Five of the six NCAA conferences feature a number of NHL prospects this season. Of those five, the WCHA has the fewest with 12 representing five member teams. Minnesota State-Mankato leads all WCHA teams with five prospects followed by Michigan Tech with four.
Below is part one of the Hockey’s Future preview of the 2014-15 WCHA season. Five schools – Ferris State, Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage, and Bemidji State – are previewed in this article, with the remaining schools being included in part two.
Ferris State University
NHL prospects: 1
The reigning WCHA regular season champions open their 2014-15 season on Oct. 4th versus Michigan.
The biggest issue facing Ferris State this season is replacing the production of four of last season’s top five scorers in defenseman Scott Czarnowczan and forwards Garrett Thompson (OTT), Cory Kane and Andy Huff. The quartet accounted for 32 percent of Ferris State’s point production last season.
Among those leading Ferris State’s offensive attack this season is sophomore Kyle Schempp (NYI). The Saginaw, MI native is coming off a terrific freshman campaign despite struggling with a shoulder injury, leading all Bulldogs rookies with 25 points (ten goals, 15 assists) in 43 games and earning a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team. As head coach Bob Daniels notes, Schempp will be a player that is counted on to step up offensively this season.
“Kyle is very strong on his skates and on the puck,” said Daniels of Schempp. “As he continues to develop his strength, he’s going to become more difficult to move off of the puck. Kyle will see more prime minutes on our power play and will continue to be on our penalty kill, as well.”
Despite the loss of Czarnowczan, Ferris State’s blueline is shaping up to to be a stellar one again this season. Senior Jason Brinkley anchors the Bulldogs defense. The Powell, OH native is the top returning defenseman for Ferris State after posting 24 points (three goals, 21 assists) in 41 games last season. Brinkley is an excellent skating, offensive-minded defenseman who will likely quarterback the Bulldogs’ power play this season.
Ferris State also returns all three of their netminders, including workhorse senior captain C.J. Motte. The Big Rapids, MI native established himself as one of the nation’s premier goaltenders last season. His 21 wins, 43 games and 2646:49 minutes of playing time all led the NCAA. He posted a record of 21-9-3 that included five shutouts en route to being named a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Motte has already garnered quite a bit of NHL interest, most recently by the Montreal Canadiens, whose prospect camp he attended this summer. Motte is also poised to once again be one of the more highly sought-after NCAA free agents available this coming spring.
In addition to their returning veterans, the Bulldogs also welcome seven newcomers this season. One to keep an eye on is towering forward Tyler Andrew. The Bethel Park, PA native is a 6’5”, 208-pound power forward who is noted for his great skating.
“We’re excited about Tyler’s potential,” Daniels said of Andrews. “I was pleasantly surprised by how fast Tyler skates. I think it’s probably deceiving because he’s so tall and has got such a long stride that it doesn’t look like he’s going that fast. Tyler is remarkably strong on his skates, too.”
University of Alabama-Huntsville
NHL prospects: 0
The Chargers open their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at Colorado College.
To say that Alabama-Huntsville went through a tough season in 2013-14 is probably an understatement, having finished with just two wins and last nationally in virtually every statistical category. This season, however, could see a more competitive Chargers team with many of the key players returning.
One area that Alabama-Huntsville will look to boost this season is their offense. The Chargers averaged a miniscule 1.08 goals per game and posted only 41 total goals last season. Furthermore, Alabama-Huntsville’s power play struggled mightily, clicking at just 8.8 percent.
Junior Jack Prince is one of the forwards that the Chargers will be looking to for increased production this season. The Leicester, England native led Alabama-Huntsville with 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 33 games. Prince is the motor that drives the Chargers’ offense and he can make things happen whenever he’s on the ice.
One newcomer that could significantly help increase Alabama-Huntsville’s offensive numbers this season is Max McHugh. The Seattle, WA native is one of the seven new Chargers this season. McHugh can play all three forward positions and is noted for his tenacity and superb playmaking ability.
Junior Frank Misuraca anchors a very solid and experienced Alabama-Huntsville blueline this season. The Clinton Township, MI native saw an increased role last season and led all Chargers defensemen in scoring with seven points (two goals, five assists) in 36 games.
With a year now under their collegiate belts, the sophomore goaltending tandem of Carmen Guerriero and Matt Larose return this season. The two split time last season and each posted one win. Guerriero played in 21 games while Larose played in 20. The experience in goal should also help lower Alabama-Huntsville’s NCAA-high 4.37 goals-against per game average of last season.
University of Alaska
NHL prospects: 1
The Alaska Nanooks open their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Wisconsin in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, AK.
The biggest issue facing Alaska coming into the season is replacing the offense left by graduates Cody Kunyk (TBL) and Colton Beck. The two accounted for 29 percent of the Nanooks’ goal scoring and 25 percent of the team’s points last season.
Among the returning forwards that Alaska will be relying on to help fill the void this season is speedy sophomore Marcus Basara. The Port Moody, BC native is coming off a terrific freshman campaign that culminated with being named to the WCHA’s All-Rookie Team. Basara led the Nanooks in freshman scoring last season with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 37 games. Basara’s performance also caught the attention of the NHL, as well, as he was invited to attend the Washington Capitals prospect camp this summer.
