Monday, August 28, 2006

Roster Updated

So I'm firguring that since all of last year's pictures are dated 8/31/05 that I'd wait til after that date to do the freshman preview so there's some uniformity with the pictures from the other classes previews. But then yesterday (Sunday) I stupidly went ahead and spent 30 minutes editing/resizing and cutting/pasting their pics from last years junior teams as well as the time it took me to find that crappy picture of Backstrom two posts down. And whaddya know? The UAA Website comes through with quality goods today on the newly updated roster. My compliments to them.

So there's all 9 of 'em. Left to right, top to bottom in alphabetical order.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The 2006 UAA Rookies

Ryan Berry, Kevin Clark, Paul Crowder, Trevor Hunt, Josh Lunden, Jon Olthuis, Ken Selby and Jared Tuton are the 2006 Freshman Class at UAA. What about Backstrom? Yeah ... well I already had this picture done (editing/resizing, copying/pasting and all that) and adding his picture would blow the whole symmetry; so since his picture is on the last post I'm avoiding redunancy. Ok ... trying to be clever about my laziness is transparent huh? None of the pictures are official UAA headshots like the other class previews. Berry, Tuton and Backstrom aren't on the roster yet so I didn't provide links to them.

A goalie, 4 defensemen and 4 forwards is the breakdown. Jon Olthuis played the 3rd most minutes of all goaltenders in the BCHL last year and finished with a good 2.68 GAA and .905sv% over 48 regular season games. In 10 playoff games for Vernon he posted a .908sv%. Jon is listed at 6'3" and 187lbs. Pretty lean for that much height so hopefully that translates to quickness. No doubt that Lawson will be the number #1 guy going into the season and barring injury UAA will probably depend on him to a great extent. But if Lawson goes down hurt or gets into some freak slump then Jon is likely the guy who'll take the ice; if Lawson stays healthy and plays well there still be opportunities for Olthuis to play. Everyone needs a rest. If Jon shows he can do the job and plays with confidence when he gets his chances then he could see maybe um ... 10 games this season. Mike Rosett showed he could do the job last year and that makes for nothing but positives in the goaltending department in my experience. Goalies feed off of each other and can raise each other's game. Let's hope there's lots of that at UAA practices.

For me, the four defenseman coming in have just as many unknowns as knowns. Trevor Hunt should prove to be a good addition. He finished his third season in the BCHL as the 3rd highest scoring defenseman in the league for the regular season and 4th leading scorer for Chilliwack. 5 of his 15 goals came on the power play and he registered a short hander as well. There's little doubt that Trevor benefitted from being on the ice with the best offensive line in the BCHL last year (Butcher, Lunden, Eppich). His power play experience with Chilliwack should prove valuable at UAA. At 5'11" 185lbs he isn't going to be a big physical presence but hopefully he's strong enough to deal successfully with some pretty big WCHA forwards. Ryan Berry was also the leading defensive scorer with Spruce Grove in the AJHL last season. His 9g and 21a put him 10 points ahead of teammate and 07 UAA recruit Kane Lafranchise. At 6ft and 182 Ryan isn't likely to be an intimidating physical presence on the blueline either. A third of his goals also came on the power play. He had very low penalty minutes (24 in 59 games) so he knows how to play with discipline. Jared Tuton potted 4 goals and 17 assists last year for Merritt in the BCHL. Last September Jared (along with 4 Merritt teammates) was boating on a local lake when a plane crashed during an attempt to takeoff. Jared was one of two who jumped into the water to help the two people who had gotten out of the plane. The only hockey reference I can find regarding Jared is one that calls him a "smooth skating" defenseman. I know he's 6'2" and 190lbs and he's obviously got good character and heart. Useful information on Nils Backstrom (other than what I linked to in the last post) is pretty difficult to find. This link looks to be about the most complete compilation. So what we've got here are 4 clones? They're all similarly sized; they all are reported to be good skating defensemen that are capable of carrying the puck. With 5 returning veteran defenseman returning for UAA, someone amongst these four is likely to not see much ice time (or will one or more returners find themselves competing?).

