NCHA Preview: Green Knights take aim at another title

Dominick Sacco scores the game-winning goal against Augsburg in the NCAA tournament (photo: St. Norbert athletics).

The NCHA features two of the best teams in the nation in St. Norbert and Adrian, but the league as a whole is always competitive from top to bottom, and anything can happen on any given weekend.

Last Year’s Champion: St. Norbert won the NCHA championship for the 15th time in program history with a 4-1 win over Adrian.

The Contenders: Adrian can never be ruled out as a contender for the championship because of its tradition of success. Marian could very well be in that mix as well after reaching the semifinals of the conference tournament the last four seasons.

Dark Horse: Saint Scholastica started off as hot as anyone last season, winning eight of its first 10 games. The Saints have a cast of talented returning players back and could make a run at the title.

Players to Watch:

Three of the top five scorers are back for St. Norbert. Peter Bates leads the way. He scored 11 goals and dished out 20 assists last season. Dominick Sacco and Peter Frantti are also coming off big years. Sacco tallied 12 goals and 18 assists and Frantti scored 14 goals and dished out 13 assists during a stellar rookie season. Kurt Black and Tim Niksic also finished with 10 or more goals last season. Black scored 13 goals to along with 11 assists and Nicksic tallied 10 goals and 13 assists. Brendon Gysbers led the team in assists with 23 assists.

Adrian lost a lot of its firepower from last season but always seems to be one of those teams that reloads. Dino Balsamo is poised to lead the way for the Bulldogs. He is coming off a year where he scored 13 goals and dished out 16 assists. He the top returnee in terms of points. Bryce Van Horn is also back. He tallied eight goals and four assists a year ago.Brandon Marinelli stepped up in a big way as a freshman and looks to build on that success. He came through with three goals and nine assists last year.

Marian is poised for another great season with the return of Hunter Vorva, an All-American goalie who won 13 games last season and fashioned a 1.84 GAA. Top scoring threat Coner Blanck returns to lead the offense after scoring six goals and dishing out 14 assists. Clay Cross is also back. He punched in seven goals and tallied nine assists. He scored three game-winning goals last season.

Saint Scholastica is loaded with talent this season. Jordan Fralich is coming off a year where he dished out 21 assists to go along with his three goals. Carson Rose came through with 12 goals and nine assists. Nate Pionk is a team captain and tallied seven goals and 14 assists a season ago. Sam Fuss earned a spot on all-freshman team last year, scoring four goals and tallying 12 assists.Nick Trenciansky is back in goal after winning 10 games a season ago.

Concordia returns its top three scoring threats from a year ago. Nick Guerrera is among the returnees, scoring 14 goals last season. He dished out seven assists. Nick Guiney tallied seven goals and 18 assists. Dantie Hahn came through with 15 assists and scored two goals as well.Bo Didur started 19 games in goal and made 619 saves.

The Milwaukee School of Engineering will be led by top returning goal scorer Garrett Gintoli, who came through with 10 goals and seven assists. Jeff Makowski dished out 11 assists to go along with his seven goals. Evan Kearns is coming off a solid year as well and should provide leadership as a senior. He tallied six goals and six assists last season. The Raiders also have Rock Boynton in goal. He fashioned a 10-10-3 record last season.

Marcus Gloss was a two-time defensive player of the week in the league last season and leads the way for Findlandia. He tallied 648 saves, the third-most in school history. Connor Hannon tallied six goals and nine assists while Cale Markham led the team in goals with 10.

Trine should take another step forward this season with the return of Garrett Hallford, who scored 12 goals and 12 assists. He was the co-freshman of the year last season. Blake Robertson also returns for the Thunder. He came through with 11 goals and 15 assists and is a solid two-way defenisve player.

Lawrence returns 23 letterwinners and has a total of 34 players on its roster, the most in school history. Evan Cline returns in goal after fashioning a .909 save percentage last season. Jake Drinkard will be a key player offensively after tallying nine goals and eight assists. Vincent Dekumbis came through with seven goals and eight assists, leading the team in power play goals with four. Daniel Gysi is the top scoring defenseman back for the Vikings, tallying two goals and nine assists a year ago.

Lake Forest brings back two of its best scorers in Joe Sardina and Aaron O’Neill. Sardina tallied goals and 10 assists while O’Neill punched in 12 goals to go along with six assists. Josh Giacomin is coming off a year where he made the all-freshman team in the league, scoring nine goals and tallying five assists. Connor Duncan is the team captain of the Foresters and tallied two goals and nine assists last season. Mark DerManulian has come through with five goals and 11 assists. 

Drew Doyon and Jacob Holmers are the top returning goal scorers for Aurora. Both scored nine goals apiece for the Spartans. Doyon dished out 11 assists as well. Roberts Baranovskis tallied six goals and 15 assists and Larry Jungwirth came through with five goals and 16 assists.Anthony Tzveyn is another key playmaker for the Spartans, tallying 13 assists last season to go along with five goals. 


St. Norbert has played in the NCAA tournament 19 times in the last 23 seasons. The Green Knights reached the quarterfinal round last season where they fell to eventual national champion Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Luke Davison is back after earning All-American honors last season.

Adrian has won four consecutive South Division crowns. The Bulldogs had their streak of NCAA tournament appearances end at six. Adrian scored 103 goals as a team last season.

Marian is entering its 25th season of hockey. The Sabres are 385-253-38 all-time in program history. They won 14 games last season.

Lake Forest has 11 newcomers competing for starting positions. The Foresters are seeking their fourth consecutive winning season. They have won 12 or more games the last three seasons.

Lawrence has 10 first-year players on its roster who hail from two different countries and six different states, including two players from Russia and one from Canada, 

MSOE won four of its final six games to close out the year, reaching the NCHA tournament where it lost to Adrian. The Raiders lost six games away from home last year.

Trine goalie Brett young has started all but two of the Thunder’s games in the history of the program.He has nearly 1,200 saves (1,190) in his career.

Finlandia won eight games last season, which is more wins than the program had between 2015 and 2018. Eight of the Lions’ losses came by two goals or less and they reached the NCHA tournament for the first time since 2012.

Saint Scholastica is coming off a year where it missed the postseason for the first time since 1997. The Saints should contend this year, however, as eight of its nine top scorers are back.

Aurora has an experienced team this season, welcoming back its top 12 forwards and five of its best defensemen, as well as its top goaltender. The Spartans won 12 games last season, a seven-game improvement in the win column from the previous season.