Hi there. Remember me? I sure hope not, considering it has been nearly four years. Presuming the answer is no, let me remind you, dear reader. I was brought in to write the Series Previews here from roughly 2016-2018, back when Mel Pearson was still a friend and when Beef was a person, not just a food.
Now I’m back, albeit in a different role. As part of THG’s efforts to fill some space left vacant by Old Dog Mike Anleitner’s semi-retirement from his column, I have been asked to help give THG readers insight into more national college hockey news. You may ask, “Why Brose? Why not someone else?” The answer is largely because I have a truly national background in this sport. My immediate family alone spans three conferences: my siblings have degrees from Michigan Tech (CCHA) and Colorado College (NCHC), and I went to law school at Michigan (BIG). Beyond that, my extended family has ties to Boston University (Hockey East), Colgate (ECAC), Minnesota Duluth (NCHC), Wisconsin (BIG), and Penn State (BIG), plus I have lived in the Twin Cities and Fairbanks, Alaska. Beyond that, I watch college hockey on a holistic level more than your average THG writer or fan. Since I played my college hockey at Villanova University I lack a specific allegiance to any Division 1 team, instead following a wide array of teams and the sport as a whole.
Astute readers will note that I never attended Michigan Tech. I started reading THG when my older brother started at Tech, and started writing for THG when I answered their public call for writers and the editors took a chance on an outsider. In the years since, I have watched my fair share of Tech games, including attending the 2017 Cincinnati regional. All that to say, my attention to the sport has certainly included Michigan Tech.
So what should you expect in this column? I intend to discuss national news, pairwise analysis, rankings, or things to watch for at the time of publishing. I don’t anticipate planned or scheduled posts, but instead will discuss what makes sense in the moment. My goal is to give you more knowledge of the happenings nationwide, while still making it relevant to the reader. I am aware that those reading this are either 1) a huge fan of Tech hockey or 2) my mother (who also falls into camp 1, honestly), so there will always be a Tech spin where relevant. I am also going to take feedback and apply it to the column so if you have questions or want something discussed, leave a comment or shoot me a tweet @Brose_31 on Twitter.
With that out of the way, here’s a little slice of what I’ve promised. Initially I thought I would provide an early-season top five rankings, but there currently isn’t enough clarity to have an obvious five. Instead, I see two teams as a clear tier above, and then a bigger group that is vying for that 3-5 range.
I have Minnesota and Denver as the two best teams in the country right now, in that order. I don’t really care that the Gophers lost on Saturday in Mankato. I thought they played poorly and still nearly won. Friday night’s win was more indicative of what I think they are: a deep team with experienced, NHL-caliber players, especially Matthew Knies and Brock Faber, and a couple of elite freshman in Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud.
Denver is pretty similar, although they will not rely on high-end freshmen to contribute as much as Minnesota. The Pioneers lost some key pieces from their championship team, but they returned their title-winning goalie, Magnus Chrona, and elite sophomore Carter Mazur, among others. More importantly, Denver is the best-coached team in the sport and play in the brutal NCHC, which by necessity helps bring the rookies and transfers up to speed quickly. They didn’t miss a step in their first weekend, handling Notre Dame and Maine en route to winning the Ice Breaker Tournament. There’s no one else I like more in the NCHC, and that’s enough for me to have them in the top two.
The rest of a top five list is difficult because every team I considered has enough flaws that I can convince myself to leave them out of it. Here’s who I think is in that conversation, in no particular order, with quick hits on each of them.
- Michigan. The Wolverines still have top end talent, some underrated veterans, and a Richter Award contender in Erik Portillo. More importantly, they now get to play without the baggage that hung over them last year. Still, they lost more talent than anyone in the sport, must navigate a new coaching system, and have a roster that will rely heavily on freshman.
- Minnesota Duluth. Ranking the Bulldogs in the top five would perhaps be more out of respect and past results than anything. I like juniors Wyatt Kaiser and Blake Biondi as much as anyone, but their goalie situation is a question mark and they were a bubble team all last season with arguably a better roster. Duluth could finish in the top five nationally, but they could also finish outside the top five in their own conference. I see a wide range of outcomes.
- Minnesota State. I think the Mavericks take a step back this year, considering the number of vital pieces that graduated. The goalie situation is a question mark for the first time in half a decade, and I expect the CCHA to be in a bit of a reload season which might limit MSU’s development in a way that it would not if they played in a conference like the NCHC. Still, they have the clearest path to a conference title of anyone on this list and returned some high-end pieces from last year’s squad.
- North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks continue their recent trend of transferring in an established goalie rather than giving the net to a young recruit. It worked well last year with Zach Driscoll, and if it works again with Drew DeRidder then UND has a path to another NCHC title. UND is betting on blending returning players, transfers, and an intriguing incoming class headlined by Jackson Blake, son of NHLer Jason Blake. Still, the goalie situation is far from certain and they struggled at times last year when Jake Sanderson was out, and now he’s gone pro. North Dakota has a history of easing their way into the national tournament in years they host a regional, as they will this season, only to lose the de facto home game in some odd or spectacular way.
- Northeastern. Someone has to win Hockey East, and the safe money is on the Huskies or Boston University. I like Northeastern, in large part because they have the most talented goalie in the country, Devon Levi. I expect Hockey East to be mostly unimpressive this season. This could leave Northeastern untested, especially considering their Charmin-soft non-conference schedule which includes Long Island, Sacred Heart, Bentley, the Beanpot and Western Michigan (who just lost to Alaska-Anchorage and looked bad in doing so). Still, they may bank enough wins to make a run at a top seed in March.
- Quinnipiac. The Bobcats are my pick to win ECAC, returning most of the key pieces from a team that nearly completed a wild comeback in the regional final in 2022. Their season hinges on a repeat performance from goalie Yaniv Perets, and should make a run at the most wins in the country this year considering how bad the bottom of ECAC is likely to be. I have questions about their ability to avoid bad losses that can quickly diminish their Pairwise standing: they went 32-7-3 last year yet finished 8th in the pairwise and ended up with a rough tournament draw as a result.
Looking ahead, there’s a few non-Tech series this month that are worth watching. North Dakota plays an aggressive slate in October: Quinnipiac, Minnesota, and a game in Vegas against Arizona State. Michigan and Western Michigan play a home-and-home that has a little less fire considering the Wolverines’ coaching change, but should be a good litmus test for a Broncos team that knows it needs to compensate for the UAA loss. Finally, Minnesota State visits St. Cloud State in a series that will have Pairwise implications later on.