Better Or Worse?

Examining which teams have more to look forward to in 2007-08

Aug. 30, 2007

By Elliot Olshansky



Elliot is's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on
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With the 2007-08 season just over five weeks away, there are plenty of questions remaining ahead among fans across the country. In the end, though, it all comes down to one simple question: Will the season ahead be better or worse than the one behind?


For the 16 teams that made the NCAA tournament this past spring, the questions loom just a little bit larger. With a successful season, the expectations are always raised for the year ahead, but as is always the case, some of those higher expectations will not be met.


Who will rise to the occasion? No one will know for sure until the puck drops, but in the meantime, here are a few ideas.




Alabama-Huntsville - The last year behind the bench for Doug Ross ended with a tremendous flourish, but in all honesty, the season itself wasn't exactly a ringing success. The veteran leadership of that team is gone, but new head coach Danton Cole should bring a new energy to the program, and it's hard to see the Chargers in last place again coming off the high of what they accomplished in March.  VERDICT: Better


Air Force - The Falcons aren't the only defending Atlantic Hockey champions, of course, but they are the ones who went to the tournament, and they are the ones with the returning Hobey Baker finalist. Eric Ehn will be without linemate Andrew Ramsey, but the Falcons return four of their five top scorers, and if they can find more consistency in goal, Frank Serratore's team should be able to pick up right where it left off.  VERDICT: Better


Miami - The graduation of players like Marty Guerin and Matt Christie should not be minimized, but the RedHawks stand to gain the most of any team in the nation. To return two players with the talent and experience of Nathan Davis and Ryan Jones is a rarity in these times, and the goaltending tandem of Jeff Zatkoff and Charlie Effinger is back. With a good recruiting class coming in and a less demanding schedule, Rico Blasi should have something to smile about this season.  VERDICT: Better


Maine - On one hand, seven of the Black Bears' top 10 scorers are gone. On the other, with a recruiting class filled with 1986 and 1987 birth dates, Tim Whitehead's team won't be hurting for experience. With Bret Tyler heading up the defensive corps along with Matt Duffy and Simon Danis-Pepin, and Ben Bishop back in goal, the Black Bears should be solid from the blueline and back, but unfortunately, the quality of defense in Hockey East is strong across the board. If the Black Bears can't find some scoring, the calls for Tim Whitehead's head will be louder than usual this year (of course, with three Frozen Fours in four years, they'll be ignored, as usual). VERDICT: Worse


St. Lawrence - The Saints and their rivals from Clarkson put the North Country back on the college hockey map in 2006-07, and while the Saints won the Cleary Cup, the Knights were the team that was considered the bigger national threat. With do-everything defensemen Drew Bagnall gone along with two of the Saints' top three forwards, Alex Petizian is going to need an even better sophomore season between the pipes. With stronger challenges expected from the likes of Cornell, Quinnipiac and Colgate, Joe Marsh's team has some rebuilding to do.  VERDICT: Worse


Massachusetts - UMass was not a great scoring team, and the man most responsible for the team's success, Jon Quick, is getting ready for his first professional season in the Los Angeles Kings organization. It also doesn't help that the Minutemen's most reliable scorer, Chris Capraro, graduated.  Toot Cahoon has a solid recruiting class, but he still has some work to do before UMass can make back-to-back NCAA appearances.  VERDICT:  Worse


North Dakota - It takes a special group of players to make a pact to stay in Grand Forks, as several of the Sioux's top stars did. Losing Jonathan Toews will hurt -- as will the departure of Brian Lee, even if some in Grand Forks won't admit it -- but in the WCHA, losing a couple of first-round draft picks is par for the course among the upper-echelon teams. The more important thing is that Ryan Duncan, T.J. Oshie, Robbie Bina and Taylor Chorney are back to lead seven of North Dakota's top 10 scorers, and it's unlikely that the string of bad luck that struck the Sioux in the early portion of the 2006-07 campaign will return.  VERDICT: Better


Michigan State - Of course, it's hard to be better than the best, which the Spartans were when all was said and done in St. Louis in April, but there were some pretty nasty stretches in East Lansing in 2006-07, which is why Rick Comley's team was an afterthought heading into the NCAA tournament. The pro signing of Jim McKenzie and the graduation of Tyler Howells are the most significant losses on paper, but the beauty of the Spartans' NCAA title campaign was the way everyone bought into the team concept, so that it's hard to imagine individual losses throwing them off balance too much. Of course, no one outside the Spartan locker room knows how much Chris Lawrence's leadership will be missed, but Bryan "King Lerg-onidas" Lerg gets the benefit of the doubt. VERDICT: Better


