Ah, it is early October! The leaves are turning orange, red, and yellow. The temperatures are in the 50's and 60's. And the ice is ready for action! Yep, it's that time of the year. Hockey has returned. And while the NHL continues to shortchange their loyal fans (again), the NCAA has no lock-out. In fact, they have already started their season and are ready to go strong.
Last season, we saw all 3 MAC schools make the CCHA Championship weekend with Western Michigan winning their first title since 1986, and Bowling Green forcing Michigan into double over-time as the 11-seed in the tournament. Well this year, our three..............what? We have another school? UMASS!?!?! Oh geez.
That's right folks, Massachusetts sponsors hockey in the Hockey East conference. What tie do they possibly have to the CCHA and our 3 schools? Well when the CCHA splits up after this season, one of the eleven schools (Notre Dame) will be heading to Hockey East. So I guess we can fit them in.
Anyways, our FOUR schools now head into the season with high aspirations for the upcoming season. Let's take a look at each team's projected year:
Bowling Green Falcons
Last year, BGSU finished dead last in the CCHA, but as noted above, stunned 6-seed Northern Michigan (again) and CCHA Regular Season Champions Ferris State in the first two rounds of the CCHA tournament to make it to Detroit with WMU and Miami. Driving them there was the hot hand of Dan DeSalvo, who scored an astonishing 10 goals in the first 6 games of the tournament, and Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond, who was a brick wall between the pipes for BG.
The Falcons will be a young squad this year, relying mostly on sophomores and juniors in Chris Bergeron's 3rd season. In fact, outside of Hammond, there are just 3 seniors on this team. Look for junior Cam Wojtala and sophomore Ryan Carpenter to help lead this team this season as they attempt to finally get over the hump and get out of the CCHA cellar before heading to the WCHA next season.
Prediction: I feel like a mid-level season is in the future for the Falcons, with the potential to host a first-round series. Outside of that? Nothing really. They tied a middle-of-the-pack Niagara team Saturday 2-2, and that about hits right on the money for my prediction. No NCAA berth, No Miracle Run, just a decent season.
Oh boy, do I have some research to do. The new guys in our conference play in a different conference, and have been fairly off-the-radar the past couple seasons. Last season, the Minutemen snuck into the Hockey East tournament (they are the only conference to not allow all members a chance at do-or-die hockey by eliminating the two worst teams off the bat) just ahead of Northeastern, only to get swept in a pair of 1-goal games by eventual NCAA Champion Boston College. As a matter of fact, UMass hasn't been to the Hockey East semi-finals since 2007 (their only NCAA appearance), and has only been in the championship game once (2004).
John Micheletto will lead UMass this year in his first season as head coach, and will rely heavily on his juniors. For a better comprehension of the Minutemen, read this article, as I cannot possibly give you good enough coverage. However, history is not on they Minutemen's side, and that doesn't bode well.
Prediction: I know very little about Hockey East. I do know that Boston U, Boston College, and Maine are dominant figures in the college hockey world. UMass-Lowell and Merrimack have came on lately, and those five contend for NCAA spots this year. UMass doesn't, but I think they finish either 7th or 8th and play in the Hockey East tournament yet again, getting bounced in the 1st round, yet again.
Last year, the RedHawks came on strong to snatch a 4-seed in the CCHA tournament (finishing 3rd), and a 2-seed in their regional in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, they were bounced in their first game against the aforementioned UMass-Lowell River Hawks in overtime. Miami loses a ton of talent as well. Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp are both gone after 4 years of sharing netminding duties. Reilly Smith and Tyler Biggs both left for the pros as well. However, Austin Czarnik leads a young, yet talented group of players into the 2012-13 campaign.
Miami is the toughest squad to gauge. They are comprised of mostly sophomores and freshmen, but coach Enrico Blasi always recruits well, and gets the most out of his players. However, their defense was bad last season, and they lose players from that defense, which could exasperate things. They lose both decorated goalies, and will hope to contend with Michigan as teams that are replacing great goaltenders.
Prediction: Miami will always play great, and should be back in the upper-half of the CCHA this season. However, they could very well be in a 1st round match-up, or be on the road as the 5-seed with a bye. On top of that, the NCAAs may be tough to get into as well.
Western Michigan Broncos
The surprise team from two seasons ago continued their magical run last season by winning the CCHA Championship. Unfortunately, they lost their first round match-up against 4th national seed North Dakota, making their NCAA record in 5 appearances 0-6 (they lost a consolation game in 1986 as well as their opener). Gone are seniors Derek Roehl, Greg Squires, and team captain Ian Slater. Also gone is defender Matt Tennyson. However, Dan DeKeyser turned down the pro offers, and returns for the Broncos who have one of the toughest defenses in the NCAA.
The offense struggled at times last season for the Broncos. Chase Balisy, Dane Walters, and Shane Berschbach look to lead the offense again and get more goals on the board to help the defense out. Freshman Kenney Morrison will step in Tennyson's place, and looked good in the exhibition against Western Ontario. Mike Cichy and Ben Warda will also join, having sat out due to transfer and injury respectively last season. And we can't forget about superb net-minder Frank "The Big" Slubowski.
Prediction: If the defense plays as well as advertised, and Slubowski doesn't regress, there is no reason to think the Broncos can't finally get over the NCAA hump and win a game or two this season. As for the conference, they have to hope their scoring improves on their consistency. If that happens, they could contend for both the regular season and tournament championship. I think they only get one of those, but they do get that win in the NCAA tournament. Anything else is topping on the cake.
So what do you think? Will these teams do better or worse than I predict?