The WCHA is set for another great season of hockey. This is the projected order of finish from the Grand Forks Herald’s coach’s poll. Added is my analysis of the league’s 12 teams as I see it. I didn’t include recruits because I have watch none of them play as of yet. As the season continues we will cover freshman players of note that are making an impact in the WCHA. I did include some recruits that might be worth a look as the season unfolds.
1.Denver– Pioneers have been picked to finish first in all three WCHA preseason polls (Media, Writers and the coach’s polls). The biggest question facing the Denver Pioneers this season is their inexperienced goaltending. Starting goaltender and 2010-11 All WCHA rookie team goalie Sam Brittain suffered a knee injury last season during the playoffs and had surgery during the off-season to repair that knee. In Brittain’s absence junior goalie Adam Murray, who posted a 6-3-0 record and a 3.46 goals against average with a .879 save percentage, will be expected to step into the starting goaltenders role for the Denver Pioneers.
While the Denver media would like us to believe that the Denver Pioneers aren’t going to be very good this season, there is no reason to believe that the Pioneers are going to be able to fly under the radar this season. I am not buying it and don’t think it’s being very realistic, Denver is a stacked team up and down the forward lines and will be one of the tops teams to beat in the WCHA and the nation this season.
From the fun fact department, the Pioneers have five players from the USNTDP on this season roster.
Leading the offensive attack for the Denver Pioneers are forwards Drew Shore 23g-23a—46 pts, Jason Zucker 23g-22a—45 pts, Beau Bennett 9g-16a—25 pts and Nick Shore 7g-11a—18 pts.
Gone from last season’s team, Matt Donovan 9g-23a—32 pts, Anthony Maiani 8g-28a—36 pts, Kyle Ostrow 15g-13a—28 pts, Chris Nutini 0g-8a—8 pts.
2. UND – The defending MacNaughton Cup and Broadmoor Trophy winners are missing many key elements from their 2010-11 squad that went and impressive 32-9-3. The Sioux were one of the best teams in the nation for most of the year. That was all for not as the Fighting Sioux had their dream season ended prematurely in the quarter finals of the Frozen Four at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines.
From the fun fact department, Fighting Sioux defenseman Dillon Simpson while a sophomore in college is the youngest player on the Fighting Sioux roster this season.
Leading the offensive attack for the Fighting Sioux, Danny Kristo 8g-20a—28 pts, Sophomore Brock Nelson 8g-13a—21 pts and Corbin Knight 14g-30a—44 pts are expected to have big season for the Fighting Sioux from the forward position.
The Fighting Sioux return an impressive blue line corps of Ben Blood 2g-10a—12 pts, Andrew MacWilliam 0g-8a—8 pts, Dillon Simpson 2g-8a—10 pts and Derek Forbort 0g-15a—15 pts that would probably play in any teams top four defensive paring.
In the net for the Fighting Sioux, there is no shortage of experience between Senior Brad Eidsness and last season’s All-American and the Inside College Hockey Goaltender of the Year junior Aaron Dell who posted a 30-7-2 a save percentage of .924 and a goals against average of
Gone from last year’s team, Jason Gregoire 25g-18a—43 pts, Matt Frattin 36g-24a—60 pts, Chay Genoway 6g-31a—37 pts, Brad Malone 16g-24a—40 pts, Evan Trupp 17g-24a—41 pst, Brett Hextall 13g-16a—29pts.
3. Colorado College – The Tigers turned a lot of heads last spring when they easily defeated the Boston College Eagles 8-4 in the NCAA West Regional Semifinal. Moving forward this season there is a renewed optimism surrounding this season’s Colorado College Tiger hockey team that went 23-19-3 and finished sixth during the regular season.
From the fun fact department, Jaden Schwartz scored nine more points than his older brother Rylan Schwartz while playing in nine less games than his older brother.
Leading the offensive attack for the Tigers, a very potent one – two scoring punch from Jaden Schwartz 17g-30a—40pts and Rylan Schwartz 10g-28a—38 pts.
Leading the defense for the Tigers, Gabe Guentzel 2g-22a—26pts, Joe Marciano 3g-8a—11pts, Eamonn McDermott 2g-12a—14pts, lead the Colorado College Tigers on defense. If there is a weakness on this Tigers squad, it’s that their defense isn’t as experienced on the blue line, and it showed in the West Regional Final last season against Michigan.
In net for the Tigers, they have a proven goalie in Joe Howe who played in 36 games posting a 18-15-2 record with a 2.94 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. Also available to log some time is backup goalie Josh Thorimbert who posted a 5-4-1 record a 2.57 goals against average with .906 save percentage.
Gone from last season, Stephen Schultz 17g-28a—45pts, Tyler Johnson 20g-17a—37pts.
4. Nebraska-Omaha – In their first year in the WCHA theUniversityofNebraska Omaha Mavericksproved to a solid team that was very tough to play against, the Mavericks finished in third place in the WCHA standings one point out of second place. Coach Dean Blais’ Mavericks resembled his Fighting Sioux teams from the past; small fast forwards up front and a couple of Oak trees on defense.
Leading the offensive attack for the UNO Mavericks are Alex Hudson 13g-18a—31pts, Terry Broadhurst 11g-19a—30pts, Matt White 14g-11a—25pts.
Leading the defense, Bryce Aneloski 2g-17a—19pts, Michael Young 3g-11a—14pts.
In the net for the Mavericks, goalie John Falkner 2.56 goals against average and .906 save percentage.
Gone from last season’s team, Joey Martin 11g-24a—35pts, Matt Ambroz 17g-17a—34pts, Rich Purslow 13g-20a—33pts, Eric Olimb 3g-24a—27pts.
5. Minn.-Duluth – The Bulldogs are the reigning NCAA champion, that’s not a miss print folks. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that the Bulldogs had a bit of a ho-hum regular season, they weren’t bad but they didn’t light the league on fire by any stretch of the imagination. The Bulldogs finished the regular season in fourth place of the WCHA standings two points out of second place. Following a WCHA home playoff series win against the SCSU Huskies, the Bulldogs’ appearance at the WCHA Final Five was short lived as they were sent home early after losing their quarterfinal game to the upstart BSU Beavers in the Final Five.
From the fun fact department, the Bulldogs went an unimpressive 2-4-1 against C.C., UND and DU. I guess that record didn’t matter in the end because UMD went on to win the NCAA championship.
Bold prediction at the post game press conference
What stuck in my mind most was the post-game conference after the loss in the quarter finals to BSU Beavers, the Bulldogs were obviously agitated over losing the game to the BSU Beavers. I can clearly remember Bulldog junior defenseman Brady Lamb comments, he said, “That the Bulldogs needed to go home and get refocused and that they [Bulldogs] had four games left to play this season.” Those comments caught my attention because that meant Lamb intended to be playing in the Frozen Four championship game. Lamb’s profound and bold prediction ended up being true.
Lamb was right the Bulldogs went home, got refocused and went on to win the East Regional inBridgeport,Connecticutthe following weekend. Two weeks later the Bulldogs followed up that East Region championship by winning 2011-12 NCAA championship inSt. Paul,Minnesota. The Bulldogs breezed through the quarterfinals beating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and then followed up that win two night later by beating the University of Michigan Wolverines in the Championship game of the Frozen Four 3-2 in overtime.
Leading the offense attack, Jack Connolly 18-41—59 pts, J.T. Brown 16g-21a—37 pts, Mike Seidel 8g-6a—14 pts.
Leading the defense, Brady Lamb 1g-9a—10 pts, Wade Bergman 3g-7a—10 pts.
In the net for the Bulldogs, Kenny Reiter 16-7-5 save percentage .914 and goals against average 2.30.
Gone from last season’s team, Mike Connolly 28g-26a—54 pts, 37 Justin Fontaine 22g-36a—58 pts, Justin Faulk 8g-25a-33 pts, Mike Montgomery 0g-10a—10 pts.
6.Minnesota– The Minnesota Gophers have missed the NCAA tourney three seasons in a row and the Final Five the past two seasons and if the Gophers don’t improve this season there could be a major house cleaning in the spring in Minneapolis,Minnesota. Last March the Golden Gophers lost their first round series against the UAA Seawolves in two games, this loss ended the Gophers season causing them to miss the WCHA Final Five and the NCAA tourney. The Gophers have let assistant coach John Hill go and have re-hired former Gopher assistant coach Mike Guentzel.
From the not so fun fact department, none of the Gophers senior class has ever been to the NCAA tourney. Historically, the Gophers used to be a shoe in for the WCHA Final Five and the NCAA tourney.
Leading the offensive attack for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Erik Haula 6g-18a—24 pts, Nick Bjugstad 8g-12a—20 pts, Zach Budish 2g-4a—6 pts.
