2009-2010 CCHA Season Preview

Alas, here is your preview for the CCHA. I've got the teams finishing like this:

  1. Notre Dame
  2. Michigan
  3. Miami
  4. Nebraska-Omaha
  5. OhioState
  6. Northern Michigan
  7. Alaska
  8. FerrisState
  9. MichiganState
  10. Western Michigan
  11. Lake Superior
  12. Bowling Green

You can read my thoughts on each of the teams after the jump.

1. Notre Dame

The Irish are the defending CCHA champs, and it looks like another year where they'll be absolutely loaded throughout the roster. They've got to replace a lot of scoring after losing Erik Condra and Christian Hanson to graduation, but they'll also add two potentially great freshman scorers.

The defense is led by Ian Cole, who should be dominating and could be a dark horse Hobey candidate. But what will really carry this team is the tremendous amount of depth they have. There were a couple freshman last season that didn't see much ice, but have a ton of talent and could break out this year, and freshman this year like Nick Larson played an extra year of juniors to be more ready to compete for ice time.

The only potential question mark is in goal. Brad Phillips is poised to take over for Jordan Pearce in goal, but he missed all of last year with a knee injury. If he struggles, freshman Mike Johnson played well in the USHL last year and could step in. Notre Dame's tight defensive style should help make either goalie look very good.

2. Michigan

Michigan's junior class this year has led Michigan to number one seeds in the NCAA tournament in each of their first two seasons. That group has slowly suffered some attrition, losing Max Pacioretty after one year, and Aaron Palushaj last summer, but key players Louie Caporusso, Carl Hagelin, and Matt Rust still remain and should carry Michigan to another excellent season.

The defense led by seniors Chris Summers and Steve Kampfer should be very deep. Bryan Hogan will likely start every game in goal this year. He's been very good in his first two years, but this year, there's no safety net behind him should he struggle. Michigan's season will likely depend on well he plays.

3. Miami

Miami rounds out the CCHA's new Big 3. They finished the season tied with Michigan last year, and they'll probably be neck and neck with Michigan for second place again.

Coming into last season, there were questions in goal, but Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard were both excellent. Like Michigan, their forwards will be led by a group of talented juniors. They return 7 different players that scored over 20 ponts last season. That variety should help make them very consistent.

They also get a little break in the schedule in that Michigan and Notre Dame share a cluster this year, while Miami just gets both Michigan and Notre Dame twice.

4. Nebraska-Omaha

It's the first year of the Dean Blais era, but also the last year of the CCHA era for UNO. Don't be mistaken by the high finish though. There is still a huge gap between the top three teams in this league and the bottom 9.

Just like Jeff Jackson led Notre Dame to a quick turnaround, I think Dean Blais will be able to do the same for UNO and make them the best of the rest of the conference. That said, Blais is not a miracle worker. He did a great job at Fargo last year, but he also had the benefit of having the league's best goalie in Mike Lee playing for him. He also had some great goalies play for him at North Dakota. If you look at UNO's goaltending situation, it most closely resmebles the Brandt/Kollar/Siembida mess that North Dakota had in 2001-2002 season where they finished with a losing record. True, he did have average goaltending the next two years as well and those teams were good, but he also had Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski to carry that team. UNO does not have a Zach Parise.

So UNO's success this year may be very dependent on the goaltending situation. Senior Jeremie Dupont has shown improvement every year. John Faulkner could be a wildcard. He was excellent in a weak junior league two years ago, but redshirted last year. The Mavericks also added Fredrik Bergman late this summer, which gives Blais another option if he doesn't like what he sees in goal.

5. Ohio State

It's easy to forget that Ohio State finished in almost the same spot in the end of season Pairwise rankings as Miami did last year, with Miami being seconds away from winning the national title and Ohio State getting knocked out of the tournament about 6 minutes into their first game with BU.

This is another team that will rely heavily on a big junior class to carry the load scoringwise this year. The Buckeyes had developed a reputation for being talented, but lacking team chemistry prior to last season, where they really came together and played well. Losses and additions over the summer were minimal for the Buckeyes, so hopefully that terrific chemistry carries over into this season.

