Who's new, who's returning: A team-by-team glance at the CCHA
The expectations for Minnesota State, the defending conference champions and Frozen Four entrant, remain high as Northern Michigan and the rest of the CCHA will give chase.
The CCHA had two teams in 2021-22 that were exact opposites in conference play with Minnesota State losing just three conference games while NCAA Division I newcomer St. Thomas won just three contests.
While the conference coaches picked the Mavericks to win the league title again this season, there certainly was chatter during the league's recent media day that it might not be as easy for Minnesota State to repeat.
“There's so many teams that have very good rosters this year, that go top to bottom, there's no holes in our league right now,” said Northern Michigan head coach Grant Potulny, whose team received two first-place votes to Minnesota State's six.
“I think there's a couple of teams that you can pick for the top of the league, and I do think there’s a good chance there will be some really good separation with a couple teams as well," Michigan Tech head coach Joe Shawhan said. "And then there will be a really tight logjam I think for third, fourth, fifth, sixth place in the league. And it should be a highly competitive league.”
A breakdown of each team:
- Head coach: Ty Eigner (4th season at BG)
- Last season’s record and finish: 15-19-3 overall, 11-14-1 CCHA
- Last season’s CCHA finish: 6th
- CCHA projected finish: 3rd
- Notable changes: The Falcons lost forward Sam Cragg’s stability (a record 181 games played at BG), 13-point producer T.J. Lloyd, who transferred to Alaska and Garrett Daly, who played 34 games last season and transferred to St. Thomas. Eigner says the team had nearly 270 games logged by freshmen last season. “We may go from having the youngest team in games played by freshmen to maybe the oldest team this year,” he said.
- Outlook: The CCHA institution with the highest enrollment was the last unbeaten team in college hockey last season, starting 3-0-2. This season, they begin with Northern Michigan, Michigan State and Western Michigan. “So right out of the gate, we play two teams that are picked to finish very high in our league and so that'll be a real tough test for us early, “ Eigner said, noting his team must sustain any early momentum ... The team returns their top four scorers in Taylor Schneider, Austen Swankler, Alex Barber and Nathan Burke … In goal, the Falcons have a seasoned sophomore in Christian Stoever, who played in 30 games last season with 2.88 GAA and senior Zach Rose, who was shut down last season with a labrum injury but is back at full strength. … Liam Conway joins as director of operations, but his goaltending experience should benefit the team. “It’s nice to have someone on staff that can speak the language,” Eigner said.
- New faces: Freshman defenseman Dalton Norris will wear No. 14, the same number as his older brother, Coale, who finished his playing career at Bowling Green last season. Dalton Norris played three seasons with the Lincoln Stars in the USHL and was third on the team in points last season. The team added three transfers in forward Chase Gresock (Merrimack, Miami) and defensemen Hunter Lellig (Minnesota Duluth) and Zach Vinnell (Merrimack).
- Head coach: Tom Serratore (22nd season at BSU)
- Last season’s record and finish: 19-20-0 overall, 14-12-0 CCHA
- Last season’s CCHA finish: 3rd
- This season’s projected CCHA finish: 4th
- Notable changes: Lost 10 players from last season's team, including five of the top seven scorers. “So this is one of those years that I think we have every four years where we have a lot of new faces,” Serratore said. “Players are going to be inserted in different roles. And actually it's really exciting for the coaching staff and for the fans. It's just a really new bunch of guys.”
- Outlook: The Beavers should have a strong blue line with senior defensemen Elias Rosén, Will Zmolek and Kyle Looft. Rosén produced a position-high 26 points last season. “A lot of offense does start from the back line and he's one of those guys who can help generate offense,“ Serratore said. … Fifth-year center Ross Armour scored a career-high 16 points last season and had the Beavers' lone hat trick. “He's done an outstanding job, he's developed over the course of four years,” Serratore said. … Sophomore goaltender Mattias Sholl earned CCHA All-Rookie Team honors last season, making 25 starts with a 13-13-0 record and a 2.75 GAA. “We threw him into the fire and he responded very well,” Serratore said.
- New faces: Freshman forward Kirklan Irey of Bismarck, who scored 21 goals in 105 games for Sioux City in the USHL. “He's just a very, very honest player. I really like him so far. And in the early going, he plays hard. He's got a good, well-balanced skill set,” Serratore said.
- Head coach: Bob Daniels (31st season at FS)
- Last season’s record and finish: 11-24-1 overall, 9-16-1 CCHA
- Last season’s CCHA finish: 7th
- CCHA projected finish: 7th
- Notable changes: Justin Michaelian led the team with 23 points as a senior and then transferred to play at Maine. Senior Dallas Tuik and sophomore Bradley Marek, the conference's Rookie of the Year, return after a 19-point seasons in 2021-22.
