Alright. It's the part that one or two of you have been anxiously waiting for: The top 3 preseason previews of the WCHA teams and their predicted finishes. Ok, enough of self-inflating my ego. The final three teams will be the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, the Huskies of St. Cloud, and the Sioux of Grand Forks, ND.
(the) University of Minnesota at Duluth Bulldogs
2009-2010 Overall Record: 22-17-1 WCHA Record: 16-11-1 (6-5-0 NC Record)
Key Losses: Brady Hjelle, Rob Bordson, Drew Akins
Key Returners: Jack and Mike Connelly, Justin Fontaine, Kenny Reiter, Brady Lamb, Travis Oleksuk, Mike Montgomery, and Dylan Olsen
Key Recruits: Justin Faulk, Joe Basaraba...
It's kindof telling when you are looking through the key losses and you find that, except for Bordson and Hjelle, the rest either were quiet or flat out played so little you had to double check the stat sheet to see who they even were.
What this means is that Minnesota Duluth returns a team with dynamic scoring and experience. Though there is dynamic scoring present, they're not all that flashy. This means they are a solid team up and down the ice and are assuredly cohesive. Though this doesn't necessarily guarantee good results, it rarely results in a trip to the cellar.
tUMD will not run away with the league or anything like that. They did really well last year but their record would show a different story. However, this season should be a fine one for the Bulldogs. Only one player, Bordson, bolted early for the pros. Brady Hjelle, the biggest head scratcher since Isaac Reichmuth in net, left for the juniors. I say head scratcher because he was scary good in juniors and showed tendencies that this would continue in the WCHA. Hjelle didn't exactly have a poor year in Duluth, but he didn't exactly take the town by storm either. In fact, he had a "freshman goaltender" type year. But instead of focusing on the problems and pushing surprise #1 goaltender Kenny Reiter, Hjelle bolted for the USHL. It's too bad. I guess it is for the better.
tUMD is similar to SCSU but for different reasons. tUMD could finish lower than where I predict them rather easily. I definitely cannot see them finishing higher than where I predict them though. I'm a big fan of Sandelin and excited to see Duluth finally get a new facility. Things should be interesting on Lake Superior this season.
Predicted Finish: 3rd
St. Cloud State University Huskies
2009-2010 Overall Record: 24-14-5 WCHA Record: 15-9-4 (9-5-1 NC Record)
Key Losses: Ryan Lasch, Garrett Raboin
Key Returners: Garret Roe, Mike Lee, Dan Dunn, Tony Mosey, Drew LeBlanc, Jared Festler, David Eddy*, Olivier Lauridsen, Chris Hepp
Key Recruits: Kevin Gravel, Mitch MacMillan
The Huskies are a scary team. They return probably the best tandem of goaltenders outside of Oxford, OH (Miami's duo is better). They return the reigning 2009-10 Robbie Earl Memorial Trophy (Best diving over the course of a season) winner Garrett Roe. They only lose their leading scorer and their leading scoring defenseman but return everyone else.
They gain a bunch of recruits that I've not heard of and one that has had a rocky junior career (Ravndalen... big hype, got cut to the NAHL for a season before returning to the USHL this past season). This isn't much of note because I doubt the freshmen will have key roles on this veteran team.
This team SHOULD be very very good. They have a lot of talent and scoring up front. They've got grit in Hepp and Marvin (despite his rather bad season last year). They even ended up winning an NCAA playoff game! Things are on the up and up in St. Cloud.... but then again, things have been looking up since Saigo retired.
The only question mark lies in depth defensively. However, depth will not be tested unless the proven players struggle or get injured. This means that, on paper, the Huskies will be tight on North Dakota's heels most (if not all) of the season. The reason why I bring this up is that Coach Motzko very much emulates Minnesota defensively in terms of game play style. However, they've been able to keep to their game plan and have successfully started including physical grit into their playbooks and the results were pretty obvious. They've also added former UND player Steve Johnson as an assistant.
I don't think SCSU's bottom dwelling days will be returning to them any time soon.
Predicted Finish: 2nd...barely
University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux (for now)
2009-2010 Overall Record: 25-13-5 WCHA Overall Record: 15-10-3 (10-3-2 NC Record)
Key Losses: Chris Vandevelde, Darcy Zajac, Corey Fienhage, David Toews
Key Returners: Chay Genoway, Jason Gregoire, Ben Blood, Danny Kristo, Andrew MacWilliam, Brett Hextall, Evan Trupp, Brad Malone, Derrick LaPoint
Key Recruits: Derek Forbort, Dillon Simpson, Brock Nelson
This team may be "my" team, but even the most ardent detractors of UND will have to admit that who the Sioux lost and who they return simply make UND hands down the best team in the WCHA on paper going into the season. UND fans take it one step further: they, of course, expect UND to show it on the ice.
The biggest news for UND was the return of Chay Genoway. Last year's Senior Captain was hit from behind by SCSU's Aaron Marvin and had his hockey career placed in jeopardy because of it at one point. Luckily, though the concussion was indeed severe, it wasn't as bad as originally thought. So Genoway only lost the entire season instead of the rest of whatever hockey career he has waiting for him after he graduates. Nevertheless, he medically redshirted and now he returns. He was Captain last year and I doubt things will change this year either.
They're extremely solid on defense and now they got two more recruits in 2010 1st Rounder Derek Forbort and 2011 Draft Eligible Dillon Simpson. This provides UND with depth...and controversy...sorta. Who plays and who doesn't? None of the defensemen that are returning have played particularly poorly over the season and yet we have 8 dedicated defensemen (and 1 converted one in Davidson...who has since, I'm told, reverted back to forward) and can dress only 6. When you are talking about high profile players like Simpson and Forbort, it's hard to say they'd sit. Yet to have them play means benching players who don't deserve it (despite no fan support) like LaPoint or players who won't be benched (including fan favorites) like Blood, MacWilliam, and especially Genoway.
They also return a solid goaltender in Bradley Eidsness. Now, I say solid and seemingly the rest of the Sioux faithful argue against it. I just see it like this: If you are relying upon your goaltender to carry the team or steal games for you, then your team is doomed to fail. Eidsness won't steal any games. He won't carry the team. But he shouldn't have to.
As with all teams, there are what ifs... What if Eidsness gets injured? What if we stop playing solidly across all four lines? What if we continue to have penalty problems?
That being said, I believe we're in line to do very well this year. It's not out of the question to think of winning it all. However, we're a ways away from that. Let's just hope the ride there is one filled with fun, excitement, and not a whole lot of players being thrown under the bus.
Predicted Finish: 1st