With my new no-line progressive tri-focal glasses of course! There appear to be only two sure things with regard to standings in the upcoming WCHA season. Neither of those is dead-certain but I wouldn't risk a bet that they won't. DU will finish first and MTU will finish last. Expect to see them in those positions in every conventional set of predictions by anyone who follows WCHA hockey. Parity across the league will continue to be present this season.
It pains me a bit to give DU that much credit. I don't think their goaltending is particularly excellent. Cheverie ain't bad, don't get me wrong; but he isn't in the same category as many past WCHA goaltending studs. If DU's offense were a poker hand, it'd be a royal flush. They're reasonably experienced on D and Weircioch is back to put up some more big numbers on the power play fromt the point. They have a few so-called stud freshman coming in and more than one of them is likely to be impactful. Their returning offense is much more than just Rugs and Rhaks. Anything less than 1st place in the WCHA should be considered a disappointment.
It also pains me a bit to automatically assume that MTU will be last. It isn't that I think they have some hidden talent in their lineup that nobody else knows about. They don't. I guess I just empathize with their ongoing basement dwelling. Their goaltending is suspect. There is little or no offensive dynamic. The defense will be decent though and Jamie Russell will ensure they play 60 minutes every game. They'll win a couple of games that they shouldn't. But only a couple.
Predictions for the rest of the league are somewhat more difficult. So in no particular order here's my initial off-the-cuff thoughts about each.
Colorado College seems to be the team with the biggest perceived drop. Everyone had them as the consensus #1 last year and they didn't live up to that. This season they could go as low as 9th. Analyzing CC is the pinnacle of boredom to me. I can't see anything other than a classic "rebuilding" year for them. Watch out for them in the next couple of years though.
UMD's NCAA run last year was impressive and all. But were they really that good? The spanking that UAA put on them in the last two regular season games tells me they weren't. They put together a nice run partly because of the spanking the Seawolves provided. They return a solid offensive core and improve their defense with the departure of hacker Josh Meyers. It doesn't hurt that Dylan Olsen is his replacement. Goaltending will be a BIG question mark. Going from Stalock to a sandwich ingredient (Hjelle) isn't exactly a formula for success. Jam > Jelly.
I don't think SCSU is as good as the usual bluster coming from central Minnesota pegs them. After Roe, Lasch and Mavin (sorta) there are no real proven scorers. They had four freshman with reasonably good rookie seasons; Festler 7g, LeBlanc 8g, Christian 6g and Novak 5g. None of those numbers scream, "I'm a stud." They're bring in a couple of highly touted freshman. But all the touting is from central Minnesota (donchaknow). Their #1 goalie (Weslosky) couldn't keep up with the schoolwork at SCSU and transferred to safety school Bemidji. They also think they have the next Richard Bachman coming. But are prognosticators really supposed to assume such a thing? Bachman basically came out of nowhere to perform as he did. Maybe Mike Lee will. Bigger maybe that he won't in my book. Lastly, I definitely don't respect their defense.
Da Gophs look to me to be about the same as last year or perhaps a bit better. Jordan Schroeder is their difference maker; as he goes so will they. As always, one the telling aspects for them will be whether Don Lucia can manage all their enlarged heads and get them to play as a team. As seems to be usually the case they had inconsistent goaltending and probably will again. But don't count on that to be responsible for many losses. They'll mostly score enough goals to offset any Kangascide implosions.
Bucky should be better but they still have offensive challenges; logic says though that their returners will be at least as good as last year. And that will probably be enough. If their all-world defensive corps can also continue to bring the O they'll be more than ok. If they take more penalties than their opponents they could have some difficulties. Power play points are going to be a big part of their offense. Experience will likely serve them very well. Eaves knows how to play defense. Getting pucks past any Bucky goalie is a tough task. Not because any of them in the last few years have been massively talented but because the whole team is always responsible in their own end.
Mankato is supremely challenged in goal in terms of experience. None of their three rostered goalies has played any D1 minutes but they return more scoring to their top two lines than SCSU. But like SCSU, their defensive prowess is very questionable. Kurt Davis' offensive abilities (power play points) doesn't keep other teams from scoring. They finished 8th last year. I don't see them improving that placement this season.
The University of Nothing Decent won the league race last year. Not this year. The University of Notable Drunks have already booted one kid for his off-ice alcohol forays. I don't underestimate the community backing for this team though. Virtually the whole town wills them to succeed; it's a huge part of their community identity. Besides, collective will may actually have a basis in Quantum Physics. Therefore, I'll assume they'll be "in the mix". They return enough offense to win games. A couple of defensemen can bring the O. Goaltending is fine but certainly not Lamoureux-ish; Eidsness won't likely fall apart but putting up a big number on him in a specific game isn't out of the question. Their freshman class probably has as much talent as their returning crew. But freshman talent doesn't necessarily translate to production in this league.
I'll go ahead and pick the order of finish. But my parenthetical notes regarding range is more relevant than the placings on which I've settled.
1. Denver (highest 1st; lowest 1st)Before you non-UAA readers get all into your "Ha Ha, DTP says UAA will finish 5th" ... don't. I'll be deleting any such comments that don't include some minimum measure of rationale. If you're only capable of a smarmy drive-by weak insult just don't bother trying to express yourself here.
2. Wisconsin (highest 2nd; lowest 4th)
3. UND (highest 3rd; lowest 5th)
4. Minnesota (highest 3rd; lowest 6th)
5. UAA (highest 4th; lowest 7th)
6. UMD (highest 4th; lowest 7th)
7. SCSU (highest 5th; lowest 8th)
8. Mankato (highest 7th; lowest 9th)
9. Colorado College (highest 8th; lowest 9th)
10. Michigan Tech (highest 10th; lowest 10th)