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

Alabama-Huntsville hopes not to have to rely as much on goalie Guerriero

Carmine Guerriero has been the backbone of Alabama-Huntsville’s progress (photo: Alabama-Huntsville Athletics).

Mike Corbett knows his Alabama-Huntsville program isn’t one of college hockey’s blue bloods, and he knows the blue-chip recruits look elsewhere.

For the third-year coach, that’s OK. His Chargers have improved steadily since his first season, going from two wins to eight last season. And they’ve done it with recruits that want to be in Huntsville.

“We’re not the sexiest program out there, we know that,” Corbett said. “We know we’re building and we know we might not get a lot of help from junior coaches. But right now, to be able to get kids who want to be here, there’s plenty of players out there who want to put on our jersey. And more than anything, getting kids who are up to the challenge of building this program.”

It certainly seems like the Chargers are building a talented base that can compete night-in and night-out in the WCHA.

This year, the Chargers once again have one of the best goaltenders in the country in Carmine Guerriero. But unlike his freshman and sophomore seasons, Guerriero might not have to stand on his head to survive a one-goal game.

“Carmine is a guy that we have depended upon the last two years,” Corbett said. “Hopefully this year with our added depth and the experience that our players have gotten in our league, he doesn’t have to make 40 [saves] a night. But the great thing for us is, we know he can.”

WCHA all-rookie forward Max McHugh will look to improve on his breakout 23-point freshman season, along with seniors Jack Prince and Chad Brears. The Chargers’ recruiting class has seven forwards among the 10 additions.

“We’re going to be able to score a few more goals,” Corbett said. “Last year, we won eight games and made a good step in our program but in order to win eight games in the WCHA we had to play perfect because we didn’t score enough goals.

“I think we’re going to be able to pop a few more in and our team defense is going to be even better. We’re going to be possibly on the winning side of some more of those one-goal games we had last year.”

Last season

8-26-4, 7-20-1 (tied for seventh) in the WCHA. Lost to Michigan Tech in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Names to know

Guerriero once again will be expected to lead his team in the net, but Matt Larose is a serviceable No. 2 who probably would be a starter on most other WCHA teams. Senior defenseman Frank Misuraca is one of UAH’s go-to defenders while Brandon Parker had 14 points — all assists — as a freshman.

Three questions

1. The Chargers have shown considerable improvement since joining the WCHA. How big will this year’s stride be?

2. Last season, UAH played in 14 games in which it allowed 40 or more shots. Not surprisingly, it lost all 14. Has Huntsville’s defense improved enough so those kinds of games are an oddity rather than routine?

3. Huntsville went 5-11 in one-goal games last season, including four in overtime. Can the Chargers find more scoring and decrease their chances of even having to play one-goal games? After all, both times UAH scored more than three goals, it won.

Crystal ball

That the Chargers were picked to finished eighth by both the media and the coaches in the preseason polls isn’t an accomplishment, but it’s a sign that Corbett’s turnaround plan has thus far been a success. They should reach the double-digit win plateau and make the playoffs again this season, and don’t be surprised if they pull an upset or two in the conference tournament.

After letdown of postseason ban, Alaska could be dangerous with Morley leading way

Alaska’s Justin Woods is back on the ice after missing all of last season while being treated for a rare form of bone cancer (photo: Paul H. McCarthy/Alaska Athletics).

At the end of the 2014-15 season, there might not have been a more dangerous team in the country than Alaska. The Nanooks closed the season with an eight-game unbeaten streak, one that included a tie and win against league champion Minnesota State and thrust them into fourth place in the WCHA standings.

However, that home-ice spot went wasted as the season ended abruptly. Academic violations from prior to 2012 led to a postseason ban and left the team only to guess just how far it would have been able to go beyond the regular season.

“Last year was a big letdown for us, not being able to play in the postseason,” coach Dallas Ferguson said. “It’s something we haven’t talked a great deal about, but certainly knowing that’s behind us and we can move forward is nice for our team.”

The Nanooks could be a dangerous team again this season with the WCHA coaches’ choice as preseason player of the year, Tyler Morley, back. The forward was second in league scoring a season ago with 33 of his 37 points coming in conference play.

“Anybody who’s seen him play and seen him practice knows he’s a special player,” Ferguson said. “He plays hard, plays the right way, cares about his teammates, cares about this program. He’s a real pleasure to coach.”

If only All-American defenseman Colton Parayko was back. Parayko, a top prospect of the St. Louis Blues, opted to sign following an outstanding junior year.

“His resume speaks for itself,” Ferguson said. “He’s a very special player.”

The Nanooks lost another top defenseman, Trevor Campbell, to graduation, leaving that position a little thin to start the year.

Last season

19-13-2, 14-12-2 (fourth) in the WCHA. Ineligible for postseason play.

Names to know

Besides Morley, who has 42 goals and 92 points in 100 career games, junior forward Marcus Basara returns after finishing second on the team in scoring last season (12 goals, 24 points). In one of the best stories of the early 2015-16 season, defenseman Justin Woods is back on the ice after missing all of last season while being treated for a rare form of bone cancer. Goaltender Davis Jones had a solid season last year before missing the final third due to injury. (Now-graduated Sean Cahill backstopped Alaska’s unbeaten streak.)

Three questions

1. How significant a loss is the early departure of Parayko, who was the best defenseman in the WCHA last season?

2. Can the Nanooks establish a No. 1 goaltender early in the year, as Ferguson said he’d like to do?

3. Can Alaska survive a tough road schedule that includes early series at Minnesota State, Bemidji State and Ferris State and nearly all of January away from Fairbanks?

Crystal ball

With their history of strong regular season finishes, the Nanooks will find a way to get to Grand Rapids and to the WCHA Final Five for the first time.

After setback in 2014-15, Alaska-Anchorage looks to move forward again with young team

Blake Tatchell was Alaska-Anchorage’s leading scorer last season (photo: Candace Horgan).

Matt Thomas found out a year ago that turning around a struggling program isn’t as easy as it seemed.

In 2013-14, his first season as Alaska-Anchorage’s coach, Thomas took a four-win team to 18 victories, including a first-round playoff series win, which earned the Seawolves a trip to the WCHA Final Five where they were within overtime of going to the title game.

They looked like a program on the rise.

Instead, the Seawolves stumbled in 2014-15, falling all the way back to the WCHA cellar.

“We had a tough year last year,” Thomas said. “My second year behind the bench was one that didn’t go nearly the way we wanted. … We had issues in a lot of different areas. But we feel we’ve addressed a lot of them.”

Thomas said he’s practicing patience this year, not necessarily branding success as a top-four league finish, especially with a young team.