Kevin Clark, Josh Lunden and Ken Selby could prove to be the "class" of this freshman class. Kevin and Ken both skated in last years CJAHL Top 40 Prospects Game for Jr. A Canadian players. Both were listed on last season's NHL Players to Watch list. Kevin led the Winnipeg South Blues to the MJHL championship last season with 40g, 36a and 250 penalty minutes in 50 games. Kevin sat in the stands for quite a few games serving suspensions for misconducts. He is clearly an emotional player but that "edge" is going to have to be harnassed so that the Seawolves can keep his skills on the ice. He is a shifty-skating, good puck-handling forward that has an important skill set that UAA needs this year and it ain't called "Oglethorpe" ... it's called playmaker/scorer. If Kevin can adapt quickly to the WCHA he "could" be one of the most exciting freshman to hit the ice for UAA in a quite a while. Ken Selby's coach at Dauphin in the MJHL described him as having "world class" speed. Cool. Speed kills .... right? I hope so. Ken won the fastest skater competition at the CJAHL prospects game. He scored 36 goals and added 30 assists as the 3rd leading scorer for Dauphin. I don't know much about his playmaking abilities but finding the twine 36 times means he can shoot the puck and hopefully that coupled with his jets will translate to something positive in his first year. Josh Lunden spent his last season playing on what I keep calling the best line in the BCHL last year with Matt Butcher and Chris Eppich. They put up 104 goals and 158 assists between the three of them; of those Josh got 34g and 47a finishing 5th overall in the league for the season. He more than doubled his point total from the 04-05 season. Josh has good size at 6'2" and 200lbs and obviously knows how to adapt himself to top players and contribute to scoring. Based on that I'd think that Josh might have the best chance of all the freshman to quickly adapt to the WCHA.

Now the caveat. These guys are all freshman. Expecting too much out of them is folly (personal lesson learned). The WCHA is the toughest league in D-1 hockey with the most skilled players. But that said ... with an incoming class of 9 the chances that a couple (or more) of these guys will step up quickly and contribute aren't bad. Who's it gonna be?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Backstrom to UAA

No not that one; The other one. Not Nicklas ... Nils.

Expect an announcement at some point from UAA regarding the addition of Nils Backstrom to this years UAA roster. Nils was a 9th round choice of the Red Wings in 04 is from Sweden and is a nice late addition to the lineup.

Hockey's Future has this scouting report:
Bäckström was selected as one of the last players in the 2004 NHL draft, and there are reasons for that. He is a slightly built defenseman who has good skating ability and is a solid puck carrier. On the downside, he is very weak and has no strength in his upper body. He doesn’t really have the offensive skills to be a strictly offensive defenseman, but he isn’t good enough in his own end either. This makes it hard for him to take the next step in his development, which is to play in the top league in Sweden. This season he has developed his game slightly and is more of an offensive weapon on his junior-A team. He has five goals and 14 points in 32 games. He has also made his first appearance in Elitserien and will most likely take on a bigger role on the team next season. Even though his development curve points at the right direction, it looks like it won’t go all the way to the NHL. He will most likely spend his career in the Swedish leagues.
Maybe he's just a late bloomer? I'll have more about him in the Rookie Class preview.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Sophomore Class

Shane Lovdahl, Adam Corrin, Matt Jolly, Mike Rosett, Mat Robinson and Jay Beagle are the 06-07 Seawolf Sophomore class. Leaving Rosett out of the discussion (only for the moment), 4 out of these 5 returners played a full load of minutes in their rookie season. Lovdahl played 30, Corrin played 30, Robinson played 35 and Beagle played 31 with Jolly skating in 8 games. It's a veteran class. A veteran class that got to fully experience the awesome joy it is to be on a team that won six games last year (5 of them were here ... that's nice ... sigh).

I'd imagine part of being a freshman on a WCHA team is a sort of deer-in-the-headlights glaze that's got to come over you a time or two playing in some of the road arenas in this league. Whether it's 10,000 automaton-prairie-susies (and it's thousands of images of a decapitated aboriginal adorning the Italian marble) interrupting the national anthem with their "and the home of the Siouuuuuuuuxxxx" crap; or the redundant spelling lesson from apparently repressed elementary school teachers escaping their corporate responsibilites at the Mariucci (hows that go? M-i-n-i-s-o-d-a?); or when the inevitable result of beer, brats and way too much cheddar in Madtown turns out to be cheerleading???; or even the beer induced rabble from St. Nothingelsetodoville overstuffed into a concrete mausoleum causing all the Polaris satin jackets to rub together and chirp like crickets; they're all distracting enough to make a rookies eyes go "What the fuck?". So what I'm saying is ... "What the fuck?" time is over for these guys. They've been there and done that. No more deer-in-the-headlights right?

