The Wolverines are definitely one of the CCHA’s most powerful teams after making a run to the NCAA Tournament. But Miami (Ohio), who knocked them out, has to be the favorite to start. Here’s a look at five of the conference’s biggest contenders in 2010.
After the RedHawks lost 3-2 to Boston University in the 2009 Frozen Four final, they held a top-five ranking all of last season. Miami coasted to a 21-2-5 CCHA record, took third in the conference tournament and snuck past Michigan to reach the Frozen Four in Detroit. Even after a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Boston College in the semifinals of the tournament this spring, the RedHawks enter as perhaps the frontrunner to capture the CCHA title.
This season, No. 4 Miami returns the goalies that led them nearly untouched through last season, juniors Cody Reichard and Conner Knapp. Reichard — the CCHA Player of the Year — posted an unbeaten 15-0-2 record and set a CCHA single-season record with a 1.23 goals against average in league play. But Miami coach Enrico Blasi went with Knapp throughout the NCAA tournament, and it he who started for the collapse against the Eagles.
With two of the conference’s top eight scorers back on the ice for the RedHawks this year, don’t expect them to go anywhere in the CCHA standings. They will be a force atop the conference — and on the national scene — again this season.
First Look: Michigan at Miami (Ohio), Feb. 4-5
Even after losing leading scorer Blair Riley, Ferris State, which finished third in the CCHA last year, is returning most of its 2009 roster and has added a few key components. Coach Bob Daniels, in his 18th year at the helm in Big Rapids, is working to lead his team back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in program history.
With goaltenders Pat Nagle and Taylor Nelson back again, expect Daniels to keep the two goalies, who combined for a 21-13-6 record last year, moving in and out of the Bulldogs’ net. In the opening series against Alabama-Huntsville last weekend, Nagle picked up his first victory in 4-1 fashion. But Nelson was roughed up for four goals the next night.
Don’t be surprised to see Ferris State knock off a few quality opponents this season and make a run at the conference title.
First Look: Michigan at Ferris State, Oct. 29
The Wildcats have some huge holes to fill this season. After finishing with a 13-9-6 CCHA record, good for fourth place in the conference, this season is make-or-break. Forward Mark Oliver was the points leader in the conference (35), and goalie Brian Steward racked up 12 wins and three shutouts. But both of those players, along with CCHA Player of the Year finalist Erik Gustafsson, graduated in the spring, leaving the underachieving Wildcats with many questions left to answer.
But don’t expect them to lie down and let older, more experienced teams skate all over them. Last year Northern Michigan came into Yost and thrashed Michigan 3-1 in their first meeting. The Wildcat offensive attack includes Swedish forward Gregor Hanson — seventh in points last year (29) — and freshman forward Erik Higby, who tallied a hat trick the first time he hit the ice this season. The Wildcats have an attack that not many defenses will be able to contend with this season.
In his six years of head coaching, Walt Kyle’s teams have surpassed the 20-win plateau five times, and if they can pull everything together this season, you can expect at least 20 this time around.
First Look: Michigan at Northern Michigan, Feb. 25-26
After several inauspicious years of CCHA play, No. 14 Alaska is perhaps the most up-and-coming program. Despite the disadvantage of having to travel more than six hours to play nearly every opponent, the Nanooks are becoming a formidable power, posting a fifth-place finish in the conference last season.
With only five seniors returning, the Nanooks are still a very young team, but they retained most of their young talent — the skilled players who led them to success in the regular season last year. Junior goaltender Scott Greenham is back between the pipes again, after posting an admirable 2.34 goals against average in 28 starts last season.
A year ago, then-freshman Andy Toranto lit up the opposition, finishing fifth in the points race and receiving the CCHA Rookie of the Year award. With Toranto returning for a second year, expect him to produce even more. Adding to the offensive charge this season has been freshman Cody Kunyk, who picked up two goals, an assist and a +4 goal differential in the first two games of the season last weekend.
First Look: Michigan at Alaska, Nov. 5-6
After a dismal 9-12-7 in-conference record last season, the Fighting Irish could easily be the biggest dark-horse contender this winter. Since Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson took the reins five years ago, the team has won the CCHA regular season and tournament titles twice, made three trips to the NCAA Tournament and advanced to Notre Dame’s first Frozen Four appearance in 2008. With a wealth of young players — 12 freshmen compared to just five seniors — Jackson wants to put last season behind him.
Nobody on the team cracked the top 20 scorers in the CCHA last season, but through just two games so far, sophomore Nick Larson and freshman Anders Lee have both netted three goals, so don’t expect their offense to falter like last year.
The Fighting Irish are another team implementing a goalie-by-committee approach, with sophomore Mike Johnson and incoming freshman Steven Summerhays both getting starts in net. As the primary goalie last year, Johnson posted a 2.50 goals against average, but with Summerhays pacing him this season, count on Notre Dame to have some excellent defensive play.
First Look: Michigan vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 12-13