“I think the realistic thought for us is: We need to be better than we were last year,” Thomas said.

The roller coaster ride hasn’t just made Thomas queasy. The team’s four seniors, who include forward and leading scorer Blake Tatchell, have felt it, too.

“That class came in as freshmen, and that was a very tough year for them, … the type of year they never wanted to repeat,” Thomas said. “Their sophomore year, they ended up having a great season [compared] to the season before. It was a real quick turnaround, and they were excited we were going to do it again. Last year we reverted back to their freshmen year. They’ve tasted two very subpar years.”

Thomas said he doesn’t want to strap that group with the burden of carrying a young team, but he hopes it can help steer the Seawolves back in the right direction.

Last season

8-22-4, 5-21-2 (10th) in the WCHA. Missed the conference playoffs.

Names to know

A real bright spot for the Seawolves last season was the play of goaltender Olivier Mantha, who took over the nets as a freshman, playing in 29 games. Tatchell has led Anchorage in scoring in two of his first three seasons and has never missed a game. Defensemen Austin Sevalrud, Blake Leask and Chris Williams are the other seniors.

Three questions

1. Can the Seawolves become a more disciplined team after leading the WCHA in penalty minutes a year ago?

2. After having none last season, is there a double-digit goal scorer on the roster?

3. When will Anchorage break its winless streak outside the state of Alaska, which is at 17 games entering the season?

Crystal ball

If the Seawolves can make Sullivan Arena a tough place for opponents as they did two years ago, they’ll be back in the league playoffs.

Missing NCAA tournament serves as fuel for Bowling Green

Defenseman Sean Walker had 20 points last season for Bowling Green (photo: Jim Rosvold).

In each of Chris Bergeron’s first five seasons as coach at Bowling Green, the Falcons have improved.

He inherited a five-win team in the fall of 2010 and saw the victory total immediately double. Wins jumped from 10 to 14 to 15 to 18 to — last season — 23, the most by the team in almost two decades.

Had Bowling Green gotten a 24th win, however, it probably would have been playing in the national tournament. The Falcons finished 16th in the PairWise Rankings and needed to get to No. 15 to get in the NCAA field.

It’s difficult to look back and not wonder what might have been had the Falcons not been swept at home by Northern Michigan in late February or stumbled at Alaska-Anchorage a week later or lost to Michigan Tech in the Final Five semifinals.

“Looking back at the second half, we lost some games that maybe on paper we should have won,” Bergeron said. “It showed our lack of experience in that situation, knowing every game matters toward national tournament implications, and a couple of those games cost us. We’ll see, when somebody pushes back against us, how motivated this group is to take that next step and push ourselves into the national tournament and not be that first team out.”

The roster is filled with players who will remember last season, which is also why some are picking the Falcons to win the MacNaughton Cup this year. The group includes the top four scorers from a year ago: Brandon Hawkins, Pierre-Luc Mercier, Matt Pohlkamp and Ben Murphy; defensemen Sean Walker and Mark Friedman; and all three goaltenders who got time a season ago.

“I think we’ll be in the conversation this year,” Bergeron said.

Last season

23-11-5, 17-8-3 (third) in the WCHA. Lost in the Final Five semifinals.

Names to know

Hawkins, who led the team in scoring as a freshman with 16 goals and 30 points, and Friedman (19 points) were two of three Falcons players named to the WCHA’s all-rookie team. (Defenseman Nolan Valleau was the other but turned pro in the offseason.) Mercier and Pohlkamp each had 25 points last season, and Murphy had 21. Senior goalie Tommy Burke had good numbers (14 wins, .920 save percentage, 2.18 GAA) in 23 appearances.

Three questions

1. Is this the Bowling Green team that can leapfrog Minnesota State and Michigan Tech?

2. Can Hawkins and Friedman avoid a sophomore slump?

3. What does the surprising loss of Valleau do to the Falcons’ depth on defense?

Crystal ball

The Falcons will make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990.

Bemidji State relies on goalie Bitzer as young defensemen grow into roles

Bemidji State’s Michael Bitzer had a seven-game unbeaten streak late last season (photo: BSU Photo Services).

A season after earning home ice in the WCHA playoffs for the first time in school history, Bemidji State didn’t lose much. But three of those losses will be a big deal for the Beavers to replace.

“We lost two forwards and three defenseman,” Beavers coach Tom Serratore said. “But those three defensemen ate up a lot of minutes for us.”

Serratore was referring to Matt Prapavessis, Sam Windle and Sam Rendle, a three-headed defensive monster that made Bemidji State goaltender — and WCHA rookie of the year — Michael Bitzer’s job a lot easier.

Prapavessis was the team’s leading scorer from the blue line, with 24 points, and was a two-year captain and power-play whiz. Windle and Rendle were more unheralded, mostly because they didn’t score many points but were the main penalty killers and shutdown stoppers.

Just three defenders return for the Beavers — senior captain Graeme McCormack and junior Ruslan Pedan and sophomore Brett Beauvais. The rest of the team’s blueliners are new — four freshmen and a redshirt sophomore.

“They’re going to have to play critical minutes,” Serratore said of the younger defensemen. “Prapavessis, Windle and Rendle ate up a lot of critical minutes for us last year. … There’s no question, just by sheer numbers alone, we’re going to have to have some inexperienced defensemen play some vital roles for us.”

The Beavers hope to make up for their lack of defensive experience with strong play in the nets — Bitzer finished with a 1.80 GAA and was unbeaten for seven straight games during the Beavers’ stretch run in February — and up front.

Seniors Cory Ward and Markus Gerbrandt and juniors Brendan Harms, Nate Arentz and Charlie O’Connor will look to lead one of the deepest forward groups the Beavers have had in years. Nobody had more than 24 points last season (Prapavessis) but the scoring was spread evenly.

“We didn’t have a lot of high scorers, but we had a lot of guys in double figures, and we had a relatively young team last year,” Serratore said. “You’re saying, who’s going to turn the corner? Who’s going to generate more offense? But right now everything is on paper and you don’t have a crystal ball.”

Last season

16-17-5, 12-11-5 (fourth) in the WCHA. Lost to Ferris State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Names to know

Bitzer (14-11-3, 1.80 GAA, .929 save percentage) was the WCHA’s rookie of the year as a freshman and a nominee for the Mike Richter Award. And up front, the Beavers’ forwards are deep and experienced, with seven of the top eight scorers returning — including juniors Harms (10-11–21) and Arentz (9-11–20) and sophomore Gerry Fitzgerald (7-12–19).

