The first half of the WCHA season has been wild and unpredictable. It is remarkable to me that:
1) Only three teams (Colorado College, Denver, and North Dakota) have winning records in the conference.
2) Those same three teams are the only three WCHA schools to score more goals than they’ve allowed in conference play.
3) If the season ended today, Minnesota and Wisconsin would both be on the road for the first round of the conference playoffs.
Denver and Minnesota-Duluth are at the top of my list of midseason surprises, as I predicted them to finish 7th and 9th in the league, respectively. Minnesota gets my vote for the biggest disappointment, as I expected them to challenge for the league title and they may very well be on the road for the opening round of the WCHA playoffs.
Here’s a midseason capsule for each conference team. (Preseason predictions are mine, and a full season preview article can be found here.)
#1 Colorado College Tigers (Preseason #4)
WCHA record: 15-3-0
Conference statistics: 3.44 goals scored/game (1st), 1.67 goals allowed/game (1st)
Home series remaining: St. Cloud State, MSU-Mankato, Denver (one game)
Road series remaining: Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver (one game)
Key players: Junior F Chad Rau (17-11-28), Sophomore F Bill Sweatt (5-10-15), Senior F Jimmy Kilpatrick (11-10-21), Senior F Scott McCulloch (5-6-11), Senior D Jack Hillen (3-12-15)
Midseason report: The question about whether junior goaltender Drew O’Connell would be good enough has been answered. The answer is freshman Richard Bachman. Bachman has stolen the top spot in net, playing in 18 of 22 games and posting a record of 15-3-0 to go along with a 1.61 goals against average, a save percentage of .940, and two shutouts.
#2 University of Denver Pioneers (Preseason #7)
WCHA record: 12-4-0
Conference statistics: 3.13 goals scored/game (3rd), 2.19 goals allowed/game (2nd)
Home series remaining: Minnesota, Alaska-Anchorage, Colorado College (one game)
Road series remaining: MSU-Mankato, North Dakota, Michigan Tech, Colorado College (one game)
Key players: Sophomore F Tyler Ruegsegger (10-10-20), Sophomore F Rhett Rakhshani (7-8-15), Sophomore F Brock Trotter (12-17-29), Junior D Chris Butler (1-10-11), Senior G Peter Mannino (17-5-0, 1.96 GAA, .927 SV, 4 SO)
Midseason report: Denver’s super sophs are averaging over one point per game, and freshman Tyler Bozak’s ability to provide offensive punch (10-11-21) has been a pleasant surprise. Mannino has proven more than capable of handling the goaltending duties after splitting time last year. A home and home series against Colorado College on the last week of the regular season may well decide the conference race.
#3 University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux (Preseason #1)
WCHA record: 9-7-0
Conference statistics: 3.31 goals scored/game (2nd), 2.25 goals allowed/game (3rd)
Home series remaining: Alaska-Anchorage, Denver, St. Cloud State
Road series remaining: MSU-Mankato, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth
Key players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (9-13-22), Junior F T.J. Oshie (10-10-20), Senior D Robbie Bina (1-17-18), Junior D Taylor Chorney (2-14-16), Senior G Phillippe Lamoureux (12-8-1, 1.86 GAA, .929 SV, 4 SO)
Midseason report: Lamoureux has been outstanding. North Dakota has not yet found the right linemate for Oshie and Duncan, although they are getting more scoring from other lines. As in recent seasons, a disappointing first half has all but dashed any hopes of hoisting the MacNaughton Cup.
#4 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (Preseason #9)
WCHA record: 6-6-4
Conference statistics: 2.50 goals scored/game (5th), 2.81 goals allowed/game (4th)
Home series remaining: Minnesota, Colorado College, North Dakota
Road series remaining: Wisconsin, Michigan Tech, Minnesota
Key returning players: Junior F Nick Kemp (7-6-13), Junior F MacGregor Sharp (5-7-12), Junior F Michael Gergen (5-5-10), Junior D Josh Meyers (5-8-13), Sophomore G Alex Stalock (8-7-5, 2.43 GAA, .909 SV, 2 SO)
Midseason report: The losses of Raymond and Niskanen were brutal, but Sandelin’s squad has found balanced scoring, as eight Bulldogs have scored four or more goals. Stalock has been good enough between the pipes to keep Duluth in contention for a top-five finish and home ice for the playoffs.
