Arizona State’s team may be new to NCAA hockey, but its roster has college experience

Greg Powers enters his eighth season as Arizona State’s head coach, but his first at the NCAA Division I level (photo: Courtney Pedroza/Sun Devil Athletics).

Arizona State’s venture into the NCAA Division I ranks this season is hardly a new team stocked with 28 freshmen.

In fact, a handful of Sun Devils players on the inaugural roster have played at the D-I level and transferred to ASU to be part of the brand-new program this year.

Players like Ryan Belonger (Northeastern), Dylan Hollman (UMass-Lowell), Wade Murphy (North Dakota) and Brock Krygier (Michigan State) all have previous college experience, while others such as Ed McGovern (Sioux Falls), Jordan Young (Youngstown), Drew Newmeyer (Indiana) and Connor Schmidt (Des Moines) came to ASU from the USHL.

Another transfer, Garrett Peterson, played at Notre Dame and is joining the Sun Devils to finish out his NCAA career. He said the vibe around the team is contagious.

“This is a group that has all the necessary pieces to achieve success,” Peterson said. “The right pieces to the puzzle are here. I think what has made the chemistry happen so quick and easy between the returnees and new guys is just the depth of stand-up gents we have in our locker room. No question marks really that I can think of.

“We’ve spent some time together now as a full group and are all aware of what is expected and the amount of focus and hard work that it is going to take to achieve success.”

Arizona State coach Greg Powers, who guided the school’s ACHA D-I program for seven seasons and won an ACHA national title in 2014, likes what he saw in preseason practices and off-ice workouts.

“We expect a lot out of this team, to be honest with you,” Powers said. “We have a lot of high-level players that we kept on from the ACHA team that helped build that program. And when you combine them with the guys we recruited, it’s really been one big group, one cohesive unit so far.”

Schedule-wise, the Sun Devils play NCAA D-I and D-III teams, as well as Canadian schools and the U.S. National Team Development Program. In January, ASU will host the Desert Hockey Classic at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., (home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes) and will bring in Connecticut, Yale and Michigan Tech — “quite a big deal for us,” said Powers.

ASU opens its Division I slate with games this weekend against Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage.

The Sun Devils also boast a fair amount of Arizona natives in Newmeyer, McGovern, Young, Anthony Croston and Cody Gylling, in addition to Michael Cummings, who played junior hockey with the Western States Hockey League’s Phoenix Knights.

Peterson, Young and Liam Norris will serve as tri-captains this season. Norris is coming off an ACHA first-team All-American season to boot.

Arizona State will be led by co-captains Liam Norris, Jordan Young and Garrett Peterson during the 2015-16 season (photo: Sun Devil Athletics).

“We expect to be a strong and resilient, well-rounded team that is an absolute pain to play against,” said Peterson. “A couple realistic goals we have set are to win the tournaments on our schedule and build a championship foundation and culture. The buzz on campus is electric. I think ASU athletics and the coaching staff are the spark of the buzz and it has certainly dispersed out among the entire student body. The team and myself could not be more amped for this inaugural season.”

When it comes to recruiting, one would think the weather would be a major selling point. After all, it is Arizona after all, right?

“If a player wants to come here for the sunshine and the palm trees, they’re not the type of kid we want here,” said Powers. “We demand a high work ethic out of all our players, and we may not have the best talent or a Frozen Four team right away, but piece by piece, we are building a culture here that says we will not be outworked by anyone on or off the ice.”

Powers also noted that success can be measured in any number of ways, but daily improvement and proving the Sun Devils belong at the D-I level are at the top of the list of priorities this season.

“Right now, we’re there off the ice, but it remains to be seen where we are on the ice,” said Powers. “We’re young and energetic and we want to win hockey games. We simply want to be better next spring than we are right now.”

Last season

35-4-1. Lost to Stony Brook in ACHA D-I Final Four semifinals.

Names to know

Look for the players with previous D-I and USHL experience to be the difference-makers. Watch for Murphy, Peterson, Newmeyer, Belonger, McGovern, Young and Norris to be key cogs in the Sun Devils lineup.

Three questions

1. How will ASU fare against other NCAA Division I competition?

2. Powers has been successful at the ACHA coaching level, but how will that translate to the NCAA D-I level?

3. Can NCAA D-I hockey work in the desert?

Crystal ball

On paper, this team looks like a serious threat to any team it plays. Is .500 overall a possibility? Sure it is. Based on preseason enthusiasm, the players and coaching staff are psyched to get the season going and to prove that ASU will be a viable addition to the D-I ranks. This team will win more games than it will lose this season. A .600 record is not out of the question, but .500 seems reasonable.

Hamlen putting pieces in place at first-year Merrimack

Samantha Ridgewell in net for Merrimack against St. Cloud State on Oct. 2, 2015 (Mike Gridley/Photo: Mike Gridley)

Samantha Ridgewell in net for Merrimack against St. Cloud State on Oct. 2, 2015 (Mike Gridley/Photo: Mike Gridley)

The chorus of the Imagine Dragons song “Warriors” contains the line, “We are the warriors that built this town from dust.”

While things aren’t quite as bleak as all that at Merrimack — there was an entire college campus and a perfectly good arena with an ice sheet and everything so nobody had to skate on dust — 2015-16 Warriors hockey is certainly forming a team where none existed before.

Doing anything for the first time brings a feeling of discovery that is unique. First season, first team, first practice, first game, first goal — all of it.

“We have a nice, tight, low-number facility,” said coach Erin Hamlen, tasked with building a team to reside in J. Thom Lawler Arena, capacity 2,549. “The nice thing about that is we knew coming in that we would have a great ability with our program to pull numbers that are going to be loud in our building, whether it is 500 or what we had on Friday night, which was over 1,700. It was a great atmosphere. The fans were incredible. The people were absolutely incredible as far as their noise level and just the ability to give us support up and down with the ebb and flow of the game.”

That adds to the excitement.

“Getting all those fans, the first game we have, we hope that they keep coming back,” said Jackie Pieper, who served as the team’s captain in its inaugural game. “We tried to give them something to look forward to.”

After a scoreless first period, visiting St. Cloud State took a 2-0 lead, but Katelyn Rae scored the first goal in program history on a power play to halve the deficit by the second intermission.

The Warriors power play kept rolling. Paige Sorenson, Pieper, and Paige Voight scored on three straight chance to leapfrog the Huskies and put Merrimack up, 4-2, with 8:45 elapsed in the final period, and opening night couldn’t have been going any better.

“I think our D on the point handle the puck well, and they were composed, especially on the power play,” Hamlen said. “One of our players on the wall, [Madison] Morey, was an integral part of one of those power plays. She was able to sustain pressure, and hang onto the puck and dish where she needed to dish. That’s a lot of credit to a young freshman player, who is able to really handle the pressure on the wall like that. I think we’ve got some great individual skill, for sure.”

Had the Warriors spent a lot of time working on the power play, which clicked on four of six opportunities in its first NCAA contest?

“Honestly, not really,” said Pieper. “We had the one [exhibition] last Friday with the two power plays, and we didn’t practice them at all. We just know what we’re doing out there, and we play smart and we’re patient with the puck. That showed [Friday]. I think a lot of people are very impressed with our power play.”

For its first series, Merrimack went five of nine on the power play, to lead the country with a gaudy 55.6 conversion percentage. That had the Warriors positioned for a win in their debut effort as the clock ticked under nine minutes remaining.

“We were up, 4-2, and I think the fact that our players are so young, they just don’t quite understand what it’s like to be up two goals in the third period of their first college game and then be able to settle nerves and not get overly excited and not take bad penalties through the process,” Hamlen said.

The Warriors committed three straight infractions, and it was St. Cloud State’s turn to capitalize. The Huskies tallied three power-play goals of their own in less than two minutes, and the visitors led by one. SCSU added an insurance goal with under three minutes left and skated off with a 6-4 victory.

“We’ll learn from that, and that’s the nice thing about having a young team, is it’s all a learning experience for them right now,” Hamlen said. “They lived, even this past weekend alone, some really great highs and lows, so they’ll start to learn how to balance it all out.”

Some of the same story lines played out on Saturday. Felila Manu got her first collegiate goal just 25 seconds into play, and after St. Cloud State took a lead by the intermission, Dominique Kremer netted another power-play goal a couple minutes into the middle stanza for a 2-2 tie.

