2005-06 CCHA Preview
these two truths to be self-evident: 1. Goaltending is the
single most important element of a college hockey team, and
2. the upper echelon of the CCHA has been “down”
for the last couple of years.
of the former, the latter might remain true this season. There
are goaltending questions abound in the conference, most notably
at Michigan but also at Northern Michigan, Miami, Nebraska-Omaha,
Bowling Green, Notre Dame and Ferris State. Doubts even arise
at Western Michigan – not about who (Daniel Bellissimo)
but about how good.
the situations look more secure than others. For example,
folks in Marquette are confident that sophomore Bill Zaniboni
will be a capable replacement for Tuomas Tarkki after posting
a 2.79 goals-against average and .916 save percentage last
season. The Fighting Irish can turn to junior David Brown,
who was superb as a freshman before struggling behind Morgan
Cey last season. And Miami might be able to cull a serviceable
tandem out of sophomore Charlie Effinger and freshman Jeff
about Bowling Green, which lost Jordan Sigalet, the unquestioned
backbone of its team? What about UNO, which lost Chris Holt
to the pros after the NHL lockout was resolved, leaving virtually
no time to find a suitable replacement? What about Michigan,
which, instead of having an All-American between the pipes
(Al Montoya), enters the season with a 17-year-old freshman
named Billy Sauer?
make for some crazy nights around the Midwest (and up near
the Arctic rim) this winter.
said, there are a few teams who can look back at their crease
with confidence, especially Ohio State, the coaches’
and media’s pick to win the league this year. David
Caruso is the first-team preseason all-conference goalie after
going 25-9-4 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .917 save
percentage last season. Dominic Vicari (Michigan State), Wylie
Rogers (Alaska Fairbanks) and Jeff Jakaitis (Lake Superior
State) also have proved themselves worthy of CCHA competition.
be the difference in standings that figure to be as tight
as ever, particularly in the middle? The survey says ... Maybe.
of teams look capable of jumping two or three spots up the
standings from their finish last season (Michigan State, Northern
Michigan, Notre Dame, Alaska Fairbanks), but Miami
might have the best potential of all. Coach Enrico
Blasi returns almost all of his offense from a team that placed
seventh in 2004-05, plus fantastic defenseman Andy Greene
to anchor the blue line. Senior Chris Michael, juniors Matt
Christie and Marty Guerin and sophomore Nathan Davis give
Miami as good of a stable of forwards as anyone in the league.
As already discussed, goaltending is an issue, as is defensive
depth, but if the RedHawks can come close to solving those
problems, an NCAA tournament berth is within reach.
FOR A FALL
can overcome a lot of problems, so Michigan
won’t dip too low in the standings. But the Wolverines
must patch more holes than normal heading into this season.
Gone are 10 seniors – not necessarily the squad’s
top-end players, but guys who filled vital roles as far as
chemistry and leadership for Red Berenson. U-M’s star
power then went out the window this summer when goalie Al
Montoya and forward Jeff Tambellini signed pro contracts.
The result will be a young team full of talent (led by sophomore
forward Chad Kolarik, freshman forward Andrew Cogliano and
freshman defenseman Jack Johnson) but lacking in experience.
Senior captains Andrew Ebbett and Brandon Kaleniecki and junior
defenseman Matt Hunwick are good role models, but the fate
of Michigan’s season likely will rest with freshman
goalie Billy Sauer’s ability to stop pucks and junior
forward T.J. Hensick’s attitude toward doing the little
things necessary to win.
buddies with the boss will keep your job safe for awhile,
but that doesn’t mean there is no heat on Michigan
State coach Rick Comley as he enters his fourth season
in East Lansing. Spartans fans are growing increasingly restless
with middle-of-the-pack finishes after being spoiled by Ron
Mason’s success for so many years. Comley is a relatively
pedestrian 66-48-8 with MSU, and has only qualified for one
NCAA Tournament in three seasons. His teams have been plagued
by bad starts before hitting a stride (of various degrees)
after New Year’s. Now that Comley has his own players
(the seniors were recruited by Mason but never played for
him), there aren’t many justifiable excuses for a poor
showing this season. MSU plays North Dakota, Cornell, Michigan
and Northern Michigan in a tough opening month, and if the
team’s record continues to sag near the .500 mark, expect
unrest to grow quickly.
