Minnesota-Duluth, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan all field very talented teams and have realisitic aspirations of reaching the Frozen Four again this season. There are also several other teams that went through significant turnover in the offseason.
The men’s college hockey season began this past Friday, with a series between reigning champion Minnesota-Duluth and the Minnesota Golden Gophers highlighting the action. But before the puck dropped, there were four major Division I men’s hockey coaches that left their programs and several top teams had key contributors leave early for the NHL or another league when the spotlight left the ice.
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New head coaches
Denver’s Jim Montgomery and Boston’s David Quinn left their historic programs for greener pastures in the NHL with the Dallas Stars and New York Rangers, respectively, while Don Lucia stepped down from Minnesota and Dick Umile retired from his post at New Hampshire. At 28, new Denver head coach David Carle is the youngest head coach in college hockey. Albie O’Connell, a four-year assistant with the Terriers, takes over the program at Boston.
Lucia is the winningest coach in program history with 438 wins since he took over the program in 1999. Now, first-year coach Bob Motzko will try to lift a team back to the top of college hockey in the difficult Big Ten Conference that had three Frozen Four teams last year and will likely have at least one again in 2019.
Minnesota has made five of the NCAA tournaments since 2008, which was the last year of a eight straight appearances, and three Frozen Fours since its last national title in 2003.
Motzko coached St. Cloud State to the No. 1 overall seed last season, but fell in the opening round to Air Force. With his departure to Minneapolis, former Minnesota-Duluth assistant Brett Larson landed his first NCAA head coaching job with the Huskies.
Umile had a career record of 596-373-114 in 28 seasons and made 18 NCAA tournament and four Frozen Fours with New Hampshire, but the Wildcats now enter the Mike Souza era. Souza was on Umile’s staff as the associate head coach the past two seasons and even played in on two of Umile’s Frozen Four teams.
Souza spent two years each at Brown and UConn before making his way back to the Wildcats’ bench. Umile’s impact is indelible on the New Hampshire program. Souza, one of Umile’s proteges, will now be in charge of getting New Hampshire back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013.
Other head coaching changes include Scott Borek at Merrimack, Erik Largen at Alaska and Matt Curley at Alaska-Anchorage.
Teams that lost top talent
In addition to Denver getting a new coach in David Carle, the Pioneers suffered a lot of unexpected roster turnover due to players signing early with their NHL teams. Troy Terry, Henrik Borgstrom and Dylan Gambrell have all moved on to the NHL from the 2017 national championship team, as have Logan O’Connor, Blake Hillman and goaltender extraordinaire Tanner Jaillet. The Pioneers are looking for their 12th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, but it might have to come largely from unproven players.
In total, three freshmen — Boston’s Brady Tkachuk, Clarkson’s Josh Dickinson and Minnesota’s Casey Mittelstadt — elected to forgo their college eligibility and sign with NHL teams after the 2017-18 season. Minnesota and Clarkson each lost sophomores in Ryan Lindgren for the Gophers and Sheldon Rempal for the Golden Knights. Boston’s Jordan Greenway signed his NHL contract with one year remaining.
Of the Final Four teams, Notre Dame and Michigan suffered the biggest losses. For the Fighting Irish, Andrew Oglevie and Dennis Gilbert signed NHL contracts with one year remaining and Jordan Gross and Jake Evans graduated (Olgevie, Gross and Evans were the Irish’s top scorers). Michigan’s only player who left early for the NHL was Cooper Marody, but the Wolverines also lost Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs who were vital offensive contributors.
Transfers to watch
A pair of Merrimack-to-Penn State transfers highlight a modest list of players eligible to play for their new school this year. Center Ludvig Larsson and defenseman Evan Bell should make immediate impacts for a Penn State team looking to make it back to the NCAA tournament for a third straight year. Larsson drew in as the starting center in the Nittany Lions exhibition game against Brock. Bell will have to wait until fall semester to be eligible to play per NCAA transfer rules.
After playing in just nine games of what should've been his senior season, former Brown forward Max Willman will play his final season with the Boston Terriers. A fifth-round pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2014, Willman could add some depth to an already deep team on offense.
Forward Austin Plevy transfered from UMass to Northeastern. Having already played in the Hockey East for three seasons, Plevy should bring some leadership to the Huskies bench.