The NCHC comes into this season on the heels of an incredible season for the league, which saw four teams make the NCAA tournament and North Dakota capture the conference’s first ever national title. But matching that success this year may be a difficult task.
The storyline heading into the season for the majority of the conference is rebuilding. Last year’s national champion North Dakota had some major departures over the summer. Two-thirds of their dominating top line is gone, half of their amazing top-six D core left early. Forwards that quietly made UND very difficult to play against like Luke Johnson, Bryn Chyzyk, and Coltyn Sanderson are gone.
Now certainly, a team like North Dakota has the ability to reload. First round draft pick Nick Schmaltz is replaced by a higher first round pick in Tyson Jost. And there are still plenty of good players remaining from last season. But under normal circumstances, one would expect a team that lost that much to drop a few spots in the preseason poll.
But I’ve picked North Dakota first overall again. Because as much as I might have questions right now, and don’t think they’re as strong as last year, I think every team below them has similar issues. St. Cloud State is replacing their top six scorers from last year and an All-American goalie. Denver lost two-thirds of their Pacific Rim line that carried their team last year. Minnesota Duluth’s struggles and successes strongly correlated with the production of now-departed senior Tony Cameranesi, and the Bulldogs will also need to find a new goalie. Omaha and Miami each struggled with depth last year and then lost a star player to the pros.
Again, these are all strong programs, so they’ll definitely reload to some extent. I still expect three to four teams to at least be in NCAA tournament contention, if not making it in outright. But I don’t think the conference will carry the same strength that it did last year.
I don’t get a vote in the NCHC preseason media poll, but if I did, here is how I would have voted, along with my picks for individual awards:
- North Dakota
- St. Cloud State
- Minnesota Duluth
- Western Michigan
- Colorado College
First Team All-NCHC
F-Brock Boeser, North Dakota
F-Dylan Gambrell, Denver
F-Mikey Eyssimont, St. Cloud State
D-Will Butcher, Denver
D-Will Borgen, St. Cloud State
G-Cam Johnson, North Dakota
Second Team All-NCHC
F-Austin Ortega, Nebraska-Omaha
F-Anthony Louis, Miami
F-Austin Poganski, North Dakota
D-Jimmy Schuldt, St. Cloud State
D-Tucker Poolman, North Dakota
G-Tanner Jaillet, Denver
F-Tyson Jost, North Dakota
F-Henrik Borgstrom, Denver
F-Riley Tufte, Minnesota Duluth
D-Jack Ahcan, St. Cloud State
D-Dennis Cholowski, St. Cloud State
G-Hunter Miska, Minnesota Duluth
Player of the Year: Will Butcher, Denver
Rookie of the Year: Tyson Jost, North Dakota