CCHA 2011-12 season preview

By DJ Powers
Photo: Tyler Biggs will start his NCAA career Miami on October 7th. (Photo courtesy of DJ Powers/HF)

This season, the CCHA features 43 NHL-drafted prospects representing eight of the 11 member schools. Alaska, Bowling Green, and Ferris State are the only schools without a current NHL prospect on their roster. The University of Michigan leads all CCHA teams with 11 prospects, followed by Notre Dame with 10, and Miami with nine.

University of Michigan
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 11

The defending CCHA regular season champions will look to make a return trip to the Frozen Four when they open their 2011-12 season on October 4th hosting Niagara.

The Wolverines capped an impressive 2010-11 campaign with their nation-leading 24th Frozen Four appearance, reaching the national championship game. Michigan is poised for another strong run for a National Championship this season, but they will have some significant holes to fill in order to so.

Nowhere were the Wolverines losses felt more than upfront. Michigan graduated their top three scorers in Carl Hagelin (NYR), Louie Caporusso (OTT) and Matt Rust. The trio accounted for 27.5 percent of Michigan’s offense last season. Hagelin, who was named to the All-America West Second Team, led the team in several categories including points (49), goals (18), and plus/minus (plus-21).

Part of what made the Wolverines such an excellent offensive team last season was the tremendous point production that they got out of their defensemen. Michigan’s blue line accounted for 28 percent of the teams points last season. Sophomore Jon Merrill (NJ) led the team in defensemen scoring with 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 42 appearances and earned a spot on the CCHA All-Rookie Team. His 19 conference points co-led all CCHA defensemen. One of his best games came in Michigan’s 5-0 win over archrival Michigan State in the “Big Chill at the Big House” back on December 11th in front of a world record-setting crowd of 104,073. In that contest, Merrill notched a pair of goals, including the game-winner. Merrill, who is Michigan’s top returning point producer, will miss 12 games to start the season due to suspension for unspecified violations of team rules.

“Jonny has got a lot of natural talent and a high hockey IQ,” said head coach Red Berenson. “He just sees the ice a little better than most players do. That’s what makes him a special player. Jonny has the chance to be an NHL player, but I think it’s just a matter of giving him some time to increase his strength and conditioning. He became our best defenseman last year. So this (year) will be a big step for him to continue that.”

Upfront, another returning New Jersey Devils prospect in senior David Wohlberg will be leading the Wolverines offense this season. The South Lyon, MI native enjoyed an outstanding junior campaign that was cut short by a season-ending collarbone injury. Wohlberg appeared in 37 games, posting 21 points (15 goals, six assists). The big question with Wohlberg however is can he stay healthy?

“If we can keep him healthy, David should lead our team in scoring,” Berenson said. “He’s that good of a player. So we really need him to have his best year as a senior.”

As good as Michigan was offensively last season, they were even better defensively. The Wolverines allowed an average of 2.23 goals per game last season, which ranked sixth in the nation.

Michigan’s strong defensive numbers last season can be attributed in part to the stellar play of Shawn Hunwick. Hunwick, who is probably one of the nation’s most underrated netminders, returns as a redshirted senior this season. His 40-save, 2-0 shutout performance of North Dakota in the Frozen Four semi-finals last April helped advance Michigan to the National Championship game. Hunwick posted a 22-9-4 record that included four shutouts. His .925 save percentage ranked seventh nationally, while his .686 winning percentage ranked ninth. One player that was expected to battle Hunwick for the starting job this season was John Gibson. But Gibson, a second round selection (39th overall) of the Anaheim Ducks this past June, opted to play in the OHL instead.

In addition to their returning players, Michigan also brings in another excellent freshman class that includes top-flight NHL prospects Zach Hyman (FLA), Alex Guptill (DAL), and defenseman Brennan Serville (WPG). Hyman, who originally committed to Princeton and is a 2010 fifth round (123rd overall) selection of the Florida Panthers, is noted for his offensive prowess. Guptill, a 2010 third round (77th overall) selection of the Dallas Stars, brings size (6’3/189 lbs) and excellent skating ability to Michigan.
Serville, a third round selection (78th overall) of the Winnipeg Jets this past June, is noted for his superb skating, great hands and vision.

The youngest player to join the Wolverines this season is Phil Di Giuseppe. The Maple, ONT native was the only current collegian who participated in the NHL’s Research and Development Camp this summer. Di Giuseppe, an October 1993-born player, is also one of the top collegians eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft.

As Berenson explains, there’s a lot to get excited about with these four youngsters.

“I think this class has a chance to make an impact on our team. Prior to this year, we’ve had such good teams that we didn’t rely as much on the freshmen, other than Jonny Merrill last year. Zach Hyman could potentially lead our team in scoring this year. Phil Di Guiseppe is a tremendous young talent, but he is young. I think this kid’s upside is the moon. We’re seeing a lot of good things (in Phil), but we just need to see him in some games. It’s the same thing with Serville. He’s a big kid, but needs time to get stronger, but he’s got a lot going for him in terms of his hockey IQ, his smarts and his size. Guptill is probably as good a skater as we have had. He’s a kid that could really put his game together this year. He’s coming off of two injury-riddled seasons, so we don’t know what his current game is like until we see more of him (this season).”

