Back before the season began, WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson said a goal for the conference was to get at least three teams the the NCAA Tournament.
Sitting here the week before the Final Five, that goal is realistically attainable, with Minnesota State and Michigan Tech locked in, and BG in pretty decent position on the bubble (we’ll examine tournament possibilities later this week).
But that’s not the reason for this special edition of Power Rankings. Before the season, media members were asked to fill out a preseason ballot. Today, for the sake of hilarity, I wanted to revisit my preseason ballot.
Some of it was actually pretty good, like correctly predicting the order Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, Bowling Green, Alaska, and Bemidji State would finish in the standings. Some of it was pretty bad, like…well…you can see below. Because I’m an idiot who thinks I’m way smarter than I really am, let’s have some self-deprecating fun.
1. My pick: Ferris State (actual finish: 6)
What I said then: There are some questions with the Bulldogs this season, but I don’t think they’ll be insurmountable enough to cost them their perch atop the WCHA, where they spent all of last season.
Haha oops. As it turns out those questions (namely: how is Ferris going to score) were pretty insurmountable. The Bulldogs finished seventh in the league with 2.26 goals per game. But, third-team All-WCHA goalie C.J. Motte buoyed the team well, particularly down the stretch. I don’t feel as bad about this as I did, say, three weeks ago. The Bulldogs head into the Final Five fresh off a sweep of Bemidji, and are 7-1-1 since their seven-game losing streak to Minnesota State and BG. I don’t know that Ferris has the firepower to beat the Mavericks, but it won’t go quietly.
2. My pick: Minnesota State (actual finish: 1)
What I said then: Defensively, the Mavericks return their three leading scorers on the blue line in Zach Palmquist, Sean Flanagan and Brett Stern. Huggins and Williams are both back between the pipes, so the Mavericks should once again be strong defensively next season. They’re good enough to overtake Ferris, but last year’s early season brain farts make me a little bit apprehensive to call that right now.
There were no early season brain farts this year as the Mavericks were atop the league standings nearly from start to finish (let’s also point out how, in mentioning returning defensemen, second-team All-WCHA Casey Nelson was not on that list.)
The Mavs once again had an interesting start to the season in net, with Cole Huggins forgetting how to be a goalie and Stephon Williams overtaking him, much like what happened in reverse order last year. Williams ended up being a second-team All-WCHA pick and was the league’s goaltending champion, like Huggins the year before.
The Mavs led the league with 3.65 goals per game, and had eight players post 20+ points. Bryce Gervais had as many goals this year as he had points last year (26). They’re firmly locked into the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens this weekend. They they would do BG a huge favor by knocking out Ferris and preventing it for potential stealing a spot in the tournament.
3. My pick: Michigan Tech (actual finish: 2)
What I said then: But the fact of the matter is, Tech was rather one-dimensional offensively last year. Outside of Petan and Blake Pietila (28 points each), the Huskies didn’t do much offensively. But with another year of experience for their top nine returning scorers, I expect that to improve.
I didn’t miss on Tech in terms of standings by much, but I expected Ferris and Minnesota State to run away with the top two. The top two ran away this year, but Tech was that second team.
Jamie Phillips, a first-team All-WCHA pick in goal, was a huge reason for Tech’s ascension. But the biggest reason was an improved offensive depth. Alex Petan (38 points) and Blake Pietila (28) both stepped up their games. But so did WCHA Player of the Year Tanner Kero (45 points) and Malcolm Gould (31 points). The Huskies scored 3.55 goals per game and allowed 1.68 per game, by far the best in the league. Like Minnesota State, they’re locked into the NCAA Tournament. But they could also do BG a huge favor by losing to the Falcons in the Final Five.
4. My pick: Bowling Green (actual finish: 3)
What I said then: This was a little bit of a tough call, but after sky-high expectations for the Falcons last season, it’s probably best to pull the reigns back a little bit this year…Even with losing Carpenter and Bryce Williamson, BG should be fine offensively. Dan DeSalvo is now the undisputed No. 1 center on the roster. He quietly has been one of the best players in recent BG memory; assuming he stays healthy and doesn’t regress into adolescence or something, he’ll surpass 100 career points this season…The interesting battle will be in net. One would figure Tommy Burke has the inside track to the No. 1 position after a good 2.43 GAA, .912 save percent sophomore year, but he’ll have to improve on those numbers if BG is to compete for a league title. Natural progression figures to benefit highly-touted Tomas Sholl (2.68 GAA, .896 save percent), but don’t sleep on freshman Chris Nell.
