for '08: The Questions
We're only a few weeks removed from the 2007
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 '08 feature.
We already took an early look at the
top 10 teams and the top
10 Hobey candidates headed into next season. Now we
take an early look at 10 burning questions for the 2007-08
• Is there another Notre Dame
on the horizon, i.e. a team that will emerge from the shadows
and become entrenched in the top five for most of the year?
Even though coach Jeff Jackson inherited a
team that posted a 5-27-6 record the season prior to his
arrival, the pieces for a respectable squad were already
in place – David Brown, Erik Condra, Wes O’Neill.
There’s no situation like that this time around, but
it wouldn’t come as a shock to see Michigan Tech emerge
as a top-10 team this season.
|Michael-Lee Teslak is half of
a formidable goaltending tandem that leads Michigan
The Huskies lost just three players from last
year’s 18-17-5 team, and bring back goaltenders Michael-Lee
Teslak (2.00 GAA, .916 save pct.) and Rob Nolan (2.26 GAA,
.910 save pct.). Tech needs to score more goals to make
the leap. The onus falls on returnees Peter Rouleau, Tyler
Shelast, Jimmy Kerr, and Alex Gagne, who was a high-scoring
forward in the British Columbia Hockey League. Speaking
of junior standouts, the Huskies will welcome forwards Casey
Pierro-Zabotel (51 goals for the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials)
and Bennett Royer (76 points with the Calgary Canucks of
the Alberta Junior Hockey League) into the fold next season.
North Dakota and Minnesota are the clear-cut
favorites in the WCHA, but with Wisconsin’s youth
and Denver and St. Cloud State losing a ton of veterans,
there’s no reason Michigan Tech can’t set its
sights on a top-three finish in the league and an NCAA Tournament
berth in 07-08.
• Speaking of Notre Dame, can
the Fighting Irish repeat the success of 2006-07?
Win 32 games, spent most of the second half
of the season as the nation’s top-ranked team, and
take both the CCHA regular-season and playoff titles? Unlikely.
But a return to the NCAA Tournament is a strong possibility.
Goaltender David Brown is irreplaceable. But
returnee Jordan Pearce and newcomer Brad Phillips should
be capable options between the pipes. On defense, the Irish
lose three regulars, but Kyle Lawson and Brett Blatchford,
both of whom had solid freshman campaigns, return, and recruit
Ian Cole is rated ninth on Red Line Report’s list
of prospects eligible for June’s NHL Entry Draft.
Throw in a solid nucleus of forwards led by the RED Line
of Ryan (Thang), Erik (Condra), and (Kevin) Deeth, and the
pieces for a solid season are in place.
• One more from CCHA territory:
Is everyone in agreement now that Rick Comley is a coaching
A national championship will work wonders
for a coach who many thought was at the end of his tenure
in East Lansing.
There will still be factions around the Spartan
program that credit Jeff Lerg and Justin Abdelkader much
more than they would ever salute Comley. National title
or not, in the minds of some he still won’t measure
up to the likes of former Spartans Danton Cole or Kelly
Miller or – of course – Ron Mason.
That said, you’ve got to invoke Bill
Simmons’ five-year championship grace period here,
which you’d expect to quell any calls to fire Comley
in 2007-08. And if there is grumbling, Comley's two rings,
to borrow a phrase from Patrick Roy, should spare him from
• Never mind who's turning pro
early: Which players will follow the leads of T.J. Hensick
and Brian Boyle and shun the pros for another year in college?
We've already received some answers to this
one, with North Dakota stalwarts T.J. Oshie, Brian Lee and
Joe Finley stating for the record that they'll be back in
Grand Forks. Michigan's Andrew Cogliano and Kevin Porter
will likely return to Ann Arbor, and it’s a good bet
you’ll see Minnesota defenseman Alex Goligoski clad
in a maroon and gold sweater in October.
|Expect Cory Schneider's immediate
future to be scrutinized this summer.
The big decisions we'll be keeping an eye
on involve Boston College goalie Cory Schneider (likely
to stay), North Dakota forward Jonathan Toews (likely to
leave), and Minnesota forward Kyle Okposo (anyone able to
get a clear read on the New York Islanders organization
should find an easier pursuit, like maybe solving global
warming or bringing peace to the Middle East).
• Assuming Toews goes pro, who
takes that coveted spot between Ryan Duncan and T.J. Oshie
on North Dakota’s top line?
Can’t you see the tables turning in
Grand Forks? All these coveted recruits up front who Dave
Hakstol successfully recruited to the school will now be
selling themselves to their coach, with hopes of finding
a sweater that’s the same color as Duncan and Oshie’s
on the first day of practice in the fall.