For the second night in a row, however, the Huskies ended the game on a four-goal run, and Merrimack fell, 6-2.

A number of factors worked against the Warriors. A young team lacked the experience of how to deal with certain situations; it may have also just ran out of gas.

“As I went in after the weekend, I told them, they’re not conditioned well enough yet,” Hamlen said. “They’re not to where I want them to be, and it’s really hard to make that up in season. So I told them, it’s going to be a work in progress all season for us to get where I want to be by the end of the game, so that we’ve got the energy level and the conditioning to stand through a 60-minute game and then come back and play another one the next day.”

It’s just another growth area for young kids.

“I think really what it boils down to is that our players weren’t fully conditioned enough,” Hamlen said. “Part of that is youth and not understanding quite where they need to be in the summer prior to their freshmen year. I think if you look across the board at most programs, you’re going to have the freshmen in that position, and they’re going to be picked up by the sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and that’s where you’re going to get the depth having so much value in the late stages of a game.”

However, Friday’s game was the first NCAA contest for everyone but junior Marie Delarbre, a transfer from Minnesota-Duluth. While the success on the power play for such a young group was unexpected, the struggles on its penalty kill were not, as Merrimack yielded goals on half of its kills on the weekend.

“We have lots of time and lots of ability to grow as a team, and we’ll get better in certain areas, and other teams will be better at adjusting to us on the power play,” Hamlen said. “We can’t hope and pray that our power play stays the way it did against St. Cloud this weekend. I think we have to continue to work on that, but we have to also tighten up on those loose ends that we know we need to tighten up on in terms of our PK.”

The other option is to stay out of the penalty box, and the Warriors demonstrated great improvement in that regard from the first game to the second. After being whistled for seven infractions in the opener, they cut it down to three in game two.

Similarly, Merrimack reduced its shots allowed from 44 to 26 by its second game.

“I think there are a lot of pieces that we have, and not necessarily just individual, but we have some great pieces that work well as a team, even in that short period of time,” Hamlen said. “I think there’s a lot to build on, and I know that power-play wise and special teams will come together even further. So I’m looking forward to tightening up the back end, the PK side of it, and building more on those power play opportunities.”

While everyone but Delarbre is a rookie on the ice, not all are freshmen in the classroom.

“The players last year who were on campus with us — we had four of them — and they have emerged as natural go-to [options], as far as our younger players coming in and really looking to them for some guidance,” Hamlen said. “Then we had some players on campus this summer, and I think that made a world of difference for those players, but also for the teammates who looked to them for some advice, even on the academic side and where to go for what. A lot of those things are helpful for the young program.”

While Hamlen and her assistant coaches, Brent Hill and Kacey Bellamy, will teach and guide the team, she expects help from within the squad itself.

“I do think that there are a few players who are stepping up as true leaders, and I know that we’ll settle in to a captain at some point,” Hamlen said. “Right now, we’re rotating them game to game, so that we give opportunity across the board to all of our players to have the opportunity to lead for a game, and see what comes out of all of that and who the true leaders are and who can really help us with bringing the young group up to speed in the future.”

While most of the team is embarking on its first year of college hockey, the experience level isn’t uniform. For example, Voight played with the United States team that won an Under-18 World Championship in January. Also, members originated from widely varying areas. The roster represents seven states, four Canadian provinces, and Germany.

Hamlen likes the diversity and would like to keep it moving forward.

“I just think being from a different part of the country or a different country entirely, it brings a different sense of community to our program,” she said. “I really enjoy that aspect, so I would like to continue to move into different areas. Every province, every state, has a different mentality about hockey, but also has a different way of going about their training, their preparation, and it’s just interesting to have all those different areas. If you talk about the Western Canadian kids, a lot of those kids have kind of a hard-nosed attitude, and they know that they need to go and they need to take care of business. Some of those Minnesota players might have a different level of stick skills. The Ontario kids are used to playing at quite a high level all the time. We’ve got a little bit of everything from every province and every state. I like that.”

Merrimack hosts the final two rounds of the Hockey East Tournament this year, and Hamlen would love for her team to be a participant in it as well as a host. Obviously, that will take a lot of growth for a new team to find a way into and through the quarterfinal round, but their opening performance hinted at potential.

“We’re just pleased as a staff,” Hamlen said. “We’re very pleased with the progress. It’s amazing that it’s only been two weeks that we’ve been on the ice with them full time, so that’s a very short period of time. We’ve got a lot of building blocks and a good foundation for the future.”

After forgettable season, Big Ten has redemption on the mind in 2015-16

Michigan and Minnesota are expected to compete for the Big Ten title in 2015-16 (photo: Larry Radloff).

The start of college hockey season is a study in potential and optimism.

“It’s that time of year again,” said Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik. “Pretty excited to get going.”

“We’re coming off of a very exciting season for us, both what happened on the ice and off the ice with the program,” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky, “and now the challenge is to build off of that.”

Said Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves, whose Badgers finished the 2014-15 season with four wins overall, “The one thing we know about our group is that we have energy and passion.”

Energy and passion. Challenges. Excitement. These are nice words and the sincerity behind them is unimpeachable, yet there is another word that the Big Ten should keep in mind at the start of the 2015-16 season, one that Eaves didn’t shy away from when describing how his veteran players feel after the worst season in Wisconsin hockey history.

“For the guys that are returning,” said Eaves, “I think the thought or word that comes to mind is redemption.”

Redemption. After 2014-15, it’s an apt concept for a league with the resources, exposure and branding of the Big Ten — a league whose single representative in the 2015 NCAA tournament, Minnesota, bowed out immediately with a first-round 4-1 loss to Minnesota-Duluth.

In a six-team league, especially, the idea that anyone can win a conference championship and advance to the NCAA tournament holds a certain romance in October, but the reality is that every league — even one as small as the Big Ten — has its haves and have-nots.

For the Big Ten’s first two seasons, Minnesota has been the team to catch and beat; in 2014-15, even when the race for the regular season championship was much tighter than it had been the year before and the league was experiencing what can only be termed a down year, the Golden Gophers were still the gold standard for Big Ten hockey.

And that got exactly one Big Ten team into postseason play last year.

Energy. Passion. Excitement. Those are great. What the Big Ten needs is scoring, defense, better goaltending and much better results in the nonconference play that fills the schedule before league games begin in earnest in December.


Last year, two teams in the Big Ten — the haves, if you will — produced enough goals consistently to remain among the top 10 scoring teams in the country. Michigan led Division I, averaging 3.86 goals per game, with 143 overall goals and six double-digit goal scorers on the roster.

With the Wolverines’ top two scorers — Zach Hyman, a senior last year, and Dylan Larkin, a freshman last year who’ll start this season with the Detroit Red Wings — departed, also gone are 37 of those overall goals, a mighty big number to replace.

Averaging 3.51 goals per game in 2014-15, Minnesota was fifth in the nation but returns this year without four seniors and a junior — Seth Ambroz, Travis Boyd, Kyle Rau, Sam Warning and Mike Reilly — who together combined for 69 of Minnesota’s 137 goals, or half of the Golden Gophers’ scoring.

Penn State was 12th in scoring overall (3.22 goals per game), Ohio State 29th (2.72), Michigan State 42nd (2.37) and Wisconsin 56th (1.69). And Michigan State finished second in the league and did not make the NCAA tournament.

And Minnesota — averaging nearly four goals per game all season — scored just one goal arguably when it counted most.


Those Wolverines that averaged nearly four goals per game to lead the nation? Tied for 38th nationally, having allowed 2.89 goals per game on average.

The Gophers? They were 32nd, having allowed 2.51 goals per game — and they were second among Big Ten schools, nationally, in scoring defense. Second.

Among all six Big Ten schools, only the Spartans had a defense that was solid consistently. Michigan State allowed 2.29 goals per game, 13th-best in the nation.


All-American Jake Hildebrand was the most consistent and reliable goaltender in the Big Ten last season, backstopping Michigan State to its second-place league finish with his .930 save percentage, 10th-best nationally.

But as improved as Michigan State was as a team last season and as solid as Hildebrand was — especially as the season progressed — a goaltender cannot do it all alone. Hildebrand’s GAA was 2.18, 26th-best in the country. It was the best in the conference by a long shot.

Nonconference play

Here’s a little disclaimer: There was some really good league hockey played among Big Ten teams during the 2014-15 season. Courtesy of the Big Ten Network, fans across the country were treated to some intense games played by highly recognizable teams, which can only heighten the profile of the sport.

