April 16, 2008

As Boston College celebrates its national championship, the rest of the nation looks ahead to next year. Although we don't know who will and won't be back next season, here's an early look at the 2008-09 Top 10:

1. Boston College -- Assuming everyone returns who is expected to, BC has all the pieces to make another run. The team may have some ups and downs during the regular season, but with sophomore John Muse back in net and Nathan Gerbe -- who finished as the nation's leading scorer with 68 points -- up front, the team will be formidable. Let's not forget the return of sophomore Brock Bradford, who was having a nice season until he broke his arm for the second time. Ben Smith -- who scored 25 goals for the Eagles -- will also be back.

2. Michigan -- The Wolverines will lose Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, but there's plenty of fire power returning including forwards Aaron Palushaj, Louie Caporusso and Max Pacioretty along with defenseman Chad Langlais. The big question is whether goalie Billy Sauer can shake off getting his mediocre performance in the NCAA semifinal. Also, coach Red Berenson -- who was just named National Coach of the Year -- will be 70 by next season's end, and this could be his final crack at a third title.

3. Notre Dame -- Losing character forward Mark Van Guilder, and top defensemen Brock Sheahan will hurt the Irish. But most all other key components are coming back, including top scorer Erik Condra, who missed the NCAA run with an injury. With the experience gained this season, Notre Dame is ready to fly. Jordan Pearce is back in net, and despite some hiccups during the season, is considered very capable as a goalie.

4. Colorado College -- The team will lose some significant players, but so will most everyone else. First Team All-American defenseman Jack Hillen is the biggest loss, but if junior Chad Rau returns, he'll be one of the top two-way players in the country. With goalie Richard Bachman between the pipes, the Tigers will be back in the mix. Bachman was WCHA Rookie and Player of the Year, the first player to do that since long-time NHL goalie Curtis Joseph.

5. Minnesota -- The best news for the Gophers last year, despite a seventh-place finish in the WCHA, was finding its future goaltender -- Alex Kangas. the team's original man for the spot -- junior Jeff Frazee was inconsistent. Kangas helped settle things down and the team instantly got better. The Gophers will lose some character seniors, but have the usual big class coming in. Sophomore Ryan Stoa missed most of last year with an injury, but he'll be back. Top scorer Blake Wheeler was a high first-round selection by Phoenix in 2004, but all indications are that he'll return to the Gophers for his senior year.

6. Boston University -- We'll see how much of a reach this is. BU loses big-time seniors in Peter MacArthur and Bryan Ewing, but *if* everyone returns this will be a formidable team. After a strong freshman year, Colin Wilson should be a first-round pick in this year's NHL Draft and Matt Girly is a highly sought-after defenseman. But his brother will be joining the Terriers next season and Girly may be inspired to stay for his senior year. If so, then it leaves only goaltending as the question. It's a big question, no doubt, but if BU can figure it out, it can go far.

7. North Dakota -- The Sioux stand to lose a lot. T.J. Oshie hasn't signed yet, but the St. Louis Blues first-rounder is poised to leave after his junior year. The same can be said for Joe Finely and Taylor Chorine, juniors who will likely turn pro. There are other potential risks to leave, such as former Hobey winner Ryan Duncan (a free agent) and junior Andrew Kopek. The Sioux will also lose goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, who was phenomenal all year until allowing six goals in the NCAA semis. Assuming enough players come back and with another good recruiting class, the Sioux will be right there. They will likely be playing with a freshman goalie, but two of the last four NCAA champs have been freshmen.

8. Wisconsin -- Assuming they return to Madison, Jamie McBain and Ryan McDonagh will make up one of the nation's most imposing defensive combos. This should help Shane Connelly, who will be a senior in net. Blake Geoffrion and Ben Street will be bigger factors up front, complementing a strong recruiting class.

9. Miami (Ohio) -- Yes, the RedHawks lost a lot of talent in Ryan Jones (Hobey finalist), Nathan Davis (2007 Hobey finalist) and junior goalie Jeff Zatkoff. Mitch Ganzak will also be a big loss on the back line. However, Davis didn't play most of the season and Miami was still one shot away from the Frozen Four. Assuming the team finds a stable goaltender is stable, it should be a tough team to beat. Justin Mercier -- a 25-goal scorer -- is returning for his senior season and Carter Camper, Brian Huffman, Jarod Palmer, Pat Cannoned and Tommy Win gels are all very strong forwards while defenseman Alec Martinez leads the charge on the blue line.

10. Northern Michigan -- It's time for the Wildcats to make their move and return to the NCAAs for the first time since 2000. Freshman Mark Olver didn't get a lot of ink, but scored 21 goals last season while another freshman, Phil Fox, had 13 goals. Defenseman Erik Gust returns after a strong season including 27 assists and a plus-15. Goalie Brian Stewart will be a junior and only one of the team's defenseman will graduate this spring.

Just Missed the Cut: New Hampshire, Vermont, Denver, Michigan State (if Tim Kennedy doesn't leave), Princeton

Hobey Baker Finalists: Nathan Gerbe (BC), Ryan Lash (St. Cloud State), Ben Smith (Boston College), Aaron Palushaj (Michigan), Justin Mercier (Miami), Tim Kennedy (Michigan State), Chad Rau (Colorado College).

Things to Watch this Summer:

• The rules committee may decide to change the overtime rules to a system more like the NHL or something else entirely.

•The two-referee system may be mandated.

• After the Notre Dame controversy, there will likely be further change to the rules regarding kicking the puck into the net

•The NHL and NHL PA will continue to meet with college hockey people to see if changes can be made that would help stem the tide of early departures -- particularly mid-season departures.

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