10 For '07: The Questions
We're only a few weeks removed from the 2006
national championship game, but here at Inside College Hockey
we can't resist casting our gaze toward the future. A lot
can change between now and the drop of the puck in October,
but that doesn't stop our 10 For '07 feature.
We already took an early look at the
top 10 teams and the
top 10 Hobey contenders headed into next season. Now we
take a look at the big questions entering the 2006-07 season.
• What is to become of the CHA?
Will the "big" leagues absorb those teams if it
dissolves? Or will they play as independents? Or fold?
Umm...all of the above?
We'll likely know the fate of the CHA sometime
this week, as coaches from the league's five remaining teams
meet in Florida in conjunction with the American Hockey Coaches
Association's annual convention. Since Air Force announced
last year it was bolting for Atlantic Hockey – creating
the most geographically mismatched league name since the East
Coast Hockey League expanded to include teams in San Diego
and Alaska – the death watch has been on.
There are a few factors to consider here. First,
there are no candidates on the horizon willing to fill the
CHA's sixth slot. The league unsuccessfully wooed current
Division I programs and courted Kennesaw State, the Georgia
school which talked of adding varsity hockey before abandoning
the effort. Second, there doesn't appear to be any room for
growth in the four established leagues – they're all
at tidy even numbers. Third, the league best suited to handle
expansion, Atlantic Hockey, limits its teams to 11 scholarships,
whereas the CHA allows its members to offer the NCAA-maximum
18 full rides. Good luck getting a Niagara or a Bemidji State
whack seven scholarships.
If there's a silver lining in all of this, it's
that the movers and shakers recognize that this is a college
hockey problem, not just a CHA problem.
• What's the status of new rinks
on the college hockey landscape, and what will they mean?
The status is mixed – Miami’s new
Goggin Arena will open in the fall, Quinnipiac’s new
multi-sport Athletics Center is set for a January 2007 unveiling
and the proposed new DECC at UMD is still on the drawing board.
What they mean, though, is more consistent across
the board – good things. In the arms race of college
hockey recruiting, facilities rank right alongside coaching
in importance. For Miami and Quinnipiac, the new rinks come
at a perfect time, as the programs are already on an upswing.
The RedHawks claimed the CCHA regular-season title last season
and despite the loss of Andy Greene, have a solid group around
which to build. The Bobcats, meanwhile, made their ECACHL
debut last season and not only had the league’s rookie
of the year (Brian Leitch), but arguably had the conference’s
best recruiting class overall.
• Can Denver get back after
losing the best player in the game and their best forward
– but no one else?
Will the Pioneers miss Matt Carle? Certainly,
but show us a club in the country that wouldn't miss a defenseman
who finds himself on the top power-play unit for an NHL playoff
team less than a month after playing his last game as a collegian.
That doesn't mean the cupboard is bare on the Denver blueline,
however. Chris Butler had a fine freshman campaign and he,
along with classmate T.J. Fast and junior-to-be Andrew Thomas,
will continue to improve. The wild card may be recruit Keith
Seabrook, the brother of promising Chicago Blackhawk rearguard
Brent Seabrook. Initially expected to join the Pioneers in
the fall of 2007, will he be on the ice when George Gwozdecky's
charges take the ice for their first practice this September?
Denver loses its best forward in historical
terms – the graduated Gabe Gauthier scored 155 career
points and won two national championships. That said, Paul
Stastny was the Pioneers' best forward last season, winning
the WCHA conference scoring title with 44 points in 28 league
matches and tying Carle for fourth in the circuit in scoring
in all games with 53 points. Stastny will again benefit by
riding shotgun with Ryan Dingle (27 goals) next season. The
entire team will benefit it DU can get a full season out of
forward Brock Trotter, who scored five points in five games
before a freak Achilles tendon tear ended his freshman campaign
• Will Michigan find (or rediscover)
Let's not write off Billy Sauer just yet, people.
He struggled at times this season, to be sure, but remember
that a) he was rushed into Ann Arbor as a 17-year-old after
Al Montoya signed with the Rangers in July and b) the Wolverines
weren't too terribly staunch on defense. And before you counter
by saying Montoya won 30 games as a 17-year-old freshman in
2002-03, that team boasted a gaggle of quality two-way forwards
(Jed Ortmeyer and Eric Nystrom among them) and a steadier
blueline corps. By the way, did you know Sauer's .898 save
percentage last season was better than the .895 save percentage
Montoya posted during his last go-round in Ann Arbor?
He's still a highly regarded goaltender –
the NHL Central Scouting Service ranks Sauer 13th among North
American netminders eligible for June's entry draft –
and he'll be a more confident, more mature player as a sophomore.
With the firepower the Wolverines have at their disposal year
after year, their goalies aren't asked to win games single-handedly.
More important is making the simple play and minimizing mistakes.