Three questions

1. Will Bemidji State’s blue line group be able to overcome the loss of core players Prapavessis, Windle and Rendle?

2. Can Bitzer replicate his outstanding performance from his freshman year — especially with the Beavers’ aforementioned defensive losses?

3. Can the Beavers finally get over the hump and get back to the WCHA Final Five? Bemidji State hasn’t been there since a Cinderella run to the semifinals in 2011.

Crystal ball

The forward group is one of the deepest the Beavers have had in years, and this team shouldn’t have trouble scoring goals. The question will be the defense, but even if the young D corps struggles, some expect the Beavers to be in the mix for home ice in the playoffs. Having a high-quality goaltender like Bitzer will do that for you. A return to the Final Five is certainly not out of the question — nor is an NCAA tournament berth.

Ferris State enters the post-Motte era with confidence

Gerald Mayhew had 11 goals and 23 points last season for Ferris State (photo: Michael Dubicki).

You may not know who Charles Williams is, but Bob Daniels does, and he believes in him.

Williams, a junior goaltender, will be called on to take the place of the great CJ Motte, who didn’t leave the Ferris State net very much over the last three seasons, playing in 127 games.

Williams didn’t play last season, recovering from an Achilles tendon tear. Two seasons ago, he spelled Motte five times, shutting out Michigan Tech on the road the last time he started — Jan. 25, 2014.

“We’ve had an unbelievable run of great goaltending,” said Daniels, the Ferris State coach. “All of a sudden it’s one of our big question marks. But it’s not as big a question for us with Charles Williams.”

After winning the MacNaughton Cup in 2014, the Bulldogs fell to sixth place last season, although they beat Bemidji State on the road in the playoffs to get to the WCHA Final Five.

Ferris State was stingy with Motte and a good defense, allowing just 88 goals for the season. Scoring was an issue, though, as they also put in 88 pucks, just 16 on the power play. Daniels believes the offense will be better this year with the return of eight of their top nine scorers from a year ago, including juniors Gerald Mayhew, Chad McDonald, Kyle Schempp and Jared VanWormer.

“Some big roles fell on our sophomores [last year],” Daniels said. “They were thrust from secondary roles into primary roles. … It was a tough transition and a lot to put on a sophomore class. This year they should be the beneficiaries of that.”

Besides Motte, Ferris State lost just four other players to graduation, although two were regular defensemen Jason Binkley and Travis White.

Last season

18-20-2, 13-14-1 (sixth) in the WCHA. Lost in the Final Five semifinals.

Names to know

Mayhew and senior forward Matt Robertson led the Bulldogs in scoring last season with 23 points each. Robertson has played in 101 career games, scoring 48 points. Canadian Junior MVP Corey Mackin, a forward, was the coaches’ pick for WCHA preseason rookie of the year. Daniels expects senior defenseman Simon Denis to be back to form; last year was his first back after suffering a broken bone in his back.

Three questions

1. Can Charles Williams — or anybody, for that matter — stand in for CJ Motte in goal?

2. Will the Bulldogs be able to solve their goal-scoring woes from last year, especially on the power play?

3. Daniels will get win 400 this season, but, starting at 397-409-89, will he have an overall winning record at the end of Year 24?

Crystal ball

Despite it being in their backyard in Grand Rapids, Mich., the Bulldogs will miss out on the Final Five this season.

Lake Superior State tries to build around goaltender Defiel

Lake Superior State’s Alex Globke is looking for a bounce-back season (photo: Lake Superior State Athletics).

At times last season, the pressure on Gordon Defiel was almost too much.

“He kind of felt if he gave up one goal, it was going to be a tough night for us,” second-year Lake Superior State coach Damon Whitten said of his sophomore goaltender last season. “We just didn’t have guys behind him that could take the pressure off some nights.”

The Lakers finished 8-28-2 overall last season and Defiel started in all but three of those. Although the Lakers once again finished as one of the worst teams in the WCHA, their goaltending wasn’t the reason — Defiel led the country in goals allowed, but he also faced the most shots and made the most saves after playing 90 percent of his team’s minutes.

“A lot of the success we’ll have this year will be determined from the back end out,” Whitten said. “A lot of the success we can build on this year, [Defiel will] have a large part to do with that.”

Freshman Nick Kossoff, fresh from the Keystone Ice Miners of the NAHL, should give Defiel some healthy competition.

On the blue line, senior Eric Drapluk anchors a group of five sophomores who all saw significant minutes as freshmen last season.

Up front, the Lakers were one of the worst scoring teams in the NCAA — ahead of only bottom-ranked Princeton — with just 60 goals in 38 games.

“We’ll need to score by committee,” Whitten said. “We’ll be very challenged offensively. We’ll need some guys to step up and emerge.”

Bryce Schmitt could be the one to emerge. The team’s returning scoring leader, he had 15 points last season and seven goals. And Alex Globke, who was the WCHA’s rookie of the year in 2013-14, will look for a bounce-back season after scoring just five goals and five assists last year.

Whatever happens, expect defense to be a hallmark of this team and allow it to steal a few games — especially if Defiel can stand on his head.

“In the first half of last year, we were in the bottom three teams in team defense,” Whitten said. “After Christmas we were in the top 20. “That didn’t necessarily show in our record, but we had great growth in the back end and we expect that to be a starting point on our team this year.”

Last season

8-28-2, 7-20-1 (tied for eighth) in the WCHA. Lost to Minnesota State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Names to know

Sophomore goaltender Defiel (8-26-2, 3.08 GAA, .915 save percentage) led the nation in saves last season — in part because the Lakers gave up a ton of shots. But he’s a talented goalie and among the WCHA’s talented crop of netminders. The Lakers will need some scoring, though — Schmitt is the team’s returning scoring leader but junior forward Globke should also contribute, along with freshmen forwards Anthony Nellis, Jake Hand and Gage Torrel.

Three questions

1. Can Defiel will the Lakers to a few more victories this year than he did last season?

2. Can the Lakers get someone to step up and score 20 or more points?

3. How will LSSU’s young defense improve? All five sophomores played significant minutes as freshman.

Crystal ball

The WCHA might have reached critical mass on goaltending, and although Defiel is one of the better ones in the conference, just about every team has a bona fide goalie this season. If they can’t find ways to score — and it’s hard to see where that’s going to come from unless a few players have breakout seasons — the Lakers will be trying to get themselves out of the cellar for the third straight season.

After coming up just short in 29-win season, Michigan Tech wants more

Michigan Tech’s Jamie Phillips was a Mike Richter Award finalist last season (photo: Jim Rosvold).

The way last year’s milestone season ended, the Michigan Tech Huskies won’t need much motivation for this one.

