The programs have had a year to get accustomed to the new-look Western Collegiate Hockey Association. As we head into year two, here’s how we think the teams will finish in the race for the MacNaughton Trophy.
The player statistics listed are for last season’s WCHA games only. Teams are listed in order of finish in the Bemidji Pioneer preseason media poll, and they include how we at UAHHockey.com voted. We’ll have a full UAH preview next week.
1. Minnesota State
Last season: 26-14-1 overall, 20-7-1 WCHA (2nd place). Won WCHA tournament championship. Lost to UMass-Lowell in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal.
Top returning players: Matt Leitner (Sr., F, 8-25-33, All-WCHA 1st team), Zach Palmquist (Sr., D, 3-16-19, All-WCHA 1st team), Jean-Paul Lafontaine (Sr., F, 16-16-32, All-WCHA 2nd team), Cole Huggins (So., G, 1.73, .927, All-WCHA 2nd team, WCHA goaltending champion).
Key losses: Zach Lehrke (F, 10-10-20, All-WCHA 3rd team), Johnny McInnis (F, 7-11-18, All-WCHA 3rd team).
Geof (1st): Not to be too reductionist here, but you win hockey games by scoring often and keeping the puck out of your net. The Mavs have two of the best scoring forwards in the league in Leitner and Lafontaine — who just might net 20 PPG this season if the Mavs maintain their aggressive ways — some shut down defensemen who can also move the puck out cleanly, and both Huggins and Stephon Williams, who was fantastic as a freshman, in net. Will they miss McInnis and Lehrke up front? Sure! But after a tough start to 2013-14, the Mavs caught up to Ferris State and nearly pulled away with both cups. Anyone who says that Mankato is #2 is crazy.
Michael (1st): Minnesota State seems to be the most complete team in the league. I have three Mavericks on my preseason all-WCHA team, including the player of the year in Matt Leitner, and Cole Huggins was stellar in his freshman campaign. With the recruits coming in, they should contend for the MacNaughton for a while.
2. Ferris State:
Last season: 29-11-3 overall, 20-6-2 WCHA (1st place). Lost to Minnesota State in the WCHA tournament championship game. Defeated Colgate in the NCAA Northeast Regional semfinal, lost to North Dakota in the final.
Top returning players: C.J. Motte (Sr., G, 2.29, .927, All-WCHA first team), Jason Binkley (Sr., D, 2-16-18, All-WCHA 3rd team), Kyle Schempp (So., F, 6-12-18, All-WCHA rookie team), Justin Buzzo (Sr., F, 6-11-17).
Key losses: Garrett Thompson (F, 11-7-18, All-WCHA second team), Scott Czarnowczan (D, 4-13-17, All-WCHA 2nd team), Cory Kane (F, 10-10-20)
Geof (2nd): IN MOTTE WE TRUST. The Bulldogs were a balanced team last year, and while it hurts to lose a leader like Czarnowczan, the thing is that most leaders like him leave someone behind to carry the torch. Bob Daniels is a fantastic coach, and his team will be ready to carry on. Will they be as good as they were last season? Probably not, and they did fade a bit as the season went on. (Remember, there was a time that it looked like they wouldn’t lose a league game.)
Michael (2nd): Ferris State lost some talent, but they have so much to spare. And they have C.J. Motte. I can’t wait for their four games against Minnesota State in January.
3. Bowling Green
Last season: 18-15-6 overall, 13-11-4 (tied 3rd place). Lost to Minnesota State in the WCHA Tournament semifinals.
Top returning players: Dan DeSalvo (Sr., F, 5-15-20), Mark Cooper (Jr., F, 12-7-19), Ben Murphy (Jr., F, 8-5-13), Tommy Burke (Jr., G, 2.40, 9.12)
Key losses: Bryce Williamson (F, 5-11-16), Ralfs Freibergs (D, 3-14-17)
Geof (3rd): This might UAH-BSU pairing end up turning into a rivalry after all (especially if I keep getting into it with a certain writer from BG). The Falcons don’t lose a ton and have some good talent coming in. Add in Burke and they’re an easy pick to be a home playoff team. I’m sure that Chris Bergeron would love a little more scoring, though.
Michael (4th): The Falcons return a solid core up front, so there isn’t any reason why they should not be hosting a first-round playoff series again.
4. Michigan Tech
Last season: 14-19-7 overall, 12-11-5 WCHA (5th place). Lost to Bowling Green 2 games to none in the WCHA Tournament first round.
Top returning players: Shane Hanna (So., D, 4-18-22, All-WCHA rookie team), Blake Pietila (Sr., F, 7-14-21), Tanner Kero (Sr., F, 13-7-20), Alex Petan (Jr., F, 7-13-20)
Key losses: Pheonix Copley (Jr., G, 2.59, .900)
Geof (4th): I freely admit my affinity for Tech: one of my best friends is an alumnus, and Tech is probably closest to UAH in terms of school profile. MTU definitely showed their support for Mel Pearson by giving him a big contract extension, and even by losing assistant Damon Whitten to become the new head coach at Lake State, they seem pretty settled. Losing Copley hurts, but Jamie Phillips was solid as a freshman and could bounce back — and there’s another Kero (Devin) in town to compete for time in net. I think that the bunching that’s endemic to the WCHA will start with the Huskies, but they’re the best of that lot.
Michael (6th): I’m probably not giving the Huskies enough credit with my vote, or maybe I’m giving the departed goaltender Pheonix Copley too much. Considering how bunched the middle of the league was last season, it won’t take much to go either way. Tech has enough firepower to prove me very wrong.
Last season: 18-15-4 overall, 14-12-2 WCHA (tied 3rd place). Lost to Alaska-Anchorage 2 games to 1 in the WCHA Tournament first round.
Top returning players: Colton Parayko (Jr., D, 4-14-18, All-WCHA 1st team), Tyler Morley (Jr., F, 15-14-29, All-WCHA 3rd team), Marcus Basara (So., 9-12-21), Sean Cahill (Sr., G, 2.28, .906)
Key losses: Cody Kunyk (F, 17-17-34, WCHA player of the year and scoring champion), Colton Beck (F, 11-19-30, All-WCHA 2nd team)
Geof (6th): Okay, so Parayko apparently grew to 6’6″ over the summer, a fact that has every WCHA forward wincing. Morley was my third forward pick for the WCHA preseason team. I like Cahill in net — college seniors with an established record sometimes really take off in their last season. But losing Kunyk and Beck really hurts, and that’s a big hole to fill. The Nanooks just have a tough, tough schedule: four each against Mankato, Ferris, and BG; a trip to UAH (which they didn’t take last season); and a trip to Western Michigan as their only NC road trip.
Michael (3rd): I have Alaska being 3rd again, even though the lost the player of the year Kunyk and Beck. I really like returning all-WCHA players Parayko and Morley, and Sean Cahill put up some good league numbers in his junior year. Add my pick for newcomer of the year in Peter Krieger and the Nanooks will be up there again.
Last season: 18-16-4 overall, 12-12-4 WCHA (6th place). Lost to Ferris State in the WCHA Tournament semifinals.
Top returning players: Blake Tatchell (Jr., F, 4-17-21), Scott Allen (Sr., F, 14-11-25), Brett Cameron (Sr., F, 8-9-17)
Key losses: Matt Bailey (F, 12-15-27, All-WCHA 1st team), Jordan Kwas (F, 9-13-22), Rob Gunderson (G, 2.30, .910)
Geof (5th): Glory be, the Seawolves finished about .500 for the first time since the first year of the Bill Clinton Administration. It’s just hard to see that momentum going with Bailey and Gunderson gone.
Michael (8th): I can’t help but think the losses of Matt Bailey and Rob Gunderson in particular will bring back the Seawolves a bit after their surprise run last season.
7. Northern Michigan
Last season: 15-21-2 overall, 13-14-1 WCHA (7th place). Lost to Minnesota State in the WCHA Tournament first round.
Top returning players: Mathias Dahlstrom (So., G, 2.34, .917), Reed Seckel (Sr., F, 9-11-20), Mitch Jones (Sr., D, 2-11-13), Dominik Shinne (So., F, 6-7-13)
Key losses: Stephan Vigier (F, 8-12-20)
Geof (7th): The Wildcats won nine non-UAH league games in 13-14: v. Tech, @ Alaska, @ Bemidji twice (LOL), v. Alaska, @ Anchorage, v. Mankato, v. Lake, and v. BG. Lesson: they do okay in the Berry and not as well elsewhere. Losing Vigier means that they’re really just treading water, and I don’t see where they’re magically going to jump higher given the pack that they’re in. If they do jump up, it’s because they don’t travel to either Ferris or Mankato.
Michael (7th): Dahlstrom will keep the Wildcats in some games, but I’m not sure they’ll have enough to get out of 7th again.
8. Bemidji State
Last season: 10-21-7 overall, 10-14-4 WCHA (tied 8th place). Lost to Ferris State 2 games to 0 in the WCHA Tournament first round.
Top returning players: Matt Prapavessis (Sr., D, 5-12-17, All-WCHA 3rd team), Cory Ward (Jr., F, 13-9-22), Markus Gerbrandt (Jr., F, 13-7-20), Andrew Walsh (Sr., G, 2.55, .916)
Key losses: Radoslav Illo (F, 3-6-9)
Geof (8th): I hate Bemidji State. I hate that everyone is going to talk about their stupid triplets all season. If they really were baby geniuses, they’d be at UAH, the school for brainy kids in the WCHA. The Beavs don’t lose a lot from last season, but the simple fact is that there are way too many teams for the Green to hurdle. (But I love Tom Serratore. I just need to get that out there.)
Michael (5th): Geof might consider taking my web site privileges with this pick. I think Walsh will have a good senior season, and maybe I’m influenced by the arrival of the Fitzgerald triplets. I really don’t know any more.
9. Lake Superior State
Last season: 16-19-1 overall, 12-16-0 WCHA (tied 8th place). Missed WCHA playoffs.
Top returning players: Alex Globke (So., F, 9-12-21, All-WCHA rookie of the year), Stephen Perfetto (So., F, 6-6-12)
Key losses: Kevin Kapalka (G, 2.62, .924, All-WCHA 3rd team), Kevin Czuczman (Jr., D, 6-8-14, All-WCHA 2nd team), Colin Campbell (Sr., F, 11-12-23), Dan Radke (Sr., F, 5-14-19)
Geof (9th): Okay, so when you 1) change coaches, 2) have all-new goaltending, 3) lose your best player a year early, and 4) come off of a season where you lost 60% of your league games, you’re going to be hurting. Damon Whitten has a lot to do in the Soo.
Michael (9th): Lake State is in rebuild mode right now. Not UAH-level rebuild mode, but this was a ninth-place team that lost a lot, including their head coach. It shall be interesting to see what Alex Globke does after his rookie of the year campaign.