Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockey’s impact goaltenders for 2014-15

With last year’s introduction of the Mike Richter Award, which recognizes the outstanding goaltender in the nation at the Division I level, the spotlight was cast upon many worthy candidates.

The inaugural winner, Connor Hellebuyck from Massachusetts-Lowell, has moved on to the Winnipeg Jets organization following his sophomore season but there are plenty of great puck stoppers from last year’s nominee list that are gearing up for a great 2014-15 campaign.

Here are 10 goalies to watch this season, listed in alphabetical order:

140221 21121747 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact goaltenders for 2014 15

Thatcher Demko was 16-5-3 last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Thatcher Demko, Boston College sophomore

As a freshman, Demko posted solid numbers in 24 games for the Eagles. He had two shutouts while going 16-5-3 with a .919 save percentage and 2.24 GAA.

With the departure of the offensive juggernaut that was the Bill Arnold-Johnny Gaudreau-Kevin Hayes line, the defensive group and Demko will be looked to tighten things up even more for Jerry York’s Eagles.

“Thatcher understands how big of a season this will be for him,” assistant coach Mike Ayers said. “With a different looking squad this year, he knows that our defense will be a big key to BC’s success. We expect Thatcher to be the anchor of that defense. He has worked extremely hard this offseason and I am looking forward to seeing what he can do here in his second season.”

140321 21420487 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact goaltenders for 2014 15

Jon Gillies was fourth in the country with a .931 save percentage last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Jon Gillies, Providence junior

The returning junior has turned down the opportunity to go pro in the Calgary Flames organization and returns to a team poised to make a run at the Hockey East and national titles.

Last season, Gillies played 34 games for the Friars, posting four shutouts while going 19-9-5. He recorded an impressive .931 save percentage and tidy 2.16 GAA.

Already picked as a preseason all-conference selection, Gillies will try to help his team meet the expectations of both the coaches and media polls, which had the Friars first in Hockey East.

“We are very happy to have Jon,” coach Nate Leaman said. “I don’t know how many goalies are in your top 10 from Hockey East but this conference has been known for some pretty good goaltending. You really can’t compete in this league if you don’t have solid goaltending. When Jon is on top of his game he is one of the best out there.”

Hildebrand 6 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact goaltenders for 2014 15

Jake Hildebrand will be a key component if Michigan State has an improved season in 2014-15 (photo: Matthew Mitchell/MSU Athletic Communications).

Jake Hildebrand, Michigan State junior

In what has to be looked at as a rebuilding year, Hildebrand was a bright spot for the Spartans last season. His 32 games played included one shutout and an overall record of just 9-15-7.

The key stats of save percentage (.923) and GAA (2.44) were solid, so there are high expectations for the junior this season. Hildebrand was picked as a player to watch this season in the Big Ten.

“We really expect big things from Jake this season,” said coach Tom Anastos. “We were very young last season and really had trouble scoring goals. We skated seven or eight freshmen every night last season. Jake battled and kept us in some hockey games, and I expect that to continue on this year’s team which will largely be made up of sophomores and juniors.

“Our league is very good with some top goaltenders among the other teams but I really like Jake’s competitiveness. Just to see him in practice battle for each and every puck really displays his commitment to getting better and leading by example. He is a quiet leader for us and I strongly believe that he will be at the top against all the other goalies in the conference.”

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CJ Motte won 28 games last season for Ferris State (photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com).

CJ Motte, Ferris State senior

Motte has demonstrated he is a key factor in Ferris State’s continued success. He finished last season with a 28-9-3 record that included five shutouts. He posted a .928 save percentage and GAA of 2.17.

For his career, Motte has already played in 87 games and posted 2,396 saves. This year likely will find him surpassing the 100-games-played and 3,000-save plateaus for Ferris State.

“The strength of our team coming into the year will be our back end, and CJ plays a large part in that,” said coach Bob Daniels. “He’s a two-year starter and we’re in good hands with him in net. He means an awful lot to our team and I’d venture to guess that he’s probably as good of a goaltender as there is in the nation coming into the year.”

20131115 Omaha Michigan 21 MBishop Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact goaltenders for 2014 15

Zach Nagelvoort was 15th in the country with a 2.20 GAA last season (photo: Michelle Bishop).

Zach Nagelvoort, Michigan sophomore

Last season, Nagelvoort emerged as the No. 1 goaltender for Red Berenson’s Wolverines. He played 24 games as a freshman with one shutout and an overall record of 11-9-3. He posted a .929 save percentage and a solid 2.20 GAA in the inaugural Big Ten season.

“I really like the kid and the goalie,” Berenson said. “Last year, Zach wasn’t our starting goalie and stepped up when our starter went down to injury very early in the season. He was really a bit of an unknown when he came here after bouncing around all over the country through major midgets and juniors.

“He had a pretty good season last year but the expectations are higher especially after being drafted this past summer by Edmonton. I talked to Zach and told him when you aren’t a first-round draft pick you have something to prove. Then again, when you are a first-round draft pick you also have something to prove. We are looking to Zach as well as the rest of the team to take the next step forward.

“We open against another top team and goaltender at Ferris State on Saturday night,” Berenson said. “It will be a great test for our players right at the start of the season.”

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Joel Rumpel will be counted on to provide leadership for a young Wisconsin team (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Joel Rumpel, Wisconsin senior

The big Badgers netminder played in 29 games last season, posting a 21-6-1 record and two shutouts. His .929 save percentage was among the leaders in the nation and a 2.07 GAA had Wisconsin competing to win every night.

Also named as a player to watch in the Big Ten, Rumpel has been the hallmark of consistency for Mike Eaves’ Badgers as evidenced by his career 2.16 GAA and .926 save percentage.

“With his experience and what he’s seen over the last three years here, we’re going to have to have him be good to very good to excellent some nights because we’re going to have a bunch of young kids out there,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “But having him there, our hope is that it will settle us down, pause us and give us time to grow and learn from our mistakes. With 11 freshmen, I’m glad we have seniors in that position because that should buy us some time.”

DSC 9896 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact goaltenders for 2014 15

Jimmy Sarjeant and Mercyhurst were picked to finish atop Atlantic Hockey this season (photo: Omar Phillips).

Jimmy Sarjeant, Mercyhurst senior

A workhorse for Rick Gotkin’s Lakers, Sarjeant played all but one game last season for Mercyhurst. His 18-5-6 record included one shutout and a solid .930 save percentage.

A 2.46 GAA helped keep the Lakers in every game, and Sarjeant will be looked upon to carry the load again this season. The Lakers were picked to finish first in Atlantic Hockey in a preseason poll, so Sarjeant and company will be carrying the extra burden of the spotlight being on them from the first drop of the puck this season.

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Colin Stevens was 28-4-2 last season in helping Union to the national title (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Colin Stevens, Union senior

Stevens will be without key blueliners Mat Bodie and Shayne Gostisbehere this season after Union’s first national championship last April.

Stevens’ numbers were a big reason why Union skated off with the title. In 36 games, he recorded five shutouts while going 28-4-2. He posted an incredible 1.91 GAA and equally robust .932 save percentage for the Dutchmen.

Despite last year’s results, Union was not picked in the top three places in the ECAC Hockey preseason poll — something the senior netminder and his teammates may have something to say about once the season starts.

“We’re looking for Colin to have the same consistency as last year, keeping games close and giving us a chance to compete every night,” coach Rick Bennett said. “Our approach this season is that we’re not trying to defend anything. We’re going out there just like the other 58 teams. We’re going to play like we don’t have the [national championship] trophy and that’s the mind-set we’ve had the last three years together. We want to stay hungry.”

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Adam Wilcox has a tendency to hold opponents to two goals or fewer (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Adam Wilcox, Minnesota junior

There was no question about who would be between the pipes for the Gophers last season, and Wilcox backstopped the team to the national championship game.

He played in 38 games with a 26-6-6 record and four shutouts. He had a 1.97 GAA and .932 save percentage. Whether you are talking about conference play, overall records or career numbers, Wilcox has a GAA under 2.00, which means he has kept the Gophers in a position to win every night.

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Clay Witt tied for second nationally with a 932 save percentage last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Clay Witt, Northeastern senior

Witt returns to the Huskies as a redshirt senior looking to augment his breakout season last year, when he recorded four shutouts on the way to a 17-12-3 record. He had an impressive .932 save percentage and 2.37 GAA.

Witt played 32 of his 48 career collegiate games last season for Northeastern, and his conference numbers were better than his overall record last season.

“With Clay Witt returning, having come off a very good year, our expectations are high,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. “He’s a student-athlete who works very hard, both on ice and off-ice, and his mental and physical preparations are second to none.

“I fully expect him to add on to where he left off last season, to be one of our leaders, and be that strong force between the pipes to give our team the confidence that we need each game to go out there and win.

“He’s driven, he’s dedicated, and he knows that last year wasn’t the way we wanted to end the season. He had a tremendous year, but he knows that there’s more opportunity for improvement in his game to take it to the next level. I fully expect him to be one of the best goalies in the East and make a run to be one of the best goalies in college hockey this year.”

Former U.S. Olympian Bellamy named to Merrimack women’s coaching staff

Merrimack announced recently that two-time United States Olympics silver medalist Kacey Bellamy has been named as an assistant coach for the women’s team as it readies for the Division I ranks in 2015-16.

“My coaching philosophy has been to recruit great players and great people who work to build a successful program, and our assistant coaches embody this philosophy,” Merrimack head coach Erin Hamlen said in a statement. “I am thrilled to bring someone into our Merrimack women’s ice hockey family who brings a wealth of hockey experience, an unending work-ethic and a desire to push athletes to be their best.

“I coached Kacey in college, with Team USA and with the Boston Blades. She has grown to be a leader at every level and as a two-time Olympian, continues to grow as a player. As a coach, she will bring her elite experience to a young program.”

“I am honored and thrilled to become part of Merrimack College and the first-ever women’s ice hockey team,” Bellamy added. “Erin and [fellow assistant coach] Brent [Hill] have done an incredible job and I can’t wait to join their process in forming a successful program.”

Bellamy represented the U.S. in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics and is a 2009 graduate of New Hampshire, where she ranks third all-time in career points by a defenseman.

Renovations to commence at Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena

IMG 9657 Renovations to commence at Michigan States Munn Ice Arena

Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena opened in 1974 (photo: Erica Treais).

Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena will undergo enhancements over the coming year with several of the upgrades taking place over the course of the upcoming season as the opening phase of a complete building renovation.

“As Munn Ice Arena approaches on its 40th anniversary, we’re excited to announce the upcoming improvements that will significantly enhance both the fan and student-athlete experience immediately,” MSU director of athletics Mark Hollis said in a statement. “Our goal is for Munn Ice Arena to represent a tribute to Michigan State’s rich hockey past and a commitment its future.”

“These initial upgrades demonstrate yet another example of the commitment to Spartan hockey by our athletics department, alums and supporters,” added Spartans’ head coach Tom Anastos. “The immediate enhancements are part of a broader plan for Munn Ice Arena that will ensure it continues to be one of the marquee college hockey venues in the country. It’s an exciting time for everyone involved with Spartan hockey.”

This initial phase of building enhancements, made possible through private support, will begin immediately and will be implemented over the next 12 months. The upgrades include theatrical lighting, new high-definition video boards, LED ribbon boards, chairback seating, new concourse décor and dressing room décor

The building has undergone various improvements over the past two years including this past spring where the building’s HVAC systems, ice surface, dasher boards and glass were all completely replaced at the cost of over $6 million. Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, energy-efficient LED lighting was installed for approximately $575,000.

Return of Carpenter may lift Boston College to Hockey East title

poulin Return of Carpenter may lift Boston College to Hockey East title

Team USA killer Marie-Philip Poulin is back at Boston University, which figures to battle arch-rival Boston College for the Hockey East crown. (Melissa Wade)

If women’s hockey conferences were equated to television shows, then in recent years, Hockey East would be a program like “Hard Copy” or “Inside Edition,” as teams have taken turns on the hot seat. Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine each endured phases where more news was generated off the ice than on, resulting in coaching changes.