As top heavy as the Sioux were this season
– if Toews leaves, no returning forward had even half
as many points as Duncan or Oshie – it’s not
as if the cupboard is bare. An incoming freshman like Evan
Trupp or Brett Bruneteau could make a bid for the spot,
but from what we saw in the postseason, rising sophomore
Chris VandeVelde is a more likely option. VandeVelde only
had nine points on the season, but seven of them –
including all three goals – came in March or April.
• Does Air Force's Eric Ehn
rank among the top three candidates for the 2008 Hobey Baker
If he approaches the numbers he put up last
season, he should. And, as we briefly discussed in our 10
for ’08 look at next year’s top Hobey candidates,
Ehn has a couple factors in his favor for the upcoming season
before he even scores a point. One is name recognition:
There’s not a college hockey fan or Hobey voter who
doesn’t know who he is, a huge hurdle for someone
from one of the sport’s fledgling leagues to overcome.
The second is that Ehn attends a service academy.
Whether foreign policy plays a role in determining the nation’s
best college hockey player is up for debate, but there are
those who feel Ehn’s tie to Hobey Baker, a World War
I Navy pilot, should be considered. And though our country’s
military endeavors around the world are met with growing
scrutiny at home, support for the men and women fighting
in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere – or preparing
to do so – remains strong.
• Am I nuts, or does there appear
to be clear preseason favorites in every league except for
College Hockey America?
Note: Inside College Hockey ECAC Hockey
League beat writer Joe Gladziszewski thinks the questioner
is nuts, but INCH editor/columnist Mike Eidelbes, the author
of the response below, respectfully disagrees.
First, a disclaimer. I’m not saying
that the teams that appear to be odds-on favorites at the
start of the season will end up in first place in their
respective leagues. What I am saying is that five of the
six conferences have teams that, based on the number of
key components returning in 2007-08 in relation to the others
in its circuit, should logically be considered the teams
For example, Boston College’s collection
of returning talent and top-flight newcomers makes them
a prohibitive favorite to win Hockey East honors. They’re
clearly superior to every team in that league. The same
can be said for RIT, which brings back just about everyone
from the squad that won the Atlantic Hockey regular-season
crown in its first year in the circuit.
North Dakota and Minnesota look to be in the
top tier in the WCHA – on paper, the rest of the league’s
teams have significant holes to fill – but the Fighting
Sioux’s returning nucleus is stronger than that of
the Gophers, so they get the nod. In the CCHA, Michigan
State has the edge over Miami, Michigan and Notre Dame,
which lost more significant contributors than the reigning
national champions. It’s not quite as clear cut in
the ECACHL, but I think last year’s league playoff
champ, Clarkson, deserves the handle as preseason favorite
over Quinnipiac and Dartmouth.
Yeah, I know, past results do not ensure future
performance, but each conference seems to have one team
with a lot fewer question marks surrounding it in relation
to the field heading into next season. That said, I still
recommend hanging on to your receipt.
• What do Cornell coach Mike
Schafer, Boston University coach Jack Parker, Santa Claus,
The Rockettes and SpongeBob SquarePants have in common?
They'll all be in New York City during Thanksgiving.
The Big Red and Terriers renew a rivalry that dates back
to the pre-Hockey East era when both programs were members
of the ECAC. Cornell and BU will play at Madison Square
Garden on Nov. 24.
• Any other games I should mark
on my calendar now?
Of course. Use pencil, though, because these
things have a way of changing. The field for next year’s
Ice Breaker, scheduled for early October, includes Boston
College, Michigan, Rensselaer and host Minnesota. The U.S
Hockey Hall of Fame Game takes place in Grand Forks in October,
and features the Fighting Sioux against the defending national
champions, Michigan State. The Sioux are also scheduled
to travel to Boston College and Northeastern in October.
In more traditional series fare, North Dakota
gets a holiday visit from New Hampshire. Maine, who’ll
play anyone anywhere, travels to Denver to face the Pioneers
in mid-October. Denver’s also supposed to make a trip
to South Bend for a series at Notre Dame in October –
a Thursday-Friday affair due to Saturday’s Southern
Cal-Notre Dame football game. Clarkson hosts St. Cloud State
for two November games. The Knights also welcome BC to Cheel
for a single game.
|It may seem an oddball pick,
but we give Clarkson an early nod to reach Denver.
• So who can we expect to see
in Denver next April?
Hopefully not the city’s Major League
Baseball franchise. They’re putrid.
As far as way-too-early Frozen Four projections,
Boston College and North Dakota look like the safest picks,
so we’ll send them packing to the vastly underrated
Mountain Time Zone. The CCHA appears to have a group of
four teams that enter the season with legitimate Frozen
Four aspirations; we’ll tab Miami, led by former Denver
assistant Enrico Blasi. And since there usually seems to
be one oddball in the group, let’s put Clarkson in
The by-product of this field is a representative
from each of the nation’s four traditional conferences,
so now we won’t get any e-mails chastising us for
our perceived Eastern/Western biases.