University of Alaska
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

The Nanooks open their 2011-12 season on October 7th facing off against St. Cloud State in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, AK.

Excellent team defense has been Alaska’s greatest strength for the last two seasons and looks to be again coming into this season. The Nanooks sported the nation’s ninth-best defense last season that allowed an average of 2.39 goals per game. Equally impressive was their stellar penalty kill. Alaska ranked 14th in the nation with an efficiency rating of 84.1 percent while shorthanded.

The man behind the Nanooks’ great defense is returning senior Scott Greenham. The Addison, ONT native was a real workhorse for Alaska last season, appearing in all 38 games. No CCHA netminder played more minutes than Greenham did. He posted a 16-17-5 record that included two shutouts. With two stellar seasons already under his belt, it should come as no surprise that Greenham has generated quite a bit of NHL interest. This summer, he attended the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators prospects camps. Greenham is expected to be a highly sought-after free agent at season’s end.

Senior Aaron Gens leads the Nanooks’ outstanding defensive corps this season. The Baudette, MN native returns as the team’s top scoring defenseman after posting 21 points (two goals, 19 assists) in 38 games in 2010-11.

Last season’s top scoring defenseman Joe Sova opted to forego his senior season to sign with the New Jersey Devils. The Berwyn, Ill native was one of the CCHA’s best all-around defensemen. He led the Nanooks with 20 assists and finished with 24 points in 37 games. Where Sova proved to be especially good was on the power play, where three of four goals were scored.

The one area where Alaska will look to improve this season is their offense. The Nanooks averaged just 2.34 goals per game last season, which ranked 50th in the nation. Equally as poor was their power play, which clicked at just 14.8 percent.

Sophomore Cody Kunyk and junior Andy Taranto lead Alaska’s offensive attack this season. Kunyk, who attended the Vancouver Canucks prospects camp this summer, led the Nanooks with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) playing in all 38 games. And he’s a player to watch this season. Kunyk isn’t big (5’11, 200lbs), but he’s an excellent skater with good vision that can make things happen whenever he’s on the ice.

Taranto, the 2009-10 CCHA Rookie of the Year, saw his numbers dip slightly last season. He led Alaska with 13 goals and finished with 22 points in 35 games. One noticeable improvement with Taranto is the added size and strength to his 6’0” frame, which has made him a more difficult player to contain and play against.

The Nanooks welcome nine newcomers this season, and one player to keep an eye on is Maxime Dumond. The winger from Orleans, ONT is noted for his physical and high-energy play, and can also help bolster the team’s point production as well.

Bowling Green State University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

The Falcons open their 2011-12 season on October 7th hosting UConn.

The 2010-11 season and following offseason proved to be a tumultuous one for Bowling Green. The team won just three conference games and ten overall in 2010-11. In addition, the Falcons lost ten players. But with a new season is renewed optimism.

For starters, Bowling Green will be very young this season with just eight upperclassmen on the roster.

The most pressing issue that the Falcons will need to address heading into the season is their offense. Bowling Green averaged just 1.80 goals per game last season, which ranked last in the nation. The 74 total goals scored were the second fewest in the NCAA. Equally poor was the Falcons power play. Bowling Green ranked 56th in the nation with a power play that clicked at just 10.3 percent, which was also the lowest in the CCHA.

The task of increasing offensive production was made even more difficult this offseason when leading scorer Jordan Samuels-Thomas (WPG) left the program to transfer to Quinnipiac. Samuels-Thomas posted 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 36 games and was the only player on the Bowling Green roster to post 20 or more points.

Sophomore Brett Mohler returns as the team’s top scorer. The Yorba Linda, CA native finished second on the Bowling Green roster with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 39 games. Mohler has shown a knack for scoring timely goals as well. Of his seven tallies, three came on the power play, one came shorthanded, and one was a game-winner.

One player to keep an eye on is sophomore Camden Wojtala. The Trenton, MI native was one of only two Falcons that played in all 41 games last season. He finished his rookie campaign with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists), which tied him for third on the team. Wojtala is a forward with good size (6’2, 180lbs), a good stick and plays well in tight areas. Wojtala could become a dominant force for Bowling Green once he fills out and adds some strength.

An area that should see a marked improvement this season is the Falcons defense, which will be more experienced. Last season, the Falcons defense ranked tied for 36th in the nation, allowing an average of three goals per game.

Junior Ian Ruel will be among those leading Bowling Green’s defensive corps this season. Ruel is coming off of a sophomore campaign that was cut short due to a concussion. He appeared in 30 games, posting three points (two goals, one assist). At 6’4, 200lbs, Ruel is the biggest player on the Falcons roster this season. He is also the team’s best shot-blocker as well.

Goaltending looks to be the Falcons’ strength heading into the season. Returning junior Andrew Hammond was rock solid between the pipes for Bowling Green last season, despite posting a 6-17-3 record. He finished the 2010-11 season with a respectable .915 save percentage and a 2.67 goals against average.

