Expect St. Norbert to reign once more in the NCHA

Such is St. Norbert College’s successful history and perennial depth that the loss of three of its top scorers merely brings a shrug of the shoulders and a reflex check of the pencil at the Green Knights name to repeat as Northern Collegiate Hockey Association champs.

They are that good: 11 NCHA titles in 14 years, eight Peters Cups in 13 seasons, 11 NCAA tournament appearances in 13 years, six of those in the Frozen Four…you get the picture.

The looming question is how the sting of last season’s 4-3 double overtime loss to Norwich in the NCAA Division III championship game carries over.

The psychic fallout can be crippling. Just ask the NHL Detroit Red Wings, who lost the 1966 Stanley Cup to the Montreal Canadiens on a disputed goal (Henri Richard slid into the net with the puck on his nose, according to legend) in overtime of Game 6.

The then-moribund Wings didn’t see another finals for 29 years.

Five-time NCHA Coach of the Year Tim Coghlin (.365-104-39 in 17 years) possesses the acumen to prevent a similar fate.

Another storyline this season will be the battle for second, as Dairy State rivals UW-River Falls and UW-Stevens Point have  respective strong suits.

The Falcons feature the dynamic junior scoring duo of Josh Calleja (eight goals, 29 assists for 37 points) and Justin Brossman, (2009-10 All-Conference, 10 goals, 24 assists for 34 points). Meanwhile, the Pointers pose a more balanced attack with all five of its top scorers returning, Luke Nesper (9-13-22), Garrett Suter (6-16-22), Jon Madden, (13-8-21), Johnny Meo (8-13-21), and Harrison Niemanm (9-9-18).

The rest of the pack will be a contest to see which team best copes with substantial losses due to graduation.

UW-Superior leads the welcome wagon, bringing 15 freshmen into the fold, while UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout each welcome 10 underclassmen. Within those crops, a cloud burst of talent is likely to emerge .

Click the team name for a detailed preview.

St. Norbert College
Head coach: Tim Coghlin
2009-10 record: 24-4-3, 14-2-2 First place with 30 points
Key returners: F Johan Ryd, D Nick Tabisz,  G B.J. O’Brien
Key losses: F Tyler Allen, F Shane Wheeler, F Matt Boyd
2010-11 predicted finish: First
Bottom line: Despite losing a chunk of offense — namely Tyler Allen (15-16-31), Shane Wheeler (13-18-31) and Matt Boyd (9-20-29) — the Green Knights have the might and veteran savvy to repeat as NCHA champs and delve deep into the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Wisconsin-River Falls
Head coach: Steve Freeman
2009-10 record: 18-9-2, 9-7-2, Third place with 20 points
Key returners: F Josh Calleja, F Justin Brossman, G Bo Storozuk
Key losses: F Tyler Czuba, D Bill Pinel, G Bo Storozuk
2010-11 predicted finish: Second
Bottom line: Juniors Josh Calleja (8-29-37) and Justin Brossman (10-24-34) provide a one-two offensive punch, but the loss of five defensemen and goaltender Bo Storozuk (career 16-13-2, 3.22 GAA, .902 save-percentage) will make a second-place finish a laudable goal.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Head coach: Wil Nichol
2009-10 record: 12-15-1, 6-12-0, Fifth place with 16 points
Key returners: F Luke Nesper, D Garrett Suter, F Jon Madden,
Key losses: F Reed Lally,  D Tom Upton, F Kyle Greco
2010-11 predicted finish: Third
Bottom line: With all top-five scorers returning and a seasoned blue line corps, the Pointers are poised to vault into the NCHA’s upper tier this term. The goalie rotation with incumbent sophomore Nick Graves (9-7-1, 2.93 GAA, .906 save-percentage) and freshman Randy Wolcott will be interesting.

St. Scholastica
Head coach: Mark Wick
2009-10 record: 17-4-4, 11-3-4, Second place with 26 points
Key returners: F Jeremy Dawes, D Austin Brown, F Tyler Miller
Key losses: F Jordan Chong, D Jordan Baird, F Aaron Spotts, G Zach Kleiman
2010-11 predicted finish: Fourth
Bottom line: Substantial losses offensively — Jordan Chong (17-20-37), Jordan Baird (8-16-24) and Aaron Spotts (10-13-23) — and on the blue line sees the Saints’ stock slip this season. Junior goalie Brennan Poderzay (6-3-1, 2.37 GAA, .909 save-percentage) moves from capable deputy to trusted starter.

Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Head coach: Matt Loen
2009-10 record: 8-13-4, 4-10-4, Sixth place with 12 points
Key returners: F Isaiah Bennis, F Jordan Singer, G Brandon Stephenson
Key losses: F Joe Bluhm, F Brant Marple, D Nicholas Kuqali
2010-11 predicted finish: Fifth
Bottom line: Despite the loss of top two scorers, the Blugolds should get a jolt from an infusion of 10 freshmen. The team is solid on defense and in net with sophomore Brandon Stephenson.

Head coach: Dan Stauber
2009-10 record: 9-11-5, 3-11-4, Seventh place with 12 points
Key returners: F Talon Berlando, F Logan Isley, D Jesse Junkermeier
Key losses: F Chris Wilson, D Brian Bina, F Braden Desmet
2010-11 predicted finish: Sixth
Bottom line: The Yellowjackets have 15 freshmen vying to fill holes upfront and on the blue line, including the void left by last season’s leading scorer Chris Wilson (13-20-33). With All-Conference Honorable Mention forward Talon Berlando (12-9-21) back, the team will not be without offensive spark.

Head coach: Terry Watkins
2009-10 record: 9-12-4, 6-8-4, Fourth place with 16 points
Key returners: D Dave Larson, F Matt Morin, D Bobby Kuehl
Key losses: F Joel Gaulrapp,  F Scott Motz,  D Dave Larson
2010-11 predicted finish: Seventh
Bottom line: With their top-four scorers gone, including NCHA Player of the Year Joel Gaulrapp (10-15-25), the Blue Devils have to redefine themselves with a batch of 10 freshmen and two sophomore transfers from American International, Charles Lachance and Jason Cohen. The return of defenseman Bobby Kuehl (2-5-7 in 31 games in 2008-09) and Matt Morin (2008-09 USCHO West All Rookie Team: 10-17-27), who missed last season due to injuries, should steady things.