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Conference Season Preview

College Hockey:
As NCHC dawns, conference season expected to be a test of stamina

RachelLewis USCHO 03312013 NCAAMidwestRegionalFinals Miami StCloudState 14 As NCHC dawns, conference season expected to be a test of stamina

Andrew Prochno and St. Cloud State beat Sean Kuraly and Miami for a spot in last season’s Frozen Four. The teams are expected to compete for the inaugural NCHC regular season title (photo: Rachel Lewis).

College hockey teams, regardless of which conference they’re in, beat up on each other through the regular season in order to obtain favorable spots in a postseason in which they’ll beat up on each other all over again.

In a league as powerful and competitive top to bottom as the new NCHC, though, it’s tough to tell in preseason how much the eight teams will have left in their tanks come playoff time.

That’s the view held by Bob Motzko, the St. Cloud State coach that guided the Huskies last season to a share of the regular season championship in the WCHA, traditionally one of Division I’s strongest leagues.

Six former WCHA member schools make up three-fourths of the NCHC: St. Cloud State, Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota.

All six teams have plenty of experience squaring off with each other on the ice. Now, though, they’ll also get to try to beat up on — and also be beaten up by — Miami and Western Michigan, two of the top three teams last season in the now-defunct CCHA.

“It’s almost silly to rank predictions for our eight teams,” Motzko said. “I don’t think you will find a league in the country that can be more balanced with eight programs as you do here, and I think it’s going to play out that way.

“Our schedule on paper, when you look at it, doesn’t look a whole lot different than it did in the past. The big change for us is we are going to Western Michigan and Miami on our schedule, and really you can’t think any more than you have to start the fight week-to-week, and we’re probably going to be a league that is very geared to [the NCHC] playoffs.

“We’re going to beat each other up all year long and you’re going to want to be playing your best hockey at the end of the season.”

Talk to any coach or player in the NCHC and they’ll tell a story similar to Motzko’s. Some, like Western Michigan coach Andy Murray, feel being in such a well-balanced league is what fans desire and what will make his young team this season better.

“We couldn’t take a night off in the CCHA, and we can’t now,” Murray said upon considering both the Broncos’ NCHC schedule as well as Western’s non-conference slate this season.

“We’re going to have tough games all the time, and our players are going to learn to thrive. And with 10 new players, we’re not letting them in the back door and tell them to pace themselves and find their way. If we do that, we’re going to be so far behind at the start of the year. So we’ve got a tough schedule but that’s what our fans want to see, and I believe that’s how we’re going to get better.”

Another view shared throughout the new league is that, while the landscape may be different going forward, how the teams prepare to earn the desired results will be much the same as before.

“We were used to playing in the WCHA, which is considered, year in and year out, to be the most competitive league in the country,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “And now we’re beginning a new chapter and will start new traditions in the NCHC just as other teams will in their own respective leagues.

“I expect the new NCHC to be as competitive top to bottom as any in the nation, so I don’t think our mentality or preparation will change a whole lot. I think the WCHA has prepared us very well to go into another very competitive league.”

Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said he feels the same way about how the WCHA prepared his band of Bulldogs for life in their new conference.

“I think the competitive standpoint is obviously going to be very similar,” Sandelin said. “I think the difference is that we are going to be playing each other more than we did in the WCHA with some teams.

“The schedule was certainly significant in some years, depending on who you played. I think this is certainly going to make it more difficult week in and week out to win hockey games, but at the same time, that’s the exciting part. I think that is the challenge we are looking forward to. I think when you play a strong schedule, it forces you to get better quickly.”

With as strong as the NCHC is, then, it’s hardly a cliché to say every league game matters.

“I felt [the strength of the WCHA] was a big reason that our league then had some success, and I think this league will have the same thing, too, with everybody pushing each other,” Sandelin said.

“The unfortunate thing is some good teams at the end aren’t going to be in there, but that’s why you play the regular season.”

Listed below are links to USCHO’s NCHC team previews, listed in alphabetical order (see below for predictions). Click on each school’s name for a full preview complete with capsule information.