But 2014-15 proved that parity in any form can produce equally measured intensity. Conference play was pretty good.

The Big Ten went 37-43-7 in nonconference play last year, a win percentage of .466. Compare that to Hockey East’s nonconference record (68-44-9, .599) or — better yet — the NCHC’s record (59-30-4, .656), a league with only eight teams to Hockey East’s 12.

Each Big Ten team will play between 12 and 16 regular season games against nonleague foes in 2015-16, and nonconference play dominates the schedule until the Big Ten is in full swing come December. Every coach is eager for that start to the season, none more so than Minnesota’s Don Lucia.

“We have a very good nonconference schedule,” said Lucia. “We’re playing some of the top teams throughout the country, and that certainly should help us prepare for the Big Ten season in December.”

Preparation for league play is nice. Early season preparation for what comes in March and April?

That would be a nice step toward redemption.

My Big Ten co-writer, Drew Claussen, and I think this is how the final standings will look at the end of 2015-16. Click on any team for its detailed season preview.

1. Michigan

The Wolverines need consistent goaltending and team defense. Read more

2. Minnesota

The Gophers seek to fill roster holes left by graduation and early departures. Read more

3. Michigan State

The Spartans can use a few more goals. Read more

4. Penn State

The Nittany Lions hope for prolonged success. Read more

5. Ohio State

The Buckeyes look to buck the tradition of early season struggles. Read more

6. Wisconsin

The Badgers seek redemption after an abysmal year. Read more

Big Ten favorite Michigan searches for consistency on defense

Zach Nagelvoort split time with Steve Racine in the Michigan net last season (photo: Michelle Bishop).

Michigan is hungry for success. After fielding their best offense in years in 2014-15 — a team that seemingly could score at will, from nearly anywhere on the ice — the Wolverines want to put together the complete package, a team that doesn’t swing between allowing 13 goals in three losses in crucial three-game league stretches before outscoring conference opponents 13-4 in three consecutive contests.

Defensive consistency is what Michigan needs, and coach Red Berenson thinks that a new volunteer coach may help with that. Michigan alumnus Steve Shields (1990-94) joins the Wolverines to help returning goaltenders Zach Nagelvoort and Steve Racine and newcomer Chad Catt reach their net potential.

“The good thing about Steve is he’s not only an experienced player — he’s gone through the Michigan college hockey experience and the pro experience — but he’s available to be on the ice every day with our goalies,” said Berenson. “I think that his presence is going to make a difference for each of our goalies. We have three goalies and we don’t know who’s going to be our starting goalie.”

The Wolverines also need to replace the goals lost with the departure of senior Zach Hyman and freshman Dylan Larkin. Berenson thinks he has a bead on that, too, starting with senior forward Cristoval “Boo” Nieves.

“I think Boo Nieves is the classic college hockey player that comes in young and has to work his way up and just get better and better every year,” said Berenson.

Others poised to have breakout seasons are senior forward Justin Selman, who had a career year in 2014-15, and junior Alex Kile, who posted 13 goals last year.

“You know how coaches are,” said Berenson. “They’re always looking for more.”

And there’s junior captain and forward JT Compher. “We need him to have his best year this year,” said Berenson, “and I think he will.”

Last season

22-15, 12-8 (third) in the Big Ten. Lost to Minnesota in the Big Ten championship game.

Names to know

There are six rookies on Michigan’s roster, and only one lists a hometown that’s more than an hour’s drive from Ann Arbor. Forwards Kyle Connor (Shelby Township, Mich.) and Cooper Marody (Brighton, Mich.) were goal scorers in the USHL in 2014-15. The Wolverines also return a talented blue line. Expect big things from juniors Michael Downing and Kevin Lohan and sophomores Cutler Martin and Zach Werenski — especially Werenski.

Three questions

1. Will the Wolverines find the consistency in net that they so desperately need?

2. Will the Wolverines be able to reload offensively and continue the momentum with which the team ended the 2014-15 season?

3. Will the Wolverines play well enough in early nonconference games to position themselves for an NCAA bid without having to win the conference championship?

Crystal ball

With the help of volunteer goalie coach Shields, the Wolverines shore up their net and return to the NCAA tournament following their first Big Ten regular season title.

Hildebrand has Michigan State’s back, but offense needs a kick-start

Jake Hildebrand returns after an All-American season for Michigan State (photo: Larry Radloff).

For Michigan State this season, everything starts from the net. Coach Tom Anastos is counting on senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand to be Jake Hildebrand.

“I think that Jake just has to continue to be Jake, to do what he does,” said Anastos. “He influences our team a great deal. He makes our team better in practice every day because he’s so competitive. He pushes guys. He provides leadership. I don’t think he has to do anything more than what he’s been doing and do it in every single game that he plays.”

Hildebrand — an All-American in 2014-15 and the Big Ten’s best goaltender last year — played every game for Michigan State last season, and Anastos is counting on Hildebrand’s stability to help with the one aspect of Michigan State’s game that is in serious need of a boost.

“We’ve got to figure a way to increase our offensive productivity,” said Anastos. “I think that being able to take a few more chances knowing that he’s back there is probably a good thing. There’s such a confidence knowing that when you make a mistake, he’s the last line of defense and people in spite of a mistake still have to beat him at the end. He’s the kind of guy who can steal a game for you and that gives your team confidence.”

The Spartans return all but one of their top scorers from last season. Senior Matt Berry netted a dozen goals last year on a team with only four players with more than 10 markers. Berry is only one of three departures, however, to impact the roster.

“We do return a group of more experienced players and a more upperclass team than we’ve had since my first season here,” said Anastos, “so we’re excited about the group — actually very excited about the group.”

Last season

17-16-2, 11-7-2-2 (second) in the Big Ten. Lost to Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.

Names to know

This is a senior-heavy roster, with three of Michigan State’s top four scorers returning. Senior forward and captain Michael Ferrantino had a great junior season and leads the team with his relentless passion. His classmate, Ryan Keller, had a breakout year last year, and junior Mackenzie MacEachern will only get better. Junior forward Villiam Haag and senior forward Matt DeBlouw have yet to reach their offensive potential.

Three questions

1. Will the Spartans be able to score enough goals per game consistently to push them beyond the development they saw last season?

2. Will Hildebrand begin his season where he ended it, as a rock-solid netminder who could steal any game?

3. Will the Spartans collectively have what it takes all season long to challenge for the regular season title and perhaps — perhaps, perhaps — play themselves into the NCAA tournament without an autobid?

Crystal ball

Michigan State will find more goals this season but won’t find the kind of scoring the Spartans need to top the standings in March. This is an incredibly disciplined, hard-working team with chemistry, brains and passion, and the only thing holding it back is offense.

Minnesota enters 2015-16 with ‘a completely new team’ after big personnel losses

Hudson Fasching scored 26 goals over his first two seasons at Minnesota (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Like its rival one state to the east did last season, Minnesota will have to replace some big names that often found themselves on the score sheet last year.

Don Lucia’s cupboard may not be quite as empty as Wisconsin’s was last year, but the Minnesota coach lost a lot of experience due to graduation and early departures.

“We’re going to have a completely new team this year,” Lucia said. “All of sudden we have 10 new players … and will probably nave nine different guys in our lineup, but that’s the fun of coaching at this level.”

Going back to its days in the WCHA, Minnesota has won a least a share of its conference’s regular season title for four straight years. The drive for five will be a little harder — the Gophers lost their starting goaltender, top two defensemen and numerous forwards from last year.

“For us to have a successful year we’re going to need a few things to happen,” Lucia said. “Obviously, we’re going to need a goaltender to step forward with the departure of Adam Wilcox. The returning guys are going to be key, especially our junior class.”

Lucia didn’t tip his hand on what he would do with the goaltender position to start off the season. He faced a similar situation during the 2012-13 season when Wilcox was a freshman and split time with Michael Shibrowski before winning the starting job a month into the season.

Minnesota’s success this season is contingent on forwards Hudson Fasching, Justin Kloos, Taylor Cammarata and Vinni Lettieri all elevating their play and driving the team’s goal-scoring.

“We have big expectations,” Lucia said. “So far in practice Vinni Lettieri looks like a player who’s ready to take another step.”

Lucia added that sophomore forward Leon Bristedt looks more comfortable during his second year at the university after coming from Sweden last year.

