NCAA season preview – WCHA

By DJ Powers





ATLANTIC HOCKEY

University of Denver

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 5)

 

The 2004 National Champions begin defense of their title
on October 9th when they travel to Mariucci Arena to face off
against the 2003 National Champion Minnesota Golden Gophers in the annual U.S.
Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

 

The old saying goes “it’s not how you start, it’s how you
finish”. It was quite befitting of the Denver Pioneers last season who proved
once again just how unpredictable college hockey can be. This season Denver will
look to defend their crown, but will have to do it without some key players who
have since graduated.

 

The most significant loss and biggest concern this season
will be in goal. Adam Berkhoel
(ATL), the Frozen Four MVP and USA Hockey’s College Player of the Year, was the
single biggest reason why Denver won it all last season. In addition to the
24-11-4 record he posted, Berkhoel also co-led the nation in shutouts with
seven. With his departure, the Pioneers will be much younger and inexperienced
between the pipes this season. Sophomore Glenn
Fisher
(EDM), who played admirably in the limited time he saw last season,
could be the starter this season. He played in nine games last season, posting
a 3-1-1 record. Fischer will face some stiff competition for the starting job
by talented incoming freshman Peter
Mannino
. Mannino comes to Denver after a stellar season with the Tri-City
Storm (USHL), where he posted a 26-7-0 record.

 

The Pioneers defense also took a big hit when WCHA
Defensive Player of the Year and West First Team All-American Ryan Caldwell (NYI) graduated. Caldwell
led all defensemen in goal scoring with 15 and finished second among the
Pioneers defensemen in points with 27. The other defenseman lost, Scott Drewicki, transferred to
Merrimack back in December and will be eligible to suit up for the Warriors in
January. The Pioneers will return a very solid group of defensemen led by
sophomore Matt Carle (SJ) and junior
Brett Skinner (VAN). Carle got off
to a slow start last season but finished very strong. He finished with 25
points (five goals, 20 assists) to finish third among all the defensemen in
scoring. Carle, a WCHA All-Rookie Team selection, holds the distinction of
being the only American-born player to have won both a gold medal at the U-20
World Junior Championships and an NCAA National Championship in the same
season. Skinner led all Pioneers defensemen in scoring last season with 30
points (seven goals, 23 assists) and also led the Pioneers in plus/minus with a
+18. Joining the veterans this season is rugged
incoming freshman Andrew Thomas who
comes to Denver from the Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL), where he had nine points
(one goal, eight assists) last season.

 

Offense is likely to be the Pioneers’ strength this
season. Despite the losses of Connor
James
(LA), Lukas Dora and Max Bull to graduation, Denver will
have an outstanding group of forwards. Returning to lead the attack is junior Gabe Gauthier who enjoyed a stellar
season in 2003-04 that earned him a selection to the WCHA All-Conference Third
Team. He led the Pioneers in scoring with 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists). One
player to keep an eye on is sophomore J.
D. Corbin
(COL). What Corbin didn’t do on the score sheet, he made up for
off of it. He scored only nine points (three goals, six assists) in his rookie
campaign, but speed, coupled with his tenacity and hard work made him a
terrific energy player last season.

 

The Pioneers will welcome in a superb incoming freshmen
quartet. The player that is likely to garner the most attention is 2005 NHL
Draft eligible Paul Stastny.
Stastny, the son of legendary former NHLer Peter Stastny, did not opt into the
2004 NHL Draft. He comes to Denver from the River City Lancers (USHL) where he
led the team in scoring with 80 points (31 goals, 49 assists) which ranked him
second in the USHL in that category. Edmonton Oilers fans will be keeping close
tabs on Geoff Paukovich (EDM). The
rugged forward was a 2004 second round selection (57th overall).
Paukovich, a U.S. National Team Development Program product, had 21 points (10
goals, 11 assists) and racked up 79 penalty minutes in 2003-04.

 

 

University of Alaska-Anchorage

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 1)

 

The Seawolves will open their 2004-05 season on October 15th
when they host non-conference rival Canisius in the Nye Frontier Classic
Tournament at Sullivan Arena.

 

Alaska-Anchorage became one of the nation’s best feel-good
stories last season. After having only won one game in the entire 2002-03
season, UAA finished 2003-04 with a 14-23-3 record capped off with a trip to
the WCHA Final Five after posting two stunning upsets over Wisconsin and
Colorado College respectively. The 2004 offseason, however, has been a
tumultuous one for Alaska-Anchorage. The Seawolves lost several players, and
not just due to graduation. Top scoring forward Curtis Glencross (ANA) opted to forego his final two years of
eligibility to sign with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim at season’s end. In
August, another one of the Seawolves’ top scorers in junior-to-be Chris Fournier had his scholarship
revoked when he failed to meet his academic requirements. Most recently,
senior-to-be defenseman Lee Green
and sophomore-to-be forward Brett
Arcand-Kootenay
were involved in an off-ice altercation that resulted in
Green being suspended for four games as well as stripped of his captaincy this
season and Arcand-Kootenay ending up in the hospital. All this in addition to
losing last season’s third leading scorer in Dallas Steward and the goaltending tandem of Chris King and Kevin Reiter
to graduation.

 

The most pressing issue for UAA coming into the 2004-05
season will be in goal. With King and Reiter gone, the Seawolves will have
three goaltenders with limited collegiate experience. The job will certainly be
up for grabs this season. Sophomore Ryan
Bancroft
returns but didn’t see any ice time last season behind King and
Reiter. Junior John DeCaro, who’ll
make his UAA debut this fall, sat out the entire 2003-04 season in transition
from Ferris State. Incoming freshman Nathan
Lawson
, an Olds Grizzlys (AJHL) product, will also be making his UAA debut
this fall.

 

Another area of concern will be offense. With their top
three scorers from last season gone, junior Ales Parez and sophomore Charlie
Kronschnabel
will be heavily relied upon to carry the Seawolves’ offensive
load. Parez, who battled the injury bug last season, is the top returning
scorer. He scored 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) in 26 games played last
season to along with his team leading 81 penalty minutes. Kronschnabel finished
just behind Parez with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists), playing in 27
games. Kronschnabel also co-led the team in power play goals last season with
five. The Seawolves will welcome six incoming freshman forwards this season.
The two of note are Shea Hamilton
and Chris Tarkir. Hamilton comes to
UAA from the Olds Grizzlys (AJHL), where he had 33 points (12 goals, 21
assists). Tarkir, the twin brother of NMU defenseman and New Jersey Devils
prospect Zach Tarkir (NJ), comes to
UAA from the Chiliwack Chiefs (BCHL). He had 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists)
in 49 games played last season.

 

While the defensive corps looks to be the Seawolves strength
this season, it is the team’s overall defense that will need some improvement.
UAA had the 48th ranked defense in the nation last season, allowing
an average of 3.50 goals per game. Lee
Green
will not be allowed to join the team until after the first Governor’s
Cup series versus in-state rival Alaska-Fairbanks, which concludes on October
23rd. He is the lone senior defenseman on the roster this season.
Among the other top defensemen returning are sophomores Mark Smith and Chad Anderson.
Smith and Anderson both tied for most goals scored by a defenseman last season
with five apiece. The Seawolves will welcome two incoming defenseman this
season, the most notable is Luke
Beaverson
(FLA). Beaverson, the lone NHL prospect on the UAA roster, was a
2004 NHL Draft selection of the Panthers (283rd overall, ninth
round). He comes to UAA from the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL), where he had seven
points (one goal, six assists) and racked up 141 penalty minutes last season.
Beaverson will bring toughness and at 6’5/211 lbs. will also bring some size.

 

 

Colorado College

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 9)

 

The Tigers will open their 2004-05 regular season on October
15th when they host visiting non-conference opponent Union College
at World Arena.

 

Colorado College was off to a torrid start last season that
didn’t end the way it began. Interestingly, while the Tigers weren’t very good
in their own conference, they were nearly perfect outside of it. The Tigers
went 7-0-1 versus non-WCHA opponents last season.

 

One area where the Tigers will very strong is in goal.
Colorado College returns one of the best tandems in the nation in senior Curtis McElhinney (CGY) and sophomore Matt Zaba (LA). McElhinney missed
nearly two months of action last season due to mono but still managed to put up
some excellent numbers. He posted a 10-6-1 record that included two shutouts to
go along with 2.42 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. In the
eight games following McElhinney’s illness, Zaba posted a 4-2-1 record and he
continued his excellent play after McElhinney returned. Zaba finished the
season with a 10-10-2 record that included one shutout to go along with a 2.27
goals against average and a .911 save percentage. His performance earned him
numerous awards and a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team.

 

In addition to the goaltending, Colorado College also has an
excellent defensive corps, returning nearly all of their top defensemen. The
lone defenseman that the Tigers graduated was Andrew Canzanello. The stellar defense will be led by one of the
best defensemen in the nation in junior Mark
Stuart
(BOS). Stuart helped lead Team USA to a gold medal at the recent
U-20 World Junior Championships. He had 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) and
racked up a team-leading 100 penalty minutes last season. His combination of
great hockey sense, solid positional play and hard-hitting style makes Stuart
one tough individual to have to play against. Opposing forwards will have to
contend with Richard Petiot (LA), Brady Greco (TB) and Lee Sweatt as well. Petiot continues to
be a dominant physical presence on the blueline and Greco and Sweatt both
excelled on the offensive side last season. All of Greco’s seven goals scored
last season came on the power play.

 

Colorado College will have some depth on the blueline when
they welcome two new defensemen into the fold in freshman Jack Hillen and sophomore Brandon
Straub
. Hillen comes to Colorado College from the Tri-City (USHL) Storm,
where he posted five points (two goals, three assists) in 25 games last season.
Straub is a transfer from the now-defunct Findlay program. The local product
notched six points (two goals, four assists) playing in all 38 games for
Findlay last season.

 

Depth will not be restricted to the defensive side for
Colorado College this season. Despite losing four players, including captain Colin Stuart (ATL) to graduation, the
Tigers will still have a formidable offensive unit this season. All of Colorado
College’s top scorers are returning. Junior Marty Sertich led the team in scoring last season with 36 points
(10 goals, 26 assists). Fellow junior Joey
Crabb
(NYR) led the team in goal scoring with 15.

 

One forward to watch this season is Brett Sterling (ATL). Sterling is one of the smallest players on
the Tigers roster at 5’8/170 lbs. He is quick, shifty and plays with a great
deal of energy and intensity. The Pasadena, CA native finished tied for third
on the team in scoring with 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists). Six of his 14
goals came on the power play last season.