Most recently, New Hampshire went under the microscope partway through last season. The program decided that coach Brian McCloskey, who had guided the squad into the first dozen seasons of Hockey East play, had behaved inappropriately in confronting a player on the bench during a game and terminated his contract. The Wildcats finished the campaign with interim coaches before hiring Hilary Witt in April. UNH was generally heading in the wrong direction even before the upheaval, so it is unlikely that in 2015 it will be adding to its 10 combined regular and postseason conference championships, easily the most in Hockey East.

Maine also changed coaches in midstream last year, but because Maria Lewis was suspended before action got underway, Richard and Sara Reichenbach were essentially in charge throughout. Richard was officially named head coach in July, while wife Sara will be one of his assistants.

Chris MacKenzie has a year under his belt at Connecticut. The Huskies won nine times, more than they did in the previous two seasons combined, but they look to have some ground remaining to cover before they can be viewed as a strong title contender.

Bob Deraney, the dean of the Hockey East coaches, for the first time was unable to take Providence to the conference semifinal, as his team slumped to a seventh-place finish.

Northeastern gets Kendall Coyne back after her year at the Olympics and a number of others return from injury. Unlike other teams expected to finish near the top of the standings, the Huskies have a known quantity in goal in Chloé Desjardins. Their negative is that they graduated a class of seven that was instrumental in the Northeastern resurgence, including three of last season’s top four scorers.

First place should come down once more to Boston College or Boston University, and just like a couple of years ago, the complexion of their race could swing on a single game. The league’s coaches have voted, and their choice was BU.

“Needless to say, [the] decision to put the Terriers at the top of the heap in Hockey East gives great motivation to everybody behind us,” BU coach Brian Durocher said. “Whether they’re going to move up one spot or three spots or however many, I know that they’ll be sort of aiming for the target on our back.”

I’ll go in a slightly different direction and forecast the following order of finish for the Hockey East regular season race:

1) Boston College
2) Boston University
3) Northeastern
4) Connecticut
5) Vermont
6) Maine
7) Providence
8) New Hampshire

Boston College Eagles
USCHO prediction: First
Coaches’ prediction: Second
Last season: First (27-7-3, 18-2-1 Hockey East)
The names
The Boston College roster is reminiscent of that of Cornell a few years back with national team players up and down the line chart. The difference is that whereas the Big Red’s players were predominantly Canadian, the Eagles feature American athletes.

Cornell was able to parlay its talent into a run of four straight ECAC Hockey regular season titles, and BC claimed its first season crown in Hockey East in 2013. The Eagles have even more talent this time around, but so does the team that figures to be their biggest challenge, Boston University. Both squads have a common question entering the season, as they graduated starting goaltenders and will be far less experienced at that position this season.

Boston College needs to replace Corinne Boyles, who posted an excellent .942 save percentage as a senior, including a .945 percentage in conference action. Megan Miller, Boyles’ backup, transferred to Wisconsin, so the Eagles will look to freshmen Katie Burt and Gabriella Switaj and junior Taylor Blake, who has played only one period in her first two seasons.

Junior Alex Carpenter, BC’s leading scorer in each of her first two seasons, returns after missing last season to compete in the Olympics. Haley Skarupa assumed that role in her absence. In Carpenter, Skarupa, and Andie Anastos, the Eagles own the Hockey East Rookie of the Year in each of the past three seasons.

The Eagles have another pedigreed incoming class, highlighted by defenseman Megan Keller, fresh off a series with the United States U-22 team, and many of her teammates on that squad await her at BC, such as seniors Emily Field and Emily Pfalzer and juniors Lexi Bender and Dana Trivigno.

The numbers
The BC offense peaked two years ago when it amassed 159 goals, and it looks like a foregone conclusion that total will be eclipsed this season. Eight players had at least 25 points last year; seven of them are back, and Carpenter returns. The Eagles have demonstrated that they can get offense from any line, and the defensemen can ignite the scoring as well.

The only numbers that are cause for concern are the 20 minutes and two saves that the goaltenders have combined in their NCAA careers. Goaltending is one position where youth has triumphed in the past. Wisconsin’s Jessie Vetter and Alex Rigsby both won NCAA championships as freshmen in net; Jennifer Harss won in her first year with Minnesota-Duluth as well. There are also examples of young goalies coming up short. Jody Horak and Noora Räty won a couple of titles apiece with Minnesota, but only after coming up short their first two years. Boston College has previously enjoyed success with a young goalie, reaching the Frozen Four when Molly Schaus was a rookie.

The prognosis
BC looks to have the roster to defend its Hockey East crown of last season, with the caveat that Boston University possesses many of the same strengths. However the race plays out, the Eagles will have their sights set on a bigger prize over the next two years while they still have the services of players like Carpenter and Skarupa.

Boston University Terriers
USCHO prediction: Second
Coaches’ prediction: First
Last season: Second (24-13-1, 14-7-0 Hockey East)
The names
The name on everyone’s lips when the topic is Boston University is Marie-Philip Poulin. Having scored a pair of goals in back-to-back Olympic gold-medal games to lift Canada, expectations are high that she can carry the Terriers to similar success at the NCAA level.

“Without a doubt, from an individual perspective, Marie-Philip Poulin, some of the things she brings aren’t just on the ice,” Brian Durocher said. “She’s a leader by example. She’s a kid who is a great teammate. With her points and her offensive production, we all see that, but it’s the blocked shots, it’s the great passes that really kind of set her aside, because she really is the consummate team player and also becoming very reliable at the other end of the ice, competing against potentially the best players on the other teams, night in and night out.”

Now Poulin enters her senior season still looking for that first NCAA title, having reached the national tournament in all three years and twice advancing to the final. The Terriers won the Hockey East tournament last year in her absence, but they weren’t as great a threat to win it all without her.

“I almost feel like things have changed from last year where we had a real veteran goalie in Kerrin Sperry, solid defense, and maybe we were a little thin at forward, to almost a reversal to what I think could be a pretty good group of forwards up front, maybe a similar type of defensive corps with Shannon Doyle replacing Kaleigh Fratkin,” Durocher said.

The first order of business is deciding on a goalie or a rotation to replace Sperry, with two sophomores and a freshman as candidates.

“We certainly got the advantage of seeing Victoria Hanson and Mia Becker here last year for a whole season on the ice,” Durocher said. “Victoria actually played some significant minutes. While it was only five or six games, she did play two periods against Wisconsin and a full game against Minnesota-Duluth, so she was under fire and played well in those games. She’s a big kid, takes up a lot of net. Consistency seems to be the trademark with [freshman] Erin O’Neil. I don’t know if she’s the off-the-chart, high-end person yet, but that’s to be determined as you go along.”

“Most importantly for all three of the goalies is how are they going to react to the new situations; the new situations being playing at this level, possibly being a 1 or a 1A goalie. How are you going to do in the road games that have significance? How are you going to do in the biggest games, if it’s BC or Harvard or Minnesota or whoever some of the top teams are? Then ultimately as you get to the playoffs, how is somebody going to play in a Beanpot? How is somebody going to play in the Hockey East tournament? How are they going to play in the NCAAs if we can get there? How do they handle each step, being that it’s really their first time through all those stages.”

The numbers
With Poulin gone, Sarah Lefort responded with a huge sophomore season (32-23-55) to carry much of the load offensively. Now that Lefort and Poulin are reunited and Kayla Tutino is back from injury, look for the program record for goals in a season, 139, to be bettered.

That trio figures to get plenty of help from a supporting cast that has the benefit of additional seasoning. One threat is Maddie Elia, coming off a 28-point rookie season.

“Maddie had a real nice freshman year, where maybe there was a little bit of inconsistency,” Durocher said. “She’s somebody that is tough to deal with, because she’s very tall, has great reach, and at any given time she can beat somebody one on one and create an odd situation. I would love to see her progress continue to go north, that she gets just a little bit stronger, a little bit better balance out there and becomes that much tougher player to play against.”

The offense also receives a boost from the incoming class.

“The two forwards who come from Ontario, Rebecca Leslie and Victoria Bach, are both members of the Under-18 national team,” Durocher said. “I think they finished in the top six or seven with Victoria leading the league in scoring for the PWHL, which is a highly respected league in Ontario. They can skate and carry the puck, they think the game, so those are great qualities to have. Neither one is the biggest kid, so you probably won’t see a [Jen] Wakefield type of kid out there, but they’ve got a lot of talent, so they should be kids that bring a good bit to the table right from the beginning and should have great careers here.”

The prognosis
Whether or not the Terriers are able to out-duel Boston College in the standings, look for BU to be a major factor once the postseason arrives and take one more shot at a national title.

Northeastern Huskies
USCHO prediction: Third
Coaches’ prediction: Third
Last season: Third (24-13-1, 14-7-0 Hockey East)
The names
Picking Northeastern to finish third seems as logical as any choice in Hockey East, but then, few foresaw the Huskies winning the league three years ago.

“To me, the dark horse is probably Northeastern, and I don’t know if you call a dark horse a team that is pretty much third place in the polls and a pretty close third place,” Brian Durocher said of his Boston rival. “But to have an impact player coming back, and most importantly, to have the goaltender that’s highly talented and very established in Chloé Desjardins. She’s been through the wars before, she’s very talented, and I think if you look at Northeastern compared to two and three years ago compared to last year, they didn’t have Kendall Coyne, who can turn a 2-1 game into a 3-2 win. I think with the experience and the depth that they have, they’ll be really tough to beat.”

It is odd to think of Northeastern having depth on the heels of an injury-riddled season when Dave Flint’s team nearly ran out of healthy bodies. There should be less risk of that this year with a roster of 25.

The formula for Northeastern success is much the same as it was three years ago: Coyne spearheads the offense while a senior goaltender steals a game here and there. Beyond that, there are plenty of unknowns surrounding the roster that includes nine freshmen, a transfer, and four players returning from injury. Of the rookies, the biggest name is Taylor Crosby, the sister of one Sidney Crosby, but as a goaltender, her role figures to be limited in Desjardins’ senior season.

The numbers
To underscore Coyne’s importance to Northeastern’s attack, she had a point on 46.7 percent of her team’s goals over her first two seasons. By comparison, Carpenter contributed a point on 40.7 percent of BC’s offense in her two years, and Poulin was involved in BU’s scoring 32 percent of the time in her three years, although she missed 20 games as a sophomore.

Paige Savage upped her point total to 29 as a sophomore. The Huskies would doubtless welcome an increase in her goal-scoring as well, as she has yet to hit double digits in goals for a season.

Desjardins improved her save percentage (.925) and goals-against average (2.31) over her first season as the No. 1 goaltender. Her wins decreased by two, but that was primarily due to her team’s offensive support declining.

The prognosis
Overall, Northeastern looks too young to be able to challenge with its Boston rivals for the top spot, but its roster is dangerous enough that those teams will hope that the Huskies are on the opposite side of the bracket come the postseason.

Nevertheless, NU will hope to remove itself from consideration for the title of best team without an NCAA tournament appearance.

Connecticut Huskies
USCHO prediction: Fourth
Coaches’ prediction: Sixth
Last season: Sixth (9-24-2, 6-14-1 Hockey East)
The names
While Connecticut won’t show up in anyone’s top 10 lists or picks to advance to the NCAA tournament, the nine wins the Huskies achieved in Chris MacKenzie’s first season exceeded the win total for the prior two years combined.

UConn proved to be tough to beat for anyone, boasting a shutout win over BC in the final month of the season and holding a third-period lead in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs at Northeastern before falling in the final minutes.

“We have program goals that include trying to win a national championship, trying to win Hockey East,” MacKenzie said. “We are taking steps to get to those right now. I would like to win every single game. How’s that for a goal?”

