September 26, 2012 by Casey Hart
Now for the fun part, ranking the actual top 20. First up are the final five teams to make my top-20 list. They are are: two teams that showed promise during bumpy seasons last year, two of the top programs of recent years but have some rebuilding to do and a final squad that might just be a little better this year despite the loss of its star player.
Previously: Near misses
2011-12 record: 17-18-2
WCHA finish: 10th
WCHA tournament: participant
The Badgers earn the distinction of making this list despite finishing last season with a losing record. (It’s like the 2008 NCAA tournament all over again!) Why give a top-20 spot to a 10th-place finisher in its own league? First off, there’s Mark Zengerle (13-37-50), one of just two 50-point men returning to college hockey. (The other is Bentley’s Brett Gensler.) And he’s not alone. The Badgers lost just one player to graduation and two to early pro signings. However, one of those to check out early was Justin Schultz, an All-America defenseman who also happened to lead his team in goal-scoring. Underclassmen occupied the rest of the list of the top eight scorers, and another, then-freshman Joe Rumpel (.919, 2.48, 12-12-2), manned the crease.
17. New Hampshire
2011-12 record: 15-19-3
Hockey East finish: sixth
Hockey East tournament: quarterfinalist
Last season must have been maddening for UNH fans. After losing their first four games, the Wildcats launched into a 5-0-2 run that included wins against the likes of Union, Maine and UMass Lowell. A stretch of one win in eight games followed, and … you get the idea. One thing that plagued New Hampshire was a tendency to allow goals in bunches, but freshman Casey DeSmith (.926, 2.33, 9-10-1) provided some defensive stability after taking over in net in December. Seven of the top eight scorers are back, led by Nick Sorkin (9-26-35), but the graduation of Stevie Moses leaves the Wildcats with just one player, sophomore-to-be Grayson Downing (10-13-23), who hit double digits in goals. Only two other forwards and one defenseman graduated, and the Wildcats got Jerry York’s vote to win Hockey East.
2011-12 record: 24-15-2
NCAA tournament: participant
CCHA finish: fourth
CCHA tournament: third
USCHO final rank: 8 • My final rank: 12
On the downside, the RedHawks lost half of their regular skaters and all three of their goalies, including the two-headed monster of Connor Knapp (.933, 1.69 15-8-0) and Cody Reichard (.900, 2.47, 9-7-2) that has started every game for Miami since sometime around 1994. So, yeah, that’s a big downside. The good news is Austin Czarnik (10-27-37) was one of three freshmen to net double-digit goals.
19. Minnesota Duluth
2011-12 record: 25-10-6
NCAA tournament: quarterfinalist
WCHA finish: second
WCHA tournament: semifinalist
USCHO final rank: 6 • My final rank: 10
The Bulldogs lost their top three scorers—including Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly (20-40-60)—and five of their top seven, not to mention title-winning goaltender Kenny Reiter (.911, 2.43, 23-9-6). They do return 30-point men Mike Seidel (17-13-30) and Caleb Herbert (14-19-33) and, frankly, get the benefit of the doubt because of their 51-20-12 record over the last two seasons.
20. Colorado College
2011-12 record: 18-16-2
WCHA finish: sixth
WCHA tournament: participant
Former NHL first-round pick Jaden Schwartz (15-26-41) left the Tigers after leading the team in scoring in each of his first two years in Colorado Springs, but it was big brother Rylan (23-17-40) who paced the squad in goals last season and is back for more in 2012-13. The Tigers edge Maine for the final spot in my top 20 because of defense. Josh Thorimbert (.924, 2.35, 13-8-1) is back, along with five of the top six defensemen in games played last season.