Minnesota Duluth won the NCAA championship last season as the No. 3 seed in the West Regional and Ohio State was a No. 1 seed and advanced to the Frozen Four despite being picked fifth in the Big Ten to begin the season.
They were just the latest installments of sleeper teams making runs in the NCAA tournament.
With the beginning of the men’s college hockey season, here are five teams that might not be considered at the top of the sport in the preseason, but have the makings of a potential sleeper team to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
We looked at the teams that returned the majority of their talent and have rosters capable of making the jump to the NCAA tournament. These are mostly under-the-radar teams or ones that if they made the tournament last year, their roster is capable of making a much deeper run this season. The teams are presented in alphabetical order.
Bowling Green - No. 20 in the USCHO.com poll
The Bowling Green Falcons have won at least 21 games in the past four seasons but haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1990. Well, this season might finally be the one the northwest Ohio team breaks through.
The Falcons have two of the best goaltenders in the conference with Ryan Bednard likely to earn more minutes than Eric Dop. The team’s leading scorer, Mitch McLain, graduated after last season, however sophomore Max Johnson is back after a stellar rookie campaign in which he turned in 30 points and 10 of his 13 goals on the power play. Junior Lukas Craggs scored 10 goals in his sophomore campaign last year. WCHA defenseman of the year Alec Rauhauser is back at the blue line for the Falcons.
Bowling Green, again, will compete with Minnesota State for the top spot in the WCHA, along with Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan.
Colorado College - Not ranked
Not quite as long as Bowling Green, but Colorado College probably feels like its last NCAA tournament appearance in 2011 was an eternity ago. With a healthy group of players back this year, the Tigers could be back in the field of 16 despite playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country.
Following four seasons of less than 10 wins, Colorado College won 15 games last season. The Tigers return nearly every player from last year’s roster which had no seniors. Junior forward Nick Halloran is back as a Hobey Baker candidate. The NCHC had three tournament bids last year. With Denver’s several departures this offseason and a new head coach, there’s an opening for teams outside the conference favorites, Duluth and St. Cloud State.
Maine - Not ranked
It’s hockey season again and the Hockey East is stacked, again. What else is new? Well, the Maine Black Bears might be the change atop the conference this season.
The Black Bears, picked fifth in the preseason conference poll, improved from 11 to 18 wins last season and return eight of its 10 top scorers and starting goaltender. Boston College, Providence and Boston figure to be the top contenders in the Hockey East again, but this could be the year Maine takes a step toward the top of the conference with its core comprised of mostly juniors and sophomores. The Black Bears will have to improve their penalty killing to play to the caliber of those teams.
Princeton - No. 14
After going 5-23-3 as freshmen, the senior class at Princeton is coming off a surprise NCAA tournament bid and ECAC tournament championship and poised for one of the program’s best seasons in years.
All-Americans Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner are back for the Tigers as preseason Hobey Baker candidates. Veronneau scored a team-high 55 points last season and led the NCAA in assists per game (1.06) while Kuffner tallied 52 points and was second in the NCAA in goals per game (0.81).
Cornell is still the top dog in the conference, but Princeton is a team that could make noise all season long.
Loving the new decor pic.twitter.com/E6DgxWeLz4— Princeton Men’s Hockey (@puhockey) September 19, 2018
Western Michigan - No. 18
If Colorado College isn’t going to be the team to take a step in the NCHC this year, it very well could be a young Western Michigan team that returns its top eight scorers.
Wade Allison missed 14 games last season with multiple injuries and still registered 30 points in just 22 games. He sat out the team’s opener against Bowling Green, but once healthy, the Broncos could be one of the best offensive teams in the conference with all top nine scorers returning. Sophomore Austin Cain started just seven games last year and will be counted on if the Broncos hope to take a step forward from last year’s 15-19-2 record.
The boys are back! See you tonight at Lawson! pic.twitter.com/VjZof6cnV8— WMU Hockey (@WMUHockey) October 6, 2018
Honorable mention: Canisius, Northern Michigan, UMass, Wisconsin