The Huskies, following a 29-win season and their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1981, came up just short at the end. They were second in the WCHA regular season, finished second in the Final Five tournament and were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round.

“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 in the NCAA tournament. I think these guys know there’s a lot of unfinished business and they’re excited to get going.”

The good news for the Huskies is that 24 players return to Houghton, Mich., for Pearson this season, including a pair of bona fide stars in goaltender Jamie Phillips and forward Alex Petan.

Phillips, a Mike Richter Award finalist and Winnipeg Jets draft pick, decided to return for his senior season to help the Huskies return to the NCAA tournament. He started in all 41 of Tech’s games and had a 1.74 GAA.

“The biggest thing for our team will be in goal,” Pearson said. “Last year at this time I thought it would be our biggest question mark, but going into this year I think it will be our least-worried-about position. We’re very fortunate to get Jamie back for his senior season. He’s looking forward to building upon his junior season.”

Petan is Tech’s other big name. The senior had 40 points — second only to the now-departed Hobey Baker Award finalist Tanner Kero. Petan will be expected to lead a deep group of forwards and attempt to make up for the lack of Kero’s presence.

With all the pieces the Huskies have returning, Pearson thinks his team has a chance to win its first MacNaughton Cup and first Broadmoor Trophy in more than 30 years. But first the Huskies have to beat Minnesota State; they went 0-4-1 against the Mavericks last season.

“They had our number last year and obviously they’re a great program,” Pearson said of Michigan Tech’s new nemesis. “[Mavericks coach Mike Hastings] has done a good job there, but to be the best you have to beat the best teams in your league. You have to learn how to win the games that you should win and then take care of those games against the best teams.”

Last season

29-10-2, 21-5-3 (second) in the WCHA. Lost to Minnesota State after advancing to WCHA Final Five championship game, then lost to St. Cloud State in overtime in first round of the NCAA West Regional semifinals.

Names to know

Aside from Petan and Phillips, the Huskies have a talented group of more-unheralded players who might be stars elsewhere. Forward Malcolm Gould had a breakout junior season with 14 goals and 17 assists. Defensemen Shane Hanna and Cliff Watson pack a nice one-two punch on the blue line.

Three questions

1. Tech’s 2014-15 was the Huskies’ best season in 25 years. Can the team avoid the hangover from last year and get down to business?

2. To that end: The Huskies haven’t won the MacNaughton Cup since 1976 and haven’t touched the Broadmoor Trophy since 1981. Is this the year that they can break the drought for one (or both)?

3. We know that Petan will be one of the top players in the country this year, but which of Tech’s role players will step up and star for the Huskies?

Crystal ball

The Huskies certainly have the weapons to win both the WCHA regular season and tournament championship. They lost the MacNaughton Cup by just one point last season — to the Mavericks — and lost to Minnesota State in the WCHA Final Five. Just beating the Mavericks once would go a long way toward a WCHA regular season and tournament title and even a No. 1 national seed in the NCAA tournament.

WCHA favorite Minnesota State has big roles to fill, but cupboard is anything but bare

Minnesota State’s Casey Nelson was the WCHA’s top-scoring defenseman last season (photo: Jim Rosvold).

The WCHA coaches and the media who cover it overwhelmingly picked Minnesota State to win the league this year. The Mavericks are the defending MacNaughton Cup champions and have had the Broadmoor Trophy for two years.

Not a question, right?

“We’ve got a lot of questions,” said coach Mike Hastings, who is entering his fourth season with the Mavericks and has more wins over that time than any other coach.

The Mavericks coach went ahead and started asking those questions himself, right after reeling off just what’s missing from the team that was No. 1 in the nation when the NCAA tournament began (the Mavericks were defeated in shocking fashion in the first round by Rochester Institute of Technology).

Gone is a six-player senior class — one that included All-Americans Matt Leitner and Zach Palmquist — that played in a total of 923 games and compiled 514 points over the last four seasons, along with last year’s No. 1 goaltender, Stephon Williams, who turned pro a year early.

So why all the love from the coaches and media?

“The group that’s here now is benefiting from what the previous two teams have accomplished,” Hastings said. “We need to get to the bottom of that hill and start climbing again.”

The cupboard’s hardly bare, though. Returning players include senior forward Bryce Gervais, who was second in the country with 27 goals last season; junior Casey Nelson, who was the WCHA’s top-scoring defenseman; and Cole Huggins, who, two seasons ago, was the league’s goaltending champion and Final Five MVP.

The Mavericks, who outscored foes 145-77 last season, return all of their double-digit goal scorers, including Gervais, who was the media’s choice as preseason player of the year, and Brad McClure (15 points), Dylan Margonari (14) and Teddy Blueger (10).

Last season

29-8-3, 21-4-3 (first) in the WCHA. Won the WCHA Final Five, lost in first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional.

Names to know

McClure and C.J. Franklin had outstanding rookie years. The former was Final Five MVP, and the latter was a WCHA all-rookie team pick. Carter Foguth, a junior defenseman, is the Mavericks’ captain. Forward Jimmy Mullin is a graduate transfer from Miami playing his final season at Minnesota State.

Three questions

1. Can Gervais get it done without Leitner, the primary assist man on nearly half of his goals?

2. Can junior goalie Huggins rediscover the form that made him so successful as a rookie?

3. After losing in the first round three years in a row, can Minnesota State win at the national tournament?

Crystal ball

How the Mavericks survive an early season schedule that includes 10 straight weekends without a break, nonconference series against Omaha, St. Cloud State (road) and Minnesota (home and home) and WCHA road series at Bemidji State, Ferris State, Northern Michigan and Bowling Green will determine their NCAA fate.

Staying healthy, growing on offense among Northern Michigan’s top wishes

Northern Michigan’s John Siemer had just 13 points as a sophomore after an 18-point freshman season (photo: Adelle Whitefoot).

Injuries decimated Northern Michigan last season.

At various times throughout the year, the Wildcats were without their No. 1 goaltender (Mathias Dahlström) as well as two of their top forwards (Dominik Shine and Gerard Hanson) and a number of defensemen.

NMU coach Walt Kyle hopes his team can prove itself this year — both the players who are coming back from injury and the ones that struggled last year when called upon to step in.

“We had 156 man games missed to injury,” Kyle said. “We got going early in the season, then all at the same time we got hit and we didn’t have the depth that was ready to contribute and take us to a place we wanted to be. And that’s our fault as coaches.”

It starts with Dahlström, who was one of the best goalies in the WCHA last year before suffering a concussion in December. He played a few more games before suffering a season-ending knee injury Jan. 30 against Alaska-Anchorage. He finished the season with a 2.18 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

“He’s an exceptional goaltender,” Kyle said of his junior netminder. “One thing with the league this year, there are a number of very good goaltenders and I would not put anyone, in my opinion, ahead of Mathias.”

