CCHA Preview: 2003-04

Broncos Illustrated takes a look at the Broncos and their CCHA opponents for the upcoming hockey season. In one of the top leagues in college hockey the competition will be fierce.

Most of the off-season talk this summer centered on the NHL entry draft. Jeff Tambellini of Michigan and Ohio State's Ryan Kessler were the CCHA's first round picks made by the LA Kings and Vancouver Canuck's respectively. Michigan's Danny Richmond, who was rumored as a first round pick, was picked up by Nashville with the first pick of round number two. Total more then a dozen current and future CCHA players were drafted.

Some players left the CCHA early this summer. Most notably were Danny Richmond and Ryan Kesler. Also lost were Juha Alan, Yan Stastny, and Dan Ellis. As of now RJ Umberger has not accepted an offer from Vancouver to leave Ohio State, but nothing is certain in his situation.

Every summer the NCAA hockey coaches meet in Naples, FL for their annual coaches meetings. The only newsworthy talk from those meetings was a gentleman's agreement by the Division 1 coaches to honor the verbal commitments players make to schools in recruiting, and a recommendation to change the 15-second face-off rule to be 18 seconds.

The coaches voted unanimously to back-up the integrity of the verbal agreement, and to agree that when a player verbally commits to a school they are "hands-off" to other schools. "There have been a number of cases over the years, but there was a few more this year and schools lost players," LSSU head coach Frank Anzalone told USCHO.com. "College hockey has to have integrity."

In respect to the 15-second face-off rule; the rules committee voted in favor of the coach's recommendation to increase the time to 18 seconds.

A more recent rule change states that if a team enters a face-off in their defensive zone with too few players on the ice a player added after the face-off can not touch the puck until he has "touched up" in the defensive zone or another player already on the ice touches the puck in the neutral zone. This is to prevent teams from scripting a play to hold back one player and send him on the ice after the face-off for an easy breakaway.

Also this summer the NCAA awarded sites for upcoming tournaments. Detroit and the CCHA, who put in bids for the 2007 and 2008 "frozen fours," lost their bids to Denver and St. Louis. However, Western Michigan who is hosting this season's Midwest regional at Van Andel Arena was also awarded the regional for 2005 and 2007.

News from the CCHA media day included no big surprises except for one. For the past several years, home teams have worn their white jerseys. Starting this season the CCHA will have home teams in their dark jerseys, something that has not been done in college hockey on a regular basis since before the CCHA was founded.

Now for a look at the teams in the CCHA in Broncos Illustrated's predicted order of finish:

1 - Michigan:

Head Coach: Red Berenson
2002-03 Record: 30-10-3 (18-7-3 CCHA)

Impact Players: They lost Danny Richmond, by far their best defenseman, to major juniors. Jeff Tambellini is their top scorer from a year ago and should only improve. Al Montoya will return as one of the top goalies in the CCHA and the nation. Dwight Helminen and David Moss will also be asked to score a lot for the Wolverines.

Biggest Questions: The defense will be somewhat young and they did loss the services of Danny Richmond. This is only a minor question for the team and the good news for Berenson is it is the only real question coming into this season.

Recruiting: TJ Hensick and Matt Hunwick, both from the National Team Development Program, will make immediate impacts for this club. This is a very strong freshman class, perhaps the best in the CCHA.

Outlook: They are the odds on favorite to win the CCHA and along with Minnesota and Boston College is one of the favorites for the 2004 NCAA title.

2 - Michigan State:

Head Coach: Rick Comley
2002-03 Record: 23-14-2 (17-10-1 CCHA)

Impact Players: Jim Slater and David Booth will return as the team's top scorers and Corey Potter is the top returning defenseman. Matt Migliaccio is returning in goal, but freshman Dominic Vicari may challenge for that spot.

Biggest Questions: The defense is very young for the Spartans this season with 4 incoming freshman and losing Duncan Keith to major junior midway through last season.

Recruiting: The aforementioned Vicari is a top-level goaltender and coming in on defense is AJ Thelen who is possibly the best incoming defenseman in the CCHA.

Outlook: They should be able to build on how they finished last season and be among the CCHA elite all season long. A return to the NCAA tournament is likely for this high scoring team.

3 - Ferris State:

Head Coach: Bob Daniels
2002-03 Record: 31-10-1 (22-5-1 CCHA)

Impact Players: Jeff Legue and Derek Nesbitt are the top-returning scorers after the graduation of Chris Kunitz. Mike Brown returns in goal and will contend to be an all-American once again.

Biggest Questions: Can they do it again? They won the regular season title last season, and everyone wants to know if they can repeat. Time will only tell, but they will need to score the way they did last season to do it.

Recruiting: This is possibly the best recruiting season for the Bulldogs in a long time. Mark Bomersback will add immediate scoring and Gio Flamminio should help shore up the defense.

Outlook: It is doubtful they will be as good as last season, but they will still be a good team. They should finish in the top half of the CCHA and possibly contend for a second trip to the NCAA tournament.

4 - Ohio State:

Head Coach: John Markell
2002-03 Record: 25-13-5 (16-8-4 CCHA)

Impact Players: RJ Umberger was one of the top scorers in the CCHA last season and assuming he doesn't go pro at the last minute will once again be among the leaders in scoring. Mike Betz is an outstanding goaltender for the Buckeyes, and Scott May and Paul Caponigri will add to the scoring punch at OSU.

Biggest Questions: Will Umberger stay at OSU? How will they replace Ryan Kesler? Can they find someone to count on consistently for the clutch goals?

Recruiting: Matt Waddell, Sean Collins, and Tyson Strachan are all big gritty defenseman, which is exactly what the Buckeyes need right now.

Outlook: With Kesler gone and the defense younger they won't be quite as good as least season, but will still be a solid CCHA team.

5 - Western Michigan:

Head Coach: Jim Culhane
2002-03 Record: 15-21-2 (13-14-1 CCHA)

Impact Players: Dana Lattery and Vince Bellissimo were the team's top scorers a year ago and will be expected to lead the way in scoring once again. Others expected to play significant roles are Mike Jarmuth, Pat Dwyer, Jeff Campbell, and Brent Walton.

Biggest Questions: Goaltending is an issue. Foster and Mantua will need to step up to the next level for this team to be successful.

Recruiting: Paul Szczechura put up great numbers in juniors, but was not in a top league. Ryan Mahrle was in the same league as Szczechura and is a top defensive prospect. Jason Moul, a walk-on, could be a surprise with his great work ethic.

Outlook: The Broncos are extremely deep at forward, but the defense is young and the goaltending is no better then ok. They should improve on last season, but that will depend on improved goaltending and their ability to stay out of the penalty box.

6 - Notre Dame:

Head Coach: Dave Poulin
2002-03 Record: 17-17-6 (13-12-3 CCHA)

Impact Players: Rob Globki is the first name that comes to mind in this category. Aaron Gill and John Wroblewski will also be among the impact players for the Irish. In goal Morgan Cey should continue to be solid.

Biggest Questions: Will they be able to replace Conner Dunlop and Even Nielson's leadership? With all their talent will they finally play to their potential?

Recruiting: This team gave a lesson in recruiting for future needs. David Brown should be the Cey's back-up goalie for 2 seasons before taking over those duties. Wes O'Neill and Noah Babin will be solid defensemen, and Josh Sciba and Mike Bartlett should be good replacements for Globki and Gill.

Outlook: They have a ton of talent, and always have. They have been a middle of the pack team and until they play to their potential they always will be.

7 - Northern Michigan:

Head Coach: Walt Kyle
2002-03 Record: 22-7-2 (14-13-1 CCHA)

Impact Players: Craig Kowalski will return for his senior season in net and as team captain. Dirk Southern and Jamie Milam are the top-returning scorers and are both sophomores.

Biggest Questions: Where will their scoring come from? They lost almost all of their scoring power to graduation and need young players to step up and fill a lot of key roles.

Recruiting: Darrin Olver is the Wildcats' top prospect, but has been suffering exercise induced headaches that are still being diagnosed and treated. Bobby Seldon and Zach Tarkir are solid defensemen, and Dustin Collins should help add some of that needed scoring punch.

Outlook: They still have a solid defense including a great goaltender in Kowalski. If they can find guys to score points they should not be too much worse then last season.

8 - Bowling Green:

Head Coach: Scott Paluch
2002-03 Record: 8-25-3 (5-20-3 CCHA)

Impact Players: Jordan Sigalet has been a life saver in net for BGSU and he has a couple more seasons to continue it. D'Arcy McConvey and Mark Wires will return to lead the scoring threat and defenseman Kevin Bieska will lead the experienced blue liners.

Biggest Questions: Can they build their program up and win more games then the past couple years?

Recruiting: They picked up the best Canadian defensive prospect in Jonathan Sigalet, younger brother of current Falcon Jordan Sigalet. James Unger adds some much needed size and grit, while Rich Meloche should add immediate scoring.

