Thursday, November 4, 2010

This weekend

Nothing but conference games on the docket for the first time this season.

Bemidji State at St. Cloud State
The Beavers scored their first point in conference play last week and were within a few seconds of gaining another one Friday night against No. 2 Minnesota Duluth. That's a good sign, considering how badly BSU was outplayed by North Dakota in their previous series. The difference for Bemidji was junior goaltender Mathieu Dugas, who made 28 saves in his first start of the season Saturday in a 1-1 tie. The Huskies have yet to get on track, splitting last weekend at home against Quinnipiac. In eight games, Garrett Roe has just one goal. That number will need to go up if the Huskies hope to get more than a split.

Wisconsin at Minnesota
Unlike SCSU, the Badgers have gotten scoring from a number of different players. Through eight games, five different Badgers have at least eight games. Jordy Murray has seven points, including five goals. In addition, UW is tops in the league in goals allowed, giving up fewer than two goals per game. They play a team in Minnesota this week that can't seem to get healthy. After losing Nick Bjugstad to mononucleosis, the Gophers learned this week Jake Parenteau will also miss time with the illness. Zach Budish was in a moped accident Monday and may miss the rest of the season. Nick Larson has a foot injury and could return this weekend, but is more likely back next week. On the bright side, Kent Patterson seems to have nailed down the starting goaltender job, backing Minnesota to a sweep at Colorado College.

Minnesota Duluth at North Dakota
The match-up between the Bulldogs and Fighting Sioux is one between perhaps the best two teams in the league. UND was picked as the favorite before the season and UMD is currently ranked No. 2 in the country. In the words of Dennis Green, Mike Connolly, Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine "are who we thought they were." They are the three leading scorers in the WCHA right now. But they've also received help from freshman J.T. Brown (4-7--11) and junior Travis Oleksuk (5-5--10). Add to that, the surprising play of Aaron Crandall, who leads the league in goals against and is second in save percentage. Another surprise in goal is UND's Aaron Dell. He's played more minutes than Brad Eidsness and has posted better numbers. How much he plays this weekend -- in a critical statement series -- will show how much confidence Dave Hakstol really has in him. Brad Malone will miss Friday's game following the league's mandated one game suspension for his hit on Jesse Martin last Saturday.

Minnesota State at Nebraska-Omaha
The Spirit of the Maverick Trophy is on the line this weekend for the first time ever in a conference series. Minnesota State won three points at UAA last weekend, starting their month-long roadtrip off on the right foot. The key to MSU's play the last four games has been the play of goaltender Phil Cook, who seems to have nailed down the No. 1 goalie job. The purple Mavericks are middle of the pack in scoring offense, scoring defense and both special teams, which means Cook's play will be the key most nights. UNO started off red hot but was hammered at Michigan two weeks ago and then was off last weekend. The one goal scored in the loss at Michigan was the first time this season the red Mavs have scored fewer than four goals in a game. Five UNO players have scored at least eight points, but they've played just six games.

Colorado College vs. Denver
And speaking of rivalry trophies, Colorado College and Denver play this weekend in the first installment of the battle for the Gold Pan. Offensively, its been the Schwartz story. Jaden and Rylan are the only Tigers among the top 48 scorers in the league. Couple that with a struggling Joe Howe, and the Tigers are in deep trouble. They need a point or two this weekend. The Pioneers will have goaltender Adam Murray back this weekend, but will they need him? Freshman Sam Brittain has been outstanding in place of Murray, posting a goals against under two and a save percentage north of 93 percent. With Dustin Jackson on the verge of returning to the lineup and Nick Shore should be back within a couple of weeks. That should help ease the blow of the loss of Jesse Martin.

PREDICTIONS:
BSU at SCSU - St. Cloud State sweep
WIS at MIN - Split
UMD at UND - Split
MSU at UNO - Split
CC vs. DU - Denver sweep

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Injury Updates

Sorry for the lack of action this week, but I wanted to hop on quick and post some injury updates:

In the most unusual injury of the week, Minnesota sophomore forward Zach Budish hurt his knee in a moped accident. At Gophers media day today, head coach Don Lucia said Budish could rehab the injury and perhaps be back by the end of December or early January. He also noted he would recommend surgery, which would end his season. Because he's played in only seven games, Budish would likely be granted a medical hardship waiver, like teammate Jay Barriball was last season. Budish has two goals and four assists this season and was a critical cog on the Gophers' second line which was outstanding in last weekend's sweep of Colorado College. He will decide on having surgery or not by the end of the week.

