Thursday, September 20, 2012

WCHA 2012-13 season preview

Originally posted at the Hockey Writers Combine.

The 2012-13 WCHA season is going to be a historic season. After this season, the WCHA is going to go through some major changes – the Minnesota Gophers and the Wisconsin Badgers will move to the newly formed Big Ten Hockey Conference and join their fellow Big Ten Conference schools the Penn State Nittany Lions, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State.

Also set to leave the WCHA next season are the Colorado College Tigers, Denver Pioneers, University of Minnesota Duluth Dog, University of Nebraska Omaha, University of North Dakota and Saint Cloud State Huskies who are going to join the Miami University and Western Michigan in a newly formed league the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, Notre Dame is moving to the Hockey East.

We’re not done yet – the remaining CCHA and WCHA schools are going to form what some refer to as the nWCHA beginning for the 2013-14 season.  If your head is spinning – you’re not alone.

Here is how I think the WCHA is going to shake out this season.

1.) University of Minnesota –  During the 2011-12 season the Minnesota Gophers had what many would consider a pretty successful season, the Gophers (28-14-1 Overall – 20-8-0 1st WCHA)  rebounded to win the MacNaughton Cup after suffering through three subpar seasons where they failed to make the NCAA tourney. During the 2011-12 season – the Minnesota Gophers made it all the way to the Frozen Four before being beaten soundly by the Boston College Eagles 6-1 in the Semi Finals.

With what the Gophers have lost from last season and with what the Gophers have coming in, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have the Minnesota Golden Gophers penciled in to repeat for the league title and another trip to the Frozen Four. That being said, the Gophers are going to have the proverbial target on their back – every team in the league this season is going to be gunning for the Gophers. The heavily favored Gophers are going to be looking for a goaltender to fill the void left by the graduation of senior goaltender Kent Patterson.

Key returning players – Nick Bjugstad, forward (25g-17a—42pts), Zach Budish, forward (12g-23a—35pts), Erik Haula, forward (20g-29a—49pts), Kyle Rau, forward (18g-25a—43pts).

Key Losses – Kent Patterson, goaltender (.907 SV%, 2.32 GAA 28-14-1 record), Jake Hanson, forward (16g-22a—38pts), Taylor Mattson, forward (8g-13a—23pts).

Key Incoming Freshmen – Reilly Connor forward, Mike Reilly defenseman and Ryan Reilly forward, AJ Michaelson forward.

2.) University of North Dakota – The University of North Dakota, nickname to be determined later, (25-14-1 Overall – 16-11-0 4th WCHA) won an unprecedented third Broadmoor Cup in a row and look to four peat before heading to the NCHC for the 2013-14 season.

Since 2005-06 season no other WCHA team has won more Broadmoor Cups than UND – UND has twice won three games in three days – two out of the last three seasons to win an unprecedented third Broadmoor Trophy in a row. During that run through the Final Five,  UND beat Saint Cloud State University, the University of Minnesota and Denver University in three consecutive days.

UND would travel to the Xcel Energy Center where it would beat the Western Michigan University Bronco 2-1 before losing the next night 5-2 in the Midwest Regional finals to the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The University of North Dakota should also be a force to be reckoned with during the 2012-13 campaign – while UND loses Brock Nelson – Rocco Grimaldi is back after having season ending surgery. UND also has a pretty decent recruiting class to replace the players that graduated from last season.

Key returning players – Corbin Knight, forward (16g-24a—40pts), Danny Kristo, forward (19g-26—45pts), Carter Rowney, forward (18g-15a—33pts), Nick Mattson, defenseman (6g-13a—19pts), Dillon Simpson, defenseman (2g-16a—18pts).

Key Losses – Brock Nelson, Forward (28g-19a—47pts), Aaron Dell, goaltender (.900 SV%, 2.67 GAA 18-10-2 record), Ben Blood, defenseman (3g-18a—21pts).

Key incoming freshman/players – Rocco Grimaldi, forward (1g-1a—2pts), Jordan Schmaltz Defense, Zane Gothberg goaltender, Clarke Saunders (.906 SV%, 3.72 GAA, 2-23-1 record).

3.) University of Wisconsin – The Wisconsin Badgers had what Badgers fans could classify the 2011-12 campaign as a season to forget, (17-18-2 Overall – 11-15-2 10th WCHA) as the Badgers missed the Final Five and traveled on the road for the first round of the playoffs and then lost in the first round of the WCHA playoffs to the Denver University Pioneers in three games. While the Badgers lost Justin Schultz to the NHL they didn’t lose many other players to the NHL.

Key Returning Players - Mark Zengerle, forward (13g-37a—50pts), Michael Mersch, forward (14g-16a—30pts), Tyrler Barnes, forward (11g-15a—26pts), John Ramage, defense (3g-7a—10pts), Jake McCabe, defense (3g-9a—12pts), Joel Rumpel, goalie (.919 SV%, 2.48 GAA, 12-12-2).

Key incoming players - Morgan Zulinick forward, Kevin Schulze defense, Nic Kerdiles Defense.
Key losses - Justin Schultz, defense (16g-28a—44pts).

4.) Denver University – The Denver Pioneers were picked to win the WCHA in 2011-12 in picked to finish first in all three WCHA preseason polls (25-14-4 Overall – 16-8-4 3rd WCHA) Media, Writers and the coach’s polls). It would be four if you count the WCHA Blogger and Website Preseason Poll which also picked the Denver Pioneers to win the WCHA.

The Pioneers suffered an inordinate amount of injuries and really never got going and ended up under achieving – there are many talented players returning to the Pioneers but the losses of Jason Zucker and Drew Shore is going to be noticed on the ice this season. The Pioneers should battle for home ice and make the NCAA playoffs.

Key Losses – Drew Shore, forward (22g-31a—51pts), Jason Zucker, forward (22g-24a—46pts), Beau Bennett, forward 4g-9a—13pts), Luke Salazar, forward (12g-18a—30pts).

Key Returning Players – Nick Shore, forward (13g-28a—41pts), Shawn Ostrow, forward (11g-10a—21pts), Joey LaLeggia, defense (11g-27a—38pts), Ty Loney, forward (10g-11a—21pts).

Key Incoming Players – Dakota Mermis defense, Quentin Shore forward, Nolan Zajac defense, Gabe Levin forward, Grant Arnold forward.

5.) University of Minnesota Duluth – Last season the UMD Bulldogs (25-10-6 Overal – 16-7-5 2nd WCHA) overpowered teams with their speed and offensive prowess. UMD was a very dangerous team even strength and the Bulldogs finished second nationally in offensive scoring. This season team will be talented; however, the Bulldog lineup is going to be looking to others to step up offensively after losing 160 points with the graduation of Jack Connolly, Travis Olesksuk and the with the signing of J.T. Brown. That’s not to say that the Cupboard is entirely bare either – Mike Seidel and Caleb Herbert look to fill the void for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs should secure home ice for the WCHA playoffs and challenge for a top three finish in the WCHA standings.

Key Losses – Jack Connolly, forward (20g-40a—60pts), Travis Olesksuk, forward (21g-32a—53pts), J.T. Brown forward 24g23a—47, Brady Lamb defense (9g-22a—31pts).

Key Returning Players – Caleb Hebert, forward (14g-19a—33pts), Mike Seidel, forward (17g-13a—30pts).

Key Incoming Players – Austin Farley, forward, Tony Cameranesi, forward, Andy Welinski defense, Matt McNeely goalie, Austyn Young forward.

6.) Colorado College – At the start of last season, the Colorado College Tigers had great expectations for their season (26-13-3 – 15-12-1 – 5th WCHA) but in the end the Tigers ended up under achieving causing Tigers fans to wonder what happened. There is some good news and bad news. The good news, this season the Tigers are going to be a relatively older squad as they return seven seniors and six juniors. The bad news the Tigers lost two of their top three forward from last year’s lineup to include their best forward Jaden Schwartz after he signed an entry level deal with the St. Louis Blues of the NHL.

Last season, Tigers junior goalie Joe Howe what many would classify as a rough season after having two pretty solid freshman and sophomore seasons. Look for Joe Howe to bounce back this season.
Key Losses – Jaden Schwartz,forward (15g-26a—41pts), Nick Dineen, forward (14g-12a—26pts), Gabe Guentzel, defense (4g-22a—26pts).

Key Returning Players – Rylan Schwartz, forward (23g-17a—40pts), Joe Howe, goalie (.882 SV%, 3.48 GAA 5-8-1), Josh Thorimbert, goalie (.924 SV%, 2.35 GAA 18-8-1).

