For the third year in a row, close to a dozen WCHA players gave up their remaining eligibility for pro contracts or off-field issues. Headlining this list of early departures are Denver’s Tyler Bozak, Wisconsin’s Jamie McBain, Colorado College’s Richard Bachman, Minnesota’s Ryan Stoa, and Minnesota-Duluth’s Alex Stalock.
Before I reveal my first three predictions for this year, let’s take a look at last season….
WCHA 2008-09 Final Standings
And here are three teams that I believe will certainly be on the road for the first round of the WCHA playoffs this season….
#10 Michigan Tech University Huskies
Last year’s record: 6-25-7 overall, 2-19-7 WCHA (10th)
Last year’s WCHA statistics: 1.68 goals scored/game (10th), 3.36 goals allowed/game (10th)
Key returning players: Junior F Jordan Baker (16-11-27), Sophomore F Brett Olson (10-13-23), Senior D Drew Dobson (5-14-19), Senior F Malcolm Gwilliam (2-5-7 in nine games)
Early departures: None
Key graduation losses: F Alex Gagne (5-8-13), D Geoff Kinrade (3-13-16), G Rob Nolan (3.05 GAA, .894 SV%)
The question marks: Can Michigan Tech climb out of the cellar? Can sophomore goaltender Josh Robinson (3.09 GAA, .889 SV%) handle the majority of the minutes in net after appearing in 20 games last season?
The bottom line: It’s going to be rough for the Huskies again this year. There is no real reason for optimism and no real reason to expect more than four conference victories.
#9 University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves
Last year’s record: 14-17-5 overall, 9-14-5 WCHA (9th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.46 goals scored/game (9th), 3.32 goals allowed/game (9th)
Key returning players: Senior F Kevin Clark (13-18-31), Junior F Tommy Grant (15-10-25), Senior F Josh Lunden (14-6-20), Senior D Trevor Hunt (4-8-12), Junior G Bryce Christianson (2.60 GAA, .893 SV%)
Early departure: F Paul Crowder (14-19-33)
Key graduation loss: D Mat Robinson (3-12-15)
The question marks: Will the Seawolves build on the momentum from the end of last season (sweeps over Alaska and Duluth, and two one-goal losses at Denver in the first round of the WCHA playoffs)? Will UAA continue to have road success this year (7-9-1 last season)?
The bottom line: This is a team that could go either way. The Seawolves could be fighting for home ice or fighting to stay out of the cellar. I might have them too low here, but I’m not sure where the goals are going to come from.
#8 Colorado College Tigers
Last year’s record: 16-12-10 overall, 12-9-7 WCHA (4th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.82 goals scored/game (7th), 2.93 goals allowed/game (6th)
Key returning players: Senior F Bill Sweatt (12-11-23), Junior F Stephen Schultz (10-4-14), Senior F Mike Testwuide (4-5-9), Sophomore D Gabe Guentzell (3-14-17)
Early departures: D Brian Connelly (3-24-27), G Richard Bachman (2.63 GAA, .914 SV%)
Key graduation losses: C Chad Rau (18-19-37), F Eric Walsky (12-24-36)
The question marks: There are so many areas of concern for this squad: goaltending (Tyler O‘Brien has appeared in only three games over two seasons), scoring (both even strength and on the power play), experience (15 underclassmen on the roster), and coaching (assistant coach Mike Guentzel departed Colorado Springs to become the head coach of the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL).
The bottom line: After winning 28 games in 07-08, the Tigers won only 16 games last year and may not notch 10 victories this season. CC has an outside shot at home ice, although head coach Scott Owens has his work cut out for him.
Check back soon for part two of my WCHA season preview, in which I predict which teams will finish in 4th-7th place and battle it out for home ice in the playoffs. Check back later for part three, detailing the top three teams in the conference. As always, I welcome your questions and comments.