The Gophers will continue to be without freshmen Nick Bjugstad and Jake Parenteau (mono). Forward Nick Larson (foot) could be back this weekend for a key series with Wisconsin.

- Denver's Jesse Martin remains at Hennepin County Medical Center after a vicious hit by Brad Malone in Grand Forks last weekend fractured Martin's C-2 vertebrae in three places. He will obviously miss the rest of the season, but will hopefully have the chance to continue his hockey career, much like UND's Robbie Bina did a few years back.

- Minnesota State senior captain Rylan Galiardi missed the team's weekend set in Anchorage last weekend after injuring his knee two weeks ago against Colorado College. His injury is not season ending, but will keep him out a couple of more weeks. Look for him to make his return to the lineup when the Mavericks return home against Minnesota the first weekend in December.

- Denver has been ravaged by injuries, including a groin injury to Adam Murray, a wrist injury to Nick Shore and yet another case of mono, this one to Dustin Jackson. Murray has practiced this week and will likely play. Jackson may need another week to get up to speed and Shore has been practicing but is limited with a cast. He will not play this weekend.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A quick look at this weekend

A busy weekend ahead, so I'll simply post my picks from a debate with the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Roman Augustoviz. To see what he has to say, check out his 'Goal Gophers' blog here.

As promised, I'll also link to this story I wrote for College Hockey News on CC's Rylan and Jaden Schwartz. Check it out here.

Minnesota at Colorado College

The Gophers won ugly Sunday, like the Tigers did the night before in Mankato. Both teams are without much top end talent, so solid special teams play and greasy goals will be the keys here. A split wouldn't surprise me, but faced with a pair of average hockey teams, I'll go with the home squad.
COLORADO COLLEGE SWEEP


Michigan Tech at Wisconsin
The Huskies are unbeaten through five games for the first time since the Nixon administration. It ends this weekend in a big way.
WISCONSIN SWEEP


Quinnipiac at St. Cloud State
The Huskies aren't where they need to be yet but their goaltenders finally showed up last weekend. This will be the weekend it all comes together.
ST. CLOUD STATE SWEEP


Denver at North Dakota
A bunch of injuries and oddities have the Pioneers down to only 22 available bodies. All will travel to Grand Forks this weekend, where a freshman goaltender will take on one of the nation's top teams -- a team that's also angry after an embarrassing weekend out east.
NORTH DAKOTA SWEEP


Minnesota Duluth at Bemidji State
It was a short WCHA honeymoon for the Beavers, who opened up a brand new arena, got swept, then went on a bye. Meanwhile, down Hwy. 2, the Bulldogs have quietly started 5-0-1 and are ranked No. 3 in the country.
MINNESOTA DULUTH SWEEP


Minnesota State at Alaska-Anchorage
Talk about Jekyll and Hyde: The Mavericks can score in bunches, like they did in a 5-4 win Friday night. Just 24 hours later, they looked miserable in a 1-0 loss. After a solid opening weekend, the Seawolves have lost their last four games -- although three of those have been one goal contests. When in doubt, take the easy way out.
SPLIT

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday night thoughts

One night after trouncing Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha was blasted in Ann Arbor.

One night after a nine goal outburst in a 5-4 MSU-winning thriller, Minnesota State and Colorado College played a one goal snoozer.

After jumping ahead last night in a win, Denver fell behind Wisconsin tonight in a 2-2 tie.

At least we can still count on Alaska-Anchorage reverting to their old selves, dropping a 6-0 game tonight in rough weekend in Duluth.

Minnesota has a chance to pick itself up off the mat tomorrow against St. Cloud State. If the Huskies blow the Gophers out of their building again, Don Lucia may start to receive the Tim Brewster treatment from the locals. There aren't many must wins this time of year, but if there ever was one, tomorrow is it for Minnesota. You can't win the WCHA in October, but no doubt, you can lose it.

An exciting Friday night

Duluth wins in overtime, Mankato wins a shootout (not an actual shootout, but a figurative one), St. Cloud dominates Minnesota, UND is flattened by Maine and Nebraska-Omaha wins for just the second time ever at Yost Arena.

Performance of the night: Chase Grant -- Minnesota State
Grant scored the first and third goals of the night for the Mavericks, both in the second period, helping turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead and changing the tone of the game. The second goal was a power play marker and Grant's third goal of the season.

Non-performance of the night: Alex Kangas -- Minnesota
Yuck. Kangas allowed five goals on just 23 shots in just over 30 minutes of action in a 5-2 loss to St. Cloud State. The Gophers are now 0-3-0 in WCHA play and Kangas' below average play is one of the main reasons.

