As USCHO celebrates its 20th season, a look back at the College Hockey Homepage

If you remember a day when you typed out or bookmarked www.math.umn.edu/~urton/chockey/chockey.html, you’re definitely a veteran college hockey fan.

In the mid-1990s, that URL was the College Hockey Homepage, the creation of a pair of Minnesota graduate students in the Math department, Tim Brule and Lee Urton. And if you were among the 14 percent of American adults using the Internet in 1995, you could use Netscape Navigator 1.0 and get the latest college hockey scores, stats and news.

We bring this up now because this is U.S. College Hockey Online’s 20th season covering the sport since emerging from the College Hockey Homepage. And it all started in math classes at Minnesota.

– — –

Lee Urton: We were part of the same class. We started in grad school the same year, ’92. And it wasn’t that big of a department so we met just during the course of class introductions. We all knew each other, hung out together and that sort of thing.

The hockey part came in — I ended up getting season tickets to Gopher hockey. And, independent from me, Tim also had season tickets. We would often talk about the games. We had both been to the games and saw them. We had interest in what was going on.

Tim Brule: And then you started on Hockey-L and you got me involved in Hockey-L.

(Editor’s note: The listserv Hockey-L lives on, with many original members still active.)

Urton: I’m trying to remember how I first heard about it. I think I met someone else who was a season ticket holder at Minnesota who was part of this Hockey-L listserv. They told me about it and I joined, and then I told Tim about it and he joined. Through that, we met Mike Machnik as well as Jayson Moy. Paula (Weston), I think, we met through there.

Brule: It was quite a few. Just about the end of our second or third year of grad school, I had just finished defending my thesis for my master’s degree and the whole advent of the Internet and webpages, I became aware of it. Lee was a little bit further ahead. And we started playing around with hockey webpages. It was all the thing on Hockey-L. There were webpages for all sorts of teams.

Urton: We were using the web for sharing math assignments and that kind of thing in the grad department. And so I was already learning basic HTML coding through that. And because Tim and I were going to these games and talking about the games, we were always interested what was coming up next. Next weekend, we knew Minnesota would be playing Michigan Tech, but we didn’t know anything about Michigan Tech. We didn’t know who their players were, we didn’t know how good a team they were. It was really hard to get information at that point.

So we got what we could from Hockey-L. And some teams were represented really well, but some teams were not. And we kind of thought, hey, we were interested in this information and we’re having a hard time getting it. If we’re trying to do this, I bet there are other people who are also trying to get this information.

Brule: So we started with the University of Minnesota’s website, a website for Gopher hockey. I got a bunch of pictures and we ended up kind of donating it to the university. But part of that, we kept up an other links page. And that pointed to the math department account, and we rebranded it the College Hockey Homepage.

And part of the University of Minnesota thing, we got Frank [Mazzocco, then the TV voice of the Gophers] to answer emails; it was called “Ask Frank.” We did a lot of neat little features like that. But the links from the University of Minnesota page to this black homepage that we called the College Hockey Homepage, it all happened really pretty quickly.

And then we started to do all sorts of interesting things on the College Hockey Homepage. It was 1995 that we created the PairWise. The PairWise was a part of the College Hockey Homepage. It predated USCHO. I didn’t have the RPI computed; I had to use Erik Biever’s RPI and bring it in. But the College Hockey Homepage was the first place that we could actually accurately get statistics for across the nation for Division I. You couldn’t find them anywhere. Nobody had them. So we composited all of the statistics for all the leagues into one HTML file and put it up online.

– — –

It was the 1994-95 season, and Brule was handling the numbers side and Urton was leading the editorial side.

Urton: We were dealing with just Division I men’s hockey at this point. So we created an individual page for each team and then we sort of mined Hockey-L for people to write about various leagues. There were people that were obviously really devoted to their team or the league that their team was in, and we sort of talked them into joining us and putting together a weekly column. Tim and I were splitting duties for the WCHA.

Brule: Oh, god, that was bad.

Urton: That was awful. Like each column was worse than the last.

As Tim mentioned, it really blew up very quickly. We were right in that there were a lot of people that wanted to have this kind of information. They wanted to see the statistics. They wanted to read about their league and their team. And it was the right time because the Internet was just taking off, and suddenly the whole thing exploded.

This was all on the University of Minnesota math department servers, and I remember sitting in class one day — and we were still taking classes, we were grad students at this point — and the professor of this class said that the hockey stuff that we were doing was responsible for like 95 percent of the traffic on the math department servers. At that point, Tim and I knew we were onto something and we’d better start thinking about how to get it off the math department before they kicked us off.

Brule: That year was very interesting, to say the least. So the second year was 1995-96. And that’s where I made a small financial commitment. I had to buy a server to get it off the math department. And we had to recruit a team to help maintain the editorial. I took on most of the statistical portion of it — the numbers, the generation of the website — but the whole editorial stuff, it was all piecemeal. We didn’t have a real (content management system) at the time. It was still very manual. We went through a lot of people that first year.

– — –

Near the end of the 1995-96 season, Brule and Urton started working out how to turn the College Hockey Homepage into what eventually became U.S. College Hockey Online.

Urton: We talked for quite a while — I remember we had a lengthy discussion, Tim and me and Mike Machnik, who was doing a lot of the architecture work. He was a real sounding board for us. We discussed what we were going to name this new company. We knew College Hockey Homepage was not a viable name.

We had already seen the power of a name because of the PairWise. When Tim was first programming it, we were sitting in the math lab and Tim said, what should we call this thing? It’s doing all these comparisons, so we should call it the PairWise comparison or the PairWise Ranking. And I said, oh, PairWise Ranking. P-W-R. Power. Power rankings. We’ve got to name it that.

Brule: Lee is the one that coined PWR.

Urton: So we talked quite a bit about what we were going to name this company. And we didn’t want to use U.S. college hockey because there was U.S. College Hockey Magazine and we didn’t want to necessarily step on their toes or be confused with U.S. College Hockey Magazine.

But we really struggled with trying to describe what it is that we did. We cover U.S. college hockey. That was what we were doing. And we couldn’t really come up with another name for it that really made sense to us. So we decided to call it U.S. College Hockey Online, and definitely emphasize that word online to try to make it a different entity than U.S. College Hockey Magazine and try to keep people from being confused about what it was. We didn’t want the URL be uscollegehockeyonline.com. That would have been too long and too complicated to type in. So we decided to go with uscollegehockey.com instead.

– — –

In late March 1996, the College Hockey Homepage went to the Frozen Four in Cincinnati, where USCHO came together.

Urton: We had decided at that point we were going to make it a company and go to U.S. College Hockey Online. And it was the first time we had a chance to meet. We drove down, 13 hours I think from Minneapolis to Cincinnati. And it was the first time we had a chance to get together, physically meet all the people that were doing all this work. Mike Machnik and Jayson Moy.

We wanted to talk to everyone about the idea of trying to make a go of this and try to be a real company. So I would say that Frozen Four to me sort of marks the birth. We had been in discussion, we had been thinking about, Tim and I had talked a bit about it. This was really when we presented the idea and got some buy-in from some people. On the drive back, the long, 13-hour drive back, we came away enthusiastic and eager to go. To me, that’s sort of the birth right there of the company.

Leaving home: A look at some of the special events in the 2015-16 season

RIT hopes to make it six straight years with a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 for its game at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y. (photo: Omar Phillips).

The 2015-16 Division I men’s college hockey season features more than 50 games being played at venues away from the traditional campus sites, including 10 NHL arenas.

Here’s the lowdown on the games that take on more of a special-event feel.

