NCHA Preview: Bulldogs, Sabres among teams to watch this season

Adrian is ready to contend for another NCHA crown. (Photo provided by Adrian Athletics)

The NCHA is going to look a little different this season. For starters, St. Norbert won’t be in the league as it opted out of the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for every other team, hockey is on and Adrian and Marian are the frontrunners to be league champions. Lake Forest is poised for a solid season as well and could very well emerge as the best team in the league. Don’t sleep on Trine either as the Thunder bring back its top two scoring threats from last season.

A league playoff is planned at the end of the regular season, but plans for that will be announced at a later date.

Adrian

Head Coach: Adam Krug

2019-20 Record: 21-5-3 overall; 15-3-2 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Andrew Bellant (17 goals, 21 assists); Sam Ruffin (10 goals, 27 assists); Alessio Luciani (10 goals, 22 assists); Brandon Marinelli (4 goals, 9 assists); Rex Moe ( 13 goals, 6 assists); Matt Eller (1 goal, 8 assists); Cameron Gray (18-4-1, .903 save percentage)

Noteworthy: Bellant is the team’s top returning scorer after recording nearly 40 points. Ruffin ranked second in the NCHA in assists while Rex Moe is coming off a year where he was named the Harris Cup MVP. All six key returning players set career highs in points. Connor May is among the newcomers and already has six points in his collegiate career after the Bulldogs played a handful of games in the fall. Adrian has a 15-game winning streak going against Division III competition. 

Aurora

Head Coach: Jason Bloomingburg

2019-20 Record: 12-9-6 overall; 8-6-6 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Riley Doyon (13 goals, 12 assists); Adam Keyes (11 goals, 23 assists); Larry Jungwirth (9 goals, 13 assists); Brayden Sampson (6 goals, 15 assists); Lordanthony Grissom (1 goal, 8 assists); Josh Boyko (11-8-4, 2.25 goals against average)

Noteworthy: Boyko led the league in saves a year ago with 755. Doyon led the Spartans in goals scored. Keyes was the team leader in points. The Spartans are coming off their first winning season under the direction of Bloomingburg.

Concordia

Head Coach: Bill Horton

2019-20 Record: 12-11-2 overall; 8-10-2 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Nick (14 goals, 10 assists); Cole Pickup (7 goals, 8 assists); Nick Guiney (11 goals, 8 assists) Guerra Bo Didur (11-9-2, 723 saves)

Noteworthy: Horton is in his first year as the head coach of the Falcons. Concordia returns five of its top six scoring threats from last season. Concordia has enjoyed a winning season three times in the last four years.

Finlandia

Head Coach: Joe Burcar

2019-20 Record: 5-18-2 overall; 3-15-2 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Tyler Watungwa (7 goals, 7 assists); Cale Markham (6 goals, 8 assists); Dylan Paavola (4 goals, 5 assists); Tyler Vanuden (3 goals, 4 assists); Ben Kelsch (162 saves); Marcus Gloss (509 saves)

Noteworthy: The Lions return their top two goalies from a season ago. Gloss started 16 games and won three games. Watungwa finished second on the team in scoring a year ago and is the top returning goal scorer. Markham led the Lions in assists.

Lake Forest

Head Coach: Patrick Kelliher

2019-20 Record: 18-6-3 overall; 14-4-2 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Josh Giacomin (15 goals, 16 assists); Aaron O’Neill (12 goals, 18 assists); Mark DerManulian (4 goals, 22 assists); Joey Sardina (6 goals, 15 assists); Will Lebel (10 goals, 7 assists); David Cohen (9 goals, 7 assists); Drew Shields (6 goals, 10 assists); Kyle Cote (6 goals, 7 assists); Kyler Magus (5 goals, 8 assists)

Noteworthy: The Foresters earned a spot in the NCAA Division III tournament last season but were unable to play because the pandemic shut down the season. Their 18 wins a year ago were the most since 1991. They were just two points shy of winning a regular-season league title last season. Giacomin led the Foresters in goals and points last season.

Lawrence

Head Coach: Mike Szkodzinski

2019-20 Record: 6-19-2 overall; 5-13-2 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Vincent Kekumbis (5 goals, 14 assists); Ivan Galaguzov (5 goals, 7 assists); Zach Lodes (6 goals, 1 assist) Cutis Wyerhaeuser (1 goal, 8 assists); Matt Meininger (4 goals, 2 assists); Brian Tallieu (4.50 goals against average); Alex Mosquera (3.26 goals against average).

Noteworthy: Lawrence returns 25 players from a season ago. Lodes is the top returning goal scorer. Dekumbis led the team in points last season. Hugh Anderson, Kyle Gierman and Oliver DeCroock all could make an immediate impact as key newcomers. 

Marian

Head Coach: Zach Gaynor

2019-20 Record: 18-9-1 overall; 11-7-2 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Gianni Vitali (16 goals, 18 assists); Ty Enns (11 goals, 13 assists); Salvatore Scalise (3 goals, 8 assists); Troy Ring (3 goals, 12 assists)

Noteworthy: The Sabres won the NCHA North Division for the first time since the league moved to a divisional format in 2015-16. The Sabres have the third-highest winning percentage in a three-year span in program history, winning 52 games in that period. Vitali tied for third in the league in points and goals. Enns was an all-freshman team selection and ranked 16th in the country among freshmen last season.  Ring is the first non-senior to be named captain since the 2011-12 season.

Milwaukee School of Engineering

Head Coach: Graham Johnson

2019-20 Record: 9-10-6 overall; 4-10-6 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Jack Nikels (2 goals, 8 assists); CJ Cline David Marabella (2 goals, 5 assists); Christian Sabin (3 goals, 12 assists); Garrett Gintoli (6 goals, 13 assists); Jeff Makowski (9 goals, 7 assists); Kyle Herbster (5 goals, 8 assists); Stian Owens (4 goals, 5 assists); Matt Hanewall (13 goals, 7 assists); Nate Rogers (3 goals, 3 assists); Nigel Nelson (4 goals, 4 assists); Rock Boynton (3.86 goals against average, 135 saves)

Noteworthy: The Raiders are seeking their first winning season since the 2016-17 campaign. Hanewall led MSOE in goals last season. Hanewall was also named to the all-rookie team in the league. Makowski ranked second in goals scored.

Saint Scholastica

Head Coach: Kevin Moore

2019-20 Record: 9-17-1 overall; 5-14-1

Key Returning Players: Carson Rose (12 goals, 6 assists); Nate Pionk (5 goals, 10 assists); Jordan Fralich (5 goals, 9 assists); Tyler Hinterser (6 goals, 5 assists)

Noteworthy: Kevin Moore is the Saints’ third head coach in the last four years. He spent last season as an assistant coach at Adrian. Saint Scholastica returns its top four scorers from last season. Rose led the team in goals. Pionk was the team leader in assists.

Trine

Head Coach: Alex Todd

2019-20 Record: 13-12-3 overall; 10-7-3 NCHA

Key Returning Players: Garrett Hallford (10 goals, 16 assists); Brendan Prappas (10 goals and 16 assists); TJ Delaney (7 goals); Brad Jenion (7 goals, 1 assist); Justin Meers (6 goals, 12 assists); Corey Robertson (6 goals, 10 assists)

Noteworthy: Trine returns its top two scoring threats from a season ago. Hallford and Prappas finished among the top 20 in points in the NCHA. Jenion was a NCHA All-Freshman team pick last season. Aaron Brickman is the lone returning player at goaltender. Brickman played in three games last season and made 69 saves.

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