We're continuing our series of the top 20 stories in college hockey this year. This is our third installment which covers stories #6-10. Stories 11-15 can be read here. Stories 16-20 can be read here.
#10 George Gwozdecky Fired
We touched on George Gwozdecky being let go by Denver earlier in this series, but the announcement that he had been let go by Denver was such a shock that it deserves its own spot on the list.
Gwozdecky returned the Pioneer program to prominence when he took over the job in 1994-95. What he did during his time at Denver was as impressive as anyone in college hockey. He 12 straight seasons of winning 20 or more games, had six straight trips to the NCAA tournament, and had brought school 2 national titles, all while only having two losing seasons early in his tenure. That's the resume of a coach deserving of a lifetime contract, not one unceremoniously dumped the way Gwozdecky was.
But ultimately, all of Gwozdecky's success on the ice wasn't enough to protect him from strife off the ice with university administration, as disagreements over a contract extension, and the hockey program's place in the athletic department led to the split.
#9 UAH Accepted Into the WCHA
Last year, it seemed as though there was no future for Division I hockey at Alabama-Huntsville,with the school announcing the program would be cut. Through some last-minute fundraising by the hockey community there, the program was given a brief reprieve, but it seemed clear the program couldn't survive for long as an independent program without a conference. They had to fill out their schedule with a number of Division III and club programs, and only hosted one series against a Division I opponent at their home arena, opening the season against Minnesota State.
So it was huge for Alabama-Huntsville, and college hockey as a whole, when the WCHA voted unanimously to allow UAH into their conference starting next season. The Chargers will have to subsidize travel for opponents coming to Huntsville, but they'll have a steady diet of home games guaranteed every year, and with the stability of being in a conference, should be able to build their program, and make it more competitive.
#8 St. Cloud Wins First League Title, Earns First Frozen Four Bid
It was a season of firsts in St. Cloud: First WCHA league title, first trip to the Frozen Four,
first to receive the MacNaughton Cup.
In addition to having the best player in college hockey in Drew LeBlanc, the team got great performances from local-ish players like WCHA defenseman of the year Nick Jensen, and senior Ben Hanowski. Their success couldn't have come at a better time either. With ticket prices soaring, two straight lackluster seasons, and a move to a new conference without hated Minnesota pending, interest in the program was starting to sag, and large pockets of empty seats started showing up in what was once one of the most intimidating places to play in college hockey. The WCHA title and Frozen Four appearance breathed new life into the program, and created an excitement for Husky hockey that hadn't been seen in some time.
#7 UMass-Lowell Wins First Hockey East Titles
There were big expectations heading into the season for UMass-Lowell after their run to last year's NCAA tournament. It looked like the River Hawks wouldn't be able to maintain that success, starting off the year with a dreadful 2-6-1 record, but after clawing their way back to .500 by midseason, there was no better team in college hockey from mid-February on.
They won eight of their last nine regular season games, including a huge win at Boston College, to edge out the Eagles by a single point in the standings to win their first ever Hockey East regular season title. That momentum carried over into the Hockey East playoffs, which they swept through to take home their first playoff title. To add to the magical season, they advanced to their first ever Frozen Four, and were an OT loss from eventual champion Yale from possibly winning their first national title. In all, they finished the season by winning 14 of their final 16 games, led by the incredible goal tending of freshman Connor Hellebuyck, who finished the year with a 1.37 GAA and .952 save percentage.
#6 Michigan Misses The NCAA Tournament
For the first time since 1990, the Michigan Wolverines did not play in the NCAA tournament, ending their streak at 22 consecutive years. Only two players on the Michigan roster were even born the last time an NCAA tournament took place without Michigan in it. It's a streak that may never be touched, and certainly won't be touched for some time, given the current title holder for longest NCAA tournament streak is North Dakota with ten.
The season, for the most part, was a disaster for the Wolverines, who struggled to find consistent goal tending, consistent defensive play, and consistent scoring at various times throughout the season. Also, they sometimes wore uniforms that were pretty terrible. There just weren't a lot of positives for the Wolverines.
Despite those difficulties, the Wolverines almost found a way to continue their streak. Winning three out of their last four regular season games to sneak into home ice for the first round of the CCHA playoffs, and using that home ice advantage to beat Northern Michigan. The following weekend, they traveled to Western Michigan and dominated the Broncos in a two-game sweep, which ultimately ended up knocking the Broncos out of the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines were just a game away from earning an automatic bid before they were defeated by Notre Dame in the CCHA playoff final to end their season.