We're continuing our countdown of the top 20 stories in college hockey this year. This is our second installment, which covers #15 through #11. If you missed the first installment, you can find it here.
#15 A Rough Spring for Coaches
Four coaches were fired by their respective schools in the weeks following the end of the college hockey season. In some cases, the firings were completely understandable. Dave Shyiak was fired at Alaska-Anchorage after years of UAA being a bottom-feeder and dwindling public interest in the team. Tim Whitehead was let go at Maine, as well. Though Whitehead had some success at Maine, the team's struggles in recent years were driving away fans from the program and a change had to be made.
The other two were surprising to say the least. George Gwozdecky at Denver and Mark Osiecki at Ohio State were both let go, reportedly for clashing with school administration. But the common theme in all four cases is that as college hockey moves more towards a bottom line-driven business, head coaching jobs are becoming less and less secure.
#14 Lots of Changes at UConn
The Huskies of Connecticut didn't draw nearly the same attention as the other two teams in their state, but they had a noteworthy season in their own right.
Over the summer, UConn was granted membership into Hockey East for the 2014-2015 season. The move means the Huskies will eventually be able to give out the full 18 scholarships allowed by NCAA rules, rather than the 12 they're limited to in Atlantic Hockey. The Huskies are also in the exploratory phases for a new, more suitable arena, possibly a 5000-seat standalone hockey arena. There's certainly more to being a college hockey power than being a big name school in a big conference--Ohio State can attest to that--but with the resources that UConn will have available, the potential for them to become a major player on the east coast seems to be there.
More immediately, the Huskies put together an impressive 19-14-4 season, their first winning season since 1999-2000, despite some off-ice distractions. Prior to the start of the season, they lost a top incoming recruit to academic issues, and in November, head coach Bruce Marshall had to take a medical leave of absence. Two months later, Marshall resigned as head coach due to his ongoing health problems. Assistant coach David Berard took over the program on an interim basis, and the Huskies are still searching for their next head coach.
#13 Niagara Earns an At-Large Bid
Niagara put together a fantastic season with a record of 23-10-5, including a near perfect 15-0-2 record at home, and consequently, earned the first ever at-large bid for Atlantic Hockey, which gave the league two bids to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.
The Purple Eagles were actually pretty dreadful outside of Atlantic Hockey, losing and tying in a series against both Michigan State and Bowling Green, winning and tying against Clarkson, and getting blasted 10-2 by Colgate, but were dominant against Atlantic Hockey competition. As college hockey shifts towards big power conferences next season, it's a good reminder that what matters more than anything is winning games, regardless of who you play.
#12 Penn State Kicks Off Their Program
Many people weren't quite sure what to expect out of the Penn State program in their first season as a Division I hockey program. Their results this season didn't clear things up all that much either. They had some bad losses to D-3 schools Buffalo State and Neumann, along with a loss to club program Arizona State, but also collected wins over future Big Ten foes Ohio State and Michigan State.
They finished their season strong, however, winning 8 of their last 10, including capping off the season with a dramatic come-from-behind overtime win at Wisconsin, while the Badgers were one of the hottest teams in the country.
Overall, the Nittany Lions still have a long ways to go before their program is completely settled, but they showed that they should at least be competitive next year in the Big Ten. They'll likely end up losing more than they win next year, but it won't be much of a surprise if they see them win on any given night.
#11 Nic Kerdiles Suspended
The day of Wisconsin's first exhibition game of the season, it was reported that Kerdiles would not be playing due to an unspecified eligibility issue. The issue stemmed from Kerdiles' relationship with his advisor from Pulver Sports. His advisor had given Kerdiles access to a hotel room in a block of hotel rooms Pulver had reserved for clients at the 2012 NHL Draft. Though the Kerdiles family paid Pulver back for the room five days later, the NCAA still considered it an improper loan. Kerdiles was initially suspended for the entire season, though the penalty was reduced to 10 games on appeal.
The effect on Wisconsin's season was nearly devastating. Kerdiles was not allowed to play until November 30th, at which point, the Badgers had a dreadful 1-7-3 record. Once Kerdiles was re-inserted into the line-up, the Badgers ended the season on a 21-6-4 run, including winning the WCHA playoff title to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. While Kerdiles wasn't the only reason for the turnaround, he scored 33 points in his 32 games to finish as the Badgers second leading scorer, despite missing a quarter of the season, and really gave a shot of energy to a Badger offense that was struggling.