Friday, September 30, 2016

Annual NCHC predictions

As I have done for the past several years, I will try and provide a bit of a preview/prediction of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). To properly get myself in the right mindset for this, let's look back at what I predicted from a year ago:
1. University of Minnesota-Duluth, who actually finished fourth
2. St. Cloud State, who tied for second
3. Tie between Denver and North Dakota, Denver finished tied for second and UND was first
5. Nebraska-Omaha, who actually finished sixth
6. Miami, who actually finished fifth
7. Western Michigan, actually was seventh
8. Colorado College, actually was eighth

As you can see, UMD was by far my worst call. Other than that, I wasn't too far off, but I can certainly do better, and should, this year. Without further fanfare, here is my prediction for this season:
1. University of North Dakota: It is hard not to pick the defending national champs here. Despite the loss of three of their top four leading scorers, and nearly all of their defense, the Fighting Hawks are one of the best at reloading. The real key for UND though is they return spectacular goaltender Cam Johnson and leading scorer Brock Boeser. Johnson will be the big key for the Hawks. If he can be as spectacular as last year (1.66 GAA, .935 save percentage), UND will certainly be near the top of the conference.
2. Denver: Denver should easily be up here after finishing with a loss to the champs in the Frozen Four a year ago. Sure, the Pioneers will be without sensational scorer Danton Heinen, but Denver does return most of the rest of their scoring, defense and goaltending. The big key for the Pioneers will be replacing Heinen's scoring, but I think Denver will find a way.
3. St. Cloud State: This might be my bias showing here, but despite losing an All-American goaltender and like every single one of their top scorers and a couple strong defender, I still believe in the Huskies. The biggest challenge will be replacing Lindgren in net, and the Huskies have three contenders in competition right now. As far as scoring, the Huskies still return six 20+ point scorers (they had 12 last year), so the offense shouldn't be a problem. Plus, the Huskies have talented Poehling brothers (two are twins, one forwent his senior year in high school and is 17) to shake things up.
4. Nebraska-Omaha: UNO is a tough team to predict, but I see good things on their horizon. Sure, the Mavs lost top scorer Jake Guentzel, but they return just about everyone else. I wouldn't be surprised if Austin Ortega and Co. could win close to a dozen conference contests and 20+ games overall. The big key will be finding scoring replacements for Guentzel.
5. Miami: Miami has one of the best freshman classes in the country this year, with 14 incoming freshman. Sure, the Redhawks lost goaltender Jay Williams and their second and fourth-best scorers, but they do return leading scorer Anthony Louis. The big key for Miami will be replacing Williams in net.
6. Minnesota-Duluth: Oh, how the tables have turned in Duluth. The Bulldogs will be without goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who left early for the pros, and lose their top two scorers from a year ago. UMD does have nine talented incoming freshman and the three, four and five scorers from last year, but I have a feeling that net will be tough to replace. He was the biggest reason that the Bulldogs were relevant a year ago.
7. Western Michigan: The Broncos will remain entrenched in seventh place. The return Griffen Molino and Sheldon Dries, but lose Nolan LaPorte and good goaltender Lukas Hafner. Keep an eye on Frederick Tuffels.
8. Colorado College: Perennial cellar dwellers, CC does return a number of players from a year ago, losing only top scorer Hunter Fejes, but that won't be enough to get the Tigers out of the basement.

There we have it. Denver and UND should be in a showdown come Frozen Faceoff time, and I expect that at least four teams from the conference will make the NCAA's, if not five.

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