All eight NCHC teams are in action this weekend, and aside from Miami’s exhibition tonight against the U.S. Under-18 team, all the games — finally — count. Western Michigan is already off to a good start this week, with a 3-1 mid-week win over Bowling Green. The Broncos’ Colt Conrad already has three goals this season.
In case you missed it, some relevant NCHC items on the site from the past two weeks:
- My full NCHC preview, i.e. an overview of the strengths/weaknesses/outlook of each of the league’s teams.
- NCHC Watch List: A look at 5 storylines to watch this season, as well as 5 players to watch (beyond just the names you’ve seen garner preseason honors on the all-conference team)
- Above and Beyond: A feature on Denver, after I spoke to head coach Jim Montgomery and sophomore star Henrik Borgstrom about whether it’s really possible to be as motivated to repeat as champions as they were last year to win their first title
- Quiet on the Western Front: A feature on North Dakota, with comments from Shane Gersich about his outlook for the season.
- Denver Seems Destined to Repeat: A column by my colleague Joe Meloni about the favorites to win the title this season.
3 Things to Watch this weekend:
- St. Cloud’s season opener
In the NCHC preview above, I talked about St. Cloud as the team in the league most likely to challenge Denver this season. And that’s in large part because players who scored 100 of the team’s 105 goals last season return this year.
Still, I anticipate that the defense will make or break the Huskies this season, so players to watch in that regard are junior Will Borgen (a fourth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2015), sophomore Jack Ahcan (21 points as a rookie last year), and junior Jimmy Schuldt (the Huskies’ captain).
It helps, too, to have a head coach in Bob Motzko who has led a team to the Frozen Four recently and won a gold medal last season as head coach for the World Junior team — a position he will renew this winter.
This is Motzko’s 13th year as head coach of the Huskies. St. Cloud takes on Alaska (WCHA) in a two-game nonconference series starting tonight.
“I never want to sound like an old guy, but I truly enjoy the building of the team and the process that we go through,” said Motzko ahead of the season. “Individual wins are awesome moments, but then when that moment’s over, and you go back over, and it’s — you know, when you recruit a Nic Dowd out of Huntsville, Alabama, and he becomes an All-American and now he’s playing in the National Hockey League. To be a part of that whole process… It’s not cliche. Those are the things you enjoy the most, watching the development of young men.”
2. Denver/Notre Dame rematch
Denver pummeled Notre Dame, 6-1, in the national semifinals last year en route to the national title. The result was somewhat unexpected given the close regular season meetings recently, but regardless, the anticipated rematch begins tonight. Both games will air on NBC Sports Network.
For Denver, Montgomery confirmed that he will start the season with the same top line with which he ended last season — Dylan Gambrell centering Jarod Lukosevicius and Troy Terry. On his second line, Henrik Borgstrom will be paired with classmate Liam Finlay and rookie Ryan Barrow.