The Ice Breaker

Maine hosts the annual Ice Breaker Tournament at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine, on Oct. 9 and 10. Lake Superior State, North Dakota and Michigan State join the Black Bears for the 19th annual tournament.

Benefit game in Danbury

Sacred Heart plays NCAA newcomer Arizona State at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Oct. 17 in the second annual Pagni Family Benefit Game at Danbury Arena in Danbury, Conn. Proceeds go to an education fund for the family of Jason Pagni, a devoted hockey enthusiast in Connecticut who passed away in January 2014. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased through Eric Opin at 203-878-5881 or attorneyopin@sbcglobal.net.

Turning Blue Cross Arena orange

Rochester Institute of Technology hosts Bowling Green in its annual game at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena on Oct. 17. The Tigers have drawn a sellout crowd of 10,556 for their regular season game there in each of the last five seasons.

Capital City Classic in Trenton

The Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, N.J., is the site of the Capital City Classic on Oct. 30 and 31, featuring Maine, Massachusetts, Yale and Princeton.

Doubleheader in Brooklyn

The new home of the NHL’s New York Islanders, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, gets its first taste of college hockey on Nov. 1. Bentley plays Army West Point and Notre Dame squares off against Connecticut.

Across the pond for Thanksgiving

Brown, Colgate, Northeastern and UMass-Lowell will spend Thanksgiving weekend in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the inaugural Friendship Four takes place Nov. 27 and 28 at Odyssey Arena.

NHL arenas on Thanksgiving weekend, too

Madison Square Garden in New York hosts Boston University against Cornell in Red Hot Hockey on Nov. 28, while the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff between Vermont and Penn State takes place the next day at the Wells Fargo Center.

The holiday tourneys

Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh hosted the 2013 Frozen Four (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Three NHL venues are included in this year’s lineup.

• Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh hosts the Three Rivers Classic on Dec. 28 and 29, featuring Clarkson, UMass-Lowell, Penn State and Robert Morris.

• Providence, Cornell, Ohio State and Boston College play in the Florida College Hockey Classic at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., on Dec. 28 and 29.

• The Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 29 and 30 at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena features mainstays Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech along with Northern Michigan.

• Arizona State gets in the holiday tournament game with the Desert Hockey Classic at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, on Jan. 8 and 10. Yale, Michigan Tech and Connecticut are the guests.

The Sun Devils play two other non-NCAA games at Gila River Arena this season: Oct. 3 against Arizona and Feb. 28 against the U.S. Under-18 Team.

UNH, Maine go home-and-home away from home

On Dec. 29, New Hampshire and Maine play in Portland, Maine. The next day, they face off again in Manchester, N.H.

Toledo, hello

Old CCHA foes Western Michigan and Bowling Green meet for the first time since their days in that conference on Dec. 30 at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. It’s the opener of a doubleheader that also features an ECHL game between Toledo and Elmira.

More in the Big Apple

The second of three games at Madison Square Garden this season comes Jan. 9, when Harvard and Quinnipiac play the Rivalry on Ice game. It’s also the middle of three games on the ice that day, following a Rangers-Capitals NHL game and preceding an exhibition between teams representing the Army (not to be confused with the Army West Point NCAA team) and the Navy.

Dutchmen, Engineers in Albany

Union and Rensselaer once again take their Capital District rivalry to the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., for the annual Mayor’s Cup game on Jan. 23.

North Star shines again

Bemidji State tries to defend its North Star College Cup championship (photo: Jim Rosvold).

The third edition of the North Star College Cup, featuring four of Minnesota’s five Division I teams, takes place Jan. 30 and 31 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, Minnesota and defending champion Bemidji State are in the field.

MSG hat trick complete

The men’s basketball and men’s hockey teams from Michigan and Penn State will take part in a doubleheader at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 30. The hoops game is in the afternoon; the ice gets uncovered for the night game.

Beanpot on schedule this year?

Both nights of the annual Beanpot tournament had to be moved because of winter storms last season, but for now this year’s event is on the traditional first two Mondays of February — this year, Feb. 1 and 8 — at Boston’s TD Garden. Boston College plays Harvard and Boston University plays Northeastern in this year’s first round.

Rivalry at the Joe

Michigan and Michigan State have their annual game at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 5. It’s Wolverines’ turn to give up a home game for the event.

Moving across town

American International heads into downtown Springfield, Mass., on Feb. 9 to play Massachusetts at the MassMutual Center.

Heading outdoors

The Gold Pan rivalry goes outdoors this season when Colorado College and Denver play at Coors Field on Feb. 20 in The Battle on Blake. It’s the last of four regular season games between the teams, which means the traveling trophy could be on the line at the home of baseball’s Colorado Rockies. The NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings are playing on the same rink on Feb. 27.

Whose side will Nationwide Arena be on?

Ohio State takes its home game against rival Michigan across town to Nationwide Arena on March 6. When you add in the Big Ten tournament at the Xcel Energy Center, the Wolverines will play in four NHL venues this season.

The postseason

Conference championships will be decided on Saturday, March 19.

Regionals take place on March 25 and 26 in Cincinnati (Midwest) and Worcester, Mass. (Northeast), and on March 26 and 27 in St. Paul, Minn. (West) and Albany, N.Y. (East).

The Frozen Four returns to Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., for the second time in five seasons on April 7 and 9.

Commonwealth Coast Conference to start men’s hockey with 2016-17 season; ECAC members leaving?

The Commonwealth Coast Conference Board of Directors announced Friday that the CCC will begin sponsoring men’s hockey as a championship sport beginning in 2016-17.

The addition of men’s hockey increases the number of CCC championship sports to 16 and marks the first new CCC championship sport since the addition of men’s golf in 2013-14.

“As the CCC chair, I am very excited that we are adding men’s hockey as a varsity sport,” stated Dr. Zorica Pantic, who also serves as Wentworth’s president, in a news release. “This will make the Commonwealth Coast Conference even stronger.”

“The University of New England has 12 sports that are currently part of the Commonwealth Coast Conference and today we add men’s ice hockey,” added UNE president Danielle N. Ripich, Ph.D. “We continue to build on our proud history of athletics while maintaining rigorous academic standards.”

A total of 10 institutions will compete during the inaugural season of CCC men’s hockey, with regular-season play beginning in November 2016 and culminating with the first-ever CCC men’s tournament in March 2017. The CCC men’s hockey champion will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.

Seven current CCC members – Curry, Endicott, Nichols, Salve Regina, University of New England, Wentworth and Western New England – will be joined by Becker, Johnson and Wales and Suffolk, each of which will be joining the CCC as associate members in the sport of men’s ice hockey in 2016-17.

“The addition of men’s ice hockey as the Commonwealth Coast Conference’s 16th championship sport is a proud moment for our conference, each of our full member institutions, and the institutions that will be joining us as our first-ever associate members,” CCC commissioner Gregg Kaye said in a statement. “This exciting decision is a testament to the leadership and engagement of the CCC’s presidents, each of whom is committed to enhancing the role that athletics plays in the student-athlete experience at their institution. By bringing men’s hockey under the CCC umbrella, our conference can ensure that an entirely new group of student-athletes will enjoy the same competitive and championship experiences as so many of their peers have enjoyed in the CCC for more than 30 years.”

Curry, Endicott, Nichols, Salve Regina, Wentworth and Western New England currently compete with Becker, Johnson & Wales and Suffolk as members of the ECAC Northeast Hockey League, while University of New England is a member of the ECAC East.

In a related story, D3hockey.com reported Thursday that members of the ECAC East men’s and women’s conferences will secede and form their own conference.

