CCHA 2010-11 season preview

By DJ Powers

With three new head coaches and the departure of Nebraska-Omaha to WCHA, the CCHA will be a different yet a very competitive conference. This season, the CCHA features 48 NHL prospects representing ten of the 11 teams – second most of all the conferences. The 48 prospects represent ten of the 11 member teams. The lone CCHA team without a prospect on their roster is Alaska. Michigan leads all CCHA schools with 13 prospects, followed by Notre Dame with ten and Miami with seven. Below is a closer look at each member school. All noted start dates are for non-exhibition, regular season games.

University of Michigan
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 13

The reigning Mason Cup champions will look to make a record 33rd NCAA Tournament appearance when they open their 2010-11 season versus Mercyhurst on Oct. 2.

As good as Michigan was last season, they look to be even better this season and are poised to make a serious run at the National Championship crown come April.

Unlike in recent years, the Wolverines did not lose a player early to the pro ranks this off-season. And as head coach Red Berenson explains, it is a testament to the quality and character of his returning top players.

“This is the one year that I wasn’t surprised. The players that could’ve left if they really wanted to like (Carl) Hagelin, (Louie) Caporusso and (Matt) Rust chose not to because there was no reason for them to leave and they knew that. I don’t think they were in a rush to leave. They all had such a good attitude about it, especially with the way they all finished (last season). And they were all excited about coming back this year. They just didn’t see themselves as ‘pro-ready’.”

While Michigan lost five players to graduation, they return a tremendously deep team and add an excellent freshman class to the mix.

Despite the notable losses of Chris Summers (PHO) and Steven Kampfer (BOS), the Wolverines will be loaded on the blue line this season. The defensive corps is led by senior Chad Langlais and junior Brandon Burlon (NJ). Langlais, who has already garnered some NHL interest, led all Wolverines rearguards last season with 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) playing in all 45 games. Burlon has blossomed into one of Michigan’s best all-around defensemen. He posted 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 45 appearances last season. Burlon made some of his greatest strides in his improved shutdown ability.

Burlon and Langlais were also key cogs on one of the nation’s top defensive teams last season as well. The Wolverines ranked fifth in the nation, allowing just 2.27 goals per game. Equally as strong was their penalty-killing, which had an efficiency rating of 86 percent and ranked ninth in the nation.

One freshman rearguard well worth watching is Mac Bennett. The Narragansett, R.I. native is one of two Montreal Canadiens draft picks on the Michigan roster this season. Bennett is a small, excellent skating defenseman who is quite good in transitioning.
“Bennett is more of an offensive type of defenseman,” said Berenson of his young defenseman. “We’re looking for him to be a player that can jump up in the rush and create some offense.”

As good as the Wolverines were on defense last season; they were equally good on offense. Michigan ranked 12th in the nation last season, averaging 3.29 goals per game. The team’s 148 totals goals were the most of any CCHA team. Nationally, only Boston College and Wisconsin scored more goals last season. With the return of all of their top scorers, the trend is likely to continue this season.

Leading the Wolverines offense is the excellent senior trio of Carl Hagelin (NYR), Louie Caporusso (OTT) and Matt Rust (FLA). All three players had the opportunity to turn pro this off-season, but opted to return to Michigan to finish their collegiate careers.

Hagelin, a potential candidate for the 2011 Hobey Baker Award, has become one of the nation’s best two-way forwards. He led the CCHA with 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) playing in all 45 games last season. Hagelin’s linemate Rust finished third on the team with 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 45 games. Rust also led the Wolverines with a plus-22. Caporusso, who centered the Wolverines second line last season, finished second on the team with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists). Where Caporusso proved to be invaluable to Michigan last season was on face-offs, where he won nearly 58 percent draws.

If there is one area that Michigan needs to better this season is their power play. The Wolverines ranked 21st in the nation last season with a 19.1 percent efficiency rating.

University of Alaska
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Alaska will be looking to build on last season’s success when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Air Force in the Kendall Hockey Classic tournament in Anchorage.

The Nanooks were one of the best stories coming out of the CCHA last season. Alaska made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, giving eventual National Champion Boston College all they could handle in the Northeast Regional before falling 3-1.

The Nanooks come into this season with few losses and are poised to make a serious run back to the NCAA Tournament.

Alaska returns much of last year’s team intact, but one player they did lose was top scorer Dion Knelsen, who has graduated. Knelsen led the Nanooks with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) playing in all 39 games last season.