Sarah Moses has graduated, so junior Elaine Chuli figures to get even more of the minutes in net, after playing roughly two-thirds of the time as a sophomore. Among returning goaltenders in the league, only Desjardins of Northeastern rivals her numbers.

The goaltending task figures to be made easier by teammates more familiar with MacKenzie’s systems and the return to the blue line of senior captain Caitlin Hewes after playing only a handful of games due to injury.

The numbers
Who is going to score for the Huskies? They were last in scoring offense in the conference, tallying less than twice a game. Michela Cava transferred after tying with Sarah MacDonnell for the team scoring lead, but the other top scorers are all back.

However, the committee needs to score a little more; otherwise, Chuli will just be battling to keep the score respectable. One area that could stand improvement is the power play, which converted only 11.2 percent of the time in league action.

The prognosis
I like what MacKenzie has started in Storrs. To keep the momentum going, he likely needs contributions from his class of nine freshmen.

“Who’s going to make an impact?” MacKenzie said. “Leah Lum right now looks really good on defense for us. Actually, our backup goalie Annie Belanger has looked really good in practice, too.”

Vermont Catamounts
USCHO prediction: Fifth
Coaches’ prediction: Fourth
Last season: Fourth (18-14-4, 13-7-1 Hockey East)
The names
It was a historic season in Burlington, Vermont, as the Catamounts won eight games more than the program’s previous best. So what does the team do for an encore?

Whatever it does, it will have to do it without goaltender Roxanne Douville, who posted a .931 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average as she won 14 times in her senior season. Madison Litchfield’s 4-4-1 record as a rookie backup is encouraging, but her .870 save percentage and 3.50 goals-against average give less reason for optimism.

The new goaltender will be fronted by a younger blue line that includes three freshmen on the depth chart, but also present are stalwarts such as juniors Dayna Colang and Gina Repaci and senior Sarah Campbell.

The news is largely positive on the offensive front, as the top five scorers are back, including senior forwards Amanda Pelkey and Brittany Zuback.

“I think it’s tempting when you’re talking about the next year to always talk about the freshmen,” Plumer said. “I think I’m most impressed and excited about the improvements of our upperclassmen, especially the sophomores. A year in our program, working in the weight room, and individual skill and player development stuff with Kelly [Nash] has made an immediate and noticeable impact on our team. I think we’re going to be a very fast team, and we combine that with an impact senior class. I think there’s a lot to be excited about.”

The numbers
For the first time since it started playing predominantly D-I opponents, Vermont scored more goals (93) than it allowed (89). Coach Jim Plumer’s direction has produced double-digit improvement in both categories in each of his first two seasons at UVM, and it resulted in Vermont hosting and winning its first postseason game.

Pelkey (21-19-40) and Zuback (11-23-34) have demonstrated star potential, and just how successful their final season can be will be dependent in large part on how brightly others can shine. Sophomore Victoria Andreakos hinted at great potential as a rookie (12-15-27).

The prognosis
The three most important factors for the Catamounts this season will likely be goaltending, goaltending, and goaltending. Beyond that, increased depth will help determine if Vermont takes another step forward. Either way, Plumer’s team looks positioned to be a major factor in Hockey East for the foreseeable future.

“Beyond the obvious accomplishments, I think we’ve made a substantial change in the culture or our program, and our kids are working hard, they’re having fun, and we’re becoming very competitive with ourselves and with our team,” Plumer said. “I think that’s an enduring trademark that we want to be part of our program.”

Maine Black Bears
USCHO prediction: Sixth
Coaches’ prediction: Seventh
Last season: Fifth (7-20-5, 5-13-3 Hockey East)
The names
One of the better coaching jobs turned in last season went largely underappreciated. Although starting off amidst turmoil and winless at 0-12-4 through November, Maine rallied well under Richard and Sara Reichenbach and closed at a respectable 7-8-1 pace.

They had the Black Bears competing to the end, as evidenced by that final loss in triple overtime to Vermont in the Hockey East quarterfinals. Maine came from two goals down in the final 10 minutes to force overtime, where Meghann Treacy matched saves with Roxanne Douville for 57 minutes. Treacy heads into her senior season as the presumed starter; her backups return as well.

Junior Audra Richards, Maine’s leading scorer, will look to improve on her three assists from her sophomore season. Of course, it is easier to get assists if other people are putting pucks in the net, and one newcomer who may help in that regard is freshman forward Brooke Stacey, who has international experience with the Canadian U-18 team. The Black Bears need improvement across the board, and one candidate is senior captain Jennifer More, whose goal production dropped to two as a junior after scoring seven times in each of her first two campaigns.

The numbers
One route to bettering last season’s finish would be to improve on the team’s overall save percentage of .899, whether it be by Treacy, sophomore Mariah Fujimagari, or junior Natalie Robinson. The Black Bears were last in the league in scoring defense.

The offense could also stand an upgrade, particularly the power play that clicked only 10 percent of the time in conference games.

The prognosis
Although Maine claimed the fifth spot in the standings, there was only one point separating the teams in fifth through seventh. To escape that tightly packed bunch, the Black Bears will need to put together a more consistent showing. With others looking improved as well, this could be a case where Maine will be better, but it won’t be reflected in the results.

Providence Friars
USCHO prediction: Seventh
Coaches’ prediction: Fifth
Last season: Seventh (11-24-0, 6-15-0 Hockey East)
The names
Hockey East has turned upside down from its early days; Providence and New Hampshire are now found at the bottom of the standings rather than the top. For UNH to be in the predicament wasn’t totally unexpected, because the Wildcats have struggled in recent years. The Friars, although a few years removed from their last title, have still been in the hunt every year, so to see them absent from the league semifinals was a surprise.

Goaltending remains a problem. Among starters, junior Sarah Bryant had the lowest save percentage in Hockey East, and her overall save percentage of .884 was worse. Providence would play games where it would seem to have a territorial advantage, but the scoreboard would tell a different story.

The problem was not confined to goaltending, however. As a team, the Friars just made too many mistakes at key times.

Through graduation and transfer, five of the top 12 scorers are gone, so the Providence offense will have a slightly different look. Forming the core will be senior forwards Haley Frade and Beth Hanrahan, along with sophomore forward Cassidy Carels.

Coach Bob Deraney adds four new players plus sophomore Lauren Klein, a transfer from RIT. Lacking a big-name recruit, the team’s gains will likely have to be made by the group as a whole.

The numbers
In another season, losing their final seven league games and nine of the last 10 may have landed the Friars in the basement, but they were saved that indignity by the fact that New Hampshire’s collapse was more epic.

While the defensive woes are more glaring, the offense misfired as well in 2013-14, scoring just 77 times, 37 fewer goals than the year before.

The prognosis
Having picked Providence for a runner-up finish in Hockey East last season, I’m once bitten, twice shy where the Friars are concerned. Why were they so disappointing in 2013-14? There was likely more than one reason, some of which were not apparent in advance, and I’m not convinced they’ll be improved on all of those fronts, so I’m going to be slower to embrace a revival of PC than the league coaches.

New Hampshire Wildcats
USCHO prediction: Eighth
Coaches’ prediction: Eighth
Last season: Eighth (9-23-2, 4-15-2 Hockey East)
The names
Hilary Witt assumes command amidst the lowest point total ever for the proud New Hampshire program. The Wildcats have failed to win more than 14 games in any of the previous four seasons. Prior to that stretch, UNH had but one season on its ledger with as few as 14 wins, and that team was still 4 games above .500. The downturn concluded with a new program low of nine wins, in a season where performance on the ice wasn’t even the largest problem.

One of Witt’s first orders of business will be to come up with a plan as to how the minutes in goal will be distributed. In recent seasons, it has been hard to say who the primary goaltender is for UNH, because that changed from period to period. Four goaltenders on the roster became common, and sometimes, they’d all play. Jenn Gilligan has transferred to Syracuse, so this year the stable of candidates is down to a more-manageable three in juniors Vilma Vaattovaara and Marie-Ève Jean and sophomore Ashley Wilkes. All enter the year with career save percentages below .900, but the bulk of their playing time came last year when the team was in disarray.

Challenges exist elsewhere on the roster as well. Leading scorers Nicole Gifford and Jessica Hitchcock graduated. Promising defensemen Alexis Crossley and Megan Armstrong transferred amidst the uncertainty surrounding the program.

The Wildcats will look to a returning group of eight players whose production last season ranged from 10 to 17 points, led by sophomore Cassandra Vilgrain. Senior Hannah Armstrong had 19 points two years ago, and Jonna Curtis has shown flashes if she could ever put together a healthy season.

The numbers
New Hampshire’s record last season is all the harder to dismiss when considering that the Wildcats started 5-2-1 and were still above .500 at 6-4-2 as late as mid-November. The team then embarked on a six-game losing streak that included the firing of the head coach, and tried to rally and won three of five on either side of the break. At that point, the situation went from bad to worse and the season closed with 11 straight losses, the last one in ugly fashion by seven goals to a Boston College team that UNH had actually defeated back in October.

Statistically, UNH wasn’t as poor as its record. The Wildcats actually had the league’s most effective penalty kill at 89.7 percent, and the fourth-best power play at 14.8 percent.

Of the team’s 15 conference losses, 11 were by one or two goals, so the Wildcats weren’t dreadful; they just managed to find ways to lose.

The prognosis
I don’t see the Wildcats escaping last place, but the key is to start positioning for gains in years to come. But who knows, maybe a fresh start with a new coaching staff will fuel a renaissance in Durham.

Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockey’s impact defensemen for 2014-15

The crop of college defensemen who will make the biggest marks this season is a diverse one. You have big bangers a la Colton Parayko and Ben Hutton, slick puck movers such as Steve Weinstein and Joakim Ryan, and all shades and classes in between.

Here is a “crib notes” look at some of the most interesting blueliners in the nation, listed in alphabetical order:

bayreuther2 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Gavin Beyreuther has improved his skating in advance of his sophomore season (photo: St. Lawrence Athletics).

Gavin Bayreuther, St. Lawrence sophomore

The Canaan, N.H., native exploded onto the college hockey landscape last year, putting up outstanding offensive numbers (9-27–36), tops among all freshman defensemen.

Still, the ceiling is plenty high, which means he’s got plenty of growth in his game ahead, particularly in the defensive zone.

“What makes Gavin an effective player,” said Saints coach Greg Carvel, “is his innate offensive instincts and ability. He is one of those defenseman who knows how to get pucks to the net, and beyond that he has a big shot from the blue line.

“The knock on Gavin was that his skating wasn’t good enough to be drafted this past summer in the NHL. To Gavin’s credit, he focused on this part of his game this summer and he looks outstanding on the ice upon his return to campus for his sophomore season.

“I think Gavin will bring his game to a new level this year as he will combine improved skating with a confidence that you could see building within him during the second half of last season.”

Bayreuther earned an invite in May to the NHL scouting combine but went undrafted. As well, wrist surgery waylaid his plans to accept bids to NHL development camps in July.

Still, if he can build on last year’s success, the NHL may soon be beating down a path to his door.

“Gavin came to SLU a very raw player who had gotten by mostly on ability,” said Carvel. “Now he has become more committed as a player to learning the position, and the more he focuses on improving his game, the better and better he is going to be. He has a lot of potential and I think he is going to find new levels.”

Hanifin Noah3 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Noah Hanifin is projected as a top-three pick in next year’s NHL draft (photo: Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey).

Noah Hanifin, Boston College freshman

Hanifin is perhaps the most heralded rearguard to hit college hockey in a generation, or two, maybe since Chris Chelios enrolled at Wisconsin way back in 1981.

Still just 17, Hanifin fast-tracked his way through high school to take his place on the loaded BC blue line, making him what is believed to be the youngest Eagles player ever.

How long he remains there could be in question, given that he could be a top-three pick in next year’s NHL draft and zooming along on an even faster track to the show.

But for now, Hanifin is content to enjoy this part of the ride. Having just arrived on Chestnut Hill, Hanifin isn’t looking to leave just yet.