Colorado College

Then-senior goaltender Joe Howe carried the previously inconsistent Tigers to last season’s WCHA playoff championship game, but coach Scott Owens now has to build upon that success without Howe and four of CC’s top five scorers from the 2012-13 campaign. Read more

Denver

Jim Montgomery, the Pioneers’ first new head coach since 1994, has been given the reins to a DU team that features 10 freshmen and is missing some key early departures such as forward Nick Shore and goaltender Juho Olkinuora. Read more

Miami

RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi took a team featuring 12 freshmen to last season’s CCHA regular season title and the NCAA Midwest Regional final, and most of that squad returns as Miami enters a new conference that many prognosticators expect the RedHawks to win. Read more

Minnesota-Duluth

Forwards Tony Cameranesi and Austin Farley and defenseman Andy Welinski had impressive freshman seasons in 2012-13, and they will be relied upon heavily to lead a young UMD team that features only nine upperclassmen. Read more

Nebraska-Omaha

The Mavericks could have done without having to lose star forward Matt White and a would-have-been freshman defenseman in August. While this year’s UNO roster lacks both depth and numbers, many accomplished upperclassman veterans will look to help keep their team competitive. Read more

North Dakota

UND doesn’t rebuild so much as it reloads. One of last season’s best senior classes in all of college hockey is gone, but North Dakota is ushering in one of the nation’s best groups of incoming freshmen and returns solid veterans at every position. Read more

St. Cloud State

Hobey Baker Award winner Drew LeBlanc and a few other key pieces have left St. Cloud, Minn., but returning stars like forward Jonny Brodzinski, defenseman Nic Dowd and goaltender Ryan Faragher are determined to prove that the cupboard is far from bare and that the Huskies have the potential to make a second consecutive Frozen Four appearance. Read more

Western Michigan

Goaltender Frank Slubowski is back after backstopping the CCHA’s second-best defense from last season, but the Broncos need to pick up the pace at the other end of the ice after having scored the fewest goals of any team in their league in 2012-13. Read more

Candace’s picks

1. St. Cloud State
2. Miami
3. North Dakota
4. Denver
5. Colorado College
6. Minnesota-Duluth
7. Nebraska-Omaha
8. Western Michigan

Matthew’s picks

1. Miami
2. North Dakota
3. St. Cloud State
4. Denver
5. Minnesota-Duluth
6. Colorado College
7. Nebraska-Omaha
8. Western Michigan


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  • SCSU

    Drop the puck!

    • siouxfanforever

      hockey, hockey, hockey!! more more more!!

  • Goon’s ND Redneck

    Must be a SCSU fan to pick the Huskies to finish first.

    • Candace

      Nope, just don’t think they lost much in comparison to other teams.

      • siouxfanforever

        It’s not about what you didn’t lose, it’s about what you actually have. Anyone can make a prediction, but in your case it’s without merit.

        • tipsy mcstagger

          SCSU has more goals coming back than any other team in college hockey, dingus. What North Dakota has is a bunch of question marks, so I would pipe down if I were you.

          • RBTGT

            Not by much, though.

            SCSU returning goals = 92
            UNO returning goals = 89

          • tipsy mcstagger

            I never said by a ton. Also, SCSU has 107 goals returning, not 92.

        • FTLT

          The Huskies were not just Hanowski, LeBlanc and Jensen. Those 3 combined for just 3 points in the NCAA tournament but yet the Huskies made the Frozen Four. What got us there was depth, and that depth returns. SCSU had the highest scoring freshman class in the country last year, they are all back. The defense is almost all back, Faragher is no slouch in goal and we add the USA Hockey Junior goalie of the year to back him up.
          So I would look at what the Huskies actually have before you say someone’s prediction is without merit

      • JakeB

        Candace, SCSU a good choice from what I could follow from the East. Miami is always a good team, but my take is the competition within the conference will be consistently stiffer.

  • WMU_flyboy

    It’s hard to take the writers seriously when they have WMU at the bottom of their poll. Serious WCHA bias going on there. I’m willing to bet that WMU finishes no where near the bottom, and when you have them below UNO, CC, etc. it just shows the serious WCHA bias.

    • Candace

      I don’t think CC is going to be nearly as bad as some people think. Regarding WMU, well, they lost scoring, and as I wrote in my DU preview, the best defense in the world doesn’t matter much if you can’t score. That’s why they play the games though!

      • WMU_flyboy

        Our incomming freshman class and our Sophomore class will be the ones contributing to our scoring.

        One only has to take a look at WMU’s exhibition game to see the improvement. Last year against Western Ontario (who has mostly the same players) WMU mustered a 2-2 tie with a SOL. This year (against Western Ontario’s goalie who was drafted in the 3rd round by the Blackhawks) WMU managed a 5-2 victory. It has been a while since WMU was able to score 5 goals on any team, yet we still won.

        But WMU was in the CCHA not the WCHA, so they must not be very good. Right?

        • siouxfanforever

          Your problem is that you are bitter to the WCHA and its former teams. WMU is no slouch, but they definitely lack talent. Either way this new conference is a step up for your program, so don’t be an A-hole.

          • WMU_flyboy

            Actually, I pegged the Souix to finish first. Not bitter towards the WCHA, just unrealistic poll voting.

