The 2017-18 college hockey season officially gets underway on Saturday as six National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) teams play exhibition contests this weekend to open the NCHC's fifth season of competition.
On Saturday, No. 20 Western Michigan starts the season with a 1 p.m. ET puck drop against Wilfrid Laurier. Later that night, Colorado College faces Lethbridge in a game in Breckenridge, Colo., while No. 7/7 North Dakota, No. 6/9 St. Cloud State and No. 11/6 Minnesota Duluth all battle Canadian exhibition opponents as well on their home ice.
On Sunday, defending national champion and top-ranked Denver looks to start its run to a repeat when it takes on the same Lethbridge team CC is playing the night before.
Five of the six games this weekend can be seen on NCHC.tv. Sign up for NCHC.tv and get access to watch games throughout the season. NCHC.tv has added several new enhancements to the digital network this year as well, including mobile apps.
NCHC notes and individual team previews, along with links to watch and follow the games, are below.
• The NCHC drops the puck on its fifth season of competition this weekend as six of eight NCHC teams are in action, opening the season with exhibition contests against Canadian schools. Five teams compete Saturday, including four NCHC teams that are nationally ranked. On Sunday, top-ranked Denver is the lone NCHC team to hit the ice.
• Four NCHC teams are ranked in the top 11 of both national preseason polls, tying with the Big Ten for the most from one conference, while five NCHC teams are ranked in the USCHO.com Poll and two others received votes. Defending national champion Denver is No. 1 in both polls, including unanimously No. 1 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll. St. Cloud State and North Dakota are in the top 10 in both polls with Minnesota Duluth No. 6 in the USCHO Poll but No. 11 in the USA Hockey Magazine Poll. Western Michigan rounds out the USCHO Poll at No. 20 while Miami and Omaha each garnered votes in the poll.
• In addition to being No. 1 nationally, Denver was also picked unanimously to repeat as Penrose Cup champions in the NCHC Preseason Media Poll. This marks the first time in the NCHC’s five seasons that the media unanimously picked a favorite. The Pioneers lost only three conference games last season, the fewest in the conference’s four seasons, en route to their first NCHC regular-season crown. St. Cloud State was tabbed second in the poll, followed by North Dakota.
• The NCHC had three players named to College Hockey News’ Preseason All-CHN Teams. Denver sophomore forward Henrik Borgström, the reigning NCHC Rookie of the Year, and DU senior goalie Tanner Jaillet, last year’s Mike Richter Award winner, were both named to the Preseason First Team. Minnesota Duluth defenseman Dylan Samberg, a second round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets back in June, was tabbed to the CHN Preseason All-Rookie Team. Borgström and Jaillet were two of four Denver players named to the NCHC Preseason All-Conference Team.
• After no new head coaches last season, the NCHC has one new head coach this year -- Omaha’s Mike Gabinet, who replaced Dean Blais. Gabinet was an associate head coach for Omaha last season and is the first alumnus to serve as head coach of the Mavericks, having played at Omaha from 2000-04. He is the third head coach in the program’s history.
• Three NCHC players are tied, along with Quinnipiac’s Landon Smith, for the most games played among active NCAA players. Minnesota Duluth forward Karson Kuhlman, Denver defenseman Adam Plant and North Dakota forward Austin Poganski, all seniors, have each played in 122 career games. Kuhlman has never missed a game, tying him with Smith for the most consecutive games played among active players.
• NCHC teams have combined to post the best non-conference record among the six Division I men’s hockey conferences each of the last three seasons, including compiling a 48-21-14 regular-season non-conference record in 2016-17 for a .663 winning percentage.
• With Denver winning the 2017 NCAA national championship, the eighth in the program’s history, the NCHC is home to the last two NCAA champions with North Dakota winning the title in 2016. Minnesota Duluth joined Denver in the Frozen Four and national championship game last season, marking the third straight season the NCHC has placed two teams in the NCAA Frozen Four. In the conference’s four-year history, the NCHC has seen seven of its teams earn a spot in the Frozen Four, the most from any conference during that span (2014-17).
• Colorado College enters the 2017-18 season with zero seniors on the roster. All four captains are juniors. Forwards Tanner Ockey and Mason Bergh will serve as co-captains while defensemen Andrew Farny and Cole McCaskill will be the assistant captains.
• Sixteen of the 22 players that recorded at least one point last season for the Tigers return for the 2017-18 campaign. Bergh led the team in scoring last season, recording 24 points (14g, 10a).
• Goaltender Alex Leclerc, last season’s team MVP, returns for his sophomore season in the net. His 3.19 goals-against average last season as the team’s starting goalie was the best in one season since Josh Thorimbert posted a 3.17 GAA in 2013-14.
• After playing the second-toughest schedule in the country last season, the Tigers are at it again this year. Five of Colorado College’s 13 opponents this season played in the NCAA Tournament last season and 17 of CC’s 34 regular-season games are scheduled against teams that are ranked in the USCHO.com Top 20 preseason poll.
• This is the second meeting between the Tigers and Pronghorns. CC defeated Lethbridge, 5-1, in an exhibition game on Oct. 2, 2010.
• Denver enters the 2017-18 season as favorites to repeat as national champions after winning the 2016-17 NCAA title and being ranked No. 1 in both national preseason polls. DU is the unanimous preseason No. 1 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll and earned 48 of 50 first-place votes in the USCHO.com Poll. The Pioneers have repeated as national champs thrice before – in 1960 & ’61, 1968 & ’69 and 2004 & ’05. Denver is also the first team in the NCHC’s four-year history to be unanimously chosen as the favorite to win the Penrose Cup in the NCHC Preseason Poll.
• The Pioneers have made the NCAA Tournament 10 years in a row, which is the second-longest active streak in the country behind North Dakota (15). DU has also posted 20-plus wins each of the last 16 seasons, which is the longest such active streak in the NCAA.
• Denver had four players named to the seven-man Preseason All-NCHC Team in sophomore forward Henrik Borgström, junior forwards Troy Terry and Dylan Gambrell, and senior goalie Tanner Jaillet, who won the Mike Richter Award last season. Borgström and Terry shared the NCHC goal-scoring lead last year with 22 goals each.
• Denver head coach Jim Montgomery has increased DU’s win total in each of his four seasons so far and is the fastest Denver coach to reach 100 career wins, doing so late last season.
• UMD returns 16 lettermen from a year ago, but lost nine lettermen, including three underclassmen (forward Adam Johnson, defenseman Neal Pionk and goalie Hunter Miska), who all turned pro following last season. The Bulldogs do bring in 11 newcomers this season, including three who were taken in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft -- defensemen Mikey Anderson (4th round) and Dylan Samberg (2nd round), and forward Nick Swaney (7th round). Samberg was named to the College Hockey News Preseason All-Rookie Team.
• Mikey Anderson joins his older brother, Joey, on the UMD roster this season. Joey Anderson earned NCHC All-Rookie Team honors last season and is the Bulldogs’ top returning scorer after posting 37 points last season (12g, 25a). UMD also adds incoming defenseman Matt Anderson to the mix, who is not related to the brothers.
• Serving as captain this season is senior forward Karson Kuhlman of Esko, Minn., near Duluth. This is the fourth straight season UMD has had a captain hail from Duluth or a nearby suburb: 2014-15 Adam Krause (Hermantown), 2015-16 Andy Welinski (Duluth), 2016-17 Dominic Toninato (Duluth).
• Karson Kuhlman has not missed a game with the Bulldogs since joining the team in 2014-15, playing in 122 straight games, tying for the longest active streak in the NCAA.
Saturday, Sept. 30 | Ralph Engelstad Arena | Grand Forks, N.D. | 7:07 p.m. CT
Records: UND (0-0-0, 0-0-0-0 NCHC); Manitoba (0-0-0)
UND Notes | NCHC.tv | Live Audio | Live Stats
Television: Midco Sports Network
• North Dakota enters the 2017-18 season with more wins over the last 11 seasons than any other program, collecting 290 wins. Boston College is second in wins since 2006-07 with 284 while NCHC rival Denver has 282.
• After making the NCAA Tournament last season, UND has now made the NCAA Tournament 15 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the country and the second longest streak in NCAA history. Only Michigan, which made 22 straight NCAA Tournaments from 1991-2012, has had a longer consecutive run in the NCAA Tournament. North Dakota has also topped the 20-win mark each of the last 15 seasons, the second-longest active streak in the country behind Denver (16 seasons).
• UND returns several key players from last season, led by junior forward Shane Gersich, who is the team’s leading returning scorer after a 21-16-37 campaign last year. He was named to the Preseason All-NCHC Team. Senior goaltender Cam Johnson is also back in net and currently holds the UND career record in goals-against average with a 2.08 career GAA.
• UND is 13-0 all-time against Manitoba, including a 5-1 win to open last season. North Dakota has outscored Manitoba, 77-22, all-time.
Saturday, Sept. 30 | Herb Brooks National Hockey Center | St. Cloud, Minn. | 7:07 p.m. CT
Records: SCSU (0-0-0, 0-0-0-0 NCHC); Regina (0-0-0)
SCSU Notes | NCHC.tv | Live Audio | Live Stats
Television: SCSU Sports Network/Charter Cable ch. 426/823
• The Huskies return their top 12 point producers from the 2016-17 season. The group is led by junior forward Mikey Eyssimont, who tallied a team-leading 14 goals and 30 points as a sophomore. Junior forward Patrick Newell is also back after leading SCSU with 20 assists a season ago.
• SCSU head coach Bob Motzko returns for his 13th season in 2017-18. He owns a career record of 251-183-43 with the Huskies since 2005-06. Motzko will serve as the head coach of Team USA at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. This marks Motzko’s second consecutive season as the Team USA head coach after guiding Team USA to the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
• Back in June, sophomore forward Ryan Poehling became the second ever Husky to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft. Poehling was the 25th overall player taken in the draft by the Montreal Canadiens. Defenseman Dennis Cholowski was the first Husky to be drafted in the first round in 2016. He signed with Detroit after last season.
• SCSU owns a 2-0-0 record in the all-time series against Regina, including a 6-2 win to open last season, and is 21-6-2 all-time in exhibition play. The only other time SCSU and Regina met was on Oct. 7, 1995 when SCSU earned an 11-2 win.
• For the first time in three seasons, WMU will have a new captain. Senior defenseman Scott Moldenhauer takes over for three-time captain Sheldon Dries. Dries, now with the AHL’s Texas Stars, was one of just two players in program history to wear the “C” for three seasons. Moldenhauer served as an assistant captain each of the last two seasons.
• The Broncos are tasked with replacing 74 goals, or 56 percent of its scoring, that has departed from the team this season. Sixty of those goals came from four players: Matheson Iacopelli (20), Sheldon Dries (16), Griffen Molino (15) and Frederik Tiffels (9). Of WMU’s 59 returning goals, 33 belong to junior Colt Conrad (13) and sophomores Wade Allison (12) and Hugh McGing (8).
• As part of its non-conference schedule, WMU plays six games against old foes from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). WMU plays Ferris State, Michigan State and Bowling Green each in a home-and-home series.
• The 20th-ranked Broncos are 5-0 all-time against Wilfrid Laurier. The last exhibition meeting between the two schools came on Oct. 7, 2006 and resulted in an 8-3 win by WMU. Prior to that, the other four meetings came in 1978 and 1979. WMU is 2-2-2 all-time in Border Battle games under head coach Andy Murray.
Friday, Oct. 6 | Steve Cady Arena | Oxford, Ohio | 7:35 p.m. ET
Saturday, Oct. 7 | Steve Cady Arena | Oxford, Ohio | 8:00 p.m. ET
Records: Miami (0-0-0, 0-0-0-0 NCHC); Providence (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA)
NCHC.tv (both nights) | Live Audio | Live Stats (Fri.) | Live Stats (Sat.)
• The 2017-18 season marks the 40-year anniversary of Miami hockey. Since joining the NCAA ranks prior to the 1978-79 season, the RedHawks are 703-682-121 with 12 NCAA Tournament appearances (all since 1993) and a pair of Frozen Four berths (2009 and 2010).
• After having 14 freshmen on the 2016-17 roster, the Red and White return 17 of 21 letterwinners from last season. The top returners include junior forward Kiefer Sherwood (14-24-38), senior captain Louie Belpedio (6-11-17) and sophomore goaltender Ryan Larkin (2.77 GAA, .910 save percentage). Sherwood is the NCHC’s top returning scorer in conference play after 26 points last season (9g, 17a), while Belpedio was the top defenseman on the Preseason All-NCHC Team.
• Miami saw one of its players get selected in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in June as sophomore forward Carson Meyer was taken in the sixth round by his hometown Columbus Blue Jackets after putting up 26 points (10g, 16a) last season.
• Head coach Enrico Blasi enters his 19th season at the helm of Miami, the longest tenured coach in the NCHC.
• Mike Gabinet takes over as head coach of the Mavericks this season, replacing Dean Blais, who stepped down following the 2016-17 season after eight years leading the team. Gabinet is the third head coach in program history and the first former Maverick to lead the program, having played at UNO from 2000-04. Omaha also added new assistant coaches in Dave Noel-Bernier, who played with Gabinet at Omaha for one season (2000-01), and former Denver goalie Peter Mannino.
• Senior forwards Tyler Vesel and Jake Randolph are both within reach of 100 career points to begin the 2017-18 season. Vesel needs 24 points to reach 100 after scoring a career-best 35 points last season. Randolph needs 29 points to hit 100, which would be three more than his career best.
• Omaha will face seven teams that participated in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. In addition to defending national champion Denver, national runner up Minnesota Duluth and Frozen Four participant Notre Dame, the Mavericks also face North Dakota and Western Michigan in-conference and UMass Lowell and Union in non-conference action.
• Omaha boasts seven NHL draft picks on its roster in 2017-18 -- four forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender -- all of whom were also on the team last season.