NCHC teams all have questions, goals set to conquer in ’16-17

Mikey Eyssimont (SCSU-19) 16 March 18 St. Cloud State University  and Denver University National Collegiate Hockey Conference Tournament match-up at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Bradley K. Olson)
St. Cloud State looks to be led offensively this season by sophomore Mikey Eyssimont (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

The eight NCHC teams all have something to prove and something to gain in 2016-17.

Here is what you need to know for each school on the eve of the new season:

Colorado College

Last season

6-29-1, 4-19-1 (eighth in conference). Lost to North Dakota in the first round of the NCHC tournament.

Names to know

Sophomore goalie Jacob Nehama was a bright spot last season, winning the starting job and posting an .894 save percentage as a fresheman. Senior Luc Gerdes is the top returning scorer and had seven goals and 11 assists. Junior Teemu Kivihalme anchors the blue line.

Three questions

1. Can CC find some scoring? CC’s offense was one of the worst in the country last year, averaging only 1.97 goals per game (56th), and two of the top four scorers graduated.
2. Can the goaltending and defense improve? CC was 58th out of 60 teams in team defense last season, giving up 4.03 goals per game.
3. Do the younger players step up and contribute? The sophomore class has 13 players, and CC also has nine freshmen.

Crystal ball

The Tigers still don’t have enough experience, and will finish last in the conference again.

Denver

Last season

25-10-6, 17-5-2, (third in conference). Lost to North Dakota in the Frozen Four.

Names to know

Sophomore Dylan Gambrell is the only returning member of Denver’s potent Pacific Rim Line, and was the team’s second leading scorer last season with 47 points. Senior Will Butcher was fourth on the team in scoring last year, and is a preseason pick for the NCHC All-Conference Team. Junior Tanner Jaillet played the majority of the team’s minutes in goal down the stretch, and looks to have won the overall starting position, though he will still platoon with senior Evan Cowley.

Three questions

1. With the departures of linemates Trevor Moore and Danton Heinen, will Gambrell’s scoring dip?
2. Can Jaillet display the form he showed in the NCAA tournament and improve his goals-against average?
3. Who will step up on the fourth line with the departure of two-time captain Grant Arnold?

Crystal ball

While Heinen and Moore are gone, as is senior Quentin Shore, Denver has enough talent and depth that it should challenge North Dakota for the top spot in the NCHC.

Miami

Last season

15-18-3, 9-13-2-2 (fifth in conference). Lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCHC tournament.

Names to know

Senior forward Anthony Louis was one of two Miami players to finished tied atop the RedHawks’ points leaderboard last season. Another forward, sophomore Josh Melnick, recorded just one point fewer than Louis’ 26. Junior defenseman Louis Belpedio picked up 11 of his 17 points last season in conference play and is a preseason all-NCHC selection this time.

Three questions

1. Who will win become the RedHawks’ No. 1 goaltender? Jay Williams and Ryan McKay were both seniors last season, and sophomore Evan McCarthy will sit this season out after undergoing hip surgery. Three freshmen will battle for time between the pipes.
2. How will Miami’s large freshman class settle in? Including three goaltenders, 14 first-year players make up the majority of the RedHawks’ roster.
3. Can Miami’s offense pick up the pace? In terms of goals per game, the RedHawks finished second to last in the NCHC and tied for 43rd in the country.

Crystal ball

The RedHawks should compete for home ice in the first round of the playoffs, but Miami will finish the regular season just outside the top four places.

Minnesota-Duluth

Last season

19-16-5, 11-10-3 (fourth in conference). Lost to Boston College in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.

Names to know

Senior Willie Raskob anchors a strong and experienced defense that includes senior Carson Soucy. Senior Alex Iafallo is the top returning scorer, and he, along with fellow seniors Kyle Osterberg and Dominic Toninato, will be looked at to provide scoring punch.

Three questions

1. Which freshman goalie steps up to take over in net? With the departure of starting goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who played the majority of the team’s games (39) and the graduation of senior Matt McNeely, who played the other two, the Bulldogs have a sophomore and two freshmen fighting for the starting job.
2. Can the Bulldogs find more scoring? The team only had one player last season at over a point a game (Tony Cameranesi), and he graduated, as did senior Austin Farley, the team’s second leading scorer.
3. Can the Bulldogs find success on the power play, which only scored on 14.9 percent of its chances last year, 45th in the country.

Crystal ball

The Bulldogs will claim home ice, and battle with St. Cloud State for the third seed in the conference tournament.

North Dakota

Last season

34-6-4, 19-4-1-1 (conference regular-season champion). Defeated Quinnipiac in the national championship game.

Names to know

Sophomore forward Brock Boeser is back after a 60-point first season in Grand Forks. Junior blueliner Tucker Poolman is the Fighting Hawks’ top returning offensive defenseman, having posted five goals and 19 assists last season. Goaltender Cam Johnson is back for his junior season after leading the NCHC last time around in save percentage and tying for first in shutouts.

Three questions

1. It’s an obvious one, but what do the Fighting Hawks do for an encore? After winning UND’s eighth national championship last season and the first since 2000, might the Hawks be unveiling a ninth national title banner at the start of next season?
2. How will UND cope without its CBS line? Boeser will have to find new linemates after the departures of Nick Schmaltz and Drake Caggiula.
3. Will Johnson hold onto the No. 1 goaltending job all season? Now-senior Matt Hrynkiw played well early last season while Johnson was out with an injury, while Slovakian import Matej Tomek will battle for playing time after getting none last season as a freshman.

Crystal ball

North Dakota will win the Penrose Cup again as regular-season champions and will staunchly defend its national title.

Omaha

Last season

18-17-1, 8-15-1 (sixth in conference). Lost to Denver in the first round of the NCHC tournament.

Names to know

Senior forward Austin Ortega is back for one last season with the Mavericks after posting a team-best 21 goals in his junior campaign. Junior Luc Snuggerud and senior Ian Brady will try to keep Omaha steady at the back, while goaltender Evan Weninger looks to follow up on a promising freshman season.

Three questions

1. Will Omaha use its downward spiral late last season as motivation? The Mavericks lost each of their last eight games, including two playoff games at Denver.
2. Will Ortega’s reputation as a clutch goal-scorer continue? Nobody in men’s Division I hockey scored as many game-winners as Ortega did last season with his eight.
3. Who will pick up the slack for Jake Guentzel, the Mavericks’ leading point-scorer last season who has not returned for his senior season? Senior forward Justin Parizek, who posted 28 points last season, could form a formidable partnership with Ortega.

Crystal ball

The Mavericks will be exciting to watch this season but will just miss clinching home ice in the first round of the conference tournament.

St. Cloud State

Last season

31-9-1, 17-6-1, (second in conference). Lost to Ferris State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Names to know

Sophomore Mikey Eyssimont is the top returning scorer from last season. The Poehling brothers, Ryan, Jack, and Nick, all join the Huskies as freshmen; Ryan accelerated his senior year of high school to join his brothers after a standout career at Lakeville North high school where he scored 62 points in 28 games last season. Sophomore defenseman Jimmy Schuldt is one of the team’s three captains, and had 26 points from the blue line.

Three questions

1. Where does the scoring from? St. Cloud had a potent offense last year, second in the country, that was anchored by five seniors. The one underclassman among the top scorers, Patrick Russell, left for the pros.
2. Who starts in net? Like Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud’s starting goalie, Charlie Lindgren, left early for the pros, and the other goalie to see time, Rasmus Reijola, graduated.
3. Does the early schedule, with three of four weekends against in-state rivals, and the first three games on the road, help or hurt? Back-to-back weekends against Minnesota State and Minnesota, followed by Alabama-Huntsville and then conference foe Minnesota-Duluth, could be tough on a young team.

Crystal ball

Like the coaches, we see the Huskies finishing fourth.