“I try not to think about it,” said Hanifin. “It’s always going to be in the back of a kid’s mind. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to play in the NHL. As of right now, I’m just focusing on helping BC win hockey games.”

140111 19111511 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Ben Hutton (10) led Division I defensemen with 15 goals last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Ben Hutton, Maine junior

When veteran coach Dennis “Red” Gendron took over at Maine last year, he found a large surprise waiting in the Black Bears’ cupboard in the form of Hutton.

Gendron put the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Vancouver draftee to work in every situation and was rewarded with Hutton’s 15-goal (tops among all Division I defensemen), 14-assist effort.

“He’s obviously a very, very good offensive player,” said Gendron. “He has above-average instincts, and he knows what to do with the puck. He’s probably a little underrated defensively. He doesn’t skate around the ice looking for the big hit. But he uses his stick and his reach. He keeps things simple.”

Colton Parayko, Alaska junior

His size alone (6-5, 220) is enough to catch the eye. What makes the future St. Louis Blues player a blueliner to watch is the way he can use that bulk to his advantage.

“He is a difficult player to play against because of his size, mobility, and hockey instincts,” said Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson. “He was a player that played in all situations for our team and someone that found ways to be successful while being checked very tight throughout the season.”

Parayko’s long reach makes it difficult for onrushing forwards to skate around him.

“He has a long stick,” said Ferguson. “But he also does a great job positioning himself to use his size to his advantage.”

140321 21180068 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Brett Pesce (22) scored seven times last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Brett Pesce, New Hampshire junior

Last year saw an uptick in Pesce’s goal production, with seven tallies (he had just one as a freshman). One of those was the series clincher in the Hockey East quarterfinal against Northeastern.

Pesce, a Carolina third-round pick, will be a horse on the UNH blue line again, making his presence felt in all three zones.

20140222 5D3 0575 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Joakim Ryan has played in 100 games over his first three collegiate seasons (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Joakim Ryan, Cornell senior

He’s nothing less than a coach’s dream, a blue liner who can combine smarts, speed and skill. Add in a helping of consistency from shift to shift, period to period, game to game, and you have Ryan, who will be called upon to handle every task that Big Red coach Mike Schafer can assign him.

“He’s a tremendous skater who can get up and down the ice all night long,” Schafer said. “He plays on the power play and on the penalty kill, and just has great hockey sense. He logs a lot of minutes. His progress over the last few years really gives him a tremendous opportunity to not only be a great collegiate player, but also to eventually play in the NHL.”

140330 UMN SCSU M 0124 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Mike Reilly had 33 points last season (photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com).

Mike Reilly, Minnesota junior

The youngest but most experienced of the Gophers’ three Reilly brothers, Mike Reilly has already shown himself to be one of college hockey’s premier offensive defensemen.

Having accounted for 47 points (including 9-24–33 last year) in his first two seasons, Reilly could well surpass those totals this year, which could be his final season before he turns pro with Columbus.

5DM33478 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Once Keaton Thompson got into the North Dakota lineup last season, he racked up a plus-14 rating (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Keaton Thompson, North Dakota sophomore

Thompson got off to a slow start as a freshman, sitting out as a healthy scratch for all but one of North Dakota’s first 10 tilts. Once he got his chance, however, he made the most of it, racking up an impressive plus-14 rating and showing signs of developing into the shutdown defenseman that prompted Anaheim to make him a third-round pick in 2013.

His offensive production was modest (3-8–11) but respectable considering that he didn’t really see the ice until after Christmas.

steveweinstein Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Steve Weinstein’s play reading is one of the best parts of his game (photo: Melissa Wade).

Steve Weinstein, Bentley senior

One of college hockey’s more unsung talents, Weinstein led all Division I defensemen in scoring last season (1-37–38).

Weinstein has an uncommon ability to let plays develop and put the puck right where it needs to be.

“[He] has the ability to read a play before it happens,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “[That] puts him among the top puck distributors I have ever watched.”

Whether Weinstein ends up piling up more points than last year is a moot point, said Soderquist.

“My expectation for Steven this year is for him to continue to lead by example every day with his work ethic,” he said. “Everything else will take care of itself from there.”

Werenski Zach3 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact defensemen for 2014 15

Look for Zach Werenski to be involved offensively for Michigan (photo: Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey).

Zach Werenski, Michigan freshman

Another fast-track freshman will bring both size (6-2, 215) and vitality to Ann Arbor.

He also brings a high-octane competitive spirit, which will make him increasingly tougher to play against once he masters the jump from the U-17/18 level.

“I’m an offensive defenseman,” said Werenski. “I like to jump up in the play. I like to score goals, but I hate to be scored upon. If the puck goes in the net, it’s the worst feeling.”

Former Middlebury captain Ugalde named new assistant women’s coach at Colby

Former Middlebury captain Sara Ugalde has been named an as assistant coach for Colby.

Ugalde takes over for Steph Moberg, who was recently hired as Castleton’s head coach.

“Sara comes to us with an excellent hockey background and an eagerness to learn and develop as a coach,” Colby head coach Mallory Michaeles said in a statement. “In addition, she can directly relate to the demands placed on our student-athletes. Sara will be a great addition to our program.”

Ugalde led Middlebury to NESCAC titles in 2011 and 2012 and the league final in 2013. She finished her career with 40 goals and 42 assists for 82 points with the Panthers, graduating in 2014.

WCHA coaches, media tab Minnesota State league favorite; Motte, Leitner share preseason player of the year

Minnesota State is the top team in both the WCHA preseason coaches’ poll and media poll, while Ferris State was picked to finish second in both polls.

The media poll was conducted by the Bemidji Pioneer and the coaches’ poll by the Mankato Free Press.

The Mavericks are coming off a Broadmoor Trophy-winning campaign and were also the top team in the 2014 WCHA preseason polls.

WCHA Preseason Coaches’ Poll

Team (First-place votes)
Total Points
1. Minnesota State (9)81
2. Ferris State (1)67
3. Michigan Tech64
4. Bowling Green57
5. Alaska44
6. Northern Michigan40
7. Alaska-Anchorage38
8. Bemidji State33
9. Lake Superior State17
10. Alabama-Huntsville9

WCHA Preseason Media Poll

Team (First-place votes)
Total Points
1. Minnesota State (23)256
2. Ferris State (4)226
3. Bowling Green180
4. Michigan Tech178
5. Alaska163
6. Alaska-Anchorage128
7. Northern Michigan112
8. Bemidji State101
9. Lake Superior State60
10. Alabama-Huntsville26

Ferris State senior goalie C.J. Motte was tabbed preseason player of the year by the coaches and Minnesota State senior forward Matt Leitner was the media’s pick.

Incoming Minnesota State freshmen forwards C.J. Franklin and Brad McClure were the coaches’ selections for preseason rookies of the year, while Bowling Green defenseman Mark Friedman earned the distinction from the media.

In addition, both the coaches and media selected preseason All-WCHA Teams.

WCHA Coaches’ Preseason All-WCHA Team

Tyler MorleyFJr.Alaska
Jean-Paul LaFontaineFSr.Minnesota State
Matt LeitnerFSr.Minnesota State
Colton ParaykoDJr.Alaska
Zach PalmquistDSr.Minnesota State
C.J. MotteGSr.Ferris State

WCHA Media Preseason All-WCHA Team

Tyler MorleyFJr.Alaska
Jean-Paul LaFontaineFSr.Minnesota State
Matt LeitnerFSr.Minnesota State
Colton ParaykoDJr.Alaska
Shane HannaDSo.Michigan Tech
C.J. MotteGSr.Ferris State

Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockey’s impact forwards for 2014-15

Call it the Attack of the Martin St. Louises.

In an era where hockey size is still emphasized almost as much as skill, USCHO’s list of 10 forwards to watch for 2014-15 features a majority of individuals who check in around the 5-foot-8, 175-pound mark, just like the former Vermont All-America selection, Stanley Cup champion and current New York Rangers star.

And like St. Louis, their play is also bigger than their measurements.

This list was compiled after consulting with coaches in the six NCAA Division I conferences and professional scouts. As always, it’s not necessarily meant to be an all-inclusive rating, or a lineup of the highest-scoring skaters, or even the best-perceived NHL prospects.

They are, however, 10 players you might want to keep an eye on this season, from the time the puck drops this weekend until the NCAA trophy is hoisted aloft at the Frozen Four in Boston in April.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

qu anas Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact forwards for 2014 15

Sam Anas was the nation’s top rookie last season (photo: Matt Dewkett).

Sam Anas, Quinnipiac sophomore

Anas burst onto the scene in a big way as a freshman last year, leading the Bobcats in scoring with 22 goals and 21 assists for 43 points in 40 games. The small (5-foot-8, 150 pounds) but shifty Maryland native also finished seventh among ECAC Hockey scorers with 12-16–28 in 25 league contests. He also recorded two or more points in a single game a dozen times.

Anas showed last season that he could score from both sides of the ice. He was just as adept uncorking a wrist shot from the right wing over a goaltender’s glove as he was one-timing a puck home from the opposite circle. He also didn’t shy away from the front of the net to clean up rebounds.

The top-scoring rookie in the nation last season, Anas also was the Division I national rookie of the year and the top rookie in New England. He also was the ECAC Hockey rookie of the year, an ECAC Hockey all-rookie team member and an ECAC Hockey second-team selection.

2013121421 28 394931 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact forwards for 2014 15

Jonny Brodzinski has back-to-back seasons with at least 20 goals (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State junior

A 2013 draft choice of the Los Angeles Kings, Brodzinski was another balanced scorer last season, notching 21 goals and 20 assists for the Huskies in 38 games. He was among the top 15 players nationally in goals, and in the top 12 in power-play tallies (9) after notching just one power-play score as a rookie. He also recorded 13 goals and 26 points in 26 NCHC contests in the league’s first season.

“A dynamic forward who is a consistent threat on the ice,” said an opposing coach.

After lighting the lamp 22 times as a freshman, Brodzinski has 43 goals and 74 points in 80 collegiate games. Even after leading the Huskies in scoring last season, more will be counted on from the 6-foot-1, 215-pound native of Blaine, Minn.

The Huskies will need to replace second-leading scorer and Hobey Baker Award finalist Nic Dowd, among others, if they are to earn a third consecutive NCAA tournament berth and try to get back to the Frozen Four for the second time in three years.

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Daniel Ciampini had a hat trick in the national semifinals last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Daniel Ciampini, Union senior

Ciampini lit the lamp 23 times last year and saved his best performances for the biggest stage. He registered a hat trick and the game-winning goal in a national semifinal victory over Boston College, then garnered a goal and an assist in the NCAA championship game win over Minnesota.

He was named to the Frozen Four all-tournament team, and also was tabbed an All-ECAC Hockey third-team member. He just about doubled his output from his sophomore year by tallying 41 points in 2013-14 and also recorded 12 multiple-point contests while collecting five game-winning scores.

The second-leading scorer last year for the Dutchmen, Ciampini has come a long way from the freshman who finished with six points in 15 outings, and now has 37 goals and 68 points in 91 career starts. With Union needing to replace three of its top four scorers from last year’s multi-title team, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound native of Concord, Ontario, may have to have even more of a nose for the net in the upcoming campaign if the Dutchmen are to come close to last year’s success.

8U9A0585 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact forwards for 2014 15

Austin Czarnik has 124 points in 119 games at Miami (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Austin Czarnik, Miami senior

Czarnik improved upon his sophomore season by notching 47 points and leading Miami in scoring for a second straight season. He also finished sixth in the nation with 34 assists as the RedHawks just missed out on a ninth straight NCAA tournament berth.

He was still named to the NCHC first team, and also was a second-team All-America selection.

“He makes plays every shift, makes the players around him better, and is a fierce competitor,” said an opposing coach. “His combination of skill and will make him special.”

A true setup man, the 5-foot-9, 150-pound native of Washington, Mich., has notched 87 assists among his 124 points in 119 career games with the RedHawks.