Boy did I unintentionally sort of jinx DeSalvo. He surpassed 100 points, but unless he explodes this weekend and in the NCAA Tournament, he’s going to post a career-low in points (he’s at 20 now). But, the Falcons were fine offensively, thanks to breakout performances from freshman Brandon Hawkins and sophomores Matt Pohlkamp and Pierre-Luc Mercier. After a red-hot start to the season, Kevin Dufour hit nearly absolute zero in terms of coldness, finishing with only 19 points.
In goal, Sholl became almost a non-factor after giving up two goals on eight shots to Alaska on Jan. 10, his last game action. Nell was pretty strong this year, but faded down the stretch, allowing Burke to grab the No. 1 job. He’s 8-2-0 his last 10 starts, and was exceptional as the Falcons swept Northern Michigan.
5. My pick: Alaska (actual finish: 4)
What I said then: but Alaska brings back some firepower. The Nanooks had six additional players post 20-plus points last season, and five of them are coming back, including last year’s WCHA Defender of the Year Colton Parayko. The Nanooks may not score as prodigiously this year as they did last year, but they should still be able to put the puck in the net at a higher rate than just about everyone else in the league…The one thing that could be a slight issue for Alaska this year is goaltending. OK, that’s an understatement. Alaska goalies were cataclysmically bad last year.
Well the Nanooks didn’t quite score at a high rate than just about everyone else, but they did do well for themselves, finishing fourth in the league with 2.71 goals per game. First-team All-WCHA forward Tyler Morley (37 points) was once again outstanding, as was forward Marcus Basara (24 points). Parayko repeated as the WCHA Defender of the Year and has since signed a pro deal with the St. Louis Blues.
Alaska goalies weren’t cataclysmically bad this year. Davis Jones had a 2.54 GAA and .896 save percent in 17 starts, but Sean Cahill made up for it with a strong 1.98 GAA and .919 save percent in 16 starts. Cahill is a senior, so that’s a bit of a bummer for Alaska.
Unfortunately, due to NCAA sanctions, we weren’t about to see how the Nanooks would have fared in the postseason.
6. My pick: Bemidji State (actual finish: 5)
What I said then: I think I’m a little bit higher on Bemidji than most people. Their overall record last year was terrible, but there’s a very simple explanation: their non-league schedule last year was brutal…For the season, goalie Andrew Walsh posted a 3.04 GAA and .904 save percent. In WCHA games, those numbers improve to 2.55 and .916…Offensively, the Beavers return eight of 10 double-digit point scorers from last year, so their offense should be a little improved on a unit that scored fewer goals than everyone but Lake Superior and Huntsville last year. The key will be in net. If Walsh can improve on the numbers he posted in conference games last year, the Beavers will be in decent shape.
Well the Beavers received improved play in net, but Walsh didn’t provide it. That came from Rookie of the Year Michael Blitzer, who was third in the league with a 1.80 GAA and second with a .929 save percent. He wasn’t the only reason Bemidji was able to make a late-season run into hosting a first-round playoff series, but his play was a big part of that.
Second-team All-WCHA defenseman Matt Prapavessis led the team with 24 points. Only two forwards on the team hit the 20-point plateau, but they did have 14 players reach double-digit points (which, for comparison, is as many as Michigan Tech had, and two fewer than Minnesota State had).
7. My pick: Northern Michigan (actual finish: 7)
What I said then: The Wildcats have an … uninspiring offensive attack led by seniors Reed Seckel (23 points) and defenseman Mitch Jones (23 points). They’ll have to replace leading scorer Stephan Viger, who had 33 points last season. Look for exciting redshirt sophomore John Siemer to fill that void…Northern should be strong in goal with sophomore Mathias Dahlstrom, who posted a 2.64 GAA and .912 save percent last season. He actually finished in the top half of WCHA goalies in conference games GAA and save percent, but with what will likely once again be a middling offense this year, he’ll have to take his game to the next level if the Wildcats are going to sniff a home playoff series this year.
