I want to point out that when we performed this exercise last year, I practically nailed the major points of the opening night lineup.
The reason for reminding everyone of this? I probably won't be able to pull off a repeat performance.
This UMD team will very much have a different makeup than last year. A few things -- center depth, scoring balance, consistent defense and goaltending -- never really developed last year. At various times, some or all of these issues came to the forefront, and the result was a near 20-loss season.
To flip that around and blast past 20 wins for the fifth time in six years, UMD needs some guys to step up. The Bulldogs will sport much-improved forward depth, and while there aren't many big names in the defensive corps, it's a group that could be very solid once the right pairings are found.
All three goalies are back from last year. More is expected there, but they'll get more help than they did in 2012-13.
Without any further ado, let me launch into what I think this lineup will look like come October. Same disclaimers apply. I reserve the right to change this a couple, 13, 14, or even 22 times before Lakehead and UMD hit the ice Oct. 7.
Also, I have put this together with minimal espionage work done. In other words, I'm trying not to cheat too much. That comes later.
Austin Farley - Tony Cameranesi - Joe Basaraba
Dom Toninato - Caleb Herbert - Alex Iafallo
Justin Crandall - Cal Decowski - Adam Krause
Austyn Young - Max Tardy - Charlie Sampair
Kyle Osterberg - Sammy Spurrell
Andy Welinski - Willie Corrin
Willie Raskob - Tim Smith
Dan Molenaar - Derik Johnson
Carson Soucy - Luke McManus
Aaron Crandall - Alex Fons - Matt McNeely
I kept the top group together, though I think there's a money chance that doesn't happen. Basaraba's size is a good compliment to Farley and Cameranesi, as he gives them room to maneuver and get creative five-on-five, when room is so often at a premium.
Herbert could have a big season centering whomever he ends up centering. I'll stick the Fargo kids (well, at least they were for juniors) there with Caleb, even though both are left-hand shots. The way these lines are laid out, there are three lefties (the two freshmen and Farley) among the four wings on the top two lines. No reason this couldn't sustain, but keep in mind some guys can't play comfortably on the off-wing. Farley slid to the right side a couple times last year (at least my fuzzy memory indicates that this happened), but he did his damage as Cameranesi's left wing.
Had a really hard time laying out the third and fourth lines. I think Tardy and Sampair are the most potentially interesting guys on this team. Tardy is a senior, and while he hasn't had the career he hoped to have, I thought he showed flashes last year while caught up in a numbers game with some younger guys. Sampair tailed off a bit late, but had flashed plenty of ability around midseason. No question he can skate and could fit well as a penalty killer as he works to realize his offensive potential.
If Tardy is to get caught in the numbers game again, look for Spurrell to get a shot on that fourth line. He has decent size and has shown offensive ability in juniors.
On the defense, I'm not sure about anything. Welinski will play every game he's healthy for, and he'll play a lot. The other seven guys will be battling out of the chute for ice time. Corrin has the best skill set to play alongside Welinski, though he'll have to prove he's ready. I think Raskob plays as long as he shows he is ready to. Indications were he was brought in earlier than initially planned, and that tells me he isn't coming in to burn a year of eligibility by watching games in the press box. Smith is the kind of defenseman who is most effective when the play by play isn't saying his name a whole lot. Don't notice him? He's probably playing well.
I've heard good things about Molenaar and Soucy, but don't know much about either one's game and how it translates to Division I. Johnson and McManus have plenty of experience, and McManus has the advantage of being a guy who can help on the power play.
As far as the goaltending is concerned, I think McNeely gets a shot to prove he's the guy. He has to be more consistent. When starting both ends of a weekend series, McNeely was much worse on Saturday than he was Friday. That can't happen again. Crandall is a good option to play if needed, and Fons is likely itching to get another chance after playing in Bemidji last season.
Krause and Crandall showed a lot of chemistry working on the penalty kill last year, and I would expect they will log minutes there. Look for Cameranesi and Decowski to challenge for time there, and there could be a lot of mixing and matching while the coaches look for good killing forwards.
All in all, the depth is better, and you will probably see a lot of lineup tweaking early to keep everyone playing in games and see what works best.