“A dynamic forward who could lead the country in scoring,” said another coach.

Along with Brodzinski, Czarnik was named to the 2014-15 NCHC preseason all-conference team. A major goal this year will be to lift the RedHawks out of the basement of their new league and back to the heights they enjoyed in the now-defunct CCHA.

DSC 1371 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact forwards for 2014 15

Cole Gunner had 33 points in 30 games last season (photo: Omar Phillips).

Cole Gunner, Air Force senior

Sporting perhaps the best surname for someone playing for a military academy, Gunner fired home 15 goals last year, equaling his total from his first two seasons combined with the Falcons. Three of his goals were game-winners, and five salted away victories.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound native of Richfield, Minn., also put up 29 assists in 39 appearances. He also had just eight penalties all season — all minors — and was voted team MVP.

“He plays with an edge,” said an Atlantic Hockey coach. “He competes hard and can go.”

Gunner, who put up 11 goals and 33 points in 30 Atlantic Hockey games last year, was a second-team all-conference selection. He attended the Chicago Blackhawks development camp in July as a free agent, and is one of just a handful of AFA players to ever be invited to an NHL development camp.

IMGM4676 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact forwards for 2014 15

Matt Leitner has 121 points in 118 collegiate games (photo: Michael Dubicki).

Matt Leitner, Minnesota State senior

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Leitner led the Mavericks to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, and for just the third time in the school’s Division I history, by tallying 12 goals and 45 points in 33 games. He was just two points off the pace from his sophomore season.

“Matt is very experienced and has generated offense since his freshman year,” said an opposing coach. “He’s a versatile player and a gifted playmaker [and] that makes him dangerous [at] even strength and on the power play.”

The California-born Leitner started off slowly last season, recording points in just two of his first eight outings. He caught fire after that, picking up a point in all but five games the rest of the way.

“Most dynamic forward in the WCHA,” said another coach.

“Very talented offensive player that excels on the power play,” added a third.

Leitner has 40 goals and 121 points in 118 career contests at Minnesota State, including 14 power-play tallies.

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Kyle Rau was a second-team All-American last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Kyle Rau, Minnesota senior

Rau hit the 40-point mark for the third consecutive campaign last season, tallying 14 goals and 26 assists in 41 games as the Gophers claimed the inaugural Big Ten regular season crown and ultimately finished as the national runner-up.

Rau had two goals and three assists in five NCAA tournament games and earned second-team All-America recognition. He has averaged just over a point per game (123 points in 121 games) so far in his collegiate career.

Far from a giant on skates, the 5-foot-8, 173-pound speedster from Eden Prairie, Minn., nonetheless has made extensive use of the extra room afforded him on power plays, scoring 22 goals over three years when the Gophers have had a man advantage. He especially likes to perch just off to a goaltender’s left, and then put home a pass or stuff in a rebound.

Rau, a 2011 Florida Panthers draftee, will serve as Minnesota’s captain this season and also was named to the Big Ten preseason watch list.

kevinroy Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact forwards for 2014 15

Kevin Roy had at least a point in all but eight games last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Kevin Roy, Northeastern junior

Roy surpassed a solid freshman campaign where he was named Beanpot tournament MVP by recording 19 goals and 46 points in 37 games last winter. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Quebec product, who prepped in the USHL before journeying to Huntington Avenue, has led the Huskies in scoring in both of his NCAA seasons.

“As skilled as any player in the country, especially around the net,” said an opposing coach.

Roy, who was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2012, is seemingly always around the enemy cage. He has great hands in tight, and time and again seems to find a hole with a wicked wrist shot.

Roy opened the 2013-14 campaign with a four-point game against Alabama-Huntsville and was held off the score sheet only eight times on the year. He put up two or more points in one evening a dozen times, and also had a four-assist performance against Hockey East rival Maine.

The Huskies hope to improve on last year’s fifth-place league finish and get back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2008.

devinshore1 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact forwards for 2014 15

Devin Shore had 43 points in 35 games last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Devin Shore, Maine junior

A 6-foot-1, 185-pound native of Ajax, Ontario, Shore will serve as alternate captain with the Black Bears this year after registering 14 goals and 43 points in 35 outings as a sophomore. He paced Maine in scoring for the second straight season while more than doubling his freshman goal output.

Shore earned Hockey East first-team honors and second-team All-America accolades, was chosen as the Black Bears’ MVP and was a three-time choice as Hockey East player of the week.

A Dallas Stars 2012 draft choice, Shore fashioned an 11-game point streak at midseason in which he racked up a total of 21 points and had five multiple-point outings, including a five-point night. On the season, he finished with 11 games of two points or more. He’s adept on a backhander in close or can easily wrist the puck home from the top of the circle.

Shore was tabbed as the Maine scholar-athlete award winner last season and also was a repeat member of the Hockey East all-academic team.

DSC 7500 Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockeys impact forwards for 2014 15

Cody Wydo is the nation’s leading returning goal scorer (photo: Omar Phillips).

Cody Wydo, Robert Morris senior

Wydo scored more goals (31) last season than anyone in Division I hockey not named Johnny Gaudreau and had more points (54) than he did in his first two seasons combined with the Colonials.

“Most dynamic goal scorer in the league,” said one coach. “Good on both sides of the puck with scoring goals. Scores them pretty, ugly — just scores.”

Wydo, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound native of Allen Park, Mich., had six multiple-goal games in 2013-14, including three hat tricks, and also posted at least one point in 17 of his last 19 games. A former 40-goal scorer in junior hockey, he tallied three goals and an assist in the Atlantic Hockey title game against Canisius, then added a goal and an assist against Minnesota in the Colonials’ first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.

He likes to skate to the high traffic areas and put away rebounds, and his 65 goals to date are a Robert Morris career record. Expect that number to change quickly.

NCAA grants Collier waiver to play this season at Northeastern after transfer

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Brendan Collier played in 29 games for Boston University as a freshman (photo: Melissa Wade).

Brendan Collier is eligible to play this season for Northeastern after the former Boston University player won an appeal with the NCAA.

Collier, who was cut from the Terriers roster after last season, transferred to Northeastern and sought to avoid having to sit out a season.

The forward tweeted Monday that he was granted immediate eligibility with the Huskies.


A Northeastern spokesperson confirmed Collier can play for the Huskies this season. Collier has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Collier applied for a legislative relief waiver to eliminate the traditional one-year waiting period after a transfer on the grounds that he was not given a chance to continue to compete for his former school.

He had one goal and three assists in 29 games last season for the Terriers.

Minnesota leads men’s preseason poll for first time since 2003

2014041020 43 175583 Minnesota leads mens preseason poll for first time since 2003

Minnesota and North Dakota are the top two teams in the preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for the 2014-15 season (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Minnesota is atop the preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for the first time in 11 years.

The Golden Gophers got 36 of the 50 first-place votes to take the top spot, ahead of No. 2 North Dakota and No. 3 Providence.

Boston College placed fourth in the preseason rankings, with defending national champion Union in fifth.

Minnesota, which lost to Union in last season’s title game, was ranked No. 1 in 17 of 25 polls last season. The Gophers have been ranked first at the start of the season twice before in the USCHO.com poll, which is entering its 18th season — in 2002 and 2003, after they won national titles.

In all, 42 of the 59 Division I men’s teams received at least one vote from the 50-voter panel made up of coaches, media members and sports professionals.

See the full rankings here.

WCHA season preview: New commissioner Kemp oversees season of change

Brandt Hannah 129 WCHA season preview: New commissioner Kemp oversees season of change

With Amanda Kessel gone for the year with an injury, Minnesota will depend even more on the play of Hannah Brandt.

It is a season of change in the WCHA.

For the first time since the league’s inaugural season of 1999-2000, it doesn’t have the defending national champion. That doesn’t necessarily indicate that its days as the country’s top league are over, however, as half of the WCHA is ranked in USCHO’s preseason poll, including the teams in the top two spots.

Off the ice, the conference has a new leader. Aaron Kemp takes over as commissioner, replacing the retiring Sara Martin, who was at the helm for the first 15 campaigns. Kemp comes to the WCHA from Mercyhurst, where he was the senior associate athletic director.

“We’re continuing to build the WCHA brand by exploring new initiatives, which I believe will positively impact the league members and student athletes, both past and present,” he said.

Kemp went on to provide examples, which included centralizing offices with the WCHA men’s league in Edina, Minnesota.

“We are looking into sponsorship opportunities, entering the initial stages of developing corporate sponsorships we feel will support and enhance the league’s fan and participant experiences,” Kemp said. “We’re looking into some broadcast initiatives. Some work remains to be done here, but we’re exploring avenues to increase the WCHA’s exposure, both through live game streaming and through network broadcast partners.”

According to him, the WCHA is interested in growing.

“We’re going to look at expansion,” Kemp said. “I believe the sport of women’s college hockey has a strong future, and while nothing is imminent, we will explore expansion opportunities as they become available at institutions that fit within our mission and our geographic footprint.”

For the present, it will continue as an eight-team league, just as it has been since North Dakota joined a decade ago.

Two of those programs feature new head coaches this season. At Bemidji State, James Scanlan takes over for the retiring Steve Sertich, while Eric Rud has replaced Jeff Giesen at St. Cloud State.

There’s been considerable turnover on the player rosters as well, most notably at Minnesota State with 13 freshmen. Minnesota-Duluth features 11 skaters who were not with the team at the end of last season.

The league’s coaches didn’t judge all of the flux as a reason to foresee radical changes from last year’s final standings in their preseason poll. The only alterations they made as a collective were to bump UMD ahead of North Dakota into third place and move Minnesota State over Bemidji State into sixth.

How do I see it? Between the regular season and tournament, Minnesota has won five straight conference crowns, and such a string of success in the league is unprecedented. UMD only managed half of the league titles while fashioning its string of three NCAA crowns, and four in a row was the best previous Minnesota and Wisconsin teams could muster. The league is too balanced for the Gophers’ run to continue much longer, so I’ll pick the Badgers to finish on top this time.

The top four should be more closely bunched than they have been of late. UMD looks like its roster has been upgraded to the extent that the Bulldogs will be more competitive with the teams above them than over the last couple of seasons, when they were just a .500 team in the league, so I’ll side with the coaches and say UMD moves back into the top three. That leaves Ohio State as a very solid fifth with an outside shot at finishing in the top half of the standings.

Between coaches and players, the other three teams have too much adjusting ahead to escape the bottom three slots, although any permutation of their order wouldn’t be a surprise. So I’ll call the WCHA regular season race as:

1)    Wisconsin
2)    Minnesota
3)    Minnesota-Duluth
4)    North Dakota
5)    Ohio State
6)    Bemidji State
7)    St. Cloud State
8)    Minnesota State

Wisconsin Badgers
USCHO prediction: First
Coaches’ prediction: Second
Last season: Second (28-8-2, 21-5-2 WCHA)
The names
After a few classes that lacked the sizzle that folks in Madison have come to expect, Mark Johnson and his staff got things moving in the right direction last season.

“With some of the pieces we have returning, things look good from that standpoint,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to win a lot of hockey games, but we certainly have some pieces coming back, and that starts with our goaltender, Ann-Renée [Desbiens], who played 11 games last year and got her feet wet within the league and certainly played well and certainly is looking forward to playing this year as a sophomore.”

Desbiens, who will be backed by Boston College transfer Megan Miller, established herself as the heir apparent to the now-graduated All-American Alex Rigsby, so the tradition of stingy Badgers in net looks destined to continue for another three years.

“Now if she plays every game, I don’t know,” Johnson said. “I can’t predict that, but she’s going to get most of the load as we look at the entire year right now.”

Sarah Nurse, another member of the sophomore class, was the first Wisconsin forward in three years to crack the 20-point barrier as a rookie, and forward Sydney McKibbon and defenseman Mellissa Channell also got their college careers off to strong starts.