#5 Saint Cloud State University Huskies (Preseason #5)
WCHA record: 6-8-2
Conference statistics: 2.94 goals scored/game (4th), 2.94 goals allowed/game (7th)
Home series remaining: MSU-Mankato (one game), Michigan Tech, Wisconsin
Road series remaining: MSU-Mankato (one game), Colorado College, Alaska-Anchorage, North Dakota
Key players: Sophomore F Ryan Lasch (17-17-34), Sophomore F Andreas Nodl (11-17-28), Freshman F Garrett Roe (15-17-32), Senior F Nate Dey (9-7-16), Senior D Aaron Brocklehurst (2-11-13)
Midseason report: Despite a difficult second-half schedule, this team will contend for home ice and an NCAA berth. The Huskies suffered six straight losses before Christmas, including five by one goal, but appear to have righted the ship with solid weekends against North Dakota and Minnesota. Garrett Roe is the front-runner for league rookie of the year.
#6 Michigan Tech University Huskies (Preseason #6)
WCHA record: 5-8-1
Conference statistics: 2.07 goals scored/game (9th), 2.93 goals allowed/game (6th)
Home series remaining: Colorado College, Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver
Road series remaining: Alaska-Anchorage, St. Cloud State, MSU-Mankato
Key players: Senior F Peter Rouleau (8-8-16), Senior F Tyler Shelast (11-5-16), Senior F Jimmy Kerr (7-4-11), Junior D Geoff Kinrade (1-10-11), Junior G Michael-Lee Teslak (4-4-2, 1.72 GAA, .934 SV, 1 SO), Junior G Rob Nolan (5-7-0, 2.75 GAA, .892 SV)
Midseason report: The Huskies started out 4-1-0 in the conference before hitting a 2-5-1 stretch before the holiday break. The injury to Teslak has forced Nolan to the forefront, and Michigan Tech will struggle until they get Teslak back.
#6 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (Preseason #2)
WCHA record: 5-8-1
Conference statistics: 2.43 goals scored/game (6th), 3.00 goals allowed/game (8th)
Home series remaining: North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth
Road series remaining: Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin, Denver, Alaska-Anchorage
Key players: Sophomore F Jay Barriball (3-11-14), Senior F Ben Gordon (7-12-19), Junior F Blake Wheeler (12-10-22), Senior D Derek Peltier (1-9-10)
Midseason report: The Gophers were already struggling to find offense before Kyle Okposo (7-4-11) bolted for the pros after 18 games. Goaltending has been suspect, and Minnesota might find itself on the road for the first round of the playoffs.
#6 University of Wisconsin Badgers (Preseason #3)
WCHA record: 5-8-1
Conference statistics: 2.43 goals scored/game (6th), 3.43 goals allowed/game (9th)
Home series remaining: Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, MSU-Mankato
Road series remaining: Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech, Minnesota, St. Cloud State
Key players: Junior F Ben Street (9-12-21), Freshman F Kyle Turris (9-13-22), Sophomore D Jamie McBain (2-8-10), Senior D Kyle Klubertanz (4-9-13), Junior G Shane Connelly (8-10-1, 2.63 GAA, .910 SV, 1 SO)
Midseason report: The Badgers have found some scoring after finishing last in the league in goal production last year. The problem has been defense and goaltending. Only Alaska-Anchorage (3.57 goals allowed/game) has been worse than Wisconsin.
#9 Minnesota State University-Mankato Mavericks (Preseason #8)
WCHA record: 3-7-4
Conference statistics: 1.79 goals scored/game (10th), 2.86 goals allowed/game (5th)
Home series remaining: North Dakota, St. Cloud State (one game), Denver, Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech
Road series remaining: St. Cloud State (one game), Wisconsin, Colorado College
Key players: Sophomore F Trevor Breuss (5-11-16), Senior F Joel Hanson (4-8-12), Junior F Mick Berge (10-2-12), Junior G Mike Zacharias (8-5-4, 1.94 GAA, .930 SV, 3 SO)
Midseason report: The Mavericks have tightened up defensively after giving up 3 or more goals 17 times (and 5 or more goals nine times) in 28 league games last year. The problem has been scoring, as only three players have more than five points in the league.
#10 University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves (Preseason #10)
WCHA record: 2-9-3
Conference statistics: 2.14 goals scored/game (8th), 3.57 goals allowed/game (10th)
Home series remaining: Wisconsin, Michigan Tech, St. Cloud State, Minnesota
Road series remaining: North Dakota, MSU-Mankato, Denver
Key players: Sophomore F Kevin Clark (7-10-17), Sophomore F Paul Crowder (6-10-16), Sophomore F Josh Lunden (9-7-16), Junior D Mat Robinson (2-10-12)
Midseason report: The unexpected departure of goaltender Nathan Lawson thrust senior net minder Jon Olthuis into the spotlight, and he hasn’t done enough to bail out the Seawolves, who have given up 3 or more goals in 10 of 14 WCHA games thus far.
The league race may go down to the wire, with Denver and Colorado College playing a home and home series on the final weekend of the regular season. The Final Five could see some new and unlikely participants this season, as Minnesota and Wisconsin could be on the outside looking in.
Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.