Key Incoming Players – Hunter Fejes forward.

6.) Michigan Tech University – It would not be a stretch to say that the 2000’s have not been kind to the Michigan Tech Huskies. Under former head coach Jamie Russell, the Huskies had a combined record of 31-105-17 from 2007-11. Last year, the Tech Huskies were much improved team under first year head coach Mel Pearson and last season the Huskies topped their previous three season’s win total with a record of (16-19-4 Overall – 11-13-4 8th WCHA).

I think it’s safe to say that, Mel Pearson has turned the Huskies’ ship around and has the program going in the right direction, after taking over the reins from former head coach Jamie Russell.

Pearson’s returned the Huskies to the Final Five after the Huskies knocked off the Colorado College Tigers in the first round of the WCHA playoffs to advance to the Final Five. The Huskies magical run ended a day later when they lost in the quarter final game to the Denver Pioneers. In one season, Pearson changed the Huskies fortunes.   The Huskies once thought of as an easy win under Pearson have become a tough team to play against.

Key Losses – Brett Olson, forward (10g-20a—30pts), Jordan Baker, forward 10g-18a—28pts), Alex MacLeod, forward (8g-11a—19pts), Josh Robinson, goalie (.909 SV%, 2.83 GAA, 15-14-4).
Key Returning Players – David Johnstone, forward (11g-18a—29pts), Ryan Furne, forward (12g-12a—24pts), Kevin Genoe goalie (880 SV%, 2.71 GAA, 1-5-0).

Key Incoming Players – Jujhar Khaira forward, Alex Petan forward, Malcolm Gould forward, Jamie Phillips goalie, Pheonix Copley goalie.

8. University of Nebraska Omaha – I am kind of torn on this team.   I’m not sure where they should be ranked after the Mavericks had a disappointing season (14-18-6 overall – 11-12-5 7th WCHA). The Mavericks had high hopes for the 2011-12 WCHA season but under achieved.

The Mavericks ended their season on a disappointing note when the Mavericks failed to gain home ice for the WCHA playoffs – traveled to Saint Cloud for the first round of the WCHA playoffs – lost the first round season to end their season. The Mavericks in their two seasons in the WCHA, have failed to make the WCHA Final Five – losing in the first round of both seasons to the Beavers and Huskies, respectively.
Picking the Mavericks finish is a tough task this season because they’re a bit of enigma this season. The Mavericks on paper are a relatively young team and have five freshman and eight sophomores and only three seniors. Also, the Mavericks have a pretty solid incoming recruiting class coming in this fall that could fill in the void left by this offseason departures.

The offseason was not very kind to the Red Mavericks as they lost three of top players – two of which signed professional contracts, Terry Broadhurst and Jayson Megna and a third player, their sophomore goalie, Ryan Massa, decided to take the year off for personal reasons.

Key Losses – Terry Broadhurst, forward (16g-20a—36pts), Jayson Megna, forward (13g-18a—31pts), Ryan Massa goalie, (.914 SV%, 2.60 GAA, 7-8-2).

Key Returning Players – Matt White, forward (17g-23a—40pts) Ryan Walters, forward (10g-15a—25pts), Bryce Aneloski, defense (6g-14g—20pts).

Key Incoming Players – Anthony Stolarz goalie, Brian Cooper defense, Nick Seeler defense, Tanner Lane  forward,  Aaron Pearce forward.

9. Saint Cloud State University – Traditionally, the Saint Cloud State University Huskies tend to be in the top half of the WCHA and challenge for a top four finish in the WCHA.  Last season the SCSU Huskies (17-17-5 overall – 12-12-5 6th WCHA) were a .500 team that was hit hard by the injury bug. The shorthanded Huskies made a late season surged and limped into the WCHA playoffs where their season ended in semifinals of the WCHA Final Five by the University of North Dakota.

Key Losses – David Eddy, forward (9g-16a—25pts), Travis Novak, forward (12g-15—27pts), Jared Festler 15g-19a—34pts), Mike Lee, goalie (.930 SV%, 2.23 GAA, 8-6-2).

Key Returning Players – Ben Hanowski, forward (23g-20a—43pts), Nic Dowd, forward (11g-13a—23pts), Andrew Prochno, defense (5g-24—29pts).

Key Incoming Players – Jimmy Murray forward, Jonny Brodzinski forward, Rasmus Reijola goaltender.

