I know you all have been waiting for hockey season to get started and it’s finally here. Some people may get amped for the upcoming season when the National Hockey League training camp starts. Some others tune in when preseason exhibition games get underway, and some may wait till the official opening night of the regular season schedule. I, however, know that hockey season is right around the corner when class is in session. That’s right. College hockey is coming soon and I couldn’t be more excited for it.
You have the student sections chanting at the opposing goalie, the band playing the fight song after each goal, and not to mention the rivalries. Denver vs. Colorado College. Michigan vs. Michigan State. Boston College vs. Boston University. Minnesota vs… Wisconsin? Minnesota-Duluth? North Dakota? Since the move to the Big Ten conference it has been tough to establish who the current biggest rival is these days for Minnesota. Minnesota will have a new bench boss this year with Bob Motzko leading the Maroon and Gold after leaving Saint Cloud State. Minnesota-Duluth coming off a national championship will look to defend their title. Mankato and Bemidji State also looking to improve from last season. With all of this in mind let’s rank the five division one men’s hockey programs from the state of Minnesota going into this season.
1.) Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
With Scott Sandelin coming back for his 19th season behind the bench, the Bulldogs have a big target on their backs. Coming off a National Championship in one of the best defensively played NCAA tournaments I’ve watched, UMD will need to continue that defensive dominance in the tough NCHC. Minnesota Duluth will return a good chunk of last year’s roster while also adding eight freshmen to the squad. If you remember, the Bulldogs actually stole the last at-large bid into the NCAA Ttournament last year right in front of the Gophers. They used that momentum to carry them all the way to a national title. I predict that they will have a great regular season and have some more breathing room going into the NCAA tournament this year. Look for the ‘Dogs to make another deep run in the playoffs this season.
2.) St. Cloud State Huskies
The Huskies had a very disappointing end to their terrific season last year. SCSU ended up earning the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and a match-up with Air Force. Unfortunately for them, the #1 seed didn’t help much as they fell to Air Force in the first round of the tournament. To add insult to injury, their head coach departed for the Twin Cities to take the head coaching job for the Minnesota Gophers. St. Cloud State added six freshman this year as they try to remain among the top teams in the nation. Brett Larson will be in his first season as the head coach for the Huskies. As a first year head coach, I think he will keep St. Cloud near the top of the NCHC and take them back to the NCAA tournament.
3.) Minnesota State Mavericks
The Mavericks had a pretty solid season last year winning 29 games and getting into the NCAA tournament. They had a disappointing playoffs which included being eliminated in the WCHA playoffs as well as a first round exit in the NCAA Tournament after losing to the eventual champions from Minnesota Duluth. The Mavericks are also a team that added eight freshmen this season to their roster. I expect them to once again finish among the top of the WCHA and find themselves back in the NCAA Tournament.
4.) Minnesota Gophers
Uh oh. The Gophers all the way down at #4?! These rankings are strictly based on how each team finished last year and how they look going into the season. The Gophers had a disappointing end to last season falling short of the NCAA Tournament by a very small margin. Like I mentioned above, the Gophers hired a new head coach for the first time in two decades. Bob Motzko seems like the guy that can get this program back to being perennial national title contenders. The Gophers also added eight freshmen. This roster looks to have a pretty good mix of upper and underclassmen. I expect Motzko to get this team back into the NCAA Tournament this season. After a season or two of recruiting I think Minnesota will be back in the Frozen Four. Here’s an idea Gopher fans: go watch the team play! They will be a much more exciting team to watch this season.
5.) Bemidji State Beavers
Last, but certainly not least. Well actually that’s kind of how rankings work so… last and certainly least? You’ll never guess, but the Beavers also added eight freshmen for this season. They finished a little above .500 last season and hope to improve that record this season in order to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament. The WCHA isn’t as strong as some of the other conferences and I think Bemidji State has a chance to improve this season in their conference play. Unfortunately, I do not see the Beavers making the NCAA Tournament this season.
That’s a wrap on the preseason rankings for the five Minnesota based Division I teams. In the coming weeks I will dig deeper into each team by dissecting the rosters, and make predictions on where I think each team finishes in their respective conferences, and where they should rank among the rest of the nation.