2006-07 CCHA Preview
Imagine a land of goalies as far as the eye
can see. Is it paradise?
Nay. It’s just the CCHA.
The league is rich in talent and experience
at hockey’s most-scrutinized position entering the 2006-07
go-round. Jeff Lerg (Michigan State), Jeff Jakaitis (Lake
Superior State), Bill Zaniboni (Northern Michigan), Mitch
O’Keefe (Ferris State), David Brown (Notre Dame) and
the tandems of Jeff Zatkoff and Charlie Effinger (Miami) and
Wylie Rogers and Chad Johnson (Alaska) all shined last season.
Billy Sauer (Michigan) and Jimmy Spratt (Bowling Green) are
talented kids who figure to play much better as sophomores.
The book is still out on Western Michigan junior
Daniel Bellissimo, who doesn’t get enough defensive
support, and it sounds like Nebraska-Omaha’s Jerad Kaufmann
is going to have to fend off challenges from Eric Aarnio and
freshman Jeremie DuPont to keep the job he won by taking the
Mavericks to the NCAA Tournament last year.
Zatkoff is just one of many excellent goaltenders in the
CCHA, and will look to improve upon his outstanding rookie
campaign as a sophomore this year.
But no matter what, those are 13 CCHA goalies
who played significant, meaningful minutes last season. The
only school without such experience behind the mask is Ohio
State, which lost Dave Caruso and his backup, Ian Keserich,
and now ventures into this season with a pair of rookies manning
It remains to be seen how the wealth of goaltending
will impact the league race. Michigan, Michigan State and
maybe Miami seem to have teams strong enough to make the Frozen
Four, and not much separates Northern Michigan, Ohio State
and Nebraska-Omaha from Notre Dame, Ferris State, Lake Superior
State and Alaska. Except strong linesmen, of course.
Even Western Michigan and Bowling Green could
jump up into the fray. As long as their goaltending pans out.
In year 2 under coach Jeff Jackson, the Notre
Dame Fighting Irish would love to take a jump up the standings
similar to last year’s 15-point improvement. That might
be a bit much to ask, seeing as 41 points would put them in
the league championship hunt, but spirits are high in South
Bend after a tied-for-eighth-place finish in Jackson’s
first season on the job following the disastrous, last-place
campaign of 2004-05. Notre Dame must replace a few gritty
senior forwards, but most of the squad’s honest-to-goodness
talent is still on the roster. Forwards Erik Condra, Josh
Sciba and former walk-on Mark Van Guilder are offensive threats,
goalie David Brown is a confident senior, the freshman class
carries some acclaim, and one of the deepest defensive corps
in the league roams the blue line at the Joyce Center.
PRIMED FOR A FALL
The Lake Superior State Lakers might have been
the most pleasant surprise in the league in 2005-06, finishing
in a tie for sixth place and earning home ice for the first
round of the playoffs in coach Jim Roque’s maiden season.
Roque has done an admirable job increasing the program’s
skill level and creativity through recruiting and loosening
the reins on the older players, but we’re worried about
the loss of 12 seniors and a couple of underclassmen from
last season. Yeah, talent remains in the Soo with goalie Jeff
Jakaitis and others, but such massive turnover might hurt
continuity at the start of the season (which is when the Lakers
were so good last year). And the defense, at least on paper,
has been decimated. A great onus will fall upon senior leaders
such as captain Barnabas Birkeland, Dominic Osman, Jeffery
Rainville and Trent Campbell to keep the USS Laker headed
in the right direction.
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
The Wolverines are loaded with impact forwards
and boast three of the top handful of defensemen in the league,
so why did they get relatively lukewarm treatment in the preseason
CCHA polls? Because voters were concerned about sophomore
goalie Billy Sauer. As a 17-year-old freshman last season,
Sauer posted a 3.04 goals-against average and .898 save percentage
and eventually lost his job to senior backup Noah Ruden. Still
only 18 until January, Big Blue supporters hope Sauer has
matured and improved to the point where the team doesn’t
have to score five or six goals per night to win. If he’s
still having trouble, coach Red Berenson could turn to freshman
TOUGHEST ACT TO FOLLOW
The right wing on the line with Scott Parse
and Bryan Marshall at Nebraska-Omaha. Bill Thomas turned into
a star in that role the last two seasons, but he left Omaha
as a sophomore when the Great One told him to join the Coyotes
in the spring. All he had done was score 95 points in two
years at UNO, including a CCHA-high 27 goals last season.
Mavericks coach Mike Kemp jokes that he’s had no shortage
of volunteers to play alongside the swift, playmaking Parse-Marshall
duo, but he’s not sure who will be the best fit. Sophomore
Tomas Klempa and juniors Brandon Scero and Mick Lawrence are
the top candidates. It very well could take until Christmastime
for a final decision to be made.
Scott Parse seems to get better every year, and is a legitimate
Hobey Baker candidate.
Even though a third of Michigan’s squad
might have more pro potential than UNO senior forward Scott
Parse, you can’t argue with what he’s done at
the college level. As a Hobey Baker semifinalist last season,
Parse amassed 61 points (20g, 41a) in 41 games and led the
Mavericks to their first NCAA Tournament berth. Parse’s
point totals have jumped by double digits each season, from
35 as a freshman to 49 as a sophomore to 61 last year. A similar
improvement this season could earn him some hardware on a
Friday in St. Louis. And despite that remark about the Wolverines'
pro potential, Parse has plenty in his own right. The Los
Angeles Kings pondered signing him this offseason, but he
stayed in school. He has the speed, size (6-0, 180) and hands
to be an effective NHL forward come April.
