The NCAA Division I men’s hockey season opens Saturday with two regular-season games (Niagara at Colgate, Union at Boston University) and several exhibition contests.
College hockey enters 2017-18 enjoying an era of unprecedented parity and success in developing players for the professional ranks. Below are some of the top storylines and elite performers to watch as the season gets underway.
Repeat after me? – In April Denver became the seventh school to win a national championship in the last seven years, a stretch that has included four first-time champions.
The Pioneers enter 2017-18 as the favorites to repeat, something no team has done since the Denver teams in 2004 and ’05. They would have to overcome an era of unprecedented parity in the sport.
More than half of all Division I teams have made the 16-team NCAA tournament in the last five years (34).
NCAA Tournament Appearances, Last 5 Seasons
5 – Denver, North Dakota
4 – Boston College, UMass Lowell, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Providence, Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State
3 – Boston University, Harvard, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State, Union, Yale
2 – Ferris State, Miami, Michigan Tech, RIT, Wisconsin
1 – Air Force, Canisius, Colgate, Cornell, Michigan, New Hampshire, Niagara, Northeastern, Ohio State, Omaha, Penn State, Robert Morris, Vermont, Western Michigan
Back for more – While early departures for the pros are commonplace across college sports – and 38 underclassmen left early for NHL deals in the offseason – several stars decided to return to campus to continue working toward their degree, develop their game and pursue a championship. Among them are top NHL prospects Henrik Borgstrom and Troy Terry (Denver), Dylan Sikura and Adam Gaudette (Northeastern), Jordan Greenway and Thomas Hickey (Boston University) and Daniel Brickley (Minnesota State).
More on who’s back – Five 50-point scorers from a year ago are back, more than any of the last six seasons. Last year featured only one returning 50-point scorer (Brock Boeser). Returning players combined for 4,456 goals a year ago, up 10% from last year’s returnees.
Top Returning Scorers
58 pts. – Brady Ferguson, Robert Morris
57 – Dylan Sikura, Northeastern (CHI)
55 – Mason Jobst, Ohio State
53 – Tyler Sheehy, Minnesota
52 – Adam Gaudette, Northeastern (VAN)
Leading Active Career Scorers
118 pts. – Brady Ferguson, Robert Morris
97 – Landon Smith, Quinnipiac
93 – Mike Szmatula, Minnesota
92 – Dylan Sikura, Northeastern (CHI)
92 – Jake Evans, Notre Dame (MTL)
Eyes on Olympics – With the NHL not sending players to the Olympics for the first time since 1994, current college players will have the chance to represent their countries in PyeongChang. Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato will lead the U.S. team as head coach, with assistance from Yale head coach Keith Allain. Participants will miss some time in February, which could add a wrinkle to conference championship races.
New faces – Nine new head coaches are leading their teams in 2017-18, including Mel Pearson taking over for the legendary Red Berenson at Michigan. Conference champions in Atlantic Hockey (Canisius, Trevor Large) and the WCHA (Michigan Tech, Joe Shawhan) both elevated assistant coaches to lead their teams.
Young guns – Two freshmen were first-team All-Americans last year (Harvard’s Adam Fox and Denver’s Henrik Borgstrom), while freshmen had led the nation in scoring each of the previous two seasons (Kyle Connor and Jack Eichel). Rookies are entering college ready to make an impact like never before. Some extremely talented newcomers come to campus this fall, led by first-round draft picks Casey Mittelstadt (Minnesota) and Cale Makar (Massachusetts). | ISS Hockey’s Top 30 Freshmen
First things first – Ten NHL first-round draft picks will play in the NCAA ranks this season, leading nearly 200 NHL draft picks on college rosters. Thirty NHL teams have prospects in the college game, while 44 NCAA rosters feature at least one NHL draft pick. | NHL Draft Picks in NCAA Hockey
Show stoppers – Seven of the top 10 goaltenders in save percentage last year return in 2017-18. That group includes national champion Tanner Jaillet (Denver), first-round draft pick Jake Oettinger (Boston University), WCHA Player of the Year Michael Bitzer (Bemidji State) and graduate transfer Kyle Hayton (Wisconsin). Active Career Shutout Leaders 16 – Michael Bitzer, Bemidji State 13 – Kyle Hayton, Wisconsin (stats from St. Lawrence) 9 – Cam Johnson, North Dakota 8 – Eric Schierhorn, Minnesota 7 – Merrick Madsen, Harvard
Who takes home the Hobey? – Only two of the 10 finalists for the 2017 Hobey Baker Award return in 2017-18, as Bemidji State’s Michael Bitzer and Minnesota’s Tyler Sheehy lead their teams into the new season. Other candidates could include high scoring forwards like Brady Ferguson (Robert Morris) or Ryan Donato (Harvard), elite goaltenders like those mentioned above, or top defensemen like Daniel Brickley (Minnesota State).
Smart guys – The talent U.S. college hockey players display on the rink is matched by their performance in the classroom. Hockey is among the very best NCAA Division I men’s sports in the NCAA’s two biggest academic metrics – the Graduation Success Rate (92%) and Academic Progress Rate.
A number of NHLers have worked to complete their degrees after leaving campus as well. Recently Torey Krug (Michigan State), Colton Parayko (Alaska) and David Backes (Minnesota State) have joined the ranks of graduates.