The Falcons will have nine new additions this season, including over-aged freshman Adam Berkle. At 6’3, 193lbs, he will certainly add some size upfront for Bowling Green. The Collegeville, PA native is noted for his grit and strong play along the boards and corners.

Ferris State University

Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

The Bulldogs will open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at St. Lawrence.

Ferris State was one of the nation’s stingiest teams last season. While the Bulldogs have traditionally been an excellent defensive team, they took it to a whole new level in 2010-11. Ferris State allowed an average of 2.41 goals per game, which ranked fifth in the nation. But where they were particularly dangerous was on the penalty kill. The Bulldogs sported the nation’s best penalty-killing team last season with an 88.6 efficiency rating. Ferris State allowed just one shorthanded goal, which tied them with Harvard and Nebraska-Omaha for the fewest in the nation.

Two key components to Ferris State’s stellar defense last season were now-graduated defenseman Zach Redmond (WPG) and goaltender Pat Nagle (TB). Redmond finished second on the Bulldogs roster with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 26 games. He missed time in the second half due to a knee injury. Redmond was one of the nation’s premiere defensemen last season that was equally good at both ends of the ice. He capped his final year with a selection to the All-CCHA First Team and was named to the All-America West Second Team.

Few goaltenders in college hockey were as good as or better than Nagle was last season. The Bloomfield, MI native appeared in 37 games, posting an 18-14-5 record that included three shutouts. His 2.02 goals against average ranked fifth nationally, while his .923 save percentage ranked 12th. What may be Nagle’s most impressive stat of all is the fact that he allowed three or more goals in just 11 outings last season. His sensational senior campaign earned him a spot on the All-CCHA First Team and a selection to the All-America West First Team.

With the loss of Redmond and Nagle, along with graduated defenseman Scott Wietecha, Ferris State will have some big defensive holes to fill this season.

The most significant will be in goal. Senior Taylor Nelson and highly-touted newcomer C.J. Motte will have the daunting task of trying to fill Nagle’s role this season. Nelson, who played remarkably well two seasons ago, appeared in just four games last season and posted a 0-2-0 record. Nelson, who has been tabbed to start the season, will be challenged by Motte. The St. Clair, MI native possesses some solid fundamentals and noted for being a real competitor.

Although the Bulldogs lost Redmond and Wietecha, they should continue to be very good on the blue line this season with an excellent returning veteran group.

Leading Ferris State defensively this season is senior Chad Billins. The Marysville, MI native played much of last season alongside Redmond on Ferris State’s top defensive pairing. He appeared in all 39 games and posted 16 points (five goals, 11 assists). Billins moves the puck well and possesses a good, quick shot. He has proven to be especially effective on the power play, where three of his five goals were scored last season.

The Bulldogs averaged 2.41 goals per game last season, which ranked 47th in the nation, so boosting their offensive numbers this season is one of the team’s primary objectives. And they will have to do it without three of their top point producers from last season in Redmond, and fellow graduates Mike Fillinger and Mike Embach. While the team didn’t have many high scoring players last season, they did get scoring by committee.

Returning junior Travis Ouellette, who led the team with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 36 games, leads the Ferris State offense this season. But the player to watch is junior Matt Kirzinger. The Leroy, SK native posted 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) playing in all 39 games last season. Kirzinger is a small (5’9, 172lbs), quick winger with some good offensive instincts. One attribute that has made Kirzinger so effective for Ferris State has been his willingness to go into the difficult areas to make or finish plays. Kirzinger’s solid defensive play has also made him a key cog on the Bulldogs’ penalty kill as well.

Lake Superior State University

Number of NHL prospects on roster: 1

The Lakers will open their 2011-12 season on October 1st at Alabama-Huntsville.

Lake Superior State is coming off of an eighth-place finish in the CCHA last season. Despite losing seven players to graduation, the Lakers return an outstanding group that should make the team better this season.

The most significant loss that Lake Superior State suffered this offseason was of top scorer Rick Schofield (ANA). The Pickering, ONT native led the Lakers with 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) and was one of only three players to play in all 39 games last season. Where Schofield will really be missed is on the Lakers power play. Of his 35 points, 15 came on the man-advantage. Schofield was also only one of two Lakers players to post 10 or more goals last season as well.

Lake Superior State averaged 2.38 goals per game last season, which ranked 49th in the nation. And with the graduation of other top point producers in Will Acton, Chad Nehring and defenseman Matt Cowie, the task of increasing offensive production this season is of the utmost importance.

Junior Domenic Monardo is the Lakers’ top returning scorer. He enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign, finishing second on the team with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) playing in all 39 games. Monardo really excelled on the Lake Superior State power play last season. Of his 12 goals, half came on the man-advantage. Monardo is one of only two returning players this season that posted 20 or more points last season.

The other is junior defenseman Zach Trotman (BOS). The Novi, MI native began to establish himself as one of the CCHA’s top rearguards last season. He posted 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 38 games. Trotman made significant strides in his development too. He’s utilizing his 6’3 frame more effectively, particularly in containing opposing players, and has added some physicality to his game as well. What is noteworthy here is the fact that all of it has helped, not hindered, his offensive side.

One intriguing player to watch this season is towering sophomore Kellan Lain. The Oakville, ONT native posted eight points in 38 games last season. At 6’6, he is one of the tallest players in the CCHA. He plays with a good deal of grit and uses his long reach and wing span quite well. Once he fills out and strengthens his enormous frame, he could become quite an imposing force to be reckoned with. Lain attended the Anaheim Ducks prospects camp this summer and his experience is certain to benefit his Lakers team this season.

Goaltending looks to be Lake Superior State’s greatest strength coming into the season. Returning sophomore Kevin Kapalka was one of the best individual stories coming out of the CCHA last season. He began the 2010-11 campaign as the backup netminder, but took over the starting job in November when senior starter Brian Mahoney-Wilson suffered a season-injury. And for the rest of season, Kapalka was nothing short of amazing. The Mississauga, ONT native appeared in 33 games, posting a 12-12-8 record that included four shutouts. His .924 save percentage ranked ninth nationally, while his 2.34 goals against average ranked 21st. His stellar freshman campaign was capped with a selection to the CCHA All-Rookie team.

One player that will be competing with Kapalka for time in net is sophomore Kevin Murdock. The Bradenton, FLA native is a transfer from Minnesota State-Mankato who played in the USHL last season. Murdock saw limited time in Mankato two years ago, appearing in just five games and posting a 1-3-1 record.

He is one of eight newcomers on the Lakers roster this season.

Miami University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 9

The reigning CCHA Tournament champions will look to successfully defend their crown when they open their 2011-12 season on October 7th hosting Bemidji State.

Few college hockey teams were as deep or as balanced as the RedHawks were last season. Miami was one of only three teams that featured both an offense and defense that ranked in the top five nationally (North Dakota and Yale were the others). The RedHawks were also the only team in the country that ranked in the top three on both the power play and in penalty-killing. The humbling 1-3 loss to New Hampshire in the NCAA Tournament Northeast Regional semi-final ended an otherwise superb 2010-11 season for Miami.

Coming into this season, the biggest question looming for the RedHawks is replacing the tremendous offense production that left with graduates Andy Miele (PHO), Carter Camper (OTT) and Pat Cannone (OTT). The trio accounted for 40 percent of the team’s offensive production last season. Miele, the 2011 recipient of the Hobey Baker award and the CCHA Player of the Year, led the nation with 71 points (24 goals, 47 assists) in 39 games. His 47 assists also led the nation. Camper finished fifth in the nation with 57 points (19 goals, 38 assists) in 39 games and was named to the All-America West Second Team. Cannone finished fourth on the team with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games.

Junior Reilly Smith (DAL) returns as Miami’s top scorer. The Mimico, ONT native finished last season tied for seventh in the nation with 54 points (28 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games. Smith benefitted greatly playing alongside Miele on the RedHawks’ top line, but this season he will be playing with a new centerman. If Smith can match or better his sophomore numbers, he could potentially become a candidate for the 2012 Hobey Baker award.

“Obviously, Reilly had a really great season last year and we’re hoping that he’ll continue his (strong) play,” said head coach Enrico Blasi. “He’s a very talented young man that has taken a step not only on the ice, but off the ice over the summer. He’s a lot bigger and stronger now. Reilly understands that he has to play more of a leadership role now being one of our better players.”

One player who could potentially be paired with Smith this season is center Blake Coleman. The Plano, TX native is part of an exceptional RedHawks freshman class that is among the best in the country. Coleman, a third round selection (75th overall) of the New Jersey Devils this past June, comes to Miami after posting an astounding 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists) with Indiana (USHL) last season.

“Blake will have some transitioning that’ll need to be done,” said Blasi. “He had a great season last year, so he’s got a lot of confidence coming in. Blake is certainly one of those guys that can get pucks to his teammates, but he also does a lot of things on his own that are pretty good too.”

Another newcomer that is certain to make an impact for Miami this season is Tyler Biggs. Biggs, a first round selection (22nd overall) of the Toronto Maple Leafs this past June, has size (6’3, 210lbs) and will be an intimidating presence upfront for the RedHawks.

“Ty’s got a world of potential to play at the next level. He’s a big, strong boy. But, he’s young and there are a lot of things that he needs to learn in order to play at that next level. Right now, that’ll be his biggest task here at Miami.”

One veteran that really blossomed last season is returning senior Trent Vogelhuber (CBJ). The Dublin, OH native played alongside Smith and Miele on the RedHawks’ top line last season, posting 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) playing in all 39 games. In addition to being able to stay healthy, Vogelhuber has developed nicely in a number of areas, most notably his increasing drives to the net and effectively creating time and space for his linemates. This season, Blasi expects Vogelhuber to continue to make further inroads in his development. He also could be potentially reunited with Smith.

“I think Trent is just a young man that’s had some tough injuries over the course of his first few years here at Miami. He’s just now starting to come into his own and really feeling confident about his game. He’s a big guy that can skate and shoot the puck. I think Trent really took a big step for his confidence and for our team last year. Don’t be surprised to see him playing with Reilly again this year.”

