PRESEASON PREDICTIONS The last WCHA season as we currently know it is about to start, this season will mark the end of epic an era. The WCHA has been one of the top conferences for as long as I can remember, and it will be reborn with some schools remaining (Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, Alaska-Anchorage, and Bemidji State) and new ones (Alaska (Fairbanks), Northern Michigan (they return after leaving the WCHA in ‘92), Ferris State, & Lake Superior State) joining. Before I get into this year’s predictions, let’s look back on how last year finished up, below are the final regular season records.
WCHA FINAL STANDINGS 2011-2012
4. North Dakota.………....16-11-1….….…33
5. Colorado College …….15-12-1…….….31
6. St. Cloud St…………...12-12-4……..…28
8. Michigan Tech………..11-13-4………..26
9. Bemidji State……..…..11-14-3.…….....25
11. Minnesota State……...8-18-2..…….....18
The Final 5 in St. Paul featured MTU, SCSU, UND, DU, UMD, and UM. The WCHA tournament went like this – Thursday, DU defeated MTU 3-2 in OT, and UND defeated SCSU 4-1 – Friday DU beat UMD 4-3 in a 2-ot thriller, and UND defeat UM in an exciting 6-3 comeback win – Saturday UND defeated DU 4-0, to claim their 3rd consecutive Broadmoor Trophy. With that in mind here are my less than well-educated guesses as to who will finish where…
12 – Alaska-Anchorage – Let’s face facts, the Seawolves have been in the bottom half of the standings every year. That doesn’t mean they are doormats though, they are in most of their games and they don’t give up. Dave Shyiak is a good coach; he keeps his teams competitive with the recruits/players he gets. Alaska isn’t high on most kid’s list of places to go to college, and all the long flights taking their toll on these college students. I don’t see them in the top half of the standings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished out of the twelve spot.
11 – Minnesota State – The Mavericks will have a new coach this year, Mike Hastings, he replaces Troy Jutting, who was at MSUM for the previous 12 years. Hastings was an assistant coach with UNO the past 3 years, and was with Minnesota before that, he is a 1993 alumni of SCSU. With a new coach at the helm, players will have to adjust to their new leader. I think a year or two down the road these purple pucksters could make a run up the new WCHA standings.
10 – Bemidji State – The Beavers were one of four teams last year that had eleven wins in league play and where three games below .500. Like most of the bottom half teams, they need to get more scoring from their top lines, if they want to finish with a winning record.
9 – Michigan Tech – The Huskies from Houghton almost made it to an even record to end the season. But they did make the Final Five and gave DU all they could handle in their play-in game. You could say that BSU has a “favorable” schedule this year, in that they don’t play four games against many of the “powers that be”. Don’t be too surprised if you hear the Huskies do some howling this year.
8 – Wisconsin – The Badgers struggled last year, we’ll call last season a rebuilding year. They have been a defense first team, starting with the goalie and working out from there. Now that they have some experienced goaltending in their Badger burrow, they can start building themselves back up. Coach Eaves knows what it takes to win, so we’ll all have to watch and see how fast they put it all together in Madison.
7 – Nebraska-Omaha – The Mavericks lost assistant coach Mike Hastings to Mankato in the off season, but gained Mankato’s old head coach Troy Jutting as an assistant. MSUM and UNO games could turn into a rivalry now that they have swapped coaches. UNO needs to be more consistent across the board, last year it seemed as if the offense was good, then defense and goaltending were off, and vise versa. If they get that squared away they could be a top half team.
6 – Colorado College – The Tigers won four of their last twelve games to finish out their year, and lost their first round playoff series at home to visiting MTU. Last year they started off hot and cold off, I’m sure they want the same start this year, but a different finish…We’ll just have to wait and see…
5 – St. Cloud State – The Huskies have a heavy sophomore class this season, which means they should all be improved from their freshman campaign. They have three seniors and they will be the backbone for the team, seniors Hanowski and Lee will be the keys to taking this year’s Huskies back to the Final Five and beyond. This season will also mark head coach Bob Motzko’s 8th season as the lead musher of SCSU hockey.
4 – Minnesota Duluth – The Bulldogs are coming off a strong season, unfortunately they watch last year’s McNaughton cup slip away from them and into the hands of Minnesota. When you look at the losses of seniors from last year, you might think of this season as a rebuilding year. I think it’ll be more of a reloading year.
3 – Minnesota – The Gophers had excellent year last, capturing the WCHA regular season title and advancing to the Frozen Four. The maroon and gold return plenty of talent from last year team. The big question will be goaltending, with the little or no college game experience; luckily they have some seasoned d-men.
2 – North Dakota – The teams formerly known as the Fighting Sioux, now just know as North Dakota (I’ll just use ND), will be in a similar boat as Minnesota. They have a question mark about the goaltending and how that will develop through the season. Also this year ND will have brothers playing for them at the same time, the MacMillan men, Mark and Mitch. (I believe that last time that happened was 03-04, with the Parise’s Zack and Jordan.) This will be coach Hakstol’s 9th season with ND, the coach staff has changed in the off season with Cary Eades departing the program.
1 – Denver – The Pioneers are my preseason predicted number one. How can I give them that honor over my favorite ND team, you ask? They return their goalie’s from last season and they both had playing time. And as for scoring, let’s just say DU has always been offensive, wink, wink. Win or lose the last WCHA title as we currently know it, coach Gwozdecky will still be the snazziest dressed coach in the league.