|Whut??? Nicotine helps me think ...|
Time for me to tell you what I really think. Silly prognostications aside and faux-appointing UA_ as number one now in the background; I do have some ideas of my own about how the competition looks in the WCHA this year. So in reverse-alphabetical order here we go:
The good news for non-Badger fans? Derek Stepan, Michael Davies, Brendan Smith, Blake Geoffrion and Ben Street are gone. That's five of their top six scorers from last season. This years returning group of 8 upperclassmen scored a combined 27 goals last season by my count. Not impressive considering 6 of those came from returning defenseman Jake Gardiner and 12 from forward Jordy Murray.
The Badgers have one solid sophomore who'll likely light things up a bit for them in Craig Smith. After that, they've got nobody who has shown any special potential while wearing the W.
As for freshman, that's a hit and miss proposition for a lot of teams but nary a year passes where some Badger freshman doesn't make some noise. The last few years such noise has been made by defensemen. This year that mantle might rest on Mark Zengerle's shoulders.
The Badgers always play a disciplined defensive game. Don't get me wrong. By disciplined I don't mean they don't hack opponents with their sticks. I just mean that Eaves enforces strict positional play depending on the circumstance on the ice. They typically follow his instructions well.
So they'll be tough as nails to play against. I've got them finishing 4th regardless of the heavy losses. The main reason being that other teams in the traditional top-half lost more crucial players than Bucky.
I think this year is St. Cloud's chance to embarrass the WCHA with a half-assed effort and loss in the Frozen Four. Yep. I think they'll win a couple of NCAA playoff games and get to the Frozen Four. In my book, they're the team to beat this season. I've got them in the top spot for the WCHA.
They've got 15 upperclassmen skaters including 5 starting defensemen. So they return some god-awful amount of scoring. I'm not even going to add it up. I doubt their sophomore class or freshman class is going to really even get much of a chance to contribute. SCSU's upperclassmen are going to rule the ice nightly in this league. Except of course when they think their shit doesn't stink. Then they'll choke a game. Expect maybe 5 or 6 of those during the WCHA season.
Then this team will get it's shit together for the WCHA Final Five and the first couple of rounds of the NCAA's. Then they'll think their shit doesn't stink because they're in the Frozen Four and they'll screw the pooch making everyone laugh at the WCHA's arrogance.
It is finally the last year that this team is allowed to continue using it's offensive nickname in the NCAA. Thank christ for that. UND returns eleven skaters as upperclassmen this season. That 11 may very well equal SCSU's 15 in terms of overall talent.
But their 8 sophomore skaters could likely drive this team. There is definitely a lot of scoring potential in their sophomore class. UND will be tough across all four lines. And all four lines will be potential scoring lines.
Sure, they could be the WCHA team to get to the Frozen Four and kill kittens. But I think that just like every other year when UND puts Minnesota in their rear mirror they'll lose the motivation that keeps them so ultra competitive in the WCHA. So they'll finish 2nd in the league. They'll finish 3rd or 4th at the Final Five. Then lose to lower seeded B.C. in the first round.
Don't think for a second that I don't see this talent-laden roster. There's a bunch of real goal scorers on it; Cichy, Knight, Rowney, Gregoire, Kristo. But the mantle of "dealing with personalties" has shifted a bit from it's ever-presence at Minnesota to UND. Those fucking guys all know they're studs.
Okay? So yah ... you manage that. They also better hope Eidsness is good to go all year. Because they're going to ride that boy like they rode Lammy.
The WCHA doesn't really have shit much to worry about from UNO other than a coach that does know how to get the best out of what he's got (at least at the college level anyway).
Purslow, Hudson, Ambroz and Martin are the upperclassmen that will look to lead the scoring for UNO. After that John Kemp should pump in a bit of secondary scoring.
I project little to no scoring from their blueline. The sophomore class may be capable of providing some secondary scoring from the likes of Broadhurst but that's about it. They have a couple of freshman that could get noticed in Raubenheimer and Aneloski but don't expect big numbers from either one. I've got UNO finishing in 11th.
The Bulldogs had and executed their Frozen Four moment of WCHA embarrassment some years ago. They are probably good enough to get there again this season. Like UND and SCSU they bring a shitload of good quality scorers back to the ice this season. And when I say shitload ... I mean 3.
But it's a big fucking tres: Fontaine, Connolly and Connolly. These three are likely to skate on the same line all year and light the lamp against everyone. Team will key on this line but they'll still get their points, especially on the power play.
There is so much not special in their sophomore and freshman classes. But overall, I don't see that they won't get the necessary secondary scoring to stay at or near the top of the league all year long. The cupboard isn't empty of soup after the CFC line, it's just there's a lot of Campbell's condensed versus Progresso or even Wolfgang Puck's.
I've got UMD finishing 3rd despite some holes. Expect Kevin's little brother to have a decent year between the pipes. And expect him to get the lion's share of starts.
You want to talk mess? Talk about any Troy Jutting coached hockey team then. This is sure to be the weakest team in the WCHA this season. There is nobody even worth naming as scoring threats. Their goaltending is as suspect as anyone's in the league. They finished with 17.4 minutes of penalties per game last season.
Jutting wouldn't know how to put a disciplined team (a la Mike Eaves) on the ice if his life depended on it. Typical Mankato style is harass, harass and harass some more. Freshman phenom Mike "out of nowhere" Louwerse returned to nowhere during his sophomore season.
