It has been nearly a decade since Lawrence, Marian, Northland and MSOE formed the fledgling four team league known as the MCHA. Now eight strong and rising in prominence, its evolution is almost complete. This evolution, however, has led to numerous procedural maneuvers over the past year, so before even bothering with the hockey, letâ€™s figure out exactly what the league has been up to.
The most exciting news entering the 2007-08 season is the addition of two more programs to the league. Adrian College in Adrian, MI and Concordia University in Mequon, WI will begin play this season as full-fledged members of the MCHA. Both are immediately eligible for MCHA and NCAA postseason play.
The additions now give the league seven D-III teams which means a MCHA team will be going to the NCAA tournament this season, right? No. But weâ€™ll get to that later.
The Concordia Falcons are led by former NHL player Tony Hrkac. College hockey fans probably remember the Thunder Bay, Ontario native best as the anchor of the famous â€œHrkac Circusâ€ line at the University of North Dakota in the mid-eighties. The Falcons will play their home ice contests at Ozaukee Ice Arena.
The Adrian Bulldogs, meanwhile, take the ice under the leadership of Ron Fogarty. The Sarnia, Ontario native joins Adrian after four seasons as an assistant at Bowling Green. Prior to his time at BGSU, he held assistant positions and Clarkson and Colgate. The Bulldogs will welcome opponents to Arrington Ice Arena, a brand-new 1000 seat on-campus facility.
The additions of Concordia and Adrian would appear to set up the MCHA for a 14 game conference schedule in which each team plays every other twice — a schedule that would open the door for more non-conference games, something the collective MCHA is determined to play. However, despite members having defeated non-conference opponents such as Babson, St. Olaf, Lake Forest, Gustavus Adolphus and UW-Superior over the past few seasons, the MCHA is resigned to play a 20 game conference schedule for at least the next two seasons.
Itâ€™s not for lack of desire that this is the case, but rather a lack of options. The only other leagues in the West Region, the NCHA and MIAC, are currently tied into an interlock schedule that will remain in place through the 2008-09 season. This effectively limits possibilities for teams from either league to schedule games against MCHA competition.
Since Finlandia joined the league in 2004-05 the MCHA has played a balanced schedule with all teams meeting four times per season. However, the addition of Concordia and Adrian makes it impossible to continue this schedule.
In response, the league has split into two four-team divisions, North and South; teams will play four games against opponents from the same division but only two against those from the other. The North Division consists of Finlandia, MN-Crookston, Northland and Lawrence; the South MSOE, Adrian, Marian and Concordia.
It should be noted the division winners will be granted the top two seeds in the conference playoffs, while the remaining six teams will be seeded by overall conference record. A little confusing perhaps, but the league has little choice until 2009-10 when it hopes to become part of a three-way interlocking schedule with the NCHA and MIAC.
Overshadowed by many of the other changes swirling around the league this off season is the new manner in which the MCHA will be hosting its conference playoffs.
In the past, the MCHA Frozen Four was held at a pre-determined site with the host team having to bid on the hosting rights. Beginning this season, however, the Frozen Four will be hosted by the team who won the previous seasonâ€™s regular season title.
â€œThis gives us more time to plan the weekend out and really try to create a conference-wide event,â€ said MCHA Commissioner Terry Brand.
Included in the weekend will be invitations to all MCHA teams, players, parents and media to participate in a banquet in which all conference awards will be presented.
â€œIt should be really nice to make it more high-profile,â€ said Brand. â€œThis way everyone is there and the awards can be handed out all at once. It sure beats getting handed the award by your coach before practice.â€
As they won last yearâ€™s regular season MCHA championship, MSOE will host this seasonâ€™s festivities at the Kern Center in Milwaukee.
The move is part of a plan to raise the visibility of the league, as allowing the previous seasonâ€™s champion to host should raise the likelihood that the host team will also be playing in the event while still allowing the host institution ample preparation time.
Brand added, â€œI really think it will work out well. This is something wholly unique to DIII hockey as far as conference tournaments go.â€
When the MCHA announced the addition of Concordia and Adrian, it raised hopes among many that by boasting seven Division III teams the MCHA would soon possess an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament.