10. Bemidji State University – Last season the hard working Beavers’ (17-18-3 overall – 11-14-3 9th WCHA) late season stumble – in which the Beavers lost four out of six games going into the playoffs  – prevented the Beavers from an upper division finish in the WCHA standings – the Beavers look to improve on their 9th place finish.

This is what Head Coach Tom Serratore had to say at the end of last season after his Beavers were eliminated by the University of North Dakota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

“I thought it was a great season.  Everyone gauges their season differently, but I mean, this is a tough league, we know it’s a tough league.  We had 17 wins.  We were over five hundred in the regular season. We had more points than we had last year.  Those are the things we have look at right there.  Again, we made progress and we were hard to play against.  Again, I thought it was a great season.  Obviously we didn’t want it to end this way.  We wanted to advance to the WCHA Final Five, but it didn’t happen. But, that didn’t take anything away from the season we had.”

Going forward you can bet that Beavers head coach will have them ready to play and as usual, you can count on the Bemidji State Beavers being a small, quick and tenacious team that will get pucks deep and will fore-check the opposition relentlessly.  No team should look past the Beavers this season.

Key Losses – Shea Walters, forward (12g-14—26pts), Brad Hunt, defense (5g-21a—26pts) ,  Dan Bakela goaltender, (.911 SV%, 2.64 GAA, 11-13-2).

Key Returning Players – Jordan George, forward (19g-12a—31pts), Aaron McLeod, forward (9g-14—23pts), Brance Orban, forward (9g-13a—24pts).

Key Incoming Players – Markus Gerbrandt forward, Brad Robbins forward, Cory Ward forward, James Hansen defense, Graeme McCormack defense.

11. Minnesota State University Mankato – Last season the Minnesota State Mavericks experienced a rash of injuries that left their squad devastated and were never able to get going. The Mavericks had two of the more talented rookies Matt Leitner and Jean-Paul Lafontaine and lead the Mavericks in points.

After the season, Minnesota State decided to make a change in coaching, and removed Troy Jutting as the head coach of the Mavericks, who had been the head coach of the Mavericks for twelve seasons (2000-12 season), taking over for Don Brose who retired after the 1998-1999 season.  Under Jutting, Minnesota State had not made the Final Five or the NCAA tourney since the 2002-03 season. Minnesota State hired University of Nebraska Omaha assistant coach Mike Hastings to replace Jutting.  The Former head coach Troy Jutting has since been hired as an assistant coach at UNO to replace Mike Hastings.

Key Losses – Michael Dorr, forward (8g-11a—19pts), Justin Jokinen, forward (3g-10a—13pts), Austin Lee, goalie (.910 SV%, 3.07 GAA, 5-16-1).

Key Returning Players – Matt Leitner, forward (11g-18a—29pts), Jean-Paul Lafontatine, forward (13g-15a—28pts) Ericah Hayes, forward (13g-11a—24pts), Phil Cook, goalie (.887 SV%, 3.55 GAA, 7-8-0).
Key Incoming Players – Teddy Blueger forward, Bryce Gervais forward, Brett Knowles forward, Nick Buchanan Defense.

12. University of Anchorage Alaska - Last season hopes were high for the Seawolves after they had eliminated the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and qualified for the WCHA Final Five – before losing in the quarter Finals to the Colorado College Tigers 4-2.

After having high hopes for the season – last season ended up being a season to forget for the Seawolves and their fans as they returned to the cellar of the WCHA (9-25-2 overall – 5-22-1 12th WCHA). The second half of the season ended up being very rough for the Seawolves as they went a dismal 3-15-0 down the stretch after the first of the year – winning just three games in last 18 games.

Seawolves fans are expecting more out of them this season, led by Dave Shyiak who has a 76-152-26 in seven seasons with the Seawolves.

The Seawolves have large incoming freshman class that includes eight incoming players – including three players from local Anchorage Alaska area.

Key Losses – Mitch Bruijsten, forward (8g-8a—16pts), Eric Scheid, forward (6g-9—15pts), Curtis Leinweber, defense (9g-8a—17pts).

Key Returning Players – Jordan Kwas, forward (4g-10a—14pts), Scott Warner, defense (2g-13a—15pts).

Key Incoming Players – Blake Tatchell forward, Haden Trupp forward, Blake Leask defenseman, Michael Matyas goaltender.
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