Aside from the losses of Miele, Camper, and Cannone, Miami also lost incoming defenseman Connor Murphy (PHO) to the OHL. Murphy was a first round selection (20th overall) of the Phoenix Coyotes this past June. While losing an elite talent like Murphy is significant, it likely won’t hurt the RedHawks much since their defensive corps returns nearly intact this season.

Leading the Miami defense this season are seniors Chris Wideman (OTT) and Will Weber (CBJ). Wideman led all RedHawks defensemen in scoring last season with 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 39 games. He finished tied for third in the CCHA in defenseman scoring with 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 28 conference games and earned a spot on the All-CCHA Second team. Weber appeared in 33 games, posting 11 points (one goal, ten assists). He suffered a lacerated neck that kept him out of action for four games back in last Oct/Nov.

Miami also returns the nation’s top goaltending tandem in seniors Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp (BUF). Both goaltenders posted stellar numbers once again last season, which included save percentages over .900. Both netminders also posted two of the nation’s top goals against averages as well. Knapp’s 2.03 goals against average ranked sixth, while Reichard’s 2.05 goals against average ranked seventh. Knapp appeared in 17 games, posting an 8-5-4 record with two shutouts. Reichard appeared in 24 games, posting a 15-5-2 record with three shutouts.

Michigan State University

Number of NHL prospects on roster: 3

The Spartans will open their 2011-12 season on October 7th facing off against Boston College in the Icebreaker Tournament in Grand Forks, ND.

The biggest change for Michigan State coming into this season is their new head coach Tom Anastos. Anastos, the former CCHA commissioner, takes over for Rick Comley, who retired at the end of the 2010-11 season. Comley was one of the longest serving head coaches in all of college hockey and spent the last nine seasons with the Spartans.

With the Anastos era set to begin in East Lansing, the Spartans will be looking to improve in several areas. The good news heading into the new season is the fact that Michigan State lost only four players, which should help push the Spartans up the conference standings.

The most significant loss that Michigan State suffered was that of top scorer Derek Grant. The Abbotsford, BC native opted to forego his senior season to sign with the Ottawa Senators. Grant led Michigan State with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) playing in all 38 games last season.

The Spartans were not a high-scoring team last season. They averaged 2.58 goals per game, so increasing their offensive output this season will be crucial to the team’s success. But the loss of Grant makes it a bit more challenging.

Two returning players that Michigan State will look to lead their offensive charge this season are seniors Brett Perlini (ANA) and Daultan Leveille (WPG). Perlini led the Spartans with 18 goals and finished with 30 points in 38 games. The Sault Ste. Marie, ONT native made great strides in his development last season. One notable area that Perlini improved was getting more quality shots on goal. And that went a long way to boosting his offensive numbers from 12 points two seasons ago to 30 last season.

Leveille didn’t quite have the junior season that Michigan State had hoped he would. He posted 18 points (eight goals, ten assists) in 34 games last season. His season was also cut short by a torn ACL that he suffered back in February. This season could potentially be the best year of Leveille’s collegiate career. One notable area where Leveille was quite effective last season was on face-offs, winning roughly 51 percent of his draws.

Five of the Spartans’ six newcomers this season are forwards and one to keep an eye on is Tanner Sorenson. The Anchorage, AK native is a small (5’8, 165lbs), slick centerman with great hands. Although Sorenson is a center, he can also play wing. Sorenson, a Feb. 1993-born player, was passed over this summer, but will be eligible again for the 2012 NHL Draft.

With the exception of Zach Josepher, Michigan State returns all of their defensive players. Leading the team from the blue line this season is junior captain Torey Krug. The Livonia, MI native was one of the CCHA’s best and most productive rearguards last season. Krug posted 28 points (11 goals, 27 assists) in 38 games. He co-led all CCHA defensemen with 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 28 conference games. Krug was named the CCHA’s Best Offensive Defenseman and earned a spot on the All-CCHA First Team. Over the summer, he attended the Carolina Hurricanes prospects camp. While some NHL teams may be deterred by Krug’s diminutive stature (5’9, 180lbs), those who aren’t could be willing to take a chance on this highly-skilled young defenseman in the future.

The Spartans also return their outstanding goaltending tandem of senior Drew Palmisano and sophomore Will Yanakeff this season. Palmisano appeared in 26 games last season, posting a 9-14-3 record that included two shutouts. Yanakeff appeared in 14 games, posting a 6-5-1 record that also included two shutouts.

Northern Michigan University

Number of NHL prospects on roster: 1

The Wildcats will open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at Wisconsin.

Despite a strong 2010-11 campaign that saw them finish sixth in the conference, Northern Michigan had their season come to an unceremonious end at the hands of last-place Bowling Green in the opening round of the CCHA Tournament last spring. But with a new season on the horizon, the Wildcats are determined to have a better finish.

The most pressing issue for Northern Michigan coming into this season is increasing their overall offensive production. The Wildcats struggled mightily on offense last season. They averaged just 2.33 goals per game, which ranked 52nd in the nation. The team’s 91 total goals were the second fewest of any CCHA team.