Forward Annie Pankowski was expected to be the centerpiece of last season’s class, but her centralization with the United States national team delayed her Wisconsin debut by a year.

“For her, getting the opportunity to play with the national team last year, practice, compete with our best players over the course of the time she was with them, I think helps anybody,” Johnson said. “When you can watch some of our best players train every day, work out not only on the ice but off the ice, watch how they conduct their lives, if you choose to be an elite athlete, you have to make some sacrifices. For Annie, being around those kids for a period of time last year will help in regards to how she’s going to grow as a player. She’s one of those players that I look at that if she can get off to a good start here and really gain some confidence in the early part of the season, she has a chance to have a special year.”

Pankowski isn’t the only well-regarded rookie in a class that includes forwards Emily Clark and Baylee Wellhausen, plus defensemen Maddie Rolfes and Lauren Williams. They are added to the group of returning players that includes Patty Kazmaier Award Top-10 finalist Brittany Ammerman, forward Blayre Turnbull coming off a breakout junior campaign, and two-way defenseman Courtney Burke.

“I think that if you can add depth, you certainly can have a handful of kids that have an ability to score goals and put points up over the course of the season, and that’s going to help you,” Johnson said. “Teams will adjust, players will have good nights, they’ll have off nights, and the more kids you have that have the ability to score, it certainly bodes well for that particular team.”

The numbers
Goal production increased slightly last year, up to three goals per game. Further improvement is needed to regain championship status. Three of Wisconsin’s NCAA Championship teams averaged more than four goals per game, with the two most recent of those scoring more than five goals per game.

That production would be helped if the power play clicked more than once a weekend. Last season, Wisconsin scored 21 goals with the advantage, a four-goal improvement. That wasn’t enough to keep the Badgers from being shut out five times after being blanked six times the year before.

After freshman and sophomore seasons that saw her record 14 and eight points respectively, Turnbull jumped to 40 points as a junior. Similar growth by others would offset the loss to graduation of Madison Packer, who tallied 104 points in her career.

At the other end of the ice, Rigsby set a new Wisconsin mark with 100 career wins, tied for second overall in NCAA history.

The prognosis
If Wisconsin has aspirations of winning the league, one area where improvement is mandatory is the head-to-head results versus Minnesota. After the Gophers dominated the first six years of the series, the Badgers seized control and reduced the deficit to just two games early in the 2011-12 season. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, and Minnesota has taken 11 straight meetings.

The addition of Pankowski, Clark, and Wellhausen to a group of forwards that gains a year of experience should ignite a few more offensive explosions and allow the Badgers to claim their first trophy since moving into LaBahn Arena.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
USCHO prediction: Second
Coaches’ prediction: First
Last season: First (38-2-1, 26-1-1 WCHA)
The names
The biggest news to come out of the Minnesota program over the off season was the announcement that lingering concussion symptoms would prevent 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel from rejoining the Gophers.

“I knew it was a possibility,” Brad Frost said. “Amanda and I had kept in contact all summer and were very honest with one another. I just knew that she wasn’t doing real well. I had hoped that throughout the summer she would continue to improve and her symptoms would go away to the point where she could at least come back and do school and get treatment here, but in the end, we did what was best for her, as going to school was just too much for her with the symptoms that she has.”

As much as it hurts to lose Kessel and her 100-point potential, the Gophers didn’t have her last year either, and they still managed to do okay. A more immediate concern may be finding a couple of centers to replace graduates Sarah Davis and Kelly Terry, because among returnees, only Hannah Brandt saw extensive minutes in the middle.

“Right now, Kelly Pannek, I believe, will fill one of those spots, and we’re trying a couple other players out at the third center spot,” Frost said. “At this point, potentially Dani Cameranesi or Kate Schipper or even Megan Wolfe could fill that third spot.”

With Pannek being a rookie and the others sophomores, it figures to be tough to replace the defensive savvy that the veterans brought to the position.

Beyond that puzzle, Minnesota looks to be in great shape.

“I think it’s too early to say, but I’ve been impressed with all four of our freshmen,” Frost said. “They’re fitting in great. We’re obviously expecting some big things again from Hannah Brandt and Rachael Bona. Dani Cameranesi had a tremendous year last year as well. But I think we’ve got some extremely strong D, we’re great in the nets, and have some kids that can put the puck in the net.”

Lee Stecklein returns from her stint with the United States Olympic Team to fill the hole on the blue line created by the graduation of Baylee Gillanders. The defensive corps is further bolstered by the addition of the reigning Ms. Hockey in the state of Minnesota, Sydney Baldwin. Until recently, the conventional thinking was that it took time for a high school player to adjust to the speed of the college game, but that didn’t prevent Brandt and Cameranesi, the previous two Ms. Hockey winners, from going on to add WCHA Rookie of the Year to their laurels. The other two additions to the roster are freshmen forwards Cara Piazza and Nina Rodgers.

The numbers
After setting an NCAA record for power-play efficiency at 32.2 percent in 2013, the Gophers bettered it in March when they finished with a 32.7 percent conversion rate. Here again, Davis and Terry will need to be replaced, but the other members of the power play units return.

Six of the team’s top nine forwards are back, and all recorded at least 29 points, with Brandt and Bona topping 60. Minnesota also generated a lot of offense from its blue line, led by senior Rachel Ramsey (43 points) and junior Milica McMillen (39 points).

Redshirt freshman Sidney Peters will provide depth in net behind junior Amanda Leveille, whose numbers heading into the Frozen Four were very similar to those turned in by Noora Räty on her way to NCAA titles. Unfortunately for Leveille and her teammates, the 5-4 loss to Clarkson ended a stretch of 90 games where Minnesota had allowed three goals or less.

The prognosis
“I think they’re extremely hungry,” Frost said. “They’ve tasted that defeat in the biggest moment of their careers. They certainly realized how vulnerable they were as we lost that last game, but I know that there is an extra hunger this year to try and get back to that game, and obviously with the Frozen Four being hosted right here at Ridder Arena, the goal is to make it back to that game.”

When Minnesota claimed the NCAA title in 2012, there was little doubt that the team saved its best hockey for the postseason. The challenge for Leveille and her teammates is to figure out how to do that again, even if it means that the WCHA crown goes elsewhere.

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
USCHO prediction: Third
Coaches’ prediction: Third
Last season: Fourth (15-15-6, 11-11-6 WCHA)
The names
In the past when she has been unhappy with her team’s play, Shannon Miller has removed the player names from their jerseys to remind them that the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the one on the back. She may not be able to do that early this season, at least until everyone on the team figures out who all of their teammates are.

“We’ve got 11 new faces that were not here last year,” Miller said. “That’s a large contingent on a team of 24. New energy, new goals, and we anticipate having a good season.”

The last couple of seasons at Minnesota-Duluth weren’t bad by many programs’ standards, but the Bulldogs failed to reach 20 wins for the only two times in their history. Now much of the roster has turned over, although not all of the additions are rookies.

“[Forward] Brienna Gillanders is back in our lineup as a senior this year; she redshirted last year,” Miller said. “[Defenseman] Brigette Lacquette did not make Team Canada, but she’s back, and she’s hungry, and she wants to prove herself.”

UMD has added a pair of Hockey East forwards as transfers, junior Michela Cava from Connecticut and sophomore Karissa Kirkup via Maine. There are also seven freshmen beginning their NCAA careers.

“I think one young woman that people will notice early on will be Michelle Lowenhielm,” Miller said. “She’s from Sweden, and she was on their national team for a few years and on their Olympic team, and she’s just a really good athlete. She’s a really good player, and she’s got a lot of confidence. It’s early, I’ve only had them for not even a week yet, but you notice her out on the ice. She stepped up. She’s not shying away as a freshman.”

The reinforcements will offset the graduation of Jamie Kenyon, the team’s second-leading scorer. As for the blue line, it looks to have been transformed from an area of concern a couple of years ago to the team’s strength. While Lacquette missed out on the Olympic dream, the unit does boast two Olympians in senior Tea Villila of Finland and Swiss sophomore Lara Stalder, and it’s been further bolstered by the incoming class.

“We’ve got some new defensemen like Jess Healey and Catherine Daoust, who played on Canada’s U-18 team,” Miller said. “They’re smaller D, but they’re good. They’ve got good vision, good feet, good hands. They’re very smart players; you’re going to notice them. Defensemen don’t always get the spotlight as much as the forwards, obviously, but they sure help you when you’re defending the rush and they sure help you get out of your zone on the breakout. They’re key pieces of the puzzle. I think both freshmen will do a good job for us.”

Junior Kayla Black has started 64 games in net in her two season in Duluth, and she figures to get the bulk of the work once more.

The numbers
UMD rose to the top of college hockey thanks in large part to the efforts of highly skilled forwards, but Jenna McParland’s 33 points last year were the most by a Bulldog since Haley Irwin recorded 54 as a senior. Lacking players that can exceed a point per game, the team offense has failed to average three goals per game. Should a scoring star fail to emerge, an offense by committee would be helped by further improvement in a power play whose efficiency rose from 14 percent to 17.4.

At the other end of the ice, Black has been steady, posting a career save percentage of 0.919 in two very similar seasons. As yet, she hasn’t demonstrated an ability to play at a Kim Martin level and win games by herself if need be. It would help her cause if her teammates could reduce the frequency of their trips to the penalty box, as the Bulldogs have ranked in the top five in penalty minutes per game in the last three seasons, each of which ended without an NCAA tournament bid.

The prognosis
The key for UMD will be how quickly all of the new pieces can be assembled into a team, because the schedule starts in September at Connecticut and quickly toughens with three ranked league opponents.

“I’d like to have three weeks with my team,” Miller said. “One week is certainly not enough; I don’t even think two weeks is enough. I think three weeks is reasonable. Then you can start with basics that you should be starting with and building blocks and add and progress and not try to push and rush things. When you only have one week, obviously, you can’t get everything in.”

If her team can survive that quick start, the Bulldogs have a good chance to resume their position in the WCHA’s top three.

North Dakota
USCHO prediction: Fourth
Coaches’ prediction: Fourth
Last season: Third (20-12-4, 14-10-4 WCHA)
The names
Heading into last season, the question was how would North Dakota fare in the wake of the graduation of Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, and for much of the season, UND did just fine. Thanks to the arrival of a talented freshman class and the maturation of the team’s sophomores, it hung in and around the top five most of the way.

Then the Olympics arrived, forwards Michelle Karvinen and Susanna Tapani headed to Russia to compete for Finland, and defenseman Tanja Eisenschmid left to join Team Germany.

“That’s the first time that we’ve really dealt with that,” Brian Idalski said. “Missing players for upwards of a month, especially down the stretch run, was really interesting. I thought that was a lot of experience and trial by fire for a lot of our younger kids. We didn’t handle it as well as we could have toward the end, but I didn’t think we played poorly during that stretch. I just thought that some of our younger kids hit a wall and got a lot of experience, and to thrust them into that situation wasn’t totally fair, but I knew they’d be better for it down the road.”

North Dakota paid a price in the short term, and a 1-6-1 finish to the regular season cost Idalski’s team a chance at a third straight at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. He hopes for a future dividend.

“A lot of players returning from the squad last year got a lot of experience through the Olympic break and we’re looking forward to our freshman class becoming sophomores, taking a step up leadership wise,” Idalski said. “I feel pretty good about where we are with our defensive corps and our goaltending situation.”

The defense is anchored by Eisenschmid and a pair of rising stars in sophomores Gracen Hirschy and Halli Krzyzaniak, while the crease is the province of junior Shelby Amsley-Benzie and sophomore Lexie Shaw.

“We’ll probably split both of them,” Idalski said. “Both of them deserve to play; both of them had good summers. Lexi Shaw as a freshman walks in and wins games on the road at Wisconsin and Minnesota. That’s no slouch either, so I’m pretty confident in both of those kids that can play in big games. We’re going to try and keep them fresh, and whoever is the hot hand down the stretch is going to get the games.”

