Here we go. A new NCAA Division III hockey season is underway and every team here in the west region is looking forward to a full slate of games.
The MIAC lost a team and gained a team, the WIAC still technically has the reigning national champion in it – that would be Wisconsin-Stevens Point – and St. Norbert is playing again after sitting out 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That only makes the NCHA even tougher than it already is.
But we begin the season with a number of non-conference games. Here’s a handful to keep an eye on during the opening weekend.
Wisconsin-Stevens Point vs. St. Norbert
It’s a game fitting for the NCAA tournament, and there might not be a better way to start off a year than having two national powers go at it.
The best part is they’ll play two in a home-and-home, starting Friday at St. Norbert.
The Pointers actually played hockey last season, which means they won’t have to shake the rust off as much as the Green Knights will.
But St. Norbert has plenty of experience back from its team two years ago and that will make things interesting.
UW-Stevens Point, 3-1; St. Norbert 4-3
Saint Mary’s at Lake Forest
The Cardinals hit the road for a two-game set against the Foresters in one of the more interesting early-season crossover matchups.
The last time these two teams played back in 2019, they played to a tie in the opener before the Cardinals lost 4-3 in the finale.
Saint Mary’s opened last season with four consecutive wins. Another hot start would be something they would love to see.
The Foresters are looking for a quick start as well after a one-win season last year. They’ll be under the direction of a new coach and have a good mix of veterans and newcomers. Playing at home won’t hurt their cause either.
Saint Mary’s, 4-2; Lake Forest, 3-2
Concordia (Wisconsin) at St. Scholastica
It’s a game pitting two former conference opponents. Concordia remains in the NCHA but St. Scholastica is now in the MIAC.
The Falcons won both games last year, including one in overtime and return their starting goaltender in Bo Didur. If he performs well, the Falcons have a shot.
But the Saints are no pushover. They return their top five point scorers from a year ago. It will be interesting to see if offense or defense wins out in this one.
St. Scholastica, 5-3
Marian at Concordia
The Cobbers and Sabres play a two-game set over the weekend.
Concordia comes in looking to shake the rust off after playing just two games last season.
The good news is the Cobbers have two of their top players back in Tyler Bossert and Jacen Bracko. Those two will be counted on to jump start the offense early.
Marian, meanwhile, is coming off a season where it won the NCHA tournament. The Sabres have the offensive weapons to make life tough on any opponent and they also have a veteran goaltender who was the MVP of the league tourney.
Marian, 4-1 and 5-4
Aurora at Arcadia
The Spartans have a lot of experience back, losing only one player from last season’s team. The returning group includes All-American goaltender Josh Boyko. Having a player like that gives Aurora a chance to win on any given night.
The Spartans face an Arcadia team that is brand new to the NCAA Division III hockey world. And while there will be excitement because of it, especially with the Knights playing this two-game series at home, the experience of the Spartans likely wins out this weekend.
Aurora, 5-1 and 6-2
Wisconsin-Eau Claire at Saint John’s
This game pits two of the better teams in the west region. The Blugolds are the favorite in the WIAC and the Johnnies could be the team to beat in the MIAC this season.
It’s a good early-season test for both teams. Saint John’s welcomes back several of its top players, including Mac Berglove, who won five games last season. The Johnnies also return one of their top scorers in Auggie Moore.
The Blugolds are always on top of things offensively and scored 29 goals in an eight-game season a year ago. That momentum should carry over into this season.
UW-Eau Claire 3, Saint John’s 2
Adrian at Utica
This is a huge non-conference two-game series for both teams right out of the gate. The first game is set for Saturday and the series concludes Sunday.
The Bulldogs bring back a wealth of talent, including Alessio Luciani, who was the player of the year in the NCHA last season. They also welcome back Zachary Heintz, who was the freshman of the year in the conference two seasons ago before sitting out last year because of the pandemic.
The Pioneers played 10 games last season, winning eight, and outscored the opposition 56-13 during an eight-game win streak. They return 13 of their top 14 scorers from a team that led the country in scoring last year at 5.90 goals per game.
Utica, 5-3; Adrian 6-5