The good news is Northern Michigan returns their top three scorers from last season in seniors Tyler Gron and Justin Florek (BOS), and junior Andrew Cherniwchan. Gron led the team with 32 points (17 goals, 15 assists) in 34 games. He also led the team with seven power play tallies. Florek finished second with 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) playing in all 39 games. Cherniwchan finished with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 38 games.

Florek, who will serve as one of the team’s tri-captains this season, is poised to have the best year of his collegiate career. His 29 points were a slight dip from the 35 he posted as a sophomore. However, Florek continues to make great strides in his development. And that was particularly evident in his ability to capitalize more on scoring opportunities last season. He continues to effectively use his 6’4, 200lbs frame, but now it can be seen on the defensive side as well as offensive side.

Cherniwchan is another returning player that the Wildcats will be looking to increase his point production. The Hinton, AB native could best be described as a lunch-pail type of forward. A number of Cherniwchan’s goals at Northern Michigan have come simply from hard work. His game isn’t all that pretty, but it’s smart, tough and effective.

Another area where Northern Michigan will be looking to remedy this season is decreasing their trips to the penalty box. The Wildcats were one of the most penalized teams in the country last season. The team averaged 17.6 minutes per game. The 688 penalty minutes that Northern Michigan racked up last season was the most of any CCHA team.

The Wildcats’ frequent trips to the penalty box also meant a lot of time spent killing penalties. The Wildcats struggled mightily killing penalties, finishing 43rd in the nation on the PK, with a 79.5 percent efficiency rating.

Goaltending will be one of the Wildcats strengths heading into the season. The solid tandem of senior Reid Ellingson and sophomore Jared Coreau both return this season. Ellingson, who played in the majority of games, posted a 10-14-3 record that included one shutout in 31 appearances. He also posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average. The towering Coreau saw action in 15 games, posting a record of 5-5-2, along with a .909 save percentage.

The Northern Michigan defensive corps is shaping up to be very good this season. It will also be one of the biggest in the CCHA as well. Seven of the team’s ten defensemen this year are 6’1” or taller. But the one who’ll be leading the group is the smallest of them all in 5’8 junior Scott Macaulay. The Winnipeg, MB native led all Wildcats defensemen in scoring last season with 18 points (one goal, 17 assists) in 36 games. He was particularly good in conference play, where 12 of his 18 points were amassed.

Eight newcomers join the Northern Michigan squad this season, and the one to keep an eye on is defenseman Eric Walker. The Castlegar, BC native has good size (6’2, 195lbs) and is noted for his grit and sound positional play. Walker is the nephew of former Wildcat and former NHLer Steve Bozek.

University of Notre Dame

Number of NHL prospects on roster: 10

The Fighting Irish will look to make a return trip to the Frozen Four when they open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth.

Notre Dame capped the 2010-11 season with their first Frozen Four appearance since 2008. And as good as the Fighting Irish were last season; they look to be even better this season.

Notre Dame was one of the nation’s most prolific offensive teams last season. The Fighting Irish ranked tenth in the nation with an offense that averaged 3.43 goals per game. Their 151 total goals tied them with Yale for third most in the nation.

Interestingly, as good as the Fighting Irish were on offense last season, they struggled somewhat on the power play. Notre Dame ranked tied for 42nd in the nation with an efficiency rating of 15.8 percent on the man-advantage. Their penalty-kill wasn’t much better, despite having scored a nation co-leading 13 shorthanded goals. The Fighting Irish ranked 39th on the penalty kill with an efficiency rating of 80.7 percent.

No team in college hockey got more points out of their freshman class last season than Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish rookies accounted for a whopping 49 percent of the team’s scoring. Leading that group was the team’s dynamic duo of T.J. Tynan (CBJ) and Anders Lee (NYI), who finished first and fourth respectively among all rookies nationally. Tynan, the National and CCHA Player of the Year, posted 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 44 games. Lee led the nation in rookie goal-scoring with 24 and finished with 44 points in 44 goals. He also led Notre Dame with seven game-winning goals too.

Another forward who enjoyed an outstanding freshman campaign last season was sophomore Jeff Costello (OTT). The Milwaukee, WI native posted 18 points (12 goals, six assists) playing in all 44 games. Of his 12 goals, half came on the power play. Costello brings a combination of physical presence and an offensive touch to the Fighting Irish. This season, head coach Jeff Jackson is expecting bigger and better things from Costello.

“I’m hoping that Jeff takes a step this year as far as contributing even more offensively and continuing to be a physical presence. I think the biggest thing for Jeff is learning how to be consistent. I think it’s really important because it’ll enable him to increase his (point) production and have a bigger impact and role on our team.”

Junior Riley Sheahan (DET) continues to make great strides in his development. He finished last season with 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 40 games. Of his five goals, two came on the power play and one came shorthanded. While he was consistently strong defensively throughout last season, Sheahan showed glimpses of his tremendous offensive ability in the latter half of the season. Jackson is hoping that it continues this season.

