With their lightning-fast start and balanced scoring, the Wolverines have emerged as a contender for the CCHA title. But in a conference so deep, there are several teams expected to turn heads this season. Here are five teams to keep an eye on.

Notre Dame: Early on, the Fighting Irish were a popular pick to contend for the CCHA crown and the national title. But a rocky first two weeks, albeit against tough competition, has left Notre Dame at .500.

Last year’s Irish team was significantly improved from 2009-10 when it finished 13-17-8. In 2010, Notre Dame led the CCHA for much of the season before relinquishing the conference lead during the final weekend to Michigan.

Having lost just five players to graduation, experience shouldn’t be an issue. Goaltending wasn’t expected to be one either, but the tandem of junior Mike Johnson and sophomore Steven Summerhays hasn’t been exactly impenetrable thus far. Summerhays is allowing 4.61 goals per game.

With a new arena coming to South Bend, seventh-year coach Jeff Jackson will attempt to maneuver through a trying schedule and live up to the preseason hype surrounding the program.

First Look: Michigan at Notre Dame, Jan. 20-21

Miami (Ohio): Known simply as “The Dynasty” to some, don’t expect the 2011 version of the RedHawks to deviate from what has become a norm of success. Head coach Enrico Blasi returns for his 13th season at the helm of his alma mater.

Miami hopes to alleviate lingering memories from a devastating end to an otherwise spectacular last season. The RedHawks were sent packing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against New Hampshire, a heavy underdog. Meanwhile, forward Andy Miele became the program’s first Hobey Baker Award winner, given annually to college hockey’s best player. Miele and a talented graduating class will be difficult to replace, but Blasi will surely have his skaters ready to go once again.

A sharp recruiting class coming to Oxford is led by forward Tyler Biggs, arguably the nation’s most prized incoming talent. Biggs is no misnomer for the freshman, whose size will present problems into the postseason for opposing teams. Combined with forward Reilly Smith, who has an uncanny knack for finding the net, this will be one of Blasi’s highest-scoring teams in recent memory.

First Look: Michigan at Miami, Nov. 11-12

Alaska: The CCHA’s version of the far West is coming off a disappointing 2010, marred by a 4-10-3 away record. And while travel fatigue is to be expected for the Nanooks, it’s something they need to get used to — the 49th state isn’t getting any closer to the CCHA’s Midwestern teams.

On the contrary, the Carlson Center is a notoriously difficult place to play in, as opponents sometimes have trouble adjusting after a long trip.

Alaska has a gem of a netminder in senior Scott Greenham. He’s off to an impressive start to 2011, allowing 1.67 goals per game. His timely saves were critical in keying a 4-1 Nanook win over No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha last weekend.

Anchoring Alaska in the middle is Nik Yaremchuk, a fan favorite in Fairbanks who always seems to have the puck in opportune spots on the ice.

If the Nanooks want a shot at the CCHA title — and it would be an outside shot at best — they must win its home contests and steal ones from contest foes on the road.

First Look: Michigan at Alaska, Dec. 2-3

Western Michigan: The coaching position in Kalamazoo has been a whirlwind of late, but it seems the Broncos may have found a diamond in the rough in Andy Murray.

Murray was brought in this summer to replace Jeff Blashill, who jumped ship after one year at Western to join the Detroit Red Wings’ coaching staff.

The Broncos lost their top scorer in Max Campbell, but the next nine are back. Sophomore forward Shane Berschbach is off to a hot start, scoring three times in his first two games.

Between the pipes, Murray has yet to give the starting nod to any of his three goaltenders. In the latest recruiting class, Western has two netminders who seem capable of earning playing time this season. Junior Nick Pisellini may be the early favorite.

With their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years last season, the Broncos will have to adjust to their new coach quickly if another at-large bid is in the cards for Western.

First Look: Michigan vs. Western Michigan, Nov. 4-5

Ferris State: If there’s ever a season for the Bulldogs to play with the big boys in the CCHA, it’s this one.

Center Travis Ouellette, last year’s leading scorer for Ferris State, will need to play an even bigger role for the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003 — and second ever — to be more than a pipe dream.

Speaking of pipes, between them will be C.J. Motte and Taylor Nelson. While it would seem tenured head coach Bob Daniels will need to select one eventually, the by-committee system has been good to the Bulldogs, as they have started 4-0.

Ferris State is almost as young as Michigan, with seven freshmen on its roster to the Wolverines’ eight. Although a conference title still feels like a stretch, 2011 represents the Bulldogs’ opportunity to take their licks, but dish some of their own out too.

First Look: Michigan vs. Ferris State, Oct. 27-28

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