Predictions for the 2014-15 NCHC Hockey Season

The 2014-15 college hockey season is just around the corner. There’s roughly 25 days until the college hockey season begins. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference enters its second season and looks to build on a successful first season.

Last season, the NCHC had three teams (Denver, North Dakota and Saint Cloud) qualify for the NCAA tourney. The league also had a team make the Frozen Four (North Dakota).

UND goalie Zane Gothberg (Eric Classen/UND Athletics)
UND goalie Zane Gothberg (Eric Classen/UND Athletics)

Here’s my predictions for the 2014-15 NCHC season. Feel free to post your predictions, too.

League Champion (Playoffs)

Before I get accused of being a homer, hear me out. I predict the University of North Dakota will be the NCHC playoff champion. Here’s why. During his 10 seasons at UND, head coach Dave Hakstol’s teams have a (.583) winning percentage before Christmas and (.697) winning percentage after the Christmas break.  Hakstol’s teams typically peak during the second half of the season, so a playoff championship isn’t out of the question.  UND returns one of the top defensive corps in the NCHC, and also one of the top goaltenders.

Conference Champions (Regular Season)

After last season’s finish, the Miami RedHawks have a lot of questions to answer. I think the RedHawks will rebound to win the Penrose Cup.  I don’t think I am really going out on a limb here.  After failing miserably during the 2013-14 season, the RedHawks look to improve on a dismal, sub-par season that saw the RedHawks go (15-20-3, .434).

During the 2013 NCHC playoffs, the RedHawks defeated regular season champ Saint Cloud State in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. The RedHawks advanced to the Frozen Faceoff and beat UND 3-0 in the semifinals.  Miami would come up one game short of making the NCAA tourney, losing 4-3 to Denver in the NCHC Championship game. With a majority of their core offensive players returning, the RedHawks “should” be one of the top teams in the NCHC.

Biggest Rebound Team

As I mentioned above, the Miami University RedHawks have a lot of questions to answer after a dismal season. The RedHawks return a very talented group of forwards.  In my opinion, no team in the NCHC can match Miami’s top-six forwards. Miami should rebound and improve on last season’s poor showing.

Bust Team

The University of Nebraska-Omaha lost the reigning goal scoring champion, forward Josh Archibald (29g-14a—43pts) and defenseman Jaycob Megna (0g-10a—10pts). Both players signed professional contracts. Defenseman Nick Seeler also left the team for personal reasons.

This season, the Mavericks bring in a very large 11 player freshman class.

Top Scorer

Miami senior forward Austin Czarnik is the returning NCHC scoring champion from last season. Last season, Czarnik scored (13g-34a—47pts). Czarnik was ranked 10th nationally in points per game.

Top Defenseman

Colorado College sophomore defenseman Jacob Slavin is the returning top scoring Defenseman: he scored (5-19a—19pts) in 20 conference games. In 32 games last season, Slavin scored (5g-20a—25pts). Slaven was also ranked 10th nationally  in points per game scoring by a defenseman.

Top Goaltender

University of North Dakota junior goalie Zane McIntyre is poised to have another stellar season. McIntyre is also the top returning NCHC goalie. McIntyre was also ranked fifth nationally in goals against average (1.97). Gone are goalies Ryan Faragher SCSU and Sam Brittian Denver.

Top Rookie

North Dakota freshman forward Nick Schmaltz was the first round draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks. Schmaltz could have played in the OHL, but he chose to follow his brother Jordan to the University of North Dakota.

Breakout Player

Western Michigan goalie Lukas Hafner (9-6-2, 2.06 GAA and a .925 SV%) emerged as Western Michigan’s go-to guy in net last season.  Hafner played some key minutes for the Broncos after starting goalie Frank Slobowski’s (10-10-3, 2.86 GAA and a .905 SV%) performance dropped off from previous seasons.

Top 3 NHL Draft Picks

Nick Schmaltz, forward, University of North Dakota, drafted 20th by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Louis Belpedio, defenseman, Miami University, drafted 80th by the Minnesota Wild.

Matt Iacopelli, defense, Western Michigan, drafted 83th by the Chicago Blackhawks (2015-16)