Leading the defense for the Gophers, Justin Holl 1g-6a—7 pts, Seth Helgeson 1g-6a—7pts.
In the net for the Golden Gophers All-WCHA Second Team, senior goalie Kent Patterson who took the reins from Alex Kangas an posted a 13-5-5 record with goals against average of .926 and save percentage 2.31.
Gone from last year’s team, Jacob Cepis 12g-17a—29pts, Jay Barriball 12g-16a—28pts, Mike Hoeffel 13g-11a—24pts, Max Gardiner 1g-2a—3 pts, Cade Fairchild 6g-18a—24 pts, Aaron Ness 2g-12a—14 pts, Alex Kangas 2-5-0 record, .894 save percentage and a 3.71 goals-against average.
7. St. Cloud State – The SCSU Huskies had so much promise when they started the 2010-11 season and finished the season with what most would consider an off year finishing tied for eighth in the WCHA standing tie with UAA Seawolves. The Huskies were picked to finish second in the 2010-2011 pre-season coaches poll.
Leading the offensive attack for the Huskies, are Drew LeBlanc 13g- 26a—39 pts, Cam Reid 8g- 21a—29 pts, Jared Festler 12g-12 a—24 pts.
Leading the defense for the Huskies, Nick Jensen 5g-18a—23 pts, Kevin Gravel 1g-5a-6 pts.
In the net for the Huskies, Mike Lee 9-10-4, .915 save percentage, and a 2.75 goals-against average.
Gone from last year’s team, Aaron Marvin 9g-6a—15 pts, Garrett Roe 10g-26a—36 pts, Tony Mosey 3g-3a—6 pts, Oliver Lauridsen 1g-8a—9 pts, Chris Hepp 1g-2a—3 pts, Brian Volpei 1g-4a—5 pts, Brett Barta 3g-11g—14 pts, Nick Oslund 3g-1a—4 pts, Dan Dunn 2-3-0, .864 save percentage, and a 3.52 goals-against average.
8.Wisconsin– The Wisconsin Badgers start the season with a stable of goalies that has no college hockey experience what-so-ever, none of them have played a game at the college ranks. This is the first time this has happened to the Badgers since the 1964-65 season. Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel are the two freshmen goalies vying for time along with junior Mitch Thompson. So whoever ends up being the starting goalie for the Badgers on opening night; they will have zero college experience, it should be an interesting season in Madison,Wisconsin this year.
The Badgers are coming off a less than successful season where the Badgers missed the Final Five and the NCAA playoffs, the Badgers also had to play their first round series on the road because they finished the season in seventh place of the WCHA standings. This year’s Badger hockey team seems to be flying under the radar as well as all three WCHA polls have the Badgers in either seventh or eighth place, I do expect the Badgers to finish higher than seventh or eighth in the WCHA. Wisconsin Badgers head hockey coach Mike Eaves is known for getting the most out of his players.
From the fun fact department the Badgers went 2-11-1 against the teams above them in the standing (DU, C.C., UMD, UND and UNO) those numbers will need to improve if the Badgers are to finish in the top half of the league standings.
Leading the offensive attack for the Badgers, Mark Zengerle 5g-31a—36 pts, 25 Michael Mersch 8g-11a—19 pts, Tyler Barnes 5g-12a—17 pts, Derek Lee 3g-14a—17.
Leading the defense for the Badgers, Justin Schultz 18g-29a—47 pts, Jake McCabe freshman; John Ramage 1g-10a—11 pts.
In goal for the Badgers, there are three goalies vying for the starting position for the Badgers, Joel Rumpel, Landon Peterson and Mitch Thompson.
Gone from last year’s team, Craig Smith 19g-24a—43 pts, Jake Gardiner 10g-31a—41 pts, Scott Gudmandson 10-9-1, .917 SV% and 2.46 goals-against average, Brett Bennett 2-4-2, .902 save percentage, and a 2.70 goals-against average.
9. Alaska-Anchorage – The Seawolves are coming off their second-best season in the history of their program. The Seawolves made a statement during the WCHA playoffs as the Seawolves knocked off the Minnesota Gophers in Mariucci Arena in two games during the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The series win sent the Seawolves to the WCHA Final Five for only the second time in their school’s history.
The Seawolves season ended when they were beaten by the Colorado College Tigers 4-2 in the quarter finals of the WCHA Final Five. The Seawolves “should” have a balanced scoring attack from their forward lines as they return six of their top 10 points getters from the 2010-11 season.