Western Michigan

Last season

8-25-3, 5-18-1-1 (seventh in conference). Lost to St. Cloud State in the first round of the NCHC tournament.

Names to know

Sophomore forward Griffen Molino is back after leading the Broncos in scoring as a freshman, while Sheldon Dries will look to improve upon his 18-point output as a junior. Defenseman Chris Dienes will be expected to provide senior leadership at the blue line.

Three questions

1. Who takes over for the graduated Lukas Hafner as the Broncos’ No. 1 goaltender? Collin Olson is back for his senior season, but missed most of the 2015-16 campaign after undergoing hip surgery. Trevor Gorsuch saw some playing time as a freshman when both Hafner and Olson were out injured.
2. How greatly will Western’s seniors contribute? None of the Broncos’ eight current seniors reached the 20-point plateau last season.
3. How much improved will the Broncos’ defensive corps be? WMU finished fifth-bottom in the country in team defense last season and gave up a conference-worst 4.29 goals per game in NCHC play.

Crystal ball

The Broncos will be largely young, just as they were last season, but will again escape the NCHC basement.

15 COMMENTS

  1. WMU is an interesting team. They had 3 things hurt them last year: 1. Very avg goal tending. 2. Few goal scorers/snipers. 3. Horrific PK.
    If WMU can get decent GT’ing and find some scoring, they might surprise a few teams. They are big, strong, fast, and have an excellent coach. They create problems for teams, they just need to score a few more goals and get some improved tending. We’ll see, but this team might be better than many people might think.

    • That’s the beauty of the offseason. Average scorers can become superstars, guys hit their stride, hot goalies cool off, and vice versa, the “unknown quantity” that is any incoming freshman, coaching adjustments, etc…

      Plus hockey always finds a way to defy people’s predictions in one way or another. I love the smell of hockey season in the morning… Smells like victory

  2. WMU is an interesting team. They had 3 things hurt them last year: 1. Very avg goal tending. 2. Few goal scorers/snipers. 3. Horrific PK.
    If WMU can get decent GT’ing and find some scoring, they might surprise a few teams. They are big, strong, fast, and have an excellent coach. They create problems for teams, they just need to score a few more goals and get some improved tending. We’ll see, but this team might be better than many people might think.

    • That’s the beauty of the offseason. Average scorers can become superstars, guys hit their stride, hot goalies cool off, and vice versa, the “unknown quantity” that is any incoming freshman, coaching adjustments, etc…

      Plus hockey always finds a way to defy people’s predictions in one way or another. I love the smell of hockey season in the morning… Smells like victory

  3. WMU is an interesting team. They had 3 things hurt them last year: 1. Very avg goal tending. 2. Few goal scorers/snipers. 3. Horrific PK.
    If WMU can get decent GT’ing and find some scoring, they might surprise a few teams. They are big, strong, fast, and have an excellent coach. They create problems for teams, they just need to score a few more goals and get some improved tending. We’ll see, but this team might be better than many people might think.

    • That’s the beauty of the offseason. Average scorers can become superstars, guys hit their stride, hot goalies cool off, and vice versa, the “unknown quantity” that is any incoming freshman, coaching adjustments, etc…

      Plus hockey always finds a way to defy people’s predictions in one way or another. I love the smell of hockey season in the morning… Smells like victory

  4. North Dakota will win the Penrose Cup again as regular-season champions and will staunchly defend its national title.

    Wow, staunchly. Interesting. It doesn’t hurt that ND is the host for the West Regional in Fargo, ND.

  5. North Dakota will win the Penrose Cup again as regular-season champions and will staunchly defend its national title.

    Wow, staunchly. Interesting. It doesn’t hurt that ND is the host for the West Regional in Fargo, ND.

  6. North Dakota will win the Penrose Cup again as regular-season champions and will staunchly defend its national title.

    Wow, staunchly. Interesting. It doesn’t hurt that ND is the host for the West Regional in Fargo, ND.

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