By Ryan Stieg, AllPuck.com
The 2014 college hockey season was interesting, to say the least.
The Big Ten Conference began play, which led some teams to willingly leave an old conference or grudgingly move to a new one. The teams in the NCHC couldn’t wait to get out, while the remaining CCHA teams were forced to say goodbye.
The preseason rankings were a little off. Miami University began as the number-two team in the country and the consensus pick to win the NCHC. They finished last in the conference and missed the NCAA tournament. Michigan was also predicted to make the tourney again, then finished a distant third in the Big Ten. After a 22-year run, the Wolverines have missed the tournament the last two seasons. Things have been a little rough lately in Ann Arbor; at least the hockey team is doing better than the football team.
Finally, there were some surprises in the national tournament.
Wisconsin was expected to contend for the title, only to be bounced in the first round by North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux barely made the tourney and ended up making the Frozen Four after dispatching Ferris State in double overtime. Notre Dame was also supposed to make some noise, but it lost to NCHC champ St. Cloud State. The Huskies were then crushed by national runner-up Minnesota in the West Regional final.
The 16th-seeded Robert Morris Colonials ended up being the most impressive team in St. Paul that weekend and they ended up losing in the first round. When Union stomped the Golden Gophers in the national title game — which caused some Gopher fans to stupidly riot in Minneapolis — analysts weren’t necessarily surprised. They were justifiably impressed that a team without any scholarship players and only one NHL draft pick (MVP Shayne Gostisbehere) managed to take down two powerhouse programs (Boston College was the other) on its way to the title.
This year will probably not be as wild. No teams are shifting around, but an absence of chaos shouldn’t be mistaken for an absence of intrigue. Some teams stand out on paper but some upstarts, as always, will position themselves to make a run at the Frozen Four.
So here are my predictions for the 2014-15 season. I fared pretty well last year andI’m confident that I’ll be accurate again.
Stocked with famous athletic programs, there are rumblings that the conference hopes to expand in the near future (Indiana, Illinois and Iowa are possibilities, though none have said they’re looking to add a men’s hockey program). The conference is also surprisingly predictable; the first three teams are well above the bottom three. I see the conference playing out like this.
*1. Minnesota: After coming up one game short of their sixth national championship, the Gophers are primed for another big run. A stacked roster earned Minnesota the preseason number-1 national ranking. They have one of the best goalies in the land in Adam Wilcox (2013-14 conference player of the year) along with a strong senior class led by Kyle Rau and Sam Warning (40 and 34 points last season, respectively). Junior Mike Reilly was also an All-American. The Gophers should easily make the tournament and will probably make the Frozen Four in Boston.
*2. Michigan: The Wolverines may have missed out on the last two tourneys, but they should squeak in this year. Michigan has talented forwards in J.T. Compher and Andrew Copp (60 combined points last season) and a balanced offensive attack. Their goalies are young (Zach Nagelvoort and Steve Racine), but both put up solid seasons. The Maize and Blue are far from national title contenders, but they’re at least back on the right track.
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Penn State
NCHC (National Collegiate Hockey Conference)
The other big-time programs in the Midwest decided to make their own conference when the Big Ten teams left. Like the Big Ten, the NCHC is hoping to expand in the future. That’s a long ways off, though. Right now, it looks like the NCHC will be the premier conference — it definitely has some teams on the rise.
*1. North Dakota: The Fighting Sioux are always good and have made the national tournament 11 years in a row, the longest streak in the country. The UND faithful are starting to get impatient. Their squad hasn’t brought a title back to Grand Forks since 2000, but this could be the year that the Sioux get it done. They have a veteran team led by goalie Zane McIntyre, along with seniors Michael Parks (30 points), Mark MacMillan, Connor Gaarder and Nick Mattson. UND will win the NCHC and you’ll see them sitting alongside the rival Gophers in Boston.
*2. Miami: The Redhawks fell well below expectations in 2013-14 and I doubt that will happen again. Forwards Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber are at the top (both had more than 40 points in 2013-14) and they have a decent supporting cast in Sean Kuraly, Blake Coleman and Anthony Louis. Goalie Ryan McKay had a rough sophomore year, but he has shown signs of brilliance. I see Miami making one of the Regional finals and potentially the Frozen Four if its defense continues to improve.
*3. St. Cloud State: I went back and forth on whether or not the Huskies make it back to the NCAAs, but ultimately they have just enough weapons to get there. Jonny Brodzinski is the leader after a 41-point season. Fellow 40-point scorer Kalle Kossila is close behind in production, along with senior David Morley. St. Cloud State has a very good goalie in Ryan Faragher, so they should get a bid for the tournament. However, I don’t see them making it past the first round.
- Western Michigan
- Colorado College
Hockey East has traditionally been led by three schools: Boston College, Boston University and Maine. Things are changing, though. The Eagles remain strong, but the Terriers and Black Bears have fallen on hard times. Other teams have taken advantage of this opening and are turning into strong programs; one squad looks like it could host the trophy in Boston.
*1. Providence: The Friars put on a show last season, taking down 2013 runner-up Quinnipiac and falling by only one goal to eventual champion Union. Ross Mauermann is the star as he scored 36 points, but he will be joined by 20-point scorers Nick Marisono, Mark Jankowski and Noel Acciari. Goalie Jon Gillies is a great asset for Providence and his netminding skills will help bring the Friars to Boston.
*2. Boston College: Once again, the Eagles are looking strong and Jerry York’s crew will get back to the NCAAs. BC will have a hard time replacing Hobey Baker winner and 80-point scorer Johnny Gaudreau as well as 60- and 50-point men Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold. However, defenseman Michael Matheson is a good leader and the Eagles still have sophomore scorers Austin Cangelosi and Ryan Fitzgerald. Goalie Thatcher Demko had a good 2013-14 season and should be strong again. The Eagles can turn some heads, but I don’t see them making it to Boston.