 

In addition to the already talented group up front that
return for Colorado College, the team will welcome five incoming freshmen as
well. The most notable is Scott
McCulloch
(CHI). He is a 2004 NHL Draft selection of the Blackhawks (165th
overall, sixth round). McCulloch comes to Colorado College from the Nanaimo
Clippers (BCHL), where he amassed 71 points (35 goals, 36 assists) in 70 games
played.

 

 

Michigan Tech University

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 1)

 

The Huskies will open their 2004-05 regular season on
October 15th when they travel to the DECC to face off against
conference rival and host Minnesota-Duluth.

 

Fans at Michigan Tech didn’t have much to cheer about last
season as the team finished last in the conference and for the last few years
it’s been a struggle to stay out of the WCHA cellar. The Huskies and their fans
are hoping that this could be the year that they finish higher in the WCHA
standings. A big boost to the team this season will come from a new volunteer
assistant coach. Former Husky and longtime NHLer Randy McKay will make his
collegiate coaching debut this fall.

 

If there are three reasons to watch the Huskies this season,
they would be junior Chris Conner,
senior Colin Murphy and junior Taggert Desmet. The trio became the
biggest story to come out of MTU last season. While they didn’t all play
together every game, when they did they were sensational. The offense will
likely be the Huskies’ strength this season and the talented trio is leading
the way. Conner led the team last season with 39 points (25 goals, 14 assists).
Of his 25 goals, 14 came on special teams. Six came on the power play, while
his eight short-handed goals led the nation. Conner was a Hobey Baker candidate
last season and could be again this season. His sometime linemate Colin Murphy
will serve as team captain this season. Murphy finished second on the team in
scoring last season with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists). His 17 assists led
the team in that category. Rounding out the top-scoring trio is Taggert Desmet.
Desmet finished with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists). Five of his 12 goals
were scored on the power play.

 

The one area that MTU will need to have to be successful in
the ultra-competitive WCHA this season is scoring depth. The
Conner-Murphy-Desmet combination accounted for roughly 55 percent of all of
MTU’s scoring last season. The threesome along with the now-graduated forward Brett Englehardt, were the only players
on the entire roster last season to score ten or more goals. Two incoming
players who should add some scoring depth will be sophomore Mike Batovanja and freshman Jordan Foote (NYR). Batovanja will
bring experience as well as offense to the team this season. He comes to MTU
from the now-defunct Findlay program. He amassed 20 points (six goals, 14
assists) as the Oilers’ second-leading scorer last season. Foote, who was originally slated to start next season,
opted to make his collegiate debut this season. He was a 2004 NHL Draft
selection of the New York Rangers (169th overall, sixth round).
Foote comes to MTU from the Nanaimo Clippers (BCHL), where he amassed 59 points
(26 goals, 33 assists) in 82 games played last season.

 

Defense and goaltending are two areas where the Huskies are
hoping to significantly improve in this season. The Huskies were the third
worst defensive team in the nation last season, giving up an average of 4.24
goals per game. While the power play was outstanding last season, the penalty
killing was horrendous at a dismal 73.2 percent and ranked dead last in the
nation. MTU returns virtually all of their defensive players, but how well they
improve this season will help dictate how far up the WCHA standings they’ll
finish.

 

Leading the defense this season will be assistant captain,
senior Clay Wilson and towering
junior John Scott. Wilson and Scott
were two of the Huskies best and most reliable defensemen last season. One
incoming defenseman that will be of interest is 2005 NHL Draft eligible Jake Obermeyer. Obermeyer comes to MTU
from the Tri-City Storm (USHL), where he had 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists)
as well as being selected to the USHL All-Rookie Team. Obermeyer also appeared
on the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for the 2004 Entry Draft but was
not selected.

 

In addition to returning nearly all of their defensemen, the
Huskies also return their starting tandem of senior Cam Ellsworth and sophomore Bryce
Luker
. Ellsworth and Luker split time in the MTU net and both will be
looking to not only post better records this season but to better their goals
against averages as well. Ellsworth posted a 5-12-2 record with a dismal 3.76
GAA last season. Luker didn’t fare much better. He posted a 3-11-3 record with
a whopping 4.50 GAA. Luker also recorded MTU’s lone shutout of the season as
well.

 

 

University of Minnesota

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 10)

 

The Golden Gophers will open their 2004-05 regular season on
October 9th when they host reigning National Champions Denver at
Mariucci Arena in the annual U. S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

 

The end of the 2003-04 season saw the graduation of one of
Minnesota’s best classes in recent memory. Defenseman Joey Martin (CHI) along with forwards Grant Potulny (OTT), Matt
Koalska
(NYI), Troy Riddle
(STL), and Jon Waibel made up the
outstanding graduating Class of 2004. However, the biggest losses the Gophers
suffered this offseason were that of two non-graduating key players. The
immensely talented defenseman Keith
Ballard
(PHX) opted to forego his final year of eligibility to sign with
the Coyotes, while the gifted, high-scoring forward Thomas Vanek (BUF) opted to forego his final two years of eligibility
to sign with the Sabres. In addition, imposing defenseman Jake Taylor (NYR) followed Ballard and Vanek by opting to forego
his final three years of eligibility to sign with the New York Rangers.