I am in Mankato tonight to work on a story on Rylan and Jaden Schwartz of Colorado College. Look for it on College Hockey News sometime in the coming days.

*Photo courtesy of College Hockey News

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hello, Again...

Good morning! I just wanted to hop on to welcome any new folks stopping by from Roman Augustoviz's blog... I know I didn't provided picks for him to pick against this week, but gave no reasons WHY I did what I did... so here it is. To check out Roman's picks, click here.

UAA at UMD: UMD Sweep
Minnesota Duluth is the better team, obviously.

SCSU at MIN: SCSU Sweep
Here is where I'm afraid a Gopher fan mutiny may take down my blog... but let me explain. The Huskies don't have the size of Nebraska-Omaha, but they have every bit as much speed and even more scoring punch. On paper, they also have better goaltending. Minnesota will need to score the first or second goal (preferably both) or like last weekend, they will see games spiral out of control.

CC at MSU: CC Sweep
Minnesota State doesn't have a win this season in four games. They've played Michigan Tech and St. Lawrence! What's gonna happen when a real, live, nationally ranked team comes to town. Unless the Mavericks get more production from their power play (currently under 10 percent success) and better play from their penalty kill (currently under 75 percent), this one could get ugly.

WIS at DU: Split
Denver doesn't have the goaltender to sweep this series and Wisconsin doesn't have the firepower. When in doubt, pick split.

UND at Maine: Split
North Dakota is already rolling (unfortunately for their conference counterparts) but this Maine team is more like your father's Black Bears (in that they don't suck anymore). At home, Maine, seemingly back in contention in Hockey East this season (at least in my opinion) will steal one from the Fighting Sioux.

UNO at Michigan: UNO Sweep
Congrats, Maize and Blue, you swept Bowling Green for your only two wins this season. They've also tied Mercyhurst and New Hampshire. The Mavericks showed me something last weekend. This team can score goals... and they can skate... and they're big. Dean Blais has this team looking kind of like a North Dakota team. Yeah, they don't have the superstar scorers (yet), but Nebraska-Omaha is for real (yes, I'm declaring it after two weekends).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This weekend

Apologies for the lack of content... as I said a couple of weeks ago, I coach high school football -- meaning this is the end of our season. With playoffs beginning, weeks are getting shorter and shorter and I have less time to devote to college hockey right now. That will change.

I also spent last weekend in Green Bay meaning I didn't see a single second of action last weekend. That's why the site was updated so late.

Anyways, here is a quick look at this weekend's action, as well as some predictions.


Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota Duluth
The Seawolves and Bulldogs both played nonconference games last weekend but open conference play at the DECC Friday night. As I predicted, the Bulldogs split time in net last weekend, with Aaron Crandall putting together a solid outing in a 7-1 win Saturday. All together, UMD put 80 shots on goal last weekend and with their firepower, that should be enough most nights. After starting 1-0-1, UAA dropped a pair of 4-3 decisions. In each night, the Seawolves allowed three goals in the first period, and they simply don't have the power to dig out of such messes.

St. Cloud State at Minnesota
After breaking ranks by winning AND allowing three goals or more two weeks ago, the Gophers simply couldn't keep Nebraska-Omaha off the board last weekend. Minnesota fell behind 4-0 Friday before rallying late to tie, but losing with less than two minutes to play. Minnesota fell behind 3-0 Saturday before pulling within one, but it wasn't enough as he Mavericks closed the game with an empty netter. Despite the loss, Alex Kangas came within one save of posting a career high with 44 Saturday night. The Huskies lost and tied at home to Miami last weekend, six goals for the second straight game Friday night. In one win and a tie so far, SCSU has allowed just two goals. In two losses, they have allowed 12 goals. Neither goaltender has been particularly stellar so far, something that must change if the Huskies are going to live up to their lofty expectations.

Colorado College at Minnesota State
All four of the Tigers games thus far have been of the one goal variety, which should put a premium on special teams this weekend. CC is scoring just over two goals per game, not totally unexpected for a young group of forwards. Speaking of scoring, it was supposed to be a major concern for the Mavericks this season. Yet this group of young scorers has posted five goals in a game twice now, although both finished in 5-5 ties. Both Austin Lee and Phil Cook have been abysmal so far, and it may not be too much longer before the Mavericks are forced to see what they have in freshman Evan Karambelas.

