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Minding NCAA P's and Q's for 2008-09

by Bob Snow
Polls and questions abound as the NCAA's 2008-09 season gets under way this weekend with the marquee Ice Breaker Tournament, hosted this season by Boston University.

Michigan State, 2007's national champion, takes on UMass in Friday's first game. The Terriers then battle perennial powerhouse North Dakota. The consolation and championship games, respectively, are Saturday afternoon and evening.

Other major matchups pit Wisconsin on the road at New Hampshire on Friday night; the Badgers then take on national champion Boston College on Saturday night. Denver hosts last April's Frozen Four finalist Notre Dame in the U.S. Hall of Fame Game.

BC and Colorado College sit atop their respective league preseason polls.

Two members of the Boston Bruins' defense corps are alums from those two college powerhouses; each commented about beginning a new NCAA season.

"The big key is preparing for a new team every weekend with only 40 games a year," said Andrew Alberts, who patrolled the Eagles' blue line for four years from 2001-05. "Trust your coaches and teammates who have been there before."

"It seems like a long wait for the college season to begin," said Mark Stuart, a CC Tiger from 2002-05. "You only have captain's practice for a few weeks and then the season starts. Learn as quick as you can to balance school and hockey."

Can BC become the first team to play in four consecutive title games? The Eagles joined the elite company of Minnesota (1974-76), Wisconsin (1981-83), and Lake Superior State (1992-94) with their third championship-game appearance in the 4-1 win against Notre Dame.

"The trophy is in the case. No one can take it away," said coach Jerry York about his second title at BC (2001) and third overall (Bowling Green in 1984). "Now our goal is to earn another. That's always been our goal."

No shortage of that sentiment across the other 57 teams. Here's a look at each league, its preseason media poll, and a few major questions as the season gets under way.

Atlantic Hockey Association

Preseason poll: Air Force, Mercyhurst, Rochester Institute of Technology, Sacred Heart, Army, Holy Cross, Canisius, Connecticut, Bentley, American International

Are Frank Serratore's Air Force Falcons and Rick Gotkin's Mercyhurst Lakers a step above the rest? Does Army bounce back from its league playoff meltdown after its first regular-season title? Regardless of which team assumes the likely 15th or 16th seed in the NCAA tournament in March, will Atlantic Hockey produce another Cinderella entry from the league that's produced the best underdog stories in NCAA play the past five years? 

Central Collegiate Hockey Association

Preseason poll: Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Miami, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Bowling Green, Nebraska-Omaha, Ohio State, Lake Superior State, Alaska Fairbanks, Western Michigan.

Is Notre Dame the real deal after its first Frozen Four and championship-game appearance? Can Miami finally break into that category after two heartbreaking losses to BC in regional finals in 2007 and 08? Will Michigan's loss of Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter, fellow senior Chad Kolarik, and freshman sensation Max Pacioretty (to Montreal) slow the Wolverines' progress to NCAA play for a record-setting 19th consecutive season? Can senior Jeff Lerg and his Spartans challenge for a national championship again after winning it all two seasons ago?

College Hockey America

Preseason poll: Niagara, Bemidji State, Alabama-Huntsville and Robert Morris.

Wayne State dropped its hockey program. The only major question in the CHA is how long can this league limp along before a merger with the other five leagues creates meaningful parity with regard to the NCAA tournament? How much longer can a four-team league deserve an auto-bid to postseason play? 

ECAC Hockey League

Preseason poll: Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Clarkson, Union, Quinnipiac, Yale, St. Lawrence University, Colgate, Rensselaer, Dartmouth, Brown.

From No. 9 in last season's preseason poll to No. 1 this year? Indeed. Guy Gadowsky's Princeton Tigers rode that momentum all the way to the NCAA tournament last March. Can the ECACHL send two teams to the tournament? Who is this year's Princeton? Yale, maybe?  

Hockey East

Preseason poll: BC, BU, UNH, Northeastern, Vermont, Massachusetts, UMass-Lowell, Providence, Maine, Merrimack.

Is Northeastern ready for prime time in Hockey East -- and beyond? How long does it take Maine to disprove No. 9 in the league poll? Can BU – with one of the best blue lines in the country and Nashville draftee Colin Wilson - get back to the Frozen Four? Will New Hampshire rally around Brian Foster between the pipes after losing league MVP Kevin Regan to graduation? Who slows the BC express that returns eight forwards, five defensemen and sophomore iron-man goaltender John Muse, who started all 44 games of the Eagles championship season as a freshman?

Western Collegiate Hockey Association

Preseason poll: Colorado College, North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Tech, Alaska Anchorage.

Does Colorado College send two of the three 2009 finalists for the Hobey Baker award at the Frozen Four in Washington? More important, do forward Chad Rau and goalie Richard Bachman (who was both WCHA Rookie and Player of the Year) play the night before – and after – at the Frozen Four in April? Is North Dakota senior Ryan Duncan, who won the Hobey in 2007, the third finalist? More important, do Dave Hakstol's boys once again assume league supremacy all season, and avoid – once again – a swan-song finish after high expectations? Denver, Minnesota and Wisconsin are also legitimate title contenders in the deepest league with the most national titles. Does the WCHA's three-year drought end after five consecutive titles from 2002-06?'s 2009 Frozen Four analysis: Boston College, Miami, Colorado College, North Dakota; BC and York not only appear in that record-setting fourth title game, but also take home a third national championship since 2001, and fourth overall (1949).  

On Campus Clips -- Hockey East celebrates its 25th season since breaking off from the ECAC in 1983. New Jersey Devils CEO/President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello, then Providence College athletic director, assumed the role of the league's first commissioner. … The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee approved two major rules changes in July: the two-referee and two-linesmen officiating alignment is now in effect across all six leagues after two experimental seasons. And the CCHA is the only league to adopt the optional Rule 6-56-b: "A shootout may be conducted at the end of the five-minute overtime period for advancement purposes, in conference games or by mutual consent of both teams." Major shootout rules and points will mirror NHL rules, except the five-minute overtime will retain a 5-on-5 setup. Also, outcomes of CCHA games determined by shootouts will affect CCHA standings only. All CCHA ties after overtime will be considered ties in NCAA rankings. A total of 90 regular-season games ended in a tie during the past three CCHA seasons. Statistics show an increase in ties across all leagues the past several seasons. ... R.H. "Bob" Peters, who has served as College Hockey America Commissioner for the past seven years, retired in June. Niagara athletic director Ed McLaughlin will serve as interim. … Dallas Ferguson replaces Doc DelCastillo behind the Alaska-Fairbanks bench (CCHA) as the only head-coaching change in Division I. … Cammi Granato, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter will be enshrined into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Denver at an induction dinner tomorrow night at Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver. The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game will take place Saturday night with Denver taking on Notre Dame. … The 2008 Joe Concannon Hockey East Media Award recipient is Mike Logan, radio voice of the Providence College Friars for the past 19 years; Concannon was a career college hockey scribe for the Boston Globe. …The 2009 national championship game will be played April 11 at the MCA Center in Washington. Top-10

1. Michigan
2. Boston College
3. Colorado College
4. North Dakota
5. Miami
6. Notre Dame
7. Denver
8. New Hampshire
9. Boston University
10. Minnesota

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