“I think Riley stands the chance to have a really good season this year, especially if he can start the way he finished last year. I can always count on Riley defensively, without the puck and even on face-offs. He and I have talked about him taking a few more risks and trying to use his hands, size and reach to be more effective in the crease area and in goal-scoring because I think Riley does have an offensive upside. So I’m hoping that his true talent will shine this year.”

With the exception of Joe Lavin (CHI), who graduated, Notre Dame returns their defense intact this season. Leading the defensive corps is senior Sean Lorenz (MIN). The Littleton, CO native co-led the nation with a plus-33, playing much of the season alongside Lavin as part of Notre Dame’s top defensive pairing. Lorenz played in all 44 games, posting 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) and was named the CCHA’s Best Defensive Defenseman. One notable area where Lorenz really improved last season was his positioning in effectively taking away time and space for opposing players. He also got more involved offensively without it coming at the expense of his defensive responsibilities.

“Last year was a big year for Sean,” said Jackson. “We gave him additional ice time, responsibilities, and just a bigger role, and I thought Sean just took it and ran with it. I hope that he’ll be able to take another step this year. He’s very solid in his defensive role, and I’m hoping that he continues to develop his panic threshold and his decision-making with the puck. I’d like to see Sean get up into the play a bit more too. So there are areas for him to continue to grow in to become a more complete player and he understands that.”

In addition to their returning veterans, the Fighting Irish will have five newcomers, notably Robbie Russo (NYI). The Westmont, Ill native is an offensive defenseman noted for his superb puck-moving ability that can also help boost the offense production from Notre Dame’s blue line this season.

“One of the reasons we recruited Robbie was because we feel that he gives us a little bit more of a poised, puck-control type of defenseman that can have an impact on our power play. I think he has that, along with the puck sense, awareness and in his decision-making.”

Notre Dame also returns their solid goaltending tandem of junior Mike Johnson and sophomore Steven Summerhays this season. Johnson appeared in 36 games, posting a 20-10-4 record. Summerhays appeared in 12 games posting a 5-4-1 record.

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

The Buckeyes will open their 2011-12 season on October 7th hosting Quinnipiac.

It was an interesting 2010-11 season for Ohio State under first-year head coach Mark Osiecki. One noticeable change to the Buckeyes was how they’ve become a more aggressive, puck-pressuring team that was defensively accountable. Which should come as no surprise to those familiar with Osiecki’s coaching style. It’s a theme that should help make Ohio State even better this season.

One area where the change began to pay dividends for Ohio State last season was in their overall defensive numbers. The Buckeyes allowed an average of 2.49 goals per game, which ranked 12th in the nation.

The main man behind Ohio State’s excellent defensive numbers last season was netminder Cal Heeter. The returning senior from St. Louis, MO native appeared in 37 games, posting a 15-18-4 record that included two shutouts. His .923 save percentage ranked tied for 11th in the nation, and his 2.30 goals against average ranked 18th. He also ranked eighth in the nation in minutes played (2191:54). As good as Heeter was in the first half, he was even better in the second half, allowing three or more goals in just seven games. Over the summer, Heeter attended the Chicago Blackhawks prospects camp.

The Buckeyes suffered just one key loss on the blueline when top defenseman Shane Sims (NYI) graduated. The Ohio State defensive corps this season will feature a nice mix of veteran experience and youth. Two defensemen to watch are sophomore Curtis Gedig (NJ) and newcomer Ben Gallacher (FLA). Gedig is coming off of an excellent rookie campaign where he posted 12 points (all assists) in 34 games. Gedig played much of last season alongside Sims as one of Ohio State’s top four defensemen and saw considerable time on the Buckeyes power play. Gallacher, a 2010 draft selection of the Florida Panthers, is a puck-moving defenseman that can help increase Ohio State’s offensive production from the blue line.

“I think one of the things that we’re expecting from Curtis this season is maturity and what he has done with his conditioning and (off-ice) training,” said Osiecki. “I think he’s one player that has the opportunity to play NHL hockey (in the future). He can skate and be physical. Curtis’ skating ability and size are his strengths. And he’s gifted offensively too.

The adjustment for freshmen defensemen takes some time, and it’s no different for Gallacher. He can skate, but he also brings a certain heightened offensive awareness as well. So he’s certainly going to add an offensive presence for us. He’s really smart with the puck and has poise with it. Gallacher wants to control the puck, which is fun to watch. Another thing that we like so much about him is that his compete level is extremely high. He’s got a lot of room to grow and he’s always learning the game. I think those are going to be some of the things that will give him to opportunity to become an NHL player one day.”

The biggest concern for the Buckeyes heading into this season will be in boosting the team’s overall offensive numbers, particularly on the power play. Ohio State ranked tied for 37th in the nation last season with an offense that averaged 2.57 goals per game. The Buckeyes power play ranked 40th in the nation with an efficiency rating of 15.9 percent. What will makes increasing the team’s offensive production this season more challenging is the fact that four of the top five scorers from last season have graduated. Those four scorers – John Albert, Sergio Somma, Peter Boyd and Shane Sims, accounted for 45 percent of the team’s points last season. Furthermore, Ohio State’s forward lines will be predominantly young this season.