Wisconsin at Denver
A tale of two nonconference weekends for these two last week, the Badgers hammered Alabama-Huntsville in a pair at the Kohl Center while DU was rocked twice by defending national champion Boston College. The Pioneers will need more than two goals if they're going to knock off the national runner-up from a year ago. Luke Salazar scored both goals Friday night but it was long after the game was out of control. Nobody bothered to post any offense Saturday. In goal, Adam Murray was the 6-2 loser Friday and has yet to put together consecutive quality starts. Six different players scored goals for Wisconsin in a 7-0 win Friday before Jordy Murray's hat trick Saturday paced the offense for the Badgers. In two goals, UAH was only able to muster 37 shots against UW.

North Dakota at Maine
An emotional weekend for Bemidji State last weekend as they opened WCHA play with North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux went into Bemidji and calmly won twice by scores of 5-2. It was the kind of workmanlike effort expected from the conference favorites, outshooting the Beavers both nights (including a wide margin Friday) and posting a goal with the man advantage in each outing. Matt Frattin had a hat trick Friday and added another goal Saturday en route to WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Nebraska-Omaha at Michigan
The Mavericks come off an impressive sweep of Minnesota at Mariucci Arena, moving into the top-10 in the national polls. This weekend, they travel to Ann Arbor to take on a former conference rival and yet another storied hockey program. Both nights in Minneapolis, the Mavs were able to build insurmountable leads of four goals Friday and three Saturday. Senior Matt Ambroz already has five goals and two other Mavs have matched his eight points, making life easier on sophomore goaltender John Faulkner.

PREDICTIONS
Last Weekend: 9-6-2
Season: 9-6-2

UAA at UMD: UMD Sweep
SCSU at MIN: SCSU Sweep
CC at MSU: CC Sweep
WIS at DU: Split
UND at Maine: Split
UNO at Michigan: UNO Sweep

UPDATE: For an explanation on why I picked who I picked, click here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This weekend

With one weekend in the books, the WCHA schedule gets going this weekend with three conference series scheduled and all 12 teams set to compete.

And although only two games have been played (three for Michigan Tech), it appears some trends from last season are already being broken.

Minnesota State at Michigan Tech
The Huskies lost 30 of the 36 games they played all of last season. Three games into 2010-11, Michigan Tech is sitting at 2-0-1 and have potted 14 goals over that span.

Yeah, it's early in the season, but the Huskies appear to be showing some signs of life. They'll have a chance at home this weekend to keep their streak going against at Minnesota State team that hasn't had a ton of success in Houghton in recent years. Since 2003-04, the Mavericks have swept Tech in Houghton just once. They've been swept there once themselves and split a number of times. MSU tied twice this past weekend at home against a middle of the road St. Lawrence team. Trailing 4-2 heading to the final stanza Friday, the Mavericks rallied for three straight goals to grab a 5-4 lead before surrendering a late goal in a 5-5 tie. Then the Mavs led Saturday 1-0 before another late goal by the Saints in a 1-1 tie.

The key to this series will be in goal, where Austin Lee likely earned the start for MSU Friday after shutting down St. Lawrence Saturday. Both Josh Robinson and Kevin Genoe have won a game already with Robinson drawing the start in Tuesday's 4-4 tie against Northern Michigan. Look for both to get a start this weekend with Genoe likely going Friday.

Nebraska-Omaha at Minnesota
In another case of breaking trends, the Gophers have already equalled their win total from last season when allowing three goals or more in a game. Last year, the Gophers were 2-18-1 when allowing at least three goals in a game. After a 5-3 win Friday and a 5-4 win Saturday, the Gophers are 2-0 in that category this season. The sweep is the sixth to start a season during Don Lucia's tenure as coach and first since 2008. The victories also moved the Gophers to No. 13 in this week's polls, jumping up from No. 15 in the first version of the polls. That ranking was the first out of the top 10 in a preseason poll since 2000-2001.

Nebraska-Omaha was perhaps the league's most impressive team last weekend, blanking Clarkson 8-0 Friday and following with a 5-3 win over RIT Saturday. Things will likely be a bit more challenging for the Mavericks this weekend, playing in their first conference series as a member of the WCHA. The red Mavericks and Gophers have played only once before back in 2003, a meeting which took place in Omaha and saw the Gophers win 7-3. Three UNO players have already scored five points -- Matt Ambroz, Rich Purslow and Alex Hudson. Matt White and Joey Martin also have four points, and should UNO keep that level of offense going, the Mavericks will be more competitive than anyone thought this season. All three UNO coaches return to Minneapolis this weekend, where all have ties to the University of Minnesota. Both Dean Blais and Mike Guentzel played for the U while Guentzel also coached there from 1994-2008. UNO associate head coach Mike Hastings replaced Guentzel for one season on Lucia's staff in 2008-09.

North Dakota at Bemidji State
Also playing a WCHA series for the very first time this weekend will be the Beavers, who look to open the brand new Bemidji Events Center with BSU's first ever win against the Fighting Sioux. Since joining the Division I ranks, the Beavers have defeated seven of their new conference brethren. Unfortunately for them, BSU is 0-12-1 against their opponent this weekend.

Because the arena is new, the Beavers were forced to cancel an exhibition against Manitoba for a couple of weeks ago. That means their first action will be this weekend. North Dakota has already played a pair of games in Alaska, blowing a four goal lead in a tie to Alaska-Anchorage and cruising to a win over Alaska the next night. That advantage should help neutralize any jump the Beavers get from opening their new building.

Either way, this should be an exciting series. Both teams bring back plenty of offense from a year ago. Both teams also bring back established goaltenders. The major question remains however, how big will the jump from CHA champion to WCHA really be?

Boston College at Denver
There are a pair of dandy nonconference series this weekend in the WCHA and this is one of them. The defending national champions have played two games -- one exhibition and one conference game -- and have yet to allow a goal. In that span, they have outscored opponents 10-0.

The Pioneers will be playing a Hockey East opponent for the second straight weekend after taking a win and a tie away from Vermont last weekend. It was a tale of two offensive nights for the Pioneers, who received a sterling performance in a 1-1 tie Saturday from freshman Sam Brittain. He made 28 saves to preserve the draw. Adam Murray was good too, earning the victory Friday 5-3. The man of the weekend for DU though was sophomore forward Drew Shore. He scored a pair of goals in Friday's victory and added the only tally Saturday. With the losses sustained by the Pioneers in the offseason, Shore must be one of the guys picking up the slack.

Miami at St. Cloud State
The other nonconference spectacular is a rematch of a series to open last season between the RedHawks and Huskies. Last season, Miami swept SCSU in Oxford, including a 2-0 blanking on Saturday. It wasn't a great start for the Huskies last weekend, winning 3-1 Friday over RIT (including an empty-netter) and then getting trounced Saturday by a Clarkson team that was trounced the night before by Nebraska-Omaha. Sophomore Mike Lee got the start against RIT and likely earned the nod for Friday against Miami. Dan Dunn allowed four goals on 14 shots Saturday before getting the hook.

Ben Hanowski scored a pair of goals for SCSU on the weekend as he looks to jump into the role left behind by Ryan Lasch's graduation. Miami hosted New Hampshire last weekend, winning Friday 6-3 and losing Saturday by the same score. Carter Camper and Alden Hirschfield scored three goals apiece for the RedHawks.

Providence at Minnesota Duluth
Kenny Reiter will be counted on to carry the mail for the Bulldogs this season. How do I know? He allowed six goals on 37 shots last Friday against Lake Superior State and started (and won) Saturday against Northern Michigan. He'll need to be better, no doubt, if UMD is going to be a contender. But with a nonconference series against a team the Bulldogs should have no trouble with, will we see another goaltender at least once this weekend?

Justin Fontaine (two goals), Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly all scored goals last weekend and that will be the case most weekends. Freshman sensation Justin Faulk also scored his first career goal.

Colorado College, Alaska-Anchorage in Brice Goal Rush
The Tigers and Seawolves battle each other in a nonconference duel between conference teams.

The Seawolves impressively battled back from a 5-1 deficit Friday to tie North Dakota 5-5. The Saturday, UAA defeated Air Force. It was an encouraging weekend for forward Sean Wiles, who scored three goals in the two games. Tommy Grant added a goal and two assists while Rob Gunderson stopped 28 shots to earn his collegiate victory. Without an experienced goaltender, the duo of Gunderson and Chris Kamal (played all 65 minutes Friday in the tie) will need to grow up fast.

Three of the four Tiger goals last weekend against RPI were scored by either Rylan or Jaden Schwartz. That will be a common occurrence, as CC really lacks scoring depth after those two.

Joe Howe played both nights last weekend, earning a win and a tie. He will play a bunch before this season is finished.

Alabama-Huntsville at Wisconsin
The Badgers led twice in their loss to Boston University last Friday, grabbing a 2-0 lead and then a 3-2 lead after the Terriers tied it. Both times, Scott Gudmandson was unable to hold it. That allowed Brett Bennett to get the start Saturday against Holy Cross, and he took advantage, winning 6-0. Wisconsin got offense from a number of sources, including Ryan Little, Derek Lee and Craig Smith, who all scored two goals on the weekend.

Wisconsin should have no trouble with the Chargers this weekend, especially at the Kohl Center, where UW was undefeated against nonconference opponents a year ago.

PREDICTIONS
MSU at MTU: Split
UNO at MIN: Split

UND at BSU: UND Sweep
BC at DU: Split

Miami at SCSU: Split
Providence at UMD: UMD Sweep
CC v. UAA: UAA

Union v. UAA: UAA

CC at Alaska: CC

UAH at WIS: WIS Sweep

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WCHA Preview: College Hockey News Edition

My preview has officially been published on the website, so if you haven't read it here, please go there and check it out here and here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

WCHA Preview: Part 2

And here is Part 2... Scroll below, or click here for Part 1.

MINNESOTA DULUTH BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Scott Sandelin
2009-10 Record: 22-17-1 overall, 16-11-1 WCHA, (5th)

Who's Back: Jr. F Jack Connolly (18-31--49), Sr. F Justin Fontaine (21-25--46), Jr. F Mike Connolly (14-26--40), Sr. F Rob Bordson (12-28--40), Jr. D Brady Lamb (11-13--24), Jr. F Travis Oleksuk (10-14--24), Sr. G Kenny Reiter (13-10-0, 2.36, .912).

2010-11 Outlook: The Bulldogs appear primed and loaded for a return run to the Frozen Four this season. In addition to a dynamic group of forwards, which return each of its top six scorers, the Bulldogs have a trio of experienced defensemen back to eat plenty of ice time and a goalie who put up good stats after assuming the starting job midway through the season last year. Up front, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly or Justin Fontaine walk away with the league's Player of the Year Award. All three scored at least 40 points last season. Rob Bordson also scored 40 points a year ago, a 40-point improvement from a year before. All four thrive on a potent Bulldog power play, which may be the best in the country. Brady Lamb and Mike Montgomery are back on the blueline, as is sophomore Dylan Olsen, who looks primed for a breakout year. Kenny Reiter is the undisputed No. 1 entering the year, but the Bulldogs will need another one of their goaltenders to step up and provide him with the opportunity for some rest every now and then. UMD will open a new arena Dec. 30, which should give the team a nice lift heading into the second half of their schedule. "The last couple of years, we've had more success," said Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin. "The Connollys and Fontaine are the guys who are going to carry us, but we're going to need more guys to step up and we'll see if some of our young guys can fill those holes. We didn't lose a whole lot, so we are an older team."

Prediction: With a new arena opening and a reason for optimism on the North Shore, everybody knew nobody of note was going to leave the Bulldogs early. Turns out, nobody did. Now the expectations are high, and with nothing guaranteed following this season, the window of opportunity for UMD is wide open, but for how long? Clearly one of the top three teams in the WCHA, the Bulldogs could find themselves in St. Paul come early April.


MINNESOTA STATE MAVERICKS
Head Coach: Troy Jutting
2009-10 Record: 16-20-3 overall, 9-17-2 WCHA, (8th)

Who's Back: Sr. D Ben Youds (3-23-26), Sr. F Rylan Galiardi (11-14--25), Sr. D Kurt Davis (5-18--23), Jr. F Michael Dorr (5-11--16), So. F Eriah Hayes (8-6--14), Sr. F Mike Louwerse (7-6--13), So. G Phil Cook (8-6-2, 2.59, .908).

2010-11 Outlook: If just one aspect of your team was going to be young, forward would be the place to be. That's the case for Minnesota State this season. The Mavericks have a bunch of experience and offense on the blueline, where both Ben Youds and Kurt Davis return. Fellow senior Channing Boe and sophomore Tyler Elbrecht played a ton of games last season and give the Mavericks both size and a defensive presence. In goal, MSU entered the season with limited experience last season but have plenty back this year. In goal, Phil Cook needs to continue the progress he made last season and improve his play against conference opponents. Up front, the Mavs return Rylan Galiardi, and that's about it. Like Minnesota's Jacob Cepis, Michael Dorr provided the Mavs with a nice second half boost, scoring 16 points in 22 games. Now he will be counted on to help carry the load for a whole season. MSU will also need bounce back years from Mike Louwerse and Andy Sackrison, who both showed promise early in their careers. Jutting is high on his group of freshman forwards, who all showed the ability to put the puck in the net, many in the USHL, a year ago. But this isn't the USHL. "The strength of our team is definitely on the blueline," Jutting said. "We have three seniors back there and two of them have led our team in scoring. But we have a lot to mix in. We have eight freshmen, five of them up front and those five kids are going to have to play quite a few minutes for us this year."

