From around the rinks in three weekends, I’ve had a chance to see Miami, New Hampshire, Bowling Green, Michigan, Mercyhurst, Maine, Michigan State, Ferris State, St. Lawrence, Notre Dame, Boston University, Wisconsin and Holy Cross. Here are some quick thoughts:
Let’s start with UNH, which might have the best No. 1 line in college hockey. Paul Thompson, Mike Sislo and Phil DiSimone are talented, quick, can score, can play in their own end and can impact a game individually and as a trio. All three can kill penalties and make up the No. 1 power play unit’s top line. DiSimone made two highlight-reel plays, one for a goal and one to set up a scoring chance opening night against Miami. Keep an eye on these three.
While on the subject of UNH, I’m willing to bet that Matt DiGirolomo can hold the fort for the Wildcats in his first year as the starting goalie.
Miami. My gut feeling on Miami is completely different from last season. The RedHawks can make a run at a national title this season despite the loss of Tommy Wingels. They’re well led up front, solid on the back line and have two goalies who both have been No. 1s. The goalies will be interesting, as Connor Knapp is drafted, Cody Reichard isn’t and both need to prove to future NHL employers that they can carry the mail all season. Both are good team guys but both have eyes on the prize, which means Miami should get pretty good goaltending all season.
They could go up and down this season but if the RedHawks have it together and are all pulling the same direction — usually a staple of Miami hockey — this is a group you want to keep tabs on.
Michigan. The Wolverines looked up and down against Mercyhurst, and it is rare that they’ll blow a four-goal lead at home, but they did. They looked asleep at times the next night against Western Ontario. Red Berenson won his 700th game against Bowling Green the next weekend and the following night in a 4-2 win the Falcons could have stolen the game if they could have converted on the many scoring chances they created.
Goaltending controversy? Possibly, as Shawn Hunwick and Bryan Hogan seem to be in a rotation (like Hogan and Billy Sauer used to be before Hogan won out) and both want the No. 1 job. Like Miami, Michigan has a pair of goalies who have played in the national tourney and want to again. That can’t be a bad thing to have.
Their defense does not have a star pair as it has had in recent years, but as a group it is pretty dependable and Greg Pateryn gets better every game. Brandon Burlon is developing nicely as a two-way threat. The bottom line is when you have Matt Rust, Louie Caporusso and Carl Hagelin up front you are in great shape. David Wohlberg, Chris Brown and Luke Glendenning round out a group of forwards in the top six spots that can bury you on any given night.
Notre Dame. I liked their desire to skate and go north-south all night against BU. The Irish are Well-coached as always, and they have lots of youth and their mobility has improved. The CCHA could be wide open and Notre Dame could be one of those teams that slowly climbs into the valley of the top four. Anders Lee is a legit threat and Ben Ryan is Notre Dame’s Carter Camper. Bryan Rust is a spark plug (much like his brother Matt at Michigan) and senior leadership from Calle Ridderwall, Joe Lavin and Ryan Guentzel will help.
Wisconsin. Mike Eaves has lost a ton from last year’s squad but Sean Dolan looks good early as someone who could plug a hole or two. The Badgers have good goaltending and a mobile defense. Jake Gardiner and John Ramage anchor a solid blue line corps. Jordy Murray and Craig Smith figure to be a formidable duo up front and Podge Turnbull could be a big factor offensively with more ice time.
Boston University. Like Wisconsin, BU has lost a ton of talented folks since its national championship in 2009. The goaltending should be good and the Terriers have a blue-collar group up front led by Charlie Coyle and Chris Connolly. Sahir Gill has shown he can skate with the big boys with a good game against Notre Dame two weeks ago in St. Louis.
Maine. Watch out, Hockey East, because if this group gets cohesive in a hurry it can make a great run to the top. Goaltending will be a question mark, but the Black Bears can skate well, are good offensively, and have a dynamic top line and depth under it. It is a veteran team with a group of seniors that has not tasted the NCAA tourney. Bet on that to change this season.
Michigan State. Much like the Spartans football team, this team could get on a roll and be pretty good. Down 3-1 and 4-2 to Maine, they came back to tie last Thursday. Friday, up 2-0, they were stunned by two power-play goals in 10 seconds by Spencer Abbott late in the third. Senior forward Dustin Gazely, who had a great weekend, scored the game winner shortly after. Daultan Leveille and Derek Grant line up with Gazely for a good top line, and if they get some secondary scoring and another good year from goalie Drew Palmisano and sophomore captain Torey Krug, the Spartans will be a tough out all season long.
Ferris State. This is a hard-working team that should get big saves all season from Pat Nagle. Work ethic is the key here, as the Bulldogs will get offense by committee but they have a very good defenseman in Atlanta draft pick Zach Redmond, a senior. They’ll be in the mix but will be challenged to score. The key for them is a great home record to set them up for success later in a short playoff series.
Bowling Green is a work in progress under first-year coach Chris Bergeron. What the Falcons have going for them is Bergeron is a great coach and a very good recruiter (just ask Miami about that). Youth will be important here as they build. Goaltending could help them overachieve.