After a renaissance period of offensive hockey, the UMD men's hockey team fell off a bit last year.
It wasn't completely unexpected.
Yes, Mike Seidel returned after a solid junior season. And Caleb Herbert looked awfully good a sa freshman. However, they were surrounded by unproven players and promising kids. In a college hockey world largely ruled by juniors and seniors, this wasn't a recipe for great success.
So it wasn't a stunner when a freshman-dominated UMD team fell to ninth in the WCHA and finished five games under .500 despite a nice late-season surge that included four straight wins and two quality performances against Minnesota.
Now, those freshmen -- forwards Tony Cameranesi, Austin Farley, and an emerging Cal Decowski, along with big-minutes, big-shot defenseman Andy Welinski -- are sophomores. Expectations on all of them are high, and more promising freshmen join the team for the 2013-14 season.
Seidel is gone, but Herbert is back for his junior season. After a slow start, he picked up his consistency last year, and it sounds like he will move to the middle this season, with former Duluth East star Dom Toninato manning the middle and fellow freshman and former Fargo Force standout Alex Iafallo working a wing on the second line.
Cameranesi stays on the No. 1 unit with Farley and senior co-captain Joe Basaraba, at least for now. With Cameranesi and Farley not being the biggest guys in the NCHC, it's nice to have Basaraba on that line to help make room and keep opponents honest against the highly-skilled sophomores.
In all, UMD's top two lines are more talented, more experienced, and deeper than they were last year. Decowski and co-captain Adam Krause provide more offensive push on the third line, and freshmen Kyle Osterberg and Sammy Spurrell could work themselves into the mix for playing time, along with senior Max Tardy and sophomore Charlie Sampair.
Defensively, I think the Bulldogs could suffer a bit while some new guys get adjusted. UMD will miss Drew Olson more than many realize. He was a steady, smart, heart-and-soul guy whose non-stop effort woke that team up more than once last year. Wade Bergman had a good offensive finish to his career and certainly ate a lot of minutes. Chris Casto started slowly, but came on late last season, and his early departure will hurt, too.
Welinski is joined by holdovers like Derik Johnson, Luke McManus, Willie Corrin, and Tim Smith. Smith is the only senior in this group. Freshmen Carson Soucy, Dan Molenaar, and Willie Raskob should all play big roles. Raskob could be in line for some real minutes with his offensive skill. He came in a year early after Casto left, so chances are he isn't here to sit.
In goal, Matt McNeely and Aaron Crandall will battle for the minutes. Both are capable, and both should be helped mightily by better puck possession and more scoring. They also have to do more, as a team save percentage in the .890s will do nothing for Scott Sandelin's blood pressure.
The Bulldogs are better in the middle, stronger and deeper on the wing, and have some potential talent on defense, especially when it comes to moving the puck. The first part of the season will be a huge key, as the new blue-liners get acclimated and UMD hopes to get off to a good start.