With three teams in the top 15 of the preseason USCHO.com poll and seven members of the Preseason All-USCHO first and second teams, the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association is arguable the strongest conference in Division III hockey.
King of the Hill
Even though St. Norbert won their fourth consecutive NCHA regular season title and third straight Peters Cup, most of the talk concerning the Knights’ season was their NCAA Quaterfinal loss to St. Thomas.
The Green Knights (3-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHA) are returning all but three of their players who suffered through that stunning loss, so will the bitterness from that loss carry over to this season?
“We have not talked about the St. Thomas game at all, we really haven’t,” coach Tim Coghlin said. “I guess when I reflect back on it, that’s where I ask myself, ‘Okay, if our depth is so good and the supporting cast around Jason Deitsch and Ryan Tew is so strong, where were those guys in that 3-2 loss?’That’s where the questions come in for this year.”
While depth will be crucial for St. Norbert, the Knights will also have to find a way to replace Deitsch and Tew, who both graduated. Deitsch was a three-time All-American and the all-time leading scorer at St. Norbert, and Ryan Tew was also a three-time All-American and, “Arguably the best defensemen that’s ever played here,” according to Coghlin.
Coghlin said that those two men were relied on in nearly every situation imaginable over the past three years, from being two men up on the power play to down two men on the penalty kill, Deitsch and Tew were the go-to guys.
Senior captain Connor Hughes will be relied on even more, with Deitsch and Tew no longer to around to share the load.
“I think he’s been the most underrated player on our roster for the last two years,” Coghlin said. “He’s our world. He does everything for us He seems to have a knack to score big goals when we need ‘em. I mean, he’s clearly one of those guys I think that’s gonna step forward.”
Spencer Carbery may be one to step up as well. Carbery scored 11 points in conference play last season and has been named to the Preseason All-USCHO West First Team. Joining him on the All-USCHO teams are Hughes and sophomore goalie Kyle Jones, who were both named to the West Second Team.
Jones will play a huge roll on this year’s squad, because while St. Norbert was averaging 4.57 goals per game last season to lead the NCHA, they were also keeping opponents to a league-low 1.79 goals per game.
Jones took over the starting job part way through the season and posted mind-boggling numbers. He led the league with 9-0-1 conference record and five shutouts. He didn’t fair too badly against the rest of the competition and compiled a 17-1-1 overall record. His 1.15 GAA and .950 save percentage were all tops in the league.
Jones is 2-0-0 in two games played this season, allowing only two goals in 90 minutes of action, but he’s only faced 23 shots.
“When you’re a goaltender, and you’re only facing 15, 16, 17 shots a night, I think that’s a tough place to play,” Coghlin said. “I think Kyle has demonstrated that he can do that.”
The Knights will return much of that stingy defense that keeps their opponents from reaching the night, but that defense will be without their anchor, Ryan Tews.
Besides Tew, St. Norbert returns most of their experienced defensive core, including junior Andrew Derton, who is leading St. Norbert, and is tied for the Division III lead with eight points this season.
The Knights are ranked second in the preseason USCHO poll, but Coghlin is making no guarantees about the upcoming season.
“I think personally we’re a little bit overrated right now,” Coghlin said. “I look at us as yes, we have some upside, but we do have a long ways to go.”
St. Norbert will get an early indication of how they good they are as they travel to take on No. 5 St. John’s in Collegeville, Minn. on Friday, November 4.
Superior Staying With The Pack
If the seventh-ranked Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets hope to improve upon last year’s 9-2-3 conference record, and beat perennial power St. Norbert, they will have to find a way to replace three of their four leading scorers, and four other seniors, who as a class combined for 90 of Superior’s 155 points last season.
Michael Wiggins was second in the NCHA with 22 points and a league-leading 13 goals, seven of which were with the man advantage. Teammate Kyle Nosan was second on the squad with 18 points and Dale Lupul was fourth with 17 points and a team-high 16 assists.
“Obviously they helped us tremendously last year,” coach Dan Stauber said. “We’re gonna miss them but we have to move on It’s hard to replace those guys but there’s always someone that steps up.”
Superior (1-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHA) had eight freshmen on last year’s roster, but those eight only managed 16 points between them.
“Offensively it’s going to Myles Palliser, Jay Dardis and Colin Giuguet,” Stauber said. “Derek Miller should us out quite a bit from a defensive standpoint.”
While it may be a question of who’s going to be scoring goals for the Yellowjackets, there is no question as to who will be keeping them out.
Senior Mathieu Bonnelly and junior Baron Bradley split time in conference games last season. Bonnelly posted a 5-1-1 record with a 2.12 GAA and a .921 save percentage. Bradley put up similar numbers, finishing with a 4-1-2 record with a 2.21 GAA and a .912 save percentage. But so far this season, Bradley is the only one to see time.
“Our goaltending situation is still kind of up in the air right now,” Stauber said. “Baron’s gonna play Friday night and we’ll see what happens.”
Superior travels to take on Hamline and Bethel this weekend. Look for Bethel to make the game interesting for the Yellowjackets.
As for success in the long-run, Stauber summed it up best.
“We gotta gel together we have to be a team,” Stauber said. “I think if we can get good solid goaltending and play sound defensively and wait for our offensive opportunities, I think we’ll be able to be successful.”
Life Without Larson
Like the Green Knights and Yellowjackets, No. 13 Wisconsin-River Falls Falcons will have to do without their leading scorer from 2004-2005.
River-Falls (2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHA) finished 9-5-0 in the NCHA last season, thanks in large to senior Garrett Larson. Larson led the Falcons with 19 points and a team-high 10 goals.
One man who step up and fill that void is sophomore Tyler Dahl. Dahl was second on the team with 18 points and a team-high 12 assists. But most likely it will be “scoring by committee” rather than one person taking charge for River-Falls.
“I think we’ve got a couple recruits that are gonna be pretty good players as far as putting the puck in the net,” coach Steve Freeman said. “Losing (Larson) is tough, we lost 20 goals, but I think we’ve got some guys that can fill that in with 10 or 12 goals here and there.”
Freeman mentioned that his defense, who ranked third in the NCHA, giving up 2.50 goals a game, took a few hits as well. Now it will be up to five freshmen defenders to keep the pressure off of the Falcons’ goaltenders.
“I think we brought in some pretty good players,” Freeman said. “But the question is, how fast can they adjust to the pace of college hockey and especially in the NCHA when we get into the heat of the battle?”
River-Falls also got a veteran defender back in Mike Salmela. Salmela left the program two years to pursue some medical school endeavors, but has come back for his senior year, and will hopefully be able to help the young defenders adjust to the college level.
While the Falcons may have an inexperienced defensive unit, their goaltenders are anything but.
Senior Dan Meneghin had a 4-3-0 conference record and compiled a 2.42 GAA and .924 save percentage. But it was senior Andy Scanlon who was the big game goalie. Scanlon finished 5-2-0 in the NCHA with a 2.31 GAA and a .919 save percentage. River-Falls also brought in freshman A.J. Bucchino, who played for the Des Moine