Karvinen has graduated and Tapani opted to depart as well, leaving Josefine Jakobsen and Meghan Dufault as the only returning forwards to reach the 20-point mark.

“Up front, it’s going to be interesting to see who steps up for us to put the puck in the net consistently,” Idalski said. “Plenty of kids with experience have worked hard this summer and I think are ready for some of those roles.”

The numbers
While Jakobsen has been a steady contributor in Grand Forks with 110 career points, she hasn’t demonstrated the explosive capabilities of the Lamoureux sisters or Karvinen, all of whom produced 60, 70, or 80-point seasons. Junior Meghan Dufault has hinted at great things, but injuries dampened her sophomore season and her production dropped by 13 points. North Dakota’s scoring overall fell to 96 goals last year after tallying 155 and 144 in the team’s two NCAA tournament years.

That decline places an even greater importance on scoring defense, and the 2013-14 squad improved in that regard, decreasing its goals allowed from 2.26 to 2.06. A factor aiding that gain is UND went from one of the most penalized teams in the country to middle of the pack in penalty minutes.

The prognosis
No matter how the conference standings end up, the four teams that advance to the WCHA semifinals in Grand Forks will have a realistic chance of winning the tournament. North Dakota has demonstrated as much by knocking off Wisconsin in the semis in back-to-back years.

The problem for UND and the other WCHA teams that lose out on the league’s automatic bid to the NCAAs is finding a way to overcome the math inherent in an intraconference-heavy schedule and reach the national tournament anyway.

“You have to do extremely well in your nonconference, not only for yourself but for the rest of your league,” Idalski said. “Those games are huge. Our league has traditionally done extremely well nonconference, but it just means that every point is important within our league, even more so.”

The CHA champion also gets an automatic bid for the first time, so only four at-large bids will be awarded, increasing the probability of upset winners from outside the top eight knocking teams ranked above them from the field.

“That’s going to cause a lot of problems,” Idalski said. “The day the WCHA gets one team into the national tournament is going to be a serious crime. It’s already a crime not to have three of us in there.”

Ohio State Buckeyes
USCHO prediction: Fifth
Coaches’ prediction: Fifth
Last season: Fifth (15-17-5, 9-14-5 WCHA)
The names
Graduated seniors Chelsea Knapp and Lisa Steffes dominated the goalie position for Ohio State in recent years, so the first order of business for the Buckeyes will be settling on a starter in the crease.

“One way or another, I think our goaltending situation is going to be put into the limelight right away, because I think it will be one of the two freshmen that step up and have a chance to get some playing time and be able to figure out college hockey,” Nate Handrahan said.

Those rookie goalies, Alex LaMere and Kassidy Sauve, join redshirt junior Stacy Danzak, who has less than a period of work on her collegiate resume.

“We don’t have a lot of time from an evaluation perspective to figure out where we want to be,” Handrahan said. “I think there’s going to be some cream that rises to the top, so to speak. I’m fairly confident that we’re going to be looking for a starter, but at the same time still having the opportunity for their competition. Kind of like NFL football: if you have two, you don’t have one as far as quarterbacks go. I think from a goaltending perspective, it’s important to find that starter that’s going to be able to get it done, day in and day out.”

Whoever emerges as the goaltender, her job will be made easier by the help from the defensemen in front of her.

“With returning so many kids from last year’s squad and seeing some kids develop over the summertime, yeah, I would say that on the back end, we’re pretty good,” Handrahan said. “I think that they understand what we ask of them, understand how to play in the way that we need them to.”

The centerpieces of that blue line contingent are seniors Kari and Sara Schmitt.

“I think it’s obvious with the Schmitt twins that they do so many good things for us and are a big part of it,” Handrahan said. “Looking for them to have a very solid senior year.”

OSU also needs to plug a hole at the forward position created by the graduation of leading scorer Ally Tarr.

“Up front, I think Taylor Kuehl has done nice things over her career and will have some opportunities as well to do more of those going forward,” the coach said.

With 61 career points, senior Kuehl is tied for the top among returnees with Sara Schmitt. There are others poised to contribute.

“I think [junior Julia] McKinnon had a down year last year,” Handrahan said. “But she was able to put up some pretty good numbers as a freshman, as did [sophomore Claudia] Kepler last season, if they want to continue to stay on a trajectory to be able to produce. But I think one of the things that separates the WCHA from a lot of other leagues is our depth. I think that you need to continue to find that inside your line-up, and being able to field three and four lines a night that are going to be able to go out and contribute to having success.”

“Offensively, I would say that we need players that are going to step up and execute when their time is right, when the opportunity is there for them to make a play. I don’t know that I would necessarily say that we have a prolific, dynamic offensive player up front, and it will be the group that really helps us.”

The numbers
Ohio State led the country in penalty minutes last year with an average of 14.7 minutes per game, and to do so again with inexperienced goaltending and an unproven offense is a recipe for disaster. Admittedly, many of those penalties were assessed at the conclusion of a loss to Bemidji State and that inflated the average, but that event seemed to mire the Buckeyes in a slump for the rest of the month. There were other instances where a lack of discipline contributed directly to a defeat.

OSU had some good results versus ranked teams, including three wins over North Dakota, a win over an eventual Frozen Four team in Mercyhurst, and a tie versus Minnesota, but it also struggled versus teams beneath it in the standings, splitting the head-to-head matchups with Minnesota State and losing the season series to Bemidji State. Greater consistency on a nightly basis will go a long way toward improving the fortunes in Columbus.

The prognosis
If the Buckeyes can get quality goaltending, the strength of the blue line, depth at the forward position, and size throughout the line-up should allow them to devote more energy to pressuring the teams above them than worrying about a challenge from below.

Bemidji State Beavers
USCHO prediction: Sixth
Coaches’ prediction: Seventh
Last season: Sixth (11-21-4, 8-17-3 WCHA)
The names
If we are still getting accustomed to this year’s edition of the Beavers, we’re not alone.

“As far as Bemidji State University women’s hockey, I guess everything is new,” said coach James Scanlan. “It’s new for the team. We have a unique situation getting on board so late, I really didn’t get a chance to meet most of the team until they came up here for the start of the year.”

Scanlan retains both of the team’s assistant coaches from last season, Shane Veenker and former BSU player Amber Fryklund, but as he was previously the girls’ hockey coach at East Grand Forks High School, there is some adjustment to the NCAA game.

“So far what I’ve seen is a great work ethic,” Scanlan said. “The girls come to work every day. I’ve got to give a shout out to Steve Sertich for that; I think it’s a direct result of him and what he brought to this program. Certainly, he recruited every one of these players.”

Nineteen players from last year’s roster are back, including sophomore and primary goaltender Brittni Mowat.

“Certainly Brittni with her experience gives her a bit of a leg up in terms of being the starter, but Erin Deters is a very good athlete,” Scanlan said. “She redshirted last year. She certainly is working hard and deserves an opportunity. Playing two nonconference series back to back will give us an opportunity to give her some game experience, because she hasn’t played now since her high school days.”

Second-leading scorer Tess Dusik graduated, but a large contingent of veteran scorers returns.

“For all the players, they have a new set of eyes on them, so it’s kind of a fresh start for them in terms of what their role could be,” Scanlan said. “Early on, some of our upperclassmen really stepped forward. I think one in particular is Steph Anderson, a redshirt junior, that has really had a good fall camp in terms of workouts. The first three days, she’s just been a leader in everything we’re doing. Every drill she’s working extremely hard. Kaitlyn Tougas is another one that has a lot of skill and is looking very solid so far.”

Tougas was the team’s leading scorer last season, and after just two years she leads the returnees in career points.

The Beavers graduated a couple of their top defensemen, but other veterans are back.

“Ivana Bilic on the blue line is certainly someone that we’re going to be counting on,” Scanlan said. “She’s got tremendous skills, and with her skill set she can certainly be an all-league type player for us.”

The numbers
Bemidji State didn’t have a ton of offense last year, scoring just 64 times, but most of the threats are back, as only a dozen goals came from the team’s seniors.

Mowat had a very solid debut, turning in a respectable .918 save percentage despite battling an illness in her inaugural campaign.

Under Sertich, Bemidji State’s specialty teams were usually a strength, and it would aid the new regime if that continued.

The prognosis
While I picked BSU to hold on to the sixth spot, its edge over other teams is small and it could easily drop a spot or two.

One key will be getting off to a good start, something Bemidji did in sweeping Robert Morris on opening weekend.

“We’ll just keep things basic,” Scanlan said. “We know it’s a process. We know we’re going to be a much better hockey team in January, February, than we’ll be right now, but every day is an opportunity to get better. That’s the attitude we’re taking. For us, it’s just trying to instill a few systems. But as I explained to the team, if we show up and we work hard and play together, then we’re going to have an opportunity to be successful.”

St. Cloud State Huskies
USCHO prediction: Seventh
Coaches’ prediction: Eighth
Last season: Eighth (4-27-5, 3-21-4 WCHA)
The names
Eric Rud, a former assistant to Scott Owens at Colorado College, is the new coach at St. Cloud State, and he has a pair of new assistants.

“I’d like to say how lucky our program got to bring on the two assistant coaches that decided to come on board with us with Jinelle Siergiej from Robert Morris last year, former Badger greats, Olympian, she’s been tremendous with our girls so far — on ice, off ice, just real excited to bring her experience on board, and Steve Macdonald was at Duluth the last three years, has a lot of experience in our league,” Rud said.

The staff inherits a team that is built from the net out.

“When you look positionally a little bit with our team, we’re very fortunate, I think we have a strong situation between our nets,” Rud said. “I really like the way the girls have looked so far in there. A lot of experience with a senior [Julie Friend], junior [Katie Fitzgerald], and sophomore back there, and really looking for that to be a strong piece of our team this year.”

Senior Audrey Hanmer heads the returning defensemen.

“When you look at our defensive corps, we’re young with two freshmen, three sophomores, a senior, and a junior, but so far, obviously early on, but they really seem to be mobile, smart, a group that we’re real excited to work with and has a chance to really improve as the season goes on,” Rud said. “So I think defensively to start, we have something to build on to hopefully get us going early in the season.”

The problem for Rud and the Huskies remains the same as it was in recent years for previous coach Jeff Giesen.

“The big question mark for us is goal scoring,” Rud said. “Who is going to step up and become the offensive threats? I think there’s a lot of questions there and no answers yet, but so far, I’ve really liked our competitive spirit and the way the girls would attack everything we’ve done so far.”

That sounds very similar to how SCSU performed offensively under Giesen. The players worked and gave it a good effort for 60 minutes, but the puck wouldn’t go into the net for them. By the time a forward acquired a bit of a scoring touch, her eligibility was up, and the search for offense continued. So it is again as both Molli Mott and Julia Gilbert tallied double-digit goals and then graduated.

One possible source of new offense is junior Molly Illikainen, a transfer who recorded 48 points in her two seasons at Providence.

“I’m really excited about how she’s looked so far,” Rud said. “She’s got great size and great presence, poise, on a team where we’re a little small at some positions it seems. She brings a nice element there. Playing some small games doing some things out there where she showed that she has the ability to produce. So I think that was a nice pickup for our program having her come in.”

The numbers
If this was a professional league, then St. Cloud State would likely have traded one of its goalies for some scoring punch.

Friend had a very respectable junior season with a nice .926 save percentage, but it is tough for a goaltender to record wins when her team gets her a single goal of support and on average adds a second goal every third time out. That added up to an 0-20-2 mark versus the top five teams in the league.

The prognosis
One gets the sense that the current crop of Huskies is tired of losing and anxious to have some success playing for a new staff, but whether or not they can make a push up the standings this season, the key for Rud will be how results trend in the years to come.

“I think for me, St. Cloud State is a place that I believe can produce a successful program,” he said. “Our new renovation of our facility is absolutely beautiful, and a great place for young women to come and spend four years. There’s so many great programs academically with our school that I’m really excited to get out, work, and bring some top-level athletes here and turn things around a little bit. As a coach, I think you’re always looking for the next challenge, and this is a great one and a great opportunity for myself.”

