The 2018-19 college hockey season is a 190-day journey that officially starts on Saturday and ends in Buffalo, New York, on April 13.
That’s a lot of time in between for stories to develop that will impact who takes the NCAA trophy. Here are five items to watch as the season begins:
1. LAST ONE IN
Remember how close Minnesota Duluth was to not even being in the NCAA tournament last season, not to mention winning it all?
If not, here’s a refresher: Had any of the six conference championship games on the day before Selection Sunday ended up in a different result, the Bulldogs would have been out and Minnesota would have been in.
Would Don Lucia still be coaching the Golden Gophers? Would a Big Ten Conference school have been able to win the title? It’s a wormhole of alternate outcomes.
Regardless, because a of a young roster last season and only one early signing, the Bulldogs have an impressive group back in their title defense. But it gets tougher from here: No defending champion has made the Frozen Four since 2005, when Denver capped off back-to-back titles.
Elsewhere, look for Boston College and North Dakota to jump back into the NCAA tournament mix after a rare season in which they both missed out. The last time that happened was 2002 — the year before the field expanded from 12 to 16 teams — after they played each other in the 2000 and 2001 national championship games.
And here’s a sleeper pick for the tournament: Colorado College has had a losing record in six straight seasons but showed signs of major improvement last season with second-team All-American forward Nick Halloran. With a national-best 98 percent of their goal-scoring returning, the Tigers could make another big step.
2. NEW LOOK BEHIND THE BENCH
It has taken only three years for one-third of Division I men’s college hockey teams to get a new head coach.
This offseason brought eight moves, three of them involving teams that were in the NCAA tournament last season (Boston University, Denver, St. Cloud State) and two because of coaches leaving to take over NHL teams:
Former associate head coach Albie O’Connell took over from new New York Rangers coach David Quinn at Boston University.
David Carle is in charge at Denver after Jim Montgomery became head coach of the Dallas Stars.
Bob Motzko replaced Lucia at Minnesota, and former Duluth assistant Brett Larson took over for Motzko at St. Cloud State; Mike Souza completed the planned transition from the retiring Dick Umile at New Hampshire; Merrimack fired Mark Dennehy and replaced him with Scott Borek; and both Alaska schools started over, with Erik Largen at Alaska and Matt Curley at Alaska Anchorage.
3. NEW RULES
There are a few new or changed rules in college hockey this season, but the one that will apply to just about every game expands the maximum number of skaters allowed per team by one, to 19.
That will give teams the flexibility to dress a seventh defenseman or 13th forward in case of injury, ejection or just to be able to use players more for special teams situations.
Other changes crack down on slashing, on playing the puck with the hands and on line changes before the player who's being replaced is within 5 feet of the bench. Referees also will be allowed to consult video replays when considering ejection penalties throughout the season, not just in the postseason.
4. HIGH-END TALENT BACK
It’s always tempting to took at what star players teams lost since last season. This season, more big-time players returned to their teams than there have been in a long time.
Of the 24 players named All-Americans last season, 13 are back in 2018-19. Six of them were first-team selections last year: goalies Matthew Galajda of Cornell and Cale Morris of Notre Dame; and defensemen Jeremy Davies of Northeastern, Adam Fox of Harvard, Scott Perunovich of Duluth and Jimmy Schuldt of St. Cloud State.
It’s the first time all four first-team defensemen — two from each region — have returned to school the following season.
No season in at least the last 30 years has had more of the previous campaign’s All-Americans returning. The only comparable year in that span was 1995-96, when Vermont’s Martin St. Louis and Tim Thomas and Michigan State’s Anson Carter were among 13 All-Americans returning.
5. ON THEIR WAY
Last season, 10 first-round NHL draft picks played college hockey. The number is up to 13 this season, including one University of Wisconsin player and four whose teams are on the Badgers' schedule.
UW freshman K'Andre Miller, the 22nd overall selection by the New York Rangers in June, was the fifth player picked who'll be in the college ranks this season.
The players the Badgers will face off against are:
Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes, the seventh overall pick this year, and forward Josh Norris, No. 19 by San Jose in 2017.
Boston College forward Oliver Wahlstrom, No. 11 to the New York Islanders this year.
North Dakota defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker, the 26th overall choice by Ottawa this year.