With no blue-chipper standing out above the
rest, we went with the frosh who will have the greatest impact
on his team’s success. Ohio State goalie Joe Palmer,
a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks this summer,
is earmarked as OSU’s No. 1 goalie in a year that most
CCHA teams have a proven commodity between the pipes. Palmer
is big, athletic, and confident. A knock against him has been
consistency, which had better get ironed out quickly with
fellow freshman Nick Filion as the only other scholarship
goalie on the roster. The good news for Palmer is that he
generally played well in the U.S. under-18 team’s myriad
of college exhibitions last season.
One of the nicer stories in the league is that
of Ferris State junior defenseman Adam Welch, who came to
Big Rapids as a walk-on yet became team captain as a sophomore.
Entering his second season wearing the “C,” the
6-foot-3 rearguard doesn’t score a bunch (he had two
goals and 13 points in 40 games last season), but his impact
on the FSU locker room is immeasurable. He, Chris Zarb and
Jeremy Scherlinck lead a strong group of Bulldog defensemen.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. How will Michigan State deal with
the loss of Drew Miller? Not only does his signing
with the Ducks take the leading scorer (43 points) out of
Rick Comley’s lineup, Miller was the unquestioned leader
in the locker room. Now the captaincy falls to fourth-liner
Chris Lawrence. He has the respect of his teammates, but many
coaches prefer to have their captain also be their best player.
2. Will Ohio State have a bounce-back
year? The Buckeyes were the great disappointment
in college hockey last season, going from runaway preseason
favorites in the CCHA to 10th-place chumps. There was a nasty
mix of injuries and sub-par individual performances for the
Scarlet and Gray, but they might be helped this year by reduced
expectations. Star forward Tom Fritsche won’t be playing
anytime soon, having lost 45 pounds because of an illness,
but what we could see is a group of talented players finding
themselves as underdogs and banding together to have a breakout
year. Or not. Who knows with this program?
3. What will Miami do without Andy Greene
on the blue line? Maybe cry a little. The All American
defenseman was a rock for the RedHawks for the past four years,
and his excellence afforded coach Enrico Blasi the luxury
of playing conservatively and sitting on leads. Junior Mitch
Ganzak gets some pub as a suitable replacement, but that’s
mostly because of what he does offensively. Without Greene,
Blasi might be tempted to unleash his talented forwards a
little bit more and try to win 4-3 instead of 2-1.
MARK IT DOWN
Five things you can take to the bank in the CCHA this season
1. Bowling Green’s locker room
will be a much happier place this year. At least
one Falcon observer thinks the team got an addition by the
subtraction of last year’s senior class, which didn’t
always see eye-to-eye with coach Scott Paluch. If everybody
can get on the same page, the Falcons might break out of their
2. Notre Dame will take several more
meaningful steps toward getting a much-needed new facility.
Coach Jeff Jackson said the fund-raising effort for a new,
hockey-only building on campus is halfway home after one year.
Another year at that pace and, uh, they’d be around
100 percent, right?
3. Speaking of facilities, the new Goggin
Ice Center at Miami will prove itself to be the jewel of the
you seen this baby? Nice.
4. Alaska will cause several people
to wonder, “What the heck happened to the ‘Fairbanks’
part of their name?” Well, we’ll tell
you - and then you tell all those people. The university changed
its athletics name as a marketing strategy to make the Nanooks
a statewide brand. Take that, Seawolves!
5. At least three CCHA teams will make
the NCAA Tournament. Michigan and Michigan State
should be locks, Miami looks nice on paper, and Northern Michigan,
Ohio State and Nebraska-Omaha could be right there if their
chips fall right.
||The Wolverines feature three of the
six players on the preseason all-CCHA team, including
a big lug named Johnson who told the Stanley Cup champions
to shove off.
||The Spartans have nice depth and ability
up front, and a wonderful, tiny goalie. But losing Corey
Potter on the back end could be problematic.
||The RedHawks also lost an All-American
defenseman in Andy Greene, but Nathan Davis anchors a
deep forward corps, and the Zatkoff-Effinger goalie combo
||The Wildcats are a veteran team for
the second year in a row, although it didn’t work
out so well last season. Olver and Santorelli are sharp
up front, but Oystrick and Waugh are gone on D.
||Tom Fritsche’s is quite a sad
story right now, and the Buckeyes sure will miss their
best player while he recovers from severe ulcerative colitis.
Get better, Tom.
||Former walk-on Jerad Kaufmann returns
as the starting goalie, but reading between Coach Kemp’s
words, he’s going to have to re-prove himself.
||In a down year for CCHA defensemen
not living in Ann Arbor, the Irish must feel great with
O’Neill, Babin, Sawatske, and Sheahan back there.
||Two big losses were forwards Greg
Rallo and Matt Stefanishion. But other than that, the
Bulldogs return almost en masse.
|Lake Superior State
||Goalie Jeff Jakaitis fatigued a bit
at the end of last season, but he’d better cowboy
up. Coach Roque said he might rest him another game or
two this year, but the senior still will play a ton of
||The Nanooks have a lot of quality
pieces, but we’re giving them an ultimatum before
they can escape the double digits: Prove you can score!
||Star forward Brent Walton took 155
points with him when he left Kalamazoo, but there’s
some decent talent still lurking around Lawson Arena (which
got a $2.5 million facelift to its locker rooms this summer).
||Alex Foster jumping to the Maple Leafs
was bad news. The Falcons have potential, but the defense
looks worrisome again.