Last season

23-13-3, 12-5-3 (first) in the Big Ten. Lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Northeast Regional.

Names to know

Key returners are Kloos, Fasching and Lettieri. Rookie Tommy Novak should help fill the scoring void left by Kyle Rau. Freshmen Eric Schierhorn and Brock Kautz and sophomore Nick Lehr will compete for the starting goaltender spot, and don’t expect to see one play both games in a weekend early in the season.

Three questions

1. Who’s the goaltender? The four netminders on the Gophers’ roster have combined to start one collegiate game, Nick Lehr’s start against Michigan State last season.

2. How will Minnesota fare during its nonconference schedule? The Gophers have nonconference series with preseason No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth, No. 6 Minnesota State and No. 17 St. Cloud State. Minnesota could also play No. 8 Harvard at the Mariucci Classic and will see either St. Cloud State or Minnesota State in its second game at the North Star College Cup.

3. Who will step up on the blue line? Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei are gone. This year’s defensive corps will be made up of a combination of three juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen.

Crystal ball

If the Gophers get goaltending, they can certainly contend with Michigan. Finishing either second or third in the conference seems more likely.

Ohio State has had enough of playing catch-up after poor season starts

Anthony Greco scored 15 goals last season for Ohio State (photo: Omar Phillips).

Being a strong second-half team hasn’t exactly reaped any rewards for Ohio State and coach Steve Rohlik during the past two seasons, so he’d like to see what a strong start could do this year.

“That’s been our M.O. the last two years — we’ve been a pretty good hockey team in the second half,” Rohlik said. “Now it’s a matter of trying to get off to better starts. Be it playing more consistent, be it, knock on wood, staying healthy for most of the year. I think you need all those kind of things.”

It’s not going to be easy: The Buckeyes will start the season with three two-game series against teams that were ranked in the preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll — No. 16 Bowling Green, No. 11 Miami and No. 7 Providence.

“We’re going to find out where we’re at in a hurry,” Rohlik said. “With 10 new guys coming in this year it’s going to be a work in progress, but I’m pretty excited about the group. We’re not expecting any of those guys to come in and carry the team, but I think that all of them can contribute.”

Two players who are expected to carry the team are Anthony Greco and Nick Schilkey.

“Both of them were named captains on the team,” Rohlik said. “So I think that’s one of the biggest changes and one of the biggest things we’re going to look to is their leadership. Not only on the ice, but off the ice, how they conduct themselves, that’ll be a big role for those guys.”

Greco scored 15 goals and added eight assists last season. Rohlik said he was expecting more out of the senior forward this season.

“His explosion and his speed … he creates space with that,” Rohlik said. “I’m hoping that he can finish more chances this year.”

Success, like it often does, might come down to the production that the Buckeyes get out of the goaltender position. Christian Frey, Logan Davis and Matt Tomkins all have experience in net for Ohio State, but having a three-man timeshare in net is a strategy that rarely leads to a successful season.

“I’m hoping that we can get what we got during the second half two years ago and the second half last year,” Rohlik said of his goaltenders. “A goalie makes you a good coach in a hurry or a bad coach in a hurry.”

Last season

14-19-3, 8-11-1 (fifth) in the Big Ten. Lost to Minnesota in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.

Names to know

Greco is back for his senior campaign and is coming off of a 23-point year last season. Frey should be the main man between the pipes with Tomkins backing him up.

Three questions

1. Was last year a sophomore slump for Frey? The netminder went 9-4-3 after being thrust into action midway through the 2013-14 season but never got into a groove last year, ending with a 9-12-2 record.

2. Will Ohio State’s youth rise to the occasion? Five of the team’s top 10 scorers from last season were seniors and are no longer on the roster.

3. Are the Buckeyes ready for their tough early schedule? Ohio State’s first three series are against Bowling Green, Miami and defending-champion Providence. Four of those six games will be away from Columbus.

Crystal ball

All signs point toward another middle-of-the-road or worse finish for the Buckeyes.

Expectations rising for Penn State, but Gadowsky wants team to stay grounded

Penn State’s David Goodwin scored 15 goals last season (photo: Omar Phillips).

After its most successful campaign in the program’s short history, expectations at Penn State are sky high.

“We’re coming off of a very exciting season for us,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “Now the challenge is to build upon that.”

Gadowsky likened the program to a freshman player that found early success and said that obtaining prolonged success will be difficult. The bench boss also spoke highly of his “leadership group” multiple times during his time on the Big Ten’s preseason media call.

“I feel like we have the largest leadership group that we’ve ever had and that’s going to only benefit us,” he said.

Talk of competing for a Big Ten title and making the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history is already floating around Happy Valley, which is pretty impressive considering that the team is entering its third year in the Big Ten and fourth year of varsity status.

Gadowsky, however, said he isn’t worried about the talk going to his players’ heads.

“You can’t forget where you came from,” he said. “This leadership group is more concerned about getting back to our roots, maybe focusing more on the foundation and not getting caught up in the results, and I really like that.”

One thing that should help the Nittany Lions along the way is a distinct home-ice advantage. Penn State went 13-2-3 at Pegula Ice Arena last season. It will play eight of its first 10 contests at home this season.

“I can’t tell you how much fun it is to compete in that arena. The atmosphere is phenomenal,” Gadowsky said. “Not only is it fun, it’s very motivating.”

Last season

18-15-4, 10-9-1 (fifth) in the Big Ten. Lost to Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

Names to know

Junior forward David Goodwin is the top returning scorer for the Nittany Lions. He lit the lamp 15 times last season and added 19 assists. Matthew Skoff and Eamon McAdam will both be back in goal this season after both saw time in net last season.

Three questions

1. Who will replace Casey Bailey and the 22 goals he scored last season?

2. Can someone establish himself as the No. 1 goaltender? Skoff went 7-6-2 last season, McAdam went 5-4-1 and PJ Musico went 6-5-1.

3. Can Penn State improve its play away from Pegula Ice Arena? The Nittany Lions went 4-9 in opposing teams’ arenas last season and were 1-4-1 at neutral-site venues.

Crystal ball

Leadership group aside, I don’t know whether the Nittany Lions have the experience to compete for a conference title. They may be able to take a run at a first-round bye in the postseason tournament.

Four-win season leaves returning Wisconsin players hungry to atone

Grant Besse was the only Wisconsin player to reach double-digits in goals and 20 points last season (photo: Rachel Lewis).

With the amount of point-scorers from the 2013-14 team that were missing from last year’s squad, it was predictable that Wisconsin would regress from the level of being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

A four-win season, however, was worse than even the most pessimistic fan could have predicted. This year, coach Mike Eaves said that his players are out for redemption.

“Last year was not a typical year for us,” Eaves said. “I don’t think anybody saw that coming.”

Just like last season, the Badgers are once again a youthful group, with 10 sophomores and a dozen freshmen.

“The one thing that we know about our group is that we have energy and passion,” Eaves said. “Our task as coaches is to give that energy and passion some direction so that we can improve and find out what we have and improve as a team.”

Grant Besse returns as Wisconsin’s leading scorer from last season, and Eaves said that he expects the talented forward to take another step forward this year.

“Grant returns as our leading point-getter and goal-scorer and he’s poised,” Eaves said. “He’s going to be a junior this year and that’s a year that I think young men can have a breakout year.”

It will take more than one player to rack up more than four wins this season.

“Other guys that we look toward to take that next step are guys like Cameron Hughes,” Eaves said. “He didn’t even turn 18 until October or November of last year, so he had glimpses of doing some really special stuff playing against older guys.”

Eaves mentioned forwards Adam Rockwood and Ryan Wagner and defensemen Tim Davison and Jake Linhart as other players who needed to be better for the team to find success.

“We feel like these young men are going to take a step,” he said. “We hope it’s a big step.”

The Badgers also will need to replace Joel Rumpel, who manned the crease for them the past four seasons. Eaves said that there wasn’t a concrete plan on what to do with the goaltenders this season.

“It’s a process right now,” he said. “I think it’s a three-way battle.”

Last season

4-26-5, 2-15-3 (sixth) in the Big Ten. Lost to Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

Names to know

Key returners are Besse and Eddie Wittchow. Wisconsin’s roster features 10 sophomores and a dozen freshmen, so there will be plenty of opportunities for underclassmen to crack the lineup.

