There are only a few days before Michigan Tech hits the ice in an exhibition game against Northern Michigan at the John MacInnes Student Arena in Houghton. Last week, I reviewed the Minnesota teams in the new CCHA for the coming season. This week, the Old Dog is going to conclude his evaluation by assessing the rosters of the other Michigan teams, as well as Bowling Green in Ohio.

Northern Michigan

While Tech fans love to hate the Wildcats, and the Huskies have dominated the series between these two teams for several years, NMU will be a very strong team this coming season. Coach Grant Potulny has added a number of transfers and has many of his best players coming back from last season. This is cause for our viewers to take note, as Northern started to surge after the holidays in the weird COVID season.

Let’s start with the transfers. Trevor Cosgrove joins the NMU defense from Colgate, with 131 games and 42 points to his credit. David Keefer, a forward, has transferred from Michigan State, and Hank Crone (forward) and Bo Hansen (defense) are second level players who didn’t see a lot of ice time in Denver. More importantly, Hampus Eriksson, one of Lake Superior State’s better forwards last year, has shuffled from the Soo to Marquette.

On offense, Potulny will have Andre Ghantous back (10 goals and 18 assists, plus Vincent DeMey and preseason CCHA first team star Joseph Nardi (33 points last season). At the back end, there are experienced and solid players returning as well, including Michael Van Unen, Ben Newhouse and Colby Ens.

The one player Tech fans love to hate, the cheap-shot-dive-artist “little man” Griffin Loughran has transferred to Michigan State—so he won’t be around to spend untold minutes in the penalty box for his acts, at least not in the CCHA.  

The biggest question mark is goaltending. Nolan Kent is back, but he was not a strength for the ‘Cats last season, but Rico DiMatteo, who came from juniors in January and was a big part of NMU’s second half improvement, is back. Will DiMatteo continue with his great work, or will he struggle as a sophomore, as many second year players do? The answer to that question may make or break NMU this year.

Lake Superior State

The Lakers got bonked with the new transfer rules and graduation—they lost the core of their team from last season, a team that was a serious contender in the final year of the WCHA. They will have 9 freshmen on the roster, and all three goaltenders have a total of 4 NCAA starts and 10 game appearances among them.

The two primary forwards back from last season are Louis Boudon (from Grenoble, France—8 goals and 11 assists last season), and Miroslav Mucha (from Slovakia—14 points). Coach Damon Whitten will have to get a lot out of his new players, including some of those freshmen, to get additional offensive firepower.

LSSU did manage to land former Ferris State defender Jake Willets and Jack Jeffers, a forward from Alabama-Huntsville. In addition, Logan Jenuwine, another blue liner and transfer from Arizona State, will be a Laker this year; he was  Michigan Mr. Hockey in 2016. They also have Mitchell Oliver, Arvid Henrikson and Jacob Bengtsson, all starters last year, back on defense.

Nevertheless, it’s going to be a challenging year for Whitten and the Lakers. Unless a lot of younger or less experienced older players develop quickly, it could be a tough year in the Eastern UP.

Ferris State

Without question, the Bulldogs struggled last year. They were competitive in most games, but came up on the short end every night. As the dean of CCHA coaches, Bob Daniels always seems to know how to get the most out of what he has, but he will—again—have to do a lot because the roster isn’t very strong.  Daniels will have 10 freshmen and 10 sophomores on his squad—and almost all of these guys come from the somewhat-weaker NAHL instead of the USHL junior circuit.

One of the problems last season was goaltending. Roni Salmenkangas, the nominal starter, struggled and Logan Stein, who joined the ‘Dogs after playing for Team USA in the World Juniors, didn’t fare much better. Can one of these guys step up? Stein looks like he might have the chops, but he won’t have the strongest defenders in front of him.

On defense, FSU will return sophomore Blake Evennou who started last season and not much else in terms of experience. Up front, they do have a bit more. Leading scorer Coale Norris transferred to Bowling Green, but Dallas Tulik (7 points in 26 games), Jake Transit (11 points in 35 games) remain in Big Rapids. Justin Michaelian (7G, 3A in 33 games), Marshall Moise (10G, 6A last season) and Liam MacDougall (13 pts last season) are all returning also.

It won’t be easy for Ferris this season. There’s no way to sugar coat that.

Bowling Green

BGSU was also bitten by the transfer and graduation bugs and will be in a rebuilding year. Eight Falcons transferred to other DI programs, and the rest of the best players graduated. Only Sam Craggs, a top-notch defender who plays with an edge that sometimes goes over the line, is back from Coach Ty Eigner’s core from last season. Eigner will also have a young team like Whitten and Daniels—the Falcons have 8 incoming freshmen on their roster.

In goal, junior Zach Rose (7-2 in 10 games with a 0.908 save percentage) is back,  but his backups are freshmen. Up front, BGSU will bring back senior Alex Barber (9G, 14A last season), Evan Dougherty ( 8G, 3A) and senior Taylor Schneider (10G, 9A). They also added Minnesota transfer Nathan Burke (28 points in 84 games) and the aforementioned Coale Norris from FSU (31 G and 32A in 122 games).

Besides Craggs, the Falcons’ defense will include last-season regulars Garret Dale and T.J. Lloyd. They also added Gabriel Chicoine, a senior transfer from DIII Norwich, where he was coached by former Husky star Cam Ellsworth.

Semi-Worthless Predictions

Of course, no sports columnist is worth their salt if they don’t make a few wild (and likely to be wrong) predictions about an upcoming season. Well, the Old Dog isn’t going to shy away from that, and here are my thoughts about what the inaugural season of the reborn CCHA might bring.

Minnesota State has to be considered the favorite. They have the most talent, they are deep at every position, and they have the best goaltender in the league. The Mavs are also used to winning and know how to play both defensively and offensively. Until proven otherwise, they are the team to beat.

One tier down are Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Bemidji State. The Wildcats and the Beavers have more potential stars, but they lack depth beyond their second lines and their goaltending is far from settled. Tech is deep at every position, but they’ve had an annoying inability to score goals even when outshooting their opponents by a wide margin.

At the next level are Lake Superior State and Bowling Green. Both were hurt by graduation and transfer losses, and both have inexperienced goaltending. They could—and probably will—win some games they aren’t favored in, but overall, through an entire season, the lack of experience, particularly in goal and on defense, will be hard to overcome.

Ferris State and newcomer St. Thomas are clearly at the bottom of the heap. The Old Dog thinks that FSU has a bit more NCAA-level talent than St. Thomas does, and it’s always safe to say that FSU’s coaching staff will figure out a way to get the most out of what they have.

For Husky Fans

So, for Husky fans, the questions that should be on your mind are these.

  • Can the Huskies match up with Minnesota State?
  • Can Them Dogs separate themselves from Northern and Bemidji?
  • Can Tech avoid letdowns against teams with less talent and dominate those games?

So far, it’s all “on paper” and the games are played on the ice. It’s almost time to start.

The Old Dog is ready. Are you?