When it comes to men’s college hockey in Minnesota, 2018-19 was a banner season – literally -- in differing ways, for three teams. Minnesota Duluth will hang its second consecutive national championship banner, while St. Cloud State ran away with the NCHC regular-season title and Minnesota State reigned over the WCHA in both the regular season and tournament. All three teams garnered No. 1 NCAA tournament seeds – a first for any state.
With the just-completed season in mind, here’s an offseason wish list for the Bulldogs, Huskies and Mavericks, along with Minnesota and Bemidji State.
Bemidji State: Finishing touch on the power play
The Beavers finished 15-17-6 in 2018-19, and the stat that stands out was their power play, which ranked 53rd among 60 teams nationally at 13.99 percent. That lack of production with the man advantage was a big reason why Bemidji State averaged 2.5 goals per game, which tied for 42nd in the nation. The good news for the Beavers is that Charlie Combs, Adam Brady and Aaron Miller, who combined for 10 of the team’s 20 power-play goals, have eligibility remaining.
Minnesota: Maturity in a hurry
When coach Bob Motzko took over the Gophers a year ago, he listed getting older as a goal for his team. Well, that won’t happen right away because the Gophers lose nine seniors, including captain Tyler Sheehy, plus juniors in All-America forward Rem Pitlick and top goalie Mat Robson. Motzko received standout contributions from his freshman class this season, especially from the BMW line of Nathan Burke, Blake McLaughlin and Sammy Walker, a trio that combined for 21 goals and 40 assists. Production like that from the incoming crop of talented newcomers would go a long way in ending a two-year NCAA tournament absence.
Minnesota State: Some NCAA tournament luck
Over the past five seasons, the Mavericks have won 133 games, capped by a 32-8-2 mark this year. The problem: The NCAA tournament hex hit again. A year after it lost to eventual national champion Minnesota Duluth in the first round, No. 1 seed Minnesota State fell 6-3 to Providence in Providence in the NCAA East Regional first round. That dropped the Mavericks to 0-6 in NCAA play as a Division I program and 0-5 under coach Mike Hastings. It’s not as if Minnesota state isn’t battle-tested, either. The Mavericks supplement their WCHA schedule with an ambitious nonconference slate, which included Boston University, North Dakota, Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth this season. This should turn, shouldn’t it?
St. Cloud State: Retool on the fly
First-year coach Brett Larson acknowledged he didn’t need to reinvent the wheel with the 2018-19 Huskies, a veteran group that held the nation’s No. 1 ranking for most of the season. Larson’s task for the upcoming season will be replacing five of the team’s top scorers, which included two Hobey Baker Award finalists (Jimmy Schuldt, Patrick Newell), a gritty center (Blake Lizotte), a prolific scorer (Robby Jackson) and a talented forward who had a hat trick and a shootout winner in his NHL debut (Ryan Poehling). Can St. Cloud State be a No. 1 NCAA seed next season? That’s a tall order but given the Huskies’ back-to-back ousters against the No. 16 overall seed, maybe flying under the radar isn’t a bad thing.
Minnesota Duluth: Keep (most of) the band together
The Bulldogs have an opportunity to win three consecutive NCAA championships, a feat accomplished only by Michigan from 1951 to ’53. For that to happen, keeping as many talented players as possible on campus would go a long way. That will be difficult, and the Bulldogs were hit with their first early departure Wednesday when junior forward Riley Tufte signed with the Dallas Stars, who drafted the 6-6, 230-pounder in the first round in 2016. The Bulldogs and coach Scott Sandelin are in wait-and-see mode with standouts like sophomore defensemen Mikey Anderson, Scott Perunovich or Dylan Samberg.