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The quest for the national championship begins anew on October 20 as the first Division III games of the season get underway.

This looks to be the most wide-open race in years, with as many as a dozen teams having a serious chance of raising the hardware on March 17, 2001.

Will the luck of the Irish stay with defending champion Norwich, which hasn’t lost in the year 2000? Or will Middlebury reclaim the title it held for five years previous to last season? Or is it the team on the other side of Lake Champlain, the Cardinals of Plattsburgh State, that will rule?

What about out west? The NCHA looks to rebound from last year’s disappointment of sending just one team to the national tournament, while St. Thomas must go on without Steve Aronson, who rewrote the MIAC record book.

Who will be standing when the dust clears?

Don’t count on the USCHO.com preseason poll to clear things up.

Consider the following:

  • Plattsburgh, with seven first-place votes, was selected number one by a single point, the smallest margin ever for our preseason poll.
  • Wisconsin-Stevens Point received just one first-place vote, but still finished second in the voting (by a single point).
  • Norwich got six first-place votes, but came in third by a wide margin. Some voters apparently left the Cadets off their ballots entirely.
  • A whopping 18 teams were mentioned by the voters.
  • At Norwich, head coach Mike McShane understands the difficulty of the challenge ahead. “We lost so much, we almost have a new team,” he said.

    McShane

    McShane

    The Cadets lost nine players from last year’s 29-2-1 team that went 22-0-1 in calender year 2000 to capture its first national title. Four of the Cadets’ top five scorers have moved on.

    “There are 15 new guys — 13 freshmen and a couple of transfers. Not all of them will make the team,” said McShane. “I’ll know more when I get a better look at what they can do.”

    One thing he is sure about is that his team will have to battle even harder to succeed, especially in its own conference, where the Cadets strolled to the regular-season title in 1999-2000 but faced some real challenges in the playoffs.

    “Our league will be a lot better. Many teams, including us, finished strong and look to carry that into this season.”

    Most leagues will be on the upswing in 2000-2001. Expect the NCHA to be better, as most teams retained their top players. The ECAC Northeast will be improved as the autobid to the national tournament brings in more talented skaters. The SUNYAC traditional powers will be as good as last season, if not better. The NESCAC has at least four teams capable of winning a national title, and the MCHA will continue to improve.

    Conversely, things may be down a bit in the ECAC West and MIAC, as some top players have moved on. But that only means that things will be more up in the air than ever, leading to some exciting hockey down the stretch.

    In short, the title is up for grabs.

    Fasten your seat belts!