With the calendar turned to a brand new 12 months, the school hockey season is hitting excessive gear, with convention play heating up and the NCAA match about two months away.
There are some totally different squads than we have seen the previous few years close to the highest of the nationwide rankings and their respective leagues, with conventional powers and outdated stand-bys additionally within the combine.
Convention tournaments will start on or round March 8, with league champs being topped by March 23. The 16-team NCAA discipline can be introduced March 24, with regional play starting March 28. The Frozen 4 can be held April 11 and 13 on the Xcel Power Heart in St. Paul, Minnesota.
To get you caught up on what’s occurred within the first half of the season and what’s forward, we requested ESPN faculty hockey analysts Colby Cohen, Andrew Raycroft and Sean Ritchlin about their favourite gamers to look at, the most important surprises of the season, essentially the most intriguing league races and their Frozen 4 picks.
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What group has been the most important shock to date this season?
Ritchlin: Mike Hastings had an unbelievable decade of dominance at Minnesota State, constructing that program right into a confirmed winner over his tenure, together with a spot within the nationwide championship recreation within the 2022 Frozen 4 at Boston. Then got here the change for Hastings to Wisconsin after the completion of final season. Coming off a last-place end within the Massive Ten with 13-23-0 report, the Badgers have already got 19 wins and have given up solely 39 targets (1.63 per recreation), by far the very best within the convention (Minnesota is subsequent at 2.73 targets allowed per recreation). The eye to element within the impartial zone and defensive zone have fully turned this program round.
Raycroft: Sean is true. Hastings was employed with an ideal pedigree, however I didn’t count on the turnaround to be so fast. At 19-4-1, Wisconsin has essentially the most wins within the nation to go along with a powerful 10-2 Massive Ten report. This group can be a tough out come March.
Cohen: I do not assume any of us anticipated to see Maine and Wisconsin close to the highest of the Pairwise rankings to start out 2024, however that is nice for #Cawlidgehawkey. At Maine, it is nice to see Alfond Area again and energized once more and it is unbelievable how coach Ben Barr has introduced the Black Bears again in his second 12 months at Orono. School hockey is best and extra thrilling when the Black Bears are making noise. The identical is true in Madison, however the distinction is we’ve got all come to count on Mike Hastings magic. Hastings introduced in a lot of new recruits and gamers from the switch portal and has Wisconsin again within the dialog to compete for the nationwide championship. It will be actually fascinating to see if these colleges can proceed the upward pattern within the second half of the season.
What league race do you discover essentially the most intriguing?
Raycroft: Hockey East is loaded, with the highest two groups within the nation (Boston College and Boston School) and 4 of the highest 9 (Maine, Windfall) primarily based on the present Pairwise rankings. It’ll battle to the top for the league title, however the combat in the midst of the league can be simply as compelling. Matchups can be an enormous key come playoff time, and any of the highest seven groups may go on a run to win the convention match and extra importantly the automated berth into the NCAA regionals.
Cohen: As Andrew mentioned, Hockey East is an absolute gauntlet this season. Along with the groups he talked about, New Hampshire and UMass are within the Pairwise high 15, and the convention is loaded with big-time NHL draft picks, sturdy goaltending and nice coaches. The BU-BC sequence Jan. 26 and 27, to be adopted by a first-round Beanpot matchup Feb. 5, may inform us lots about how the convention goes to shake out.
Ritchlin: Each convention has some drama, however the CCHA and Atlantic Hockey should not have a group within the high 16 within the Pairwise presently. If that stands, solely the convention match champ in these leagues will make the 16-team NCAA match, so dwelling ice turns into essential — common season video games will tackle a playoff-like ambiance heading into the stretch run.
Who’s your favourite participant to look at?
Cohen: That is powerful, however Macklin Celebrini and Lane Hutson blow me away each time they pull that BU sweater on. Hutson is essentially the most dynamic defenseman I’ve seen on the NCAA degree and what Celebrini has finished as a 17-year-old has been super. The freshman line down the road at BC is not so dangerous to look at both. I may checklist a lot of others too … what an ideal 12 months for faculty hockey.
Raycroft: Cutter Gauthier. As Colby alluded to, there was a number of buzz about BC’s freshman line, which performed intact for Group USA within the World Juniors, however the greatest offensive driver of the group is Gauthier. His measurement, velocity, energy and shot are all NHL prepared and it is evident each time he steps on the ice. Between his on-ice presence and the off-ice commotion, Cutter Gauthier is cannot miss.
Ritchlin: Groups need guys that may put the puck within the internet. Do not get me incorrect, seeing somebody create open ice and dangle three guys is thrilling, however the expertise of discovering the twine is particular. There are a number of nice pure goal-scorers this 12 months within the NCAA (Gauthier, Minnesota’s Jimmy Snuggerud, Western Michigan’s Dylan Wendt), however none better than Denver’s Jack Devine, who all the time appears to seek out the puck in entrance of the web. He has 18 targets in 22 video games within the tough NCHC. He’ll go to the soiled areas to attain, but in addition can strike from the surface. His growth from a 17-year-old freshman on the third or fourth line to the place he’s right this moment is spectacular; the Florida Panthers discovered a gem within the seventh spherical of the 2022 draft.
What group is about as much as have a second-half surge?
Cohen: Maintain your eyes on Western Michigan. The Broncos by no means get the publicity, however Pat Ferschweiler’s group has performed some high-quality hockey this season. They’ve appeared to get higher with every passing week and will definitely have the chance to turn out to be battle examined down the stretch of the NCHC season.
Raycroft: Quinnipiac. The defending nationwide champs have gone about their enterprise, staying within the high 10 all season, and I believe they’re constructing towards one other gear. The ECAC is mild this season, which ought to set the Bobcats up for a giant second half of making ready for defending their title.
Ritchlin: Michigan is off to a sluggish begin at 10-7-3 and might want to have a way of urgency within the second half in an effort to make the NCAA match. 4 gamers (Rutger McGroarty, Seamus Casey, Frank Nazar and Gavin Brindley) are getting back from World Juniors with a ton of confidence after successful the gold medal; they are going to be leaned on closely to get the Wolverines going within the path coach Brandon Naurato envisioned. Group protection can be key. Offensively they’re deep and may rating from a number of areas, however they might want to mix that scoring contact with sturdy defensive play in an effort to make a run.
Who do you count on to see within the Frozen 4?
Cohen: Boston College, Boston School, North Dakota and Denver
Raycroft: I am going straight blue bloods too: BC, BU, Denver and North Dakota
Ritchlin: BC, BU, Denver and Quinnipiac. I believe Wisconsin, with that nice protection, has an outdoor shot as nicely. BC and BU are insanely proficient with a number of gamers on each groups who’re going to put on an NHL sweater earlier than later. We’ve not seen a group with that make-up win all of it in awhile — possibly that is the 12 months.