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Jacob Myers | NCAA.com | October 12, 2018

College hockey: The most likely national championship contenders this season

So far in the lead-up to this season, we’ve highlighted the top coaching changes and roster moves and a few teams that could be surprise teams to make the NCAA tournament or go on deep runs in the field of 16.

Now let’s talk about the teams with a target on their backs the whole season — the teams that know their games are being circled on every calendar.

Going off returning rosters from successful teams last year and the preseason conference favorites, here are some teams that few will be surprised to see hoisting the championship trophy in April. The teams are presented in order of their current rankings.

No. 1 Ohio State

Just four seasons ago. Ohio State won 14 games. Now the Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the country and return nearly every player that mattered in last season’s unpredictable run to a No. 1 seed and the Frozen Four.

Mason Jobst is one of the quickest forwards in college hockey and returns as a Hobey Baker candidate (player of the year) and the leading active scorer in the NCAA with 128 career points. Tanner Laczynski, the Buckeyes’ leading scorer last year, and Dakota Joshua are also players to watch at forward. Maine transfer Sean Romeo was fantastic in net for Ohio State last year, averaging just 2.06 goals allowed. He’ll look to anchor the Buckeyes for a second season.

No. 2 Notre Dame

Naturally, last year’s runner up which beat Ohio State in the Frozen Four opens as a top challenger for the title this season. Notre Dame returns last year’s Mike Richter Award winner (best goaltender) in Cale Morris and also star defenseman Andrew Peeke.

If the Irish struggle early, it might come on offense as it tries to replace its top three scorers from last year: Jake Evans, Andrew Oglevie and Jordan Gross. Forward Cal Burke could emerge as a nationally recognized talent after putting up 14 goals last year as a sophomore.

No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth

A team hasn’t won back-to-back national championships since Denver in 2004-05. After winning the title in 2017, the Pioneers were picked by some to do it again last year with so much talent returning, but they ended up falling in the regional finals. The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs are in the same exact situation this season after claiming its second-ever national title.

National freshman of the year Scott Perunovich returns to the blue line as Duluth’s top scorer. Peter Krieger and Riley Tufte return as the top-scoring forwards. It’s not just the returning talent that makes Duluth a popular preseason pick, either, as having Scott Sandelin on the bench is enough to never count out the Bulldogs. Junior netminder Hunter Shepherd set program records last year in goals allowed average (1.91) and save percentage (.925).

MORE: Sandelin enters 19th season among NCAA's elite coaches

No. 4 Providence

The Friars’ 2017-18 season ended with a loss to Notre Dame in the regional final, but have the talent to go further this season despite losing their top scorer.

Providence's two top scorers Erik Foley and Brian Pinho are gone, handing off the reigns to Kasper Bjorkqvist and and Kasper Bjorkqvist, who led the Friars with 16 and 15 goals, respectively, as well as Brandon Duhaime, who tallied 19 assists. Jacob Bryson is back as the top-scoring defenseman last season with 4-20-24.

No. 5 St. Cloud State

The Huskies entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and were upset by Air Force in the first round. Even with a new head coach, this is likely to be a season full of redemption for a team filled with a lot of the same talent that won 25 games last season.

Bob Motzko is now on the bench of the Minnesota Golden Gophers but remaining for the Huskies are seniors Robby Jackson and Jimmy Shuldt, who led the team in assists last year. Shuldt was a Hobey Baker top-10 finalist. Ryan Poehling is one of the most intriguing centers in the nation.

No. 7 Cornell

Cornell was also upset as a No. 1 seed last year by Boston. However, the Big Red was picked to repeat as ECAC champions and figure to be in the mix of a No. 1 seed again.

The Big Red will have to find replacements for its three leading scorers last year in Anthony Angello, Trevor Yates and Alex Rauter. Matt Galadja was spectacular in net as a freshman, posting a 1.55 GAA. It would be unreal if he were to post the same numbers again, but something similar should still be good enough to guarantee an NCAA tournament bid as the Big Red discover its offense.

RELATED: Why Maine could make the NCAA tournament this season

No. 12 Boston College

The Eagles won the Hockey East regular season title last year but ended up missing the NCAA tournament. This year, Boston College looks to return to the Frozen Four for the third time in six years.

Jerry York is in his 25th season at BC and has one of his finest teams with its top 14 scorers returning from last season. Hockey East freshman of the year Logan Hutsko led the Eagles last year in scoring and could take a big leap again this year along with a trio of juniors — David Cotton, Julius Mattila and Graham McPhee. Goaltender Joseph Woll will look to improve from his sophomore year in which he posted a solid 15-6-0 record and 2.26 GAA in Hockey East play.

MORE: Wisconsin captain Peter Tischke embraces unfamiliar role