2014-15 NCHC Preview, Part 1: St. Cloud State seeks third straight regular season title

By DJ Powers
Jonny Brodzinski - St. Cloud State University

Photo: St. Cloud State University forward and Los Angeles Kings prospect Jonny Brodzinski, shown here fending off brother Michael in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, will lead the way on offense for the Huskies in 2014-15 (courtesy of Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

 

No NCAA conference has more combined NHL prospects on their member rosters than the NCHC does this season. The NCHC will feature 51 prospects spread across all eight conference schools. North Dakota leads all NCHC teams with 14 prospects, followed by Denver, Miami and Nebraska-Omaha with seven apiece.

Part 1 of this 2014-15 NCAA hockey season preview takes a closer look at St. Cloud State, Colorado College, Miami and Minnesota-Duluth.

St. Cloud State University
NHL prospects: 4

The defending NCHC regular season champions opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Colgate.

After claiming the regular season title as a member of the WCHA two years ago, St. Cloud State repeated the feat in 2013-14 as a member of the NCHC. Although the Huskies are poised to make another strong run for a third straight title, they will also have some significant holes to fill in 2014-15.

St. Cloud State returns nearly intact this season. Although the team suffered few losses from last season’s squad, those losses were key, most notably that of Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist, Nic Dowd (LAK).

Leading the Huskies’ offensive charge this season is junior Jonny Brodzinski (LAK). The Blaine, MN native is coming off of a stellar sophomore campaign where he led St. Cloud State with 41 points (21 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games. One area where he really made his mark was on the Huskies power play, where nine of his 21 goals were scored. Brodzinski, who has played virtually his entire collegiate career on wing, could potentially see time at center this season with the losses of graduated centers Dowd and Cory Thorson.

Of the Huskies five newcomers this season, three are forwards including Judd Peterson (BUF). The center from Duluth, MN is noted for his speed and excellent shot. Peterson should also be able to add to St. Cloud State’s already deep forward lines.

Another significant player from last season’s squad that the Huskies lost was starting goaltender Ryan Faragher (ANA). The task of replacing Faragher this season could potentially fall to sophomore Charlie Lindgren. The Lakeville, MN native, who served as Faragher’s backup last season, saw limited time but played well in his few outings. Lindgren posted a 2-2-1 record that included one shutout in 10 games en route to earning a spot on the NCHC All-Rookie Team.

Despite losing graduate Kevin Gravel (LAK), St. Cloud State’s defensive group is shaping up to be an outstanding one this season. Anchoring the defensive corps is senior alternate captain Andrew Prochno. The Minnetonka, MN native is coming off of a terrific junior campaign where he posted 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 32 games. What Prochno lacks in size (5’11”, 190 lbs.), he more than makes up for with his excellent skating and puck-moving ability. He has also garnered quite a bit of NHL interest, most notably from the Buffalo Sabres, whose prospect camp he attended over the summer.

Another returning defenseman that could potentially see an expanded role this season is towering sophomore Ben Storm. The Laurium, MI native is one of two Colorado Avalanche prospects playing in the NCAA this season. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, Storm certainly has the size but is still learning to play within his enormous frame. He did a very good job last season of playing a simple yet effective game and will be looking to take that next step this season.

Colorado College
NHL prospects: 6

The Tigers opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Alabama-Huntsville.

A new era dawns for Colorado College this season as Mike Haviland takes over the bench boss duties. He succeeds Scott Owens, who resigned after 15 years. He inherits a Tigers team that struggled in a number of areas, finishing seventh in the NCHC last season.

The biggest issue Haviland will have to address is his goaltending situation. Colorado College lost last season’s goaltenders in Josh Thorimbert and Courtney Lockwood. The task of filling the starting role this season could potentially fall to freshman Chase Perry (DET). At 6’3” and 189 pounds, he is the biggest of Colorado College’s three netminders and is noted for his superb athleticism.

“Chase is a goalie that’s very square,” Haviland said of Perry. “When we can get him to a point where he’s basically in control and not as erratic, I think Chase is going to be tough to beat. I think he’s learning that but it’s going to be a process. Chase is a battler and I think he has a lot of positive things going on in his game. There’s a lot of potential there for sure with Chase.”

With the uncertainty and inexperience in goal, the Tigers will be looking to their defensive corps for some stability on the back end. Colorado College’s blueline is shaping up to be very good this season. Four of the team’s six NHL prospects are defensemen.

Among them is sophomore Jaccob Slavin (CAR). The Erie, CO native is coming off a strong freshman campaign where he led Colorado College with 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) in 32 games and was named the NCHC Rookie of the Year. Slavin was the only freshman defenseman in the nation to lead his team in scoring last season.

Three of the Tigers’ six newcomers this season are defensemen including Teemu Kivihalme (NSH). The Savage, MN native is noted for his superb skating, and he thinks the game very well. Kivihalme could also provide some much-needed offense from the blueline for the Tigers.

Another area where Colorado College will look to improve is with their point production. The Tigers finished with one of the nation’s worst offenses last season, averaging 2.00 goals per game.

One returning veteran that Colorado College will rely on to boost the offense and who could potentially have a breakout year is junior Hunter Fejes (ARZ). The Anchorage, AK native is coming off of a difficult, injury-shortened sophomore campaign where he finished with just one assist in 26 games. As Haviland explains, it comes down to confidence and opportunity for Fejes.

“Hunter had a tough year last year,” said Haviland. “I think we need to get him some confidence and put him in some situations to succeed because I think Hunter can help us. And we want to see him have a big year, too. We’re looking at Hunter to use his big body, go to the net and get in on the forecheck. I think Hunter can create some open ice for us with being physical and the way he skates.”

Miami University
NHL prospects: 7

The RedHawks opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at Bowling Green.

After limping to a last-place finish in the regular season last year, Miami came within a win of claiming the NCHC Tournament title. This season, the RedHawks return their team nearly intact and are poised to be a top contender for the NCHC crown.

One notable veteran that will not be with the team this season is pesky senior winger Jimmy Mullin (TBL). The Cincinnati, OH native will medically redshirt to recover from an undisclosed injury. Mullin played in just 19 games last season and finished with seven points (one goal, six assists).

Injuries took a devastating toll on Miami last season and Mullin wasn’t the only one missing significant time. Another was senior Blake Coleman (NJD). The Plano, TX native posted 28 points (19 goals, nine assists) and played in just 27 games last season due to a collarbone injury. His absence had a tremendous effect on the team. Now healthy, Coleman is poised to have his best collegiate season yet.

Coleman, along with senior captain Austin Czarnik, and junior Riley Barber (WSH) were offered NHL contracts in the offseason but instead opted to return to Miami this season.

Czarnik, an early candidate for the 2015 Hobey Baker Award, led Miami with 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists) in 37 games last season en route to being named to the All-America West Second Team. The Washington, MI native is poised to have an even bigger year as a senior and projects to be one of the most coveted collegiate free agents available at season’s end.

Barber returns as the RedHawks top goal scorer from last season. The Pittsburgh, PA native finished second on the team with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) and was one of only four players on Miami’s roster to play in all 38 games last season.

The blueline is shaping up to be one of Miami’s strengths this season. Anchoring Miami’s defense is junior Matt Caito. The Coto de Caza, CA native led all RedHawks defensemen in scoring last season with 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 38 games. Caito is a superb skating, offensive-minded defenseman who greatly improved his play in the defensive zone last season.

Of Miami’s five newcomers this season, three are defensemen including freshman Louis Belpedio (MIN). The Skokie, IL native is noted for his strong two-way play and excellent skating.

Miami’s outstanding junior tandem of Ryan McKay and Jay Williams return in goal this season. McKay appeared in 26 games last season, posting a 10-13-3 record that included four shutouts. Williams posted a 5-7-0 record in 16 games. While the duo played remarkably well last season, the RedHawks will be looking for a bit more consistency from them this season.

University of Minnesota-Duluth
NHL prospects: 4

The Bulldogs opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Minnesota in the Icebreaker Tournament in South Bend, IN.

Despite missing the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota-Duluth had a promising 2013-14 campaign. A big reason for the optimism was the great contributions, particularly on offense, that the Bulldogs got from their freshman class. The group accounted for 33 percent of the team’s points last season.

Although the Bulldogs lost Caleb Herbert (WSH), their forward lines are shaping up to be quite good this season. Among those leading the Bulldogs offensive attack this season are a pair of Toronto Maple Leafs prospects in junior Tony Cameranesi and sophomore Dominic Toninato.

Cameranesi posted 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 36 games last season. Although the Plymouth, MN native’s point total dipped last season, he did make some good strides in development, most notably in sporting a bigger, stronger body. That has allowed him to be more aggressive and effective in tight areas.

Toninato is coming off of a terrific freshman campaign where he posted 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 35 games. Toninato possesses some of the similar qualities of Herbert, such as being an outstanding penalty killer and playing with an edge. Toninato could eventually help fill the role that Herbert leaves.

Of the Bulldogs’ seven newcomers this season, four are forwards including Karson Kuhlman. The Esko, MN native is versatile in that he can play both center and wing and is noted for his outstanding two-way game. After being passed up in in the 2014 NHL Draft, Kuhlman will be eligible again in 2015.

Another key loss that Minnesota-Duluth suffered was that of graduated starting goaltender, Aaron Crandall. The Lakeville, MN native posted a 14-12-3 record that included one shutout in 31 games in his final season.

With the loss of last season’s starter, junior Matt McNeely and freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo will be vying for the starting job this season. The 6’3”, 220-pound McNeely, who served as Crandall’s backup last season, posted a 2-4-1 record in nine appearances as a sophomore. Kaskisuo, like McNeely, has size (6’3”, 200 lbs.) and is noted for his ability to keep his team in games.

With the uncertainty in goal, Minnesota-Duluth will be looking to their defense for stability on the back end. As it happens, the Bulldogs defense is shaping up to be one of their strengths this season.

Anchoring the defensive corps this season is junior assistant captain Andy Welinski (ANA). The Duluth, MN native is coming off an excellent sophomore campaign where he led all Minnesota-Duluth defensemen with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 36 games. One notable aspect of Welinski’s development last season is how his strengthened 6’2”, 200-pound frame has enhanced his play at both ends of the ice, making him a more complete player.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF