2007-08 College Hockey America Preview
In 2006-07, Alabama-Huntsville rose from the
ashes of their fifth-place regular-season conference record
to win three straight playoff games — including two
in overtime — for the program's first College Hockey
America playoff title, which happened to coincide with Doug
Ross's final season as the team's head coach.
The new man behind the Chargers' bench is ex-NHLer
Danton Cole, whose last head coaching gig was with the American
Hockey League's Grand Rapids Griffins — the former Michigan
State standout was fired midway through the 2004-05 season.
He takes control of the UAH team missing a dozen players from
last year’s roster, including the top six scorers.
The early lineup definitely had the look of
starting over with only two seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores,
and 12 freshmen. Among the newcomers are two goaltenders,
one of whom is highly regarded (Cameron Talbot is rated seventh
among incoming netminders in INCH's Recruiting Rankings) and
one of whom is well connected (Wyatt Russell is the son of
actors Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.) They've got nearly as
much experience as returnee Blake MacNicol, who played all
of eight games as a freshman. Sophomore Kevin Morrison is
the leading returning goal-scorer. He had nine last season,
an indication that offense may be at a premium for the Chargers.
Bemidji State had what, for its lofty standards,
was a down year. Still, the Beavers finished just one point
out of first place.
“We’ve been over .500 for five straight
years and that’s not dodging anybody, so we’re
proud of that," said head coach Tom Serratore. "But
we did let down a bit in the second half and maybe overachieved
a bit in the first half. We’ve created high expectations,
but our guys are in the best shape we’ve ever been in
so hopefully that will translate on the ice.”
Bemidji State must replace the offense of Luke
Erickson and Rob Sirianni, both of whom eclipsed the century
mark in career points. The Beavers will look to Travis Winters,
Tyler Scofield, and Joey Moggach among others to fill the
Niagara appears to be the early favorite to
win its third consecutive regular-season crown, having lost
just two primary contributors — albeit large ones in
CHA Player of the Year Sean Bentivoglio, now with the New
York Islanders organization, and defenseman Pat Oliveto —
from a year ago.
An early question for the Purple Eagles, who
led the conference in scoring last season, is who will replace
Bentivoglio on the top power play unit? “We hope people
develop,” said head coach Dave Burkholder. “We
will lean on Vince Rocco for more, and Matt Caruana quietly
had an unbelievable year for us. As of today, we will move
Chris Moran from the point on the power play to forward and
play two defensemen on the first unit.”
Robert Morris, like Niagara, boasts a veteran
lineup, having lost just four seniors from a team that was
one goal from advancing to the NCAA Tournament in just the
program's third season of existence. Ryan Cruthers, the Colonials'
leading scorer from a year ago, is back along with goaltender
Christian Boucher, whose numbers continued to drop from the
career bests he posted as a freshman.
Wayne State learned last week that the 2007-08
campaign will be the program's last, the victim of budget
cuts. It's difficult to gauge what effect the decision will
have on a ridiculously young Warriors roster that features
a whopping 16 freshmen. Brett Bothwell starts the season as
the team's undisputed no. 1 goaltender; Jared Katz and Derek
Bachynski the only returnees who eclipsed the 20-point mark
“We have a relatively good supporting
cast, but I don’t know what I have right now with the
new players," Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson said.
"We’re hoping, but we’ll have to wait and
Morris starts the season with a healthy Chris Kaufman.
With 15 seniors, Robert Morris is virtually
the mirror-image of last season’s Alabama-Huntsville
team, but it's doubtful the Colonials will need to perform
a similar last-to-first miracle in the playoffs in order to
advance to the NCAA Tournament. RMU got on a roll in the second
half of last season, winning eight of 12 games before losing
defenseman Chris Kaufman to a serious hand/wrist injury. The
Colonials won once in its final eight games, allowing and
average of about five goals per game during the span.
Now beginning their fourth season at the Division
I level, the Colonials have progressed from eight wins to
12 to 14 over the last three seasons. They've got the mix
of senior leadership, experience on the blueline, and veteran
goaltending to challenge Niagara for the regular-season title.
Adding sophomore goaltender Wes Russell, a transfer from Quinnipiac,
to push veteran starter Christian Boucher could also be a
key. Boucher seemed to find his game last season when challenged
by graduated senior Joe Tuset.
PRIMED FOR A FALL
Can a team that finished last in the regular-season
standings a year ago fall? You can if you pulled a rabbit
out of your hat in the postseason to win the conference championship
and take top-seed Notre Dame to double overtime in the NCAA
Tournament as Alabama-Huntsville did last spring.
Twelve players depart, 12 freshmen — and
a new coach with a new system — arrive. Add in a trio
of goaltenders with less than six games worth of college hockey
experience (351:43 to be exact, all belonging to Blake MacNicol),
and the odds of whipping together a formula for winning consistently
at the Division-I level appear slim at best.
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
After failing to put together a fourth straight
20-win season and falling short in its quest for a third consecutive
NCAA Tournament bids, Bemidji State earns this distinction.