Outlook: They lost only one significant contributor and their best players are seniors this season. They should win more games and score more goals then last season and pull themselves into the middle of the CCHA pack.

9 - Miami-Ohio:

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi
2002-03 Record: 21-17-3 (13-12-3 CCHA)

Impact Players: Greg Hogeboom led the NCAA in power play goals last season, and Mike Kompon led the RedHawks in scoring. Bed Tharp is the top returning defenseman and Andy Greene is the top returning scoring defenseman.

Biggest Questions: Goaltending is a concern with two freshmen coming in to battle for the starting job.

Recruiting: Brandon Crawford-West and Steve Hartley will battle for the starting goaltender job. Marty Guerin will be able to step right into the line-up and contribute.

Outlook: The RedHawks return all of their key players form a year ago except the biggest key position, goaltender. The last time Miami had a freshman goaltender they finished second in the CCHA but they will need quite an effort to repeat that feat.

10 - Alaska-Fairbanks:

Head Coach: Guy Gadowsky
2002-03 Record: 15-14-7 (10-11-7 CCHA)

Impact Players: The feel good story of the year is Aaron Voros' returning after a battle with a bone tumor. Voros will be a team leader this season. Top returning scorers Jared Sylvestre and Ryan Campbell will join Voros.

Biggest Questions: Can they put up more goals then last season, and can they surprise anyone to beat a team with a better record then theirs? Also can they stick with one goaltender?

Recruiting: The Nanooks recruited all older players, all of which may need a year or two to adjust to the NCAA level of play. Ryan Comeau is a good goalie prospect, TJ Pettersson is a solid defenseman, and Curtis Fraser will add scoring punch in the years to come.

Outlook: Goaltending is an issue for the Nanooks, but walk-on Keith Bartusch did step up once he got his chance in the line-up last season. This team will also need to score more then they did last season to survive.

11 - Nebraska-Omaha:

Head Coach: Mike Kemp
2002-03 Record: 13-22-5 (9-17-2 CCHA)

Impact Players: Andrew Wong and Scotty Turner will lead the way in scoring for UNO, while the Mavericks look for some help on defense and in goal.

Questions: Can either Chris Holt or Brian Haaland replace Dan Ellis in goal? Can the leadership of David Brisson and Greg Zanon be replaced? Who will score besides Wong and Turner? Will injuries be a problem for UNO this season?

Recruiting: Chris Holt was brought in a year early to fill the spot vacated by Dan Ellis. Mick Lawrence and Alex Nikiforuk are natural goal scorers, and Phil Angell and Bobby Henderson should be solid defensemen who see plenty of ice time as freshmen.

Outlook: They lost a lot with the departure of their best players at each position. Wong and Turner will need to lead both on and off the ice for this team to do better than expected.

12 - Lake Superior State:

Head Coach: Frank Anzalone
2002-03 Record: 6-28-4 (3-24-1 CCHA)

Impact Players: Junior goaltender Matt Violin has been by far the brightest spot on a struggling team. Jon Booras, Bo Cheesman, and Mike Adamek are the top returning goal scorers who will need to push themselves to create more chances offensively this season. On defense Ren Fauci and Ryan Reid are the top returning players.

Biggest Questions: Can this team score with any consistency? Can the defense give Violin the support he needs to keep opponent scores lower than last season? Can they win enough to break out of the CCHA basement?

Recruiting: Barnabas Birkeland is the best defensive prospect in this freshman class. Trent Campbell and Derek Smith should add some much needed offense in many key situations.

Outlook: They have the talent to break out of last place, but the question is whether they can do it this season. The safe bet is that the Lakers will not put together many more wins for at least another year or two.

Pre-Season Polls:

Coaches

1. Michigan (10) 120
2. Ferris State (1) 104
3. Michigan State (1) 101
4. Ohio State 96
5. Northern Michigan 71
6. Miami 64
7. Notre Dame 62
8. Alaska Fairbanks 53
9. Western Michigan 52
10. Bowling Green State 35
11. Nebraska-Omaha 23
12. Lake Superior State 11

Media

1. Michigan (70) 963
2. Michigan State (7) 837
3. Ferris State (2) 762
4. Ohio State (3) 759
5. Northern Michigan 611
6. Miami 517
7. Notre Dame 483
8. Western Michigan 418
9. Alaska Fairbanks 391
10. Nebraska-Omaha 306
11. Bowling Green State 233
12. Lake Superior State 116

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