This past NCAA season was phenomenal. Plenty of contenders, pretenders & a lot in between. I think the overall parity of the game was on full display this year. Denver & Minnesota-Duluth were there from start to finish, Harvard was too but fell just short. BU, UMass-Lowell, Penn St., Union, & Ohio St all had solid seasons. While North Dakota, BC, Western Michigan, Northeastern, Quinnipiac, & Minnesota were up & down. Some schools were all over the place winning big games & losing to lesser opponents like Merrimack, UNH, & Nebraska-Omaha. Some just never got it together like Michigan St, Maine, UMass, Michigan, & St. Cloud St. But the best part of it all was that any one of these teams could beat any of the others. I think the overall state of Men’s Ice Hockey @ the NCAA level has never been better. Attendance @ the Frozen Four was awesome, the regionals did really well (could still do better), & players of all ages have been making the jump to the NHL/AHL pretty seamlessly. Here’s a thought or two on each team in regards to this past year or the much anticipated 2017/18 season.
ATLANTIC HOCKEY I admit I pay little to no attention to this conference. After seeing Air Force in the Regionals this season, that will be changing. Plus Bentley is finally building their own on-campus arena so if I want to watch them take on NU, BU, or any HEA team I won’t have to go to an MDC rink in Watertown. AIC beat UMass-Amherst 3-0 in Amherst this year, and finished ahead of them in the Pairwise. Can they top that next year? Air Force lost to Harvard in Providence in the Regional Final, and they lost keeper to the Edmonton Oilers. Don’t look for them to make any noise in 2017-18, unless Pres. Trump starts WW3. Army has some talent but lost goalie Parker Gahagen to graduation. This year might have been the high water mark. Bentley can take on Hockey East at times, and as I mentioned a new rink in 2018. Count me in (sometimes)! Canisius also lost an awesome goalie to graduation, Charles Williams, but they will be right back near where they left off last year. They only had 3 seniors! Holy Cross had a few scalps on their belt, Providence, Union, & AF. The Crusaders are my early pick to be tops in AH. Mercyhurst played well in AH play and thats about the extent of it. Beating Alabama-Huntsville for their only NC game isn’t much consolation. Niagara was dead last in the pairwise, probably staying there next year too. RIT will be knocking on the AH door next year. Robert Morris is the top dog in AH and should be right back there next year. Plenty left to work with there. I like that RMU will mix it up with other conferences. They had a good NC schedule this past year too.
BIG TEN I absolutely love the Big 10! I really do. It might be the overall history of the conference in college sports in general, the passion of the fans, that entire states get behind their schools, or maybe its just the hockey helmet paint jobs. Michigan was putrid last year, Red Berenson stayed too long, & early departures hurt them. Next year I expect more from the Wolverines. But not enough to make noise. Michigan St. was even worse than their rival! However MSU did go 2-0-1-2 verse Michigan. That must count as a success. Tom Anastos has stepped down after 4 years, and Danton Cole steps in. I think Cole will be better, but can he get MSU back to the summit? I think so, just be patient. Minnesota had an up & down year, had injuries, & yet they almost qualified for the NCAA’s. As stacked as they are that shouldn’t be the case. They are the Golden Gophers! Death, taxes, & NCAA’s. Scary that they only had 6 seniors, it seems like their players are there forever. Notre Dame, yes don’t forget that the Irish are moving to their rightful spot in the Big 10. It only makes 100% sense. ND made the Frozen Four this year, hats off to them because they made it there, but they had no business being there. None. I give them credit for beating UMass-Lowell in the Regional Final to get there, but ouch that was ugly. But here’s the thing, Notre Dame is losing 1 senior (I know they are losing goalie Chad Katunar but come on), Ben Ostlie. Other than that the entire roster including Anders Bjork will be back! Add in 10+ recruits looking to make a name & Jeff Jackson will be parading around the NCAA Trophy like its 1994 again. I’ve written it once here & I’ll do it again, Notre Dame is next year’s NCAA Champion. Ohio State had a fantastic season losing to UMD in the regionals. Making the NCAA’s for the 7th time, and 1st since 2009 was a huge step forward for Steve Rollick’s team. I think next year will be another solid year for the Buckeyes. They’ll be losing a lot but also have a big recruiting class coming in. Penn State finally broke the door down to announce their arrival. They lost to eventual Champ Denver in the Regional Final 6-3. Their speed & skill was on evidence all season, they briefly had the #1 ranking in the pairwise, and they showed the hockey world that they are for real. Some departures will hurt like the losses of David Thompson, Ricky DeRosa, & David Goodwin, but they have a strong class coming in to fight for roster spots. Wisconsin is back after a brief trip to the basement. New coach Tony Granato had the Badgers believing again. They only lose 4 players, big ones to be sure, but Granato will be able to get his guys into the mix.