With only Michael Quinn having graduated, the Nanooks defensive corps looks excellent coming into this season. However, one notable defenseman that Alaska will be without is Justin Woods, who will medically redshirt to recover from bone cancer. The Fairbanks, AK native appeared in 33 games last season, posting six points (one goal, five assists).
Junior captain Colton Parayko (STL) anchors the Nanooks blueline this season. The St. Albert, AB native established himself as one of the nation’s top defensemen last season, garnering the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year honor as well as being named to the All-America West Second Team. Parayko led Alaska in defensive scoring with 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in 37 games. His noticeably improved decision-making and more effective use of his enormous frame have made Parayko a force to be reckoned with at both ends of the ice.
The Nanooks utilized three goaltenders last season and all return this season. After a stellar rookie campaign in 2012-13, junior John Keeney struggled to follow it up last season, posting a 4-4-2 record in 10 appearances. He, along with sophomore Davis Jones, will be battling senior Sean Cahill for the starting job this season. Cahill appeared in the most games (17), posting a 10-6-1 record.
In addition to the returning veterans, Alaska also welcomes seven newcomers. One to keep an eye on is Peter Kreiger. The Oakdale, MN native is a forward who can play both center and left wing equally well and can provide the Nanooks with some good offensive production.
University of Alaska-Anchorage
NHL prospects: 0
The Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves open their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Maine in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, AK.
Alaska-Anchorage had a strong finish to the 2013-14 season, reaching the WCHA Final Five before suffering a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime loss to Ferris State. With a new season comes some new challenges for the Seawolves.
The biggest issue that Alaska-Anchorage will need to address this season is solidifying their goaltending situation. The Seawolves graduated their top two goaltenders in Rob Gunderson and Chris Kamal. Gunderson appeared in 21 games, posting a 10-7-2 record. Kamal appeared in 14 games, posting a 6-7-1 record that included one shutout.
The lone returning netminder for the Seawolves is sophomore Michael Matyas. The Calgary, AB native appeared in just seven games last season, totaling 365:08 minutes in playing time. Matyas will be challenged this season by freshmen Jared D’Amico and Olivier Mantha.
With the uncertainty in goal to start the new season, Alaska-Anchorage will look to their outstanding defensive corps to stabilize things on the back end. Junior assistant captain Austin Coldwell is among the Seawolves’ anchors on the blueline. The offensive-minded defenseman from Vancouver, WA led the team in defensive scoring with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 38 games last season.
Another area that Alaska-Anchorage will need to address is filling the offensive void left by graduates Matt Bailey (ANA) and Jordan Kwas. The two accounted for 26 percent of the team’s offense last season.
Junior Blake Tatchell leads the Seawolves offensive charge this season. The North Battleford, SK native returns as Alaska-Anchorage’s top scorer from last season after posting 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists) in 38 games. Tatchell is an outstanding playmaker that excels on face-offs. This summer, he attended the Winnipeg Jets‘ prospect camp.
Of the Seawolves’ eight newcomers, four are forwards. The one to watch is Anthony Conti. The Vancouver, BC native was originally slated to come in next fall. Conti, who is eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, possesses good size (6’3”, 207 lbs.) and is versatile in that he can play and has played both forward and defense.
Bemidji State University
NHL prospects: 0
The Bemidji State Beavers open their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at North Dakota.
Bemidji State comes into this season looking to better their eighth-place finish in the WCHA last season. In order to do so, the Beavers will need to boost their overall offensive production. Bemidji State posted just 92 goals last season, the second fewest in the WCHA. Furthermore, the Beavers power play clicked at 14.5 percent, which ranked among the worst nationally.
The good news for Bemidji State entering this season is the fact that they return most of last season’s top scorers, including junior Cory Ward and sophomore Brendan Harms. Ward led the Beavers with 29 points (18 goals, 11 assists) in 38 games. The Las Vegas, NV native has become a clutch scorer for Bemidji State and that should continue this season.
Harms was Ward’s linemate for much of last season. The Steinbach, MB native is coming off of an impressive freshman campaign where he led all Beavers rookies with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 38 games. As good as Harms was last season, he could potentially be even better this season. Harms excels in tight areas, especially along the boards, and his added strength should enhance that aspect of his game. This summer, Harms attended the Winnipeg Jets’ prospect camp.
The blueline is shaping up to be Bemidji State’s strength this season. Senior captain Matt Prapavessis leads a very experienced defensive corps that also has some size. The Oakville, ON native led all Beavers defensemen with 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 38 games. Prapavessis logs upwards of 20-25 minutes per game and is a key part of the Bemidji State power play.
The Beavers are also strong in goal this season. All three netminders return in 2014-15, including senior starter Andrew Walsh. The Dawson Creek, BC native posted a 7-12-4 record last season that included two shutouts and a .904 save percentage in 24 appearances.
In addition to the returning veterans, Bemidji State also welcomes nine newcomers, including the NCAA’s only set of freshman triplets in the Fitzgeralds. But the player to watch this season is towering winger Jay Dickman. At 6’6” and 225 pounds, he is the biggest player on the Beavers roster and is noted for his pro-style shot.
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