I may have slightly overstated some characteristics of travel in the WCHA but the experience these guys gained last year should turn into benefits this season. Coach Shyiak at one point last season used the word "best" when commenting on Jay Beagle's play. A nice pat on the back no doubt for Jay in his first year and he certainly deserved it. He's got size and agility and really came on strong the second half of the season. I'd have to say that he looked like he figured out how to get himself into scoring positions much more often as the season progressed. His "off the puck" play was stronger and stronger as the season went on. I'd think he could earn himself a spot on the number one power play by the midpoint this year. There's definitely 15 (or more) goals in this kid that really need to show up this year. I'll use the Glencross comparison again and say that Mr. Beagle is capable of becoming that sort of player for UAA. Curtis Glencross did so during his sophmore year at UAA. He blew up. Here's to hoping Jay makes me forget Curtis and becomes the example. I didn't see him dogging it on many (if any) shifts last season and that tells me he has the desire. It takes that sort of heart and will to raise the level of every other player on the team. 15 goals could easily be called an unusually high expectation for a sophmore that only scored 4 goals as a freshman. Beagle though, should be the exception. But even if he manages 10 goals and continues to grow as player that'll be just fine too.

Shane Lovdahl's rookie season was a bright spot among the freshman class as well. And though he doesn't possess great speed he does have one of the hardest shots in the WCHA. Shane was also very responsible on defense (for a freshman) and all those games he played give him clear veteran status as well. Shane has some things to learn yet and I'm interested to see how Blair Campbell's coaching impacts his playing style. He seems well-suited to the stay at home role which is probably a good thing since more than half of UAA's other defenseman are quality skaters who like to carry the puck up. Shane keeps his head up and has good rink vision. His sophmore year should be more productive as I'm sure he'll see lots of power play time to take advantage of that rocket shot. Shane knows what it takes to win a team championship after being part of the 04-05 Cedar Rapids USHL championship. Who knows ... maybe UAA will be in contention in the WCHA when he is a senior? I wouldn't expect a huge increase in Shane's 4 goals and 9 assists except to say that it will be in proportion to the increase the team has in power play goals.

The freshman I was most excited to see before last season started was Mat Robinson. He came out of Calgary with all sorts of good buzz about his abilities as a skating defenseman. And in the first two games at UAA he put up 1 goal and 6 assists (1 goal and 2 assists in the exhibition vs. whatever Canadian school we played and 4 assists vs. RPI). His season total? 1 goal and 6 assists. I don't think its unreasonable to think that Shyiak probably asked Mat to play a defensive role last year. The fact that he played 35 games means that Shyiak likes the kid and the way he plays. I hope Shyiak also likes Mat's offensive upside. The kid has great eye-hand coordination and is as smooth a skater as UAA has. I mention his eye-hand abilities because frankly ... Mat is "Mr. TakeThePuckOffYourStick" ... he's quite possibly a poke check genius and he positions himself on the boards in his own end to steal the puck and skate away. In the RPI game Mat made a cross ice pass from deep in his zone that was definitely one of the best passes I've ever seen made. He has the best rink vision on the team and could grow into a powerful quaterback-style defenseman in all situations. Obviously I don't think that the role Mat played last year (in the last 33 games) really gave him a chance to be all I think he can be. Hopefully this season we'll get to see him put his best skills to good use.

Adam Corrin struggled to score last year after coming to us with reasonably good numbers in Manitoba the year before. It can be difficult for a freshman in the WCHA to adapt. Besides the deer-in-the-headlights "effect" the league is quite a bit quicker than any Jr. A league. Adam is a good skater and saw regular time as a penalty killer last season. He did well enough in that role but just never seemed to get on track 5 on 5. Though what could we expect from the 4th line on a team that only scored 68 goals? In my mind Adam just needs to gain some confidence. His experience last year (30 games) should contribute to that. If he doesn't find the confidence early he may find himself competing with a freshman for playing time. Matt Jolly is a difficult case to predict. In the limited number of times he played he didn't seem out of place. How much ice time will he see this season is a big question. The team won't be as deep up front as it was last year. Hopefully, Matt keeps in shape and ready until he gets his chance.

What is there to say about Mike Rosett? The kid goes from Junior B hockey to a walk-on backup role at his hometown school and unexpectedly gets called on to play. There's no doubt that first night at the Sully when "Rosie" relieved an injured Lawson that he had his deer-in-the-headlights moment. And in the 5 games he appeared in he put up an .897 sv%. It wasn't a number that would earn him any honors but nevertheless the kid did the job he was asked and looked solid to me. Hopefully he'll look good enough in practice to provide competition for the #2 spot with rookie goalie Jon Olthuis.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Junior Class

Luke Beaverson, Merit Waldrop, Chris Tarkir, Blair Tassone, Peter Cartwright and Nathan Lawson make up the junior class for the Seawolves this season. These six players must also find a way this season to turn their experience and leadership on the ice into an asset for the team. This blogger agrees with Don Lucia when he pointed out that the WCHA is an upperclassman's league. But there are knowns and unknowns with this part of UAA's upper two classes.

I know Nathan Lawson is the most talented goalie in the WCHA. But will injuries hamper his performance? Last year was an up and down year. Word is that he worked out and played much more hockey this offseason than last. I'd tend to think that would mean less groin problems this season. Nathan didn't get a lot of help from UAA's offense last year and that showed in his win/loss percentage. But his save percentage was not remarkably different from his stellar freshman year. What I'm trying to say is that I think the kid can play better than he played last year but that in no way does he bear any more than 1/25th of the blame for the near nightmare we experienced. He is capable though of carrying this team and if he can stand on his head a few times (especially early in the season) while the offense finds it's footing then UAA could climb out of the basement.

I know Merit Waldrop will score more goals this year than he did last season. I just don't know how many more. 5 goals as a rookie; 7 goals last year ... equals how many this season. I wish there was a formula. Statistically, I'd guess that 10 or 11 would be the number we might normally "expect". But it's not what I expect. I expect nothing less than 15 goals from Merit this season. Why do I say that? Because he is talented enough to produce 20+. He has some speed, lots of grit and great hands. His puckhandling skills are top of the line; he has a wickedly accurate wrist shot and his experience in the league will allow him to maximize his potential this season.

Chris Tarkir comes back as the teams leading returning goal scorer. His 8 goals last year led the team and his 14 points ranked him second overall. There is every indication that Chris should be among the top in points again this season. He is very strong on his skates and I'd define him as a prototypical D-1 power forward. His strength allows him to fill a playmaking role from the boards as well as to get into scoring position in the slot. As a freshman I was reminded of Curtis Glencross when I watched Chris play. He is the sort of player that always seems to be accelerating into the offensive zone and I always like a guy that is hard-charging. 15 goals isn't out of his reach but he'll have to find a playmaker to skate with in order for that to come true.

Over his first two years Luke Beaverson has grown into a fully capable WCHA defenseman. In his first year Luke provided fans with big hits and generally good position defensive play. He was very steady for a rookie and as the year concluded he was beginning to play with good confidence. Over the course of his sophmore year Luke continued that development and added a surprising ability to carry the puck up ice as well. There are a couple of other guys in the WCHA at 6'5" that can skate better than Luke. But only a couple. I anticipate that he will continue his growth though his junior year and perhaps end up Captain in 07-08. I don't see him putting up big points (though he could be a power play asset) but his stay at home defensive play will be very important for the success of the team.

Peter Cartwright and Blair Tassone both spent almost all their ice time in their first two seasons skating on the 4th line. Both are capable enough players to create a scoring chance on their own from time to time. But even with their returning experience they're likely to find themselves competing for playing time even as juniors. It's possible for either or both of these guys to step up and make a quality contribution but more likely they'll continue to fill the important roles they've already filled. Guys like Peter and Blair are important to success. Injuries are invetible and having experienced capable players is necessary. Neither of these guys should be overlooked.

This junior class will have to carry their fair share of the load this coming season. Will they? I think they're capable of doing exactly that and possibly more. And after last season's unfortunate offensive implosion that'll be good news.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Senior Class

Mark Smith, Justin Bourne, Charlie Kronschnabel, Chad Anderson and Nick Lowe are the Senior Class this coming year. It's significant. Seniors bring leadership and experience. Take a look at the top 3 teams in the WCHA for the last few years and you see some interesting names amongst the seniors. Interesting because a lot of them are names that I wouldn't classify as household. These are guys that stepped up their game in their last season. They're players that made their last season into their best season. Guys like Luke Fulghum at DU in 04-05 who scored 9 more goals as a senior than he did his junior year. Or his teammate that season Jeff Drummond who scored 39 points as a senior versus 28 as a junior. And from the same squad Kevin Ulanski made his senior year his best. No doubt the vastly talented other three classes had a lot to do with DU winning it all that year ... but if those three guys didn't step up their play? The coolest thing about that example though is that none of those guys moved on to NHL careers. Why is that cool? Well not cool for them but cool to me because it says a lot about experience versus talent. It says that those guys learned during their four year career how to improve their contribution to the teams bottom line. They weren't freshman superstar primadonna's waiting for their big payday. They were dedicated and hardworking guys giving it their all night in and night out. They were leaders.