Dahlstrom was able to take his game to the next level this year, posting a strong 2.18 GAA and .924 save percent. For a period of time in the first half, the Wildcats were in a position to host a first-round playoff series (that also had to do with a front-loaded schedule, but I digress). But, Dahlstrom missed four straight games with injury after a 5-0 loss to BG on Dec. 6. He then suited up for seven more games, where he did not look like himself — posting a save percent better than .910 only once — before leaving a Jan. 30 game against Anchorage with injury. He didn’t play again after that.
Michael Doan was OK in his absence, posting a 2.98 GAA and .915 save percent, but the Wildcats were 5-11-2 without Dahlstrom in goal. It’s hard to say a team that scored 2.26 goals per game would have fared much better with him in the lineup, but you never know.
8. My pick: Alaska Anchorage (actual finish: 10)
What I said then: Conversely, I feel like I’m a lot lower on the Seawolves than most are. There’s one big reason for that: they were not good on the road last year…Additionally, the Seawolves most replace their tops scorers in Matt Bailey (38 points) and Jordan Kwas (32 points). Fortunately for them, they return pretty much everyone else from last year’s team, led by a pair of 30-point scorers in Blake Tatchell and Scott Allen. So there’s talent there, but I don’t know if it’s enough to overcome a horrifying lack of experience in goal and collective road woes.
I can report that Anchorage is, in fact, still not good on the road. The Seawolves were 2-13-1 away from home, with both of those wins coming at Fairbanks. So barely even road games.
That horrifying lack of experience in goal was sort of an issue, as the Seawolves allowed 3.10 goals per game, but freshman Olivier Mantha (2.90 GAA, .914 save percent) played very well at times. Tatchell had 22 points this year, which for some reason earned him a spot on the All-WCHA third team, but he was the only player to eclipse 20 points as Anchorage failed to qualify for the playoffs.
9. My pick: Lake Superior (actual finish: 9)
What I said then: The unfortunate thing is there is talent on this team. But they have to replace a lot. And by a lot I mean a lot. Of their six leading scorers, four of them either graduated or turned pro, so the Lakers are losing most of what was an already thin offensive attack. But that’s not even the worst news. Nope, the worst news is the Lakers make Anchorage’s goalie inexperience seem like a minor hangnail. The Lakers have four goalies on their roster this year, with a combined zero games of college experience between them. That’s bad news for a team that surrendered 1,264 shots last season (about 35 per game).
I’m really not sure which of those ended up being a bigger issue for the Lakers. I’ll say the offense because at least they found some stability in net despite allowing a league-worst 3.45 goals per game.
Despite a 3.08 GAA (and a pretty good .915 save percent) Gordon Defiel was good in goal for the Lakers. Those numbers (which were 3.82 and .894, respectively, after a 5-0 loss to Ferris on Dec. 13) improved well in the second half after Defiel was allegedly fitted for new contacts. As the team improves around him, so will his numbers.
Offensively, the Lakers had no players hit 20 points. Last year’s Rookie of the Year Alex Globke had only 10 points, a horrible regression no matter how much was lost around him. But, we’ll get to that in a minute.
10. My pick: Alabama Huntsville (actual finish: 8)
What I said then: There’s really nothing to say about Huntsville. They were abysmal last year and that shouldn’t change much this year. With a roster that’s heavy on underclassmen, including sophomore goalies Carmine Guerriero (3.90 GAA, .905 save percent) and Matt Larose (4.72 GAA, .888 save percent) and junior forward Jack Prince (13 points), natural progression dictates that they should improve some, but it’s highly doubtful it’ll be enough to come close to climbing out of the WCHA basement.
Other than my pick of Ferris, there’s not a team I missed more on than Huntsville.
In the second year of head coach Mike Corbett’s tenure, the Chargers took a huge step forward, improving from 2-35-1 to 8-26-4. A big reason for that is they have some bright young players, none brighter than WCHA All-Rookie selection Max McHugh, who posted 23 points in his debut season. Freshman defenseman Brandon Parker added 14 points.
