With CCHA play just around the corner, there is more extra incentive this year to be the team who takes home the Mason Cup in March. In the final season of the conference’s existence — Michigan will move to a newly-formed Big Ten Conference next year — whoever brings home the Cup may keep it forever. After a season-opening loss to RIT, the sixth-ranked Wolverines have found footing with two-straight victories. The conference currently boasts six ranked teams and five other contenders. Here’s a look at five of the teams:
Notre Dame: Ranked first in the preseason CCHA coaches poll, the Fighting Irish (3-1) hope that ranking holds true as the season progresses. They have started out the season with an impressive series split against reigning-national champion Minnesota.
No. 9 Notre Dame lost just four players to graduation last season. Forwards Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan — the top-two point leaders who combined for 75 total points last year — both return to lead a strong and efficient offensive attack. Both players were named to the CCHA Preseason First Team.
Last season, goalie Steven Summerhays posted a 10-8 record in 20 appearances between the pipes. This year, the junior has allowed just 1.51 goals per game in four appearances.
The Fighting Irish finished just above .500 a year ago, but after a quick start, they’re surely hoping to find more success this year. Head coach Jeff Jackson is in his eighth year at the helm and after missing the NCAA Tournament in 2012, hopes to get his team back there.
First look: Notre Dame at Michigan, Nov. 15-16.
Miami (Ohio): The third-ranked RedHawks are the highest ranked CCHA team in the nation. Despite their pre-season ranking of fourth in the CCHA coaches poll, the RedHawks have made big strides early on, starting the year with a 3-0-1 record. They’ll look to reach a little farther than last year’s opening-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.
One question mark for Miami is the goaltender position. Last year, the RedHawks platooned two goalies, but both are gone and head coach Enrico Blasi, who is starting his 14th season in charge, has two freshmen goalies on his hands. It appears he will use a new platoon, but as Michigan has also experienced so far this year, freshmen in net can be unreliable.
Miami not only lost forwards Reilly Smith and Tyler Biggs to the locked-out NHL this past year, but also has a roster with 11 new freshmen. The roster overhaul could lead to some question marks as the season progresses. Austin Czarnik, who finished second in points last season is a definite positive for Miami. The sophomore forward is tied for the team lead in points with five.
First look: Miami at Michigan, Friday and Saturday.
Western Michigan: Last season the Broncos had a new coach in Andy Murray and some questions to answer. But after the Broncos defeated Michigan in the CCHA Finals last year to earn just their second-ever NCAA Tournament berth, Murray’s stock rose.
Goaltender Frank Slubowski, who shared the duties last year, has been given the nod this season. The CCHA pre-season first-team selection has lived up to the hype, giving up just seven goals in four appearances this year.
The Broncos’ (3-1) two leading scorers, and forwards Chase Balisy and Shane Berschbach, combined for 69 points last season, both return to lead a vicious attack. Coming off a season that saw him notch a second-team All-American selection, defenseman Dan DeKeyser will anchor the Western Michigan back line.
First look: Western at Michigan, Dec. 14-15 .
Ferris State: The Bulldogs are coming off of their most successful season in the history of the program. They captured their first CCHA regular-season championship and also used a late-season run to make it to their first Frozen Four.
Ferris State lost point-leader Jordie Johnston and scoring defenseman Chad Billins, but the Bulldogs still boast a strong lineup. Coach Bob Daniels will play a first-year starter in net with sophomore C.J. Motte, who started only 12 games last season. Defenseman Scott Czarnowczan, a CCHA-preseason honorable mention, will lead a Ferris State defense that returns most of its core.
Despite the high preseason hopes, Ferris State has started the year just 1-1-2. The Bulldogs come into the week ranked 18th nationally, even with their most recent struggles.
First look: Michigan at Ferris State, Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
Northern Michigan: One of the underrated teams in the CCHA, the 16th-ranked Wildcats are hoping to let loose a growl heard round the conference this season. After a sweep of Green Bay-Wisconsin and a split with Nebraska-Omaha, Northern Michigan’s 3-1 record looks to be a good starting place.
Besides a lopsided 5-2 loss against Nebraska-Omaha, the stingy Wildcat defense has allowed just one goal per game. This is due to a back line that returned all six starters. Pre-season second-team All-American selection Kyle Follmer highlights the defense, along with standout C.J. Ludwig.
The defense also will receive significant help from goaltender Jared Coureau, who allowed 2.2 goals per game last year. During Northern Michigan’s three contests, he has an impressive 0.913 save percentage.
And though the Wildcats received a CCHA preseason No. 8 ranking, they look ready to take on the deep conference. The lack of offensive production and the unyielding defense thus far has given them a little bit of a sleeper feel.
First look: Michigan at Northern Michigan, Nov. 2-3.