Colorado College coach Scott Owens puts little stock in preseason polls, knowing that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference schedule promises to be a meatgrinder for all eight teams, regardless of prognostications.
The Tigers were picked to place seventh in the first season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, by the league media, it was announced on Thursday in Minneapolis.
“”The league will be strong and everybody can beat anyone in every game,” Owens said during a break in the first annual NCHC media day at the Target Center. “There is not a lot of difference between Nos. 3-8.”
Miami was the top pick with seven out of a possible 16 first-place votes. The RedHawks, who return 17 players from the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season champions (22-12-5), reached the NCAA Midwest regional final last season.
Colorado College returns one of its top five scorers from an 18-19-5 squad last season, in senior wing Alexander Krushelnyski (43 points, 28 assists). Seniors Archie Skalbeck (23, 12 goals), Eamonn McDermott (23, 20 assists) are back along with junior Charlie Taft (18, 10 assists) and sophomores Hunter Fejes (14, eight goals) and Cody Bradley (13, nine assists). The defenseman corps is expected to be a strength this season.
The notable returning players for Miami are Hobey Baker Memorial Award hopefuls Austin Czarnik (40 points, 26 assists), a junior, and sophomore Riley Barber (39, 24 assists). Other top scorers include sophomore Matthew Caito (21, 16 assists) and junior Cody Murphy (20, 11 goals). Miami has excellent depth in goal with sophomores Ryan McKay (13-7-2, 1.39 goals against, .946 saves percentage) and Jay Williams (12-5-3, 1.94, .924).
North Dakota senior Dillon Simpson was unfazed by the prediction his team would finish second despite five first-place votes.
“I’m very excited (about the season) after the summer our team had,” the defenseman said.
UND returns sophomore Rocco Grimaldi (36, 23 assists) and junior Mark MacMillan (25, 13 goals). The returning defensemen include Simpson (24, 19 assists), junior Nick Mattson (15, 12 assists) and sophomore Jordan Schmaltz (12, nine assists). The team, 22-13-7 last season, has depth in goal with senior Clarke Saunders (13-9-4, 2.29 goals, .917 saves) and sophomore Zane Gothberg (9-4-3, 2.46. .920).
Third-place St. Cloud State received four first-place votes. The Huskies return 22, the most of any NCHC team, but lost Hobey winner Drew LeBlanc to graduation and Nick Jensen to the pros.
The cupboard is hardly empty: Senior Nic Dowd (38, 24 assists); sophomores Jonny Brodzinski (33, 22 goals) and Kalle Kossila (33, 18 assists); junior Andrew Prochno (28, 23 assists); and junior goalie Ryan Faragher (24-15-1, 2.28, .914), who led the program to its first NCAA Frozen Four. Freshman goalie Charlie Lindgren is the 2013 USA Hockey Junior Goaltender of the Year award winner.
Denver has a new coach, Jim Montgomery, but the usual high expectations with a fourth-place pick and home playoff ice. The Pioneers return plenty on offense with junior defenseman Joey LaLeggia (29, 18 assists), senior David Makowski (27, 18 assists) and sophomore Nolan Zajac and junior Ty Loney, both with 26 points.
The top returning goal scorers for DU, 20-14-5 last season, are juniors Daniel Doremus (24, 12 goals) and Zac Larazza (21, 12 goals) and sophomore Quentin Shore (19, 10 goals). The goalie incumbent is senior Sam Brittain (5-7-0, 2.95, .907). There is some buzz about Arvada freshman Evan Crowley challenging him for the starting job.
Fifth-place Western Michigan returns junior goalie Frank Slubowski (19-11-8, 2.00, .918) and seniors Chase Balisy (25 points, 14 assists), Dennis Brown (18, 15, assists) and Mike Cichy (18, 14 assists). Sophomore wing Kenney Morrison (18, 14 assists) is also back from a 19-11-8 squad that just missed the NCAAs last season.
Minnesota-Duluth was a distant sixth behind the Broncos in the poll. The Bulldogs, 14-19-5 last season, return most of their scoring in sophomores Austin Farley (34, 18 assists), Tony Cameranesi (34, 20 assists) and Andy Welinski (18, 14 assists) and junior Andy Welinski (18, 14 assists). Sophomore goalie Matt McNeely (10-11-3, 2.67 goals, .902 saves) returns along with senior Aaron Crandall (4-7-2, 2.99, .891).
Nebraska-Omaha was picked last, perhaps because of some off-ice troubles and defections. The Mavericks, 19-18-2 last season, do return 2013 Hobey Baker Top 10 finalist and senior Ryan Walters (52, 30 assists). Juniors Josh Archibald (36, 19 goals) and Dominic Zombo (35, 23 assists) are also in the fold.
The regular season championship trophy will be the Spencer & Julie Penrose Memorial Cup. … The league will hand out the Herb Brooks Coach of the Year Award. … The NCHC wants fans to help name the tourney using #NCHCChamp as a Twitter hashtag starting Friday
NCHC Media Preseason Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Pts
1. Miami (7) 115
2. North Dakota (5) 109
3. St. Cloud State (4) 99
4. Denver 66
5. Western Michigan 61
6. Minnesota-Duluth 43
7. Colorado College 42
8. Nebraska-Omaha 41
If anyone cares, I was one of the 16 media voters. Here is how I predicted things would shake out over a full season. Picking spots 4-8 was difficult: