Chapman (15-4, MCLA Semifinals)
Key Loss: Chris Small. Connor Martin will leave a large hole, but the attack unit has plenty of guns to make up for his loss. Small’s proficiency at the faceoff “X” will be far more difficult to replicate. Players have come and gone over the Panthers’ three-year run, but Small was a constant.
Key Returnee: Matt Walrath. He was a revelation in his first season after transferring from NCAA D-III Stevens (N.J.). Walrath’s goal-faceoff-goal sequence in the national semifinals was a thing of beauty and just a taste of what the LSM is capable of. Combined with Andrew Salcido and Spencer Halvorson, Walrath will also be part of a strong defensive unit.
Wild Card: Coaching. There’s always a transition period for a team that comes under new leadership. As Chapman proved three years ago, a new coach isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Mike Wood guided the Panthers to the top of the MCLA in his first three seasons. A lot will depend on what kind of recruiting class Wood lured to SoCal (just as it was with his predecessor), but Dallas Hartley’s assimilation to the college game and the college student-athlete will certainly play a role.
Reality: Even without the coaching change, there was a chance there would be a drop-off for the Panthers this season. I could see Chapman being as high as No. 3 and as low as No. 10 in this power ranking, so this spot seems like a good fit as we enter the fall season.