If only it were that simple.
In 1998 the NCAA enacted a moratorium preventing the creation of new auto bids for single-sport conferences, of which the MCHA is one as it is a hockey-only conference. The only exception is for conferences who have, according to the NCAA, â€œmaintained the same original seven members since February 1998.â€
Unfortunately, the MCHA does not fall into that category, and as such, the moratorium has hindered conferences such as the MCHA to showcase its teams on a national stage. It should be noted it is merely one of numerous conferences who are affected by this situation.
A proposal was introduced earlier in the year aimed at developing a procedure for single-sport conferences to obtain an automatic qualifier (AQ). Much to the chagrin of conferences like the MCHA, however, the proposal was not endorsed by the NCAAâ€™s Presidentâ€™s Council.
The Presidentâ€™s Council did not flatly reject the resolution, but chose not to endorse it as they are in the midst of an all-encompassing examination of the future of Division III which is not yet complete. The scheduled time of completion of said examination? 2011.
As stated in an October 8 NCAA news release, the Presidentâ€™s Council refused to sponsor the original proposal â€œexpressing reluctance to create a new opportunity to achieve automatic qualification when a possibility exists that Division III may be restructured.â€
In terms of the immediate future this appeared to be a death knell for MCHA AQ hopes. However, salvation may come sooner than expected as the NCAA issued an October 8 news release stating that as a result of a Presidentâ€™s Council request to consider interim solutions for dealing with single-sport conferences and automatic qualifying bids, the Championships Committee has proposed a waiver for single-sport conferences.
According to the release, the waiver â€œwould permit it to treat currently existing single-sport conferences similarly to multi-sport conferences for championships purposes.â€
It further adds, â€œThe proposed waiver process would permit the Championships Committee to award automatic qualification to a single-sport conference formed before September 2007 and including at least seven active members. The process would permit the committee to waive current legislation, which permits only single-sport conferences that have maintained the same original seven members since February 1998 to receive automatic qualification.â€
The MCHA falls under the new classification.
MCHA AQ hopes took another step forward on October 22 as the waiver proposal garnered the endorsement of the NCAA Management Council. With the endorsement of the Management Council, itâ€™s on to Presidentâ€™s Council. If endorsed by the Presidentâ€™s Council this time around, history suggests the proposal has a strong chance of being passed at the 2008 NCAA Legislative Session.
So what does all this actually mean? Itâ€™s a big if, but if things go the way the MCHA would like them to and the proposal gains the endorsement of the Presidentâ€™s Council and then is voted into passage by NCAA member institutions, it would open the door for a MCHA AQ beginning in 2008-09. If not? Back to the drawing board.
Now, I may just be a guy from a middle-sized town in the middle of the middle-west, but I find this entire process thoroughly depressing. Even more important is how this bureaucratic labyrinth has handcuffed, at least temporarily, leagues such as the MCHA. Why must this be the case?
Itâ€™s important to look back at the October 8 release that mentioned the Presidentâ€™s Councilâ€™s failure to sponsor the original proposal. Again, the stated rationale was a â€œreluctance to create a new opportunity to achieve automatic qualification when a possibility exists that Division III may be restructured.â€
It is somewhat discouraging to learn that an organization as large as the NCAA couldnâ€™t have managed to do two unrelated things at once.
It has been said the current moratorium on AQs for single-sport conferences stems from a NCAA fear that some teams (regardless of the sport) might slap together hodgepodge conferences so as to improve NCAA tournament prospects for themselves. If this is indeed the case, I agree with the NCAA that selfish conference hopping is something that cannot be permitted and would do little to improve the state of college athletics.
What I cannot agree with is the response to that fear — a foolish catch-all moratorium that treats single-sport leagues as second-rate citizens while doing little to cope with the ever-evolving landscapes of niche sports like hockey.
The NCAAâ€™s fears are rendered baseless in this case as it is impossible to contend that the MCHA was formed merely for the sake of trying to weasel a team into the NCAA tournament. To the contrary, it was formed out of absolute necessity by MSOE, Lawrence, Marian and Northland — four independent teams hoping to add a modicum of consistency to their scheduling while also seeking to increase their competitive opportunities.
There simply were no other options. Over the past nine years the league has worked hard to sustain itself and has done a wonderful job. As a result, it has absorbed four more programs that were in similar situations and now sits as a fully viable D-III hockey conference.
So while the NCAA asks â€œwhy?â€, I ask â€œwhy not?â€ At heart, the two things driving the policies that have created this problem are the NCAAâ€™s fear of flash-in-the-pan conference forming, and the NCAAâ€™s refusal to fix one â€œproblemâ€ while addressing another.
As has been discussed, it doesnâ€™t take very long to determine that the MCHA was not formed to sneak a team into the NCAA field. Itâ€™s also quite easy to determine that stating nothing can be done at this time because the NCAA is tied up for the next four years is the height of laziness and lunacy.
The latest proposal passed by the Management Council is encouraging and progress is being made in terms of resolving this issue. There is cautious optimism that the current version will win endorsement of the Presidentâ€™s Council which, as mentioned, is usually a strong sign that the proposal will ultimately succeed.
Hopefully that is the case and this matter can finally be resolved in the manner in which it already should have been. Until that time however, itâ€™s fit to say: Give the MCHA an AQ and give it to them now. There is no train of rational logic that can justify any other course of action.
The league has earned it.
Head Coach: Steve Fabilli, 3rd year overall and at Northland (3-49-1)
2006-07 Overall Record: 0-26-1
2006-07 MCHA Record: 0-19-1 (6th)
Key Returners: G Bo Storozuk, so., (0-25-1, 5.57, .890), D Matt Tannenberg, so., (2-6-8), F Andy Finco, so., (1-6-7); F Josh Spiegel, so., (4-2-6); D Eric DeCaires, sr.,
Key Losses: F Jim Junker (6-10-16); D Taureen White (2-3-5); F Lindsey Boulter (10-6-16)
2007-08 Projected Finish: Eighth
When anyone brings up Northland, the first thing that comes to mind is sophomore goaltender Bo Storozuk. As a freshman last season, Storozuk finished with 1,032 saves, the third highest single-season total in NCAA Division III history.
Though winless on the season, Storozuk maintained a save percentage of over .900 until the final few weeks of the season. While not normally considered stellar, it should be noted he was facing upwards of 50 shots per night.
Though he hinted at the possibility of some goaltender competition, Lumberjack head coach Steve Fabiilli expects Storozuk to once again lead the way.
â€œOur goalie position will be very important for our success,â€ he said. â€œBo was a work horse for us last year and I expect him to be even more solid for us this season.â€
If Northland seeks to improve on a winless season, Storozuk will be vital to a team that only features three upperclassmen. Entering his third season at the helm, Fabiilli expects the youth his team to pay off in the long run, though he admits there may be some bumps along the way.
â€œWith a young team, mistakes will happen, the freshmen will have to adjust to college hockey and our sophomores will have to continue to adjust.â€
He added, â€œI expect major contributions from all of our freshmen, I think we have a talented group who came in and they will be looked upon to make key contributions to this hockey program.â€
Among the freshman Fabiilli expects quality offense from are a septet of forwards in Kent Lillejord, Ray Tremblay, Tony Huberty, Nick Matson, Chad Moore, Shaun Newman, and Rick Delecke.
â€œThey were brought in to help us produce more offense and I expect them to have a very successful year.â€
The Lumberjacks also add a pair of sophomore transfers up front in Jack Carlson and Jeff Diehl, both of whom join the squad after a year at UMass-Boston.
The additions, along with a handful of sophomore forwards will hopefully work to aid a Northland offense that ranked last in the MCHA last season with a meager 1.3 goals per game.
The one position where Northland has some experience is on the blue line. The corps is led by senior captain Eric DeCaires and sophomore Matt Tannenberg.
The combination of them along with Storozuk should improve the numbers for a Lumberjack defense that allowed just fewer than six goals per game last season.