One returning forward that the Buckeyes will be relying on is sophomore Chris Crane (SJ). The West Chester, OH native posted 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 37 games last season. Crane is known for his ultra-aggressive style and he effectively utilized it throughout last season. An area where it was particularly evident was in his play around the net.

“Chris is another player that I think has the opportunity to play in the NHL. He’s physical and he can skate. His strength is playing in those small areas around the net. Chris is like a Blake Geoffrion-type of player in that he’s beginning to understand what he has to do in the hard areas of the ice just like Blake did at Wisconsin. Chris is starting to understand that he needs to be a physical presence around the net. And I think there’s where he’ll have a lot of success.”

Eight newcomers will be joining the group upfront for Ohio State this season, including a pair of 2011 Ottawa Senators draft picks in LW Ryan Dzingel and center Max McCormick. The Buckeyes will also feature the youngest player in the CCHA this season in LW Riley Simpson. Simpson, who is a late November 1993-born player, will be eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft.

Western Michigan University

Number of NHL prospects on roster: 3

The Broncos will look to make a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2011-12 season on October 7th hosting Alabama-Huntsville.

Western Michigan was one of the best stories coming out of the CCHA last season. The team enjoyed a magical run that culminated with their first trip to NCAA Tournament in over a decade under first year head coach Jeff Blaishill. But with Blaishill moving on to take an assistant coaching job with the Detroit Red Wings, a new chapter opens on Broncos hockey this season.

Replacing Blaishill behind the Western Michigan bench this season is former Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues head coach Andy Murray. With a new era set to begin in Kalamazoo, the Broncos will be focused on building on last season’s success. And as Murray explains, his approach to coaching Western Michigan this season won’t differ much from his predecessor.

“I don’t think that there’s anything special that I will bring (to the program). I’m a firm believer that players make the difference. I like to think of myself as a coach that communicates, lets people know what is expected of them, and holds them accountable for that. I think that’s the way that Coach Blashill operated here, and players responded and played well. So we need players to respond and play well again this year.”

Last season’s success can be attributed in large part to the brilliant goaltending of Jerry Kuhn. The Southgate, MI native was a key component of the Broncos’ stifling defense last season that ranked 11th in the nation, allowing an average of 2.48 goals per game. Kuhn finished his final year with a 12-8-6 record that included two shutouts.

Kuhn has since graduated, so goaltending will be the most pressing issue for Western Michigan coming into this season. Junior Nick Pisellini and newcomers Kris Moore and Frank Slubowski will be vying to fill Kuhn’s role. Pisellini, who will likely be tabbed to start the season, appeared in 17 games last season, posting a 7-5-4 record that included one shutout. He also posted a 2.35 goals against average and a .901 save percentage.

With the uncertainty in goal, Western Michigan will be relying on an experienced blue line corps to help stabilize things defensively this season. Leading the Broncos defense is last season’s top defensive pairing of junior Luke Witkowski (TB) and sophomore Dan DeKeyser. Witkowski has developed into a dominant force for Western Michigan. He utilizes his 6’2, 201lbs frame and hard-hitting style advantageously, which have helped him get more involved in joining developing offensive plays. He finished his sophomore campaign with nine points (one goal, eight assists) playing in all 42 games. Witkowski led the team in plus/minus (plus-13) and penalty minutes (56).

Witkowski’s defensive partner, De Keyser enjoyed a stellar freshman season that saw him post 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 42 games. The Clay Township, MI native was a mainstay on the Broncos power play last season, where three of five goals were scored. His combination of size (6’2, 171lbs), excellent skating and puck-moving ability has also garnered him quite a bit of NHL interest as well. De Keyser capped his freshman campaign with a selection to the CCHA All-Rookie team.

In addition to a veteran defensive corps, the Broncos also return an experienced group of forwards. But they also graduated four forwards, including top scorer Max Campbell. The Strathroy, ONT native led the team with 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 42 games. At season’s end, Campbell signed with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale.

Leading the Broncos’ offensive attack this season is sophomore sensation Chase Balisy. Balisy, a sixth round selection (170th overall) of the Nashville Predators this past June, led Western Michigan with 18 assists and finished second on the team with 30 points in 42 games. He capped the year with a selection to the CCHA All-Rookie team. Balisy centered one of the best line combinations in the CCHA last season that included fellow sophomore Shane Bertschbach and junior Dane Walters. Murray does plan to keep that line together to begin this season.

In addition to the returning players, Western Michigan will also feature a ten-member freshman class this season. And as Murray explains, much will be expected of the newcomers.

“We have about eight freshmen that will be playing on a regular basis, which is an awful lot. Having said that, these kids as a corps of freshmen have to play beyond their years and we’re going require mature play from them. We’re going to need strong play out of our freshmen. They have to be fast learners and have to be able to contribute from the get-go, if we’re going to have success here.”

The most notable player of the group is the highly-touted Garrett Haar. Haar, a seventh round selection (207th overall) of the Washington Capitals this past June, was a much sought-after offensive defenseman who had originally committed to Northeastern. When head coach Greg Cronin departed to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, Haar opted to come to Western Michigan instead.