Michigan - No T.J. Hensick. No Jack Johnson. No Andrew Cogliano. No David Rohlfs or Matt Hunwick. The jewels of the recruiting class that came to Ann Arbor in the fall of 2005 are gone, and there are only two seniors on the team. One of them happens to be Kevin Porter, a likely Hobey Baker candidate, but the Wolverines still have goaltending issues after two years of sub-.900 save percentage from Billy Sauer. Red Berenson has, as always, brought in a star-studded recruiting class headed up by first-round draft pick Max Pacioretty, but it may well be a rare rebuilding year at Yost Arena. Rebuilding in Michigan terms, of course, tends to mean outside of the top two in the CCHA. VERDICT: Worse


Boston University - The Terriers' most serious graduation losses come from the blueline and back, which is convenient, given the arrival of Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen, who head up the Terriers' recruiting class. As for John Curry, the good news there is that he held the starting job despite some pretty good backups in Karson Gillespie and Brett Bennett. Given how erratic the BU offense was -- anemic, at times -- the forwards definitely have something to prove. If Brandon Yip can stay healthy all year, it should be less of an issue, and Nick Bonino and Colin Wilson are expected to have an impact in that department as well.  VERDICT: Better


St. Cloud State - It's hard to imagine the Huskies being any better than they were last season with Bobby Goepfert now trying to carve out a professional career in the Anaheim Ducks organization, but then again, Jase Weslosky looked good in most of his appearances last season. More importantly, the high-scoring freshman duo of Andreas Nodl and Ryan Lasch is back for a sophomore campaign, although the early signing of Andrew Gordon will take its toll, as will the graduation of Dan Kronick. Bob Motzko has shown himself to be talented at getting the most out of his team, but there's only so long you can hold off the Wisconsins, Denvers and Colorado Colleges of the world. VERDICT: Worse


Boston College - Once again, the losses for the Eagles are limited in number, but once again, they're key players: big, versatile Brian Boyle, do-everything forward Joe Rooney and of course, Cory Schneider in net. The goaltending will tell the story there, although this junior class led by Nate Gerbe, Benn Ferriero and Brock Bradford has to be feeling the heat after two unsuccessful trips to the national championship game. Dan Bertram and Mike Brennan are feeling it even more. Still, with six total minutes of college goaltending experience on the roster (they belong to Adam Reasoner), there's a big question mark at the Heights. VERDICT: Worse


New Hampshire - Trevor Smith, Jacob Micflikier and Brett Hemingway will be missed, but the UNH recruiting class is led by No. 2 NHL draft pick James Van Riemsdyk and USHL Player of the Year Phil DeSimone. Kevin Regan enters his senior year in goal coming off of a statistically brilliant junior campaign, which should combine with the Wildcats' high-octane offense to make a formidable combination. VERDICT: Better


Clarkson - Top scorer Shawn Weller is gone, but Nick Dodge was the straw stirring the drink in Potsdam, and he's back, along with three other 30-point scorers. Dryden Award winner David Leggio is also back as the top netminder in ECAC Hockey. Another year of experience means that George Roll's team should be better able to sustain its brilliance over the course of the season, which makes the prospect of splitting ECAC Hockey hardware with the rivals from St. Lawrence much less likely. VERDICT: Better


Notre Dame - The Irish were the story of the 2006-07 season, and part of the challenge facing Jeff Jackson's team in 2007-08 will be to do the kinds of things that Notre Dame accomplished last season now that they're expected. The other part of the challenge is doing those things without David Brown, who was a rock in goal for the Irish last season, and the three senior defensemen who graduated. The good news is that Jackson has that dynamite recruiting class coming in, with highly-regarded defensemen like Ian Cole and Teddy Ruth, and that the top five scorers on the team are all back, with Erik Condra entering his junior season and Ryan Thang and Kevin Deeth entering the season as sophomores. The Irish will face challenges, but they have the right coach to guide them through those challenges.   VERDICT: Better


Minnesota - It's hard to be better than the best, which is what the Gophers were, statistically, heading into the NCAA tournament. It's also hard to be better when you've lost your three top defensemen, the forward expected to move back to the blueline to help compensate and the program's all-time leader in goaltending wins. On the other hand, the Gophers' losses at forward are minimal, except that Jim O'Brien could have been expected to take major steps forward this year, and that Mike Carman is not eligible to play until the second semester. Given that the Gophers' strength last season was offensive dominance and the ability to control the puck, if the re-worked defensive corps can hold the blueline effectively, Minnesota should not be too far off. In the meantime, though, the Gophers have a few things to prove. VERDICT: Worse