Itâ€™s no secret to anyone that itâ€™s going to take a while for Northland to get things going, but if all goes right, the current crop of youth the Lumberjacks have cultivated will help pave the way.
Head Coach: Tony Hrkac, 1st season overall and at Concordia (0-0-0)
2006-07 Overall Record: n/a
2006-07 MCHA Record: n/a
Key Returners: n/a
Key Losses: n/a
2007-08 Projected Finish: Seventh
Under the leadership of Tony Hrkac, the Falcons enter the MCHA for their inaugural season. Hrkac, a former North Dakota standout and player for 10 different NHL teams, is excited about his opportunity to lead the young program.
â€œThis is a great school just outside of Milwaukee,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s not too big and is in a nice area. They are very excited for hockey here, and itâ€™s been a pleasure working here.â€
He does admit, however, his first experience on the recruiting trail wasnâ€™t quite what he was expecting.
â€œIt was different because I havenâ€™t really done this before,â€ said Hrkac. â€œLast year was a learning experience in trying to get kids to come here.â€
The Falconsâ€™ recruits come from a variety of places, including juniors, high school, AAA and club programs. The one recruit Hrkac singles out is Sam Aide, a transfer from NJCAA Minnesota State-Bottineau.
â€œSam Aide stands out right now,â€ said Hrkac. â€œHe is our captain and though it will take a little while for us to click, I expect him to come in here and be one of the leaders.â€
According to Hrkac, roster spots are still wide open for competition, and that goes for the goaltending position as well.
â€œItâ€™s still wide open. We have four goalies right now and weâ€™re going to try everybody and see where it goes from there.â€
If the first year or two for recently new programs such as Morrisville, Neumann and Castleton are any indication, the Falcons may be in for a rough ride this season, but Hrkac understands his club is going to have to go through a learning process before they can expect too much, though he likes what he sees so far.
â€œThe kids are playing hard and working hard but we have some work to do. It takes time to get on the right track with something like this.â€
â€œAll I can ask is that hopefully we come out and donâ€™t quit, and try to establish a reputation as a team that is going to play hard.â€
Minn.-Crookston Golden Eagles
Head Coach: Gary Warren, 7th season overall and at Minn.-Crookston (66-83-13)
2006-07 Overall Record: 7-16-3
2006-07 MCHA Record: 5-13-2 (5th)
Key Returners: F Teal Plaine, sr., (12-15-27); F Matt Hann, sr., (9-14-23); F John Lombardi, so., (5-12-17); F Brian Ferguson, so., (9-5-14); D Brett Groenke, sr., (6-6-12); D Ryan Tucker, sr., (1-9-10); D Matt Marchel, so., (3-6-9)
Key Losses: F/D Ryan Leadens (10-16-26); G Kyle Knudsen (6-5-1, 3.80, .880)
2007-08 Projected Finish: Sixth
The Golden Eagles had a bit of a down season last year, but are only three years removed from playing for the MCHA title. If they wish to make a push to do so again, they return a solid core in which to do it with.
It all begins with speedy senior captain Teal Plaine. Plaine led the Golden Eagles in scoring last season and was the eleventh leading scorer in the MCHA.
Other forwards who figure to fit into the Golden Eagle attack are sophomores Brian Ferguson and John Lombardi, both of whom registered double digit points last season, and senior Matt Hann who checked in at second in scoring for last seasonâ€™s team.
On the defensive side the Golden Eagles will hit the ice with an experienced unit led by seniors Ryan Tucker and Brett Groenke. Junior MSU-Bottineau transfer Kirk Graham and sophomores Matt Marchel and Clarke Dingeman round out the blue line for the Golden Eagles.
The graduation of Kyle Knudsen in net leaves a hole that looks to be filled by the eventually winner of a three way battle for the starting spot. The competition is between senior Jaden Isakson, sophomore Justin Klinkhammer and junior MSU-Bottineau transfer Eric Everson, though reports have suggested Everson has the inside track.
Coach Gary Warren knows how to win, that much is for sure. With 25 years and over 400 victories to his credit, itâ€™s a safe bet to never overlook the Golden Eagles. It hasnâ€™t been very long since they were at the top of this league.