The men’s league will reportedly have Norwich, Babson, Massachusetts-Boston, Skidmore, New England College, St. Michael’s, Saint Anselm, Castleton and Southern Maine. The women’s league is set to include the aforementioned schools that sponsor women’s programs, in addition to Plymouth State, Nichols, Manhattanville, Holy Cross, Salve Regina and Franklin Pierce.

The D3hockey.com report also states that “because the conference memberships are due to remain intact throughout the transition process, conference officials expect that the new leagues will retain the current automatic NCAA tournament qualifier spots presently held by the ECAC East when play begins. Otherwise, the new conference would be subject to up to a two-year waiting period for automatic qualification and would compete for Pool B bids in the interim.”

New coach to instill groundwork with young team at Minnesota State

Minnesota State Mavericks

USCHO prediction: Eighth
Coaches’ prediction: Eighth
Last season: Eighth (3-32-1, 1-26-1-0 WCHA)

The names
That Minnesota State landed with a thud in the WCHA’s basement wasn’t that difficult to predict; the Mavericks were just too young to compete in the rough and tumble league. They’ll have new direction as they start the climb back up.

“To be back in college coaching, I’m really excited about it,” coach John Harrington said. “I’ve been in it for 24 years before I stepped down, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to coach at Minnesota State.”

The team he inherits may be even greener than it was last season.

“We have 10 freshmen among our 25 players,” Harrington said. “We have a really young team. We have one senior, we have three juniors, and we have 21 sophomores and freshmen. It’s going to be a big challenge there. I think attitude is going to be important. I think we’re going to have a lot of enthusiasm. It’s been said that sometimes the enthusiasm of youth might be more important than the nonchalance of experience. I’m hoping that’s true here at Minnesota State.”

Nicole Schammel, last season’s leading scorer, transferred to Minnesota, leaving sophomore Hannah Davidson as the only returning player who hit double digits in points.

Starting goaltender Erin Krichiver graduated with a year of eligibility remaining. Options in net this year are junior Brianna Quade, sophomore Katie Bidulka, and freshman Julia Carle.

All of which means that MSU may be starting on a lower rung than most of its competition.

“As we get started, it’s going to be evaluating our players, finding out what our players are like, seeing where the parts fit,” Harrington said.

One area where he definitely has an advantage over his predecessor is in terms of a facility.

“[The Mavericks will] move into the Verizon Wireless Center downtown, which I think is going to be really special for our current players, but certainly is going to help us in recruiting, too,” Harrington said.

The numbers
MSU scored 42 goals last year, tied for fewest in the country. Players who scored 22 of those goals return.

The prognosis
“There’s going to be a learning curve for me,” Harrington said. “There’s going to be a learning curve not only with my own players, but certainly with the tremendous coaches that are in this league. I’m going to have to be a quick study on them. Also, I told my players that I think there’s going to be a lot they’re going to learn from me.”

Let’s just call this a learning year and give the entire project a grade of “incomplete.”

“It’s always hard to forget about wins and losses, no matter what anybody says,” Harrington said. “I think it’s going to be important for us to have an understanding of success, and that might not include wins and losses. We can’t always look in those columns.”

WCHA women’s on-ice official Morrison to referee Ferris State men’s exhibition games Oct. 3-4

Veteran WCHA women’s official Kristine (Langley) Morrison, who has worked four NCAA Women’s Frozen Four tournaments and several international competitions, will serve as a referee this weekend at Ferris State.

A member of the on-ice officiating staff for the women’s WCHA since 2005, Morrison will skate Ferris State’s Crimson & Gold intrasquad game Saturday and the Bulldogs’ exhibition contest against Canadian university Lethbridge on Sunday.

“The WCHA is committed to providing growth opportunities for all of our officials,” said WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson and women’s commissioner Aaron Kemp in a joint statement. “As part of that process, we are exploring new evaluation and development paths for our female officials. Kristine has consistently been rated among the top on-ice officials in the women’s league and is certainly deserving of this opportunity for continued professional growth.”

Morrison played at Wayne State from 2001 to 2005.

Offense still a challenge at St. Cloud

29 Nov.14: University of North Dakota hosts St. Cloud State University in a WCHA match-up at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND Lexi Slattery (St.Cloud State University-15) Jordan Hampton (North Dakota-7) (Bradley K. Olson)

Lexi Slattery (St.Cloud State University-15) anchors an experienced blue line at St. Cloud State. (Bradley K. Olson)

St. Cloud State Huskies
USCHO prediction: Seventh
Coaches’ prediction: Seventh
Last season: Seventh (8-28-1, 5-22-1-1 WCHA)

The names
His first season at St. Cloud State was a learning experience for both coach Eric Rud and his players.

“Last year was just a year where we knew we would struggle with wins and losses and tried to implement a lot of things,” he said. “I think by the end of the season, we were better off than we were at the start. We’re going to continue to build on that.”

The Huskies embraced their new off-season workout program with enthusiasm.

“We’ve still got to find a way to score goals,” Rud said. “It’s one thing to push the barbell around, but it’s another thing to score some goals.”

Top scorer Molly Illikainen returns for a senior campaign, but the next three on the scoring chart have graduated.

“We have a fairly experienced D corps, which we’re really going to rely on, and a senior goalie who really showed that she had the ability to be a difference maker at times last year,” Rud said.

With Julie Friend having graduated, Katie Fitzgerald figures to get plenty of minutes in the cage.

Right out of the gate, the Huskies get the honor of being the opponent as Merrimack launches its new program in J. Thom Lawler Arena. Rud is impressed by the roster that the Warriors have assembled.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” he said. “Obviously, we all want to support all universities and programs that are starting women’s hockey. We’re just very excited to be part of their opening weekend.”

The numbers
Scoring 45 goals last season made it five straight years in which the Huskies averaged less than two goals per game. The last year SCSU exceeded two goals per game offensively was in 2009-10, when four senior forwards combined to score 80 of their team’s 96 goals.

The prognosis
“I think we went into this thinking, every season, every day, every week, we get a little bit better,” Rud said. “I think we’re doing that to this point. We’re going to have to continue with the mantra this year.”

Needing an eight-game jump to gain a spot, that improvement likely won’t translate into the standings yet this season.

Defense a strength to build on at Ohio State

12 Jan 13: Julia McKinnon (Ohio State - 17) Saige Pacholok (Wisconsin - 16) The University of Wisconsin Badgers host the Ohio State Buckeyes at La Bahn Arena in Madison, WI. (Dan Sanger)

Julia McKinnon (Ohio State – 17) is one of the Buckeyes’ top returning scorers. (Dan Sanger)

Ohio State Buckeyes
USCHO prediction: Sixth
Coaches’ prediction: Sixth
Last season: Sixth (17-6-3, 12-13-3-1 WCHA)

The names
In March, Bemidji State became the sixth different WCHA team to play in the league’s championship game. Ohio State has been there — back in the conference’s second year of competition.

That was so long ago that the Buckeyes’ new coach was only halfway through her own college career. What will it take to improve coach Jenny Potter’s new team such that it can achieve such goals?

“I don’t know if there’s any simple formula, besides recruiting, and coaching, and developing hockey players,” Potter said. “It’s not simple, and it’s not going to be easy. But I’m very confident in my abilities as a coach and getting my players to train hard and work hard.”

At this point, she isn’t too concerned by exactly what type of players she has inherited.

“You’ve always got to coach to the players that you have on your team,” Potter said. “I’m still trying to figure out the team I have, but ideally, I’m looking for players that number one, love hockey, number two, are great students, and great people. If you have those three things, I think you can have a pretty successful team.”

