Commonly overshadowed by the NCHA and MIAC, the MCHA is a conference looking to fully establish itself not only in the West Region, but nationally. In terms of recognition, Milwaukee School of Engineering carried the league on its back last season. Finishing with a 21-5-1 record, including victories over Lake Forest and Babson and a tight loss to St. Norbert, the Raiders earned the respect of many — not only for themselves but for the league as a whole. Late last season, MSOE even cracked the top 15 of the USCHO.com/CSTV poll, a rare occurrence for a MCHA team.
There is no question MSOE is an overwhelming favorite to win the league again this year, but in a league that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past five seasons, nothing is a certainty. This year the MCHA will flash a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new as it continues a rise to what many around the league hope is an eventual state of prominence.
In a rather rare occurrence in college athletics, the MCHA boasts two teams who did not graduate a single player last year. Marian and Finlandia, last season’s second and third place finishers respectively, return their entire rosters for the 06-07 campaign. The returning experience should be a boost for the Sabres and Lions as they both look to hunt down MSOE and claim the top spot.
Unfortunately for them, MSOE also returns most of their team. Losing only one key player in forward James Shipley, the Raiders enter the season with an experienced club of which a majority of their players have already played for, and won, MCHA regular season and playoff championships.
The biggest MCHA news this offseason came from two teams that will not officially be joining the league until 2007-08. Announced on Oct. 24, Concordia University, located in Mequon, Wis., was officially accepted into the league. The Falcons will be coached by former North Dakota standout Tony Hrkac.
It was then announced on Oct. 26 that Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan will also begin MCHA play in 2007-08. Adrian also announced the hiring of current Bowling Green (D-I — CCHA) assistant coach Ron Fogarty as their new head coach.
Aside from the implicit benefit in adding two more committed programs to the league, the biggest impact of this expansion is that the MCHA will enter the 2007-08 season with seven Division III programs. As seven is the magic number for conferences when it comes to earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, MCHA league commissioner Terry Brand has announced intentions to begin the application process for NCAA conference recognition. With official conference recognition would come a potential automatic NCAA berth for the MCHA Champion, an occurrence which would drastically increase the league’s visibility.
As a result of this, Minn.-Crookston has requested divisional reclassification with the NCAA. If Crookston’s bid to reclassify as a Division III team is successful, the Golden Eagles would become eligible for NCAA Division III postseason play. Also if successful, the MCHA would increase its membership to eight Division III teams, making the move the final chapter in the solidification of a league that as recently as 1999 only had four member institutions.
Other news this offseason saw Mike Szkodzinski accept the head coaching position at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. A former All-American goaltender with St. Norbert of the NCHA, Szkodzinski joins the Vikings after assistant coaching stints with Wis.-Eau Claire and St. Norbert.
The Really New
The MCHA and the NCAA tournament? Having never placed a team in the NCAA tournament, tournament talk is not something usually surrounding the MCHA. MSOE proved last year however that it is not an impossible task. If MSOE is able to run the table once again in the league, keep an eye on these dates:
Oct. 27, Oct. 28, Nov. 25, Nov. 26, Jan. 6
These are the dates MSOE plays teams from out of conference. Their opponents in those games are Lake Forest, Gustavus Adolphus, St. Norbert and either Wis.-Stout or Neumann. The Raiders were in the NCAA discussion until late last season but fell out once their record against ranked teams was taken into account. If they are able to not only dominate the league, but fare exceedingly well in these non-conference games, MSOE could very well be in the running for an at large berth to the tournament.
Speculation indeed, but if the Raiders pick up a few out-of-conference victories, this situation will be worth following as the season wears on.
Though the MCHA continues to grow and improve, for now we are still left with a stratified league with a clear favorite, a few other teams who could step up and challenge, and a few teams looking to make drastic improvements. Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the league along with this season’s projected finish.
2006-07 MCHA (In Reverse Order of Predicted Finish)
Click on any team name at the top of a section below to view its individual season preview.
