The CCHA released their preseason coaches poll on Monday morning, and Minnesota State is the near unanimous choice to win a sixth consecutive MacNaughton Cup. The Mavericks pulled in six of seven possible first places votes, with Mike Hastings vote and one other going to Northern Michigan, who was projected to finish second, just ahead of third place Bowling Green.
Here is how the voting went:
2022-23 CCHA Preseason Coaches’ Poll:
Minnesota State – 69 (6)
Northern Michigan – 61 (2)
Bowling Green – 58
Bemidji State – 51
Michigan Tech – 47
Lake Superior State – 45
Ferris State – 32
St. Thomas – 30
There are some big holes for Minnesota State to fill from last year’s national runner-up team. They will need to replace key forwards Nathan Smith, Julian Napravnik and Reggie Lutz, who combined for 52 goals last season, two more than the Brown Bears entire team. They will also need to replace three very solid veteran contributors on the blue line in Wyatt Aamodt, Jack McNeely and Benton Maass. And finally, they’ll need to replace last year’s Hobey Baker winner, Dryden McKay, in goal.
That said, Minnesota State won’t have quite as much to replace as they might have in different circumstances. Though they suffered expected losses like Smith and McKay, they were able to get another season out of Brendan Furry, Ryan Sandelin, Ondrej Pavel, Akito Hirose, and Jake Livingstone, who all would have had pro opportunities this summer, but opted for one more year in Mankato.
Northern Michigan is an interesting pick to challenge Minnesota State for the top spot. The Wildcats finished fifth in the CCHA last year, though looked much better nationally thanks to non-conference sweeps over Boston University and Minnesota Duluth.
The Wildcats had the fun distinction of being in the top-5 nationally for both most goals scored per game and most goals allowed per game. Though top scorer Hank Crone graduated, the Wildcats should have plenty of offensive firepower coming back in AJ Vanderbeck and Andre Ghantous, and they add another talented scorer in preseason rookie of the year Joey Larson. The question will be whether they can keep the puck out of their own net often enough to live up to their preseason hype.