NCHA Season Preview

I spent a huge amount of space in last season’s preview blathering on about how tight and competitive the league was going to be. Though it was pretty much stating the obvious, it turned out I was right. The top seven spots were up for grabs heading into the final weekend of the season; when all was said and done three teams were tied for first and another was only one game back.

If it’s even possible, things might be even tighter this season. It’s anyone’s guess how St. Norbert, Stout, River Falls, Superior and St. Scholastica compare to one another, and Lake Forest almost certainly will improve on its winless league ledger.

What really might add to the confusion, however are the two wildcards: Eau Claire and Stevens Point.

The Blugolds are under new leadership and are entering the second year of a massive overhaul initiated by former head coach Luke Strand. With Strand accepting an assistant coaching position with the AHL Houston Aeros this offseason, the head job now belongs to Matt Loen.

The Coon Rapids, MN native spent the prior two seasons as a Blugold assistant. Also a former Blugold player from 1991-95, he garnered first team all-american honors as a senior. Following his collegiate playing days he logged over 500 games on the professional circuit, playing with teams in the UHL, AHL and IHL.

After sixteen seasons with Joe Baldarotta at the helm, the Pointers find themselves under new leadership in the form of Wil Nichol. Nichol, a defenseman, played for Stevens Point from 1994-1998 and captained the Pointers’ 1998 national runner-up squad. Since then, Nichol has held head coaching positions with IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, the Chicago Steel (USHL), and Stevens Point high school. He has also served as an assistant at Division I Miami of Ohio.

As there is no amount of rambling from me that would be able to figure out exactly how the league is going to shake out, we might as well get on with it and let the teams and a little time take care of it for us.

I will mention one thing though: After pegging Stout for seventh last season only to watch the Blue Devils rampage their way to a 21-5-1 season and a share of the NCHA title, I have absolutely no confidence in these predictions whatsoever. I am already conceding the fact that some team is going to make me look like a dunce. It’s not going to stop me from trying, though.

Teams below are ordered by the reverse of their predicted finish.

Lake Forest Foresters

Head coach: Tony Fritz, 30th season overall and at Lake Forest (334-369-49)
2006-07 overall record: 3-21-3
2006-07 NCHA record: 0-11-3 (8th)
Key returners: F Mike Kneeland, jr., (7-6-13; F Chris Wilson, jr., (6-10-16), G Scott Campbell, jr., (3-10-1, 3.67, .913); G Brandon Kohuch (0-11-2, 4.74, .891); D Matt Oke, jr., (2-9-11)
Key losses: F Tyler Canal (9-19-28)
2007-08 projected finish: Eighth

The Foresters are an interesting case study when it comes to the volatility of sports. In terms of wins and losses, last season’s 3-21-3 record was the worst in school history dating back to 1966.

The interesting thing about it is they are still only two years removed from winning back to back playoff series. In fact, in the three years prior to last season, the Foresters posted an overall record of 46-33-5.

With nine players returning from the 2005-06 team that went to the conference semifinals, something has to give this year.

The strongest aspect of this year’s team might be its talented goaltending duo. Juniors Brandon Kohuch and Scott Campbell split-time two years ago and played a large role in the Foresters finishing 15-13-0 overall and fourth in the NCHA.

Scoring only 2.30 goals per contest last season, the Foresters offense ranked worst in the NCHA but should be bolstered as unlike last season, junior forward Mike Kneeland will playing from the get-go. To those familiar with Lake Forest, there is little doubt Kneeland might be one of the best, and most underrated, forwards in the nation.

He can’t do it all, however, and junior Chris Wilson will be expected to increase his production this year as well.

Due to recent roster turnover, the Foresters don’t return much scoring aside from Kneeland and Wilson. With eleven underclassmen forwards on the roster, however, there is little doubt head coach Tony Fritz is expecting some of them to step up and play vital roles.

Though the offense may be a bit shaky, the Foresters are hoping to rely on a defense that brings a little more experience to the table.

Juniors Matt Oke and Joe Papineau lead a unit that should provide some stability early in the season. Them along with junior Chris Jackson and Chris Ghidina will hopefully be enough to bide some time for the Foresters to figure out its offense.

Overall they are a bit of a mystery. It’s highly unlikely they go winless in the NCHA again, but with so many questions and new faces, it’s tough to tell at this point how much of a fluke last season really was.

Wis.-Eau Claire Blugolds

Head coach: Matt Loen, 1st season overall and at Wis.-Eau Claire (0-0-0)
2006-07 overall record: 9-14-4
2006-07 NCHA record: 2-9-3 (t6th)
Key returners: F Sean Garrity, sr., (13-14-27); D Greg Petersen, jr., (7-17-24); F Jesse Vesel, jr., (4-18-22); F Aaron Johnson, jr., (10-7-17);
Key losses: F Steve Dus (4-7-11); D Kyle Garner (1-8-9); G Ryan Mensing, jr., (6-14-3, 3.04, .900)
2007-08 projected finish: Seventh

Eau Claire’s 2-9-3 finish in NCHA play last season certainly didn’t set the world on fire, but it is a little deceptive. The Blugolds lost seven NCHA games by two goals or less last season, including a pair of losses at St. Norbert in the conference playoffs. The Blugolds also took part in six overtime games against conference foes, posting only a 0-3-3 record in those contests.

The lesson here is that there is a big difference between a 2-9-3 team that gets hammered every night and one that is very young and drops a lot of close games. The Blugolds would be the latter.

In fact, one NCHA coach predicted last season, “I won’t guarantee you Eau Claire will make a run next season, but within two years they will be challenging for the top of our league.”

If the Blugolds look to challenge for the top spot, they will need to find a way to replace netminder Ryan Mensing. The Division I transfer anchored a Blugold defense that only allowed three goals per game last season, but his departure leaves Eau Claire with a trio of goalies who only have six total games of D-III experience.

Senior Mike Gatzke and sophomores Aaron Johnson and Tyler Brigl expect to compete for playing time, but Brigl will likely end up being the number one. Brigl posted a 3-0-1 record in a relief role last season.

Aiding defensively will be a unit led by junior Greg Petersen. The twenty-point scorer is solid on both ends and many think he is the best offensive defenseman in the league. Petersen’s efforts will be assisted by sophomores Brian Plaszcz, Nicholas Kuqali, Tyler Trudell and DJ Clark, as well as freshman Tim Possehl.

It is essential the Blugolds improve on an offense that ranked seventh in the league last season in posting only 2.74 goals per game. The good news on this front is that nearly their entire forward crop returns.

Senior Sean Garrity led the way last season with 27 points, which was enough to land him first-team all-conference honors. 22 point junior Jesse Vesel also returns this season, as does 17 point junior Andrew Johnson.

Looking to add some scoring depth will be juniors Dan Fina and Sam Bauler, as well as freshman Ross Janecyk.

This is the season a lot of people are expecting the Blugolds to begin to make a move, but if they wish to they must find more scoring, and must find a way to win close games. The played St. Norbert as tough as anyone to close out last season and if they keep that up look for an increased win total in Eau Claire.

Wis.-Stevens Point Pointers

Head Coach: Wil Nichol, 1st season overall and at Wis.-Stevens Point (0-0-0)
2006-07 overall record: 7-18-2
2006-07 NCHA record: 3-10-1 (t6th)
Key returners: G Marcus Paulson, jr., (7-16-2, 4.02., .876); F Sean Fish, jr. (13-15-28); F Pat Lee, jr. (11-9-20); F Russell Law, jr., (6-5-11); D Nate Sorenson, sr., (1-0-1); F Brett Beckfeld, jr., (10-8-18); F Josh Calleja, so., (7-16-23)
Key losses: F Nick Zebro (6-7-13)
2007-08 projected finish: Sixth

Stevens Point’s 7-18-2 record last season was the worst record the Pointers have finished with since 1985. When looking for a reason for last season’s struggles, one stands out above all others: Defense – or rather, a lack thereof.

The Pointers allowed 4.37 goals per contest last season, which was enough to rate worst in the NCHA. As a result, it was one of the first things first year head coach Wil Nichol addressed after taking over the helm last offseason.

When asked if it was a priority to strengthen the blueline, his answer was a simple one: “Yes.”

As a result, the Pointers brought in three Division I transfers along with a freshman who boasts Division I talent. Leading the group is junior Tim Manthey. Manthey played his first two years at Army, posting 29 points last season while also claiming all-conference honors.

He is joined by junior Jon Ralph, a transfer from Bowling Green, and sophomore Creighton Scarpone who played his initial season at Quinnipiac. Rounding out the group is freshman Garrett Suter, who was initially recruited to play at Wisconsin.

Manthey and Ralph both have garnered captain’s duties this season.
The quartet is expected to play nearly every night and will likely be joined by the Pointers’ top two defensemen from a year ago, senior Nate Sorenson and sophomore Tom Upton.

No one knows if it will be a miracle cure, but Nichol is confident in the Pointers’ new defensive look.

“We had to find some legit defensemen to alleviate the problem,” said Nichol. “I think we did that. I’m now confident in our entire group, not just in those four guys.”

Junior goaltender Marcus Paulson has been a workhorse for the Pointers over his first two years, already ranking eighth all-time in saves among Pointer goalies. Though Paulson saw action in 26 games a year ago, freshman Thomas Speer is expected to challenge for playing time and Nichol hinted at some form of rotation early in the year.

“Marcus hasn’t shown me he has what it takes to be a number one goaltender,” he said. “At the same time, as a freshman, neither has Speer. Hopefully by the middle of the season someone steps up and shows they want the number one spot.”

If Stevens Point has one strength going into the season it’s at forward. A deep junior class is spearheaded by captains Sean Fish and Brett Beckfeld. Other juniors who will figure into the attack are Matt Stendahl, Russell Law, Ross Johnson, and Shane Foster.

Sophomores Pat Lee and Josh Calleja also return after freshman campaigns which saw them among the team leaders in scoring.
According to Nichol, freshman Nic Polaski will also be expected to play a significant role up front.

The Pointers have a sour taste in their mouths following last season’s disappointing showing, and Nichol has taken steps to turn things around. There is little doubt the Pointers are improved from last season, but in a league as tough as the NCHA it still may not be enough for a top-half finish.

For now, Nichol seems content with taking things one step at a time.

“I expect this team to play every second of every game for themselves, for this school and for this community. From there we’ll see.”

St. Scholastica Saints

Head coach: Mark Wick, 3rd season overall and at St. Scholastica (35-39-9)
2006-07 overall record: 15-12-2
2006-07 NCHA record: 6-7-1 (5th)
Key returners: F A.J. Tucker, jr., (10-16-26); F Joey Martini, jr., (9-7-16); F Jake Nelson, jr., (8-11-19); F Joey Hughes, jr., (6-11-17); F Trevor Geiger, jr., (6-9-15); D Kelly Reynolds, jr., (3-12-15); D Jordan Baird, so., (4-5-9); G Tyler Johnson (12-9-1, 2.62, .900)
Key losses: None
2007-08 projected finish: Fifth

Two years ago, in only Mark Wick’s second season behind the bench, the Saints surprised everyone by posting their first winning record in twenty years. Last season they took it a step farther, defeating Superior and River Falls on the road in the conference playoffs before dropping the Peters’ Cup final at St. Norbert.

Despite the strong finish, the Saints failed to land home-ice in the playoffs last season. If they wish to do so this year, much of the responsibility will fall on a strong junior class.

“That class has been very good for us,” said Wick. “They are juniors now and have to take it to the next level. This is the first time since I’ve been here that a majority of our kids are juniors and seniors.”

In fact, the Saints’ top nine scorers last season are juniors this season. A.J. Tucker led the way with 26 points last season and was follwed by Jake Nelson with 19, Joey Hughes with 17 and Joey Martini with 16.

Other juniors expected to contribute up front are Trevor Geiger, Kyle Luschinski, Matt Saler and Matt Stengl.

Wick also singled out a couple of sophomores in Aaron Spotts and Jordan Chong as players he is expecting a big impact from.

“Spotts had the overtime winner for us at Superior last season, and Jordan Chong is another guy we hope has a good year,” he said. “We think we can expect a little more production out of those guys.”

Defensively the Saints look to improve on a unit that conceded 2.76 goals per game last season, fifth in the NCHA.

The Saints’ blueliners are led by junior Kelly Reynolds, a solid two-way defenseman who chipped in 15 points last season. Joining him are sophomores Jordan Baird, Neil Sauter, Chris Meagher, as well as junior Shane Auger. Freshman Rob Rodgers also figures to be an every night player.

Though the Saints’ enter this season with essentially the same team it has had over the past two seasons, the goalie situation is a little unclear.

Senior Tyler Johnson saw a majority of the action last season, but junior Steve Bounds also has ample experience. New to the mix this season is sophomore Zack Kleiman, a Division I transfer from Quinnipiac.

“It’s been very competitive,” said Wick. “We’re unsure of what we have right now. We’re hoping someone steps up and takes the bull by the horns, but we really haven’t settled on how we’re going to do our rotation.”

As evidenced by the NCHA preseason coaches’ poll in which St.Scholastica received two first place votes, the Saints are expected to be in the mix. They took it a step farther last season, and it will be interesting to see how far they can take it this time around.

“This is going to sound like typical coach-talk,” said Wick. “But we need to focus on getting better every day. In our league no game is easy and you have to set yourself up as well as you can for the playoffs.”

Wis.-Stout Blue Devils

Head coach: Terry Watkins, 12th season overall and at Wis.-Stout (122-162-15)
2006-07 overall record: 21-5-2
2006-07 NCHA record: 10-3-1 (t1st)
Key returners: F Scott Motz, so., (18-18-36); F Derek Hanson, so., (12-16-28); G Mike Stone (15-5-1, 2.10, .926); D Bobby Kuehl, so., (3-14-17); D Jack Wolgemuth, jr., (2-10-12); F Jake Erickson, sr. (7-11-18); F Luke Schroeder, sr., (6-12-18); D Todd Wynia (2-4-6)
Key losses: F Andrew Stearns (5-12-17); F Andy Wiesener (15-18-33); F Matt Mlynarczyk (6-10-16); D Adam Boche (3-3-6); D BJ Garczynski (0-4-4)
2007-08 projected finish: Fourth

The Blue Devils were one of the best stories in the nation last year. After a bottom half NCHA finish two years ago, they came on like gangbusters and posted its best season in school history en route to a tie for the NCHA title.

Much of what fueled Stout’s success was a deep and talented squad that had a little bit of everything. Whether it was upperclass leadership, young talent, offense, defense, goaltending or overall consistency, the Blue Devils had it.

Last year will be a tough act to follow, but head coach Terry Watkins likes the look of his team heading into the season.

“I think we are deeper than we were last season,” he said. “I also think we’re a little more talented.”

Those being said, he admits it will be a tough act to follow.

“Whether or not we can get the same effort and work ethic and heart is another matter.”

Trying to replace a strong group of senior leaders may be the Blue Devils’ greatest challenge according to Watkins.

“That’s one of the things we talked to the kids about,” he said. “But every team has to deal with it. You have to replace them with different players.”

He continued, “We have to be as consistent as we were a year ago. We came out every night. We did not have lapses. If we can do that consistently we should be ok.”

The Blue Devils return their top two scorers in sophomores Scott Motz and Derek Hanson, as well as double-digit scorers in seniors Luke Schroeder and Jake Erickson. Adding depth at the forward position will sophomore Joel Gaulrapp, a transfer from UW-Superior, junior Jeff Wheeler and freshmen Robert Carr and Danny Ryan. Watkins also expects a strong return from senior Scott Sekkink, who missed nearly all of last season due to injury.

Led by senior Todd Wynia, junior Jack Wolgemuth and sophomore Bobby Kuehl, the Stout defense also looks to be in fine shape. Both were all-conference selections a year ago and will be aided by senior Jeff DeFrancesca, junior Nick Klaren, and freshman Dave Larson.

Senior goaltender Mike Stone returns following a stellar junior campaign that saw him land first team all-conference accolades.

The Blue Devils surprised everyone last season, and though 21-5-2 will be extremely difficult to match in a league as tough as the NCHA, Stout appears to have the horses to make another push for a NCAA tournament bid — the one thing that narrowly eluded them last season.

Wis.-River Falls Falcons

Head Coach: Steve Freeman, 12th season overall and at Wis.-River Falls (220-91-21)
2006-07 overall record: 21-6-2
2006-07 NCHA record: 10-3-1 (t1st)
Key Returners: F Tyler Dahl, sr., (12-40-52); F Derek Hansberry, jr., (21-14-35); F Pat Borgestad, sr., (16-12-28); D Jim Henkemeyer, sr., (8-16-24); F Dustin Norman, jr., (10-10-20); D Jim Jensen, sr., (4-10-14)
Key Losses: G A.J. Bucchino (21-6-2, 2.12, .933); F Tyler Kostuik (9-12-21)
2007-08 projected finish: Third

Last season River Falls swooped to a 21-6-2 record, a tie for the NCHA crown, and a berth in the NCAA playoffs. Most teams would be elated with a performance as such, but the Falcons were hoping for more, particularly considering a home loss in the West Region play-in game to Bethel. The Falcons are expecting big things again this season, but two questions loom regarding this season’s squad.

The largest may be in net, as All-American A.J. Bucchino elected to play professionally at the end of his sophomore season. Bucchino played in every game last season and the void he leaves is a large one. Consider that backup Tony Stoehr also is not back and the void grows even larger.

In attempt to solidify the situation between the pipes, the Falcons enter the season with a trio of newcomers. Freshman Clark Oliver and sophomores Matt Page and Tyler Owens are all participants in a wide-open battle for the number one spot.

“Right now we are feeling our way through,” said head coach Steve Freeman. “We are taking a look at all of them; a couple of good goaltenders. We think they have good potential but none of them are battle-tested yet. We expect them to all play early in the season.”

The other big question mark for the Falcons’ is offensive depth. Although River Falls ranked second in the NCHA at 3.76 goals per game last season, it relied heavily on its top line — a weakness that even Freeman spoke to following the loss to Bethel.

Junior Derek Hansberry and seniors Pat Borgestad and Tyler Dahl re-unite to lead the Falcons’ top unit — a unit that hung 115 points on opponents last season. Dahl led the way with 52 points, which was enough to land him NCHA Player of the Year honors.

Offensively, the Falcons hope to receive larger contributions from senior Wade Harstad, junior Dustin Norman, and sophomore Mitch Kerns. Freeman pointed to Norman in particular as a player he hopes to have a breakout season.

“Dustin Norman scored a lot of big goals for us last season,” he said. “He had the game winning goal against Stout last year and is an outstanding player on both ends of the rink.”

Freeman also pointed to freshman Alex Lundblohm, Nolan Craner and Riley Riddell as players who will add depth at forward.

“Hopefully we have taken care of the (depth) problem,” he said. “It was one of our main focuses and we expect all of them to contribute right away.”

As usual, the Falcons’ defense ranked near the top of the league. Allowing only 2.24 goals per game last season, they can take solace in the fact the entire unit returns.

Led by a couple of seniors in two-way threat Jim Henkemeyer and big-hitting Jim Jensen, expect the River Falls defense to once again prove a formidable force.

With nearly the entire team back aside from Bucchino, the Falcons’ are looking for another NCHA title and a perhaps a deeper run into the NCAA tournament. If they can find some goaltending and just a little more balanced scoring, it just might happen.

Wis.-Superior Yellowjackets

Head Coach: Dan Stauber, 8th season overall and at Wis.-Superior (145-42-23)
2006-07 overall record: 20-6-1
2006-07 NCHA record: 9-4-1 (4th)
Key Returners: F Braden Desmet, so., (14-18-32); F Chris Berry, so., (16-14-30); F Corey Stark, so., (17-10-27); F Nate Rein, jr., (10-15-25); D Derek Paige, sr., (2-14-16); D Aaron Berman, jr., (3-11-14); G Chad Beiswenger, jr., (15-5-1, 2.29, .920)
Key Losses: F Myles Palliser (7-12-19)
2007-08 projected finish: Second

The Yellowjackets are one of the most intriguing teams in the NCHA this season. The fourth place league finish last season is a bit deceiving as they were only a game behind the three-way logjam for first. Additionally, their 20 win season was an accomplishment only a handful of teams in the nation can lay claim to.

Despite that as well as the fact they return nearly every impact player from last year’s edition, it appears not everyone is sold on the Yellowjackets.

Evidence enough of this is the NCHA preseason coaches’ poll. Superior was one of four teams to garner a first place vote, but overall they landed in fifth spot. It appears someone expects big things from the Yellowjackets, but as everyone clearly doesn’t it’s safe to say they might be entering the season with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder.

There is no reason Superior shouldn’t be able to contend for the conference crown, as no matter where one looks, strength is evident.

Junior Chad Beiswenger has a very strong season in goal last season, though was overshadowed by some his NCHA counterparts. Beiswenger would appear to be the number one heading into the year but don’t be surprised if sophomore Mike Rosett makes a push for playing time.

Superior allowed only 2.33 goals per game last season and returns every one of its blueliners.

Leading the Yellowjacket’s defense is senior Derek Paige, a first-team all-american and all-conference performer a year ago. Junior Aaron Berman also figures to play prominently into the Superior defense, as do senior Dustin Cosgrove, junior Jeff Herman and sophomores Brian Bina and Josh Seifert.

The Yellowjackets also look to be solid up front as they return a prolific trio of forwards who led the team in scoring as freshman. Corey Stark, Braden Desmet and Chris Berry combined for 89 points last season.

Junior Nate Rein should also be expected to provide plenty of offense this season, as should juniors Andrew MacKenzie and Eric Bausano and sophomore transfer Tyler Fletcher.

It’s been awhile since Superior has flown this far under the radar which is odd considering the Yellowjackets return a load of firepower. The coaches’ poll landing them in fifth will likely only be a motivating factor for a team that fully expects to compete for the conference title.

St. Norbert Green Knights

Head Coach: Tim Coghlin, 15th season overall and at St. Norbert (295-91-31)
2006-07 overall record: 25-4-2
2006-07 NCHA record: 10-3-1 (t1st)
Key Returners: G Kyle Jones, sr., (25-4-2, 1.79, .913); F Marc Belanger, sr., (21-20-41); F Matt Boyd, so., (10-21-31); F Shane Wheeler, so., (8-20-28); F Steven Sleep, jr., (11-16-27); F Ryan Petersen, jr., (13-7-20); D Jon Skoog, jr., (0-9-0); D Jason Nopper, so., (1-2-3)
Key Losses: F Jeff Hazelwood (17-23-40); F Troy Boisjoli (17-9-26); F Lonny Forrester (7-15-22); D Andrew Derton (7-21-28); D James Switzer (2-5-7); D Tyler Gow (0-7-7); F Kurtis Peterson (9-7-16)
2007-08 projected finish: First

Last year was more of the same for St. Norbert: another season, another conference title and another Frozen Four. Though the Green Knights failed to skate away with the national title, it was another in what is becoming a long line of tremendous years for the Knights.

St. Norbert will likely be a force again this season, though as usual there are a few question marks heading into the season.

Before getting to those, we might as well start with what isn’t a question mark for the Knights: Goaltender Kyle Jones. The senior has already plastered his name all over the record books. Jones is a three time All-American, owns Division III records for longest shutout streak and most career shutouts, and is less than ten wins away from becoming the all-time winningest goalie in Division III history.

Jones started every game for the Green Knights last season, but with zero game experience amongst their backups, head coach Coghlin suggests Jones won’t be carrying 100 percent of the load again.

“We are going to sit Kyle down at times this season,” he said. “We have to figure out what’s going on in goal behind him. This is his last season here and he has played every night for us, but he accepts and understands this, which says a lot about Kyle Jones.”

The Knights figure to once again be strong at the forward position, though they did sustain key losses in second leading scorer Jeff Hazelwood and assistant captain Troy Boisjoli.

St. Norbert does return plenty of offense, however, including leading scorer senior Marc Belanger. Senior Ryan Peterson and junior Steven Sleep also figure to play more prominent roles.

The Knights will enter the season with a strong group of sophomore forwards including Matt Boyd, Shane Wheeler, Tyler Allen, Matt Boyd, and Pete Fylling. As a group, they accounted for 77 points as freshmen.

“We are expecting a really substantial contribution from our sophomore class,” said Coghlin. “They need to figure out who they are and which ones are going to step up and be leaders for us.”

Coghlin pointed to Tyler Allen in particular.

“He has really opened eyes this season. He showed up in tremendous shape”

He continued, “He’s very physical and reminds me of Troy Boisjoli, who might have been our biggest hitter last year. Tyler is also very strong on the puck and we hope he can develop into the scorer Troy was.”

If the Green Knights have one major concern entering the season, it’s on defense. They will hit the ice with a highly inexperienced group following the graduation of five defensemen.

Returning are junior Jon Skoog and sophomores Jason Nopper, Sam Tikka and Dustin Dubas.

Nopper had a fine freshman campaign and Coghlin singled out Tikka along with freshmen Nick Tibisz and Adam Hammerbeck as players who have the potential to make big impacts on defense this season.

“(Tibitz) played two years in the USHL as a forward, but he grew up a defenseman and we elected to move him back to the blue line. He moves the puck well and shoots the puck very well.”

He added, “We expect (Hammerbeck) to be a mainstay at the blueline…and Tikka has the potential to be a top-four guy for us.”

While the Green Knights certainly have questions on defense, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone to see them at the top of the league again. Until someone steps up and dethrones them they are the team to beat, and besides, the last time St. Norbert had this many freshmen they went to the NCAA championship game.