Minnesota State Mavericks
USCHO prediction: Eighth
Coaches’ prediction: Sixth
Last season: Seventh (13-23-1, 7-20-1 WCHA)
The names
Coach Eric Means’ staff returns intact; his roster does not.

“We have a very young hockey team this year. We have 13 freshmen on our roster. We graduated eight girls, and for a variety of reasons, had a couple of girls that had to leave the program, so we’ve got a lot of new faces in our line-up this year, but we do also return a few key players.”

Unfortunately, that number doesn’t include Minnesota State’s starting goaltender, most of the top forwards, or the leading scorer from the blue line.

Junior Erin Krichiver looks to inherit the job in net.

“I’ve always been a coach that believes in playing the No. 1 [goaltender] as long as she’s playing like a No. 1 in our league,” Means said. “Even early on, Erin looks very good. She’s in great shape. She’s just got a little bit different swagger about her right now, knowing that this should be her job to lose, so I think she’s really stepped up here over the individual workouts and the first few days of practice and has looked like a No. 1 goalie in our league. So I hope she’s the girl that we can play 30 to 32 games a year like we have with Danielle Butters the past couple years.”

Of the returning forwards, only one tallied double digits in points a year ago.

“When you look at our scoring chart from last year, it was senior-dominated outside of Kathleen Rogan,” Means said. “I think Kathleen is obviously going to have to score for us, and then we’re going to have to score by committee through everybody else. While we may not have All Americans, they’ve got to be able to chip in, whether it’s on a nightly basis or a weekly basis that the scoring is getting spread around. Some of those freshmen are going to have to obviously contribute this year for us to score some more goals, which we need to.”

Through the early days of practice, Means has spotted a couple of likely candidates.

“Nicole Schammel from Red Wing, she’s one of those players while if you were to look at her off the ice, you would be, ‘Really? She’s a hockey player?’ but the moment it drops and you do anything for real, she just does things that in my previous five years we haven’t had anybody that sees the ice like her. She’s just got hockey sense; she’s oozing with hockey sense. She does things that are basically uncoachable. She’s just got that knack. Elin Johansson, a Swedish girl, [is] completely different — a big girl, has got a great set of mitts. Played on their U-18 national team for three years. I think when it’s all said and done, she’s going to be very good.”

Sandwiched in between is a blue line that has some rookies as well.

“The one thing I like about some of our freshmen defensemen, whether it’s Victoria Lovdal or Emma Wittchow or Anna Keys, they’re very good skaters,” Means said. “That’s the one thing I noticed right away, how much better our blue line skated the moment we got out there. And part of that is because [senior] Shelby [Moteyunas] is a leader now. [Senior] Elisabeth Hewett is in the best possible shape she’s ever been in and looks phenomenal.”

The numbers
The critical number is the 13 freshmen. That’s a huge number for a program that has been around for a while, and it will require a bit of manipulation so that the cycle doesn’t repeat in four years.

That inexperience is compounded by the fact that Krichiver has just over a dozen games worth of minutes in goal, and young teams typically need their goaltenders to bail them out often.

The prognosis
The problem with a huge amount of roster turnover is that it is like playing draw poker; the more cards you draw, the greater the uncertainty regarding the strength of the resulting hand.

The Mavericks could very well be upgrading their talent level with this recruiting class. The problem in the short term is that rookies have to deal with the double whammy of the learning curve at the start of the season and the onset of fatigue later on. For that reason, I look for MSU to finish last, but should the new regimes in St. Cloud and Bemidji falter, sixth place isn’t far away.

Fratkin hired as top assistant coach for St. Michael’s men’s squad

Wesleyan spring graduate Casey Fratkin has been named the top assistant coach of the Saint Michael’s College men’s team.

Fratkin comes to Saint Michael’s after a four-year collegiate playing career split between Wesleyan and Elmira College. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history with a concentration in European history.

“I would like to thank Coach [Damian] DiGiulian and the Saint Michael’s College athletic department for the opportunity to work for the men’s ice hockey program,” said Fratkin in a news release. “This is a hockey program that is headed in the right direction under Damian’s guidance, and I am excited to work and learn from him during this upcoming season. Furthermore, Saint Michael’s is an outstanding academic institution, and I could not think of a better place to begin my collegiate coaching career.”

“We are thrilled to have Casey join the Saint Michael’s hockey family,” added DiGiulian. “Casey stood out in the interview process as an intelligent, thoughtful and dedicated young coach who will bring good energy to our program. His desire to be a coach and his work ethic sets him apart from many young coaches out there. Along with our two other coaches, Brent Truchon and Ryan Garrow, I am confident that we will have a coaching staff that is committed to helping our student-athletes reach their highest potential.”

Fratkin began volunteering in 2006 as an on-ice instructor and mentor for the Hockey Education Reaching Out Society (HEROS), a Vancouver-based program dedicated to teaching basic hockey skills to economically-challenged youths. He also worked with the Two-Way Hockey School since 2008 and coached the Vancouver Ravens Hockey Club Pee Wee team in the spring of 2010.

Minnesota’s Bristedt out 2 games after NCAA amateurism ruling

Minnesota freshman Leon Bristedt must sit out the first two games of the season after the NCAA ruled that he played with professionals while with a Swedish amateur team.

Bristedt’s Linkoping team in Sweden featured a professional player for two games, which under NCAA rules means a two-game punishment.

That’ll keep him out of the Gophers’ games against Minnesota-Duluth and either host Notre Dame or Rensselaer at the IceBreaker Tournament.

He is eligible to play in Minnesota’s exhibition game against the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology on Oct. 4.

Veteran North Dakota gets media’s nod as pick to win NCHC

With 20 letterwinners returning from a team that made it to the Frozen Four last season, North Dakota has been picked to finish first in the NCHC by league media members.

North Dakota finished second in the league standings last season behind St. Cloud State, which was picked for third this season behind Miami in polling of 25 media members who cover the league.

Team (first-place votes)
1. North Dakota (12)181
2. Miami (9)167
3. St. Cloud State (4)151
4. Denver117
5. Minnesota-Duluth112
6. Nebraska-Omaha73
7. Western Michigan67
8. Colorado College32

Miami was last year’s pick to finish first, but the RedHawks instead finished in last place in the league’s inaugural season.

Media members also selected six players for a preseason all-conference team, with North Dakota goalie Zane McIntyre the only unanimous selection.

Update: Boston mayor supportive of games in Belfast, not moving Beanpot

beanpotfront Update: Boston mayor supportive of games in Belfast, not moving Beanpot

The Beanpot tournament has been played in Boston since the 1952-53 season (photo: Melissa Wade).

UPDATE, 3:56 p.m. EDT: It seems the Beanpot is safe in Boston.

After criticism abounded Friday morning over talk of playing the Beanpot tournament in Belfast based on stories from Northern Ireland that said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was supportive of an effort to “bring the NCAA Beanpot tournament to the city,” Kate Norton, Walsh’s press secretary, issued the following statement:

Today Mayor Walsh expressed his support for a “Belfast Beanpot” — an initiative proposed by the Odyssey Trust, to host 4-6 college hockey teams from the Boston area to play a tournament in Northern Ireland. The tournament would not replace the Beanpot. This would not be an effort to “move” the Beanpot out of Boston.

I spoke with the Mayor following the impressive press and social media firestorm that followed his interview earlier today. He conveyed to me, in no uncertain terms, that — particularly as a Boston College grad and a hockey fan — he would never move a classic Boston event like the Beanpot out of our City.

Our original story is below.

The Beanpot in Belfast? The idea apparently has the backing of Boston’s mayor.

Mayor Marty Walsh said he endorses the idea of playing the 2016 event in the Northern Ireland capital.

“In light of the recent Sister City twinning between Belfast and Boston, which is underpinned by a longstanding connection between the two cities through ice hockey, I think it would be wonderful to bring the Beanpot to Belfast and am lending my support to the campaign,” Walsh said Friday during a visit to Belfast.

The tournament has been played since the 1952-53 season in Boston between Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern, but recent college football games in Dublin may have laid the groundwork for a Beanpot special event across the pond.

Notre Dame beat Navy in front of 48,820 fans in 2012, and Penn State beat Central Florida earlier this season in front of a crowd of 53,304.

“Bringing this tournament to the Odyssey Arena is ice hockey’s answer to bringing Notre Dame to Croke Park — the impact would be massive and would bring a major economic boost not only to local sport, but to hospitality, tourism and culture in Northern Ireland,” Odyssey Trust chief executive Robert Fitzpatrick told BBC Sport.

“Ice hockey has played an important role in fostering strong relationships between Belfast and Boston, and bringing this high-profile tournament to Northern Ireland would further cement that relationship and celebrate the links between the two cities.”

Walsh is scheduled to host a delegation from the Odyssey Trust, which owns the 7,100-seat Odyssey Arena, and the Belfast Giants hockey team in October.


North Dakota’s McIntyre the lone unanimous pick on NCHC preseason all-conference team

The NCHC announced its preseason all-conference team on Wednesday, with North Dakota junior goaltender Zane McIntyre garnering 25 votes as the only unanimous selection.

Local media members from each NCHC school and select national media picked the team.

Austin CzarnikFSr.Miami
Jonny BrodzinskiFJr.St. Cloud State
Riley BarberFJr.Miami
Joey LaLeggiaDSr.Denver
Jaccob SlavinDSo.Colorado College
Zane McIntyreGJr.North Dakota

Mercyhurst the coaches’ top pick in Atlantic Hockey preseason poll results

Mercyhurst, which won the Atlantic Hockey regular-season championship in 2013-14, has been picked to once again finish atop the standings after the conference released the results of the preseason coaches’ poll on Wednesday.

The Lakers took home six first-place votes in the balloting.

Team (First-place votes)
Total Points
1. Mercyhurst (6)95
2. Robert Morris (3)89
3. Air Force (1)80
4. (tie) Bentley69
4. (tie) Niagara (1)69
6. Canisius52
7. RIT47
8. Holy Cross44
9. Sacred Heart28
10. Army20
11. American International12

Michigan Tech locks up Pearson with contract extension through 2020-21 season

Michigan Tech announced Wednesday that the contract of hockey coach Mel Pearson has been extended five years through the 2020-21 season.

“Our goal is to bring the hockey program back to national prominence,” said MTU athletic director Suzanne Sanregret in a news release. “There are many pieces to that, but finding the right coach is a critical component. Coach Pearson has demonstrated his commitment to this program. He’s brought in top-quality student-athletes and built a solid foundation. We needed this contract to continue the progress we’ve made in returning Michigan Tech hockey to an elite level.”

Pearson returned to his alma mater in 2011-12, guiding the Huskies to 16-19-4 mark and appearance in the WCHA Final Five. He was named WCHA coach of the year for helping Tech quadruple its wins total from the year before.

During his three seasons, Pearson has guided Michigan Tech hockey to 43 victories and the program’s best three-year stretch in 20 years.

“Our sports teams bring a lot of enthusiasm to campus, and our hockey program is our flagship,” added Michigan Tech president Glenn Mroz. “We really want to build this program to last. You need a coach who’s going to be around because the coach has so much influence in recruiting quality student-athletes. A long-term contract for Coach Pearson says to recruits, alumni and the community that we’re committed to making our hockey program the best it can be.”

Pearson led the Huskies to a sweep of Michigan State and a Great Lakes Invitational title game appearance a year ago. Michigan Tech compiled a 12-11-5 record in WCHA play, marking the program’s first winning mark in league play since 1992-93.

Other highlights of Pearson’s tenure include a GLI championship in 2012 (Tech’s first in 32 years of hosting the holiday tournament), five wins over top-five-ranked opponents and a surge in offensive production (2.72 goals per game over the last three years compared to 1.88 the three years prior).

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