From the fun fact department, Seawolves sophomore goalie Chris Kamal could be called a Gopher killer as he went an impressive 3-0-0 against the Golden Gophers last season. Kamal registered two shutouts and only gave up only three goal against in three games against the Golden Gophers.
Leading the offensive attack for the Seawolves, Jordan Kwas 4g-20a—24 pts, Matt Bailey 10g-10a—20 pts.
Leading the defense for the Seawolves, Curtis Leinweber 4g-6a—10 pts, Brad Gorham 1g-5a—6 pts, Wes McLeod 2g-4a—6 pts.
In goal for the Seawolves, Rob Gunderson 7-13-2, .897 save percentage and a 2.75 goals-against average. Chris Kamal 9-5-1, 895 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average.
Gone from last year’s team, Tommy Grant 16g-16a—32 pts, Craig Parkinson 8g-13a—21 pts, Sean 10g-7a—17 pts.
10. BemidjiState– The BemidjiState University Beavers took their lumps during their inaugural season in the WCHA, the Beavers finished in season in 10th place. The Beavers did, however, beat the UNO Mavericks inOmaha during the WCHA playoffs to advance to the Final Five in their first season. In their next game the Beavers beat eventual NCAA champion Minnesota Duluth 3-2 in overtime. The next night the Beavers fortunes changed and the Beavers ended up beat by the Denver Pioneers 6-2 ending the Beavers magical run.
From the Fun fact department the BSU Beavers went an impressive 5-0-1 against the UNO Mavericks last season and eliminated them from the WCHA playoffs by sweeping the Mavericks inOmahatwo games to none. The Beavers were also the last team to beat the UMD Bulldogs before they went on their run to a national title.
In net for the Beavers, Dan Bakala 14-13-4, .919 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average, Mathieu Dugas 1- 5- 1 .899 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average.
Leading the offensive attack for the Beavers, Jordan George 17g-19a—36 pts, Shea Walters 1g-13a—14 pts.
Leading the defense for the Beavers, Brad Hunt 3g-18a—21 pts.
Gone from last year’s team, Matt Read 22g-13a—35 pts, Ian Lowe 12g-16a—28 pts.
11. MSU-Mankato – The Mavericks have a tough task ahead of them, they lost a four high end players that played a key role in their 14-18-6 season; so the prospects of the Mavericks having a good season this year is not very good, five of the top 11 scorers were seniors.
From the not so fun fact department, the Mavericks lost eight one goal games last season, so they were in a lot of hockey games up until the end. All things considered, it still could be a very long season for the Mavericks inMankato.
Leading the offensive attack for the Mavericks, Mike Dorr 12g-14g—26 pts, Eriah Hayes 11g-11a—22 pts, Chase Grant 8g-12a—20 pts.
In net for the Mavericks, Austin Lee 4-5-2, .911 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average, Phil Cook 10-13-4, .903 save percentage and a 3.01 goals-against average.
Gone from last year’s team, Kurt 9g-18a—27 pts, Ben Youds 7g-14a—21, Rylan Galiardi 7g-12a—19 pts, Andrew Sackrison 5g-14a—19 pts, Channing Boe 5g-5a—10 pts.
12.Michigan Tech – the Michigan Tech Huskies have nowhere to go but up this season. It would be an understatement to say that the Huskies have had three horrible seasons (six wins, five wins and four wins) in a row including last seasons unimpressive 4-30-4 run. Following the season, the Michigan Tech athletic director had seen enough of Jamie Russell and decided to go in a different direction and hire formerMichiganassistant and MTU alum Mel Pearson.
From the fun fact department, if there is a silver lining for the Huskies, going into this season the Huskies return eight of their top 10 point getters from a year ago. Three of Tech’s top players last seasons were also underclassmen.
Leading the offensive attack for the Huskies, Jordan Baker 9g-9a—18pts (2009-10), Brent Olson 4g-6a—10 pts, Millos Gordic 15g-6as—21 pts, Ryan Furne 12g-9a—21 pts, Jacob Johnstone 4g-15—19 pts.
Leading the Huskies on defense, Daniel Sova 0g-9a—9 pts, Steven Seigo 4g-13a—17 pts.
In net for the Huskies, Kevin Genoe 3-17-2, .883 save percentage and a 4.03 goals-against average, Josh Robinson 1-13-2, .884 save percentage and a 4.58 goals-against average.
Here are some of the incoming recruits to watch for this season.