Head Coach: Mike Szkodzinski, 2nd year at overall and at Lawrence (13-14-2)
2006-07 Overall Record: 13-14-3
2006-07 MCHA Record: 8-11-1 (4th)
Key Returners: F Marc Howe, so., (15-12-27); F Nick Jennette, jr., (8-15-23); F Billy Siers, so., (9-9-18); D Josh Peterson, sr., (3-12-15); F Aaron Lafave, jr., (2-10-12); D Mike Ackley, jr., (1-8-9); D Austin Montgomery, sr., (2-5-7); F Masa Takahashi, so., (4-0-4)
Key Losses: F Joe Searl (18-17-35); D Kalle Larson (10-9-19); F Evan Thornton (6-7-13); F David Olynyk (2-7-9); G Andrew Isaac (12-10-1, 3.17, .906)
2007-08 Projected Finish: Fifth
In only his first season on the Lawrence bench, head coach Mike Szkodzinski coached the Vikings to a 13-14-2 record and a fourth place league finish. Additionally, they finished the season on a high by downing Marian, 4-2, to claim third place in the MCHA tournament. While a record just shy of .500 doesnâ€™t seem like much of a milestone, it was the best record for Lawrence in the MCHA era.
In his first season, Szkodzinski spoke to his goal of developing a culture of success in the program, and he feels it just might be starting to catch hold.
â€œWe are continuing our process of developing a culture that displays a consistent work ethic along with a disciplined attitude. We feel we took a step toward that last season and hope to keep moving forward this year.â€
While things are looking up for the Vikings, questions remain and they deal largely with the lack of experience on this yearâ€™s edition. In key losses to graduation, Lawrence lost 35 point scorer and team leader in forward Joe Searl, as well as goaltender Andrew Isaac, who saw action in 24 contests a year ago while posting a record of 12-10-1.
â€œIt will be a challenge to mesh 12 new faces with our returning players,â€ said Szkodzinski. â€œThere is no special recipe to replace experience … and that is something we lack headed into our schedule.â€
And a brutal schedule it is. The Vikingsâ€™ first six games feature non-conference tilts with NCHA foes St. Norbert and Lake Forest, sandwiched around league series with MSOE and Adrian.
The brutal early stretch will no doubt help Lawrence in the long run, but if they wish improve a team that ranked in the middle of the MCHA pack in nearly every statistical category, Szkodzinski suggests the Vikings will have to rely on their defense.
â€œWe are impressed with our defensive group. Josh Peterson, Mike Ackley, and Adam Brand have showed poise and the ability to make the first pass,â€ he said.
Depth also figures to be a strong suit on the defensive side.
He continued, â€œMoving Aaron LaFave back to the point has also given us a little more mobility back there. With the additions of (freshmen) Pat Brenner and Corey Garrett, we feel we have a solid group on the blue line.â€
With Searl now gone, Szkodzinski expects a balanced attack to fuel the offensive attack.
â€œWe will be a team that scores by committee for the most part.â€
Forwards Szkodzinski cited as forming this committee are sophomores Marc Howe, Masa Takahashi and Billy Siers, as well as junior Nick Jennette. The quartet accounted for 84 points of offense last season. Also expected to contribute up front are freshman forwards Josh DeSmit, Matt Jacobs, and Scott Minarcik.
The battle for the number one netminder is wide open between freshman Evan Johnson and Riley Stank, as well as junior Jim Ryan. Expect the Vikings to rotate goalies until a number one emerges later in the season.
As it was late last season, news is encouraging from the Lawrence camp. It translated into wins last year and it will be interesting to see if it can this year as well — especially considering the Vikingsâ€™ rough early season schedule.
