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NCAA opens 2010-11 men's ice hockey season

by Bob Snow
They are the masters of the marathon, the sultans of spring.

With six appearances in the NCAA title game since 1998 and three championships, the Boston College Eagles will attempt to make history in the modern era by running the table to a third crown in four seasons. 

Michigan won three in a row and five in six years in the 1950s, the first decade of Division I play.

Picked by the puck pundits as No. 1 in the preseason polls, coach Jerry York returns 17 lettermen, including three seniors and a young but proven defense. Netminder John Muse -- 8-0 in the NCAA Tournament -- is one of those three; he enjoys the target all of his teammates will wear.

"I like the bull's-eye on the back as the No. 1 team in the country," Muse told at the Hockey East media luncheon last week at TD Garden. "The good thing is we get to play at that level every night."

"The biggest concern is complacency," said York, who along with Boston University legend Jack Parker will be among the Lester Patrick Award recipients later this month. "We see it all the time at the college level after winning a national title. But I took the three seniors -- John Muse, Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney -- aside over the summer, and I could see in their eyes and hear in their voices that that was not going to be a problem this year. 'We want to go out with three titles in four years,' they said."

The season officially starts Friday with college hockey's signature Warrior Ice Breaker Tournament in St. Louis, featuring 2009 champion BU, Wisconsin (who BC beat last April in the final), Notre Dame and Holy Cross.

The new season also finds a tighter league alignment with the dissolution of the four-team College Hockey America League.

Niagara University and Robert Morris University join Atlantic Hockey as their 11th and 12th members. Bemidji State enters the historic WCHA, along with Nebraska-Omaha, which transferred from the CCHA.

The final previous CHA team, Alabama-Huntsville, plays an independent schedule.

Bruins goalie and former Vermont Catamount Tim Thomas knows a little about building a winner at the NCAA level. On the morning Boston departed for Prague and its 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series against Phoenix, Thomas spoke to while York and nine other Hockey East teams held court one floor up at the TD Garden.

"Before I was at Vermont," Thomas said, "the program had some good success in Division III, then in the ECAC. We had a good team with Marty (St. Louis) and Eric (Perrin) and the rest of the guys (Vermont went to the Frozen Four in 1996). All we had to do was improve the blueprint. Vermont has certainly done that the past few years in Hockey East and going to the Frozen Four two years ago.

"Wow, the college season begins already. Well, every team needs to improve on its blueprint from the year before. It's all about learning the game and enjoying the experience."

Here's a look at each league's media poll as each team attempts to improve its own blueprint -- and enjoy the 2010-11 experience.

Atlantic Hockey -- Rochester Institute of Technology became the league's first-ever Frozen Four team last April and sits atop the league poll off that effort. Mercyhurst comes in a very well-deserved second, proof the Lakers are for real after tying mighty Michigan, 4-4, last Saturday in Ann Arbor. Air Force and newcomers Niagara and Robert Morris follow. Canisius, Sacred Heart, Holy Cross, Army, Bentley, Connecticut and American International round out Atlantic.

Central Collegiate Hockey Association -- Michigan's fast finish last March preserved college hockey's most impressive record: 20 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Miami went to its second consecutive Frozen Four in Detroit. There's no doubt why these two are locked atop the CCHA poll, with five of the six preseason First-Team players. Michigan State, Alaska, Notre Dame, Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Ohio State, Lake Superior, Western Michigan and Bowling Green complete the 11-team poll, the only imbalanced league in Division I.

Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey League -- Yale establishes itself as No. 1 and a bona fide national-title contender after taking the league title last season and making a second consecutive postseason appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Perennial power Cornell, Union, Colgate, Rensselaer, Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, Quinnipiac, Princeton, Harvard, Brown and Clarkson, in poll order, will look to bring a national championship to the ECACHL for the first time since Harvard beat Minnesota in 1989.

Hockey East -- Hockey East (with two of the last three national champions and 15 Frozen Four appearances since 2000) and the WCHA (also with 15 appearances and five consecutive titles, from 2002-06) stake their claims as the top leagues in all the land. Preseason polls support either with three teams from each in the national top 10. Add the competitiveness from top to bottom in each, and it's good fodder for season-long debate. After BC, this league's poll rolls out a formidable slate of Maine, New Hampshire, Boston University, Northeastern, Vermont, Merrimack, UMass-Lowell, Massachusetts and Providence. 

Western Collegiate Hockey Association -- The league with the most national titles (36) has not won it all since 2006. This season, the WCHA welcomes Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha. North Dakota takes the top spot in the poll, followed by Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, Denver, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado College, Bemidji, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota State, Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech. Several are capable of winning it all April 9 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., site of this season's Frozen Four.  

Berenson about to enter an exclusive coaching fraternity -- Michigan coach Red Berenson is about to become the sixth coach in NCAA history to win 700 games. The Wolverines face Bowling Green on Friday, which could be the game that puts Berenson in the prestigious company of Ron Mason (924 wins), Jerry York (850), Jack Parker (834), Rick Comley (768), and Bob Peters (744). York (BC), Parker (BU) and Comley (Michigan State) join Berenson among the active coaches chasing Mason's all-time mark.

On Campus clips -- Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin will achieve his 400th career win with his team's next victory. ... The WCHA released a new-look logo and campaign slogan. Produced in conjunction with Adrenalin, Inc. of Denver, the logo features a more prominent "W" to emphasize "Western," as well as a new silver outline of the traditional black logo. "As we enter into a new era in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, one that will feature new men's member teams, new member team arenas, a new format for our Final Five, and the all-new, we are thrilled to also unveil this newly modernized version of the Association logo as well as an exciting campaign theme for 2010-11," Commissioner Bruce M. McLeod said. ... The CCHA will continue to use shootouts to break tie games, and retains the three-point system for a win in league play (one point to the losing team), as determined by a vote at the CCHA Council Meeting in August. It remains the only league with a tiebreaker system. Last season 25 CCHA games were decided by the shootout after the 5-on-5, five-minute overtime. ... The University of Denver has been awarded a grant to fund student-athlete development and health and safety related programming. Denver's Student-Athlete Support Services Staff has created the Pioneer Experience program, a life-skills program that helps student-athletes learn how to transfer skills they have learned in the sporting arena into real-life experiences. Many of these lessons help student-athletes in the job market and with personal finance after their collegiate careers are over. ... The NCAA recently awarded the 2013 Frozen Four to Pittsburgh and the 2014 event to Philadelphia, marking the first time each site has been selected to host college hockey’s signature event. St. Paul is this year's site, with 2012 in Tampa.
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