October 1, 2003
INCH Preseason Power Rankings: The Great 58

Related Links
Last year's final rankings
USA Today/American Hockey Magazine Poll
USCHO.com Poll

Minnesota looked to have an almost perfect scenario heading into 2003-04, with almost every key player returning from the back-to-back national champions. Then goaltender Travis Weber left school, and left a big question mark between the Gophers' pipes.

The lesson? Everybody in college hockey faces a challenge. We kept that in mind as we compiled our INCH Preseason Power Rankings – The Great 58 – and offer, along with the rankings, the biggest challenge each team faces in the coming year.

Here's how the Inside College Hockey editors and staff ranks the nation's top teams. You can let us know what you think and we'll share your thoughts below.

No. Team

The Challenge

1. Minnesota All the pieces are in place – except for a reliable goalie, perhaps. But after winning two NCAA titles, is the desire for another still there? With Grant Potulny as captain, one would think so.
2. Boston College Offense doesn't worry the Eagles, but they need to get good goaltending out of Matti Kaltiainen, and better performances by the whole team in big games.
3. Michigan Playing past the second Thursday in April – the Wolverines have been ousted in the Frozen Four semifinals in each of the last three seasons.
4. New Hampshire The Wildcats need to overcome significant losses, including Lanny Gare, Colin Hemingway and Garrett Stafford – but somehow they always do.
5. North Dakota Finding a reliable answer in goal is an obvious objective for coach Dean Blais – and with the cadre of scorers he has at his disposal, keeping a goals-against average below 4.00 could be reliable enough.
6. Harvard With the Crimson's talent, they deserve the preseason nod in the ECAC, but they have to prove that they can unseat Cornell. They were 0-3-0 against the Big Red last year.
7. Boston University Without a star up front, the Terriers will need 15-20 goals from a few players. If four guys reach that mark, suddenly scoring's not a problem.
8. Massachusetts Will the Minutemen think an appearance at the FleetCenter is enough? They need to show the same hunger that they had last year.
9. Cornell Michigan State can tell you how tough it is to replace an all-everything goaltender, and Dave LeNeveu was just one of several big contributors to depart.
10. Ferris State With the return of Jeff Legue and Derek Nesbitt and the addition of Mark Bomersback, the 'Dogs will score. But can they replace the leadership of Chris Kunitz and Troy Milam?
11. Minnesota Duluth While prognosticators have identified the Bulldogs as this season's "it" team in the WCHA, Scott Sandelin's charges would do well to avoid the glowing preseason adulation and remember they haven't won a thing yet.
12. Colorado College Replacing Peter Sejna would be enough of a challenge for most teams, but the Tigers have to fill the skates of Noah Clarke and Tom Preissing, too.
13. Denver There are few – if any – stars on this team, but George Gwozdecky's strategies work best when he has the ability to roll four lines and three defensive pairs that will smack you in the mouth on one and and undress your goalie on the other.
14. Maine The world has run out of Kariyas. We're not sure if there are any more Lawsons, Liscaks or Heistens out there.
15. Miami The RedHawks have depth on defense and are solid up front, but it'll be a long season unless one of three untested goaltenders – Nick Petraglia, Steve Hartley or Brandon Crawford-West – asserts himself.
16. Michigan State The challenge isn't replacing star defensemen Brad Fast and John-Michael Liles; it's teaching the new faces on the blue line that they're not expected to live up to their lofty standards.
17. Dartmouth Inconsistency in goal was a problem last year, and it could be exacerbated by the loss of three strong defensemen to graduation.
18. Ohio State For the Bucks, the challenge has already been issued. Guys like Mike Betz, Doug Andress and Scott May are eager to prove the team was more than The R.J. and Ryan Show last season.
19. Mercyhurst How's this for a challenge: trips to Michigan and Ohio State to open the season, and later a 10-game roadie that includes eight games against CCHA, ECAC and Hockey East foes.
20. Wisconsin Scary thought No. 1: How will uberfrosh Ryan Suter live up to the lofty expectations that precede him. Scary thought No. 2: What if he does?
21. Minnesota State Troy Jutting's squad advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season after coming out of nowhere. Will they be able to do the same this season now that they're coming out of somewhere?
22. Northern Michigan What Wildcat fans wouldn't do for some consistency. No other CCHA team of late has been more inclined to reel off a few wins in a row, followed by a tailspin.
23. Notre Dame If the Irish players lived up to the praise heaped upon them by recruiting analysts and NHL scouts, the only challenge would be making postseason travel plans.
24. Brown Yann Danis gives the Bears the best goaltending in the league, but they need to score more than three goals per game after averaging 2.74 last year.
25. Niagara Look back in the history books and you'll see the last time the Purple Eagles – this year's CHA favorite – advanced to the NCAA Tournament, they boasted plenty of depth and experience.
26. Providence Is there life after the DiSalvatore-Rask-Fregoe line? The answer may lie in the performance of freshman Colin McDonald.
27. Yale ESPN.com's Bill Simmons and his Ewing Theory would hail the loss of Chris Higgins for Yale, but opposing coaches are happy to see him gone as well.
28. Quinnipiac The Bobcats' main challenge hasn't changed: beat Mercyhurst. They'll need a young defense to step up in order to do it.
