Every season across Division III hockey it seems that parity becomes more and more prevalent. As one coach put it, it used to be that you could look at your schedule and pencil in six to seven games as ones that youd win; now you look at it and its maybe one to two.
This past season saw four MIAC teams separated by a whopping three points. With teams near the top losing in some cases significant scoring or goaltending and teams near the bottom returning most of their team, that makes this season even more wide open.
This is easily one of my favorite times of the season. Some teams have a game or two under their belt while others are gearing up to start their seasons in a week or so. Will powerhouse teams be able to rebuild and hold off everyone else? Or will a solid team put it all together and steal the show?
One of my favorite quotes is one attributed to the late Herb Brooks: When I look at a clean sheet of ice, all I see are possibilities.
Right now is the clean sheet time in college hockey when people are full of expectations, hopes, and dreams. Theyre getting ready to drop the puck to see where those possibilities will lead.
This is my first season covering the MIAC for USCHO, but its nowhere near my first following D-III hockey. The MIAC this season is one of the most wide open conferences Ive seen since I began following the league.
Each of these teams could easily finish two to three spots above or below where
Ive picked them, so I might be better served picking names out of a hat than trying to rationalize out where I think theyll finish. The league is that close together right now.
That said, here are my predicted picks (in reverse order of finish) for the 2009-2010 MIAC campaign.
St. Marys Cardinals
Head Coach: Bill Moore, 3rd season overall and at St. Marys (19-30-2)
2008-09 Overall Record: 4-20-1
2008-09 MIAC Record: 3-12-1 (9th)
Key Returners: F Mike Glaesmer, jr., (8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points); D A.J. Woodward, jr., (4-10-14)
Key Losses: None
2009-10 Projected Finish: Ninth.
Its been six years since St. Marys finished above .500 or made the MIAC playoffs. Despite only losing three players from last years team to graduation, this does not look to be the year the Cardinals break that streak.
Last season St. Marys had the worst defense in MIAC play, giving up 5.81 goals per game. They also had the second worst offense in the league, scoring 2.88 goals per game.
While this seems bleak, the Cardinals do return the lions share of last years team. If players such as Morgan Shepherd (0-5-5 last season) can find their scoring touch again (13-13-26 two years ago) and the other returning players continue to develop, St. Marys should be able to stay in games where they were overmatched last season.
While it has been a while since St. Marys last postseason appearance, coach Bill Moore remembers better days. While this is his second consecutive season behind the bench, he also served as interim coach in 1989-90.
One thing we want to do this year is come at it with a new attitude, and compete every day for the entire game, which is something we may have lacked a little bit last season.
The area with the biggest room for improvement is in net. While the Cardinals return a senior goaltender, two incoming freshmen will be fighting for the starting job.
All in all, while it looks like it may be another season to recruit and rebuild, the Cardinals opponents would do well not to overlook them. Last seasons team managed upset victories over University of Wisconsin-River Falls as well as a season ending win over St. Johns that kept the Johnnies out of the MIAC playoffs.
While I do not see the Cardinals making the postseason this season, it does hold a lot of potential for them. With another season to work under coach Browns system and leadership from players such as senior defensemen Jeff Miller and Nick Carlson, this team should be improved over last years squad. They should be in more games and in position to surprise any team expecting to win without their opponent playing full bore.
Unfortunately though, with the MIAC getting better as a whole, improving as a team doesnt necessarily mean a climb up the standings.
St. Johns Johnnies
Head Coach: Doug Schueller, 2nd Season Overall and at St. Johns (10-14-1)
2008-09 Overall Record: 10-14-1
2008-09 MIAC Record: 7-8-1 (6th)
Key Returners: F Mike Wallgren, jr., (7-11-18); D Brent Broderson, jr., (6-12-18); F Grant Ellena, so., (9-6-15)
Key Losses: F Jake Hipp (12-10-22); F Pat Connelly (11-6-17), F Brian Baker (9-8-17); F Clayton Rehm (1-15-16); G Vince Wheeler (10-9-1, 3.00, .903)
2009-10 Projected Finish: Eighth.
If you want an example of how close the MIAC was last year, I present to you the 2008-2009 St. Johns Johnnies!
Last season St. Johns finished two points behind fifth place and the last MIAC playoff spot. Over the season, the Johnnies lost seven games by one goal, including four conference games.
With a few more lucky bounces their way, they could have been fighting for the top spot in the league going into their last game of the season, instead of needing a win to reach the playoffs.
However they also won six games by one goal, including five conference games. That means that with a few more bad bounces against them over the season, instead of having a shot at a playoff spot coming into the last weekend, they could have been in eighth place and looking forward to the next season.
Every game in this conference is important. Every odd bounce of the puck, lack of hustle, or fluky goal can mean the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
Will St. Johns have the puck luck to rise above the parity and return to the top of the MIAC? While its certainly possible with the league looking closer than ever this season, I picked them finishing closer to the bottom than the top.
The Johnnies lose significant parts of last years team. Three of their top four goal scorers? Gone. Their top goalie? Gone.
After losing that scoring and their top netminder, the team will be looking to rely on their defense early on, and luckily that is the one area of the team that mostly returns intact. Gone to graduation is Lance Wheeler, who manned the blue line in all 25 games for the team last year; after him though, the team returns all of their defensemen.
Brent Broderson returns for his junior year after playing defense in all his teams games last season, as well as finishing tied for second in the team in scoring.
Returning with him are forwards Mike Wallgren and Grant Ellena, the teams top returning goal scorers (seven and nine goals, respectively). Also returning after missing half of last season is Gabriel Harren, who coach Doug Schueller is hoping will have a good full season.
We always take a lot of pride in our offensive zone play, and Im looking for us to improve some more in this area in order to play more of the game in the offensive end of the rink, he said.
The Johnnies will almost certainly be depending on returning players early on in the season while the team figures out the goaltending situation and new players get their skates under them. With returning players having more experience under Schuellers system, one or two impact freshmen may be all it takes to push the Johnnies up the standings into the playoffs.
If the Johnnies can get solid goaltending to replace Wheeler (who saw all but some 300 minutes of ice time last season), they could be in the mix for the playoffs again this season. If their goaltending is shaky, though, they are going to need to get a lot of offensive output to match their sixth place finish