• What will next year's officiating
initiative be? Will checking from behind still be a focus?
If you can believe both the Internet and the
NCAA – has there ever been a more trustworthy combination?
– then two points of emphasis are on deck for the 2006-07
season. According to a short video on the NCAA Web site entitled
of Season Ice Hockey Officiating Video for AHCA Discussion,"
checking from behind and players in the crease are the touchstones
for the year to come.
On a mostly unrelated topic, humor us and watch
the video. Does it appear to you that most of the dirty play
takes place in the WCHA and Hockey East, while the CCHA is
chock full of Lady Byng candidates? Should we assume the by-product
of gentlemanly play is a combined 1-4 record in the NCAA Tournament
and no title game appearances since Bill Muckalt's senior
• Where do RIT and Air Force fit
in Atlantic Hockey?
Neither team can expect to challenge for the
conference title in the new 10-team Atlantic Hockey, but they
shouldn’t finish dead last either. That means even more
competition for a league that saw a middle-of-the-pack club
– Bentley, which was under .500 in league play –
advance to its conference championship game.
Both teams bring back significant experience,
as each loses only three regulars to graduation. Neither was
particularly successful against Atlantic Hockey last year
(Air Force was 0-3-0, RIT was 2-3-0), but most of those games
were on the road. With solid leadership and the boost of energy
that comes with new surroundings, it wouldn’t be surprising
to see either team finish in the top half of the standings.
• We've already seen a few people
bolt early for the NHL. With the lockout seemingly out of
our memory, how many more will jump to the pros, and how much
differently will the NCAA look next year as a result?
The offseason defections aren’t over,
and even some of those who have professed their intentions
to stay – hello, Jack Johnson and Brian Boyle –
could be cashing checks by September. That’s nothing
new to college hockey fans, who learn to get attached to the
guys on the ice between periods – like Bucky and Bananas
– moreso than those out there during the game.
The bigger question, however, is whether the
post-lockout NHL will lure a greater number of underclassmen
out of the college ranks each year. With ninth-round picks
(UNH’s Daniel Winnik) and relatively unknown free agents
(Ferris State’s Matt Stefanishion) jumping ship, it
appears, at first glance, that college hockey may lose a few
more players early than it has been accustomed to.
• What is the future of the Fighting
Sioux nickname and logo at North Dakota?
The university’s “final” appeal
is currently under review by the NCAA. But our hunch is that
you could have resolution of who killed JFK before this is
said and done.
Neither side has shown any inkling of backing
down in the standoff. That hints, at some point, of a compromise,
although what form it would take is anyone’s guess.
Most likely, the Sioux would be prevented from hosting future
regionals at Ralph Engelstad Arena, which would be a shame
after a well attended event at the world’s most beautiful
hockey rink this March.
• Which coaches are on the hot
A scant few. With all the turnover that's taken
place over the past few seasons, most coaches are either in
the midst of their so-called grace period or just completed
that phase and enter the "show me" mode in 2006-07
– of the 59 NCAA Division I head coaches, 24 have been
behind the bench of their current teams for four seasons or
It's not all pink lemonade and teddy bears,
however. Western Michigan's Jim Culhane and UMass Lowell's
Blaise MacDonald are the two coaches who appear to have the
most riding on the coming season. MacDonald led UML to a fourth-place
finish in the Hockey East standings in his first year behind
the RiverHawk bench – in the ensuing four seasons, his
teams have finished in an eighth-place tie, sixth, fifth and
seventh. Culhane, meanwhile, has been at Western for eight
seasons and his Broncos have placed in the lower half of the
CCHA standings in six of them. He had never won a postseason
series until last season, when WMU swept Lake Superior State
in the first round of an expanded CCHA playoff format.
Coaches who may find themselves on the hot seat
a year from now with a poor showing if 2006-07 include Don
Cahoon at UMass, Brown's Roger Grillo, Bowling Green's Scott
Paluch, George Roll at Clarkson, and Minnesota Duluth's Scott
• Can anyone outside the WCHA
win a national championship?
National championship? Why stop there? Let’s
throw the Hobey Baker Award in the mix as well. It’s
been six seasons since either honor has been spotted anywhere
east of Wisconsin. It could be time to turn everyone outside
the WCHA into Division I-AA.
Then again, the West’s stranglehold on
our sport has actually been fairly tenuous. Think back to
Denver killing off a 6-on-3, or even that post BC hit with
less than two seconds remaining this season. It would be one
thing if the WCHA was racking up Globetrotter vs. Generals
decisive victories – this stretch is almost more impressive
since the league has been so close to defeat at different
times along the way.
A bounce here or there and the answer to this
question is most definitely yes, with Boston College and Michigan
State entering 2006-07 as the best candidates to dethrone
the WCHA. But with five straight titles – and Hobeys
– to its credit, someone from the WCHA has to be considered