29. St. Cloud State Rebuilding isn't a word that's been used in connection with the Huskies for some time. SCSU fans probably saw the writing on the wall last season when their team squeezed into the NCAA Tournament despite a second-division finish in the WCHA.
30. Alaska-Fairbanks Establish home-ice advantage is you want to have success in the postseason. Traveling to road games from just south of the Artic Circle takes its toll on a team.
31. Western Michigan Make a statement. The Broncos consistently hover around the .500 mark. Rarely do they finish higher or lower. Sustained mediocrity can be a life sentence (ask the Seattle Seahawks).
32. Bemidji State The Beavers will be Niagara's main threat in the CHA, but they can also take stock in the growth of their program with games against Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State.
33. Bowling Green Fans celebrating the 20th anniversary of the school's 1984 national title will wonder when the Falcons will return to prominence. Scott Paluch has the team headed in the right direction, but he needs to preach patience.
34. Michigan Tech The Huskies have a fair amount of talent and they've been competitive over the past couple of seasons. Now it's up to new coach Jamie Russell to get the team over the hump by changing some of those narrow losses to wins.
35. Clarkson The bad vibes need to be a thing of the past in Potsdam, and the Knights need to make Cheel a tough place to play again. They were only 8-9-0 at home last season.
36. Vermont The Catamounts need to weather the storm early under a new coach, with games against BC, BU and UNH to kick off the season. If they come out of those with even one win, it could be a sign of good things to come.
37. Nebraska-Omaha The Mavericks hope fans will be so enthralled by the new Qwest Center Omaha that they don't notice the massive rebuilding project coach Mike Kemp faces.
38. Alabama-Huntsville If you're wearing a Chargers sweater, don't refer to Jared Ross as a daddy's boy. Yeah, he's head coach Doug Ross's son, but he's also the team's best player and one of the top five scorers in the conference.
39. Merrimack No player in Hockey East was more valuable to his team than Joe Exter, and making Warriors' biggest challenge overcoming his graduation.
40. Union Like one-third of the ECAC, the Dutchmen have a new coach, but for Nate Leaman it's his first head job.
41. Holy Cross One of the reasons Paul Pearl stayed at Holy Cross was the talent his team returns this year. Can they crack Atlantic Hockey's top two?
42. Wayne State Remember last year's inaugural CHA playoff championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament? Forget it: the Warriors are in rebuilding mode. They will play all their home games, however, in a comfortable arena (Compuware Sports Center in suburban Detroit).
43. St. Lawrence There was nothing special about the Saints's power play or penalty kill last
year – both finished in the ECAC's bottom three.
44. Northeastern Mike Ryan was a gifted goal scorer, a role that more than one Husky will have to step up in order to fill.
45. Alaska Anchorage Baby steps: start with one league win, and go from there.
46. Rensselaer Four of last year's top five scorers are back, and they'll need to increase production after the Engineers averaged 2.35 goals per game.
47. Colgate Steve Silverthorn is one of the most underrated goalies in the ECAC, but the Raiders will need some offense now that Scooter Smith has graduated.
48. UMass Lowell Youth can be a good thing – if it comes together quickly. That's the task ahead of head coach Blais MacDonald.
49. Princeton If the Tigers can get some consistent scoring – by someone other than Chris Owen – they could jump a few spots in the ECAC.
50. Lake Superior State Score a goal – on a breakaway, during a power play, off an opposing player's skate. The Lakers lit the lamp a scant 60 times last season.
51. Sacred Heart The Pioneers' defense and penalty killing was the best in the MAAC; can that carry over to Atlantic Hockey without Eddy Ferhi and Les Hrapchak?
52. Army The Black Knights need to stay afloat early, since they have just four away games after the first of the year.
53. Connecticut First task: one of those name games you used to play at summer camp, so everyone can get to know the 15 freshmen.
54. Findlay Head coach Pat Ford has the experience from his stints as an assistant at Wisconsin and Northern Michigan. The challenge here: make it work when hockey isn't one of the school's top priorities.
55. Bentley The Falcons won't sneak up on anyone this year, an advantage they had as an underrated team in 2002-03.
56. Canisius The schedule makers dealt the Golden Griffins no favors, with a stretch of 14 out of 17 games on the road in the middle of the season.
57. Air Force The Falcon football team provides a great model: commit to a style of play and perform as a unit, then you can keep up with more talented squads.
American International
The Yellowjackets have lots of room for improvement, but they can start with a power play that converted on only 8.9 percent of its chances last year.


The only thing I disagree about is when you said that Minnesota has questions between the pipes. I think the Gophers are going to be O.K. in goaltending. Justin Johnson was 10-2-2 last year as he proved that he can be a #1 type goalie for a NCAA Championship caliber type team like the Gophers. Kellen Briggs was quoted as being possibly the best goalie in the USHL by some of the coaches in the league. So our backup goaltender also could be a show-stopper.

I think the Gophers have a great chance of the three-peat!


Send this to a friend

About Us | Advertiser Info | Site Map | Privacy Policy
© 2003 Inside College Hockey, Inc., All Rights Reserved