With the return of college hockey, and indeed any sport, comes the return of the mountains of pressure heaped on the coaches. Below I have selected 5 coaches that are facing some sort of turning point: whether it be being on the hot seat, trying to elevate his program a level, or some other reason:
1. Don Lucia (Minnesota)
Let’s start with the obvious. After winning back to back NCAA titles in 2002 and 2003, the Gophers have won just 4 NCAA tournament games (1 Frozen Four) and have missed the last 2 NCAA tournaments. Not only that, but the Gophers have been questioned as to the way they run their program by Garth Snow, and they have experienced early departures en masse. It started with Kyle Okposo leaving midseason, but the Gophers have had to also deal with one and dones like Erik Johnson and Phil Kessel who, talented players though they are, don’t really serve as a building block for the program when they’re not around very long. Just this past year Minnesota lost Jordan Schroeder and Nick Leddy to pro deals, and Josh Birkholz to the WHL.
Some Gopher fans have called for Lucia’s firing, and that voice will only get louder next year, when the Gophers probably miss their 3rd straight NCAA tournament. There’s no question that the Gophers are getting talented players, it’s the keeping them that is the tough part.
2. Keith Allain (Yale)
Allain’s Yale team is coming off back to back ECAC regular season championships. This year the Bulldogs are expected to win it again, and expected to contend for the Frozen Four. But it’s not Yale that Allain will feel the most pressure to coach. That’s because he is the coach of the young men who will represent the United States at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY. The US enters this tournament in a position they have been in only once before: as defending gold medalists. The US team will have a lot of players eligible to come back, starting in net with Jack Campbell. Still, the team will likely have to go without their two best defensemen in John Carlson and Cam Fowler, who could both be in the NHL.
3. Dean Blais (Nebraska-Omaha) and 4. Tom Serratore (Bemidji State)
I decided to lump the WCHA newbies into one. Dean Blais makes his gallant return to the WCHA after winning two NCAA titles with North Dakota in the 90s. Blais was just over .500 in his first year with Omaha, but the future appears bright for the Mavs. Omaha returns some good scorers such as Rich Purslow (14 goals). Blais’s system seems like a better fit for the WCHA than the CCHA because the CCHA is a much more defensive conference. With some questions in goal, Omaha might not be challenging for the WCHA title yet, but they should be up in the upper echelon soon.
Bemidji meanwhile is two years removed from a Frozen Four berth. With many players back from the team that was a two seed last year in the NCAA tournament, it seems like even with the huge jump in competition the Beavers could be there right until the end in the WCHA race. Bemidji was the 6th best offense in the country last year, and even though they have much better defenses to go up against this year, I wouldn’t bet against them being a top 10 offense again.
5. Chris Bergeron (Bowling Green)
Taking over a program that went just 5-25-6 last year is a tough task. Taking over a program that was that bad and has had questions about its future is even tougher. Yet this is the situation Bergeron finds himself in. The former Miami Redhawk also spent the last 10 seasons in Miami as an assistant, so he knows how to take a program from terrible to great. The university has pledged money towards the renovation of its arena, and while alumni, administrators and coaches are all saying the right things regarding the program’s future, it’s clear that BGSU hockey remains on somewhat thin ice.
On the ice, the cupboard is pretty bare, and Bowling Green has an uphill battle. Leading scorer Jordan Samuels-Thomas (11-14–25) returns, and I like Senior David Solway to have a big year. Still, 3 of the Falcons top 4 scorers graduated and the Falcons had the worst goaltending in the CCHA last year. Don’t expect Bergeron to turn the ship around in one year, but I do like his long term potential at BG.