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  College Hockey Report
It's the Dawning of a New Era
by James Clippinger, Correspondent

The rinks have been flooded. The Zamboni blades have been sharpened. The flasks have been filled. The ultimate offensive phrase that rhymes with "Prestifilippo" has been coined.

Ah yes, the Division I college hockey season is upon us.

It's been a fairly normal off-season, with only a few coaching changes (with the oddest being Union head coach Stan Moore resigning to retake his assistant's post at Colgate) and the usual plethora of talented players leaving for the pro ranks. This included such notables as Boston College's Marty Reasoner, whose 69 points led the nation last season, and North Dakota's Aaron Schweitzer, who was demoted to the second string after having backstopped the Sioux to the 1997 NCAA title.

Ah, but there's still plenty of action out on the rinks, so I'll still have to prognosticate. Here's my top 10 for the upcoming season:

The Fighting Sioux lost only four players in the off-season. Yes, one was Schweitzer, but NoDak still has the best goaltender in the nation in sophomore Karl Goehring. Yes, WCHA Player of the Year Curtis Murphy has graduated, but the Sioux still come at opponents with the finest, fastest and most balanced forward attack in the nation, featuring Jason Blake, David Hoogsteen, Jay Panzer and Adam Calder, any one of whom would be a huge, team-defining star at nearly any other school. Another team might take the NCAA title, but there's little doubt that North Dakota's squad is one of the finest of the decade.

The Buckeyes are my sleeper out of the CCHA this year. Put a strong offense led by Hobey Baker candidate Hugo Boisvert and clutch scorer extraordinaire Chris Richards together with the terrific goaltending tandem of Ray Aho and Jeff Maund and you've got magic. Ohio State will also get a mid-season boost from opening the brand-spankin'-new Schottenstein Center, which will replace a decrepit OSU Ice Rink and perhaps give the squad some much-needed self-respect. The Buckeyes will not dominate, nor will they be flashy, but this team may end up as consistent winners.

Against all odds, the Wolverines walked away with the NCAA title last year, with then-frosh Josh Langfeld putting away Boston College. In overtime. In Boston. Although Red Berenson's squad loses two-time national champion goaltender Marty Turco and uberforwards Bill Muckalt and Matt Herr, they return much of the same young team that swiped the title from a better-on-paper BC side last year. Blue-chip prospect Josh Blackburn replaces Turco in nets, and if he pans out the Maize and Blue could dominate.

Everyone's picking BC to win it all this year, but (probably dooming myself to be wrong here), I just don't see it. Yes, they return sophomore wunderkind Brian Gionta and a stellar scoring defensive corps, but this team ain't going nowhere with Scott Clemmensen in net. With defensemen pinching in constantly to keep a now Reasonerless offense on track, Clemmensen will be the weak link in what could be a very streaky team. The good news for the Eagles: Hockey East is weak as hell this year.

Once again this year, the ECAC is completely up for grabs. Harvard returns the Craig Adams/Steve Moore/Chris Bala line that could be the best in the East if Adams regains his form from last year's season-ending shoulder injury and sophomores Moore and Bala continue their development. Add a strong defense headed by Ben Storey and J.R. Prestifilippo's smooth-as-Shaft goaltending and Harvard could contend for the national title if everything goes just right.

The Spartans are defensive all-stars, but with the exception of Mike York there ain't much scoring. The graduation of Hobey runner-up Chad Alban in net dooms this team, since sophomore Joe Blackburn (no relation to archrival Michigan's new netminder) can only hope to match Alban's stopping skills, and not his extraordinary puckhandling. Alban drove this team for the past couple of years, and now it's time to pay.

The all-everything line of Brain Swanson/Darren Clark/Toby Peterson does not a team make. Don Lucia overplayed these guys last year, and he'll have to keep at it since a shaky defense and outmatched goaltender Colin Zulianello won't keep the Tigers close against quality opposition. This team is the Mighty Ducks of elite college hockey.

They'll crack some heads and score enough to do well in the CCHA, but their real forte will be the NCAAs. Probably the only team hoping to be sent to the opposite regional, since the Wildcats' huge, clean hits will decimate nearly any Eastern team.

The Black Bears have the best recruiting class in the country, but it includes a bunch of transfers and former junior players. It might take the Downeasters a while to gel, but watch for a strong second half once they do.

The Catamounts are probably a first-half team that will take people by surprise. The real question is whether Mike Gilligan can actually coach a pretty talented team into contention. Since he couldn't do it with an astoundingly talented team a few years back, I kinda doubt it, but some gritty scorers and a packed Gutterson Field House could do it.

Others Considered:

PRINCETON: Too much of a question in goal.

UNH: Too little returning scoring.

CLARKSON: It's time for an off year.

RPI: Losing top forward Matt Garver to Division III RIT cannot be a good sign for an already inconsistent team. Coach Dan Fridgen is on the bubble.

MINNESOTA: They'd be great if NHL teams stopped signing their players away.

WISCONSIN: Solid team in need of goaltender. Does Jim Carey have any eligibility left?

YALE: Alex Westlund does not a team make.

BOSTON U.: Rebuilding, but still a threat.

COLGATE: If they find a finisher, my alma mater could contend in the ECAC.

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