Hamline expected to win extremely competitive MIAC

Wafer-thin differences between Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s upper echelon teams means the title race will come down to a battle of intangibles.

MIAC coaches gave Hamline the nod in a preseason poll, but there was little consensus overall. The Pipers received four first-place votes, but Gustavus was second with two and Augsburg, St. Thomas and St. Olaf got one apiece.

Such indecisiveness is understandable. All five teams possess ingredients of a title-topping side, but there’s usually a caveat in the mix.

For instance, the Pipers return a solid cast, but need to replace graduating forward Kyle Kurr and his team-leading 14 goals. Also gone from the Hamline blue line are All-MIAC selection Jarred Hummel, who graduated early, and Taylor Vichorek, who opted to forgo his eligibility to play in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s system.

Augsburg boasts similar depth. The question is whether the Auggies can rebound from last season’s devastating 6-5 four-overtime loss to Gustavus in the MIAC semis.

Last season’s playoff champion St. Thomas is boosted by the return of leading scorers Andrew Kappers (10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points) and Rob Johnson (11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points). Yet the Tommies’ goaltending fortunes appear to rest on freshman Geoff Sadjadi, who stopped 25 of 27 shots in Friday’s 7-2 win over Bethel at the MIAC Showcase.

Incumbent regular-season champion Gustavus is coping with the loss of American Hockey Coaches Association Division III Player of the Year David Martinson, whose league-leading 23 goals and 21 assists will have to be picked up by one or more players if the Gusties hope to repeat.

St. Olaf’s offensive duo of Andrew Kappers (10 goals,19 assists, 29 points) and Rob Johnson (11 goals, 15 assists, 26 points) is one the league’s best. Last season, though, the Oles employed the debatable practice of rotating goalies with returnees Nick Krauss (6-6-1, 3.14 GAA, .893 save-percentage) and Ben Leis (6-4-1, 2.51 GAA, .920 save-percentage). Krauss started in the St. Olaf’s 3-2 victory over St. John’s in the MIAC Showcase on Saturday.

Head coach: Scott Bell
2009-10 record: 11-3-2, 16-6-4, Second place with 24 points
Key returners: D Chris Berenguer, F Brian Arrigoni, G Beau Christian
Key losses: F Kyle Kurr, D Cory Krogen, D Cole Scattarelli
2010-11 predicted finish: First
Bottom line: The Pipers have the depth and talent to reach the MIAC summit. Twice ACHA All-American defenseman Chris Berenguer (6-22-28) returns with last season’s leading scorer Brian Arrigoni (10-20-30). Standout netminder Beau Christian (16-5-3, .2.43 GAA and .907 save-percentage) is also back.

Head coach: Chris Brown
2009-10 record: 16-10-1, 8-7-1, Fourth place with 17 points
Key returners: F Nick Guran, F Joel Sauer, G Justin Lochner
Key losses: F Chris Johnson, F Tyler Antony
2010-11 predicted finish: Second
Bottom line: There’s good reason to be bullish on the Auggies; namely, the main cast returns, including netminder Justin Lochner (league-leading .915 save-percentage), from last season’s squad that won 16 games, the most since 2002-03.

St. Thomas
Head coach: Jeff Boeser
2009-10 record: 13-11-4. 8-6-2, Third place with 18 points
Key returners: F Andrew Kappers, F Rob Johnson, D Phil Johnson
Key losses: F Alex Arnason, F Parker Burgess, G Joe Schraeder
2010-11 predicted finish: Coaches, Third
Bottom line: The Tommies return proven point-getters in Andrew Kappers (10-19-29) and Rob Johnson (11-15-26), but will lean on All-Rookie selection Riley Horgan (2-6-8) and fellow soph Travis Baker (4-3-3) to replace the 35 goals provided by six graduating seniors last season. The team is also starting freshman Geoff Sadjadi (Jamesville Jets NAHL) in goal.

Gustavus Adolphus
Head coach: Brett Petersen
2009-10 record: 20-7-2, 12-2-2, First place with 28 points
Key returners: F Ross Ring-Jarvi, G Josh Swartout, D Mitch Carlson
Key losses: F David Martinson, F Patrick Dynan, F James Leathers
2010-11 predicted finish: Fourth
Bottom line: The Gusties will miss First Team All-American and MIAC Player of the Year David Martinson (29-20-49), but Ross Ring-Jarvi (16-24-40) is poised to take the lead role.

St. Olaf
Head coach: Sean Goldsworthy
2009-10 record: 12-10-4, 6-6-4, Fifth place with 16 points
Key returners: F Isak Tranvik, F Britton Smith, D Charlie Raskob
Key losses: F Ben Umhoefer, F Bryan Osmondson, F Thor Josefson
2010-11 predicted finish: Fifth
Bottom line: Scoring won’t be a problem with the returning troika of Isak Tranvik (14-18-32), Britton Smith (17-13-30) and Charlie Raskob (7-13-20). The Oles’ tag-team in net, Ben Leis (6-4-3, 2.51 GAA, .920 save-percentage) and Nick Krauss (6-6-1, 3.14 GAA, .893 save-percentage), will have to improve on the team’s poor 0-1-5 overtime record last term.

Head coach: Chris Howe
2009-10 record: 5-15-5, 4-7-5, Seventh place with 13 points
Key returners: D Erick Galt, F Nick Thielen, F Pat Dietz
Key losses: G Jacob Vatnsdal, F Shawn Goos, D Casey Olson
2010-11 predicted finish: Sixth
Bottom line: The Cobbers return their top seven scorers, but have a question in goal, as four freshmen vie for the starting job vacated by Jacob Vatnsdal (5-11-5,  2.99  GAA, .907 save-percentage ), who is not on the team.

Saint John’s
Head coach: Doug Schueller
2009-10 record: 9-12-4, 5-9-2, Eighth place with 12 points.
Key returners: F Grant Ellena, F Michael Palmiscno, F Mike Wallgren
Key losses: F Karl Gilbert, G Stu Van Ess, F Gabriel Harren
2010-11 predicted finish: Seventh
Bottom line: The Johnnies remain a work in progress, as All-MIAC Rookie Team selection Michael Palmiscno (8-8-16) and junior Grant Ellena (8-10-18) provide offensive punch while senior captain Mike Wallgren (2-14-16) is considered one of the best two-way players in the conference. A playoff spot will be a lofty goal.

Head coach: Charlie Burgraff
2009-10 record: 10-15-0, 8-8-0, Sixth place with 16 points
Key returners: F Jack Paul, D Jon Crouse, F Christian Fogerty
Key losses: G Aaron Damjanovich, D Kyle Dynan,
2010-11 predicted finish: Eighth
Bottom line: A new coach inherits a Royals squad with all eight of last season’s top scorers, which includes freshmen sensations and All-MIAC selections Jack Paul (12-12-24) and Jon Crouse (4-17-21). With relatively untested sophomore Zach Bush (0-1-0, 4.42 GAA, .902 save-percentage) in net, Bethel may need to outgun opponents to emerge from the lower tier.

Saint Mary’s
Head coach: Bill Moore
2009-10 record: 1-23-1, 1-15-0, Ninth place with 2 points.
Key returners: F Vincent Unklesbay, F Kevin Wentland, D Ben Kitzmiller
Key losses: F Anthony Bohn, F Morgan Shepherd, D Jeff Miller    `
2010-11 predicted finish: Ninth
Bottom line: The already offensively-deficient Cardinals lost their two leading scorers, Anthony Bohn (5-12-17) and Morgan Shepherd (5-8-13). On the bright side, 15 freshmen on the roster will get a serious look.