Three questions

1. Who will replace Joel Rumpel? And while we’re on the matter, who will replace Landon Peterson? One of the two aforementioned goaltenders has started the vast majority of games for the Badgers over the past four seasons. Redshirt freshman Gabe Grunwald, freshman Matt Jurusik and senior Adam Miller are the three goaltenders on the Badgers’ roster.

2. Can someone step up and help Besse carry the scoring load? Besse had 22 points last season. The next highest point-scorers that are still on the roster were Hughes and Rockwood with 13 points.

3. How secure is Eaves’ job? Last season led to the dismissal of assistant coaches Gary Shuchuk and Matt Walsh. Can the bench boss survive another tough campaign?

Crystal ball

The Badgers win more games than last season but finish in the conference’s cellar again.

BC women should fly high again in Hockey East

Lexi Bender (BC - 21) - The visiting Boston University Terriers defeated the Boston College Eagles 4-2 on Friday, October 5, 2012, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)

With Emily Pfalzer gone, Lexi Bender will be counted on for solid play on the blue line. (Melissa Wade)

Hockey East’s number of teams increases to eight with the addition of Merrimack, but the number of slots in the league’s tournament remains at eight, so after three years where everyone made the postseason, one team will be on the sidelines when the playoffs commence.

The venue for the tourney shifts. The site moves from Hyannis, Massachusetts, the home for the past few seasons, to Merrimack.

With the Warriors hosting the semifinals and final, it seems unkind to forecast that they’ll finish ninth and miss out on the postseason altogether, but I don’t know enough about them to place them anywhere else. I’ve been unfair to the rest of women’s hockey for years, so Merrimack has some catching up to do in that regard.

As for ranking the rest of the teams, Boston College looks to be the most clear-cut favorite of any league, particularly since the Eagles last season avoided those puzzling losses to lower-ranked teams that plagued them in the past. Their biggest competition during the regular season should come from last year’s BC team as we attempt to figure out whether or not this year’s edition is an improvement.

Boston University tends to be far less effective earlier in the season, but the Terriers are almost always playing their best hockey when the postseason arrives. BU did fine the year Marie-Philip Poulin was away at the Olympics, and the talent on this team should be deeper.

Northeastern should be BU’s closest pursuer and once again make it three Boston teams in the top three. Maine and Connecticut appear the best of the rest and should battle for home ice.

The other three holdover teams really struggled last year. Providence has experienced a hangover ever since Genevieve Lacasse graduated, and Vermont looked just as lost without Roxanne Douville. New Hampshire’s slump dates back even longer, which at least offers the hope that the Wildcats’ recovery should be imminent.

If Merrimack isn’t successful in terms of wins and losses, their opening weekend offered promise that it will at least be entertaining.

What’s not particularly exciting are my predictions, which look strangely similar to the coaches’ poll and the final standings in Hockey East last season. At least where this league is concerned, any time I’ve tried to be more creative it just blows up. But I did swap Vermont and UNH from how I initially had them in my first draft, because neither looks appreciably ahead of the other at this point, and that at least provides one departure from the coaches and last year’s standings.

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

Merrimack looks to gel in first season

(L-R) Jessica Bonfe, Paige Voight, Marie Delarbre, and Dominique Kremer celebrate a goal against St. Cloud State on Oct. 2, 2015 (Mike Gridley/Photo: Mike Gridley)

(L-R) Jessica Bonfe, Paige Voight, Marie Delarbre, and Dominique Kremer celebrate a goal against St. Cloud State on Oct. 2, 2015 (Mike Gridley/Photo: Mike Gridley)

Merrimack Warriors
USCHO prediction: Ninth
Coaches’ prediction: Ninth
Last season: This is Merrimack’s first season as a varsity program

The names
Merrimack becomes the latest school to join the list of full-time Division I programs, bringing the number to 35.

“I had a lot of conversations with different coaches that have started programs, including BU and Syracuse,” coach Erin Hamlen said. “I did take a more aggressive approach than those programs. I was also given more liberty by my administration and some more of the scholarship dollars up front, so I was able to move forward a little quicker, I think, in the recruiting process, but also, a little more aggressively.”

The efforts of the coaching staff produced a 21-player roster.

“We’ve got a lot of young players, most are true freshmen,” Hamlen said. “We’re all in this kind of same boat together and are able to transition from youth to, hopefully, a veteran line-up by Christmas time.”

With no past statistics to go by, only the coach that recruited the players can single out where the biggest impacts will come.

“I could name them all and say they’re all going to do a great job, but if you’re asking me to name a couple,” Hamlen said. “There are some players that have more experience than others, a player like Paige Voight, who played on the Under-18 gold-medal team in January. She’s got some experience that a lot of the other players don’t. She’s certainly a power forward and has done tremendous things for Cretin-Derham Hall, her high school team in Minnesota when she was playing with them. [Junior] Marie Delarbre is a player who transferred in from Minnesota-Duluth, and she’s got some experience, so I expect her to step up and have at least the ability to lead by example and also lead in terms of what to expect throughout the season. On the back side, Dominique Kremer, who also has been with the U-18 and just missed that final cut. We’ve got a goalie, Samantha Ridgewell, who was one of the top goalies at the junior women’s hockey league. We expect to be very solid in net between Sam and Kate Kowalchuk, and we’ve got another goalie, Chaislyn Burgio. So we’ve got some players that definitely have talent.”

What the Warriors don’t have yet is a cohesive unit.

“We also know that we need a lot of foundation prior to getting people to do everything as a team,” Hamlen said. “We’ve brought in a sports psychologist already. We’re trying to gel on and off the ice, and in some ways, we’re still trying to get to know each other. For us, expectation, we’re putting a little pressure on ourselves to perform, but at the same time, we know that we’ve got a little bit of a learning curve here. So we’ll start off and build, and get better as the season goes on, hoping that by Christmas time, we’re hitting midstride.”

Hamlen knows where she’d like to go, but she understands her situation is different than teams that are just filling a handful of holes.

“I would much rather play an aggressive system,” Hamlen said. “I put a high priority on hard work and working smart. Ideally, I’d like our program to be defensively sound, like any other coach would want their program to be. But I would really like our program to be able to play a more aggressive system, both defensively and offensively.

“That’s the ideal. I’ll have to temper my expectations as to how aggressively we play until I see what we have as a group and how well we work together in our systems.”

The numbers
The Warriors enter the season with 70 games of NCAA experience, all belonging to Delarbre.

The prognosis
If Hamlen’s players are quick studies, it’s possible that Merrimack could qualify for the playoffs in its first season and maybe move up to seventh. At a certain point. however, the Warriors will be at a big disadvantage to rosters that have a number of players who have been through the grind of a college season before.

Young team at Providence looks to men’s squad as inspiration

Providence Friars
USCHO prediction: Eighth
Coaches’ prediction: Eighth
Last season: Eighth (6-25-4, 5-15-1 Hockey East)

The names
Last year, I didn’t have much confidence in Providence, having failed miserably in picking them to finish an overly-optimistic second in 2014, so I slotted the Friars seventh. Even that proved to be too high.

“Last year was a transitional year for us for a lot of different reasons,” coach Bob Deraney said. “I think that first and foremost, this is probably going to be the youngest team that I’ve put on the ice in my 17 years at Providence College. A lot of people might think that that’s not a good thing, but we’re really excited about the energy, the excitement, the talent level of our young players, which is being supplemented and complemented by the leadership and the battle-tested upperclassmen. We have a really unique group and combination of players that I think will make us a very exciting team to watch this year.”

The Friars don’t figure to have the edge on paper in too many games, so they’ll have to rise above the sum of those parts.

“It’s going to come down to our five players playing as a unit that’s going to allow us to be successful,” Deraney said. “The only way you can do that is if you have a complete buy in. Our upperclassmen have a complete buy in, and they’ve helped our freshmen to transition very quickly.”

While nobody is expecting championships at Providence this year, the men’s team had similar low expectations from the outside before winning it all last season.

“I think the greatest thing that came out of our men’s team winning the national championship is that it shows that we are capable of doing it as well,” Deraney said. “It actually makes it tangible. You can talk about it all you want, but having it unfold the way it did — if I’m not mistaken, they were the 16th team selected into the national tournament. For the last selected team to go on and win the thing, just shows it’s possible.”

No matter where a team finished last season, it can’t win any titles in October.

