The preeminent conference in college hockey, the WCHA has it all. At the top are always some of the best teams in the country, and it features a deep mix of good teams of varying styles. Even Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage, traditionally the bottom 2 teams in the conference, put up fights against the other teams in the conference.
This year is no different. Three teams at the top of the conference have the ability to win the national title, and the conference is as many as 8 quality teams deep.
Taking a different tactic than my other previews, here is a blurb on each team in the WCHA (in roughly the order I expect them to finish):
North Dakota – The favorites have the best defensive corps in the country. Captain Chay Genoway returns for a 6th (edit: 5th. My bad. Thanks, goon) season and is joined by every meaningful defensive returner from last year’s defense that allowed either 0,1 or 2 goals in 13 of the team’s final 19 games. As if they need more help, 1st round pick Derek Forbort will be on campus.
St. Cloud State – Ryan Lasch is gone, but the Huskies still have Garrett Roe. They also have maybe the best goaltending tandem in the country. Dan Dunn and Mike Lee can both steal a game. In a rare twist for the Huskies, offense could be the issue, not defense.
Minnesota-Duluth – If you want offense, look no further than Duluth. Jack Connolly (18-31–49), Justin Fontaine (21-25–46) and Mike Connolly (14-26–40) all return. The Bulldogs need to find depth though: despite their great top end scoring, they ranked just 6th in the conference in scoring last year. Goaltending could also be an issue. Brady Hjelle left for juniors, but that could be addition by subtraction.
Colorado College – After a strong first half, Freshman goalie Joe Howe cooled down in the second. If he has adjusted to the college game, the Tigers could make an NCAA tournament push. Bill Sweatt and Mike Testuwide are gone, but Freshman Jaden Schwarz, the first collegian picked in the NHL draft, should give the offense a boost.
Bemidji State – The Beavers are the new kids on the block but return tons of players from a team that went to the Frozen Four two years ago. They played in College Hockey America, but Bemidji still scored nearly 3.5 goals per game last year. Look for Jordan George (13-21–34) to have a big year this year.
Denver – The Pioneers lose a lot of great players, but the conference’s best Freshman defenseman last year, Matt Donovan, is back, and Jesse Martin (14 goals) will be joined by Beau Bennett, a 1st round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nebraska-Omaha – The other newbies could probably finish anywhere from 6th to 10th. Their defensive corps is thin, after losing Eddie Del Grosso off the team that was 6th in the CCHA in scoring defense last year. There isn’t a lot of scoring punch from the blueline either, but the Mavs have every major scorer back for 2010-11
Minnesota – This may actually be overrating the Gophers, but they do have some talent. If Alex Kangas regains his form he can steal home ice for Minnesota, and although he has gotten under opposing fans’ skin, Bowling Green transfer Jacob Cepis was probably the team’s best player in the latter half of last season.
Wisconsin – I think they’ll end up finishing a bit higher than this, but after losing their top 7 players, the cupboard is very bare. Mike Eaves re-tools with the best of them, and he’ll need to do so here.
Minnesota State – No Tyler Pitlick, and Kael Mouillierat graduated. Offense will be in short supply for the Mavericks, who have to replace 4 of their top 6 scorers.
Michigan Tech – Given that he had basically no defensive help, I was actually semi impressed with goalie Kevin Genoe’s Freshman year.
Alaska Anchorage – Questions all over the ice put the Seawolves in yet another fight to stay out of the basement.
Edit: before any of the more, ah, vocal readers get too bent out of shape about the standings, I should mention that just because I have it in this order, I’m not necessarily picking them in this order. Think of it more like tiers: UND to Duluth is tier 1, CC to Denver is tier 2, and the rest is tier 3. But even within the tiers there is fluidity. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see Wisconsin in the top half.
Player of the Year – Garrett Roe, St Cloud State
All WCHA 1st team
F – Roe
F – Jason Gregoire, North Dakota
F – Justin Fontaine, Minnesota-Duluth
D – Chay Genoway, North Dakota
D – Matt Donovan, Denver
G – Mike Lee, St. Cloud State
F – Jack Connolly, Minnesota-Duluth
F – Danny Kristo, North Dakota
F – Brett Olson, Michigan Tech
D – Brady Lamb, Minnesota-Duluth
D – Ben Blood, North Dakota
G – Brad Eidsness, North Dakota