Head Coach: Jasen Wise, 4th season overall and at Marian (38-41-6)
2006-07 Overall Record: 14-12-1
2006-07 MCHA Record: 12-6-2 (3rd)
Key Returners: F James Goodfellow, jr., (17-18-35); F Nick Cinquegrani, so., (14-15-29); F Carl Bresser, sr., (15-11-26); F Bill Griffore, jr., (11-10-21); F Andrew Corvo, jr., (10-11-21); D Nick Henkemeyer, so., (2-12-14); D Jeffrey Wills, jr., (3-10-13); D Gregory Copeland, jr., (1-12-13); G Cullen Caldwell, so., (9-5-2, 2.45, .916)
Key Losses: D Brett Fox (4-10-14)
2007-08 Projected Finish: Fourth
The Sabres have posted a 25-12-3 conference record over the past two seasons and have finished in the top half of the league both times. Now in his fourth season, its safe to say that the Sabres are finally, fully, head coach Jasen Wiseâ€™s team.
Since Wise took over, the Sabres have developed a reputation for fundamentally sound hockey and relatively mistake-free execution.
Despite that, they have been unable to break into the true upper-echelon on the league. Thereâ€™s a chance that happens this year, however, as the Sabres return practically the entire roster while also adding some talented youth.
The Sabres should be extremely solid in net following a surprising freshman season from Cullen Caldwell. The sophomore was among MCHA leaders in nearly every goalie statistic last season and led the league in save percentage.
The Sabres should be improved offensively as they return all leading scorers from last year. Led by junior James Goodfellowâ€™s 35 points and sophomore Nick Cinquegraniâ€™s 29, five 20 point scorers return for Marian. Cinquegrani led the MCHA in freshman scoring last season and also led the entire league with four shorthanded goals, and Goodfellow has donned the captainâ€™s â€œCâ€ this season.
With two games already under its belts, Marian looks to have added depth up front in the form of freshman Brendan Hull and Dmitri Sentsov. Hull is seeing time on the Goodfellow line, while Sentsov is paired up with Cinquegraniâ€™s.
Though the Sabres ranked behind MSOE and Finlandia in scoring defense last season, they only allowed 2.55 goals per contest. Like the offense, the defense only shows signs of improving.
While captain Brett Fox graduated, the Sabres return the rest of their blue liners, and will be led by juniors Jeffrey Wills, Gregory Copeland and Kyle Jones, as well as sophomore Nick Henkemeyer.
Aside from being solid on the defensive end, the quartet all registered double digits on the score sheet a year ago.
The Sabres should be an extremely intriguing team to follow this season. As they are trying to crack the upper limits of the MCHA standings, they are as solid as can be on paper. They are solid in net, on offense and defense; with an experienced core group that has added some freshman skill to it. If anyone is looking for a MCHA sleeper, they need look no farther than Marian.
Milwaukee School of Engineering Raiders
Head Coach: Mark Ostapina, 13th season overall and 7th at MSOE (147-156-14 overall, 84-72-6 at MSOE)
2006-07 Overall Record: 19-6-2
2006-07 MCHA Record: 16-2-2 (1st in MCHA)
Key Returners: F Blair Hanberg, sr., (24-13-37); F Lee Swallow, sr., (16-23-39); D Jason Woll, jr., (6-17-23); F Simon Labrosse-Gelinas, jr., (6-16-22); F Jacob Anderson, jr., (5-15-20); D Ken Walters, sr., (3-6-9); D Ross Chawansky, sr., (0-7-0)
Key Losses: F Brian Soik (7-27-34); F R.G. Flath (19-14-33); F Michael Duta (10-16-26); F Nick Bilpush (12-6-18); G Matt Burzon (13-3-2, 2.83, .901)
2007-08 Projected Finish: Third
Though the Raiders lost to Finlandia in last seasonâ€™s Harris Cup title game they remain three-time defending MCHA regular season champions. Up until the loss, the past few MCHA seasons had begun with nearly everyone agreeing: MSOE was the best team in the league. They may once again end up so this season, but MSOEâ€™s status is a bit murky due to some significant losses to graduation.
Gone are the Raidersâ€™ primary goaltender in Matt Burzon, defenseman David Yolo, and forwards Nick Bilpush, Michael Duta, R.G. Flath and Brian Soik. All told, those players accounted for 111 points last season. Soik proves to be the biggest loss of all, as the All-American captain ranks second on the Raidersâ€™ all-time scoring list and was twice named MCHA Player of the Year.