 

Even with all of the departures, the Gophers will still be a
force to be reckoned with this season. To begin with, Minnesota will be very
strong in goal with the return of the outstanding tandem of sophomore starter Kellen Briggs and senior backup Justin Johnson.
Briggs was brilliant in goal for the Gophers last season. He posted a 25-10-3
record that included four shutouts. He ranked eighth in the nation in the
category of winning percentage (.697). Briggs became the workhorse for
Minnesota last season with the minutes he logged. He finished the season ranked
ninth in the nation minutes played (2198:54).

 

The Gophers possessed tremendous offensive depth last season
and they will have it again this season, albeit from a younger team. Last season, Minnesota had the nation’s top
power play (26.2 percent). Both the offensive capabilities and the power play
will be tested this season. While the Gophers suffered some enormous losses up
front, they will return an excellent group of forwards that include sophomores Danny Irmen (MIN) and Ryan Potulny (PHI) and junior in Gino Guyer (DAL). Guyer is the top
scoring returning forward. He finished fifth on the team in scoring with 32
points (11 goals, 22 assists). Irmen enjoyed a stellar rookie campaign last
season, leading all Gophers rookies in scoring with 22 points (14 goals, eight
assists). Potulny saw limited ice time due to a knee injury that kept out for
29 games. He finished the season with 14 points (six goals, eight assists),
most of which came after his return to the lineup. Those numbers should be
higher this season.

 

Defense will be a nice balance of under and upperclassmen
led by senior Judd Stevens,
sophomore Michael
Vannelli
(ATL) and a trio of juniors in Chris Harrington, P. J.
Atherton
(TB) and Peter Kennedy.
The player that will grab a lot of attention this season is Chris Harrington.
Harrington played much of last season alongside Keith Ballard. The duo made for
arguably the best defensive combo in the nation. Harrington brings grit,
intensity, and some very good offensive skills to the table. He finished last
season second in scoring among defensemen with 29 points (five goals, 24
assists). Vannelli is another player to watch this season. While he didn’t play
much in the second half of the regular season, he made an impact in the first
half and continued to show progress during the postseason. An area of his game
where he made perhaps his greatest strides in was improved puck-handling. He
could see time this season quarterbacking the Gophers power play.

 

The biggest story coming into this season for Minnesota is
its very large and talented incoming freshman class. The Gophers will welcome
ten new players. Minnesota has made a habit of recruiting home grown players
and this season is no different. The only non-Minnesota native and the most
notable of the group is the highly skilled forward Kris Chucko. Chucko, who was a first round (24th
overall) selection of the Calgary Flames, was the second leading scorer for the
Salmon Arm Silverbacks (BCHL) last season and was amongst the most
highly-touted incoming freshmen this season. He joins defenseman Peter Kennedy as the only Canadians on
the Gophers roster this season.

 

Two other 2004 NHL Draft selections making their debut in
the maroon and gold are a pair of excellent defensemen in Alex Goligoski (PIT) and Derek
Peltier
(COL). Goligoski was a 2004 Penguins selection (61st
overall, second round). He comes to Minnesota from Grand Rapids High School
where he had 56 points (25 goals, 31 assists) last season. He was a finalist
for the Mr. Hockey Award, which is given annually to the top Minnesota high
school player. Goligoski also played briefly with the Sioux Falls Stampede
(USHL) last season as well. Peltier was a 2004 Colorado Avalanche selection
(184th overall, sixth round). Peltier comes to Minnesota from the
Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL), where he led the team’s defensemen in scoring
with 33 points (seven goals, 26 assists).

 

Those following the 2005 NHL Draft eligible players will be
keeping a close eye this season on talented offensive defenseman Nate Hagemo and outstanding forwards Brent Borgen and Ben Gordon. Hagemo comes to Minnesota from the U.S. National Team
Development Program. He amassed 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) last season.
Borgen and Gordon both come to Minnesota from the Lincoln Stars (USHL). Borgen
had 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) along with 94 penalty minutes last season.
Gordon posted 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists).

 

 

University of Minnesota-Duluth

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 5)

 

The Bulldogs will open their 2004-05 regular season on
October 7th when they travel to the Joyce Center to face off against
non-conference opponent Notre Dame in one of the early season marquee matchups.

 

Minnesota-Duluth was one of the nation’s most explosive
offensive teams last season. They scored an average of 4.11 goals per game,
which ranked the second in the nation in that category. With a tremendously
potent offense and a very solid defense, the Bulldogs went all the way to the
Frozen Four, but fell just short of their goal to win the National
Championship. This season the Bulldogs will look to repeat that run but this
time lay claim to the National Championship Trophy. The Bulldogs lost four key
players to graduation this offseason. The most significant was the loss of the
nation’s leading scorer and Hobey Baker winner, Junior Lessard (DAL). In addition to Lessard, UMD also lost
defensemen Beau Geisler and Jay Hardwick and forward Jesse Unklesbay. Scott Sandelin, the
Bulldogs head coach who was named WCHA Coach of the Year, will be coaching Team
USA at the upcoming U-20 World Junior Championship in Grand Forks, ND.

 

While the losses of Lessard and Unklesbay are huge, the
Bulldogs will return this season with plenty of players that can still make UMD
an offensive powerhouse. UMD returns nearly all of their top scorers from last
season. The most notable is Senior Evan
Schwabe
, who will serve as team captain this season. Schwabe, an early
Hobey Baker candidate, will have the attention of a lot of people this season.
He finished second on the team and third in the nation in scoring last season
with 57 points (19 goals, 38 assists). His 38 assists led the nation in that
category. One player to watch for this season is junior T. J. Caig. He was a thorn in the opposition’s side last season.
His ultra-aggressive style, determination and excellent puck skills make Caig a
great player to watch. He finished the season with 33 points (12 goals, 21
assists) and ranked second on the team in penalty minutes with 60.

 

As if the UMD offensive depth isn’t deep enough, the
Bulldogs will welcome three incoming freshmen that will provide even more
firepower. Mike Curry (LA) was a
seventh round selection (205th overall) of the Kings. Curry comes to
UMD from the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL), where he posted 40 points (20 goals,
20 assists) last season. Matt McKnight
(DAL) was a ninth round selection (280th overall) of the Stars.
McKnight comes to UMD from the Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL), where he amassed 56
points (20 goals, 36 assists) last season. Blair
Lefebvre
comes to UMD from the Nanaimo Clippers (BCHL), where he amassed
103 points (49 goals, 54 assists) last season.

 

UMD will return most of their top defensemen this season.
The losses of Geisler and Hardwick were huge, but the Bulldogs will return a
top-notch group of defensemen. Two outstanding seniors in Neil Petruic (OTT) and Tim
Hambly
will be leading the Bulldogs defense. Petruic was the only UMD
defensemen to play in all 45 games last season, with 14 points (four goals, ten
assists). Hambly finished second among the team’s defensemen in scoring with 24
points (five goals, 19 assists). He also led the team in plus/minus with a
whopping +33.

 

Two incoming freshmen that are also NHL prospects round out
UMD’s outstanding defense. Travis
Gawryletz
(PHI) was an eighth round selection (253rd overall) of
the Flyers in the 2004 NHL Draft. He comes to UMD from the Trail Smoke Eaters
(BCHL), where he finished second on the team in scoring among defensemen with
34 points (10 goals, 14 assists). Jay
Rosehill
(TB), a 2003 selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning, comes to UMD
from the Olds Grizzlys (AJHL). He had 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) last
season, and ranked third on the team in penalty minutes with 172.

 

The Bulldogs will also be very solid in goal with the return
of the excellent goaltending tandem of junior starter Isaac Reichmuth and sophomore backup Josh Johnson. Reichmuth became the defensive story for UMD last
season. He posted a 23-9-4 record that included two shutouts. He also finished
fourth in the nation in minutes played (2272:02) in 40 appearances.

 

 

Minnesota State University-Mankato

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 4)

 

The Mavericks will open their 35th regular season
on October 15th when they host conference rival North Dakota at the
Midwest Wireless Civic Center (aka “the Barn”) for a weekend series.

 

If the Los Angeles Kings and their fans needed someone to
feel their pain in regards to the rash of injuries that hit their team last
season, then chances are the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks and their fans
can probably relate quite well. The injuries were especially difficult when
coupled with the number of key players they lost prior to the 2003-04 season.
Only three skaters suited up for all 39 games last season. With a new season
about to begin, the Mavericks expect to be back in the thick of the WCHA race
and hopefully significantly healthier when playoff time comes around.

 

Offense is likely to be Minnesota State’s strength this
season. The Mavericks return all but one of their top scoring forwards. They
lost three forwards, most notably Shane
Joseph
(SJ). Joseph led the Mavericks in scoring with 43 points (19 goals,
24 assists). Joseph and Dana Sorenson
were lost to graduation. Cole Bassett
left the team during the season for personal reasons. Two players to watch this
season are sophomores David Backes
(STL) and Travis Morin (WSH).
Backes, a WCHA All-Rookie Team selection, had a stellar 2003-04 season. He and
Joseph carried the bulk of the Mavericks’ offensive load last season. Backes
finished second on the team with 37 points (16 goals, 21 assists). Backes is a player who combines ample scoring ability with
a penchant for the physical side of the game.
As
evidenced by the team leading 66 penalty minutes that he racked up last season.
Morin was a 2004 NHL Draft selection of the Capitals (263rd overall,
ninth round).
He is a very good two-way forward with excellent
puck-handling skills. With the injury bug really hitting the Mavericks last
season, Morin saw a lot of ice time and played in every situation. He finished
the season fourth on the team in scoring with 21 points (nine goals, 12
assists). An area where he’ll see a lot more time this season is on the power
play. Four of Morin’s nine goals came on the man advantage.

 

Four incoming freshmen will provide some scoring
depth for the Mavericks this season. The most notable are Joel Hanson and Austin
Sutter.
Hanson comes to Minnesota State from the Waterloo Blackhawks
(USHL), where he led the team in scoring with 59 points (17 goals, 42 assists).
Sutter comes to Minnesota State from the Powell River Kings (BCHL), where he
led the team in scoring with 70 points (26 goals, 44 assists).

 

Minnesota State’s defense will be of some concern coming
into the season, especially being very young. Two of last season’s top
defensemen in Aaron Forsythe and Nate Metcalf have graduated. Senior Steven Johns and junior Jon Dubel are the lone upperclassmen on
the Mavericks blueline this season. Dubel returns to the Minnesota State lineup
after being medically redshirted for the duration of the 2003-04 season after
having shoulder surgery. Johns will lead a youthful but solid group of
defensemen this season.

 

Two defensemen to watch this season are sophomores Kyle Peto and Chad Brownlee (VAN). Both players logged a lot of ice time and were
two of the best defenders patrolling the Mavericks blueline last season. Peto
led all defensemen in scoring last season with 22 (three goals, 19 assists). Brownlee combines excellent positional play with grittiness.
He made life difficult for opposing top forwards on many nights. Brownlee had
three points (two goals, one assist) playing in 35 games last season. The youth
movement on the Mavericks blueline will be further enhanced with the arrival of
three incoming freshmen in Mark Hinz,
R. J. Linder and Steve Wagner. Hinz comes to Minnesota
State from the Bonnyville Pontiacs (AJHL), where he amassed 44 points (12
goals, 32 assists) as well as 107 penalty minutes last season. Linder comes to
Minnesota State from the Portage Terriers (MJHL), where he amassed 40 points
(12 goals, 28 assists). Wagner comes to Minnesota State from the Tri City Storm
(USHL), where he amassed 22 points (three goals, 19 assists).

 

With the defense being so young, good goaltending will be
crucial to the Mavericks success this season. Minnesota State returns all of
their goaltenders from last season. Senior Jon
Volp
returns as the starter after posting a 7-14-4 record that included one
shutout in 30 games. His backups in junior Kyle
Nixon
and sophomore Chris Clark
also return and will be battling for the backup job and ice time.

 

 

University of North Dakota

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 10)

 

The Fighting Sioux will open their 2004-05 season on October
8th when they travel to Alfond Arena to face off against host and
National Championship runner-up Maine in one of the early season marquee
matchups. UND will also play host to the upcoming U-20 World Junior
Championships at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

 

After being atop of the national rankings for much of the
year and winning the MacNaughton Cup, the 2003-04 season didn’t end the way the
Fighting Sioux and their faithful had expected it to. A disappointing loss to
arch-rival Minnesota in the Broadmoor Cup (WCHA Championship) game and the
bitter loss to Denver in the West Regional Final of the Frozen Four Tournament
will definitely give cause to UND to change that this season. To say that the
2004 offseason was tough for UND is probably an understatement. The Fighting
Sioux suffered some very significant losses. After ten successful years as head
coach, Dean Blais has decided to move on. He is now an associate coach with the
Columbus Blue Jackets. Two thirds of arguably the nation’s top line combination
from last season has left early for the NHL. Sophomore sensation Zach Parise (NJ) opted to forego his
last two years of eligibility to sign with the Devils, while linemate, junior Brandon Bochenski (OTT) opted to forego
his senior season to sign with the Senators.

 

With the loss of the team’s two best offensive players from
last season, offense immediately becomes an issue. However, UND will return an
outstanding group of forwards who can continue to make North Dakota an
offensive powerhouse. Leading the way are two excellent NHL prospects in
sophomores Drew Stafford (BUF) and Brady Murray (LA), the WCHA’s Rookie of
the Year. Murray is the top returning scorer from last season. He amassed 46
points (19 goals, 27 assists) and posted a whopping +34. His 46 points tied him
for first in the nation in scoring among rookies. He also finished first in the
nation among rookies in points per game (1.24). Stafford was a first round
selection (13th overall) by the Sabres in this past summer’s NHL
Draft. He had 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 36 games played last season.
As the season progressed, so did Stafford’s overall game. Stafford grew (and
continues to grow) into being an excellent two-way forward who also brings some
grit to the table. With the loss of Parise and Bochenski, the Fighting Sioux
will also be looking to their talented incoming freshman class to help make up
for the losses. The most notable is the offensively explosive forward Travis Zajac (NJ). Zajac, the highest
drafted 2004-05 incoming freshman of the 2004 NHL Draft (first round, 20th
overall by the New Jersey Devils) comes to UND after having led the Salmon Arm
Silverbacks and the BCHL in scoring with 135 points (53 goals, 82 assists) and
earning the BCHL Interior Division’s MVP honor.

 

Two other incoming freshmen forwards that will also provide
scoring depth are Rylan Kaip (ATL)
and Radislav Spirko. Kaip is a 2003
NHL Draft selection of the Thrashers. He comes to UND from the Notre Dame
Hounds (SJHL), where he amassed 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists) which ranked
him seventh in the league in scoring last season. Spirko comes to UND from the
Tri-City Storm (USHL), where he amassed 57 points (35 goals, 22 assists). He
was also a two-time member of Slovakia’s World Junior Championship team.

 

In addition to being one of last season’s top offensive
teams, the Fighting Sioux was also one of the nation’s top defensive teams and
with the return of all of their key defensive players, is expected to be again
this season. UND returns the outstanding duo of senior Jake Brandt and sophomore Jordan
Parise
. Brandt and Parise almost evenly split time in goal last season and
posted excellent numbers. Brandt posted a 16-4-0 record in 22 games played.
Parise also played in 22 games, posting a 14-4-3 record that included two
shutouts. Both goaltenders also posted
goals against averages of just above two and save percentages of around .900.
Third string goaltender Nate Ziegelmann
was the lone defensive player loss for UND this offseason. Ziegelmann opted to
transfer to St. Cloud State, where he will make his debut in the fall of 2005.
Replacing Ziegelmann and battling for ice time this season is incoming freshman
Phillippe Lamoureux. Lamoureux comes
to UND from the Lincoln Stars (USHL), where he posted a 22-23-3 (W-L-OTL)
record that included three shutouts.

 

Along with the solid
goaltending, the Fighting Sioux will also have an outstanding defensive corps
led by the excellent blueline tandem of junior Matt Greene (EDM) and senior Matt
Jones
(PHX). The two made up one of the nation’s most talented defensive
duos last season. Both players led all Fighting Sioux defensemen in plus/minus
with a +33 each. Jones amassed 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) playing in
all 41 games last season. Greene had 17 points (one goal, 16 assists) and
finished second on the team in penalty minutes with 86. His lone goal of the
season came back on November 8th versus Minnesota. Greene and Jones
is a blueline duo well worth watching this season. Both players are excellent
skaters and very solid defensive players who have no trouble taking care of
their own. Jones also possesses great offensive ability that can join the rush.
Greene, who will serve as UND’s team captain this season, combines toughness,
size, and hockey sense.

 

Among the other top defensemen that UND will return this
season include Nick Fuher and Andy Schneider (PIT). Fuher led all
defensemen in scoring last season with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists).
Schneider struggled to repeat the 41-point performance he had two seasons ago
in 2003-04. Schneider finished with 12 points (two goals, ten assists) playing
in 39 games last season. The lone incoming freshman defenseman that UND will
welcome this season is Kyle Radke.
Radke played with the Grande Prairie Storm (AJHL), where he amassed 47 points
(nine goals, 38 assists) last season.

 

 

St. Cloud State University

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 5)

 

The Huskies will open their 2004-05 regular season on
October 9th when they travel to the Whittemore Center in Durham, NH
to face off against non-conference rival St. Lawrence in the annual Icebreaker
Tournament.

 

After a superb start last season, the Huskies saw their
Frozen Four Tournament bid hopes dashed after struggling down the stretch. SCSU
is hoping to remedy that this season. They will have to do it without some key
players. The Huskies lost six players this offseason. The biggest losses were
of four key defensive players. Defensemen Colin
Peters
and Ryan LaMere along
with goaltender Adam Coole have all
graduated. Defenseman Tim Conboy
(SJ) was dismissed by the team due to unspecified team rule violations and
rather than transferring opted to forego his final two years of eligibility to
sign with the San Jose Sharks. The team also lost two significant forwards in
second leading scorer Matt Hendricks
(NSH) and team plus/minus leader Andy
Lundbohm
to graduation.

 

With the loss of Peters, LaMere and Conboy, the youthful
defense will be a big concern for SCSU. Of the nine defensemen on the roster,
six are underclassmen. The three upperclassmen, seniors Matt Gens (VAN) and Nate
Wright
along with junior T. J.
McElroy,
will be relied heavily upon to lead SCSU’s defensive corps. One
returning defenseman well worth a look is sophomore Casey Borer (CAR).
Borer is a 2004 NHL Draft selection of the Hurricanes (69th overall,
third round). Borer is a defensive defenseman who is very solid in his own end
and uses his size quite well. He had eight points (all assists) in 32 games
last season. The Huskies will also welcome three incoming freshmen. The most
notable is the rugged Chris Anderson
who played for the Danville Wings (USHL), where he had 11 points (three goals,
eight assists) along with 102 penalty minutes last season. An area that the
Huskies will need to improve is offensive contributions from the defense. The
returning defensemen scored a total of ten goals combined last season.
Sophomore Justin Fletcher led the
way in scoring with 13 points (six goals, seven assists).

 

With a predominantly young defense, the Huskies will rely
even more on the returning goaltending tandem of sophomore Tim Boron and junior Jason
Montgomery
. Boron, who split time last season with Coole, will likely be
tapped as the starter this season. He played in 17 games, posting a record of
5-7-2. Montgomery, who’ll like serve as Boron’s backup this season, played in
six games last season and posted a 2-3-0 record. The Huskies also inherited two
excellent transferring goaltenders in Bobby
Goepfert
(PIT) from Providence College and Nate Ziegelmann from North Dakota. Neither will be eligible to play
until the 2005-06 season.

 

The Huskies strength this season will be up front, despite
the loss of Hendricks and Lundbohm. Six of the seven top scorers from last
season return for the Huskies this season led by senior Dave Ianazzo and a trio of top-notch juniors in Joe Jensen (PIT), Brock Hooton (OTT) and Billy
Hengen
. Ianazzo led the team in scoring last season with 27 points (16
goals, 11 assists). One area where Ianazzo excelled last season was on special
teams. Seven of 16 goals came on special teams. Four came on the power play,
while three came shorthanded. Jensen finished third on the team last season in
scoring with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists), also excelled on special
teams. Five of his nine goals came on special teams, four came on the power
play, while one came shorthanded.

 

SCSU will also get further scoring depth with the addition
of six incoming freshmen forwards that include Andrew Gordon (WSH) along with a
pair of former Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) teammates in Nate Dey and Sean Garrity.
Gordon is a 2004 NHL Draft selection of the Capitals (197th overall,
seventh round). Gordon comes to SCSU from the Notre Dame Hounds (SJHL), where
he amassed 64 points (20 goals, 44 assists). Dey amassed 36 points (20 goals,
16 assists) and Garrity had 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) last season.

