The road to the 2020 Men's Frozen Four in Detroit begins in earnest Saturday afternoon with Boston University traveling to Union to kick off the regular season (ESPN+). The field often feels wide open, but Minnesota Duluth enters the season as the two-time defending champion. Despite not having the high draft picks or the historic success of some other programs, the Bulldogs have pretty much owned the past decade. Can anyone catch them?
That chase should be a lot of fun to watch. The men's college hockey landscape is littered with big-time talent, exciting teams and excellent coaches. Some of the traditional powers are still looking to regain some of their shine, and other teams are taking steps toward national prominence. And with 202 NCAA alumni dotting NHL opening-night rosters -- including nine who appeared in the college ranks last season -- there are few better places to get a glimpse of the future of the highest level of the sport than men's Division I hockey.
Here's a look at the teams and players you should know heading into the season.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Can the Bulldogs really three-peat? It has happened one time in the 61-year history of the NCAA men's hockey tournament, when Michigan won three straight titles between 1951 and 1953. In an age of parity and early departures for the NHL, and amid the general difficulty of maintaining such a high level of success, Minnesota-Duluth has been remarkably consistent. The team has appeared in each of the past three national championship games and has three titles under Scott Sandelin, dating back to the school's first in 2011.
UMD had some significant losses from last season's squad, but it still has its two-time national champion goaltender Hunter Shepard. Additionally, much of the team's D corps opted to return to school this year, led by St. Louis Blues prospect Scott Perunovich and Winnipeg Jets draft pick Dylan Samberg, who each could have gone pro after last season. Three of the team's top five scorers from last season, Perunovich, Justin Richards and Minnesota Wild draft pick Nick Swaney, are also still on the roster.
Most importantly, Sandelin returns behind the bench after NHL teams were showing interest all summer. If any other team wants to win the title this season, it's going to have to get through the Bulldogs first.
A trip to the Frozen Four almost appeared ahead of schedule for the inexperienced Pioneers and rookie head coach David Carle in 2018-19. The freshman-laden squad got major impact from its first-year players, including goalie Filip Larsson, who opted to sign with the Detroit Red Wings after the season. But Denver is bringing back the core of the freshman class, including second-leading scorer and Calgary Flames draftee Emilio Pettersen.