So will Smith, Bourne, Kronschnabel, Anderson and Lowe be able to provide the same sort of contribution or leadership this season? I don't know is the only rational answer that comes to me; I'm no Kreskin. But I can make one more example of a senior that succeeded in a massive way. Martin Stuchlik scored NO goals as a freshman in 16 games. In 40 games over the next two years he amassed a grand total of 4. Then he went out as a senior and just blew up. Ok yeah ... 12 goals isn't exactly earth shattering but to go from a part-timer filling in for injured players to 12 goals in the WCHA? Experience means a lot. Of course each of UAA's seniors this year will have to find a way to put their experience to use. Will Kronschnabel score more than 9 goals this year? He only scored 4 last year but 9 in both of his first 2 years. Bourne lit the lamp 5 times last year after putting in 12 as a sophmore. Will he score more than 12 this year? Smith got back on track last year with 6 goals after a total scoring drought the year before. Can he improve on the 21 points he scored as a freshman? Last season saw Anderson drop from 15 points as a sophmore to 6 as a junior. What will his contribution be this year? Lowe has 9 career goals which all came in his first two seasons. I don't even know if Nick will be playing defense or forward this year so I sure don't know what he'll contribute.

If UAA is going to improve on it's lackluster record from last season then the answer to all those questions will need to be a yes. And just marginal improvements across the board from last season won't be enough. If UAA's 5 seniors can't manage at least a 50 percent improvement in goal output it will likely be another long season; 100 percent improvement across the board would be quite nice. OR ... if even just one of these guys "blows up" like "Stoo-Leek" did; then who knows? Success can sometimes be contagious. It'd be unreasonable to expect that Chad or Nick will provide much scoring. So the task of banging in 100 percent more goals than they did as juniors falls primarily to Charlie, Justin and Mark. But 36 goals between the 5 of them doesn't seem impossible to me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

God Does Not Play Dice

Faced with the ongoing offseason struggle to find a topic to write about I had a nice idea last week when I was busier with email than I usually like to be. I was visiting Chris Heisenberg's Recruit Listing and while pondering what a great resource it is I remember that I'd always meant to send him an email saying how awesome the listing is. I'm no longer much of an email fan: Don't get me wrong, email has it uses and I used to constantly be sending messages to this friend or that but over the years it's grown to feel more like paying bills than communicating to me. I flipped over the email tab and sent Chris the following message:
Dear Chris,
I've meant to send this any number of times so please forgive the tardiness. I want to simply say thank you with great appreciation and admiration for the all the work you must do to keep your recruit listings up to date. I first found your list through the USCHO board's back around 99 or so and time and time again have found the wealth of information you provide to the College Hockey community invaluable. If there were a College Hockey Fan Hall of Fame I think you'd be the first inductee.

I remember many a time pulling up your listing and pouring over the lists to be both inspired and educated. More than once I've found myself ingesting your information over and over with the result being some new insight or knowledge that quite simply wouldn't have been possible without all your work. I can't speak for every fan that peruses your pages but anyone that doesn't find your information extremely valuable should probably be locked up.

If it isn't an imposition I'd like to ask a few questions of you so that I might profile you on my blog. I understand in advance if you are reticent in any way ... so no worries if you'd rather not.
I wanted to make sure he understood how valuable his efforts are to the hockey community but killing two birds with one stone is never a bad thing. I crossed my fingers that he'd respond because I'v got nothing else to write about this week. So when I checked my email account tonight I was happy to find his response. Below are my questions with his answers.
1. When did you first publish your recruit listing and what prompted you to take on that gargantuan task?
I first did it in 95 when I got on the web, and found USA Today listing the hockey early signings. That opened up my listing of who had committed. Once junior leagues started posting info, I was able to get a better handle of who was a top player but not yet committed. From there, it grew, and being first gets me more connections than others. Not any real magic, other than that junior coaches and parents know my site more than others, and so pass along more info. And several devoted college fans have inside info on their programs that they pass along.

2. About how many hours a week to you devote to maintaining the lists?
Too much, if you ask my wife.

3. Where does the bulk of your information come from? Do you just rely on announcements from Jr. teams regarding committments or do you have to search them out? Are you organized to "the nines"? Or do you just have a phalanx of denizens that are in the know and send you lots of email? How many folders are in your browsers Bookmark menu? In other words ... How the hell do you do it all man?
A pretty good network of junior coaches who more and more want the pr for having developed a scholarship player. For junior teams, they obviously want to promote their kids, so some do provide me a pre-season listing of players to watch. Of course, the USA festivals give me a sense of what American kids are up and coming.

4. Which D-1 team(s) do you follow most closely?
UNH. Graduated from there and was the student hockey reporter all four years 83-87.

5. Do you get tired of "uncertainty principle" jokes?
I do get them a lot, but not enough to get tired of them.

6. Do you have a USCHO username and more importantly have I ever flamed you?
No, although I do keep track of the board, as it often is the best early tickler system.

7. East or West?
Root for the east, but I guess that's like rooting for a National League team vs. the American League.

8. Will you be the last AOL user before they turn out the lights?
For no good reason other than that I've had too much difficulty getting high speed access to my house. If I had that, AOL would be gone so fast. ;)
I'm happy that Chris hasn't ever had to personally endure any of my antics on USCHO. And I'm hopeful his wife has some understanding that without his contribution there'd be tons of stupid D-1 hockey fans walking around like zombies from a bad horror movie in a Wisconsin mall. And I did my best to come up with something original regarding the whole "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle" but the position and velocity of my thoughts at any particular point in time is indeterminable.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Very Early WCHA Thoughts

All quiet on the UAA front; no news is good news and all that but bad news for a blogger and his readers. Now I have to find something to write about. I had promised myself not to pontificate too much about the upcoming season but hey it's August. In less than a month there'll be Captain's practices and not long afterward teams will begin official practices. So I figured I'd take a look at the other WCHA teams and do a pre-preseason evaluation. In alphabetical order, here's what I think:

Colorado College
Last year CC bowed out of the WCHA playoffs with a loss to St. Cloud in the playoffs. Graduation losses hit this team harder than any other team in the league. Gone are two of the premier WCHA forwards Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling as well as Anchorage native Joey Crabb and consistent contributors Aaron Slattengren and Trevor Frischmon. Those five players accounted for 80 goals last season. Fucking OUCH! That's 12 more goals than UAA scored last season. On top of their graduation losses CC fans won't be seeing their 4th leading scorer from last season on the ice since underclassman Brian Salcido (D) signed a contract with Anaheim this week. Their highest returning scorers will be sophmore Chad Rau, junior Jimmy Kilpatrick, junior Derek Patrosso and senior defenseman Lee Sweatt who combined for 32 goals last year. The Tigers will be depending heavily on these returners to produce goals in 06-07. A couple of incoming freshman may contribute to their bottom line but as with virtually any freshman in the WCHA guessing what they'll contribute is folly. It'll be highly unlikely that they can repeat their 24-16-2 record from 05-06. Matt Zaba got the majority of the starts (36 games .909 sv%) in goal last season. The 50 year anniversary of CC's last NCAA Championship doesn't look to be quite as memorable.

University of Denver
Underclassmen departures hit DU hard as well this offseason. Matt Carle and Paul Stastny both signed pro contracts and took their 30 goals with them. Gabe Gauthier scored 15 goals in his senior year. Those three leave a pretty substantial offensive hole for Gwoz to fill. The light isn't quite as dim at the end of the tunnel for DU as down I-25 at CC. Ryan Dingle returns for his junior year having scored 27 goals in 05-06 but from there it's difficult to say where DU's scoring will come from this year. J.D. Corbin hasn't proven to be a big goal scorer in his first three years with the team and big Jeff Paukovich seems to have suffered a major sophmore slump as a result of losing his confidence after nearly killing Robbie Bina from UND. Ryan Helgason may step in to contribute but from my experience he is a better player when he has better players surrounding him. Can the Pios match the 21 games they won last year? Both Glenn Fisher and Peter Mannino return between the pipes and should be expected to perform consistently though neither is anything other than occassionally spectacular. DU's defense looks to be fairly solid and it will have to be nominally so if DU hopes to match or improve on last seasons performance. In it's favor the Pios have a couple of potential studs coming in as freshman in Keith Seabrook (a teammate of Paul Crowder from the RBC Champ Burnaby team) and Rhett Rakhshani from the USNDT.

Michigan Tech University
UAA's dismal offensive output last season had company in the WCHA. Tech's 74 goals came from 15 different players. Graduates Chris Conner, Brandon Schwartz, Nick Anderson and Taggart Desmet accounted for 43 of them. Losing more 50 percent of your scoring from one year to the next is not usually a recipe for success. Returning junior Tyler Shelast looks to lead MTU offensively but frankly unless studly defenseman (and in my book he is one of the best skating defenseman in the WCHA) Lars Helminen plays more than the 40 minutes per game he is likely to see this year the Huskies are likely to founder offensively. There are a couple of returning players that might find a scoring touch but I'm not about to guess that any of the actually will. Two incoming recruits look to add to Tech's offense but counting on Phil Axtell and Alex Gagne to take up that much slack would be foolish. Definitely a rebuilding season for MTU unless their goalies (Teslak and Nolan) stand on their heads all season. It would seem to me that Jamie Russell would be smart to focus on defense this season with an eye toward improving the teams record in 07-08 and beyond.

Universe of Minnesota
Oops. I meant University of ... but that's about the same thing to Gopher fans in Minnesota. So the big questions this offseason for the Gophers was whether or not Kessel would come back and whether or not overall #1 pick Erik Johnson would sign an NHL contract. It "appears" that both of those questions have been answered and both of these future NHL stars will be wearing the Maroon and Gold at Mariucci. I wonder what it must be like for #7 overall pick Kyle Okposo and #20 overall pick David Fischer to be on this squad. Kessel and Johnson have already gotten the overwhelming majority of the press. Gee. How horrible for them. Ok; Sarcasm aside that is 4 players that ought to virtually guarantee a WCHA Championship for the Gophers. Yeah they lost a couple of pretty good underclassmen and graduated a couple of quality players but for the Gophers its more a case of unloading a .357 magnum and reloading with .44 magnums. Lucia and the Gopher faithful will sandbag their chances claiming inexperience etcetera but even if Kessel signs at the last minute with Boston I don't see how they don't finish on top of the WCHA. I don't see goaltending or defense as an issue for them since they'll rely on outscoring everyone (and most times they'll execute that game plan). The only knock on the Gophers is whether they'll play as a team or as a bunch of individuals. Lucia's most important activity this season looks to be managing the personalities. Any primadonna crap arises and the Gophers might repeat their NCAA performance from last year but no doubt Donnie realizes that. Being behind the bench on game night will be the least important thing he does all year. If he does manage it well; then look for the Gophers to win the league, the league tournament and the NCAA tournament. Yuck.

University of Minnesota-Duluth
After several years of mediocre performances UMD managed a great run in 03-04 to the Frozen Four. The last two years however saw a confusing return to less than stellar results with 15 wins in 04-05 and 11 wins last season. On the bright side the Bulldogs lost quite a bit less than most other WCHA teams with only 15 goals departed in the form of Tim Stapleton and Justin Williams. Returning junior Matt McKnight along with sophmores Mason Raymond, Andrew Carroll, Michael Gergen, MacGregor Sharp and Nick Kemp accounted for 39 of UMD's 62 goals last season. They should provide the core of the offense again in 06-07 but will need to increase that output for UMD to "make some noise" this year. Another WCHA defensive standout Matt Niskanen returns on the blueline and should provide on-ice leadership for what is a fairly young team. Goaltending could be an issue in Duluth this season since the departed Isacc Reichmuth played 28 games last season and neither Josh Johnson or Nate Ziegelmann showed anything special. This could mean that incoming freshman goaltender (USHL All-Star) Alex Stalock could be called upon to perform miracles. Scott Sandelin has his work cut out for him but should see an improvement from the 11 wins of 05-06.

Minnesota State, Mankato
Graduation losses and underclassmen losses are the story in Mankato. The graduating class (Brock Becker, Jeff Marler, Kyle Peto and Jon Dubel) accounted for only 21 goals but when you add in departed underclassmen David Backes, Rob Rankin and Ryan Carter who accounted for 44 goals then you see the problem. The good news for MSU,M is that standout freshman goalie Dan Tormey is back. Additionally the Mavericks bring in a couple of potential studs in Geoff Irwin (another Burnaby teammate of Paul Crowder) and Kael Mouilliaret. But as with all WCHA freshman they can't be counted on to produce right away. It could be a long season for Troy Jutting's squad. Defensive experience shouldn't be a major downside or upside with 4 returners who all played 30 or more games last season but accounted for only 8 goals total. I don't see anything other than the status quo (or less) in Maverickland for 06-07.