- Outlook: “I know we were slotted for seventh,” Daniels said about the preseason poll projection. “I don't feel like there's any way that's where we're going to finish. I think we're going to be pressing upwards within the standings.” … Giving him optimism is his goaltending unit, led by junior Logan Stein (.923 save percentage or better in four of his last five starts) and Noah Giesbrecht, a sophomore, who joined the team after the holiday break and put up solid numbers, including a 53-save effort in a double OT loss to Michigan Tech in the CCHA playoffs. “These two goaltenders both have a chance to be special and play well beyond collegiate hockey,” Daniels said. … Daniels does have concerns about his forward lines. “I think our area that is the biggest unknown is up front. We return a lot of players, we’ve added very good players to the mix, but yet you hope it emerges.” … Team has yet to name its captains and Daniels said that decision may come until partway through the season.
- New faces: Connor McGrath, the top forward and Rookie of the Year in the Canadian Junior Hockey League last season, comes in a year earlier than expected, as ”his development has proven that he was ready as well,” Daniels said. McGrath is part of seven freshmen joining the team … Transfer defenseman Matt Slick will add some size to the blue line after scoring 28 career points for Holy Cross.
LAKE SUPERIOR STATE
- Head coach: Damon Whitten (ninth season at LSS)
- Last season’s record and finish: 18-18-1 overall, 13-13-0 CCHA
- Last season’s CCHA finish: 4th
- CCHA projected finish: 6th
- Notable changes: No injuries. Injuries not only affected the on-ice play but practices as well. Whitten said the Lakers only had one practice with his full team last season. “We played a lot of freshmen in important roles because of those injuries because of lack of health. And a lot of those guys had really strong freshman years, and I think they're ready to take that next step with them as well,” Daniels said. … Notably, senior forward Jack Jeffers returns after playing just three games last season. He had a nine-point season as a junior two years ago. Forward Miroslav Mucha, the team’s second-leading scorer, has transferred to Michigan State.
- Outlook: Eight seniors and 10 juniors return. Two years ago the Lakers advanced to the NCAA tournament. “That championship experience is always really critical in your locker room and so for our guys to go through that was really important,” Whitten said. … Forward Louis Boudon (seventh nationally at 1.22 points per game) and defenseman Jacob Bengtsson (fourth among conference defensemen in scoring) were named to the preseason all-CCHA team.
- New faces: Former Minnesota Wild goaltender Dwayne Roloson has been named the team's goaltending coach and director of player development.
- Head coach: Joe Shawhan (sixth season at MT)
- Last season’s record and finish: 21-13-2 overall, 16-8-2 CCHA, NCAA tournament berth
- Last season’s CCHA finish: 2nd
- CCHA projected finish: 5th
- Notable changes: Without forwards Brian Halonen, Tommy Parrottino and defenseman Colin Swoyer, three of its top-five scorers last season, it’ll be a younger team. “We don't return what other teams seem to be excited about returning,” Shawhan said. “We were very much top heavy in performance.”
- Outlook: Defensively, the Huskies are in decent shape, especially in goal. The team returns junior Brett Thorne and senior Chris Lipe on the blue line. Lipe produced five goals and 17 assists last season. In net, senior goaltender Blake Pietila was named a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award (top college goalie), posting a school-record seven shutouts and tying the career record with 10. His 1.91 GAA was actually slightly higher than the 1.81 he posted as a sophomore. “I think Blake Pietila has proven himself at this level to be an elite Division I college goaltender,” Shawhan said. … The team also brought in freshman Max Vayrynen, a Finnish goaltender. “We just went after him, we've been trying to get a Finn for a few years,” Shawhan said. “We have a tremendously high Finnish population here.”
- New faces: Brothers Kyle and Trevor Kukkonen joined the team after their junior careers and are among 10 freshmen on the team. Forward Kyle Kukkonen is a 2021 NHL Draft pick (162nd overall) by the Anaheim Ducks. “I think he's the real deal. Extremely good player. Any questions, any thoughts that I had that would inhibit his immediate progress or I thought that he might need time to acclimate, I don't see that.”
- Head coach: Mike Hastings (11th season at MSU)
- Last season’s record and finish: 38-6-0 overall, 23-3-0 CCHA, NCAA runner-up
- Last season’s CCHA finish: 1st
- CCHA projected finish: 1st
- Notable changes: Gone are stalwarts in goaltender Dryden McKay (Hobey Baker Award winner), Nathan Smith, Julian Napravnik, Reggie Lutz, Jack McNeely and Wyatt Aamodt. Seven out, seven new players in for the team that has advanced to the last two Frozen Fours.