Northern Michigan’s offense largely will depend on how healthy it can stay. Senior Darren Nowick and junior Shane Sooth played every game of last season and return as the team’s leading scorers. But Shine, a junior, led the team with 18 points before going down in late January. He returned at the end of the season but couldn’t generate much after missing 10 games.

Junior John Siemer had a breakout freshman season but managed just 13 points as a sophomore.

“I’m excited about where we are and where our growth is out front,” Kyle said. “It needs to be one of the greater areas of growth for us to have success and I really believe it’s going to be that. We feel real comfortable with our top 11 or 12 guys.”

The Wildcats finished seventh in the WCHA last season, so to improve on that they’ll need to stay healthy. They open this weekend at Wisconsin — a team they swept last season.

“We want to get this season up and running because we want to show everyone we’re a much better team than where we finished a year ago,” Kyle said.

Last season

14-18-6, 11-13-4 (seventh) in the WCHA. Lost to Bowling Green in the WCHA first round.

Names to know

When he’s healthy, Dahlström is one of the better goalies in the WCHA. In front of him, defenseman Brock Maschmeyer was a great two-way player for NMU, scoring 19 points and earning all-WCHA third-team honors. Freshman forward Troy Loggins was last season’s USHL playoff MVP and led the league in playoff scoring as his Sioux Falls team won the Clark Cup title.

Three questions

1. Every team has injuries, so NMU’s woes weren’t unique. Do the Wildcats have the depth to overcome those injuries if that happens again?

2. Will the Wildcats be able to deliver on Kyle’s promise that their biggest area of growth is up front?

3. Northern’s special teams were some of the best in the nation last year — the Wildcats were No. 3 in the country in combined special teams. Their power play was at 18 percent, good enough for third in the WCHA. Can they continue that this season?

Crystal ball

A healthy Wildcats team could do some damage in the WCHA. I don’t know if they’re going to be good enough to get home ice but they could put together a playoff run behind Dahlström, provided those forwards step up.

NCHA men’s conference goes to two divisions, introduces new playoff format

The upcoming season in the NCHA men’s conference will include a few significant changes, including the creation of two divisions and a new playoff format.

The changes were finalized at the athletic directors meeting in Fond du Lac, Wis., on Sept. 23

Finlandia, Lawrence, Northland, Milwaukee School of Engineering, St. Norbert and St. Scholastics will make up the North Division, while Adrian, Aurora, Concordia (Wis.), Lake Forest and Marian are the South Division.

MSOE was selected via a blind draw as the geographic transition team and will play the 2015-16 season in the North Division, then switch and play the 2016-17 season in the South Division.

The new playoff format will include a six-team field, with the top three teams in each division qualifying for the postseason. The quarterfinal round will pit the No. 3 seed at the No. 2 seed in each division. The champion from each division will earn a bye and advance directly to the semifinal round. Those champions and the two other quarterfinal winners will be re-seeded in the semifinals, based on total points in conference games and independent from their divisional affiliation.

The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will host semifinal series.

According to an NCHA news release, “the new format and divisions allow for a continued emphasis on all regular season games, with an added element of divisional races and rivalries.”

Also new in 2015-16 is the addition of Aurora in the conference schedule and standings. The Spartans played a limited schedule against NCAA teams last year, but defeated St. Mary’s and played tight games with three nationally-ranked opponents.

Johnson and Wales adds women’s hockey, will join ECAC North Atlantic for 2015-16

Starting in the fall of 2015, Johnson and Wales will offer women’s hockey at the NCAA Division III level.

“The popularity of women’s ice hockey continues to grow nationally and New England has some of the greatest high school programs,” said JWU senior VP of administration Marie Bernardo-Sousa in a news release. “JWU is excited about providing this opportunity to the young women on our campus who are interested in continuing a tradition of excellence.”

Coached by Maria Lewis, the Wildcats move into the newly-formed eight-team ECAC league, which also includes Salem State, Becker, Endicott, Stevenson, Daniel Webster, Morrisville and Canton.

Johnson and Wales already has a men’s D-III team that plays in the ECAC Northeast.

Founded in 1914, Johnson and Wales University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 16,000 graduate, undergraduate and online students at its four campuses in Providence, R.I., North Miami, Fla., Denver and Charlotte, N.C.

After season that brought Hobey, national title, Hockey East looks for new cast of stars in 2015-16

Adam Gilmour (left) and Alex Tuch were Boston College’s top two scorers last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

It will be extremely difficult for Hockey East to top the 2014-15 season.

After welcoming the league’s 12th member, Connecticut, in October, the season proceeded almost nearly as perfect as any fan could imagine. The conference produced arguably the best rookie the game has seen in more than two decades in Boston University’s Jack Eichel, who captured the Hobey Baker Award in April.

And speaking of April, as Hockey East hosted the Frozen Four at the TD Garden in Boston, it was two Hockey East clubs that reached the national title game, with Providence besting Boston University in a thrilling final. The Friars became the conference’s fourth different national champion, joining Maine, Boston University and Boston College.

When you put all of that together, it’s hard to figure what Hockey East will do to top it.

Whatever is accomplished by Hockey East members in 2015-16, it will be done without some of the talented upperclassmen from a season ago. As is the case when teams and leagues find success, the NHL came calling and pillaged lineups.

No loss looms larger than that of Eichel, who in June was the second overall pick in the NHL Draft by Buffalo and three days later ended his college career after just one season, professional contract in hand.

“I’m both a commissioner and a fan. As a fan, I’m sorry we don’t have the Eichel buzz again,” said Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna. “He was just fun to watch and there was a clear buzz in the building. So that’s unfortunate as a selfish point of view.

“But it does seem that when you lose one, there is another class that comes in and becomes household names.”

While early departures mean some of the names in Hockey East will change, for the first time in three years, that’s about the only major change for the conference.

For the last two seasons, Hockey East has welcomed new members — Connecticut last year and Notre Dame two seasons ago. Each of those seasons also featured changes to the playoff format. This year, both the membership and the postseason formats are unchanged.

That doesn’t mean that a change to the playoff format wasn’t discussed.

Last March on the opening night of the Hockey East playoffs, Massachusetts beat Notre Dame in a five-overtime game, the longest in college hockey history. The physically taxing nature of that game with two additional games still to be played over the following two nights led Bertagna to revisit the playoff format with athletic directors and coaches.

“A five-overtime game to start a season is not ideal. Other than some aberration, we don’t ask our athletes to play three nights in a row, let alone a game that long to begin,” said Bertagna. “I’d like to see some sort of solution to that, whether it is to play a single overtime in the first two games.”