*3. Notre Dame: If there is one team that can’t help but overachieve or underachieve, it’s the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame either surprisingly makes the Frozen Four, or gets bounced in the first round despite greater expectations. This year, the Irish should finish just where they are supposed to. Yes, they lost T.J. Tynan and Bryan Rust, but they still have 30-point men Vince Hinostroza and Mario Lucia (son of the Don). Sam Herr is also a good contributor on offense. The net is the Irish’s weakness. Notre Dame lost Stephen Summerhays, so they don’t have a ton of experience. I think the Irish will do just enough to make the NCAAs. That’ll be it.
*4. Northeastern: After years of climbing the ladder, the Huskies might have some staying power at the top. They made the NCAAs in 2009 after a 13-year drought and will make it back this year. Northeastern is led by Kevin Roy (46 points last season) and Mike Szmatula (39). Like Notre Dame, the Huskies are inexperienced in net and that will be their downfall. They’ll earn a bid, but they’ll get bounced quickly.
- New Hampshire
- Boston University
*1. Minnesota State: Mankato has seen its hockey team reach the NCAAs in back-to-back seasons. The Mavericks were dismissed in the first round both times, but this is the year MSU takes the next step. They have two preseason all-WCHA players in seniors Matt Leitner (also preseason POTY) and Jean-Paul LaFontaine, both of whom had 40 points or more last year. Zach Palmquist is a talented defenseman (19 assists, 23 points in 2013-14) and the Mavericks have a reliable goalie in Cole Huggins (1.88 GAA). I think MSU will make the Regional final, but they will lose in a close one.
*2. Ferris State: The Bulldogs are currently on the best run in team history. They made the national championship game in 2012 and just missed the Frozen Four last year. Ferris State used a balanced attack to get the postseason and will have to do it again. Justin Buzzeo stands out the most after a 32-point season, but Kyle Schempp and Jason Binkley will also be key contributors. The biggest star is goalie C.J. Motte (preseason all-WCHA team and POTY candidate). Motte picked up 28 wins and had a nice 2.17 GAA. Motte will lead them to the NCAAs, but they will be upset in the Regional Final for the second straight year.
*3. Bowling Green: If one team deserves a postseason bid, it’s the Falcons. Bowling Green almost dismantled its program a couple of years ago, but it managed to survive. The Falcons have made some progress since then. Last year, they seemed on the cusp of making it back to the NCAAs for the first time since 1990. I think it finally happens this year. Senior Dan DeSalvo scored 32 points and can expect similar production this year, too. Mark Cooper, Ben Murphy and preseason WCHA newcomer of the year Mark Friedman will also be putting the puck in the net on a regular basis. Goalie Tommy Burke had a decent 2012-13 and I think he’ll do just enough to get the Falcons to the big dance. They’ll lose in the first round, but they should be even better in 2015-16.
4. Northern Michigan: I don’t think the Wildcats will make it to the NCAAs this year, but seeing as I cover them on a regular basis now, I’ll include them in my predictions. This year’s NMU squad should be better than last year’s (seventh place, lost to Minnesota State in the first round of the WCHA tournament). Leading scorer Stephan Vigier is gone, but 20-point scorers Reed Seckel and Mitch Jones return in 2014-15. The Wildcats will also get goals from sophomores John Siemer and Dominick Shine. Sophomore netminder Mathias Dahlstrom should be better after a rocky freshman year. The Wildcats may be a year away from winning the conference, but their future looks bright.
- Michigan Tech
- Bemidji State
- Lake Superior State
*1. Union: The defending national champs are my pick to win the ECAC. Yes, the Dutchmen lost Gostisbehere, but they still have 40-point scorer Daniel Ciampini along with sophomore Mike Vecchione and senior Max Novak. Colin Stevens also will put on a show for Union fans in net (2.04 GAA) after shutting down Minnesota and BC in the Frozen Four. I think the Dutchmen will get some stiff competition in the conference, but they will make it to Boston in April.
*2. Colgate: The Raiders are a team on the rise, with the players to challenge Union in the conference. Colgate lost a close contest to Ferris State in the NCAAs last year, but they should be better prepared for the national tournament this time around. The Raiders are led by the Spink brothers (Tyson and Tylor; both had 30-point seasons last year), but they have other talented players like Darcy Murphy, Mike Borkowski and Kyle Baun. Sophomore Charlie Finn is a decent goalie, so the Raiders are solid at every position. They have the potential to make the Regional final, and maybe the Frozen Four in another year.
- St. Lawrence
*1. Mercyhurst: The Lakers are the pick by the AH media to win the conference. I agree. Mercyhurst is led by captain Matthew Zay, who notched 43 points last season along with Ryan Misiak (38) and Daniel Bahntge (32). The Lakers also have a good netminder in Jimmy Sarjeant. Put together, Mercyhurst is ready to take over Atlantic Hockey. They won’t go far this year in the NCAAs, but they might next year.
*2. Robert Morris: The Colonials played surprisingly well against Minnesota during last year’s West Regional and I think they will build on that and be even better in 2014-15. Captain Cody Wydo is coming off a 54-point season, and should be just as good this year. He is supported by 47-point man Zac Lynch and 38-point scorer Scott Jacklin. Terry Shafer didn’t have a great year in net in 2013-14, but he has a good team in front of him. He’ll be OK. The Colonials will make it back to the NCAAs and have the potential to pull an upset in the first round.
- Air Force
- Holy Cross
- Sacred Heart
- American International