ACT TO FOLLOW
hearing about CCHA goaltending uncertainty yet? Too bad. When
Al Montoya, Jordan Sigalet and Chris Holt
left campus after last season, they left behind the three
biggest sets of skates to fill in all the league. And the
guys taking over from them are greener than Ron Mason’s
blood. The Wolverines love Billy Sauer, even though he won’t
be old enough to buy a lotto ticket until January and he gave
up six goals on 23 shots in the Blue-White scrimmage on Saturday.
BGSU likely will turn to freshman Jimmy Spratt, a seventh-round
Calgary draft pick and two-time USHL All-Star, or Findlay
transfer Jon Horrell this season. Both, obviously, are unproven.
UNO appears to have a three-horse race between sophomore Eric
Aarnio and freshmen Jerad Kaufmann and Greg Barrett. Aarnio
played just six games last year and had a 5.97 goals-against
Greene is ready to emerge as a star on the national level.
we don’t look closely enough, but we’ve never
seen Miami senior defenseman Andy Greene
screw up. Honestly. He’s as solid as they come in terms
of college blueliners, picking up points (his 34 led league
defensemen last season), making good decisions with the puck
and always – always – being in the right place
in his own zone. Greene, entering his second season as captain,
is an excellent skater, was voted an assistant captain by
his teammates as a sophomore and plays about 30 minutes a
game for the RedHawks. He’s not as flashy as some defensemen,
which might be why he doesn’t always get credit from
those outside of the CCHA, but he’s every bit as good
as Matt Carle and anybody else in college right now.
off being the No. 3 pick in this year’s NHL draft, Jack
Johnson arrives at Michigan as perhaps the most anticipated
freshman this side of a boy named Kessel. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound
defenseman has a solid body that belies his 18 years of age,
and was thought to be ready to jump right into the Carolina
Hurricanes’ system if he so chose. But he decided to
honor his verbal commitment to Michigan, which he made as
a 14-year-old, and will add some needed muscle to the Wolverines’
defensive zone. Johnson, a product of both Shattuck St. Mary’s
and the U.S. National Team Development program, has said he
tries to play like Scott Stevens defensively and Scott Niedermayer
offensively. That’ll work, Jack.
Kelly Czuy doesn’t get talked about
a lot because people are afraid to try to pronounce his name
(it sounds like “Chewy,” as in the great suggestion
from Santa’s Little Helper), but the Alaska Fairbanks
forward is a critical part of the Nanooks’ equation.
He’s the only senior on the roster now that classmate
Jordan Hendry is a fourth-year junior after taking a medical
redshirt last season, and Czuy is one of the Nanooks’
most consistent offensive threats. Beyond that, though, coach
Tavis McMillan expects Czuy to set the tone for the type of
hockey UAF aspires to play – being aggressive, playing
the body, etc. He probably won’t be brought up in many
all-CCHA discussions, but if there were a way to measure a
player’s importance to his team, Czuy would get more
How much of a difference will new coaches Jim Roque (Lake
Superior State) and Jeff Jackson (Notre Dame) make?
Both coaches should do wonders for their teams’ mental
makeups. The Lakers might have been a little worn down from
three years of Frank Anzalone’s abrasive style, and
the few would dispute that the Irish “quit” at
some subconscious level under Dave Poulin last season. So
each team’s outlook should greatly improve this season.
Whether Roque and Jackson can devise ways for their teams
to score goals is another question altogether.
Will Western Michigan have to score five or six goals a game
Sadly, that might be the case on many nights. The
Broncos weren’t very good defensively last season, giving
up 3.62 goals per game (11th in the CCHA), and it doesn’t
look like things will improve more than marginally this season.