Last year’s Buckeyes saw their season come to an end three minutes into the third overtime of a quarterfinal at North Dakota. A number of key contributors from that squad are gone, as five of the team’s top seven scorers graduated.

“We have a very strong freshman class,” Potter said. “Going into this year, I strongly expressed to the players that it’s a clean slate for everyone. I think everyone has been working extremely hard. Obviously, I want the freshmen to have an impact right away, but I also think the upperclassmen that have been here, they kind of know what it’s about.”

One of the country’s most anticipated freshmen is defenseman Jincy Dunne, after she appeared in two U-18 World Championships. Dunne scored in overtime to clinch the gold medal for the United States in January. Her arrival is timely, after Ohio State graduated a pair of offensive defensemen, sisters Kari and Sara Schmitt.

The numbers
As a player for UMD, Potter had 12 goals and 26 assists versus the Buckeyes in three years.

The prognosis
This may be one of those seasons that lays the groundwork for the future at Ohio State, because I don’t think there are any vulnerable teams that the Buckeyes can pass in the standings.

Bemidji looks to build on first WCHA championship game appearance

Brittni Mowat of Bemidji State (Tim Brule)

Brittni Mowat shut out Minnesota twice last year. (Bemidji State Athletics)

Bemidji State Beavers
USCHO prediction: Fifth
Coaches’ prediction: Fourth
Last season: Fifth (21-17-1, 13-4-1-1 WCHA)

The names
Bemidji State wasn’t exactly a Cinderella team in coach Jim Scanlan’s first season, but it was as close to being one as the league had to offer. After setting a new benchmark for the program in wins with 21 and reaching the conference championship game for the first time, what do the Beavers do for an encore?

One goal was to gain home ice for the quarterfinals, and BSU fell one place short of that, even though it successfully advanced through the first round as a visitor. The task of getting back to the final weekend of the league playoff would be made easier by finishing in the top half of the standings.

“I think it’s important to do well here at home,” Scanlan said. “That’s one thing I learned last year. We lost some home games in the league. If you win even two of those, maybe we get home ice.”

With nine seniors on the roster, this shapes up as a key year for the program.

“We do have a veteran team,” Scanlan said. “With Brittni Mowat back in goal, obviously that’s a great place to start.”

Mowat turned in a .945 save percentage with seven shutouts, including two over the eventual NCAA champion, to earn honors that included being named a first-team All-American.

“All of our top defense are back,” Scanlan said. “Ivana Bilic, [Alexis] Joyce who had a great freshman year last year, Madison Hutchinson — all played a lot of minutes.”

They contributed heavily to Mowat’s success by blocking shots and making it difficult for opponents to get pucks to the net.

“Up front, all of our leading scorers are back,” Scanlan said. “Stephanie Anderson had an outstanding year, and she parlayed that into a great Team USA experience. Kaitlyn Tougas is back; Kaitlyn has led our team in scoring the last two years. Lauren Miller and Hanna Moher are two more veteran players who will certainly have an impact for us.”

The numbers
Even with almost everyone returning, the Beavers aren’t very prolific offensively. They scored 86 times on the season, for an average of just over twice a game.

“Scoring is going to be a challenge,” Scanlan said. “We talk about trying to be more of a puck-possession team. Those things will help if we can be a puck-possession team or get our D activated.”

The prognosis
Bemidji State has the talent and the determination to duplicate or improve upon its performance from last year. The Beavers can be very tough to play against. However, it doesn’t figure to be easy for BSU either. Teams should be a little more aware of what awaits them in Bemidji.

A better performance versus Ohio State — the only WCHA team BSU didn’t defeat — would go a long way toward earning the Beavers home ice.

New coach ushers in new era at Minnesota-Duluth

Lara Stalder of Minnesota-Duluth (Dave Harwig)

Lara Stalder of Minnesota-Duluth was one of the top scorers last season for the Bulldogs.  (Dave Harwig)

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
USCHO prediction: Fourth
Coaches’ prediction: Fifth
Last season: Fourth (20-12-5, 14-10-4-2 WCHA)

The names
Maura Crowell makes the transition from being Katey Stone’s top assistant at Harvard to the second coach in Minnesota-Duluth history.

“Being a head coach in the WCHA is an unbelievable opportunity,” Crowell said. “Hands down, that was the number one reason. The WCHA being the best league in the country, that’s a draw. I know there’s been a ton of success here and they’ve won five national championships. The university supports the program; the resources are in place. I think it’s exciting and challenging for any head coach to try to bring the program back to that national prominence.”

While the ongoing legal action hangs over the university, the team itself doesn’t have to face as many distractions as it did over the second half of last season.

“It seems like a little bit of a weight has been lifted,” Crowell said. “I commend my players for everything that they went through last year and coming out in the spring and figuring things out without a coach even really in place for some time. They really bonded together. I think they’re a very mature group that has been through more than most any other college program has been through.”

While it’s been a long time since the Bulldogs have boasted the abundance of talent that they once possessed, and a number of key players just graduated, some impact players remain, particularly in the junior class. That class provides the top four returning scorers led by Ashleigh Brykaliuk (30 points) and Lara Stalder (29).

Kayla Black has logged heavy minutes in net over her three years in Duluth and is coming off her best season, where she recorded a .935 save percentage. Classmate Karissa Grapp and freshman Maddie Rooney provide backup.

The numbers
Between the start of the season and Thanksgiving, the Bulldogs will play only four games at AMSOIL Arena.

“You can look at things a couple different ways, but we’ll look at it as a positive challenge and a great opportunity for building team camaraderie and getting to know our players a little better and having them learn about each other,” Crowell said. “Being on the road is fun; it’s also challenging. It can be a grind.”

The prognosis
For all that Bemidji State accomplished last season, the Bulldogs were still seven points better than BSU in the final standings. Despite the losses to graduation of Zoe Hickel, Brigette Lacquette, and Jenna McParland, among others, a fresh start and a renewed focus make UMD a solid bet to get back into the top four.

North Dakota a solid third in WCHA

(Shelby Amsley-Benzie-1 North Dakota).26 Jan. 13 St. Cloud State University hosts The University of North Dakota in a WCHA match-up at the National Hockey and Event Center in St. Cloud,MN (BRADLEY K. OLSON)

Shelby Amsley-Benzie proved one of the best goaltenders in the country last season. (BRADLEY K. OLSON)

North Dakota
USCHO prediction: Third
Coaches’ prediction: Third
Last season: Third (22-12-3, 16-9-3 WCHA)

The names
“We’ve kind of been on the PairWise bubble for two years; it’s no fun,” coach Brian Idalski said. “The real challenge is when we started, it was a Big Three. Now, it’s become a Big Two. The challenge for us is to break into that top two in the league.”

To do that, North Dakota will need more of the kind of performance it got from goaltender Shelbie Amsley-Benzie down the stretch. Her strong play earned her a nod as a Kazmaier Finalist and an All-American. UND would gladly take more of the same in her senior season.

The large senior class also provides the team’s points leaders, forwards Meghan Dufault (31 points) and Becca Kohler (30), and defensive stalwart Tanja Eisenschmid. This sets up to be a year for North Dakota to make some noise, but it could use some immediate impact from its newcomers.

“I think it’s a transition for everybody, but I would say off the top of my head, Anna Kilponen is probably the player for us who will be able to contribute the quickest out of anybody,” Idalski said. “A Finnish Olympian, she’s pretty polished already and definitely somebody who’ll contribute for us right away. Vilma Tanskanen, a Finnish Olympian for us has potential, and so does Rebekah Kolstad. So I think those three kids have the greatest potential to have an easier transition to the game in the WCHA.”

Last year, the team didn’t gel early, and it wasn’t until January that everything started to click.

“I think from a skill perspective and having the opportunity to work with our team, we like where we are with some of those things,” Idalski said. “It’s easy to tell that we have some talent and some ability. But when you start putting in systems, start asking some of our younger kids to execute with the group, that kind of bogs some things down.”

The numbers
North Dakota’s record was 10-10-2 after a home loss to Syracuse on January 11. It then went 12-1-1 over the next fourteen games before a loss to Wisconsin in a WCHA semifinal ended the team’s season.

The prognosis
If North Dakota is going to force its way back into the league’s top two, it will have to improve on the head-to-head results versus the teams that finished above it the last two seasons. UND was 1-3 against Minnesota and a crippling 0-4-1 versus Wisconsin.

North Dakota should be better this season, but likely not enough to make up the four games that separated it from second-place Wisconsin.

Badgers still struggle against Gophers

Annie Pankowski of Wisconsin (David Stluka)

Annie Pankowski of Wisconsin led her team in scoring as a freshman. (David Stluka)

Wisconsin Badgers
USCHO prediction: Second
Coaches’ prediction: Second
Last season: Second (29-7-4, 19-6-3-1 WCHA)

The names
After a drought of three years without a tournament crown, Wisconsin was able to claim a trophy at the WCHA Final Face-Off in March.

“It was definitely an exciting time for us,” coach Mark Johnson said. “As any coach will attest to, any time you win a championship, wherever it may be or whoever it may be with, it’s a special time for your players, because they’re not easy to win.”

There will be a lot of familiar faces wearing Wisconsin uniforms this season.

“We’re only bringing in three players this year,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a couple of forwards (Sam Cogan and Sophia Shaver) and a defenseman (Mikaela Garder).”

The freshman class may have quality over quantity, as all three have competed in the U-18 World Championships.

“The senior class is going to be relied on to do some things offensively, to contribute to hopefully help us with our success,” Johnson said.

Senior captain Courtney Burke had the opportunity to play with the United States Development Team this summer.

“I think she’s excited to really have a breakout year going into her last year at Wisconsin,” Johnson said.

Much of the strength of the Badgers’ roster is found in the middle two classes.

Junior Ann-Renée Desbiens responded with a .941 save percentage and a 1.15 goals-against average in her first season as the starting goaltender. Classmate Sarah Nurse was the Most Outstanding Player at the WCHA Final Face-Off. Juniors Jenny Ryan and Mellissa Channell joined with Burke to give Wisconsin three defensemen with 20 or more points.

The sophomore class offers up at least two stars and some solid contributors. Annie Pankowski proved to be worth the wait of an extra year as she led the team in scoring and was named conference Rookie of the Year. Among returning players, Emily Clark ranks second in points.

The numbers
With the coaching change at Minnesota-Duluth, Johnson becomes the longest-tenured coach in the WCHA. He’s also the league’s winningest active coach with 360 wins as he begins his 13th season with a career winning percentage of .811.

The prognosis
Minnesota has won an unprecedented three consecutive regular season titles. Wisconsin looks to be the likely team to break that streak, but it may have to wait one more year until Minnesota’s senior class graduates.

Minnesota loaded for another run

Amanda Leveille (Minnesota - 29). (Shelley M. Szwast)

Senior Amanda Leveille could set NCAA career marks for winning percentage and save percentage, as well as goals-against. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Minnesota Golden Gophers
USCHO prediction: First
Coaches’ prediction: First
Last season: First (34-3-4, 22-2-4-2 WCHA)

The names
Coach Brad Frost has the Minnesota roster in such good shape that last season it was able to shake off the disappointment of the NCAA title game defeat in 2014 and the loss of star Amanda Kessel to lingering concussion symptoms and still earn the program’s sixth national championship.

The team graduates three regulars, including two-time WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Rachel Ramsey, but on paper it looks to be improved.

“We have seven freshmen and one transfer in, so we’ll be getting them up to speed as quickly as possible,” Frost said. “For our returners, they know how we think and how we like to operate. We’ll continue to make tweaks in regards to things that we do on a daily basis and in regards to our systems. We do that every year, just to try and be as good as we can be.”

The additions increase the number of skaters to 21 after going through much of last season with only 17. Frost said the depth was needed because at times as the injuries mounted, the team couldn’t conduct the kind of practices it wanted.

“There are certain ones that we have pegged to play more of a significant role,” he said. “Certainly, Sophie Skarzynski from Chicago, Sarah Potomak is arguably the top Canadian kid to come out this year, and Taylor Williamson, Ms. Hockey [in Minnesota]; we expect some big things from those three and expect them to contribute right away.”

The Gophers will continue to rely on their veteran nucleus. Three-time Patty Kazmaier Finalist Hannah Brandt is the NCAA’s leading active scorer with 221 points in her first three seasons. Junior Dani Cameranesi is coming off a breakout season that saw her point total jump to 65. The blue line is fortified by a pair of second-team All-Americans, Milica McMillen and Lee Stecklein. Senior goaltender Amanda Leveille is on pace to set new NCAA career marks for winning percentage (.910) and save percentage (.949), and her goals-against average (1.13) is just shy of Christine Dufour’s record of 1.09.

The numbers
Minnesota lost more games last season, three, than in the two previous years combined. More surprising was that it was shut out in all of those losses, after not being blanked for nearly three years and having the country’s second best offense, averaging 4.49 goals per game.

The prognosis
The difference between Wisconsin and Minnesota has closed to a razor thin margin, but as long as the Gophers continue to dominate the head-to-head meetings, the race can only end one way.

Everything is coming up Gophers

Lee Stecklein, Harvard vs. Minnesota. 2015 National Championship (Candace Horgan)

Lee Stecklein was an All-American last season, and returns to fortify Minnesota’s blue line. (Candace Horgan)

Change is rampant in the WCHA, but that was the theme of my preview a year ago. Rather than reprise that column, let’s pick another theme.

How about a theme of Minnesota-Duluth? The Bulldogs were woven into just about every storyline this off season.

The country’s dominant program for much of the first decade of the NCAA tournament, UMD had become little more than a footnote on the national stage over the last five years. That cost Shannon Miller, who had built that program from scratch, her coaching job, although she and two other coaches from the school have sued the university, claiming the decision was based on discrimination, not performance.

Meanwhile, the UMD players have the opportunity to get back to hockey, minus the distractions that hung over the end of last season, as the Bulldogs won only three of their last 11 games. Former Harvard assistant Maura Crowell is the new boss, charged with returning the program to the prominence it once enjoyed.

With 93 points, Jenny Schmidgall was the leading scorer of Minnesota-Duluth’s first varsity team in 1999-2000. After a couple seasons away to train and compete for the United States in the World Championships and Olympics, get married, and start a family, she returned to UMD to complete her college career and won an NCAA title in 2003 as Jenny Potter. Now the four-time Olympic medalist returns to the WCHA as head coach at Ohio State, succeeding Nate Handrahan, who resigned after complaints of sexual harassment after four seasons at the helm. Last season, Potter was the head coach at Division III Trinity College.

Minnesota State is the third program in the league with a new head coach following the resignation of Eric Means. John Harrington becomes the fourth coach in program history. Like Potter, Harrington played his college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth and won Olympic gold for the United States. His last college coaching gig was at Division III St. John’s, where he was the head coach for the men’s team.