Sophomore Andy Taranto, the CCHA Rookie of the Year, returns as the team’s top point producer. The Woodridge, Ill native finished third in the nation in both rookie scoring (42 points) and points per game (1.08) and in the process gained considerable NHL interest. In 39 appearances last season, Taranto posted 18 goals and 24 assists. His 24 assists co-led the team while his eight power play goals ranked second on the team. Taranto is a player with size who is blessed with terrific hands and instincts. He is also a player that will lead the Nanooks offensive attack and is well worth watching.

But Taranto will need his teammates to help pick up the scoring slack. One area where Alaska could use a boost is in their offensive production. In 2009-10, the Nanooks ranked 40th in the nation, averaging under three goals per game.

While the team will be looking to improve their offense, their defense is quite a different story. Alaska was one of the nation’s best defensive teams last season and looks to be again this season. The Nanooks ranked ninth, allowing just 2.38 goals per game. The 93 total goals allowed were the fewest by a CCHA team behind only Miami and Ferris State. The key cog behind the Nanooks excellent defense is junior netminder Scott Greenham. Like Taranto, Greenham has generated quite a bit of NHL interest. He finished his sophomore campaign with a sparkling 18-12-9 record that included four shutouts. His 2.10 goals against average ranked tenth in the nation, while his .919 save percentage ranked 11th. He was also one of the nation’s workhorses last season, logging nearly 2,300 minutes of ice time. Only North Dakota’s Brad Eidsness (BUF) and New Hampshire’s Brian Foster (FLA) logged more minutes last season. Greenham is a big goaltender with tremendous poise that has proven he can step up in big games and be consistent.

Bowling Green State University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 2

Bowling Green will look to turn things around when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Michigan.

The 2009-10 season became a forgettable one for Bowling Green. This season, Chris Bergeron takes over the coaching reins, coming over from Miami. He inherits a team that finished near or at the bottom nationally in virtually every category.

One of the biggest issues facing Bowling Green this season will be generating much more offense. The Falcons ranked 57th in the nation with an offense that averaged just 1.97 goals per game. Their 79 total goals were the fourth fewest nationally last season. Furthermore, only 16 players on last year’s squad posted a goal. Their equally anemic powerplay also ranked 57th with a 74.9 percent efficiency rating. Bowling Green was also one of five teams last season that did not tally a shorthanded goal.

One of the few bright spots for the Falcons was power forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas (ATL). The sophomore returns as the team’s top scorer after finishing his rookie campaign with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 35 games. He, along with graduated forward Tomas Petrushka, were the lone Bowling Green players last season that posted ten or more goals and 20 or more points. The dynamic Samuels-Thomas is one to keep an eye on this season, but he will need much more offensive support if the Falcons are to make a push up the CCHA standings this season.

Another area where Bowling Green will need to find more consistency and support is in goal. The tandem of senior Nick Eno (BUF) and sophomore Andrew Hammond struggled mightily, thanks in large part to the lack of defensive support that the Falcon skaters provided. Eno, who appeared in 27 of the Falcons 36 games last season, fared better of the two. The Howell, MI native posted all four of BGSU’s wins last season. He ended the 2010-11 campaign with a 4-11-4 record and posted a respectable 3.20 goals against average. The Falcons will be looking for Eno to regain his rookie year magic in hopes of a far better 2010-11 season.

Ferris State University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 1

Ferris State will be looking to shake things up in the CCHA when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 7 at Alabama-Huntsville.

The Bulldogs were one of the toughest teams coming out of the CCHA last season and this season looks no different. What made them so dominant was their superb defensive game and stifling penalty-killing.

Like Alaska, Ferris State was one of the nation’s best defensive teams last season. The Bulldogs possessed the nation’s sixth-best defense that allowed an average of 2.30 goals per game. Their 92 total goals allowed were the fewest allowed by a CCHA team behind only Miami. But where Ferris State really displayed their might was on the penalty kill. The Bulldogs were the nation’s top penalty-killing team in 2009-10 with an 88.4 percent efficiency rating. The fact Ferris State was also one of the most penalized teams makes their penalty-killing efforts all the more impressive. The team ranked seventh in the nation with 694 penalty minutes and ranked ninth in average penalty minutes per game (17.4).

One reason behind the Bulldogs great defense is their terrific returning tandem of senior Pat Nagle and junior Taylor Nelson. Both netminders posted excellent numbers last season, ranking in the top 20 in save percentage and in the top 25 in goals against average. Nagle posted a 12-10-3 record with one shutout in 26 games, while Nelson posted a 9-3-3 record with one shutout in 16 games. Both players possess great athletic ability and follow plays quite well.

In addition to returning both their goaltenders, Ferris State returns all but one defenseman. Leading the blueliners this season is senior and team captain Zach Redmond (ATL). The talented offensive defenseman turned down an offer by the Atlanta Thrashers this summer to return for his final year.

Redmond will also lead their offense. The Bulldogs lost four of their top five scorers to graduation. Redmond, an All-CCHA Second Team selection last season, returns as the top point-producer after finishing the 2009-10 season with 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) playing in all 40 games.

With the departure of top scorers Blair Riley, Casey Haines and Cody Chupp, Ferris State will need to find offense from their veterans and newcomers if they expect to compete for the CCHA crown this season.

Lake Superior State University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 2

Lake Superior State will look to climb up the CCHA standings when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Minnesota-Duluth in the Superior Cup tournament.

An aspect of this year’s team that will be quite noticeable will be their size. The Lakers will be one of the biggest team in the nation this season. 12 players on the roster are 6’1 or taller.

Lake Superior State suffered two key losses on the blue line with stalwarts Simon Gysbers (TOR) and Steven Kaunisto graduating.

One player that will be relied upon to fill part of the hole that the departures have left is sophomore Zach Trotman. The Novi, MI native was the final selection of the 2010 Draft, taken 210th overall by the Boston Bruins. Dubbed by some draft watchers as “Mr. Irrelevant”, Trotman is anything but that to the Lakers. Trotman enjoyed a strong rookie campaign where he posted six points (two goals, four assists) in 36 games. His combination of size, grit and poise with the puck will garner him both more ice time and playing in time in different situations.

One area that was perhaps Lake Superior State’s most underrated last season was the solid goaltender of senior Brian Mahoney-Wilson (SJ). The West Roxbury, MA native was a workhorse for the Lakers, logging tons of minutes despite battling through hip problems for much of the season. He appeared in 35 contests in 2009-10, posting a record of 13-16-5 with two shutouts and logging nearly 1,975 minutes. Mahoney-Wilson had off-season hip surgery and will once again be the backbone of the Lake Superior State defense this season.

Despite the loss of four regulars, the Lakers should be able to improve their offensive numbers this season. Although Lake Superior State only averaged 2.45 goals per game last season, they did get scoring throughout their lineup. The Lakers offense is led by returning top scorer Rick Schofield. In 36 games last season, Schofield posted 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists). He has a knack for scoring timely goals, as evidenced by his two power play and two shorthanded tallies as well five game-winners.

Miami University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 7

Miami will look to make their third consecutive trip to the Frozen Four when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 hosting New Hampshire.

The RedHawks return most of last season’s squad intact and are poised to be one of the favorites to win the 2011 National Championship in April. However, two of their losses were among the team’s top scorers in 2009-10. Jarod Palmer, who signed with the Minnesota Wild during the off-season, graduated. He led Miami with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) playing in all 44 games. The other loss was Tommy Wingels, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the San Jose Sharks. Wingels was Miami’s top all-around player and finished fourth on the team with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) in 44 appearances. Replacing Palmer and Wingels combined 87 points this season shouldn’t be a problem for the RedHawks with seniors Carter Camper, Andy Miele and Pat Cannone leading the way.

Where the RedHawks are exceptional however is on defense. Last season, Miami possessed the top ranked defense in the nation, allowing an average of just 1.95 goals per game and surrendering just 86 goals. Nationally, only Cornell gave up fewer goals. And with the entire defensive corps, including goaltenders, returning this season, it is likely that Miami will remain one of the nation’s stingiest teams.

One defenseman who made great strides in his development last season was Will Weber (CBJ). The junior rearguard played in 43 games last season, posting ten points (one goal, nine assists). Where he made his mark with Miami was in his ability to effectively shutdown opposing forwards and in making smarter decisions. Weber capped the year by earning the CCHA’s Best Defensive Defenseman of the Year honor.

