Week 1: Season preview for college hockey in the state of Michigan

Here we are again, Nation. It’s just about that time for another exciting season of college hockey in the state of Michigan.

Last season, the mitten sent two teams to the annual Division I NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament. Michigan Tech earned a tournament bid for the second time in three seasons. And Western Michigan made the dance for the first time since 2012.

What do those two have in store for an encore? And how will the remaining five programs fare this season? Time for our crash course season preview as the new year gets underway for most of the teams this week.

NOTE: Michigan State will be exempt from our season preview, as their season does not get underway until the following weekend.

FERRIS STATE BULLDOGS vs. WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS

Always fun when we get two in-state foes meeting to open the regular season. We get just that with a non-conference home-and-home weekend series between Ferris State and Western Michigan.

FSU will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 13-9-5 season. The Bulldogs lose three of their top five point scorers from a year ago, including leader Gerald Mayhew. Now leading the way will be junior Corey Mackin (13 G, 13 A last season) and senior Mitch Maloney (12 G, 8 A). And expect sophomore Justin Kapelmaster to hold down starting duties in net, after posting a sparkling .930 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average as a freshman.

WMU will be replacing their top three scorers from last season, so look for junior Colt Conrad and sophomore Wade Allison to step up. Should be interesting to see what head coach Andy Murray can do with a roster filled largely with underclassmen. Of the 27 Broncos on the roster, 17 are either freshman or sophomore status.

These two played one another to open the season each of the last two seasons. Western swept the series last year.

  • Game 1: Friday, October 6 @ WMU (7:05 p.m. ET)
  • Game 2: Saturday, October 7 @ FSU (7:07 p.m. ET)

LAKE SUPERIOR ST. LAKERS vs. NO. MICHIGAN WILDCATS

Why have just one in-state series to open up the season when you can have two? Apparently Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan wanted to one-up Ferris and Western by throwing the conference wrinkle into it.

Lake Superior showed a lot of promise early on last season, winning six of their first eight games. Unfortunately, the Lakers managed to only win five more games and finish 11-18-7. A team flooded with young talent not only showed potential but definitely moments of rawness and inexperience. Head coach Damon Whitten is hoping that a large returning core can take that next step and overcome the premature departure of last year’s leading scorer, Mitch Hults.

Northern Michigan towards the end of last year salvaged what was largely a rough year in Marquette. While a 9-5-2 stretch was very encouraging, an overall mark of 13-22-4 was not good enough to save Walt Kyle’s job as head coach with the Wildcats. In comes Grant Potulny, one of four new head coaches in the mitten this year. The 37-year-old Potulny comes over after eight seasons as an assistant with Minnesota; he also has international experience as an assistant as well.

These two WCHA “Yooper” rivals played each other four times in a week’s span last year, fittingly playing to a 1-1-2 stalemate in those games.

  • Game 1: Friday, October 6 @ LSSU (7:37 p.m. ET)
  • Game 2: Saturday, October 7 @ NMU (7:07 p.m. ET)

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Michigan begins a new era of college hockey in Ann Arbor as former Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson takes over for long-time head coach Red Berenson, who retired in April after 33 years behind the bench.

Pearson, a former assistant of more than 20 years at Michigan under Berenson, inherits a program that has reached the NCAA Tournament just once in the last five seasons. The Michigan faithful hope that he can return the Wolverines to the type of program most college hockey junkies recognize them as: perennial powers, the kind that reached the dance 22 straight years from 1989-2001, reaching 11 Frozen Fours and winning two national titles.

So what kind of team is Pearson assuming? Well hopefully one capable of bouncing back right away. Michigan returns their top five and seven of their top 10 point scorers from a year ago. Four of those seven were freshman, so there could be a nice unit forming in Ann Arbor.

First up for the Wolverines this season is a trip out east to New York against ECAC foes St. Lawrence (Friday, October 6 | 7 p.m. ET) and Clarkson (Saturday, October 7| 7 p.m. ET). Actually, they are flip-flopping with Penn State this weekend. The Nittany Lions also play the same two teams this weekend, just on the opposite days.

MICHIGAN TECH HUSKIES

Of our seven Division I programs in the mitten, Michigan Tech already has an official game under their belt. The Huskies dropped a game at No. 12 Wisconsin on Sunday 3-2.

It was the first game for new Huskies head coach Joe Shawhan (pronounced “Shawn”), whom was promoted from his assistant title after Pearson left for Michigan. Shawhan was Tech’s assistant the last three seasons and has 20+ years of coaching experience across the collegiate and junior hockey levels.

The Huskies last season had a lot of success scoring and sharing the wealth, with 10 different players reaching the 20-point plateau. Some of those players have graduated, but many of them return, including junior Joel L’Esperance, who led the team in scoring. Look for Gavin Gould to make a big step forward after a solid freshman campaign as well.

It does not get any easier for Michigan Tech. This upcoming weekend, they will partake in the annual Ice Breaker Tournament, which takes place on the campus on Minnesota-Duluth this year. The Huskies will play first play Union (Friday, October 7 | 5:07 p.m. ET), then either play Minnesota or Minnesota-Duluth (Saturday, October 8 | TBD).