- Outlook: Picked by conference coaches to repeat as CCHA champs, the Mavericks still have plenty left. Senior forward Brendan Furry was selected as the conference’s preseason Player of the Year, posting 44 points in as many games last season. “He’s going to have to shoulder a lot of responsibility for our club this year, but I do think he's prepared for it,” Hastings said. … Junior defenseman Jake Livingstone, last season's CCHA Defenseman of the Year, has scored 45 points in 72 career games. … Defenseman Andy Carroll returns for his fifth year after scoring 39 career points. “We're going to continue to lean on that group to give our goaltenders an opportunity to find themselves,” Hastings said of his core blueliners.
- New faces: Certainly in goal, where sophomore Keenan Rancier saw action in just two games last season, losing a 1-0 decision while facing just nine shots in a start against Lake Superior State. Andrew Miller was on the roster, but did not play a game last season. Freshman Alex Tracy is coming off a playoff MVP honor after last season’s USHL Clark Cup playoffs.
- Head coach: Grant Potulny (sixth season at NMU)
- Last season’s record and finish: 20-16-1 overall, 12-13-1 CCHA
- Last season’s CCHA finish: 5th
- CCHA projected finish: 2nd (two first-place votes)
- Notable changes: Gone is Hank Cronke, who lead the team in 44 points last season … Northern Michigan added four transfer players in defenseman Simon Kjellerg (posted 27 points last season at RPI) and Aiden Gallacher from Michigan State and forwards Artem Shlaine (17 points at UConn) and Kristof Papp (12 points at Michigan State).
- Outlook: Senior forward AJ Vanderbeck was named to the preseason All-CCHA Team following a league-high 24 goals last season. … “Artem Schlaine and Kristof Papp are centers that come in and fill a void for us,” Potulny said. The 20-year-old Shaine, a 2020 fifth-round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, “is young enough right now that he could actually play in the USHL, but he’s had two years of college hockey experience. He's got high motor, very good skill set. can make a lot of plays on the rink,” Potulny said. In net, sophomore Charlie Glockner was Potulny’s “clear-cut, No. 1” late last season, playing 18 games and posting a 7-5-0 record with a 3.13 GAA. Junior Rico DiMatteo, who played in 22 games last season (13-8-1, 3.48) is also in the mix as well as freshman Beni Halasz. “So if things go one way and Beni gets in there, I fully expect him to fight for that job also,” Potulny said.
- New faces: Joey Larson, named the CCHA’s preseason Rookie of the Year, joins the Wildcats after an impressive USHL season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, scoring 32 goals and collecting 66 points. Larson is well-seasoned, playing 52 games in the BCHL, 34 in the NAHL and 71 in the USHL after winning Michigan’s “Mr. Hockey Award” as a high school senior in 2019. “Joey's progressed, you know, I think he’s done everything and made every step at the opportune time. He hasn't skipped a step,” Potulny said.
- Head coach: Rico Blasi (second season at UST)
- Last season’s record and finish: 3-32-1 overall, 3-22-1 CCHA
- Last season’s CCHA finish: 8th
- CCHA projected finish: 8th
- Notable changes: Gone are the rookie nerves as St. Thomas begins its second season as a Division I and CCHA team … With transfer goaltenders Peter Thome and Jacob Berger gone, the Tommies will have a new look in net.
- Outlook: Tommies have 11 returning players and 17 new players … Among the 61 goals scored last season (167 against), returning players scored 32. Fifth-year senior Matthew Jennings, who transferred from Ohio State a year ago, remains a captain, but Blasi said “our team understands that this is a group effort. It's a really close group “ … Jennings and senior forward Luke Manning produced team-leading 15 points last season… Senior goaltender Henry Baribeau saw action in two games last season, posting one save. He’ll compete with freshmen Aaron Trotter and Ethan Roberts. … Blasi continually stresses “the process” as the former D-III school competes in its second D-I season. “I don't know that another university in the country has done more in terms of helping our student-athletes and in the transition to Division I.”
- New faces: Five transfers include Garrett Daly (goal, six assists for Bowling Green last season), forward Mack Byers (five goals, assist for Northern Michigan last season), defenseman Jarrett Lee (one assist in last two seasons for Minnesota Duluth), defenseman Luke Perunovich (one assist in three seasons at Providence) and defenseman Grant Docter (one assist in six games for Michigan Tech last season). “Right now with the new faces that we have, I think we've improved in every position. I think we're a little bit bigger, a little bit faster. We've got we've added some skill,” Blasi said.