6. Northern Michigan

You can write the same script for Northern Michigan nearly every year. They start off the season playing absolutely horrid hockey. By the end of the season, they start playing up to their potential and are one of the toughest teams in college hockey. They'll make it to Joe Louis, mess up somebody's season(or come very close in the case of Miami last year), but just miss out on an auto bid to the tournament, and not have a high enough ranking for an at-large bid because of their poor start.

If the team that had sweeps at Wisconsin and at Miami show up consistently, they'll be at least fourth in the conference, maybe pushing to break into the top three. If the team that got swept by Michigan Tech and had three wins in the first half of the season shows up, they'll be middle of the pack again.

7. Alaska

The Nanooks were a great story last season. They played airtight defense and earned a top four conference finish and a trip to Joe Louis despite having virtually no scoring. It will probably be more of the same for the Nanooks this year. They don't have a lot of scoring, but they should play tough defensive hockey, and hopefully Scott Greenham can play as well as Chad Johnson did last year.

8. Ferris State

Like Alaska, Ferris doesn't have a lot of offense, but a very strong defense, led by the underrated Zach Redmond, and two pretty good goalies in Pat Nagle and Taylor Nelson. The Bulldogs add a nice recruiting class of forwards that should help their offense, but they'll still probably struggle to score enough goals to be a serious competitor in the league, though they should be a very tough team to play against.

9. Michigan State

Michigan State was hit fairly hard by the injury bug last year. But as I pointed out when Rick Comley somehow got a contract extension, Michigan State wasn't just bad, they were really, really bad. It's not like their football program which manages to blow a game to a MAC school every couple of years. With all due respect to some of the smaller programs in the CCHA, it's the equivalent of finishing towards the bottom of the MAC conference. Nick Sucharski is a good player, but he doesn't take MSU from being as bad as they were to a respectable finish.

On the downside, they lost two of three decent players from last season in Matt Schepke and Jeff Lerg. The good news is that Drew Palmisano looks like a competent replacement, and a number of players should be better with another year of experience. Daultan Leveille showed promise and with some more strength, could be very good. Mike Merrifield was great in the second half of the season after moving back to the USHL, and Corey Tropp returns from an ugly incident and should hopefully have a better season.

Still, their defense isn't that great and their depth is embarassing for a Big Ten program playing in the CCHA. There should be a small improvement, but there still no where near where they should be.

10. Western Michigan

It's tough what to make of Western Michigan. They usually scrape out a pretty respectable finish amongst the bad teams in the CCHA--7th place last year-- but they're always one of the bad teams in the CCHA.

There's some good pieces to a team here. Riley Gill can hold them in most games. Tyler Ludwig is a nice defenseman, and Max Campbell can put the puck in the net. But the depth just isn't there like a program that puts a lot more effort into hockey like a Miami. They'll win some games and maybe even finish with a home playoff series in the first round, but this team doesn't have the talent and resources to compete for one of the top four spots in the conference.

11. Lake Superior

Lake Superior is in kind of the same position as Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA. Be it through lack of resources, lack of connections, or lack of clout, Lake Superior has had to fill their roster with a lot of players from Ontario of Saskatchewan juniors leagues. While the occasional player from those leagues may surprise, there aren't enough quality D-1 hockey prospects in those leagues for that to be an effective strategy. Not surprisingly, some of their best players in recent years have been players from the USHL like Nathan Perkovich and Zac MacVoy.

The goaltending isn't terrible with Brian Mahoney-Wilson and Pat Inglis, which could be their saving grace, but even a .915 save percentage over the course of the season means they're going to end up giving up way goals than their offense can score.

12. Bowling Green

Bowling Green is just happy to still be here. The fact that they seemingly saved their program is a great story, but this is still a team that finished in last place last year, and lost their best forward in Dan Sexton to the pros, and one of their top defenseman in Nick Bailen to uncertainty over the future of the program.

It's going to be a very young team, especially on the blueline, and there's some uncertainty in goal. Nick Eno hasn't lived up to his potential, meaning freshman Andrew Hammond could see a lot of action.

Still, hopefully last year was the low point for the program, and a new fundraising initiative can help start rebuilding this program back to what it once was.

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