Led by a pair of senior forwards in Lee Swallow and Blair Hanberg, the Raiders still return plenty of firepower and will likely be right in the mix for the conference title. Last season Swallowâ€™s 39 points paced the Raiders while Hanberg closely followed with 37.
Swallow and Hanberg are Soikâ€™s old linemates and in an ironic twist, they still are. Joining them on MSOEâ€™s top unit this season is freshman Michael Soik, Brianâ€™s younger brother. With the new Soik donning Brianâ€™s old #18 and bringing plenty of talent to boot, the Raiders top line should hardly miss a beat.
MSOEâ€™s offense ranked second in the league in scoring last season at just under five goals per game and should remain potent as they also return a pair of junior 20 point forwards in Simon Labrosse-Gelinas and Jacob Anderson.
The Raiders led the league in team defense last season, allowing a paltry 2.15 goals per game, and appear to be primed to do so once again.
The entire defensive corps aside from Yolo returns, and is led by junior two-way threat Jason Woll. A pair of seniors in Ross Chawansky and Ken Walters, as junior David Yolo and sophomore Michael Jantzi also will figure in prominently on the Raidersâ€™ blueline.
If MSOE has one question mark it is in goal, where aside from losing Burzon, it also lost backups Joe Dovalina and Josh Rudolph to graduation.
The Raiders are carrying four goalies on their roster currently, but freshman Chris Keller appears to have the inside track on the #1 role as he garnered both starts — and both wins — in the Raidersâ€™ opening weekend sweep of Lake Forest.
While MSOEâ€™s losses are significant, they are in no way significant enough to remove MSOE from the discussion when it comes to who will stand atop the MCHA at the end of the season. If the Raiders can get consistent play in net, their offense and defense should be potent enough to compete, and beat, anyone in the league.
Head Coach: Ron Fogarty, 1st season overall and at Adrian (0-0-0)
2006-07 Overall Record: n/a
2006-07 MCHA Record: n/a
Key Returners: n/a
Key Losses: n/a
2007-08 Projected Finish: Second
The Bulldogs might be the most interesting thing to happen in Division III in quite a while. Other recent additions to the D-III realm such as Neumann, Castleton and Morrisville struggled mightily in the first season or two.
Adrian apparently has no such plans.
Within a short time of announcing plans to bring hockey to the college, the school announced Bowling Green assistant coach Ron Fogarty as its first coach. They also announced plans to construct 1,000 seat Arrington Ice Arena. The on-campus facility is already completed and will host all Bulldog home games.
The level of commitment the school has shown to hockey has Fogarty excited about his prospects at Adrian.
â€œOur school president played hockey and loves hockey,â€ he said. â€œThey take it very seriously. Having a rink on campus is huge; with prime ice-time for practice and the new facility itâ€™s been great. Weâ€™ve been treated very well.â€
The support the school has shown the athletic department appears to have paid off in the Bulldogsâ€™ first recruiting class. Itâ€™s a class which, by any standards of D-III, looks to be an excellent one. Some would go as far as to say itâ€™s one of the strongest in the nation.
Leaning on his experience in Division I as well as broad-based connections, Fogarty recruited a class stacked with productive Junior A talent and drew heavily from Ontario. Shockingly, the result is the Bulldogs looking like the MCHAâ€™s strongest club on paper. Handing the Bulldogs the conference title would be a tad irresponsible however, as we all know paper canâ€™t skate.
While proud of his initial recruiting class, Fogarty knows a roster with nothing but first year players poses plenty of risks.
â€œThose are the two biggest things,â€ he said. â€œBringing the team together under a new system, and from there adjusting to a number of different systems we are going to run.â€
He continued, â€œWith a lot of freshman we are going to need to adjust to the college rules. This is a lot different from juniors and the kids are going to need to adjust or it will hurt us. Thatâ€™s the biggest learning area for us: what we can and canâ€™t do at the college level.â€
Itâ€™s going to take some time before the cream rises to the top of Adrianâ€™s crop, but Fogarty pointed to a few individuals he expects large contributions from.
On defense he singled out Quinn Waller, Jeremy Klaver and Chris Stansik.