The position that many will be watching this season will be in net. The RedHawks sensational duo of juniors Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp (BUF) both return. The achievements of both players last season were unmatched. Nationally, both ranked in the top three in goals against average, as well as top ten in save percentage, top five in shutouts and top 15 in winning percentage. Reichard, the CCHA Player of the Year and a potential candidate for the 2011 Hobey Baker Award, posted a 19-4-3 record that included five shutouts in 27 appearances, along with a 1.87 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. Knapp posted a 10-4-4 record with four shutouts in 20 appearances, along with a 1.97 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.

Michigan State University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 4

Michigan State will look to build on a strong 2009-10 campaign when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 14 versus Maine.

After a forgettable 2008-09 season, Michigan State bounced back last season just narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament. This season, the Spartans will need to fill some significant holes to return to the NCAA Tournament.

One area that will need to be addressed will be in replacing the offense left by Corey Tropp, Andrew Rowe and All-American defenseman Jeff Petry. All opted to forego the remainder of their collegiate eligibility to sign with Buffalo, Philadelphia and Edmonton respectively. The trio comprised three of the Spartans top four scorers from last season, amassing 99 points between them.

Tropp, an All-CCHA Second Team selection, led the Spartans in 2009-10 with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 37 games. Rowe finished fourth on the team with 28 points (17 goals, 11 assists) playing in all 38 games. Petry, who joined Tropp on the All-CCHA Second Team, last, finished third on the team with 29 points (four goals, 25) assists. His 29 points tied him for 12th in the nation in defenseman scoring as well.

Michigan State’s top returning scorer is sophomore Derek Grant (OTT). He finished second on the team with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) playing in all 38 games last season. Grant quietly enjoyed an outstanding rookie campaign and was one of Michigan’s State most consistent and reliable players. He capped the season with an honorable mention to the CCHA All-Rookie team.

Another player that the Spartans will be relying upon to pick up the scoring slack is junior Daultan Leveille (ATL). The St. St. Catharines, ONT native finished his sophomore year fifth on the team with 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) in 38 games. While his numbers may not be all that impressive, the strides that he made in his development are. He has become a more rounded player and his defensive game has improved dramatically. And none of it came at the cost of his offensive contributions.

One of Michigan State’s strengths coming into the season is in goal. Junior Drew Palmisano was rock solid between the pipes last season, posting a record of 15-10-5 that included two shutouts. His .917 save percentage ranked 17th in the nation, while his 2.43 goals against average ranked 19th. Palmisano capped the year with being named to the All-CCHA Second team.

Giving Palmisano some competition this season is highly-touted newcomer Willie Yanakeff. The Jerome, MI native, who will be draft-eligible again in 2011, battled through an injury-plagued USHL season in 2009-10. Nevertheless, he’s brings size and good athleticism to the Spartans net this season.

Northern Michigan University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 1

Northern Michigan will look to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Michigan Tech in the Superior Cup tournament.

Northern Michigan enjoyed a stellar 2009-10 season that saw them get into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999. This season however, the journey will be a bit more difficult to start.

The Wildcats lost several impact players in the off-season. And nowhere was that felt more than on the back end. Goaltender Brian Stewart graduated and CCHA Offensive Defenseman of the Year Erik Gustafsson opted to forgo his final year to turn pro. Both players have since signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Stewart was the backbone of the excellent Wildcats defense last season. He posted an 18-11-1-1 record that included four shutouts. His .927 save percentage ranked fourth in the nation, while his 2.42 goals against average ranked 16th.

Gustafsson was one of the nation’s best offensive defensemen last season. His 32 points (three goals, 29 assists) in 39 games ranked sixth in the nation among defensemen. Gustafsson was a vital cog on Northern Michigan’s stellar power play and was as good defensively as he was offensively.

With the loss of Stewart and Gustafsson, the Wildcats will be relying senior stalwart defenseman Eric Spady and junior netminder Reid Ellingson to solidify the defense this season.

A returning Wildcats defender to keep an eye on this season is sophomore Kyle Follmer. The St. Paul, MN native was one of Northern Michigan’s most improved players last season. Follmer appeared in all 41 games, notching 14 points (two goals, 12 assists). His plus-16 ranked fourth on the team. Follmer brings a nice combination of toughness and scoring ability that fits in quite well with Northern Michigan style. Follmer has also gotten NHL interest as well, having attended the Chicago Blackhawks prospects camp this summer.

