NCHC Season Preview and Predictions

With six of the top nine teams from the WCHA and two of the top three squads from the now-defunct CCHA, the inaugural season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference is wide open.

In addition to league champions St. Cloud State (WCHA) and Miami (CCHA), the NCHC also boasts the #3 teams from the WCHA (North Dakota) and the CCHA (Western Michigan).

College hockey’s newest conference also boasts at least three Hobey Baker contenders in Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Walters, Miami’s Austin Czarnik, and North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi.

What follows is my prediction for the league standings, from #8 all the way up to #1. (Media prediction in parenthesis)

For a complete look at my preseason ballot, click here.

#8 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (#8)

Head Coach: Dean Blais (5th season at UNO, 75-69-16, .519)

2012-13 Season: 19-18-2 overall, 14-12-7 WCHA (7th)
Team Offense: 3.26 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.9% (25 of 132)
Penalty Kill: 76.6% (121 of 158)

Key returning players: Senior F Ryan Walters (22-30-52), Junior F Josh Archibald (19-17-36), Junior F Dominic Zombo (12-23-35), Senior D Michael Young (3-13-16), Sophomore D Nick Seeler (2-7-9), Junior G Ryan Massa (0-2-0, 5.42 GAA, .818 SV%)

Key losses: F Matt White (16-18-34),F Brent Gwidt (8-5-13), D Andrej Sustr (9-16-25), D Bryce Aneloski (5-16-21), G John Faulkner (16-10-2, 2.97 GAA, .891 SV%)

2013-14 season outlook: Ryan Walters will be in the running for the NCHC player of the year, but will UNO’s influx of young talent (most notably Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel) keep the Mavs out of the conference cellar? And will Ryan Massa play well enough in net to keep Dean Blais’ squad competitive?

#7 Colorado College (t-#6)

Head Coach: Scott Owens (15th season at CC, 317-204-48, .599)

2012-13 Season: 18-19-5 overall, 11-13-4 WCHA (8th)
Team Offense: 3.17 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.36 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.1% (25 of 146)
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (128 of 160)

Key returning players: Senior F Alexander Krushelnyski (15-28-43), Senior F Archie Skalbeck (12-11-23), Junior F Charlie Taft (8-10-18), Senior D Eamonn McDermott (3-20-23), Junior D Peter Stoykewych (2-9-11), Senior G Josh Thorimbert (4-7-1, 3.73 GAA, .873 SV%)

Key losses: F Rylan Schwartz (20-33-53), F William Rapuzzi (15-20-35), D Mike Boivin (14-14-28), F Scott Winkler (13-15-28), G Joe Howe (14-12-4, 2.98 GAA, .915 SV%, 2 SO)

2013-14 season outlook: It’s really only one question: Will Josh Thorimbert be able to handle the duties between the pipes?

#6 Minnesota-Duluth (#5)

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (14th season at UMD, 232-229-64, .503)

2012-13 Season: 14-19-5 overall, 10-13-5 WCHA (9th)
Team Offense: 2.61 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.87 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.4% (41 of 175)
Penalty Kill: 82.3% (135 of 164)

Key returning players: Sophomore F Austin Farley (16-18-34), Sophomore F Tony Cameranesi (14-20-34), Senior F Joe Basaraba (10-7-17), Sophomore D Andy Welinski (4-14-18), Sophomore G Matt McNeely (10-11-3, 2.67 GAA, .902 SV%, 1 SO)

Key losses: F Mike Seidel (17-17-34), F Jake Hendrickson (5-3-8), D Drew Olson (1-6-7), D Wade Bergman (3-14-17), D Chris Casto (3-6-9)

2013-14 season outlook: Will last year’s dynamite freshman class (98 points in 177 games played last season) build on that success or suffer a sophomore slump? And which new blueliners will step up and fill the gaps on the back end?

#5 Denver Pioneers (#4)

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (1st season at DU)

2012-13 Season: 20-14-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 14-9-5 WCHA (5th)
Team Offense: 3.36 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.77 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.3% (35 of 164)
Penalty Kill: 85.2% (144 of 169)

Key returning players: Junior F Ty Loney (8-18-26), Junior F Daniel Doremus (12-12-24), Junior F Zac Larraza (12-9-21), Junior D Joey LaLeggia (11-18-29), Senior D David Makowski (9-18-27), Sophomore D Nolan Zajac (6-20-26), Senior G Sam Brittain (5-7-0, 2.95 GAA, .907 SV%)

Key losses: F Nick Shore (14-20-34), F Chris Knowlton(13-16-29), F Shawn Ostrow (15-11-26), D Paul Phillips (1-10-11), G Juho Olkinuora (13-6-5, 2.35 GAA, .927 SV%, 3 SO)

2013-14 season outlook: Only two seniors remain from a standout class that at one time included Nick Shore, Jason Zucker, and Beau Bennett. With a new coach, where will the leadership come from? And which forwards will emerge to take the Pioneers to the next level?

#4 Western Michigan Broncos (t-#6)

Head Coach: Andy Murray (3rd season at WMU, 40-27-14, .580)

2012-13 Season: 19-11-8 overall, 15-7-6-3 CCHA (3rd)
Team Offense: 2.29 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.05 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.9% (32 of 189)
Penalty Kill: 85.3% (133 of 156)

Key returning players: Senior F Chase Balisy (11-14-25), Senior F Shane Berschbach (4-14-18), Sophomore F Colton Hargrove (9-1-10), Sophomore D Kenney Morrison (7-13-20), Senior D Dennis Brown (3-15-18), Junior G Frank Slubowski (19-11-8, 2.00 GAA, .918 SV%, 4 SO)

Key losses: F Dane Walters (12-13-25),F Mike Cichy (4-14-18), F Mike Leone (6-11-17), D Danny DeKeyser (2-13-15), D Luke Witkowski (2-8-10)

2013-14 season outlook: I like this club more than most. We know that the Broncos will be the stingiest team in the league, but can Western Michigan score enough to be relevant in the NCHC? Andy Murray’s club will be miserable to play against, but three goals will be enough to top WMU on most nights.

#3 St. Cloud State Huskies (#3)

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (9th season at SCSU, 163-125-36, .559)

2012-13 Season: 25-16-1 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 18-9-1 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.36 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.45 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.1% (30 of 175)
Penalty Kill: 81.9% (95 of 116)

Key returning players: Senior F Nick Dowd (14-25-39), Sophomore F Jonny Brodzinski (22-11-33), Sophomore F Kalle Kossila (15-18-33), Sophomore F Joey Benik (8-4-12), Junior D Andrew Prochno (5-23-28), Junior G Ryan Faragher (24-14-1, 2.27 GAA, .914 SV%, 3 SO)

Key losses: F Drew LeBlanc (13-37-50), F Ben Hanowski (17-14-31), D Nick Jensen (4-27-31)

2013-14 season outlook: After a landmark season which included the program’s first Hobey Baker award winner and first Frozen Four berth, will Bob Motzko be able to keep the Huskies hungry enough to take another step forward? And how will SCSU replace the leadership of LeBlanc and Jensen?

#2 North Dakota (#2)

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (10th season at UND, 236-119-38, .649)

2012-13 Season: 22-13-7 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)
Team Offense: 3.21 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.45 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.4% (32 of 165)
Penalty Kill: 84.1% (132 of 157)

Key returning players: Sophomore F Rocco Grimaldi (13-23-36), Junior F Mark McMillan (13-12-25), Sophomore F Drake Caggiulla (8-8-16), Senior D Dillon Simpson (5-19-24), Junior D Nick Mattson (3-12-15), Senior G Clarke Saunders (13-9-4, 2.30 GAA, .917 SV%, 2 SO), Sophomore G Zane Gothberg (9-4-3, 2.46 GAA, .920 SV%)

Key losses: F Corban Knight (16-33-49), F Danny Kristo (26-26-52), F Carter Rowney (10-17-27), D Joe Gleason (5-13-18), D Derek Forbort (4-13-17)

2013-14 season outlook: After being a one-line team for much of last season, will North Dakota get the balanced scoring necessary to compete every weekend? And how will Dave Hakstol handle the goaltending rotation of Saunders and Gothberg, both worthy starters each night?

#1 Miami RedHawks (#1)

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (15th season at Miami, 313-196-53, .604)

2012-13 Season: 25-12-5 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional finalist), 17-7-4-4 CCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 2.52 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.74 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.9% (28 of 176)
Penalty Kill: 88.6% (171 of 193)

Key returning players: Junior F Austin Czarnik (14-26-40), Sophomore F Riley Barber (15-24-39), Junior F Cody Murphy (11-9-20), Sophomore D Matthew Caito (5-16-21), Sophomore G Ryan McKay (13-7-2, 1.39 GAA, .946 SV%, 4 SO)

Key losses: F Curtis McKenzie (11-13-24), F Marc Hagel (6-13-19), D Steven Spinell (1-12-13)

2011-12 season outlook: Can Miami handle the pressure of preseason expectations? Will the Redhawks adjust to a slate of new opponents quickly enough to find itself on top?

So there you have it. Do you agree? Disagree? Who do you have coming out on top? Feel free to post your predictions below, and check back in December for a midseason report.

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