The defensive corps is still pretty young, leaving goalie
Daniel Bellissimo in another precarious situation as a sophomore.
The good news is the offense looks potent, but it might have
to be otherworldly good to compete for much this season.
How much will Nebraska-Omaha be affected the late departure
of goalie Chris Holt? Probably more than anyone estimates
at this point. With Holt, the Mavericks would have been serious
contenders for a first-round playoff bye. Without him, the
coaches and media still picked UNO to finish fifth this season,
but if none of their young goalies step up, the Mavs likely
will place in the lower half of the league.
Five things you can take to the bank in the CCHA this season
1. The league will get three teams into the NCAA Tournament.
Yeah, we know that doesn’t allow for an all-CCHA
Frozen Four (those one-league summits are all the rage these
days), but after only sending two teams to last year’s
dance, it’s an improvement. We expect Ohio State, Michigan
and Michigan State.
Michigan State will be one of two teams to play in
college hockey’s two rowdiest barns, Yost Arena and
Lynah Rink, this year. Quinnipiac is the other. The
thinking here is that the Spartans have a better chance than
the Bobcats to do some damage in those games.
Ohio State’s players won’t be able to feel their
toes during the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic against
Wisconsin in February at Lambeau Field. It will be a throwback
to the days when Buckeye players couldn’t feel their
toes at the old OSU Ice Arena.
Jim Culhane will find his seat hotter than any other coach’s.
Some Western Michigan fans already have turned on
him, and with the Broncos’ most realistic goal being
home ice for the first round of the new playoff format, university
officials could, too.
It’s the final go-round for Goggin Ice Arena before
Miami’s new building opens next fall, and opposing
coaches and fans will pay their respects to the venerable
rink during their final visits. We hear Miami has
some nice things planned for Goggin’s final regular-season
game, against Bowling Green on Feb. 25.
pieces undoubtedly are in place, but do the Buckeyes have
the mental fortitude to advance the program to its next
level? Winning an NCAA Tournament game would be nice.
ever the Wolverines are vulnerable, this is the year.
Is Sauer the next great four-year goalie in Ann Arbor?
a trustworthy defensive pairing to give Corey Potter and
Ethan Graham and occasional break is a must. Team cohesion
might improve as Mason recruits continue to filter out.
they stay together, Nathan Oystrick and Geoff Waugh will
be the best blue-line combination in the league. Bill
Zaniboni is a capable replacement for Tuomas Tarkki.
everything is OK in the goaltending department, this team
is good enough to earn a first-round bye in the league
tournament. Offensively, the RedHawks are as dynamic as
anyone in the league.
top line will score, but will lines 2-4 pitch in enough?
Goaltending is a King Kong of a question mark.
forward Jonathan Matsumoto didn’t make the preseason
all-CCHA team, but it wouldn’t surprise us if he’s
part of the one in March. Will goaltending hold up?
are plenty of good vibes in the Land of the Midnight Sun,
but having only one senior on the roster could prove costly
when adversity strikes. Being part of league’s toughest
scheduling cluster doesn’t help, either.
Irish’s confidence was decimated halfway through
last season, but swagger is a necessary ingredient this
year. Somehow, they must maintain their resolve through
games against Denver, Colorado College and Michigan (twice)
in the first three weekends.
Jakaitis can keep them in most contests, but, as has been
the case for several years now, the lack of a serious
offensive attack will be a hindrance. Jim Roque should
improve team morale.
defense must give Daniel Bellissimo a fighting chance
to achieve two tasks: Getting his goals-against average
under 3.00 and his save percentage over .900. Brent Walton
leads a dangerous offense.
reason for optimism because of a splendid freshman class
featuring Dan Riedel, the leading scorer in the USHL last
season, and promising defenseman Chris Zarb. The return
of defenseman Jeremy Scherlinck from a season-long injury
also will help.