Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Six Most Disappointing Teams in College Hockey

The season is far from over, and as always, some teams will improve while others will cool off. Having said that, these six teams have failed to live up to expectations or are having a down first month for the program's reputation. Below, in alphabetical order, is a look at the six teams who've gotten off to uncharacteristically or unexpectedly slow starts.

Maine (2-9-0) The Black Bears were expected to drop off, after Brian Flynn, Spencer Abbott, Will O'Neill and Matt Mangene all either graduated or turned pro. Flynn and Abbott were offensive catalysts while O'Neill was the quarterback on the power play and the puck moving defenseman. Matt Mangene was a speedster who made things happen. 47 point scorer Joey Diamond, the right wing on the top line with Flynn and Abbott, was the top returning scorer. Several other key guys were back, like 27 point scorer Kyle Beattie. Also back were 12 and 11 goal scorers Mark Anthoine and Adam Shemansky. Three highly touted freshman forwards were joining the fold in Devin Shore, Ryan Lomberg and Will Merchant. The question marks were on defense and in goal, but Tim Whitehead's team was picked fifth by the league coaches. Maine has yet to win a home game, being badly outscored in three of the five home contests. The injury bug has hit and it is a young team with only six seniors expected to dress on most nights. Martin Ouellette got both starts in net last weekend in a split with Lowell. If he can continue to make the big saves and not let in soft goals, the offense will come around. Maine has dug itself a hole, but with the exception of the top three in Hockey East, the rest of the race should be wide open. The Black Bears certainly have the potential to slide back into the race for home ice with the talent they possess offensively. Most likely, a 5th or 6th place finish is in order for the Bears.

Michigan (4-4-1) The Wolverines, as usual, are loaded with talent, but much of it is young and inexperienced talent. Red Berenson's squad is averaging over four goals per game, but is giving up just over 3.5 goals a game. Star freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba, a Winnipeg draftee, has averaged a point per game. The biggest reason for Michigan's failures in the early going falls on their freshmen goaltenders. Steve Racine and Jared Rutledge have a combined .871 save percentage. One or both will have to get up to at least .900 if Michigan's fortunes will turn. Out of all the teams on this list, the Wolverines have the most talent and are the most likely to make the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State (4-5-1) The Spartans squeaked into the NCAA Tournament last year with just 19 wins, before bowing out to Union. Defenseman Torey Krug, the team's leading scorer from a year ago, left school early to sign with the Boston Bruins. The second leading scorer also departed. The biggest problem the first ten games has been inconsistency. In the four wins, the Spartans are averaging five goals a game. In the five losses and one tie, the Spartans are averaging 1.6 goals per game. Freshman Jake Hildebrand has played well in net with a 1.80 GAA and a .944 save percentage. Last year's number one, Will Yanakeff, has struggled with a 3.71 GAA and a .879 save percentage, while being responsible for four of the five losses. Most likely, MSU will remain around .500 for much of the season and miss the NCAA Tournament.

Minnesota-Duluth (2-5-1) The Bulldogs lost four of their top five scorers and their number one netminder from an NCAA Tournament team a year ago. Scott Sandelin's squad was in for a rough year, so it is not that unexpected. The offense is averaging just under 2.5 goals per game, which won't get it done in the always competitive WCHA. Another area of concern is the goaltending, where freshman Matt McNeely and junior Aaron Crandall have combined for a .894 save percentage. Things might improve slightly, but UMD will finish in the lower half of the WCHA this year. Just two years after an NCAA Title, the Bulldogs will likely fail to win 18 games.

UMass-Lowell (2-4-1) This one is a real shocker. UML returned three forwards that were expected to be a catalyst to the offense. One of Hockey East's best rookies last year, Scott Wilson, has only put up one point in seven games. The River Hawks did lose two valuable forwards, but the league coaches expected them to duplicate their second place finish of a year ago. Lowell does have the benefit of only having played seven games so far. A turnaround is certainly possible, but second place is most likely out of the equation. The best I see UML finishing now is fourth place in Hockey East and unless they make a deep run in the conference tournament they will be on the outside looking in come NCAA Selection Sunday.

Wisconsin (1-4-1) The Badgers offense has been anemic so far this season, averaging less than two goals per game. They will have star freshman Nic Kerdiles joining them shortly after an eleven game NCAA suspension due to improper benefits. UW is very young on defense, especially after losing 44 point scorer Justin Schultz to the pros. The goaltending has been decent, combining for a .911 save percentage. After winning the 2006 NCAA Championship, the results have been inconsistent for Mike Eaves' program. He could certainly be on the hot seat if the Badgers do not turn it around this year. UW should improve some, but will most likely be on the road for the first round of the WCHA Tournament.