WCHA 2011-12 Predictions Part 2: The Top Six

Earlier this week, I gave you my predictions for the bottom six in the WCHA this season:

#12 MSU-Mankato
#11 Michigan Tech
#10 Bemidji State
#9 St. Cloud State
#8 Alaska Anchorage
#7 Wisconsin

For a summary of those six teams, please click here.

Before I move on to the top six, here’s a reminder of how the teams ended up last year:

WCHA 2010-11 Final Standings

Team Record Points
North Dakota 21-6-1 43
Denver 17-8-3 37
Nebraska-Omaha 17-9-2 36
Minnesota-Duluth 15-8-5 35
Minnesota 13-10-5 31
Colorado College 13-13-2 28
Wisconsin 12-13-2 27
Alaska-Anchorage 12-14-2 26
St. Cloud State 11-13-4 26
Bemidji State 8-15-5 21
MSU-Mankato 8-16-4 20
Michigan Tech 2-24-2 6

And now, the top six teams in the WCHA:

#6 University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Dean Blais

2010-11 Record: 21-16-6 overall, 17-9-2 WCHA, (3rd)

Key returning players:  Sr. F Alex Hudson (13-18—31), Jr. F Terry Broadhurst (11-19—30), So. F Matt White (14-11—25), So. F Ryan Walters (11-12—23), So. F Brock Montpetit (11-10—21), Jr. D Bryce Aneloski (2-17—19), Sr. G John Faulkner (20-15-2, 2.56, .908)

Key losses: F Joey Martin, F Matt Ambroz, F Rich Purslow, D Eric Olimb

2011-12 season outlook: When the Mavs get Hudson back from a team-issued suspension, they will be one of the top teams in the WCHA.  How they fare without him will determine whether they can contend for the league title.

#5 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin

2010-11 Record: 26-10-6 overall, 15-8-5 WCHA, (4th)

Key returning players: Sr. F Jack Connolly (18-41—59), So. F J.T. Brown (16-21—37), Sr. F Travis Oleksuk (14-19—33), Jr. F Mike Seidel (8-6—14), Sr. D Brady Lamb (1-9—10), Sr. G Kenny Reiter (16-7-5, 2.30, .914)

Key losses: F Mike Connolly, F Justin Fontaine, F Kyle Schmidt, D Justin Faulk, D Mike Montgomery

2011-12 season outlook: Oleksuk centering Connolly and Brown will be plenty potent for the Bulldogs.  The issue I have with UMD is on the blue line; I would need to see a difference-maker back there to have them rated any higher, but an NCAA tournament berth is likely.

#4 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers

Head Coach: Don Lucia

2010-11 Record: 16-14-6 overall, 13-10-5 WCHA, (5th)

Key returning players: So. F Erik Haula (6-18—24), Sr. F Jake Hansen (11-9—20), So. F Nick Bjugstad (8-12—20), So. F Nate Condon (8-9—17), So. F Zach Budish (2-4—6), So. D Mark Alt (2-8—10), Sr. G Kent Patterson (14-9-6, 2.54, .919)

Key losses: F Mike Hoeffel, F Jay Barriball, F Jacob Cepis, D Cade Fairchild, D Kevin Wehrs, D Aaron Ness

2011-12 season outlook: Call it a hunch or a feeling, but Minnesota will earn home ice, advance to the Final Five, and make the NCAA tournament this season. And with only four senior skaters, they’re a year away from being scary good.

#3 University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol

2010-11 Record: 32-9-3 overall, 21-6-1 WCHA, (1st)

Key returning players: Jr. F Corban Knight (14-30—44), Jr. F Danny Kristo (8-20—28), So. F Brock Nelson (8-13—21), Sr. F Mario Lamoureux (3-14—17), So. D Derek Forbort (0-15—15), Sr. D Ben Blood (2-10—12), Jr. G Aaron Dell (30-7-2, 1.79 .924)

Key losses: F Matt Frattin, F Evan Trupp, F Brad Malone, F Jason Gregoire, F Brett Hextall, D Chay Genoway

2011-12 season outlook:  This North Dakota group will struggle until the second half of the season, at which point the freshmen in the lineup can no longer be considered rookies.  It’s hard not to look ahead to next year since the Sioux will lose only three players (F Mario Lamoureux, D Ben Blood, G Brad Eidsness) to graduation.

#2 University of Denver Pioneers

Head Coach: George Gwozdecky

2010-11 Record: 25-12-5 overall, 17-8-3 WCHA, (2nd)

Key returning players: Jr. F Drew Shore (23-23—46), So. F Jason Zucker (23-22—45), So. D David Makowski (6-24—30), Sr. F Luke Salazar (17-11—28), So. F Beau Bennett (9-16—25), Sr. D John Lee (3-9—12), Jr. G Adam Murray (6-3-0, 3.46, .879)

Key losses: F Anthony Maiani, F Kyle Ostrow, D Matt Donovan

2011-12 season outlook: If goaltender Sam Brittain hadn’t suffered a knee injury, the Pioneers would occupy the top spot in my rankings. It’s possible Brittain will return before the end of the year and could give DU a boost at playoff time.

#1 Colorado College Tigers

Head Coach: Scott Owens

2010-11 Record: 23-19-3 overall, 13-13-2 WCHA, (6th)

Key returning players: So. F Jaden Schwartz (17-30—47), Jr. F Rylan Schwartz (10-28—38), Sr. D Gabe Guentzel (6-22—28), Sr. F Nick Dineen (13-11—24), Jr. F William Rapuzzi (12-10—22), Jr. G Joe Howe (18-15-2, 2.94, .903)

Key losses: F Stephen Schultz, F Tyler Johnson, D Ryan Lowery

2011-12 season outlook: It may seem like a stretch for CC to go from sixth to first place in one season, but the Tigers have depth all over the ice and are the only team in the top six that can’t be characterized as “young”.  This is the year for Scott Owens and Colorado College.

Thank you for reading.  I welcome your comments, suggestions, and predictions.

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