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The Top 11 College Hockey Preseason Team Storylines (Part 2)

Finishing the countdown from 5 to 1 of which teams would make the best "Hard Knocks" feature.

Bill McCay/Getty Images

Welcome to part 2 of the Top 11 College Hockey Team Storylines this season. The criteria essentially boils down to one question: Would this team's preseason preparation make for a good episode/series of HBO's "Hard Knocks?"

If this actually was an episode of "Hard Knocks" some indie music would be playing around this mark, to build up suspense. Maybe something local. Maybe something cliche. Maybe something that pumps you up much more than any words in a paragraph can.

For those who missed the previous edition, click on the box for a more detailed look at the teams.

Resuming our countdown from 11:

11. Arizona State

10. RPI/Union

9. Air Force

8. Boston University

7. Alaska

6. Michigan

5. Nebraska-Omaha

Three words: New. Taco. Cannon.

Not enough? Okay. UNO's taco cannon is not the only new aspect of Nebraska-Omaha, coming off of its first-ever Frozen Four appearance in a year where the NCHC had six teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Mavericks are one of college hockey's newer teams, having jumped to the D1 level in 1997. There has been plenty of new in a city where the Missouri River flows away from 59 teams. Three conferences, two head coaches, and it culminates with one new on-campus arena in 2015-16 - Baxter Arena.

Head coach Dean Blais' team will have to replace goalie Ryan Massa, whose weekend at the Midwest Regional in March played a big role in the Mavericks making the surprising, "And then there's Omaha," trip to Boston, but return a group of contributors entering their junior and senior season. Jake Guentzel is one of the more underrated players in the country, having put up 39 points as a sophomore without Josh Archibald. Austin Ortega set a NCAA record for game-winning goals. He's also nicknamed "California Hot Sauce" because.

And yes, Ortega having the best nickname to fit in with synergy-wise taco cannon counts too. See? Everything goes back to the taco cannon.

4. Maine

Despite some rough years recently (Maine went 14-22-3 and finished 10th in Hockey East last season), the Black Bears have a great history in the northern stretches of New England. The team was dominant in Hockey East for long stretches throughout the 80s, 90s and early 2000s - the 42-1-2 national champions in 1993 remains the most dominant men's team in the modern era - and is less than a decade removed from  3 Frozen Fours in 4 years.

In some ways those days feel a century away. Comparing and combining the history, unique traditions and area surrounding Orono with a team which is working its way out of lower tier of Hockey East intrigues me with Red Gendron's squad.

It helps that the Black Bears are, like everyone, undefeated right now.

3. North Dakota

This one writes itself. Many of you agree because when I asked this question a few weeks ago, North Dakota was the top choice by a healthy margin.

At the very least, North Dakota's big idea narrated by Liev Schreiber writes itself to the point where it is easy to hear his baritone ask the question "what is identity?" over a shot of Ralph Engelstad Arena before narrating his answer. UND finds itself searching for an answer on and off the ice this season. North Dakota, coming off an NCHC regular season title, has a new head coach, a new goaltender to replace Zane McIntyre, and, provided everything goes through, it will have a new nickname after 3 years of technically being just "North Dakota."

(Incidentally there's also the fact the new goaltender, either freshman Matej Tomek or sophomore Cam Johnson, will be replacing one who did change his name prior to his junior season.)

Lost among the change is the fact the team returns a healthy number of players who helped UND reach its second consecutive Frozen Four and sixth in 10 seasons. In an era where making the Frozen Four is difficult for top teams, North Dakota's consistency stands out among its peers more in each coming year.

There the two sides of culture, a winning one on the ice and one where an attempt to preserve the previous nickname in lieu of a vote for a new one, go together. New head coach Brad Berry jumps into the top role vacated by Dave Hakstol taking the Philadelphia Flyers head coaching job.

Berry knows his way the with one of college hockey's most rabid fanbases, having been an assistant and player in Grand Forks. He's familiar with the players.

If not for it being Berry's first year, I'd agree with the consensus. UND is at three because, like the case of Arizona State, not giving some space for a first year coach to find his way seems to be too much.

2. Quinnipiac

When Quinnipiac spent the second half of 2012-13 on top of the Pairwise Rankings ahead of traditional powers there was some outrage. The system had to be broken, some said. Others noted no way the ECAC, which at that point last won a national championship in 1989, should have the top ranked team.

Today that sentiment seems silly. The Bobcats reached the national title game in 2013, losing to Yale in an all-ECAC/New Haven-area final. Since then QU has been back to two more NCAA Tournaments. Along with the three straight appearances is two ECAC regular season titles.

Head coach Rand Pecknold continues to get the most out of his players and Quinnipiac has gotten more respect. (As has ECAC, which won back-to-back national championships in 2013 with Yale and 2014 with Union.) While QU was picked fourth this year,  it wouldn't be a surprise to see Pecknold's team win with the culture implemented in Hamden. Matthew Peca is gone, having signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but several pieces remain such as Sam Anas. Someone always seems to step up as well. Featuring that system would be an interesting look at a program that has come a long way in such a short time.

If not, a nationally televised Quinnipiac-Cornell game will also suffice.

1. Minnesota State

The Mavericks are a combination of several previous stories. Mike Hastings has done wonders with the culture at Minnesota State, a team which has been behind its fellow in-state schools for most of the first 15 years the school has sponsored Division 1 hockey. Minnesota State plays like a team. There are no first round picks or one-and-done players. Hastings' team is the reigning two-time WCHA champion and picked for a third by both coaches and media.

Seeing the day-in, day-out build up to a new season would help give a look to the foundation built in Mankato along with showcasing Hastings (who in my experiences could be added to the list of characters).

The team has several great team stories as well.

Junior Cole Huggins takes over in net from Stephon Williams, who signed with the New York Islanders. Huggins had a phenomenal freshman season. He was named to several All-Rookie teams, stealing the job away from Williams, who had a similarly good rookie year the season before. History repeated in 2014-15 when Williams took back his net from a sophomore slumping Huggins. Can he bounce back? Several seniors return for one last chance. Bryce Gervais is coming off a career-high 27 goals and others such as Teddy Blueger, Zach Stepan and C.J. Franklin have shown at times why NHL teams are high on them.

Although the culture is the biggest selling point, seeing how the returnees recover from the end of last season and approach the new would be interesting. Minnesota State earned the #1 overall seed for the first time ever in 2015. However, that joy was dashed when RIT upset the Mavericks in the first round and became the first #16 seed to win against a #1 overall seed.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --