After one of the most insane off-seasons in recent memory College Hockey is finally back! Football was a nice little appetizer to wet the beak, but it’s time for the main course. Time to watch something we’re actually GOOD at in Minnesota. Something where we can brag a little and walk into a game with confidence instead of clinging to hope and hope alone.
After all the dust settled with the transfer portal as active as ever, fans quickly moved on to the rankings to see how they should be feeling. If you’re a fan of a Big 10 team, you’ve got to be somewhere between thrilled and terrified. With SIX teams in the top twenty to start the season, it’s certainly expected to be the most exciting conference to keep track of. Some people are starting to think that they might actually win a national title this year. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Independent College Hockey Programs
- Arizona State*
- Alaska Fairbanks
- Alaska Anchorage
- Long Island University
Arizona State may not be the runaway favorite that they once were when it comes to College Hockey’s independent schools, but they’re still number one for me. This program has been PUMPING money into the promotion of hockey and has seen steady growth and interest as a result. While they’re not technically ranked in either poll, the Sun Devils did receive votes in both. Despite me not having the kindest words to say to ASU in the past, they are officially respectable in the sport. This program has the ability to skate with anyone and starting next year, they’ll OFFICIALLY be a part of the NCHC with the chance to earn an automatic bid (hence * in the rankings).
Alaska (Fairbanks) had the College Hockey world rooting for them as the season came to a close last year. Sitting in what should have been a relatively safe bubble spot saw them free-falling out of the playoffs when it popped following upsets in a few of the conference tournaments. The Nanooks showed a ton of grit last season, earning some pretty incredible wins when given the opportunity. In my personal opinion, they would have fared A LOT better in the tournament than some of the other 4-seeds that lost in blowouts. I’d love to see them make a return to the playoffs this year.
Fighting to be Seen
After these two schools, there’s a pretty steep cliff when it comes to expectations or even hopes for the year. Anchorage is the closest of the remaining group, but I’m not sure they make ladders tall enough to climb up to even see the playoff bubble from where they’ll end up. They’ve got some of THE BEST jerseys in all of College Hockey, but the US was more competitive in this year’s Ryder Cup than the Seawolves have been in the Governor’s Cup.
LIU sits in a similar position to Anchorage. Powder blue jerseys will always play and having a shark on your chest is every kid’s dream, but it’s a lot less cool when your losses double your wins. Lindenwood had flashes of brilliance, but no sustained success and I expect that to repeat again this year. Then there’s Stonehill who may have been better off not showing up to the very few games that they did against other D1 schools last year. Bet the house on them finishing last again, sadly.
- Michigan Tech
- Northern Michigan
- St Thomas
- Minnesota State University-Mankato
- Ferris State
- Bowling Green
- Lake Superior State
Of all the conferences, the CCHA has the biggest change from last year to this year in a LANDSLIDE. First, and foremost, you have to acknowledge the change(s) at Minnesota State. Not only did they lose their head coach Mike Hastings to Wisconsin, but he took a HUGE chunk of their premier players and future commitments with him. New bench boss Luke Strand has his work cut out for him in his first year, but won’t have to do it alone. Lucas Sowder is a big body with plenty of playoff experience in his time as a Maverick and will need to share that to lead the group.
Feeling left out of the headlines, Bowling Green was making waves late in the offseason. Unfortunately, not for the reasons that the Falcons faithful would hope for. Sophomore sensation Austen Swankler (19G-25A, 35GP) entered the transfer portal after students were already prepping for mid-terms. This came VERY shortly before news broke about an ongoing hazing investigation involving the team. As of now, the college hockey community has been told that head coach Ty Eigner is on administrative leave and three players have been suspended from the team. Sounds like we won’t know who those players are until the first-line charts are released for the season either.
The Good News
Swanky eventually landed at in-conference rival Michigan Tech to bolster their already dangerous roster. No clue when he’ll actually be able to suit up for the Huskies or start classes there, but it sure doesn’t sound like it will be during the first semester. With all the turmoil and turnover of competitive teams in the conference, it sure seems like Tech will be battling with Northern Michigan for the MacNaughton Cup. Pietila is back between the pipes and is an early favorite for this year’s Mike Richter Award.
It’s not all doom and gloom as far as news goes for the CCHA though! The conference is also home to the newest D1 member in Augustana. The Vikings are finally bringing college hockey to the main stage in Sioux Falls. While I’m not confident they’ll have as meteoric of a rise as St Thomas in the same conference, I can say with certainty that they will not be the worst team in the nation despite it being their first year.
- Boston University
- Boston College
- UMass Lowell
- New Hampshire
For as top-heavy as the CCHA is with all the changes, Hockey East is as much of a jumbled mess as it ever was. Sure, everyone expects Boston University to run away with it from the start of the season, but after that, nobody can seem to agree on anything. A lot of that certainty in the Terriers can be attributed to Hobey hopeful Lane Hutson who had 48 points as a defender last season and is poised to build on those numbers this year.
The talent in the locker room for Boston College, at least on paper, isn’t far behind BU. Ryan Leonard, Will Smith, and Gabe Perreault were ALL part of the NTDP. If they can keep some of their chemistry alive for the Eagles, we’re going to see a much-improved team. Where their questions lie will be in the strength of goaltending. If they can get anything above average, we’re talking about a return to postseason play for BC. My ONLY reason for having them behind UConn at the beginning of the season is the adjustment to the physicality of the College Game while relying on such a young group. That being said, they do play in Hockey East, so it’s not as big of a deal as it would be in other conferences.
Changing of the Guard
The BIGGEST change from last year is the fall of Northeastern. Listen, they still have the best name in all of College Hockey (and maybe hockey in general) in Gunnarwolfe Fontaine who had 30 points last year. While that’s great and I expect them to be competitive in the conference, you cannot understate just how important the departures are. Mike Richter Award winning goaltender Devon Levi is in Buffalo and former Captain Aidan McDonough walked out the door too. Replacing either is a tall task, but finding someone anywhere near as good as Levi on the College level is nearly impossible. Look for them to struggle to find their footing early.
The rest of the conference is similar to the Pack 12 in football. They’re fast and talented but lack the size to keep up with physical play of the rest of the country and will probably cannibalize one another throughout the season. I’m not one to succumb to public pressure often, but here I am with Merrimack in my top 5 for Hockey East. I don’t know what else to say other than The Mack is, indeed, BACK.
- American International (AIC)
- Sacred Heart
- Air Force
- Holy Cross
- Robert Morris
My official stance on Atlantic Hockey, for the second year in a row:
This conference has been taking up the final slot as a 16-seed in the playoffs for too long and last year was no different. I’ll concede that their individual conference tournament was insanely fun to watch play out. Seeing Holy Cross knock off both AIC and RIT as a 7-seed was tons of fun before losing to Canisius in the final. Hell, even in the NCAA tournament, the Golden Griffs gave Minnesota trouble to start the game…before the floodgates opened and they lost by SEVEN GOALS. Shoutout to me for picking the Griffs as my dark horse to win the conference at the beginning of last year.
The biggest change to the conference is the return of Bobby Mo! They were chastised and shamed by many online after canceling the hockey program back in 2021. Miraculously, they found some spare change to get the gang back together. There will be A LOT of rust to shake off and a few bumps in the road as they’re made up of a lot of young and inexperienced skaters. Goalie is another story with two transfers fighting for time in Chad Veltri (Niagra) and Francis Boisvert (St Lawrence).
My dark horse for the AHA THIS YEAR? Canisius. Again. When in doubt (or you admittedly have no idea what you’re talking about), run it all the way back.
- St. Lawrence
Quinnipiac has been the cream of the crop for years now and will look to remain atop the ECAC. They may have lost a cornerstone of the organization in Yaniv Perets, but the Bobcats were active in the portal and took on Vinny Duplessis from BU. They’ll also return the relatively unknown (sarcasm) Collin Graf and Sam Lipkin who had a mere (sarcasm, again) 102 points between themselves a season ago. While I do expect them to take a small step backward, I don’t see the same free-fall that’s anticipated at Northeastern from losing a top-three goalie.
Harvard and Cornell will once again be challenging teams to play in and out of the conference. With a seemingly unending news cycle of verbal commitments to Harvard, they appear to be re-loading for the future while already touting some of the most NHL draft picks in the country. Why anyone would want to go to that school, I’ll never know, but good for them I guess. While the Crimson have their sights set on young talent, Big Red is looking to play more like Big Brother. They’ll have one of the heavier top-ten rosters in the nation once again and when it was working last year, it was tough to stop. Just ask Denver.
If Colgate wants to see the postseason again, they’ll have to get there the same way they did last year and win the conference tournament. That being said, I’m not sure they’ll even want to after losing ELEVEN to one in the first round. Outside of those top four (three) teams, I don’t see many waves on the horizon coming out of the ECAC. Clarkson and Union will win a few big ones in the regular season, but that’s just what it is…the regular season. It’s always tough to look too deeply into the ECAC records with so many 1-game series and starting their year a month after everyone else. Just be normal.
- Michigan State
- Penn State
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
This will be the conference to watch in College Hockey this season. From top to bottom, there are questions about every single team. How will Minnesota fare with Faber, Cooley, and Knies all leaving and being immediate impact players at the NHL level? Who’s going to step into the massive shoes of Fantilli and Samoskevich at Michigan? Will the injection of a ton of young talent at Michigan State work out? Can Mike Hastings and his Minnesota State transfers pull Wisconsin from the depths of mediocrity?
The Big Ten is going to be an absolute GAUNTLET all season long. It feels so, so wrong to pick Penn State and Ohio State to be in the bottom three given that they were both NCAA tournament teams a year ago. Not only that, but Ohio State led the nation in PK efficiency last year at 88.7%! Do you have any idea how insane that is in the high-scoring Big-10 conference? The thing that’s blinding me is the unknowns more than what we DO know. I don’t expect Ohio State or Notre Dame to even take a step back, necessarily. In fact, Ryan Bischel has the highest returning save percentage of any goalie in College Hockey. What I DO know is that Wisconsin and Michigan State will BOTH be significantly better than they were a season ago.
Let Chaos Ensue
For all intents and purposes, you can take your pick of Minnesota or Michigan for the champion in the conference and that’s pretty clear. After that though, you may as well pick teams out of a hat to set your rankings. I can promise you it’ll be just as effective as trying to work your way through it logically, but you’ll finish in a fraction of the time. Hell, by the time this is posted, I will have already changed my mind about this conference. They’re all going to be fun to watch!
- St. Cloud State
- North Dakota
- University of Minnesota, Duluth
- Western Michigan
- Colorado College
Let’s start with the biggest question mark of the conference. North Dakota has the nation’s writers, coaches, and fans all divided. They’ve got the name, history, and incredible building/fans to fall back on. They’ve got a surefire Hobey Baker candidate in Riese Gaber and/or Jackson Blake. They even have (another) promising transfer goaltender in Ludvig Persson who is sure to have even better numbers if he can see the smallest improvement in defending in front of him. What they don’t have is consistency. Their roster will have FOURTEEN new players with seven transfers and seven freshmen. Without looking at the numbers, I can guarantee they’ve got more turnover at defense than anyone else in the country. That’s because not one of the guys on their blue line from last year is returning.
I wanted to find a way to take Denver out of my top spot. I did. They lost Magnus Chrona between the pipes and playmaker Carter Mazur on the front end. They just have too much returning and incoming talent to move them at this time. The team that came closest to replacing them? St Cloud State. It pains me to say it as a Bulldogs fan, but this team is going to be great again this year. They’ve got Dominic Basse as an anchor in net and Dylan Anhorn returning as one of the best defenders in the nation in front of him after an incomplete season last year. Sure, they lost Kranilla and Cruikshank’s 78 points, but they still have Zach Okabe and Veeti Miettinen to put pucks in the net. From last year to this year, the Huskies will be the most consistent team in the nation. Is this the year we finally see some bite to go with their bark in the postseason?
Questions Remain Elsewhere
While there’s certain consistency in St Cloud, there is questionable turnover in Kalamazoo. The Broncos lost co-national goal leader Jason Polin (30-17-47), Ryan McAllister(13-36-49), and Max Sasson (15-27-42) in the offseason. I don’t know about you, but that sure looks like A LOT of points to replace. They’ll be looking to get a little bit of help in that department from freshman Alex Bump, who transferred his commitment from Vermont in the offseason. As I’m writing this, I’ve just now realized that they’re the bizzaro-world version of NoDak. A lot of offense suddenly gone, but solid returning defenders and goaltending.
UMD missed postseason play for the first time in a decade last year. A LOT of that can be attributed to a team with so many Freshmen. Some of it can be put on injuries, which is not uncommon for the Bulldogs. The biggest difference in historically great teams vs what UMD saw last year was the Goaltending numbers. The combination of Stejskal and Thiessen was in the bottom half of BOTH save percentage and goals against. Don’t take that as me putting all the blame on them, because they saw WAY more shots than any goaltender in the last decade too. Puck control and team defense has been a focus of the Bulldogs this year and with another year of growth and Aaron Pionk transferring his commitment, I don’t see a way that doesn’t improve this year.
The NCHC’s Forgotten Children
Colorado College, Omaha, and Miami are WILDCARDS. Kind of. Technically CC and Omaha are the wildcards, but I’ll level with you…I know very little about any of these three schools so far. Sue me, I got married this offseason and had less time to keep up with people who aren’t going to be contenders at the end of the year. If you want a name to keep in mind for each of them, that’s about all I can do for you till next week.
- Colorado College: Kaidan Mbereko will be the best player on the Tigers roster at the end of the year, but he’ll need A LOT more scoring on the front end for that team to get near .500 and that’s going to be tough with Hunter McKown Gone.
- Omaha: Tanner Ludtke (Freshman) is going to be expected to be the Robin to Jack Randl’s Batman to get this club to the Frozen Faceoff. They will not be a bad team, but it’s yet to be seen if they’ll be good.
- Miami: Miami lost both Ludvig Persson and Red Savage (among others) in the offseason and didn’t bring in anyone better than either through the portal to replace them. They’ll rely on an older group to grab the reigns and take a collective step forward in their play. If you’re betting on them to win conference games this season, you’d better also take the in the game.
I’ve been hit by cars three times, which is an indication of how stubborn I am.
I write about everything across the board, but focus on Hockey and the pain that is Minnesota sports.
Argue with me on Twitter: @venividiveech