In that scenario, a team would get two points for a win and one for a tie. If a team reaches three points in the first two games, it wins the series. If the series is tied after two games, the third would be played until there was a winner.

Bertagna, however, didn’t have the support of the members to make that change.

“I think I’m out on an island on this one,” he said.

The on-ice product this season should be as strong as ever for Hockey East. It is reasonable to say that at least eight teams enter the season with expectations and hopes to reach the Frozen Four in Tampa in April, while the remaining four teams look to take a step up the standings and possibly put together a Cinderella postseason run.

The biggest goal for Hockey East teams will be to enjoy success outside of the conference, for despite Providence and BU playing for the national title last April, only three Hockey East teams qualified for the NCAA tournament field after five teams qualified in 2014.

“We flew under the radar during the year,” said Bertagna. “It was misleading on how strong we were across the board. We didn’t dominate the PairWise like we had in past year. Of course, it played out that we had a great NCAA run. It finished exactly the way that you want to draw it up.”

Here’s a look at Hockey East teams in order of predicted finish by USCHO’s Hockey East writers.

Predictions by David H. Hendrickson

1. Boston College

Last year’s power outage will be a distant memory as the Eagles return to national prominence. Read more

2. Boston University

The Terriers may get passed by their archrivals but still bring back some of last year’s top players and will once again be one of the top teams in the country. Read more

3. UMass-Lowell

Lowell will challenge for another Hockey East regular season crown, reach the title game in the league tournament and have a realistic shot at the Frozen Four. Read more

4. Providence

This team isn’t going to repeat as national champions and it’s hard to see it atop Hockey East, but it’ll be a contender. Read more

5. New Hampshire

UNH became a much better team after Daniel Tirone stabilized the goaltending position. The momentum of eight straight late-season wins continues into this year. Read more

6. Notre Dame

The Irish will be much better than .500 at home and 8-12 out of conference, two negatives from last year that kept them from more success within Hockey East and a berth in the NCAA tournament. Read more

7. Northeastern

The Huskies will be dynamic on offense but will go only as far as their team defense and goaltending allow. Read more

8. Vermont

The Catamounts look like they’re on an eighth-place island, a long way from both seventh and ninth place. Read more

9. Connecticut

One of the most pleasant surprises in all of college hockey last year, the Huskies showed they were no one’s doormat. Moving higher in the standings, however, will only get tougher. Read more

10. Maine

Maine played much better over the second half of last year, but will be mightily challenged to keep any of that momentum going with its two megastars, Devin Shore and Ben Hutton, off to the pros. Read more

11. Merrimack

I expect the goaltending and defense to be just fine, but the offense needs to produce a lot more than 1.73 goals per game for the Warriors to move up in the standings. Read more

12. Massachusetts

The cupboard appears very bare. It’s hard to see this team avoiding another last-place finish. Read more

Predictions by Jim Connelly

1. Boston University

The Terriers may not be the popular pick to win the league in a lot of people’s opinion, but I think they have all the pieces of the puzzle to repeat as regular season champs. Read more

2. UMass-Lowell

The River Hawks return the most offense in the nation and are adding some talented freshmen. The one question you might have is goaltending, but senior Kevin Boyle should be motivated to go out on top. Read more

3. Boston College

The Eagles certainly have one of the nation’s top recruiting classes and a proven goaltender in Thatcher Demko. The one area I worry about is defense, which grew thin with early departures. Read more

4. Providence

The defending national champions should be out to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke but will have to do so without the team’s backbone goaltender Jon Gillies. Read more

5. Vermont

The Catamounts seemingly get better every year but it still is difficult to place them ahead of my top four. Plenty of experience returns and goalie Mike Santaguida now will take the reins by himself. Read more

6. New Hampshire

The Wildcats were easily the hottest team down the stretch last season. There will be some holes to fill but there’s no reason to believe this team won’t compete for a first-round bye. Read more

7. Connecticut

In only year two in Hockey East, the team that many thought might serve as a doormat has an excellent recruiting class and a goaltender in Rob Nichols who can steal games. Read more

8. Notre Dame

Jeff Jackson’s squad could be sneaky good and climb much higher in the standings. But this club needs to score some goals, particularly on the power play. Read more

9. Northeastern

Many think Kevin Roy’s return for his senior season will vault this club to the top of the standings. I still have concerns about Roy’s brother, Derick, a relatively untested goaltender who will have to assume the starting job in net. Read more

10. Merrimack

Merrimack needs to find a way to score goals, particularly knowing that it won’t have much experience in goal to lean on. Read more

11. Maine

A team that struggled a season ago will have to battle without the services of two of its best players — Devin Shore and Ben Hutton — both of whom signed NHL deals in the offseason. Read more

12. Massachusetts

You don’t expect the last-place team to lose talent to the pros, especially not two underclassmen. But that’s what happened to UMass, which could make for a long season ahead. Read more

Optimism high for Boston College offense, but defense a question mark

Alex Tuch led Boston College in scoring as a rookie last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Every team faces new challenges each year, but rarely will a coach face such opposite challenges as Boston College’s Jerry York.

Just one year after York qualified his team for the NCAA tournament almost solely based on the prowess of his defense, he faces a season where his blue line lacks the experience and likely will need the support of scoring power and goaltending.

The Eagles return their leading scorer from a year ago in Alex Tuch, who was overshadowed last season by a rookie down the street at Boston University named Jack Eichel. Add in players like Ryan Fitzgerald and Adam Gilmour, along with a highly touted freshman trio of Colin White, Jeremy Bracco and Chris Brown, and there is plenty of optimism for the BC offense.

But on the blue line, not so much. Both Michael Matheson and Noah Hanifin left early for the NHL, leaving Teddy Doherty as the top returner. While players like Ian McCoshen, Scott Savage and Steve Santini are all pretty good defensively, the needed offense from the back end that BC depended on a year ago likely won’t be there.

“It absolutely is [a role reversal],” said York. “You look at guys like Tuch and Fitzy and guys like Gilmour, they’re going to score goals for us. Now it’s keeping the defense on track.”

Goaltender Thatcher Demko should be the stabilizing factor between the pipes for BC, but he was slowed in the offseason by surgery on both hips.

Still, there seems to be plenty of components in place that Boston College should be able to make a run at every trophy and tournament championship available this season.

Last season

21-14-3, 12-7-3 (second) in Hockey East. Lost to Vermont in Hockey East quarterfinals; lost to Denver in NCAA first round.

