Fall is upon us. The leaves are turning. The air is crisp. It can mean only one thing…it’s time for another glorious season of college hockey!
Over the next two weeks, I’ll break down each conference and tell you who to watch throughout the country this year en route to the national title game in Minnesota. We’ll also make some predictions with the WUYS staff and see who can pick this season’s national champ. Today in part one we’re going west young man, and looking at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The WCHA has an impressive history when you consider that since 1951, teams from the WCHA have earned 36 NCAA national championships and finished as the runner-up another 27 times. That’s a lot of hardware (see below).
Last season, four teams from the WCHA went to the national tournament: Denver, Wisconsin, North Dakota and St. Cloud State, with Wisconsin the eventual runner-up to Boston College (I hate the Eagles!) for the national title.
Look for North Dakota to be strong out of the gate. With a great defensive unit anchored by Captain Chay Genoway, the Fighting Sioux will be tough to beat. It’s not an accident that ND is ranked No. 2 in the national preseason polls. This team has the potential to dominate the conference and will be a serious contender in Minnesota come Frozen Four time.
Minnesota-Duluth has great scoring ability and should do well this year also. Ranked No. 9 in the preseason polls, the Bulldogs return 20 letter-men, including five of their six top scorers from last year. The star of that group, All-American center Jack Connolly (18G-31A-49P) is poised to take the Bulldogs to new heights this year.
St. Cloud State will sport solid goal tending in their Lee-Dunn tandem. However, with the loss of Ryan Lasch (20G-29A-49P), the Huskies could struggle to find enough offense this season. The Huskies do return a large crop of upperclassmen and that experience should make them one of the teams to beat in the conference.
If Jaden Schwartz is everything he’s advertised as, Colorado College could have a very good year. Schwartz, the WCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year, was also selected in the first round of the NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues.
The Tigers are loaded with forwards, some proven, some raw recruits. That being said, defense could be an issue with so many talented offensive teams in the conference.
The Denver Pioneers look to be in a bit of a rebuilding season as they lost many players from last year. Picked 11th nationally in preseason polls, DU will look to build around a solid defensive corps that includes sophomore Matt Donovan. The Pioneers will be tested early as they open their home schedule against defending NCAA champion Boston College (did I mention I hate BC?) with a pair of games October 15-16.
Bimidji State is new to the conference this season, but this is the team that shocked the hockey establishment a couple of years ago by advancing to the Frozen Four. With a 23-10-4 record overall last season in the CHA, the WCHA coaches poll has BS finishing in the bottom tier of the conference in 9th place. I have to agree.
Nebraska-Omaha is the other new team this year and are a bit of an unknown. They will retain most of their offensive firepower from last year, but defensively they could struggle. Don’t expect them to finish any higher than 7th this season.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers, once a feared team and in the national consciousness has lost a bit of its bite int he last few years. The coaches poll has them finishing squarely int he middle of the pack in 5th place. Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad did receive a vote for preseason rookie of the year. Coach Don Lucia could surprise some folks this year out west and the Gophers could find themselves in the mix come playoff time.
Wisconsin will surprise me if they spend any time in the top half of the conference. The national runners-up lost seven of their best players last year and you just can’t replace that kind of talent overnight.
Minnesota State will struggle to put the puck in the net as they lose almost all of their top scorers from last season. They will stay toward the bottom this year. the same can be said of Michigan Tech, which was very thin at the blue line last season.
Finally, Alaska-Anchorage will again struggle to fight its way out of the basement as there are holes all over the ice for them this year.
Well, there you have it folks. The west will (likely) be won this year by North Dakota. I think this conference can legitimately send several teams to the NCAAs that will contend for a title.
Here’s how the WUYS staff picks the WCHA this year:
CI – North Dakota…they have too many weapons
Pants – North Dakota…” I don’t know enough to argue with those numbers. That’s some seriously heavy favoritism.”
Chuck – Chuck, Chuck are you there?
DawnCherrie – TBD
Next time we’ll have a look at the CCHA. Until next time.
Hey all. I’m here! So I’m going to have to go with CI and Pants on this one. I pick the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota to win the WCHA. They are stacked like Jenga.
Ed’s Note: Apparently DawnCherrie is picking Wisconsin to win this conference. I know that Badger looks cute in the photo, but I don’t think the fellas on the ice will have it this year.