“You’ve got to crawl before you walk,” Deraney said. “I think our goal right now is to try to attain home-ice position. You achieve home ice, and then see where you are as to possibly winning the regular season. It’s going to be a year-long process to try and gain home ice and make sure that you’re peaking at the right time.”

The numbers
The scorers of only 21 of the team’s 60 goals (35 percent) return, and more than half of them came from junior Cassidy Carels (seven goals) and sophomore Brooke Boquist (five goals).

The prognosis
In another year, we might conclude that Providence lacks enough experience to escape the Hockey East basement, but next to Merrimack, the Friars look like seasoned veterans. However, if the offense or the defense doesn’t improve over last season, then Providence will just be a more seasoned squad that will be staying home when the playoffs start.

New Hampshire looks to freshmen, new culture

Vilma Vaattovaara (UNH - 35) - The visiting University of New Hampshire Wildcats defeated the Boston College Eagles 3-1 on Wednesday, October 16, 2013, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)

Vilma Vaattovaara is a proven netminder for the Wildcats (Melissa Wade)

New Hampshire Wildcats
USCHO prediction: Seventh
Coaches’ prediction: Sixth
Last season: Sixth (10-23-3, 6-13-2 Hockey East)

The names
A lot of teams start the season with similar goals, but this year, only New Hampshire knows that it will be hosting the Frozen Four.

“I think there’s a lot of reasons to be excited about the Frozen Four being here, one of which is we have a beautiful campus, a beautiful building, and it’s a great atmosphere for any of the teams that get the opportunity to be here,” coach Hilary Witt said. “Everyone’s goal at the beginning of the year is to win a national championship. We’re excited about that, but we’re not looking too far ahead. But it is exciting, and we’ve got a new video board here at the Whittemore Center. It’s just going to be an awesome atmosphere for anybody that’s playing in it, and of course, we hope to be one of those, too.”

Before that can happen, the Wildcats have to make a greater impact in their own league after finishing sixth and falling to Northeastern in a decisive third game in the first round.

“Last year was obviously a year where we were trying to build the team and grow some confidence,” Witt said. “I think as the year went by, we got better every day, and that was our goal. We had a great playoff series and nearly got to the conference championship weekend.”

A coaching staff and team have to put in a lot of effort before it shows up in the record.

“We talk a lot about our culture and our attitude and our belief in ourselves,” Witt said. “We worked really hard last year to make that our culture and continue to do that year in and year out. I think our foundation is fantastic.”

UNH hopes to build on the gains made with this year’s recruits.

“We’re going to rely heavily on the freshman class,” Witt said. “We certainly have a couple kids that we’re really excited to see. Taylor Wenczkowski, she’s just a pure goal scorer, in an area that we really need to upgrade. We have Marie-Jo Pelletier, a small D, coming in; her skills, her hockey I.Q., are really going to help the back end. We brought in two freshman goalies. As great as Vilma [Vaattovaara] played last year, and Ashley Wilkes stepped in playoffs, we need a little more competition at that position. We need to get better there.”

The key to any turnaround is to get greater production from the people already in place.

“I preach every day that I believe our players can do more than they think they’re capable of,” Witt said.

The numbers
The top three scorers — Jonna Curtis, Amy Boucher, and Nicoline Jensen — are back. Those were the only members of the roster to reach 15 points. On the season, the Wildcats scored 62 goals, or 1.72 goals per game.

The prognosis
The good news for a team looking to make a move upward in Hockey East is that the opportunity exists. It can climb a few rungs before it bumps into a national contender. The key is to keep climbing and not stagnate, or worse, start to slide.

Loss of proven performers challenges Vermont

Victoria Andreakos of Vermont (Brian Jenkins)

Victoria Andreakos of Vermont will be looked at for offensive numbers. (Brian Jenkins)

Vermont Catamounts
USCHO prediction: Sixth
Coaches’ prediction: Seventh
Last season: Seventh (15-19-2, 6-14-1 Hockey East)

The names
“We’re still in the building process here, and I think in a lot of ways, we had high expectations for last year and coming off our record-breaking season the prior year,” coach Jim Plumer said. “It’s difficult to sort of think of this as a linear progression. We probably were disappointed with the second-best record in program history. Big picture at 30,000 feet, we’re happy with where the program is going.”

Vermont suffered five additional losses above what it did in 2013-14 in large part because it surrendered 29 more goals on the season. Reducing goals against is top priority to keep the program moving in the right direction.

“Certainly, our goalies had big shoes to fill with Roxanne Douville’s graduation from the prior year,” Plumer said. “Maddie Litchfield in particular, who saw most of the minutes, had had a very good career prior to coming to college, and endured a broken collarbone the summer before she came to school, and I think that set her back her freshman year. Molly Depew did an admirable job in the opportunity that she had. We feel like both of them are on an upward curve, and certainly, it’s a key position and we can’t deny that we need better production out of that position. Going from year one of being a full-time starter to year two, we think there is a reason to believe we’ll get a bump there to average statistical numbers that goalies in Division I are putting up.”

Scoring dipped slightly, but after graduating 48.8 percent of the goal scoring, measures need to be taken to prevent an additional declire.

“We’re moving Amanda Drobot, who was a defenseman, to forward this year,” Plumer said. “It’s something that we’ve had success with Dayna Colang who did the same thing two years ago. They have really elite offensive skills, and Dayna scored 18 goals for us last year.”

Plumer expects production from additional sources.

“We have two very elite freshmen forwards who we think will have the opportunity,” he said. “[Saana Valkama] is on the Finnish national team, and one is Alyssa Gorecki, who was on the U.S. Under-18 team last year. Those kids are going to have opportunities to step in and play key roles and have been kids that have elite skill sets. We’re looking for in particular our sophomore class, kids like Mackenzie MacNeil and even Bella Webster, who played a very small role for us last year, to be able to step in. I think it will be more offense by committee, but I think we can replace the scoring that we lost.”

Numbers aside, sometimes it comes down to a determination and a mindset to win games.

“One thing we’ve focused on a lot, I think we learned from last year, is I don’t think we were mentally strong,” Plumer said. “The ability to focus and then refocus when inevitably, you’re going to need to refocus. That’s sort of key to sports, and maybe key to life in general, that not everything goes the way you planned. I think other than the obvious targets at the top of the conference that have been pretty stable over the last couple years, teams in that four to seven range, all those teams are tough to play against. All those points are going to matter, and I do think we’re going to have a much better mental outlook, having learned what we learned from last season. Having a better nonconference record but not being able to translate it in conference is something that we learned from.”

The numbers
“It’s another obvious thing that jumps off the page when you’re thinking about our team and losing Amanda Pelkey and Brittany Zuback in particular, who were very productive players for us on the score sheet. It’s not going to be where somebody comes in and puts in those two kind of numbers, player for player.”

The two finished as the top two scorers in program history. Pelky graduated with 105 points, and Zuback wound up with 97.

The prognosis
“We feel like we’ve addressed some defensive issues that we’ve had, and I think if we can get our goaltending back to where we need it to be, I think we’re in better shape than we might look on paper,” Plumer said.

The problem is that the Catamounts look really shaky on paper, so, I’ll bump them up to sixth, but I see both Maine and Connecticut being ahead of Vermont defensively.

Defensively strong Connecticut looks to build on semifinal appearance

Elaine Chuli of Connecticut (Stephen Slade)

Elaine Chuli provides Connecticut solid goaltending. (Stephen Slade)

Connecticut Huskies
USCHO prediction: Fifth
Coaches’ prediction: Fifth
Last season: Fifth (11-18-8, 5-11-5 Hockey East)

The names
Connecticut closed the regular-season with a sweep at Maine, and then the Huskies reprised that performance in a Hockey East quarterfinal.

“It was a nice run at the end, advancing in the playoffs,” coach Chris MacKenzie said. “People told me it was the first playoff win in five years. To win a series, which was new for our league, was exciting. We were fortunate to beat a very good Maine team and move on. I was happy with the progress made, and obviously looking to try to build on that this season.”

For the Huskies, it was a case of losing the battle for home ice in the first round, but winning the war in terms of advancing out of the quarterfinals and gaining the semifinal round.

“If I had to choose one of them, I’d say peak and play your best hockey at the end of the year,” MacKenzie said. “I think that’s what we did, and we’re going to try to replicate that, obviously. The goal of our program is to try to get home ice in the playoffs. It definitely is an advantage. That would be something our program would love to see. But the choice would be playing our best and peaking at the end of the year.”

To some extent, Connecticut is built for the conservative style of play often seen in the postseason.

“We’ve had a nice tradition of goaltenders here at Connecticut, and Elaine Chuli is certainly going into her senior year has been one of the better goaltenders in our conference and in country,” MacKenzie said. “I’m confident in both our goalies. Annie Belanger coming back for her sophomore year played a lot of minutes as a freshman.”

The area in doubt is the same for so many teams around the country year after year.

“We return solid goaltending, our defense will be very deep and more experienced, and up front, we’ll be younger, less experienced, and we’ll just have to see where the offense will come from,” MacKenzie said. “I could not tell you right now where that will come from.”

The numbers
Last season, forwards Sarah MacDonnell, Emily Snodgrass, and Kayla Campero topped 20 points with double-digit goal output. They were the only players to reach those milestones in points or goals. All three graduated, producing MacKenzie’s uncertainty as to where he’ll find offense.

The prognosis
Connecticut’s soundness defensively should give it the edge over half of the league. Teams like BC, BU, and Northeastern have players that can single-handedly produce offense, putting UConn at a disadvantage. Maine versus the Huskies is very nearly a coin flip, in terms of who is likely to finish higher.

Maine looks to build on heartbreaking loss

Eve Boissonneault (Maine - 19) - The Boston College Eagles defeated the visiting University of Maine Black Bears 5-1 on Sunday, October 6, 2013, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)

Eve Boissonneault provides leadership up front for Maine. (Melissa Wade)

Maine Black Bears
USCHO prediction: Fourth
Coaches’ prediction: Fourth
Last season: Fourth (10-20-3, 9-11-1 Hockey East)

The names
Both the league coaches and I underestimated Maine last year. The Black Bears may fail to reach the fourth spot, but it won’t be for lack of effort.

“I think for the coaching staff, it was a very positive year to try to implement the way we’re trying to play with our hard work, and keeping our feet moving and making some good puck decisions,” coach Richard Reichenbach said. “Obviously, any time you finish the season 10-20, it kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you want more, but in league play, we finished in fourth place. That was the first time we got to host a Hockey East playoff game, which was a big deal up here.”

It was the Reichenbach’s first full season in charge.

“I think overall, we did some positive things last year compared to the year before,” Reichenbach said. “I think [senior goaltender] Meghann Treacy established herself and had a very consistent year from the start to the end.”

Another sign of progress came on the recruiting trail.

“We lost some key players in [forwards] Jennifer More, Hailey Browne, Katy Massey, who were really players that went up and down with their offensive contribution, but were really just players you could rely on in any situation,” Reichenbach said. “We have Cailey Hutchinson, Nicole Arnold, and Lydia Murray to try to replace those three. What we like about them is they’re a little bit bigger, a little bit faster, a little bit stronger right from the start.

“Then we graduated Brittany Huneke and Jessica Hall on D and replaced them with three D: Allyson Matteau, who is a very big, strong, fast, powerful D, she played on the Canadian U-18 team; Cassidy Herman is from Ottawa and just very relentless, and came back in great shape, very impressed with the beginning; and Carolyn Menges, who is big and powerful and has a good shot.

“In net, we got Carly Jackson, who is from the Canadian U-18 team, so she’s going to redshirt this year, and probably step in and replace Meghann, but she’s going to be really good this year too, because she’s going to be a key to push all three of our other goaltenders.”

The numbers
Maine’s last three seasons have ended with a loss in sudden death overtime. The last one, coming on home ice, was particularly rough.

“Maine is in a little bit of a different situation than the Boston schools in that there’s not much sports-wise going on here,” Reichenbach said. “There was a lot of media involved in what was going on. For our girls, it was an amazing experience. They do a lot of community service stuff and talk to a lot of people, so there was a lot of support for them. As far as the actual experience, it was heartbreaking. It was very disappointing for our coaching staff, because our seniors had been through a lot.”

The prognosis
The team did well when it could generate few goals, but as is the case with every team, it struggled when the offense went cold.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting our head up around the net and making that extra move or not,” Reichenbach said.

Northeastern will challenge, but fall behind its Boston counterparts

Kendall Coyne (Northeastern - 77) celebrates her first of two goals in the game. The Northeastern University Huskies defeated the visiting Clarkson University Golden Knights 5-2 on Thursday, January 5, 2012, at Matthews Arena in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)

Kendall Coyne has accounted for 49 percent of her’ team’s scoring during her career. (Melissa Wade)

Northeastern Huskies
USCHO prediction: Third
Coaches’ prediction: Third
Last season: Third (14-17-5, 11-8-2 Hockey East)

The names
College hockey doesn’t have a disabled list, or it would be easier to track why the losses start to mount at Northeastern.

“This year, I’m excited for the fact that we have, as of right now, a healthy roster,” coach Dave Flint said. “We’ve been battling injuries the last couple years.”

Injuries compound the other problems which teams face.

“Last year, we had to deal with nine freshmen,” Flint said. “With that came some growing pains and some ups and downs and inconsistency in our play.”

If the Huskies can avoid the injury bug, this figures to be a good year at Northeastern.

“We graduated some good kids and some good players last year, but we only graduated three goals total,” Flint said.

The graduation hit came at the other end of the ice.

“I think one of the big questions for us this year will be in goal,” Flint said. “We lost Chloe Desjardins, who set the school record for games played. I think we’ve got three capable goalies. They’re going to battle it out.”

Offensively, Flint seems to have found a running mate for star senior Kendall Coyne in Denisa Krížová.

“Last year going into the season, I thought the two of them would really do well together,” he said. “For whatever reason early on, Denisa had some growing pains. I think she felt a little bit of pressure, being a young kid playing on Kendall’s line. I took her off there to get her a little more confidence and not feeling like she always had to get Kendall the puck. The second half of the year, we put them together, and they were unbelievable. We’re going to start with the two of them back together, and they really developed chemistry in the last season and the start of our practices here, they really looked good together. It’s just a matter of finding who is best in the middle for those two. That’s always the question when you have an Olympic athlete that’s on another level; you’ve got to find players that can play with her, and I think Denisa is going to do a good job.”
The numbers
Coyne has led the Huskies in scoring in each of her three seasons, over which she had 165 points while her team scored 337 goals. That means she contributed a point on 49 percent of her team’s scoring.

“I want us to not rely on her so much,” Flint said. “I feel like the past several years, we’ve relied too much on Kendall.”

The prognosis
It can be hard to avoid relying on Coyne when she’s so explosive. In Northeastern’s first series this year, it scored 11 goals. Coyne once more leads the attack with five points.

The Huskies may need to ride her as far as she can carry them, and worry about diversifying next season when she is gone.

Terriers still strong without Poulin

Players on the 2012-2013 All-USCHO D-I Women's teams (Sarah Lefort). (Melissa Wade)

Sarah Lefort should help propel BU’s offense. (Melissa Wade)

Boston University Terriers
USCHO prediction: Second
Coaches’ prediction: Second
Last season: Second (25-9-3, 15-5-1 Hockey East)

The names
Marie-Philip Poulin is gone and is impossible to replace in the short term, so a team has to find other recipes for winning hockey games without her. Minus her firepower, one approach would be to find ways to reduce the goals allowed.

“Everybody here would like [the goaltenders] to take that step as a college player,” coach Brian Durocher said. “Victoria Hanson has been here two years, but last year was really her first year playing. She did a great job in the stretch, the last five games or so, maybe six. And Erin O’Neil got her feet wet in grand fashion; she played 15 or thereabouts games. I think both of them are positioned to take a good step. They came here with good resumes. They’re both talented kids. I don’t believe they played quite to where they could play.”

One way to help goalies be more effective is to play better in front of them.

“In the back end, we’ve got enough experience as far as what year the kids are,” Durocher said, “But we may not be on paper as talented as we were two, three or four years ago. I like the group’s work ethic and their conviction.”

After graduating three mainstays from the blue line in Shannon Doyle, Shannon Stoneburgh, and Caroline Campbell, the unit is bolstered by junior Alexis Crossley, who by rule had to sit out last season after transferring from New Hampshire.

“She’s probably in the best shape of her life,” Durocher said. “Last year, while she didn’t have to play games, I think she really worked hard on her conditioning. It’s nice to know you’ve got an anchor. Obviously, a big-minutes person, and it’s relieving for a coach and very positive for her team.”