Names to know

Tuch quietly made a name for himself last season, leading the club in scoring as a rookie. Demko moves into his junior season and is probably the most notable goaltender in Hockey East as the season starts. But keep rookies White, Bracco and Brown on your radar; the trio promises to be part of a special recruiting class at the Heights.

Three questions

1. How good will BC’s defense be? Defense was this team’s strength a year ago but was decimated by NHL signings.

2. Will this be Fitzgerald’s breakout season? His numbers have been good for two years, but does he have the next gear to become a 20-goal or 40-point scorer?

3. What role players will become go-to guys? It has been a staple of many York teams — players who were killing penalties and matching up as defensive forwards have breakthrough junior or senior campaigns. That wasn’t the case last year and it hurt the Eagles. Who can fill that role this season?

Crystal ball

Jim Connelly (third place): The Eagles certainly have one of the nation’s top recruiting classes and a proven goaltender in Thatcher Demko. The one area I worry about is defense, which grew thin with early departures.

David H. Hendrickson (first place): Last year’s power outage will be a distant memory as the Eagles return to national prominence.

Personnel losses were major, but Boston University still has plenty of talent

Danny O’Regan returns after a 50-point season for Boston University (photo: Melissa Wade).

Despite being a win away from a national championship a season ago, Boston University faces a number of questions heading into the 2015-16 campaign.

None, of course, will be larger than how to replace Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Eichel, who surprised none when he left to sign with the Buffalo Sabres just two days after being drafted second overall in the NHL Draft.

It would be an understatement to say that the single-season rental for the Terriers was a big part of the team’s offense that led them to Hockey East regular season and postseason titles. But it would be unfair to say this club will be absent of offense entirely heading into this season.

The leading returners up front are Danny O’Regan, a 50-point scorer a year ago, and converted defenseman Ahti Oksanen, who potted 25 goals a season ago. Add to that defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who many thought would have signed with the NHL in the offseason, and it is clear this team still has a potent offense.

“We’re always going to lose great players. That’s the program we aspire to be,” said coach David Quinn, who enters his third season behind the BU bench. “Jack [Eichel] had an incredible year last year, but we were a true team.”

Another piece of that team that was critical much of the season and also departed early was goaltender Matt O’Connor. The good news for the Terriers, however, is the return of Sean Maguire, who missed last year recovering from a head injury.

Additionally, the incoming freshman class, which includes three of the top 30 rookies as ranked by the International Scouting Service, should play a major role in filling holes in every position.

“They all have great resumes, but you never know how guys will adapt to college hockey,” said Quinn. “The year we had last year was due to how our returning players embraced our freshmen. We’ve got such a great group of guys that I think we’ll be in a similar situation.”

Last season

28-8-5, 14-5-3 (first) in Hockey East. Won Hockey East tournament; lost to Providence in NCAA championship game.

Names to know

Plenty of returning talent, including forward O’Regan, defenseman Grzelcyk and goaltender Maguire will be joined by a talented freshman class led by NHL second-rounders Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jordan Greenway.

Three questions

1. No matter who returns and what freshman come into this program, how powerful can the offense be without Eichel?

2. At times, O’Connor was dominant in net for last year’s squad. Now can Maguire, coming off an injury, be a similar force in net?

3. Can A.J. Greer be the X-factor? In the postseason, he was a force offensively. Continuing that this season could mean a lot to this BU offense.

Crystal ball

Jim Connelly (first place): The Terriers may not be the popular pick to win the league in a lot of people’s opinion, but I think they have all the pieces of the puzzle to repeat as regular season champs.

David H. Hendrickson (second place): The Terriers may get passed by their archrivals (Boston College) but still bring back some of the last year’s top players and will once again be one of the top teams in the country.

Returning talent signals chance for return to top for UMass-Lowell

Goalie Kevin Boyle will be a focal point this season for UMass-Lowell (photo: Melissa Wade).

UMass-Lowell missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years. The River Hawks came close, however, reaching the Hockey East championship game only to fall short of a third straight league title, one which would have kept their season going.

All of which begs the question, can the River Hawks pick their play up just the tiniest notch to once again be league champs and a significant player in the national tournament?

“We expect to be one of the top teams in Hockey East,” coach Norm Bazin said. “We expect to be in that select four that compete for [and secure] home ice.

“But there are 12 teams in Hockey East and the difference between the top and bottom is so minuscule that I don’t make predictions. I just want us to play to our standard, which is an aggressive puck-working style.”

A look at the talent that Lowell brings back points to a team that can challenge for titles both on the league and national stages.

Only three players were lost to graduation, and while two of them were blue-line stalwarts Zack Kamrass and Jake Suter, that’s far less attrition than that of most, if not every, other Hockey East team.

“From one year to the next, you’re never quite sure how the chemistry develops,” Bazin said. “So you have to wait and see how it does develop. These guys have to keep progressing with their game and keep improving, so we’ll wait and see what that brings.”

Last season

21-12-6, 11-7-4 (fourth) in Hockey East. Lost to Boston University in the Hockey East championship.

Names to know

C.J. Smith led the scoring as a freshman, but seven returning players topped 20 points and another seven broke double digits. So depth should be a major strength.

Three questions

1. Can goaltender Kevin Boyle backstop the Hawks to the promised land? He doesn’t have to be (and can’t be) Connor Hellebuyck, but Boyle had some struggles down the stretch and needs to take his game to the next level.

2. With the top six scorers returning, including defensemen Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla, can the River Hawks power play go from good to great?

3. Will the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” model of team chemistry once again make Lowell among the toughest opponents night in and night out?

Crystal ball

Jim Connelly (second place): The River Hawks return the most offense in the nation and are adding some talented freshmen. The one question you might have is goaltending, but senior Boyle should be motivated to go out on top.

David H. Hendrickson (third place): Lowell will challenge for another Hockey East regular season crown, reach the title game in the league tournament and have a realistic shot at the Frozen Four.

Maine will lean on leadership to overcome key personnel losses

Cam Brown (left) was second on Maine’s roster with 28 points last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Maine plummeted to 10th place in Hockey East last year, wiping the luster off the optimism posted the previous season, coach Red Gendron’s first as the head of the program.

Making matters considerably worse, Devin Shore and Ben Hutton, the two stars from last year’s team, turned pro early.

Nonetheless, Gendron sees no diminishing of his expectations.

“Our expectations are to be a championship-caliber team,” he said. “That’s what Maine hockey is all about. That’s what we’ve created as the culture in the program, and it’s our job to find ways to be successful.

“We think we have a stronger, more balanced team, but only time will tell. A big part of that is leadership within the dressing room. We think we have exceptional leaders this year. Not to say there was anything wrong with last year’s group, but we think we’re stronger in that respect now.”