But their 14 wins in 2006-07 were a bit misleading, considering
the Beavers played the CHA's most challenging schedule including
dates with non-conference foes Maine, North Dakota and Colorado
College. Still, the Beavers entered January with a 10-5-3
mark, but faltered down the stretch, including a 1-3-2 record
in their last six conference road games.
BSU's schedule this season favors a late run,
with six of the team's final eight regular-season conference
games under the wood banners at the Glas. That stretch includes
a pair of series with a veteran Robert Morris team, and a
pair of two-game sets against a Wayne State squad whose underclassmen
will be auditioning for spots on the rosters of other teams.
TOUGHEST ACT TO FOLLOW
For the second year in a row, Ted Cook's name
appears in this space. The Niagara wing jumped from 20 goals
his freshman season to 32 last year, including a Division
I-best 21 power play goals. Last season, we questioned if
he and perpetual linemate Les Reaney would repeat their early
success after the Purps lost four of their top six scorers.
This time around, they lost familliar usual power-play partner
Sean Bentivolgio, so the question returns.
sophomore forward Jared Katz and his Wayne State teammates,
the 2007-08 season will be the last in which they'll don
a Warriors sweater.
Cook — see above, and add the 1.30 points
he scores per game. That figure put him 11th in the nation
in that category. The CHA's next best non-Niagara player was
Robert Morris forward Ryan Cruthers, who finished in a tie
for 39th in that category.
The Niagara brain trust continues to seach for
ways to spread the firepower of Cook and Reaney, but keeps
finding reasons to keep the duo together. Could have something
to do with being part of the top scoring line in Division
Pick a Charger, any Charger. With 12 freshmen,
there will be ample ice time — and power-play time,
most likely — for some of the Alabama-Huntsville rookies.
That said, we like UAH goaltender Cameron Talbot, the 2007
Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League Player of the Year
for the Hamilton Red Wings.
Another goaltender, Bemidji State's Matt Dalton,
also merits consideration for this honor. The 2006 North American
Hockey League MVP was the top-rated goalie in this year's
INCH Recruiting Rankings, but the Clinton, Ontario native
will likely share netminding duties with seniors Orlando Alamano
and Matt Climie in the fold.
Robert Morris forward Sean Berkstresser would
have been a candidate for this honor, but he turned in an
amazing performance in early February en route to earning
INCH National Player of the Week honors, thereby disqualifying
him as unsung forever.
Instead, we turn to Bemidji State defenseman
Dave Deterding. All the senior from Alexandria, Minn., does
is play every game; he's missed just three contests in his
career, all were in his freshman season. Deterding scored
his first collegiate goal last season, and saved three of
his four assists for conference games. More important was
his steadying influence on the Beavers' blue line —
he was primarily paired with freshman rearguards last season,
giving him the added responsibilities of shepherding raw talents
without having his level of play drop off.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. Can Wayne State
perform all season like players showcasing their talents for
other teams? And what happens if the Warriors struggle
out of the gate or find themselves lingering around the CHA
basement most of the year? Do the players put aside a focus
on the team's systems in order to market their individual
2. How are the remaining four teams
going to recruit with the dark cloud of 2008-09 hanging over
their heads? All need a quick answer, especially
with Bemidji State facing its demise without an invitation
to join the WCHA.
3. Can a team with the track record
of Bemidji State play the sleeper role when it finished one
point out of first last season? The Beavers may have
underachieved by its standards last season, but they, along
with Niagara, are the gold standard in the CHA.
MARK IT DOWN
Five things you can take to the bank in College Hockey America
1. Niagara will again have the league's
top five scorers, but the Purple Eagles' home unbeaten streak,
currently the best in Division I, will be stopped by Western
Michigan. The Purps, 15-0-2 on campus since falling
to Air Force on Feb. 10, 2006, host the Broncos Oct. 26-27.
2. Robert Morris goaltender Christian
Boucher reverts back to his old self and the Colonials challenge
for the regular season title. Boucher's goals against
average and save percentage numbers over the last three seasons
(freshman season listed first): 2.86 GAA, .916 sv%; 3.21 GAA,
.903 sv%; 3.58 GAA, .899 sv%.
3. No DQs will be handed out when Alabama-Huntsville
and Robert Morris square off Dec. 17-18, renewing acquaintances
for the first time in the regular season since last January's
brawl. And by DQs, we don't mean Dairy Queens. Of
course, if both sides decide to play nice, maybe everyone
can have a Dilly Bar after the game.
4. Wayne State will draw just 200 fans
for their final home game March 8 against Niagara. It'll
be a somber night at the Fairgrounds for the Warriors' few
5. Bemidji State will
get positive news about funding for its proposed new arena.
But will the Beavers have a team to occupy the facility?
||The Purple Eagles and Robert Morris
are virtually similar in terms of veteran presence, but
Niagara has Cook and Reaney.
||Colonials need to improve on their
6-12-1 road record if they expect to challenge for the
||Replacing the graduated Luke Erickson,
who scored 13 goals in 18 games last season, will be mighty
difficult. Junior Travis Winter might be the guy to do
||Before falling to UAH in the first
round of the 2007 CHA playoffs, the Warriors went 5-0-2
in its last seven regular-season games.
||Based on last year's experience, maybe
this is a case of the Chargers having everyone right where
they want 'em.