 

 

University of Wisconsin

 

(Number of NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 12)

 

The Badgers will open their 2004-05 regular season on
October 15th when they host visiting non-conference opponent
Mercyhurst at the Kohl Center for a weekend series.

 

Wisconsin enjoyed a very successful season in 2003-04 that
was in large part due to their exceptional freshman class. The Badgers went on
a record-setting tear that saw them go undefeated in 15 consecutive games from
October 24th through December 28th. During that stunning
run, they racked up 15 wins and four ties. Although the Badgers made it to the
Frozen Four Tournament, their stellar season ended with a heartbreaking 2-1
overtime loss to top-seeded Maine in the East Regional Final. This season
Wisconsin hopes to better that but will have to do so as a very young team.

 

The Badgers suffered their heaviest losses this offseason on
the blueline. Andy Wozniewski (TOR),
Dan Boeser and Chris Julka have all graduated, while Tom Sawatske left to play in the Canadian Junior League. The
biggest loss however, came recently when phenom, sophomore-to-be Ryan Suter (NSH) opted to forego his
final three years of eligibility to sign with the Nashville Predators. With so
many defensemen lost, the Wisconsin blueline will not only be younger but the
majority will be newcomers. Only junior Tom
Gilbert
(EDM) and sophomores Jeff
Likens
and Matt Olinger return
from last season’s squad. Gilbert returns as the top scoring defenseman from last
season with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists). Gilbert was originally a 2002
NHL Draft selection of the Colorado Avalanche whose rights were traded to the
Edmonton Oilers as part of the deal that sent goaltender Tommy Salo to Colorado
back on March 9th. Gilbert is one defenseman who is well worth
watching. He’s an excellent skater with speed that possesses outstanding puck
and offensive skills. Likens, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the most
recent U-20 WJC, had 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) last season. He’s a
small defenseman who plays with a great deal of intensity coupled with
outstanding skating ability and transitioning. Olinger saw action in only 22
games last season and didn’t register a point.

 

With the significant losses to the defense, the Badgers will
be relying even more heavily on the return of their outstanding goaltending
tandem of senior Bernd Brückler (PHI) and sophomore Brian Elliott (OTT). Brückler was the backbone and workhorse of the talented
Badgers team last season. He posted a 19-10-8 record that included four
shutouts. He finished eighth in the nation in goals against average (2.09) as
well as being tied for eighth in the nation in save percentage (.924). In
addition, he finished second in the nation in minutes played (2299:40). Among
the awards and accolades Brückler garnered include a selection to WCHA
All-Conference First Team and the All-American West First Team. Brückler is a
goaltender who competes hard, is solid positionally and will challenge opposing
shooters every night. Elliott, who served as Brückler’s backup last season,
only saw action in six games. He posted a 3-3-0 record last season. In the
limited action he saw, he played remarkably well, posting a .924 save
percentage as well as a 2.14 goals against average. Elliott possesses excellent
quick reflexes and has shown the ability to handle the pressure.

 

Another area of strength for the Badgers this
season is in their forward lines. With
the exception of the
loss of top scorer Rene Bourque
(CHI) to graduation, all of their top forwards from last season will return
this season. Only six of the forwards on the Wisconsin roster are
upperclassmen. One such player to watch is junior Ryan MacMurchy (STL), who’ll be counted on to help lead the
Wisconsin offense. MacMurchy is a player who combines tremendous scoring
ability with toughness. He finished second on the team in scoring with 28
points (15 goals, 13 assists) and penalty minutes (95). MacMurchy will serve a
one-game suspension this season after being involved in an altercation last
month.

 

Sophomore Robbie Earl
(TOR) is another player well worth watching this season with his combination of
speed and quickness along with tremendous offensive skills. He led all Badgers
rookies in scoring last season with 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists). Of the 14
goals Earl scored, six came on the power play. He had his best game of the
season back on February 6th when he notched a hat trick to lead
Wisconsin to a stunning 4-3 win in overtime over North Dakota. His game-winner
was one of the best goals scored last season. Earl somehow managed to flip the
puck over the shoulder of UND goaltender Jake Brandt while falling to the ice
on a great two-on-one play. Earl, named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team, was a 2004
NHL Draft selection of the Maple Leafs (187th overall, sixth round).

 

In addition to the superb core of returning players, the
Badgers will also welcome a stellar incoming freshman class. An interesting
note about the newest Badgers is that for the first time in about a decade none
are Canadian-born. Of the eight newcomers, six are Wisconsin natives. The
incoming freshman class is led by a pair of outstanding 2004 NHL Draft
selections of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Forward Matt Auffrey, a sixth round selection (172nd overall),
comes to Wisconsin from the U. S. National Team Development Program. He had 30
points (14 goals, 16 assists) last season. Defenseman Kyle Klubertanz, a third round selection (74th overall),
comes to Wisconsin from the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL). He amassed 27 points
(six goals, 21 assists) last season. Among the other excellent rookies that
many will be watching this season is the immensely talented forward Joe Pavelski (SJ). Pavelski, a 2003 NHL
Draft selection of the Sharks, was instrumental in leading the Waterloo
Blackhawks to win the USHL’s Clark Cup last season. He had 52 points (21 goals,
31 assists) while serving as team captain. His outstanding play earned him USA
Hockey’s Junior Player of the Year.

 

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the
editorial staff.