â€œStansik is our most skilled defenseman and has the ability to take it coast to coast, he said. â€œWaller is a heck of a player we are glad to have here and Klaver should also be an important player for us.â€
Offensively, Fogarty has two lines he likes in terms of scoring, but singled out Shawn Skelly, Eric Miller and Adam Krug. Krug, now a junior, is a transfer from D-I Wayne State and led the Warriors in scoring two seasons ago.
â€œThey are our go-to line right now,â€ he said. â€œThey are all excellent passers and itâ€™s been fun to watch and coach them. Skelly in particular has an excellent shot. This is our most entertaining line.â€
He also singled out the line of Kyle Watson, Drew Satterly and Mike Towns. Averaging over 6â€™2â€ and 210 pounds, the trio of freshman have specifically shown the ability to play defensively as well.
Fogarty insists the goalie situation is still wide open, though Brad Fogal saw the most action in the Bulldogs opening weekend split against Potsdam.
Itâ€™s certainly not going to come to Adrian right away and no one in the MCHA is going to hand them anything, but thanks to starting a program and holding nothing back in terms of coaching, commitment and facilities, the Bulldogs certainly have the tools to put an excellent team out on the ice.
Head Coach: Joe Burcar, 6th season overall and at Finlandia (42-47-5)
2006-07 Overall Record: 19-8-0
2006-07 MCHA Record: 15-5-0 (2nd)
Key Returners: F Josh Paquette, sr., (21-25-46); F Mike Parks, sr. (12-16-28); F Ryan Sullivan, jr., (24-14-38); F Joe Beaudry, jr., (14-23-37); F Keith Johnstone, jr., (10-12-22); F Travis Hanson, sr., (8-10-18); D Tiger Marcotte, jr., (8-22-30); D Blake Miller, sr., (9-12-21); G Lukas Alberer, sr. (11-3-0, 2.49, .889)
Key Losses: None
2007-08 Projected Finish: First
Last season was only their third year in the MCHA but it didnâ€™t stop the Lions from claiming their first ever Harris Cup, as they downed reigning champion MSOE 4-3 on a last-minute goal. It might seem as if there was nowhere to go but down but it certainly isnâ€™t the case. Heading into the final game of the regular season last year, the Lions had a chance to seal up the regular season MCHA title, but were deterred by an experienced MSOE team.
The Lions certainly have eyes on claiming the double this season and they should be in good position to do so, as by any form of analysis, they are loaded.
Finlandia returns all but four players from last yearâ€™s edition, including almost 90% of its scoring, five of its six top defenseman, and its number one goaltender. Head coach Joe Burcar points to the Lionsâ€™ experience as a definite plus.
â€œWe have great core of returning players and we expect them to lead by example on and off the ice. We feel that our upper-class has lead and will continue to do so,â€ he said.
The Lions are led by a talented and experienced senior class that is led by a pair of forwards in 46 point scorer Josh Paquette and 28 point scorer Mike Parks. Forwards Travis Hanson and Jason Aldrich, as well as defenseman Blake Miller, will also take the ice for their final seasons. All told, the group of five accounted for 128 points last season.
If that was telling enough about the Lionsâ€™ upper class presence, take a look at the junior class. Forwards Ryan Sullivan, Joe Beaudry, Keith Johnstone and Corey Blake, along with defenseman Tiger Marcotte accounted for 141 points last season.
Overall, thatâ€™s 269 points of returning offense from the Lionsâ€™ veterans alone.
Junior netminder Lukas Alberer will be the go-to-guy between the pipes again this season after posting an 11-3 record last year.
Finlandia surprised a lot of people last season, including non-conference foe UW-Superior. Their success is fueled largely by a uniquely styled high-octane offense and a willingness to get physical on either end of the ice. Coincidentally, the Lions led the MCHA with 5.30 goals per game last season while also ranking second in the league in scoring defense.
There really isnâ€™t much new when it comes to this yearâ€™s edition of the Lions, but with such a deep and talented group of upperclassmen, they may be the MCHAâ€™s best bet to garner some attention nationally before the season is over.