Another key loss for Northern Michigan was of top scorer Mark Olver, who opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Colorado Avalanche. Olver, an All-America West First team selection, led Northern Michigan with 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 40 games last season.

One player that Wildcats will be looking to lead the offensive charge this season is junior power forward Justin Florek. The Marquette, MI native, a fifth round draft selection of the Boston Bruins this past June, returns as one of Northern Michigan’s top scorers. He finished his sophomore season third on the team with 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) playing in all 41 games. Florek made great strides in development last season. He displayed a grittier side to his game, utilized his enormous frame more effectively and creating more opportunities. This season, he could once again finish among the Wildcats top scorers.

University of Notre Dame
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 10

Notre Dame will look be looking to get things heading in the right direction again when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Holy Cross in the Icebreaker tournament in St. Louis.

To say that the 2009-10 season for Notre Dame was a tumultuous one is probably an understatement. The Fighting Irish contended with many issues both during and after this past season, not the least of which were the numerous departures of key players. But with one of the nation’s top incoming classes this season, there is renewed optimism in South Bend.

Nowhere did Notre Dame suffer more key losses than on the blue line. Kyle Lawson (CAR) and Brett Blatchford both graduated. Ian Cole and Teddy Ruth opted to forego the remainder of their collegiate eligibility to sign with St. Louis and Columbus respectively. And most recently, freshman-to-be Jarred Tinordi (MON) reneged on his NLI (National Letter of Intent) to play in the OHL, much to the disappointment of head coach Jeff Jackson.

Coming into this season, Notre Dame will be very young on defense, but they will also be quite good. Two incoming rearguards that will give the Fighting Irish an almost immediate lift are Stephen Johns and Kevin Lind. Johns, a second round (60th overall) selection of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Draft, will bring a nice combination of size, toughness and puck-moving ability to Notre Dame. Lind, a sixth round (177th overall) selection of the Anaheim Ducks in 2010, was originally slated to come to South Bend next fall, but with Tinordi bolting for the OHL, Jackson opted to bring in Lind this season.

“It’s opened the door for Kevin a little sooner than we expected,” said Jackson. “He’s a great kid with a lot of potential. Kevin is skates well and has good vision. He does have to work on his decision-making at this level. I’d like to see Kevin get a little more proactive defensively. Once he does that and plays within himself, then I think he’ll be successful.”

“Stephen has got unlimited potential,” Jackson noted of Johns. “He’s a great kid and very well-balanced. Stephen wants to reach the highest levels of hockey. I think he’s a guy that can really develop here. He has size, good skating, good hands and good vision. Stephen is just going to have to learn to be consistent in his decision-making. I fully expect him to be in our top four.”

One area where the Fighting Irish struggled last season was in their offensive production, and with such a talent-laden squad, it had many scratching their heads. Notre Dame ranked 50th in the nation in offense last season, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Their 87 total goals were the third fewest in the CCHA, behind only Bowling Green and Western Michigan. Furthermore, the Fighting Irish had only one player on last season’s roster with ten or more goals.

But that should all change this season.

Senior and top scorer Calle Ridderwall returns to lead Notre Dame’s offensive attack this season. Ridderwall was arguably the Fighting Irish’s best player last season. In 2009-10, he posted 27 points (19 goals, eight assists). Of his 18 goals, 11 came on the power play. Ridderwall is also the lone returning player that played in all 38 games last season.

One player that all eyes will be on this season is sophomore Riley Sheahan. The St. Catharines, ONT native is coming off of a good rookie season with Notre Dame, where he posted 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 37 games. Sheahan, a first round (21st overall) selection of the Detroit Red Wings this past June, will be expected to help boost the Fighting Irish’s offensive production.

One strong area from last season that will carry over this season is in goal. Sophomore Mike Johnson was superb between the pipes, taking over the starting job from Brad Phillips (PHI), who was dismissed from the team. Johnson was the backbone of the strong Notre Dame defense last season. He finished his rookie campaign with a 10-13-5 record that included one shutout and capped the year with a spot on the CCHA All-Rookie team. With the Fighting Irish’s youthful defensive corps, Johnson will be relied upon to help stabilize the back end.

The Ohio State University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 5

Ohio State will begin the Mark Osiecki era when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 at Quinnipiac.

The architect behind the superb Wisconsin defense from 2004-10 takes over the reins at Ohio State this season. Osiecki will look to get the Buckeyes back to the NCAA Tournament after failing to reach it last season. And he’ll have to do it without three key players from last season’s squad.