In goal, Carmine Guerriero improved significantly on numbers that were already pretty decent for the amount of rubber he faced last year. His 2.56 GAA is OK, but he finished third in the league with a .928 save percent.
I’ve heard this comparison before, but Huntsville is like BG circa 2009-10. Rumors of program termination led to what happened last year, like BG’s 2009-10 season. The Chargers improved this year, like the Falcons did in 2010-11. I will not be surprised to see them take another step forward last year. The kicker here, the Chargers have a strong goalie leading that charge, like the Falcons did with Andrew Hammond.
Bonus Content: All-WCHA picks
Additionally, we were asked to submit our picks for WCHA Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and our preseason first-team All-WCHA.
F: Matt Leitner, Minnesota State.
F: Tyler Morley, Alaska.
F: Alex Globke, Lake Superior.
D: Colton Parayko, Alaska.
D: Shane Hanna, Michigan Tech.
G: C.J. Motte, Ferris State.
Hard not to start this list with Leitner, who will probably end up being picked as the WCHA preseason Player of the Year. With 45 points last year, it’s not hard to see why … With 1.10 points per game last year (34 in 31 games), Morley actually had the third highest points-per-game ration in the WCHA last year, behind Leitner and Cody Kunyk, so expect him to have another big year … As I mentioned above, Globke has enough talent to challenge for league player of the year … Defensively, it’s impossible to leave Parayko, last year’s WCHA Defender of the Year, off this list … All of the other ballots I’ve seen had Minnesota State’s Zach Palmquist on here, but I think Hanna improves significantly on his 23-point freshman season … In net, it’s a toss-up between Motte and Minnesota State’s Cole Huggins, but I give Motte the edge.
The first team ended up being Morley, Leitner, Tanner Kero, Parayko, Palmquist and Jamie Phillips. So I wasn’t too far off. But man, was that pick of Globke so far off. Like, it was so far off that it kind of just ruined the rest of the team. Hanna snuck on as a third-team selection, but actually fell back to 18 points, while Motte was a third-team selection as well, mostly due to it being an absurd year in the WCHA for goalie play.
Player of the Year: Tyler Morley (actual POY: Tanner Kero)
What I said then: As I just said, Leitner probably ends up getting this distinction, and very likely will be the league’s player of the year at the end of the season, but what fun is it if I go with the grain? Morley is small but talented, and having missed Alaska’s final four games of last season, you can bet his absence was a reason why the Nanooks bowed out in the first round of the postseason. With Kunyk and Beck gone, Morley becomes the featured man in this offense, so he’ll have all the opportunities to put up points. But that also means he’s going to be getting the opposing team’s top defensive unit every night.
Both Morely and Leitner were first-team selections, so here’s me patting my own back again, but Kero seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the league with 45 points this year. He had 49 combined points in 73 games his previous two seasons combined. He was a huge part of Tech’s season, and it was a well-deserved honor.
Rookie of the Year: Mark Friedman (actual ROY: Michael Blitzer)
What I said then: You can call this a homer pick of you want, but I don’t really know who else you could possibly give this to. Of incoming WCHA players this year, he was the first one selected in the 2014 NHL Draft. He has a good, but not really spectacular, group of defensemen around him that he can absorb information from. And, perhaps most importantly, with Ralfs Freibergs gone, he’ll have every opportunity to take over the role of power play quarterback. Don’t expect him to put up huge numbers (I think 15-20 points is a safe projection), but without an elite forward in this WCHA freshmen class, I think this award is Friedman’s to lose.
Well there’s two ways to look at this. The first is: “haha good one dummy Friedman wasn’t even the best rookie on his own team.” The second is, he got stronger as the season went along, played huge minutes on both the power play and penalty kill for BG, and still made the All-Rookie team. I’m gonna go with the second one (plus I totally nailed that points projection).
Blitzer was just that dominant this year. And yes, if given a postseason vote, I’d probably have voted for Brandon Hawkins over Friedman.
Thanks for reading along this year. It’s been a blast doing this every week. I hope you all have enjoyed reading these as much as I’ve enjoyed doing them. Power Rankings will be back later this week with a Final Five preview and some fun with Pairwise projector.