and see who wins the role,” says Kyle.
Head coach: Rick Comley, third season at MSU, 29th year overall
2003-04 record: 23-17-2, 17-9-2 CCHA
2003-04 CCHA finish: third
Predicted ceiling/basement: first/fourth
The issues: After a slow start, a late-season rally, and a wretched showing in postseason play, the Spartans have something to prove. Fortunately for MSU, most of last year’s talented squad returns, and two players who perhaps didn’t want to toe Comley’s line have departed early. Says Comley, “We’ve had to live all summer with the disappointment in the playoffs.”
Head coach: Red Berenson, 21st season
2003-04 record: 27-14-2, 18-8-2 CCHA
2003-04 CCHA finish: first
Predicted ceiling/basement: first/third
With a team that can skate, defend, and score, the Wolverines are poised to make a run at the national championship, not just the CCHA title. Add for effect exceptional coaching and the motivation of losing the Mason Cup to Ohio State falling short of the Frozen Four. “The bar is set high,” says Berenson, “and when I look at our team this year, we could have a good team.”