Prediction: The Mavericks had a slew of forwards back a year ago and it didn't translate into the type of season they hoped for. Now loaded with a solid crew of freshman forwards, MSU could be a team to keep an eye on in the second half, especially if Cook continues to improve. Home ice contention may be a bit of a reach this season, but Minnesota State won't be as bad as some are predicting.


NEBRASKA-OMAHA MAVERICKS
Head Coach: Dean Blais
2009-10 Record: 20-16-6 overall, 13-12-2 CCHA*, (6th)

Who's Back: Sr. F Rich Purslow (14-13--27), Sr. F Joey Martin (10-16--26), Jr. F Alex Hudson (14-11--25), So. F Terry Broadhurst (13-11--24), Sr. F Matt Ambroz (10-14--24), Sr. D Eric Olimb (2-18--20), Jr. G John Faulker (13-10-4, 2.60, .905).

2010-11 Outlook: While not as accomplished as fellow newcomer conference Bemidji State, Nebraska-Omaha could have an easier go of it early on because it played in the CCHA last season. What the Beavers have though is top-end talent. While the Mavericks are working to that end, they do have a number of solid players that should prevent this season from being a total bust. UNO has six players back from a year ago that scored at least 20 points, but none scored 30. The Mavericks are also very thin on the blueline, where contending teams in the WCHA have reigned supreme in recent years. The defensive group for the Mavericks is also very big, which could create potential penalty problems -- especially with the notoriously fickle WCHA officials early in the season. John Faulkner will need to make a major jump from last season when his save percentage in conference games was sub 90 percent. The talented but inconsistent junior will be the main man in net, especially early, because of the lack of experience behind him. The Mavs bring in a pair of players -- Ryan Walters and Brock Montpetit -- once slated to play at Minnesota and Wisconsin, respectively. Should Dean Blais continue to pull in that kind of talent, UNO could be among the conference elite in just a few short years. "I hope we're fast and the furious," Blais said when asked about style of play. "We try to play with a lot of speed. I think our forwards, with their speed, will really be the success of our team."

Prediction: A few solid forwards, size but no experience on defense and an inconsistent goaltender could make for a tough first season back in the WCHA for Blais. While the team's CCHA experience will make the Mavericks competitive from day one, the major question facing UNO is whether they have enough firepower to overcome better competition in the WCHA. This season, that might be tough.


NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING SIOUX
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol
2009-10 Record: 25-13-5 overall, 15-10-3 WCHA, (4th)

Who's Back: Jr. F Jason Gregoire (20-17--37), So. F Danny Kristo (15-21--36), Sr. F Evan Trupp (8-26--34), Jr. F Brett Hextall (14-12--26), Sr. F Brad Malone (11-14--25), Sr. D Chay Genoway (4-6--10), Jr. G Brad Eidsness (24-10-4, 2.11, .914).

2010-11 Outlook: North Dakota loses just one of its top eight scorers and regains the services of perhaps the best college hockey player in the land in Chay Genoway. The loss of Chris VendeVelde isn't a small one -- he led the Fighting Sioux in scoring last season (16-25--41). But his loss should be covered by returning forwards Jason Gregoire, Danny Kristo, Evan Trupp and others, along with a full season of senior Matt Frattin, who returned for the second half last season and scored 19 points in 24 games. If that's not enough, sophomore Corban Knight looks primed for a breakout sophomore campaign and freshman Brock Nelson could make an immediate impact. On the blueline, Genoway is back after a horrific concussion cost him most of last season. He is joined by fellow senior co-captains Jake Marto and Derrick LaPoint, junior Ben Blood and freshman phenom Derek Forbot to form perhaps the best defensive corps in the country. And oh yeah, UND also has one of the best goaltenders in the country in Brad Eidsness, a junior who was among the conference leaders in just about every category last season. "Instead of looking at the predictions and the polls, our goal is to get our team back to the level they were playing at at the end of last season," said Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol. "We found that we could be a tough team to play against if we had everyone playing within their role and at a very high intensity level."

Prediction: North Dakota is the preseason favorite of the league's coaches and media for a reason -- they are loaded at every position. There really appears nothing that can slow them down, especially if UND can avoid its traditional slow starts. Look for the Fighting Sioux to challenge for the MacNaughton Cup, the Broadmoor Trophy and the National Championship this season.