Other players recognized they'd be better served by playing in the CHL than for Jutting. Their two existing NHL draft picks have both proven to be duds. They just have nothing that jumps out at me. So yeah ... I picked them 12th.
Da Gophs will be a bit better this year than last. I've got them in 5th. They actually only have five NHL draft picks on the squad this year. And in their case, that's probably a good thing. It means less political carping and needling from those interested in those players which in turn means less headaches for Donnie.
He'll be able to coach and get his team to play better. Don't let me lead you astray. There are some weak spots in Lucia's lineup. Some players expected to produce just aren't going to. Guys like Mike Hoeffel and Patrick White just aren't as good as their high school Minnesota press clippings. There are other busts as well on the roster.
The Gopher fans will put a great deal of hope on freshman Nick Bjugstad's shoulders. I'm betting against him being a second coming of Phil Kessel or whatever that Austrian kid's name was. He will be good for a freshman. He will score some goals for them. But he won't carry this team. If he is as good as Kessel, then watch out for team breakdowns as some resentment is sure to fester amongst the crest fallen once-upon-a-time studs that are now juniors and seniors.
So yeah ... personalities and such could still be something Lucia has to deal with this season. And of course, an inconsistent Kangas will give Donnie a headache or two as usual. If backup Kent Patterson sees action in more than 8 games ... then you'll know the Gophers have been in trouble.
It is definitely Tech's year. Their year to climb out of the basement I mean. The overwhelming majority of the talented players on their roster are upperclassmen. They have 11 skaters in that group and those guys will assert themselves this season. I've got them slated for 10th spot. But I think it will be the highest point total for a 10th place team ever in the WCHA.
Jamie Russell cannot expect his squad to put up 4 or 5 goals every game. So I expect (like other years) for him to play perhaps the best overall defensive game in the WCHA. If you are a forward at MTU, you damn well know that a big part of your job is in your own zone.
Tech won't have to rely on a single goaltender. Both of their guys should be reasonably solid. I expect the majority of Tech's wins to be of the 2-1 variety. There are a couple of guys that could have some breakout type seasons. Expect the majority of their scoring to come from Brett Olsen and Jordan Baker.
University of Denver
DU doesn't impress me this season. Senior Kyle Ostrow has progressed his scoring each season but he was never a great goal scorer in juniors. His points at DU have historically come from having such a deeply talented team around him. I'm not saying he's on his own this season. But the depth of experienced talented players surrounding him isn't there as in the past.
There is a lot of quality youth coming into DU's team this season. But to expect that youth to flower is a bit too much wishful thinking. I see some bad holes in DU's defense this season. Matt Donovan is a quality offensive threat and a skilled player. But this year he'll be a fool if he doesn't concentrate on being a defensive player first. Because quite frankly, there ain't much back there that passes for elite talent. Lee, Nutini, Ryder, Phillips and Wrenn aren't going to make any WCHA forward have nightmares.
And goaltending? Last year Adam Murray put up the following numbers; 8 games, 3 wins, 4 losses and 1 tie with a .874 save percentage and a goals against average of 3.80. And that was with a better lineup of defensemen in front of him.
A kid named Zucker will make some noise for DU as a freshman. I just don't see the Pios as having any great success this year. I've got them in 6th place.
Color me unimpressed with CC. Through the process of rescheduling for the two new teams, UAA and CC end up playing each other 5 times this season. If there was ever a year when I'd be glad to play CC five times it's this year. It's a real opportunity for the Seawolves because CC just isn't up to their usual snuff this season.
Yeah, and lots of people thought that last year too picking them well down in the standings and they finished 6th to invalidate that. I've got them in my 8th spot. This is a team that will in large part go as their sophomore class goes. Senior Stephen Schultz is a proven upperclassmen scorer but after that you have to go to the sophomore class to see real threats. William Rapuzzi is a name familiar to Anchoragites in the sophomore and freshman classes at CC. But I promise we'll all be hearing the last name Schwartz a lot this year. Freshman Jaden is a keep-your-team-out-of-the-basement type player.
Along with Rapuzzi, Rylan Schwartz (Jaden's bro) and Andrew Hamburg are the threats. CC has a couple of other elite level freshman but nothing differentiates them at this point from any other high end freshman of which the WCHA is full to the brim.
If however, sophomore goaltender Joe Howe has any issues. It could get ugly for CC.
Then new Minnesota press "darling" of this Minnesota-centric league is Bemidji. A great coach has gotten a lot out of his players over the last couple of years ... no doubt about it. But in that couple of years, it's been a tough series one weekend then a cupcake the next. This year ... all tough series. No cupcakes.
So even though the Minnesota biased press has Bemidji picked anywhere from the fucking hilarious #2 slot down to about 7th. I say it won't happen; I've got them in 9th. They do have a decent set of three upperclassmen forwards who'll manage to score some goals this season; Read, George and Lowe. They have some potential secondary scorers as well and a quality 20 year old freshman in Radislav Illo.
But goaltending is also a question for them. Can the 5'11" 185lb Bakala go the distance for them? I'm not convinced there's much strength in that frame. And putting up a .917 save percentage against cupcakes isn't inspiring.
Lest anyone forget, this team has 7 skaters who played junior hockey in the NAHL. No dis on that league per se ... but typically you don't see success in the WCHA with that many NAHL players on your roster.
So that's it. What am I gonna do? Write an entry for the Seawolves? Nah ... I've done plenty of that over the last month ... go back and read what I wrote if you're interested. I'm picking UAA in 7th.