COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – After having two student-athletes named to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Preseason All-Conference Team Tuesday, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks were chosen as the favorite to capture the 2016-17 Julie and Spencer Penrose Memorial Cup as NCHC regular-season champions in the NCHC Preseason Media Poll, the conference announced Wednesday on the eve of 2016 NCHC Media Day. North Dakota is the two-time defending Penrose Cup champion and was voted to win a third straight regular-season title in a poll of local and national NCHC media.
UND received 25 of the 30 first-place votes to total 235 points in the poll, while Denver was chosen second with 200 points and garnered three first-place votes. Minnesota Duluth, last year’s preseason favorite, landed third in the poll with 173 points and claimed the final two first-place votes. St. Cloud State rounded out the top half of the poll in fourth with 155 points. The top four teams in the NCHC Preseason Poll all made the NCAA Tournament last season.
Omaha, which finished sixth in the NCHC last season, came in fifth in the preseason poll with 119 points, while Miami, which took fifth a year ago, placed sixth in the poll with 96 points. Western Michigan was seventh in the poll, matching last year’s finish, with 65 points, while Colorado College rounded out the preseason poll with 37 points.
In addition to being the two-time defending Penrose Cup champions, North Dakota is also the defending NCAA national champions after capturing the program’s eighth national title and first NCHC national championship last April. UND finished 2015-16 with a 34-6-4 overall record, including 19-4-1-1 in conference play. The Fighting Hawks return captain and senior defenseman Gage Ausmus, along with reigning NCHC Rookie of the Year and NCHC Preseason All-Conference forward Brock Boeser and Preseason All-Conference goaltender Cam Johnson. Although UND lost nine letterwinners from last season’s title team, 18 letterwinners return to Grand Forks in 2016-17, while first-round NHL Draft pick Tyson Jost is among a talented incoming freshman class.
Denver also enters the 2016-17 season coming off an NCAA Frozen Four appearance. The Pioneers, who went 25-10-6 overall last season, return 18 letterwinners from last year’s team that tied for second in the NCHC with St. Cloud State with a 17-5-2-0 mark. Preseason All-NCHC selections senior defenseman Will Butcher, DU’s captain, and sophomore forward Dylan Gambrell lead the Pioneers after earning NCHC postseason accolades last season. Seven freshmen join DU, including first-round NHL draft pick Henrik Borgström.
Coming in behind DU in the NCHC Preseason Poll is Minnesota Duluth, which finished fourth in the conference last season after being the 2015-16 preseason favorite. The Bulldogs bring back 16 letterwinners from last year’s team that posted a 19-16-5 overall record and an 11-10-3-1 mark in conference play en route to a runner-up finish in UMD’s first NCHC Frozen Faceoff appearance.
Rounding out the top half of the poll is St. Cloud State, which tied with Denver for second place in the NCHC last season with a 17-6-1-1 conference mark. The Huskies went on to win their first NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship in 2016 but lose nine letterwinners from that squad. However, SCSU does bring back 17 letterwinners from a team that tied the school record with 31 wins (31-9-1) and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
A total of 30 ballots were submitted by local media members from each school, as well as select national media. Points were awarded on a descending scale with a first-place vote worth eight points, a second-place vote worth seven points and so on.
The NCHC drops the puck on the 2016-17 campaign Oct. 1-2 with six teams playing exhibition games and Minnesota Duluth opening the regular season, while six NCHC teams begin the regular season the following weekend. Fans can watch all the exciting NCHC action on NCHC.tv, where over 140 NCHC games will be streamed live during the season. To subscribe to NCHC.tv, click here.
2016-17 NCHC Preseason Poll
North Dakota – 235 points (25 first-place votes)
Denver – 200 (3)
Minnesota Duluth – 173 (2)
St. Cloud State – 155
Omaha – 119
Miami – 96
Western Michigan – 65
Colorado College – 37