In this installment of my WCHA season preview, I will predict how the teams in the middle of the pack will fare this year. The teams in this bunch are very tight, and all four of these programs could finish in the top half of the league.
Here’s a reminder of how the teams finished last season:
WCHA 2008-09 Final Standings
In part one of my preview, I made the following predictions for the bottom of the league standings. For a complete season outlook for these three teams, click here.
#10: Michigan Tech University Huskies
#9: University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves
#8 Colorado College Tigers
And now, the middle four:
#7 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
Last year’s record: 22-13-8 overall, 10-11-7 WCHA (7th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.79 goals scored/game (8th), 2.57 goals allowed/game (2nd)
Key returning players: Junior F Justin Fontaine (15-33-48), Sophomore F Mike Connolly (13-29-42), Sophomore F Jack Connolly (10-19-29)
Early departures: D Evan Oberg (7-20-27), G Alex Stalock (21-13-8, 2.13 GAA, .924 SV%, 5 SO)
Key graduation losses: F MacGregor Sharp (26-24-50), D Josh Meyers (10-18-28)
The question marks: How will goaltender Brady Hjelle (two games of collegiate experience) handle the load for the Bulldogs after Stalock bolted for the pros?
The bottom line: Duluth will score in bunches this season, but their opponents will, too. The WCHA is not kind to freshman defensemen, but Dylan Olsen and Dan DeLisle will have to hold their own for UMD to secure home ice.
#6 Minnesota State University-Mankato Mavericks
Last year’s record: 15-17-6 overall, 11-13-4 WCHA (8th)
Last year’s statistics: 3.14 goals scored/game (4th), 3.21 goals allowed/game (8th)
Key returning players: Senior F Kael Mouillierat (17-13-30), Senior F Geoff Irwin (12-16-28), Junior Rylan Galiardi (8-20-28), Junior D Kurt Davis (6-25-31)
Early departure: F Trevor Breuss (12-5-17)
Key graduation losses: F Mick Berge (7-24-31), G Mike Zacharias (14-14-6, 2.99 GAA, .911 SV%)
The question marks: I could easily copy the question marks and bottom line from the Bulldogs (above), since the two programs will face similar tests this season. But I’ll come up with something else: How does head coach Troy Jutting get a four-year contract extension after only one winning season in his past six?
The bottom line: With a hot goaltender emerging from the mix (sophomore Austin Lee and freshmen Kevin Murdock and Phil Cook), the Mavs could contend for home ice.
#5 St. Cloud State University Huskies
Last year’s record: 18-17-3 overall, 13-13-2 WCHA (6th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.96 goals scored/game (6th), 2.89 goals allowed/game (5th)
Key returning players: Junior F Garrett Roe (17-31-48), Senior F Ryan Lasch (18-24-42), Junior F Aaron Marvin (10-17-27), Senior D Garrett Raboin (10-23-33)
Early departure: G Jase Weslosky (16-13-2, 2.70 GAA, .913 SV%, 2 SO)
Key graduation loss: F John Swanson (9-17-26)
The question marks: Will highly touted freshman goaltender Mike Lee win the job over Dan Dunn? Can the Huskies beat the Gophers this season after losing all six contests last year?
The bottom line: This is a team with talent all over the ice. The Huskies could very well be a top three team at season’s end.
#4 University of Wisconsin Badgers
Last year’s record: 20-16-4 overall, 14-11-3 WCHA (3rd)
Last year’s statistics: 3.29 goals scored/game (3rd), 2.79 goals allowed/game (4th)
Key returning players: Sophomore F Derek Stepan (9-24-33), Senior F Blake Geoffrion (15-13-28), Senior F John Mitchell (15-11-26)
Early departure: D Jamie McBain (7-30-37)
Key graduation losses: F Tom Gorowsky (12-18-30), G Shane Connelly (19-14-4, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 SO)
The question marks: Will transfer Brett Bennett (from Boston University) work out between the pipes after sitting out last season?
The bottom line: The Badgers are talented and experienced. As with so many teams in the league, it comes down to goaltending. If Bennett works out or Scott Gudmandson is capable enough, Bucky could be hoisting the MacNaughton Cup in March.
Check back later this week for part three of my WCHA season preview, in which I predict how the top three teams will finish in the WCHA this year. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.