Head Coach: Steve Fabiilli, 2nd year overall and at Northland (3-23-0)
2005-06 Overall Record: 3-23-0
2005-06 MCHA Record: 3-17-0 (6th in MCHA)
Key Returners: F Jim Junker, sr. (9-13-22)
Key Losses: F Jeff Affleck (11-15-26); F Winston Bothner (7-13-20); F Aaron Wallace (9-8-17); F Ryan Potts (9-6-15)
2006-07 Projected Finish: Sixth
Outlook: As Steve Fabiili enters his second season as head coach of the Lumberjacks, it’s clear his program has nowhere to go but up. The Lumberjacks have posted a record of 17-106-4 over the past five seasons, and have been firmly planted in the MCHA cellar.
Head Coach: Gary Warren, 6th season overall and at Minn.-Crookston (59-67-10)
2005-06 Overall Record: 6-18-2
2005-06 MCHA Record: 6-13-1 (5th in MCHA)
Key Returners: F Matt Hann, jr. (13-18-31); F Teal Plaine, sr. (15-13-28); F/D Ryan Leadens, sr. (9-15-24); F Brent Groenke, jr. (11-7-18)
Key Losses: F Patrick Knudson (17-14-31)
2006-07 Projected Finish: Fifth
Outlook: The Golden Eagles are only two seasons removed from back-to-back MCHA tournament championships. After falling on harder times over the past to years, Crookston will attempt to get back to the top with vastly revamped lineup.
Head Coach: Mike Szkodzinski, 1st year at overall and at Lawrence (0-0-0)
2005-06 Overall Record: 9-14-4
2005-06 MCHA Record: 7-9-4 (4th in MCHA)
Key Returners: F Joe Searl, sr. (9-16-25); F David Olynyk, sr. (11-12-23); F Nick Jennette, so. (8-13-21); D Josh Peterson, so. (4-13-17)
Key Losses: F Pete Mossberg (10-13-23)
2006-07 Projected Finish: Fourth
Outlook: Entering his first season as coach of the Vikings, Mike Szkodzinski is more than excited about the prospects of the Lawrence program.
Head Coach: Joe Burcar, 5th season overall and at Finlandia (23-39-5)
2005-06 Overall Record: 10-13-3
2005-06 MCHA Record: 9-8-3 (3rd in MCHA)
Key Returners: F Josh Paquette, jr. (15-22-37); F Joe Lewis, jr. (13-16-29); F Mike Parks, so. (11-13-24); F Jason Aldrich, jr. (11-9-20); F Ryan Sullivan, so. (9-10-19)
Key Losses: None
2006-07 Projected Finish: Third
Outlook: The Lions enter their third season in the MCHA hoping to continue the progress they have made in their first two. Following up a fourth place finish in their inaugural season with a third place finish last year, Finlandia returns every single player from last season which is reason enough to instill hope in head coach Joe Burcar.
Head Coach: Jasen Wise, 3rd season overall and at Marian (24-29-3)
2005-06 Overall Record: 14-12-1
2005-06 MCHA Record: 13-6-1 (2nd in MCHA)
Key Returners: F Andrew Corvo, sr. (11-19-30); F Billy Schill, so. (11-16-27); F Bill Griffore Jr., so. (12-12-24)
Key Losses: F Chad Little, sr. (15-16-31);D Matthew Bobo (11-16-27)
2006-07 Projected Finish: Second
Outlook: After taking over an undermanned program three years ago, head coach Jasen Wise has been able to turn the Sabres into one of the most formidable teams in the MCHA. With no losses to graduation following last season, it’s reasonable to assume Marian may continue their climb up the MCHA ladder.
Head Coach: Mark Ostapina, 12th season overall and 6th at MSOE (128-150-12 overall, 65-66-4 at MSOE)
2005-06 Overall Record: 21-5-1
2005-06 MCHA Record: 17-2-1 (1st in MCHA)
Key Returners: F Brian Soik, sr. (21-24-45); F Lee Swallow, jr. (16-29-45); F Blair Hanberg, so. (20-19-39); F Michael Duta, sr. (15-19-34); D Ken Walter, jr. (5-11-16); D Jason Woll, so. (2-12-14); D Jason Yolo, so. (2-8-10)
Key Losses: F James Shipley (8-23-31); D Luke Hasbargen (1-6-7)
2006-07 Projected Finish: First