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The tribe has spoken. The majority of voters in our poll yesterday voted for our team-by-team season preview to run in the format of conference rankings. Personally, I’m glad this choice won out. I’ve tried to analyze teams nationally, but it’s hard with so few non-conference games played last season. There’s so little data, and so many roster moves through the transfer portal, it’s difficult to rank teams against each other from different conferences. It’s a lot easier to compare teams against one another in the same conference because conference games made up the vast majority of games last season.
As we run these previews, you’ll notice a tiered version of my projected standings at the bottom. I’m going to project an order, but realistically, some of these teams are so close that I’m also going to apply tiers to my projected standings. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see teams in the same tier finish in any particular order.
Let’s start first with the NCHC!
2020-21 Record: 4-17-2 (7th in the NCHC)
2020-21 Finish: Lost to St. Cloud State in the first round of the NCHC Tournament
Major off-season additions: There’s no doubt that the biggest addition was new head coach Kris Mayotte, who replaced Mike Haviland back in April. Mayotte has a wealth of experience under some top head coaches, including Nate Leaman, Greg Carvel, and Mel Pearson. Mayotte reshaped the entire staff at CC and brought in Peter Mannino and CC alum Mark Stuart to serve on the staff.
Mayotte added Omaha’s Noah Prokop and BC’s Danny Weight out of the transfer portal. Prokop is an energy player who was solid in his final USHL season two years ago with Green Bay, where he posted 26 points (and 102 PIM) in 59 games. He should serve as a spark and a tone-setter and add some grit to an otherwise young CC roster. He was also a big-minute player for Omaha on the penalty kill, and Omaha’s PK was one of the best in the nation last season.
Weight never gained traction at BC last season (1 goal, 1 assist in 19 games) but he has a history of being able to score points at the junior level. He has the bloodlines as well.
By size alone, one of the most noticeable freshmen will be 6-foot-6 forward Brett Chorske. Stanley Cooley is a notable addition who should see ice immediately because of his ability to play both ends of the ice.
Major off-season losses: Where do you begin?
Josiah Slavin signed with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tigers were pillaged in the transfer portal in the time between Haviland’s firing and Mayotte’s hiring. The two that hit hardest were Grant Cruikshank, who transferred to Minnesota, and Ben Copeland, who ended up at Penn State.
Those are some considerable holes to fill.
Returners to watch for: He’s probably not going to light up the scoresheet, but Hunter McKown competes so hard in the defensive zone that I think that will result in more puck touches (and eventually points) down the road. CC has two defensemen who I really like in Connor Mayer and Jack Millar. Logan Will should have the opportunity to pitch in more offensively with Cruikshank and Copeland gone.
If CC is going to break out of the bottom tier, they need one of their goaltenders to be their best player. I don’t know if that guy is going to be Dom Basse, Matt Vernon, or freshman Kaidan Mbereko, but someone needs to solidify that spot.
Most likely scenario: You have to walk before you can run. And, sometimes you have to take one step back to take five steps forward. It’s rare to see big results in the first year with a new head coach. CC was able to pull out a seventh-place finish last season, but they lost considerable scoring, especially with Cruikshank. The ceiling for this season is probably remaining in seventh, but I think it’s more likely that the Tigers have a reset year. That being said, this is a quality coaching staff and with the recent investment in facilities, the future is very bright. It just takes time.
Projected NCHC Finish: 8th
Projected NCHC Standings (Tiered)
8. Colorado College
There have been rumors that former Minnesota Duluth associate head coach Jason Herter is being targeted by some USHL teams. Herter would make a terrific NCAA head coach and would be a home-run hire for a junior program. Herter, 50, stepped down at UMD last spring and said he was going to pursue new opportunities in hockey.
Peter Roundy was not retained by Bill Riga at Holy Cross, but he landed a new job as the head coach at Curry College (D-III). Roundy takes over for TJ Manastersky, who left the program to become an assistant coach at Union.
(G) Owen Bartoszkiewicz (‘03) commits to Minnesota for 2022
Bartoszkiewicz had a really solid rookie season in the NAHL for Wichita Falls this past season, starting 41 games and posting a 2.44 GAA and .917 save percentage. The Northville, Mich. native was named the NAHL South Goaltender and Rookie of the Year and he was named All-Rookie and All-South Division by the NAHL. In 2019-20 he posted the best GAA in the HPHL (1.85) for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies.
Bartoszkiewicz has posted stellar numbers at every level he’s played. He’s a potential late-round selection in this week’s NHL Draft.
(F) Jason Stefanek (‘04) commits to Dartmouth for 2023
Stefanek is a California native who moved across country last season to play for Mount St. Charles 16U team. In 26 games, the former Anaheim Jr. Ducks product scored 16 goals and added 31 assists for 47 points.
He’s projected for 2023 at Dartmouth and Youngstown currently owns his USHL rights. Stefanek just skated at USA Hockey’s Select 17 camp.