Forward Hunter Bishop, defenseman Matt Bartkowski and All-America West Second Team selection Zac Dalpe all opted to forgo the remainder of their collegiate eligibility to sign with Montreal, Boston and Carolina respectively. Dalpe, who was also selected to the All-CCHA First Team, led Ohio State in scoring last season with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) playing in all 39 games. His 45 points also ranked second in the CCHA. Bartkowski led all Buckeyes blueliners with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 39 games. Bishop finished tied for second on the team with 15 goals and posted 27 points overall in 33 outings.

While the losses are significant holes to fill, Ohio State returns an outstanding group of forwards, led by senior John Albert (ATL). The Concord, OH native finished third on the team last season with 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 39 games. Two attributes that have made Albert such a valuable commodity for the Buckeyes have been his consistency and excellent playmaking ability. Those attributes along with his strong leadership will serve Ohio State quite well this season.

“Johnny has been outstanding in his work habits from what I’ve seen,” said Osiecki. “He has looked us (coaching staff) in the eye and has taken what we’re asking of him, which is all you can ask for.”

One incoming forward that could help fill some of the void left by Dalpe and Bishop is winger Chris Crane. The Virginia Beach, VA native was a seventh-round selection (200th overall) selection by the San Jose Sharks in the 2010 Draft.

“Craner is a big, strong, fast and physical player,” Osiecki said Crane. “He is certainly the style of player that we like having on our team. I’ve spoken with San Jose quite a bit up to this point. They want Chris to learn the game and development both on and off the ice, so that he can prepare himself to become a pro hockey player. That’s our task at hand and we want to mix that in with what we’re trying to do here at Ohio State.”

The biggest issue that Ohio State will need to address this season is special teams. Last season, the Buckeyes ranked 38th in the nation on the power play with a 17.5 percent efficiency rating. And what makes improving that number more challenging this season is the fact that over half (16) of the team’s 33 power play goals scored last year left with their early departures.

As dreadful as the Buckeyes power play was, their penalty-killing was even worse. Ohio State ranked 57th in the nation on the man-disadvantage with a dismal 76.6 percent efficiency rating. Only Bowling Green was worse in the CCHA last season.

Western Michigan University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 3

Western Michigan will look to move out of the CCHA basement when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Canisius.

Western Michigan is one of three CCHA teams with a new head coach this season. Jeff Blashill takes over the reins from Jim Culhane and with it the task of improving a team that finished dead last in the CCHA last season. One main reason for the team’s demise was their lack of scoring punch. Western Michigan finished 53rd in the nation in offense, averaging just 2.11 goals per game. Their 76 total goals were the fewest behind only Bowling Green in the CCHA. Furthermore, the Broncos did not have a single player on the roster with ten or more goals and had just one player with 20 or more points. If Western Michigan is to climb up the CCHA standings this season, they will need much more offensive production throughout their lineup.

The good news for the Broncos coming into this season is that they return four of their top five scorers. Leading Western Michigan’s offense is junior Greg Squires. He led the team with 24 points (four goals, 20 assists) playing in all 36 games last season. Junior J.J. Crew, one of six Californians on the Broncos roster this season, led the team with eight goals.

A player that Western Michigan will need to help pick up the scoring slack is senior assistant captain Max Campbell (NYR). After an excellent sophomore campaign two years ago, Campbell’s numbers dipped dramatically last season, particularly in goals. He finished last season tied for second on the team with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists). In 2008-09, he posted 16 goals among his 31 points. One area that Campbell excelled in last season was on the power play, where eight of his 19 points came from.

One talented newcomer that could help boost the Broncos offensive production this season is Chase Balisy. The Rancho Santa Margarita, CA native comes to Western Michigan from the USNTDP and will bring some strong playmaking ability to the team. Balisy, who was passed up in the 2010 NHL Draft, will be draft-eligible again in 2011.

Goaltending was Western Michigan’s strongest position last season, thanks in large part to the stellar play of Riley Gill. The Northfield, MN native posted a 7-17-6 record that included one shutout. His .923 save percentage ranked tied for sixth in the nation. The bad news for the Broncos is that Gill has graduated. Seniors Matt Frederico and Jerry Kuhn, along with sophomore newcomer (and Quinnipiac transfer) Nick Pisellini will need to fill the void the left by Gill’s departure.