Of course, the league also has many of the usual subplots. Minnesota and Wisconsin figure to joust at the top for conference supremacy. North Dakota, UMD, Bemidji State, and Ohio State will battle it out for the two remaining home ice spots. How will it shake out? The coaches’ poll looks to be fairly accurate, but then those polls usual just echo results from the previous year. We seldom see change coming.

Anyway, until Wisconsin proves it still knows how to defeat Minnesota, and someone other than North Dakota can mount a charge into the top three, I’ll go with the following for projected regular season standings:

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

Ten to watch: Meet some of college hockey’s impact defensemen for 2015-16

Both of the Eastern first-team All-Americans from last season are back in college hockey, which should make life difficult for some opposing offenses.

But it’s not just Boston University’s Matt Grzelcyk and Yale’s Rob O’Gara who are expected to be big on the blue line this season. They’re joined by a number of talented defensemen across the country in making up a strong corps at the position.

Here’s a look at 10 of the defensemen to watch around Division I men’s college hockey in the 2015-16 season, in alphabetical order.

Michael Downing, Michigan junior

Michael Downing brings an intimidating presence to Michigan’s blue line (photo: Melissa Wade).

Downing is a rugged, two-way hockey player. As a sophomore, he ranked third in the Big Ten among defensemen with 22 points (six goals). He led the Wolverines in penalty minutes (76) and ranked third on the squad with 47 blocked shots — he once blocked five shots against Michigan Tech during his freshman season. Downing, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder out of Canton, Mich., finished with a plus-3 rating, and posted second-team All-Big Ten honors.

“He is physical, intimidating and has a high IQ,” said Michigan associate head coach Billy Powers.

Downing, an all-rookie team honoree in 2013-14, will play in most situations and is the leader of the Wolverines’ top penalty-kill unit.

Dennis Gilbert, Notre Dame freshman

Dennis Gilbert (photo: Notre Dame Athletics).

Gilbert heads to South Bend with great expectations. Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson anticipates Gilbert will become a top-four defenseman for the Fighting Irish this season.

“He is a great skater, which will help both his defensive and transition game,” Jackson said of the Williamsville, N.Y., product. “He may see some power-play time once he gains some offensive confidence at this level, but we expect him to become a great penalty killer immediately.”

Possessing good hands and a heavy shot, Gilbert had four goals and 27 points last season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL, his points ranking 14th among defensemen. He was named a USHL All-Rookie first teamer, and he played in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. The Chicago Blackhawks tabbed Gilbert as the 91st overall pick (third round) of last summer’s NHL Draft.

“As a young guy, I also see strong character traits in him, which bodes well for his development and potential leadership in the future,” Jackson said.

Gilbert played football, lacrosse and hockey at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. He originally committed to play at Niagara.

Matt Grzelcyk, Boston University senior

Boston University’s Matt Grzelcyk had offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL (photo: Melissa Wade).

Grzelcyk has evolved into one of the most potent scorers in the nation among blue liners. He ranked fourth in points per game (0.95) last season, recording 10 goals and 28 assists over 41 games and posting an incredible plus-32 rating. He had five power-play tallies, one shorty and three game-winners. The Terriers team captain was honored with first-team All-American and Hockey East recognition.

Grzelcyk earned the Beanpot MVP honors last season and was a five-time Hockey East top weekly performer. He twice posted three-assist efforts and scored a pair of goals against New Hampshire and against Northeastern in the Beanpot final, including the overtime winner. He had assists in the NCAA Northeast Regional final and NCAA semifinals.

Grzelcyk’s successful junior season came on the heels of a season-ending shoulder injury suffered during practice in the middle of his sophomore season, limiting him to only 19 games. And the Terriers will have to start the 2015-16 season without him; he’s on the shelf after surgery to repair a torn ACL.

A third-round draft choice of the Boston Bruins in 2012, the Charlestown, Mass., product previously played for the U.S. National Under-18 team.

Brady Norrish, RIT sophomore

RIT’s Brady Norrish (left) was plus-18 last season (photo: Omar Phillips).

Norrish made an immediate impact with the Tigers last season. RIT coach Wayne Wilson decided to put Norrish on the top power-play unit, and he was paired with Alexander Kuqali as the top shutdown pairing. He posted four goals, a plus-18 rating and ranked fourth on the Tigers with 22 points. He had a seven-game stretch with 10 assists over the final weeks of the season.

“Not many freshmen in the country had the impact Brady had in his first year, although his brother, Chase, was very similar,” Wilson said. “We were able to match him up against the other team’s top line because of his defensive awareness, competitiveness and skating ability. He is very versatile and plays a smart, tough game.”

The 5-foot-10 forward out of Saskatchewan was named second-team All-Atlantic Hockey and made the all-rookie team and all-tournament team.

Norrish led his junior team, the Yorkton Terriers, to the Saskatchewan junior and Canadian Junior A championships in 2014.

Rob O’Gara, Yale senior

Yale’s Rob O’Gara blocked 70 shots last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Yale coach Keith Allain can’t help but praise O’Gara, his first-team All-American.

“Robbie has been a fantastic player for us and a great representative for Yale hockey on and off the ice,” Allain said.

Who can blame him? O’Gara has been a solid citizen, a talented film director and writer and an outstanding hockey player.

Yale’s top defenseman led the team with 15 assists and 70 blocked shots. He nearly doubled his point production from his sophomore year, posting six goals and 21 points as a junior. O’Gara is considered a shutdown defenseman, and he posted a plus-15 rating. Postseason awards also included first-team All-ECAC Hockey, All-New England and All-Ivy League.

“He works as hard as he can every day, has a high level of talent, a terrific mind for the game and unmatched energy and enthusiasm,” Allain said. “He has a very bright future ahead of him.”

The 6-foot-4 O’Gara, a fifth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2011, continues to put weight on his frame, last weighed at 205 pounds.

Troy Stecher, North Dakota junior

Troy Stecher will see a lot of the top opposing forwards for North Dakota (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

On a team stocked with 14 NHL draft picks last season, the undrafted Stecher earned the reputation as a leader.

“Troy Stecher brings great leadership ability on and off the ice,” North Dakota coach Brad Berry said of his appointed alternate captain for this season. “He helps guide our team from day to day in practice, games and workouts.”

Stecher has good offensive instincts on the rush and in the zone and posted a plus-11 rating last season. He moves the puck well and has a strong stick. He posted three goals and 13 points, and bounced back well from a lower-body injury in December that sidelined him for eight games.

“He is ultra-competitive in the way he plays the game,” Berry said. “He will be counted on in all situations of the game. He is a player that will be playing against the opposition’s top forward lines and will be that defenseman to play the last minute of periods.

“He makes other players around him better,” Berry added.

Eric Sweetman, St. Lawrence junior

Eric Sweetman was third in ECAC Hockey at plus-21 last season (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Sweetman does most of his talking with his actions and not his speeches.

“He is a quiet leader that leads the team by how hard he plays the game and how honest he is as a player,” St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said. “He is hard-nosed and physical, which makes him a hard guy to play against, always pushing himself to get better.”

Sweetman has become a reliable, two-way defenseman for the Saints. He led the team last season and was third in ECAC Hockey with a plus-21 rating. His power-play goal against Miami proved to be a game-winner, one of his five tallies for the season. He also recorded 15 assists, with three coming in one game against Brown. Sweetman was named second-team All-ECAC.

The 5-foot-11 product of Woodbine, Md., is expected to play on the power-play and penalty-kill units for St. Lawrence.

Travis Walsh, Michigan State senior

Michigan State’s Travis Walsh was a second-team all-Big Ten selection last season despite missing the final six games with a broken jaw (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

One of Walsh’s greatest attributes proved to be his downfall as well. Walsh blocked 63 shots (more than two per game) last season, and had four or more in five contests. However, he fractured his jaw while blocking a shot against Minnesota on Feb. 26 and missed the season’s final six games. As a sophomore, he averaged 2.58 blocks per contest.

Big Ten coaches saw his talents and named him a second-team all-star. Walsh led the Spartans defensive corps with 14 points and earned the program’s defensive player of the year award.

“Travis is a very smart player,” said Michigan State coach Tom Anastos. “He’s a puck-moving defenseman that can play a lot of minutes and matches up against opponents’ top lines.”

Walsh can be expected to play in all key situations and contribute on both ends of the ice.

“He is very respected as a leader by his teammates,” Anastos said.

Walsh is the son of the late Shawn Walsh, the successful Maine coach, and grandson of former Michigan State coach Ron Mason. Travis Walsh said his father was his hero for his hard-working nature and positive attitude.

Andy Welinski, Minnesota-Duluth senior

Minnesota-Duluth’s Andy Welinski scored nine goals last season (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Welinski has steadily improved his offensive numbers each season in his hometown of Duluth, leading the Bulldogs blue liners each season thus far. His nine goals last season was the second-best total among defensemen in the NCHC — no doubt the result of firing 100 shots on goal — and matched his total from his first two seasons. Three of his goals came on the man advantage. Welinski had 21 points and a plus-2 rating, and was named second-team All-NCHC.

Welinski served as an alternate captain last season and has been promoted to team captain for his senior year. He was named to the NCHC preseason team, with more votes than any of the other selections.

Welinski was named the 2012 USA Hockey junior player of the year after leading Green Bay to the USHL playoff title.

Zach Werenski, Michigan sophomore

Michigan’s Zach Werenski looks to follow up a solid freshman season (photo: Daryl Marshke/Michigan Athletics).

Werenski made an immediate impact on the Big Ten as a freshman, producing the most goals by a defenseman (nine), and his 25 points ranked second among the league’s blue liners. Three of his goals came on the power play, and he posted a plus-9 rating. Werenski got down and dirty, posting 59 blocked shots. He was named to the Big Ten’s first team and all-rookie team.

The Columbus Blue Jackets (deep in the heart of Ohio State territory) tabbed Werenski as their first-round draft choice at No. 8 overall.

Werenski will play in all situations and is expected to quarterback the Wolverines power play.

“Zach is an elite defenseman because he possesses a great hockey IQ and is a top skater and offensive contributor,” Powers said.

Werenski played on the U.S. National Under-17 team in 2013-14, posting 27 points, and had a goal in four games with the U.S. Under-18 squad.

Providence, Manchester, Cincinnati and Fargo chosen as 2017 NCAA tournament regional sites

The NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee announced Thursday the host sites for the 2017 regionals.

The East Regional has been awarded to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., and will be hosted by Brown on March 24-25, while the Northeast Regional will be held at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., with New Hampshire serving as host on March 25-26. The Midwest Regional will be hosted by Miami at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati on March 25-26, while North Dakota will host the West Regional March 24-25 at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D.

“We are extremely excited about these four sites,” said Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee chair and North Dakota athletics director Brian Faison in a statement. “All four of these venues have a proven track record of hosting successful NCAA ice hockey events and should provide a great experience for our student-athletes.”

The Dunkin’ Donuts Center has hosted the regionals four times previously, including 2015, in addition to hosting the Frozen Four six times, the last of which in 2000.

Verizon Wireless Arena has hosted an NCAA regional six times previously, including five times in the past 10 years.

U.S. Bank Arena will be hosting for the third time in four years as it hosted in 2014 and will again next March. Formerly known as Riverfront Coliseum, the U.S. Bank Arena also hosted the 1996 Frozen Four.

Scheels Arena hosted a regional for the first time in 2015.

NCHC announces adjustments to conference standings format

With the NCHC introducing a new overtime format for conferences games beginning with the upcoming 2015-16 season, the conference has also slightly adjusted its conference standings format to reflect the new procedures.

Although the point distribution and column point values within the standings are not changing, the look of the standings will be slightly altered. The first three columns of the conference standings will remain the same as they have the first two seasons with the first column representing a regulation or 5-on-5 overtime win (worth three points), the second column representing a regulation or 5-on-5 overtime loss (worth zero points) and the third column still indicates games that end in a tie after the 5-on-5 overtime (worth a single point).

The slight modification is occurring in the fourth column (far right column), which previously was listed as “SW” and indicated a shootout win worth an additional point after the tie. In order to include results from the new 3-on-3 overtime format the NCHC announced on Aug. 17, the far right column will now be listed as “3/SW” to indicate either a 3-on-3 overtime or shootout win, both of which are still worth one additional point after the tie regardless of whether the game ends during the 3-on-3 overtime or has to be decided by a sudden victory shootout.

During the NCHC’s first two seasons, the conference standings/record were displayed as W-L-T-SW. Beginning this coming season, the conference standings format and conference record will be displayed as W-L-T-3/SW. When possible, conference records will be listed to include the “backslash” in the final column, otherwise the 3-on-3 overtime and shootout wins will be listed as one combined number.

The 3-on-3 overtime and shootout will not affect a team’s overall record, nor will it affect the PairWise. The result of the game following the 5-on-5 overtime is considered final by NCAA standards and would be reflected as such in a team’s overall record and in the PairWise. Should a conference game remain tied after the 5-on-5 overtime, it will be considered a tie nationally regardless of the 3-on-3 overtime or shootout result.

Union looks to improve on lone conference win

Kathryn Tomaselli (Union - 27) takes a shot as Kelsey Koelzer (Princeton - 11), Jaimie McDonell (Princeton - 7), and Emily Achterkirch (Princeton - 23) defend. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Kathryn Tomaselli (Union – 27) had over 20 points her junior season. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Union Dutchwomen
USCHO prediction: 12th
Coaches’ prediction: 11th
Last season: 11th (4-22-8, 1-16-5 ECAC)

The names
Coach Claudia Asano Barcomb says this is the most talented group of seniors she has seen at Union as she enters her ninth season.

As juniors, Kathryn Tomaselli and Jessica Kaminsky gave her two players with at least 20 points for the first time. She looks for an even stronger senior season from the group.

Courtney Turner, who had 12 points two years ago as a sophomore, is back and healthy, and Barcomb expects a lot from her as well.

On the bad-news side of the equation, goaltender Shenae Lundberg has graduated after recording over 3,000 saves in her career. Barcomb concedes that it is tough to replace a three and a half year starter, but she welcomes competition among the goalies on the roster.

The competitors for the goaltending job are two freshmen, Leah Patrick and Melissa Black. Barcomb says it will be a challenge, but she is anxious to see who steps forward to fill the role.

The numbers
The key number is one — the number of conference wins Union celebrated last season.

The Dutchwomen fared a little better outside the league, as they chalked up three additional victories there.

The prognosis
If everything breaks in Union’s favor, perhaps it could climb as high as the 10th spot, but I don’t expect it. There is just too much of a gap to close to reach the playoff teams.

RPI likely to struggle in building year

Brianna Leahy (Princeton - 15) and Alexa Gruschow (Rensselaer - 11) battle for position after the faceoff. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Alexa Gruschow (Rensselaer – 11) is a proven offensive player at RPI. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Rensselaer Engineers
USCHO prediction: 11th
Coaches’ prediction: 10th
Last season: Ninth (7-23-4, 5-16-1 ECAC)

The names
Two years ago, Rensselaer got off to a 6-5-1 start in ECAC play, only to go winless over the final 10 games. Last year, the Engineers started slowly and were never really in the hunt. Two different routes led to the same destination, and it wasn’t the postseason.