University of North Dakota
Losses are also a big story in Grand Forks this summer. UND lost more underclassmen to the pros than any other team in the league. Gone are goalie Jordan Parise, D-man Matt Smaby, Drew Stafford and Travis Zajac. On top of all that Rastislav Spirko (the best skater on the team) went home to Europe; I'm unsure if he is joining a pro team there or perhaps just had personal reasons. That's 57 goals lost from just the underclassman; Mike Prpich was the only Senior on last years squad that scored (Prpich scored 7 goals? I'm getting a headache ...). Last season Parise was awarded 3 R.E.A.H.I.G.A's (Ralph Englestad Arena Home Ice Goalie Assists) which converted to actual earned assist's equals .5 ... unfortunately that doesn't explain how Prpich scored 7 goals. In any case, both freshman phenoms T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews are returning for their sophmore seasons and bring their 46 goals back with them. Outstanding skating defensemen Taylor Chorney and Brian Lee both return as well. And as an incoming freshman class I'd expect UND's recruits will outscore all other freshman classes in the WCHA. So even though UND lost a ton of talent and scoring they aren't exactly suffering. The weakest link for the Sioux could prove to be goaltending; while Philippe Lamoureux put up a decent .911 sv% last year, enough of the 14 games he played in were ... shall we say ... not against the toughest competion and he went 3-5-0 in conference. I tend to think he'll be fine though as the team he has in front of him is likely to play well enough as to make his job mostly easy. In my mind over the years UND's greatest strength has been it's consistent ability to improve during the season and peak near the end. Look for that to be a factor again this season. They might not win 29 games in 06-07 but their conference record of 16-12 could definitely be matched.

St. Cloud State
Bobby, Bob, Bobby, Bob, Bobby, Bob, Bobby, Bob ad nauseum was the constant refrain in St. Cloud last season. New coach Bob Motzko replaced the Craig "mindgame" Dahl and Bobby Goepfert was far and away the best goalie in the league. Combined with some surprising output from the Senior class (all who were probably so glad that Dahl left that they just had fun) Huskies II became the WCHA surprise as the year progressed. They only lose 44 goals (primarily Reeder, Hengen, Jensen and Hooten) from the 134 goals they scored last season. 20 goal scorer Andrew Gordon returns as do Matt Hartman (10 goals) and Dan Kronick (11 goals) to supply the core of next years output. Kronick is a bit of a question mark as I think he scored all of 1 goal in his first two years before transferring from UMD. There was some relatively balanced scoring from the rest of the returners though which combined for around 50 goals. There will be two freshman joining Huskies II who are worth watching. Ryan Lasch put up 146 points last year in the COJHL; the league may not be one of the stronger Jr. A leagues in Canada but it's an impressive number nonetheless. He was invited to the CJAHL Prospects game last season as well. I've read enough to know that his skating and puck handling is top notch so it will be interesting to see if he can make any sort of impact as a WCHA freshman. The other kid is Andreas Noedl who was NHL draft pick #39 overall and a first team USHL All-Star. I already made the "Lasches with a wet Noedl" joke so there's no point in repeating it here except to reserve my copyright (for whatever that's worth). SCSU went 13-13 in conference last year and I have little doubt that will improve this year. I'd expect at the end of the season that they'll be on the cusp of an NCAA bid if Goepfert stays healthy all year. I don't know if he'll be the workhorse he was last year (38 games ... 20-14-4 overall) but much of Huskies II success in 06-07 will be dependent on his play.

Yup. Wisconsin could win back-to-back NCAA Championships this year. The stifling defensive work ethic that Mike Eaves has his team playing will no doubt contine in 06-07. The Badgers have lost a fair amount of scoring to graduation (37 goals from Burish, Gilbert, MacMurchy, Degenhart, Licari) and more to pro defection (47 goals from Pavelski and Earl) so they'll be looking for someone to step up and produce but they shouldn't necessarily need the 144 team goals they scored last year to be successful. With NHL draft picks #51, #56 and #63 among the 10 freshman the Badgers will be an extremely tough opponent every night in 06-07. I look for them to be a very physical team as well since overall they'll be a much bigger than last years squad. Look for Jack Skille, Andrew Joudrey and Ben Street to provide the scoring leadership with the consistent excellence of Brian Elliot in the pipes. I'd imagine the .938 sv% we saw from Elliot last season won't be his career high number at UW. While Minnesota and North Dakota both look to be more explosive offensively than the Badgers I wouldn't for a second count them out from winning the WCHA and/or repeating as NCAA champs. The former being more likely than the latter but both being quite possible.

In a lot of ways I expect this season to look similar to last year in the WCHA. Losses of talent are spread fairly evenly across the entire league. Coaching could prove to be the biggest factor over the course of the year. Will Hakstol bring the talented Sioux along for a big run? Will Lucia manage the personalities and get his players to gel? Will Eaves make sure his team maintains its defensive focus all season? Will Bob be able to move his squad back into the upper tier on Bobby's shoulders? Can Gwoz find a pink tie that will keep his team in contention? Can Scott Owens find some new wings for the usually "Flying Tigers"? Will Sandelin feel pressure about his job if Duluth doesn't improve? Can Jamie Russell steer a nice straight line to the future? And most importantly ... Will Troy Jutting end up in an institution for raving lunatics? I wouldn't make yes or no bets on any of the answers to those questions.