Saturday, August 30, 2008

WCHA 08-09: How I See It

Here is my encapsulated view of the upcoming WCHA season.

Colorado College

This list is in alphabetical order but it almost is a foregone conclusion that CC is the team to beat on paper. The "paper" Tigers return a whopping 15 upperclassmen, the majority of which were key contributors last season when the non-paper Tigers finished first in the league. If Richard Bachman plays anything like he did last year then there isn't much to stop them from finishing there again. This team will have two 1st lines that could threaten on every shift and a 3rd line that will be the equal to many other teams 2nd lines in terms of production. It has defensemen that are relatively proven when it comes to scoring. It's got a couple of "well-papered" incoming freshman that could make reasonable contributions as well. And they play a very disciplined defensive game in front of a very talented young goalie. Other teams will get some wins against this apparent juggernaut but NO other team will be able to plan on it.
Highest Finish: Duh
Lowest Finish: 1st

University of Denver
There is one big question and a few smaller questions that will need to be answered affirmatively for DU to see the most success this season. The big question is directly between the pipes in their end of the ice. Can Marc Cheverie take the reins? How well he answers that question will likely be proportional to DU's success. One small question is Joe Colborne and how he'll do his first (only?) year. It's a small question because DU can still have success if he only produces like an average freshman. Denver's offense should be more than adequate to put the team in the top half of the standings. Depth on defense hasn't been a strength in the past couple of years. This year should see some improvement with a couple of players who should come more into their own this season. Chris Butler will probably get tagged with the "prototype WCHA defenseman" label. He pretty much does everything any WCHA coach would want you to do. Look for a career year in scoring from him.
Highest Finish: 3rd
Lowest Finish: 7th

Michigan Tech
The original Huskies return 14 upperclassmen from last season. My expectations for them last season were much higher than what they acheived. I based that on the large class of upperclassmen. Come to figure out that it isn't just a big class size that determines production. And in those terms MTU doesn't appear to bring much back. Their highest returning goal scorer put only 5 pucks in the net last year. There are legitimate questions about goaltender Rob Nolan's ability to do the job for the full season though I think he'll be much more of an asset than a problem. Jamie Russell will get them playing a disciplined defensive game in relatively short order. They'll be a tough team to play against but more often than not MTU opponents will find enough cracks to come out on top. They've got a fairly large freshman class coming in and perhaps one of those kids will be a diamond in the rough. Maybe a new role will mean someone in the upperclass steps up big time? Who knows? Realistically though without some big unexpected (even dramatic) offensive production from somewhere this can only be considered a rebuilding year.
Highest Finish: 7th
Lowest Finish: 10th

I can only imagine that Don Lucia would characterize the last two seasons as frustrating. When things out of your direct control go badly for you it is frustrating. There don't appear to be any looming surprises this year for tDon. The last two years should have taught the core of his team the meaning of teamwork. Having seen the majority of the last quarter of the regular season and almost all of the Gophers postseason games I think they began to play like a team. There's got to still be some defensive concerns but tLucia and company should get this young defense squared away fairly quickly. Part of that puzzle will be to ensure that Anderson and Fischer show leadership and stability as examples. None of that is too much to hope for. Scoring looks to come first from Ryan Stoa. Maybe Mike Carmen steps it up to the next level? Much the rest will come via committee. A freshman forward or two are likely show up on scoresheets with GWG's and Rookies of the Week and such. No discernable problem exists with Kangas in the net. The "gopher five-hole" may even be a thing of the past. Whether he can maintain that level of play in virtually every game this season is the only unanswered question? And he may very well be called on to play in nearly every game. Definitely a better year in twinkietown than the last two though.
Highest Finish: 2nd
Lowest Finish: 5th

Minnesota St, Mankato
Halitosisville could have easily become the new name for the city of Mankato at the end of last season. Their team played over their heads all year long and they were left with nothing but a bad taste in their mouth. Will the Jutting mind games (bequeathed to Jutting by his sister Craig Dahl) convince his squad to play the same way again this season? I'd expect most of their returning forwards to put more pucks in the net this year. Will that be enough? Will the goaltending be as good? Jutting has a fairly big core back from a team that was every bit the Gophers equals in their playoff series last year. Nevertheless, unproven isn't a word that I can dismiss easily. Perhaps it's better to say that it is just yet to be known.
Highest Finish: 3rd
Lowest Finish: 7th

