In part one of my WCHA season preview, I wrote that Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota-Duluth are my picks to finish as the bottom three teams in the league and play on the road in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
In this edition, I will deal with the four teams in the middle of the pack. Last season, St. Cloud State, MSU-Mankato, Wisconsin, and Minnesota occupied fourth through seventh place in the final standings with only three points separating the four teams. This season shapes up to be more of the same, with a number of teams in the mix for an upper division finish.
Here’s how I see the race shaping up….
#7 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
Last year’s record: 9-12-7 (7th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.29 goals scored/game (7th), 2.50 goals allowed/game (5th)
Key returning players: Junior F Jay Barriball (6-15-21), Sophomore F Mike Hoeffel (9-10-19), Junior F Ryan Stoa (12-12-24 in 2006-07), Senior D R.J. Anderson (5-7-12), Sophomore G Alex Kangas (12-10-9, 1.98 GAA, .930 SV)
Early departures: F Blake Wheeler (15-20-35), D Stu Bickel (1-6-7), G Jeff Frazee (6-7-0, 2.93 GAA, .890 SV)
Key graduation losses: F Ben Gordon (15-14-29), F Mike Howe (7-14-21), F Evan Kaufmann (9-10-19), D Derek Peltier (4-17-21)
The question marks: How will the Gophers handle their tough opening schedule? Will Kangas be able to carry the load again? How will the 12 freshmen adjust to the WCHA?
The bottom line: I don’t think that the Gophers will score more than two goals per game. If incoming freshman Jordan Schroeder (US Under 18) is as good as advertised and redshirt junior Ryan Stoa brings much-needed offensive punch, Minnesota could find itself in the top five.
#6 St. Cloud State University Huskies
Last year’s record: 12-12-4 (4th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.82 goals scored/game (3rd), 2.64 goals allowed/game (6th)
Key returning players: Junior F Ryan Lasch (25-28-53), Sophomore F Garrett Roe (18-27-45), Junior D Garrett Raboin (3-16-19), Junior G Jase Weslosky (16-13-2, 2.12 GAA, .931 SV)
Early departure: F Andreas Nodl (18-26-44)
Key graduation losses: F Nate Dey (10-11-21), F Matt Hartman (7-13-20), D Aaron Brocklehurst (4-18-22), D Matt Stephenson (2-9-11)
The question marks: Where is the leadership on the blue line? The Huskies were in the bottom half of the league last season in goals allowed, and the D corps got younger again this year.
The bottom line: If the officials continue to call the games tighter and the Huskies dominate on the power play like they did last season (22.5 percent), St. Cloud will be in the mix for home ice.
#5 University of Wisconsin Badgers
Last year’s record: 11-12-5 (6th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.43 goals scored/game (6th), 2.43 goals allowed/game (4th)
Key returning players: Senior F Ben Street (13-17-30), Junior F Blake Geffrion (10-20-30), Junior F Michael Davies (13-11-24), Junior D Jamie McBain (5-19-24), Senior G Shane Connelly (15-16-5, 2.44 GAA, .913 SV)
Early departure: F Kyle Turris (11-24-35)
Key graduation losses: D Davis Drewiske (5-16-21), D Kyle Klubertanz (4-16-20)
The question marks: Which underclassmen will step into larger roles and produce on a regular basis?
The bottom line: If the Badgers stay healthy, they are poised to make another playoff run.
#4 Minnesota State University Mankato Mavericks
Last year’s record: 12-12-4 (4th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.54 goals scored/game (5th), 2.68 goals allowed/game (7th)
Key returning players: Senior F Mick Berge (20-6-26), Junior F Trevor Bruess (9-21-30), Sophomore D Kurt Davis (1-14-15), Senior G Mike Zacharias (18-13-4, 2.08 GAA, .924 SV, 5 SO)
Early departure: F Jon Kalinski (8-10-18)
Key graduation losses: F Joel Hanson (9-14-23), D R.J. Linder (1-7-8)
The question marks: Will Trevor Bruess’ decision to turn down a professional contract translate into a deep playoff run for the Mavs?
The bottom line: With this team, the Mavericks should gain home ice and advance to the WCHA Final Five. The only question for this squad is how they will handle the expectations.
Check back for the final installment of my WCHA season preview, in which I predict which teams will finish in the top three spots. As always, I welcome your questions and comments.