ST. CLOUD STATE HUSKIES
Head Coach: Bob Motzko
2009-10 Record: 20-11-5 overall, 15-9-4 WCHA, (3rd)

Who's Back: Sr. F Garrett Roe (20-29--49), Sr. F Tony Mosey (14-26--40), Jr. F Drew LeBlanc (6-25--31), Jr. F Jared Festler (11-13--24), So. F David Eddy* (12-11--23), So. F Ben Hanowski (9-10--19), So. G Mike Lee (12-9-3, 2.80, .917).

2010-11 Outlook: The Huskies lose their best forward and their best defenseman and are still among the league's favorites for the league title. That's thanks primarily to an explosive group of returning forwards, including Player of the Year candidate Garrett Roe. While Ryan Lasch broke a school scoring record that had stood for over two decades, he may hold the record for just a year, as Roe starts the season just 41 points back of Lasch's record. While 41 points is a challenge for most, Roe has eclipsed the 40-point mark in each of his first three seasons in St. Cloud. Joining Roe are explosive forwards Tony Mosey, Drew LeBlanc and Jared Festler, as well as sophomore Ben Hanowski. David Eddy, out because of academic issues, is set to rejoin the team at Christmas break. In goal, the Huskies return a pair of starting caliber netminders in sophomore Mike Lee and senior Dan Dunn. Both would start on a majority of teams in the league, and both are effective in their current roles. Mike Lee will likely get the first look, but both will see plenty of ice time. If there is a weakness of this current SCSU team, its on the blueline. The loss of Garrett Raboin, the heart and soul of SCSU's teams the last few seasons, will be tough to fill. Senior Oliver Lauridsen has become a quality defenseman in the WCHA and freshmen Nick Jensen and Kevin Gravel will be counted on right away to make impacts. "North Dakota's in front and we're in that group chasing them," said Huskies head coach Bob Motzko. We have eight freshmen to blend in with a strong returning group and that's our challenge right now. We have a lot of guys fighting for some key positions but we come back with two strong goaltenders and I think that bears well for us."

Prediction: The lack of quality defensemen would be a concern with most teams, but with two stud goaltenders and an almost unlimited supply of quality forwards, the Huskies should be OK. With the weight of gaining their first NCAA Tournament victory already lifted, don't be surprised if SCSU makes a deep playoff run in 2011.


WISCONSIN BADGERS
Head Coach: Mike Eaves
2009-10 Record: 28-11-4 overall, 17-8-3 WCHA, (2nd)

Who's Back: So. F Craig Smith (8-25--33), So. D Justin Schultz (6-16--22), Jr. F Jordy Murray (12-9--21), Jr. D Jake Gardiner (6-7--13), So. D John Ramage (2-10--12), So. F Derek Lee (1-8--9), Sr. G Scott Gudmandson (20-5-4, 2.34, .913).

2010-11 Outlook: In addition to losing six of their top 11 returning scorers to graduation, Wisconsin also lost four players to early departure. Gone is Hobey Baker winner Blake Geoffrion, the physical and emotional leader of the national runner-up Badgers. Also gone are top two defensemen Brendan Smith and Ryan McDonagh. as well as leading scorers Derek Stepan and Michael Davies. Losing one or of these guys would make a major difference for any team, but losing them all at once might be too much for Wisconsin to overcome, at least this season. Mike Eaves does a better job of recruiting defensemen than perhaps any coach in the country, so the losses of Smith and McDonagh will be helped by returning blueliners Justin Schultz, Jake Gardiner and John Ramage. All have the ability to be top of the line defensemen. The defense will also be helped by a pair of seniors in goal in Scott Gudmandson and Brett Bennett. Last season started as a rotation between the two, but as the season went on Gudmandson established himself as one of the best goalies in the country. The major question remains this: Can Wisconsin score enough? "We have 10 freshmen coming in, so we're going to be a really young team," said Badgers head coach Mike Eaves. "We have two senior goalies we will need to play well early so our young forwards can get some experience. Up front, we're really going to have to figure things out as we go along here finding where the chemistry lies and what kind of roles guys are going to have. "

Prediction: Wisconsin has suffered more major losses in one offseason than any team in recent memory, and perhaps more than any team since the "Early Departure Era" really began about 10 years ago. Eaves is a great coach, UW always has good goalies and the Badgers have some good defensemen. That should be enough to keep them in the race for home ice in the playoffs.