RPI is another team that’s looking for a new goaltender this season after graduating two.

“All three of our goaltenders — we have a senior [Sarah Till] and two freshmen [Kira Bombay and Lovisa Selander] there — have limited experience at this level, so we’re excited to be working with them and see what they have,” coach John Burke said.

To produce a different ending to the Engineers’ season, the goaltending will have to be a strength. RPI hasn’t had a goalie stop at least 92 percent of the shots faced since the 2009-10 season.

“As a coach and a former goaltender, you want someone to take the reins there,” Burke said. “I think we’ve got some talented kids in that group that can definitely step up. I think it’s going to be a great battle for playing time at that position.”

Offensively, Rensselaer failed to score two goals per game.

“We rely a lot on our senior class,” Burke said. “Up front, two forwards in particular, Alexa Gruschow and Lauren Wash, with their offensive ability there, and Jenn Godin on defense, who’s got three solid years for us.”

Gruschow and Wash are the only players on the current roster to have had a double-digit season in goals at RPI.

The numbers
When asked where his team most needed to improve, Burke’s answer was definitive.

“Special teams, no question, both power play and penalty kill,” he said. “It’s one area that can win and lose you hockey games. At times last year, we had opportunities, whether it be on the power play or the penalty kill to win a game, and to some degree, it just didn’t work out. Special teams is definitely an area that we want to improve upon and we’ve been focusing on all summer long.”

While the power play ranked 10th in the league, the penalty kill was particularly troubling, ranking dead last in ECAC play at 72.5 percent.

The prognosis
While the Engineers were only one spot shy of reaching the playoffs, they trailed Dartmouth by nine points for the final slot. With a young team, the emphasis may have to be on laying the foundation for the future in this campaign.

New coach looks to regain glory at Brown

Denna Laing (Princeton -14) takes a shot on Aubree Moore (Brown - 35) as Kelly Micholson (Brown - 6), Vanessa Welten (Brown - 11), and Victoria Smith (Brown - 7) defend the rebound. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Kelly Micholson (Brown – 6) captains her squad this year. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Brown Bears

USCHO prediction: 10th
Coaches’ prediction: 12th
Last season: 12th (5-23-1, 2-19-1 ECAC)

The names
This season, the most important name is new coach Bob Kenneally.

“The team that I’m inheriting here has some skilled players,” he said. “I think what they were lacking was confidence, so right now, we’re trying to change that culture and to return back into what Brown was in the earlier years, back in the late ’90s and the 2000s under coach [Digit] Murphy. The program has taken a hit the last eight to 10 years, but taking on the challenge with my staff and our captains to turn this program around.”

It can be a chicken-egg thing, but sometimes the reason that players lack confidence is because they take the ice game after game versus opponents who are simply better. It remains for the Bears players to prove that’s not the case here.

“Sam Donovan was, I believe, the leading returning scorer,” Kenneally said. “She’s a sophomore out of Minnesota and a real quality player. She’s on the small side, but works really hard and can find the back of the net. Maddie Woo, also from Minnesota, will be a junior this year. She’s one of my assistant captains. Very good player, really hard shot. Again, somebody who we’re counting on greatly this year, especially on special teams.”

Unfortunately, those are the only two returning players who exceeded 10 points last year.

“We have two returning goalies,” Kenneally said. “The two of them are probably the most important players on the team right now, because without two solid goaltenders or without one solid goaltender, it can really turn a season. So we’re hoping that either [sophomore] Julianne Landry or [junior] Monica Elvin can either do it together as a tandem, or one of them steps up and is a leader and can help steal some games this year for us.”

The Bears are going to need some contributions from newcomers other than the coach.

“We have a couple of local Massachusetts players who we’re really high on,” Kenneally said. “Bridget Carey, her brother plays in the NHL; she’s from St. Paul’s School. Bridget is someone that’s going to be on our special teams, power play, probably penalty kill as well. We’re really excited about her. Cara Najjar is from Stoneham, Mass., and she went to BB&N, a Massachusetts private school. Cara is a forward and a defenseman, we’ll be utilizing her in both ways again, probably at the point on the power play, and then taking a regular shift in the top six as a center. I met with the freshmen, there are six of them coming in, and I told them there was really no time for them to be freshmen this year, that I’m going to be counting on them a lot.”

The numbers
Brown’s scoring offense was up 38 percent over the previous season.

The bad news is that the Bears allowed 44 percent more goals.

The prognosis
“We’re going to have to play up-tempo and we’re going to have to outwork everybody,” Kenneally said. “Right now, with this current team, that’s how we’re going to have to stay in games. We have to outwork every single one of our opponents. If they’re willing to put in the work and the effort, which I know they are right now, then we’ll have a chance to win some games this year.”

But how many games?

“This is going to sound trivial, but one of the first things I said to the team when I was announced was that everything I say to them will come from the heart and I’ll never lie to them,” Kenneally said. “I told them right out, ‘You’re not going to win a championship this year.’ The goal this year is to give an opportunity for my three seniors to make the playoffs.”

A move up to 10th is my nod to the message that Bob Kenneally is delivering. He’d like his team to rise up to a playoff spot. Sorry, this is the best I can do.

Young Colgate team looks to grow

Breanne Wilson-Bennett (Colgate - 11). (Shelley M. Szwast)

Breanne Wilson-Bennett can help Colgate’s offense. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Colgate Raiders
USCHO prediction: Ninth
Coaches’ prediction: Ninth
Last season: 10th (7-25-2, 4-16-2 ECAC)

The names
Now in his fourth season at Colgate, coach Greg Fargo is in the process of trying to reshape the roster to fit his style.

“[We have] 15 first or second-year players out of our 22-person roster,” he said. “So a young group, but we think it’s the right kind of talent in terms of how we want to play.”

Those youngsters figure to be key in determining the team’s fate.

“The real core of our group is with the younger players and those freshmen last year that are now sophomores,” Fargo said. ‘We’ll look to them for leadership in all different categories, but to lead the way for us offensively. Kids like [Breanne] Wilson-Bennett, [Megan] Sullivan, and [Lauren] Wildfang can certainly help us out offensively.”

This year he welcomes eight freshmen into the Raiders’ fold.

“Then we think we’ve gone out and addressed all of our needs with our first-year players,” Fargo said. “We didn’t have too many right-handed shots in our line-up. We’ve added some right-handed shots that we feel like can produce offensively. We now have more scoring depth, and we think we’re a better offensive team and have added some grit throughout our line-up.”

He points to Shae Labbe, a forward from Alberta and a Canadian veteran of the U-18 World Championships, as one to watch.

“She played well on the big stage at that event and just comes into school physically ready,” Fargo said. “I think right off the hop, her game stands out as someone that will be able to make the jump to the college level right away.”

Though smaller in number, the senior class figures to be crucial.

“It’s always great to have experience in net, and we have a senior goaltender who will lead the way for us there in Ashlynne Rando,” Fargo said. “She came off of what we believe is her best year last year. With Katelyn Parker being one of our captains and Nicole Gass coming back and ready to have a great senior year. She’s in phenomenal shape and really excited about what she can offer our blue line and be a leader on the back end for us.”

The numbers
Colgate will attempt to reverse a trend that saw a decline in wins the last two seasons, from 11 to 10 to seven.

The prognosis
The Raiders should be better, but they finished five wins shy of a playoff spot last year, and there isn’t an obvious candidate to falter and create an opening.

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