            WMU was picked to finish middle of the pack in the coaches poll (5th), and WMU is one of the 5 NCHC members who are ranked in the USCHO poll. Picking them to finish last in the league seems to be an overstretch and/or just ignorant.

          • xTEDxTHExREDx

            every single team in the conference recieved poll votes (which must be a first in college hockey). If you’ve been watching college hockey for a while you know that preseason polls mean absolutely nothing. I personally think the bottom four is a toss up between DU CC UNO and WMU. do I think these teams are bad? no. any of them would easily win the new look WCHA. Regardless, its just polls. if WMU surprises everyone you’re more then welcome to come back and shove it everyone’s face. good luck

          • BeaverFever

            Last year, Minnesota State finished higher in the WCHA than UNO, CC, and UMD. They also return most of their talent. Explain how these NCHC teams would “easily” win the new look WCHA.

          • xTEDxTHExREDx

            Let’s put it this way. If the NCHC added MSU and BSU those two teams would most likely finish in the bottom 2 of the league.

          • jdhockeyboyz

            Purple Mavs have a new attitude since Hastings became coach. They’re not a doormat team in any conference.

          • BeaverFever

            I will not argue BSU as they have a young team and are rebuilding. Regarding MSU, I think you have taken too many puffs off the NCHC funny pipe. They return a solid team and finished above several NCHC teams who were in their same conference last year. How do you figure? I would guess MSU in the NCHC would finish this season in 5th place, higher than UMD, UNO, WMU and certainly CC. In conclusion, “Most Likely” you are dead wrong.

          • xTEDxTHExREDx

            One season above .500 doesn’t make a program. While msu may find success this year, if they were going against the old wcha I’d fully expect them to regress to their form of seasons past. Msu was a flash in the pan that fizzled out late last year.

          • BeaverFever

            What do you have to back up your opinion? The polls, full of voters in the know, have placed MSU at #10 and #11 in the country. That’s higher than Denver, WMU, UMD, UNO, and CC. Their roster, mostly intact from last year. Their experience, better than last year. I suppose SCSU was a flash in the pan as well? Can’t wait until MSU meets an NCHC team in the NCAA’s. Keep on puffin’…. :)

          • BeaverFever

            How is the NCHC a step up from the CCHA?

        • JakeB

          Can’t count on freshmen and sophs to handle the load… Never know what to expect. Granted it worked for Miami last year, but Red Hawks have been a highly successful program for a decade now. WMU has nowhere near the track record, at least not yet.

  • siouxfanforever

    I feel that Miami will be the most composed team to start the season, but North Dakota is the most talented with the best goaltenders. SCSU is 3rd on my list mainly because they lost Leblanc and other key players. 4th through 8th is a crap shoot, but I’d say any of those remaining teams could claim 4th.

  • RBTGT

    “All six teams have plenty of experience squaring off with each other on the ice”.

    Actually, in UNO’s case, this is not true, In fact, it’s just the opposite.

    UNO, being a CCHA ex-patriot, has played FAR more games against Miami and Western Michigan than they have against any of the other WCHA teams that make up the NCHC in the history of UNO’s program.

    UNO has played 65 games, total, in program history against Miami and Western Michigan. They haven’t played that many games, total (63) against Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver, North Dakota, and St Cloud State, COMBINED. UNO and the North Dakota have squared off a total of 8 times, ever, to give you an idea. The very first game in that “series” didn’t even get played until November of 2010. UNO only played in the WCHA for 3 seasons.

    One could make a case that UNO has more in common with Western Michigan and Miami than they do with the other WCHA teams whose coattails they rode into the NCHC.

  • xTEDxTHExREDx

    shhhhhhhh, everyone keep sleeping on those UMD Bulldogs. When we start reaping the recruiting benefits of winning a national championship no one will see it coming.

    • Nick

      You won’t gain much of a benefit. The WCHA had several teams who won championships repetitively, and 5 schools just in MN that were fierce competitors for recruiting. You do have a new building, but most of the buildings in the conference were either new or recently upgraded. You will get a little more attention from recruits, but I don’t think anyone notices a difference on the ice.

      • xTEDxTHExREDx

        Iafallo and Toninato verbally committed shortly after winning the championship. Likewise, Soucy and Raskob and Molenaar should hold down the blue line for the next few seasons. Those are five high quality recruits who may have been lured elsewhere without the recent championship and facility upgrades. UMD should have a better season than most think, especially when you factor in the sophomores who were able to produce as freshman last year.

  • reardensteel

    Not every team has a great year every year, but still… this league is just so stacked with great programs.

    It might actually end up being difficult for any team to have a record much over .500 if everyone starts trading wins/losses all over the place.