Although Durocher no longer has Poulin at his disposal, that doesn’t mean his team is devoid of offensive contributors.

“Up front, that should be the rudder that steers our ship this year,” he said. “There’s experience. There is some high-end talent with [Sarah] Lefort, [Kayla] Tutino, [Victoria] Bach, [Rebecca] Leslie. I like the fact that our second and third line is going to be made of predominantly juniors and seniors: Sam Sutherland, Maddie Elia, Rebecca Russo, Jordan Juron, Dakota Woodworth. So it’s an experienced group and a talented group.”

The numbers
Over the last six years since BU became a national tournament team, it has an overall record of 144-58-24, for a winning percentage of .690. The Terriers have been able to run their streak of consecutive tournament appearances to six by winning five of the six Hockey East tournaments, including three seasons where they needed the automatic qualifier to ensure they reached the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m not the type of person who’s screaming and yelling at people and get them tight, so that when we get to a situation like that, I think they’ve answered the bell pretty well over the years,” Durocher said. “I think that goes with after an unimpressive game or game where we don’t bring our A game, I’m still not in their faces. I just try to point out the factors that led to it and say, ‘Look, we have to be more accountable here; we have to be better here.’ Hopefully, it will allow them to be kind of relaxed at the end of the year when the chips are on the line.”

The prognosis
Boston College holds an edge in talent over BU, but the Terriers have a similar advantage over everyone else. That should put BU second and closing well as the season winds down.

High-powered offense should put BC on top again

Haley Skarupa (BC - 22) - The Boston College Eagles defeated the visiting University of Maine Black Bears 5-1 on Sunday, October 6, 2013, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)

Haley Skarupa is one of the top scorers in BC history. (Melissa Wade)

Boston College Eagles
USCHO prediction: First
Coaches’ prediction: First
Last season: First (34-3-2, 20-0-1 Hockey East)

The names
Not long ago, Boston College had never won the Hockey East season trophy. Now it has claimed two straight and is a huge favorite to make it three in a row.

To some extent, the Eagles are victims of their own success. They’re coming off a historic season. Only a tie with Boston University in the final game kept them from having a perfect Hockey East campaign. Instead, they ended 20-0-1, equaling the best season in conference history, previously accomplished by New Hampshire in 2007-08.

So much emphasis is placed on the postseason. For BC, the Frozen Four has been an insurmountable obstacle thus far, and with one exception, so has the HEA tournament, but last year’s 34-win season and the best winning percentage in the country require no apology.

“That’ll be a tough year to follow,” coach Katie King Crowley said. “We lost some great seniors, who were great leaders for us, and who I thought were the epitome of our team. Now, we’re excited to move forward into the next chapter of 2015-16.”

Despite graduating All-American defenseman Emily Pfalzer, who was also a Patty Kazmaier finalist, and a pair of forwards in Kate Leary and Emily Field who combined for 60 points a year ago, optimism remains high for the Eagles.

“We hope we can do even better than last season,” Crowley said.

The primary reason is that Boston College returns Alex Carpenter, the reigning Kazmaier Award winner, and Haley Skarupa, another Kazmaier finalist. Through three years, they’ve amassed 190 and 165 points, respectively. That’s more than anyone other than Kelli Stack (209 points) and Erin Magee (198) have totaled in a four-year career in BC history.

“[Carpenter] is obviously a tremendous player, and we’re all excited that she’s back for one more year,” Crowley said. “She’s one of those that you want to hold on for as long as you can, like a Kelli Stack. You want them around forever.”

Along with her many skills on the ice, Carpenter brings a great deal of leadership to her team.

“She really wants to get that national championship, and I really think that’s what our whole team is trying to get to,” Crowley said. “She’s one that can help us get there.”

Boston College is far more than a one-or-two-woman show. The senior class alone contains other key players like forward Dana Trivigno (34 points last season) and defenseman Lexi Bender (29 points).

“As much as Carpenter and Skarupa had a lot of points, I also think all three lines had pretty big goals for us throughout the year,” Crowley said.

The numbers
Boston College scored an average of five goals per game last season. That ranks eighth for any team in the NCAA era, and it is the highest average ever for a Hockey East team.

The prognosis
Given the star power in the BC senior class, it feels like the time is now to get that first national title. Perhaps just as key to the team’s fate is the sophomore class that includes forwards Kenzie Kent and Tori Sullivan, defensemen Megan Keller, Toni Ann Miano, and Kali Flanagan, and starting goaltender Katie Burt. The experience gained by that class last season may be enough to get the Eagles over the top.

WCHA teams have plenty of motivation for 2015-16 in remembering how last season ended

Minnesota State beat Michigan Tech for the WCHA’s regular season and playoff titles last season (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Trying to figure out something that’s going to motivate the teams in the WCHA this season? Look no further than how their seasons came to an end last March.

Whether it was heartbreak at the national tournament, triple overtime in the conference playoffs or by a matter of percentage points in the PairWise Rankings, 2014-15 came to an abrupt ending for several of the league’s teams, and it’s safe to say those finishes won’t soon be forgotten.

“I’m motivated,” said Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron, whose team missed out on the NCAA tournament by the slimmest of margins.

It’s a new season, of course, a chance to write a new story and create a new legacy, as Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said.

“Every year is an opportunity to redefine what you’re going to be as a team,” Hastings said.

The Mavericks, who were No. 1 in the country when the national tournament began, were upset by Rochester Institute of Technology in the first round of the NCAAs, falling on a controversial goal that was originally waved off before being award upon replay.

Michigan Tech, in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1981, was 37 seconds away from beating St. Cloud State, only to give up a late game-tying goal and lose in overtime.

“One of the biggest things we found out about our team was how disappointed [the players] were about last year, even though it was our best season since ’77 at Michigan Tech,” Huskies coach Mel Pearson said, “how disappointed we were to be one point shy of first place, to unfortunately lose in the [Final Five championship] and to lose a tough game to St. Cloud State in the NCAA tournament.

“I think these guys know there’s a lot of unfinished business.”

Those teams weren’t alone:

• Bemidji State was swept at home in the first round of the league playoffs, getting eliminated in triple overtime by Ferris State.

• Ferris State fell in the semifinals of the Final Five, losing for the eighth time in a row to nemesis Minnesota State.

• Alabama-Huntsville also lost a triple-overtime game en route to getting swept in the first round at Michigan Tech.

For the league’s Alaska teams, there was no postseason. Alaska-Anchorage, a Final Five team in 2013-14, fell to the bottom of the standings, while Alaska, which finished fourth in the conference, was not allowed in the postseason due to an NCAA sanction.

The end didn’t come fast for Northern Michigan, which had loads of potential wiped out by injury. Lake Superior State struggled to gain its footing in coach Damon Whitten’s first season.

The league will look different this season. No Matt Leitner, Tanner Kero or Blake Pietila. No Zach Palmquist, Colton Parayko or Matt Prapavessis. No CJ Motte or Stephon Williams.

But there remain plenty of good players who may have chips on their shoulders from last spring, whether you’re talking about Tyler Morley, Bryce Gervais or Brandon Hawkins; Casey Nelson, Shane Hanna or Brock Maschmeyer; Jamie Phillips or Carmine Guerriero.

The college hockey world has noticed, ranking Minnesota State sixth, Michigan Tech 15th and Bowling Green 16th in the preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll and giving votes to Ferris State, Bemidji State and Alaska.

It’s time to write that next chapter.

Here’s a look around the WCHA in alphabetical order:


The Chargers look to continue steady improvement in third year under coach Mike Corbett. Read more


The Nanooks are ready to return to postseason play. Read more


After taking two steps back, the Seawolves hope to take a step forward. Read more

Bemidji State

The Beavers are deep but will try to overcome some big losses on defense. Read more

Bowling Green

The Falcons continue to climb coach Chris Bergeron’s ladder of success. Read more

Ferris State

Welcome to the post-CJ Motte era, Bulldogs. Read more

Lake Superior State

The Lakers are more experienced this season in an attempt to return to past glory. Read more

Michigan Tech

After a milestone season, the Huskies are stacked and ready to accomplish more. Read more

Minnesota State

Despite big losses, the Mavericks are still stocked. Read more

Northern Michigan

A more-healthy Wildcats team will try to rebound after an injury-plagued season. Read more

BNY Mellon Wealth Management