One of last year’s downfalls was a rocky start, which bottomed out with an eight-game losing streak. Over the second half, the Black Bears fared much better, but they’d dug too deep a hole to crawl out of.

Not surprisingly, Gendron considers a stronger start to be especially important.

“That doesn’t mean you have to be 10-0 after the first 10,” he said, “but you want to be above .500 and putting yourself in a position to make a run the second half.”

Last season

14-22-3, 8-12-2 (10th) in Hockey East. Lost to Vermont in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.

Names to know

Steven Swavely, Cam Brown, Blaine Byron and Nolan Vesey all topped 20 points last year, trailing only Shore. They’ll be counted on to do the offensive heavy lifting.

Three questions

1. Who fills the shoes of Shore and Hutton?

2. Can the Black Bears avoid another disastrous bad start?

3. Will a year’s experience improve the goaltending?

Crystal ball

Jim Connelly (11th place): A team that struggled a season ago will have to battle without the services of two of its best players — Shore and Hutton — both of whom signed NHL deals in the offseason.

David H. Hendrickson (10th place): Maine played much better over the second half of last year, but will be mightily challenged to keep any of that momentum going with its two megastars off to the pros.

Stronger defense needed to help Merrimack stop Hockey East slide

Brett Seney led Merrimack in scoring as a rookie last season (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

After four straight seasons in the middle of the Hockey East pack, Merrimack fell back to last or next-to-last place the past two years.

Nonetheless, coach Mark Dennehy continues to set his goals high.

“We want to compete for a championship,” he said. “You look at what Providence has been able to do, at what Union has been able to do, at what we did a couple of years ago. You look at Lowell. Even though it’s a state school, it’s on the smaller side.

“That’s the goal. We want to be considered one of the elite. That’s why we’re in this league. I’d be doing my players a disservice if we didn’t set our sights high.”

If the Warriors return to the middle of the pack or even better, it’ll be on the strength of their defense. They return all of their significant scorers, but they ranked a distant last within the league in team offense (almost a full goal per game less than 10th-place Massachusetts).

And although they graduated goaltender Rasmus Tirronen, it’s a team with a defense-first mindset.

“The big thing for programs like ours is you’ve got to play hard for each other,” Dennehy said. “I thought we did that last year and not so much the year before. If we compete and play as hard for each other as we did last year and maybe even take it a step further, I really like this team.”

Last season

16-18-4, 5-14-3 (11th) in Hockey East. Lost to Boston University in the second round of the HEA playoffs.

Names to know

Brett Seney led the team in scoring as a freshman last year, and fellow frosh Jace Hennig wasn’t far behind. Hampus Gustafsson and Brian Christie round out the other returning 20-plus point scorers, and Marc Biega and Jonathan Lashyn hit double digits as defensemen.

Three questions

1. Can the returning forwards take the next step and make the Warriors offense more competitive?

2. Will last year’s league-worst power play do its part in the offense?

3. Collin Delia played well in nine games between the pipes (1.86 GAA, .937 save percentage), but can he extend that performance to a No. 1 goalie’s workload?

Crystal ball

Jim Connelly (10th place): Merrimack needs to find a way to score goals, particularly knowing that it won’t have much experience in goal to lean on.

David H. Hendrickson (11th place): I expect the goaltending and defense to be just fine, but the offense needs to produce a lot more than 1.73 goals per game for the Warriors to move up in the standings.

Roy’s return for senior season gives Northeastern a lift

Kevin Roy is back for his senior season at Northeastern (photo: Melissa Wade).

It is quite possible that the best day of Northeastern coach Jim Madigan’s offseason was when Kevin Roy said he would return for his senior season.

Roy, a fourth-round draft choice of Anaheim in 2012, easily could have followed the route most high-end draft picks take after their junior year and sign a pro contract. But for Roy, there is unfinished business.

“With Kevin, there wasn’t many conversations,” Madigan said about talking to Roy about his NHL futures. “He knew the opportunities for him if he wanted to sign. But he also knew the opportunity if he came back.

“He’s feeling there’s unfinished business. We haven’t won anything. He wants to win something at Northeastern. He wants to lead our team to win a championship.”

Earning a championship, however, isn’t simply Roy’s birthright by returning and Madigan knows he also won’t be able to depend on just one player. The team has holes to fill, particularly one left when sophomore Mike Szmatula decided he wanted to transfer. Szmatula will redshirt at Minnesota this season before having two years of eligibility left.

That offensive gap, Madigan said, needs to be filled by some of the more talented offensive forwards like Dalen Hedges, second on the team in points a year ago, and Zach Aston-Reese. Matt Benning will be the leader on the blue line alongside senior Colton Saucerman and Garret Cockerill, who follows up an impressive freshman campaign.

But the big question for Northeastern might be between the pipes, with Clay Witt gone to graduation. Derick Roy played 13 games a season ago, posting a 5-6-2 mark, and likely will be the starter on opening night. But this is a position that can’t be weak if this team wants postseason success.

“From the outside looking at our team you can ask, ‘How’s the goaltending going to be?’ and that’s a fair question,” said Madigan. “But you could ask that two years ago when Clay Witt was assuming that role. I look at it as Derick Roy played more than Clay Witt did in his first few years.”

Does that translate to wins? One shall see, but Madigan was very clear where his team’s goals are as this season begins.

“The last two years, we’ve made some progress but we haven’t won in March,” said Madigan. “We have to win in March. That’s our goal.”

Last season

16-16-4, 11-9-2 (tied for sixth) in Hockey East. Lost to Merrimack in the Hockey East first round.

Names to know

Kevin Roy is easily the most important name to know on this team, if not in the league. But there are some talented players who need to play key roles if the Huskies will enjoy success, namely Hedges and Aston-Reese up front and Benning on the blue line.

Three questions

1. Can Kevin Roy be dominant? He has proven that he can take over a game. But how often can that happen? Can Roy be for Northeastern what Jack Eichel was for BU last season?

2. Who fills Szmatula’s role? With the forward transferring, that leaves a hole for a consistent scorer on Northeastern’s second line. What player can fill that hole?

3. Is Derick Roy ready to be the go-to guy in net? Will this season be the year that Derick Roy is known as something more than Kevin’s brother? If not, does Northeastern have a rookie it can rely on?

Crystal ball

Jim Connelly (ninth place): Many think Kevin Roy’s return for his senior season will vault this club to the top of the standings. I still have concerns about Roy’s brother, Derick, a relatively untested goaltender who will have to assume the starting job in net.

David H. Hendrickson (seventh place): The Huskies will be dynamic on offense but will go only as far as their team defense and goaltending allow.

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