Minnesota Duluth
Ah. tUMD. Many many questions to answer down near the Iron Range this year. Scott Sandelin can be fairly labeled as someone who has failed to get the most out of the talent in front of him. He's got one of the better classes of incoming freshman in the league hitting the ice this year. He's got a talented (and perhaps a wee bit flaky) netminder. His blueline crew is perhaps underwhelming in it's transition skills but this team will have a surprising amount of skill up front. In some ways I see this team as a recipe waiting to be put together properly. I've seen little evidence in the past that Sandelin can handle much more than boiling eggs. So I think this year he really needs to prove that he can take a diverse set of ingredients and come up with something tasty. There should be enough maturity returning to provide some stability.
Highest Finish: 5th
Lowest Finish: 9th

North Dakota
The "future" Zephyrs (my suggestion for replacing the Sioux name which is under a deadline to be changed) this season have the exact same question to answer as Denver. Goaltending. Goaltending. Goaltending. Lammy played in pretty much every game they played last season. Every goaltender they have on the roster this year didn't. Last year I pegged goaltending as the big question in Grand Forks and Lammy proved me right. They rode that kid to the end and he held up. The "future" Zephyrs weren't an especially talent team last year (but they did have talent). They weren't disciplined. Sometimes they even looked like they were having a chinese fire drill. But then Lammy would come through and they'd respond with inspired play. They were opportunistic. This year they look young with 15 underclassmen. If North Dakota ever does rebuild as opposed to the usual reload then this is likely to be such a year.
Highest Finish: 4th
Lowest Finish: 8th

St. Cloud
It all about scoring goals this year for the OtherHuskies. With at least one preseason poll putting them at #2 in the nation it seems this season is one which they only must embrace to succeed. Goaltending will be fine (serviceable at least and good at best). The defense isn't flashy but there's enough speed throughout the lineup to cover the ice as quick or quicker than most of their competition. Personally, I'm not putting any money on them to win an NCAA game this year but they sure ought to get there to give it a try. That's something I guess. At least that's what all the conventional wisdom is saying about St. Cloud this year. We'll see.
Highest Finish: 2nd
Lowest Finish: 6th

The WCHA is a defense first league. Playoff hockey every night. The Badgers execute a disciplined defensive effort more efficiently than any other WCHA team. It's become their trademark under Mike Eaves and they'll be sticking to that again this year. They're also absolutely stacked with talented blueliners. Mostly it won't matter how many goals the Badgers score. The key will be how few goals their opponents score. Bill Howard or not the goaltending will be steady enough to handle the few quality chances that other teams will be able to generate.
Highest Finish: 3rd
Lowest Finish: 7th

The Seawolves
The big question for the Seawolves will be whether they can maintain consistency througout the length of the schedule. For two straight years the team has struggled to find a win in the second half of the season. There is a solid core of talented upperclassmen who are virtually all threats in the offensive end. A large group of sophomore forwards all of which will likely increase their decent freshman numbers. College Hockey News picked Craig Parkinson as a "Player to Know"; nothing wrong with that choice per se but I would have went with Brad McCabe who I think might have more potential goals in him. The goaltending situation is healthy. Jonny O's game should be lifted by having serious competition for playing time and Bryce just may be the kind of kid who can stand on his head and change a game singlehandedly. UAA's transition game made huge improvements over the last 3 years. With the talent now on the blueline that part of the game should finally be in UAA's favor most nights.
Highest Finish: 4th
Lowest Finish: 8th


Runninwiththedogs said...

Donald, FYI, Duluth is not the Range.

Donald Dunlop said...

I can assure you that another such geographic affront to Duluth will be vigorously internally defended against with every fiber of my being.

Why do you hate miners?

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how you came to the conclusion that UAA is going to finish 4th-8th?

I just don't see how you can see that happen. Why not 10th? Your team finished there three season in a row.

Donald Dunlop said...

"how" did I come to that "conclusion"?

I considered all the important factors that lead to either success or failure in the WCHA. I mulled on it some. Then I wrote down the results.

"Why" is yet to come.

Kris Baker said...

Butler won't be returning to Denver. He's signed and sealed with the Sabres.

Anonymous said...

What site was SCSU given the #2 preseasson ranking?

Donald Dunlop said...

kris baker;
Did you know the official website for DU doesn't have a link to roster? Of course, I could have looked at signing lists or something since the guy signed back in April! Argh! That is a mistake of laziness.

It was a widely read NHL blogger? I think. Sorry I can't remember. They linked to/talked about it on the SCSU thread at USCHO ... that's where I found the info if I recall correctly. Of course, with the Chris Butler mistake who knows ...

Annabelle said...

There is no reason the Seawolves cannot finish between 4th and 8th place this year. They have the talent. Go Seawolves!!!! !

Runninwiththedogs said...

Actually, Donald, it's the Rangers that like to make that distinction, not the Duluthians.

A better wording might be "Many many questions to answer in the Twin Ports this year." I'm all about precision.

I've never called Anchorage part of the Interior. SO THERE.

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