Editor’s note: for the first time since Bowling Green’s admittance to the league, we were not invited to submit a preseason ballot to the WCHA. All predictions here are for pure entertainment purposes and were not included in the league’s tabulations.
Pretty boring summer, huh? Definitely lacked anything noteworthy at all.
Well, except for everything: Chris Bergeron bolted Bowling Green for Oxford, Ty Eigner assumed the crown of his alma mater, the WCHA is imploding after the 2021 season, and the University of Alaska regents are moving towards a consolidated system which would almost assuredly eliminate one of, if not both, Alaskan programs as soon as next academic year.
But, hope springs eternal for the WCHA teams as we’re just over two and a half weeks from week one of the (presumed) penultimate 2019-2020 season. In this preview, we don’t dig too deep. As I begin my 11th season of covering college hockey I’ve learned previews might as well be on dry erase boards thanks to their limited accuracy. But that wouldn’t be as much fun, now would it?
First, let’s head to always important guess at how teams will finish the regular season:
- Minnesota State: This one is a no-doubter. The Mavs are the top program in the WCHA and it doesn’t appear that this season will be any different. They lost only 4% of their offensive production from a season ago (the least in the league) and return goaltender Dryden McKay who has 24 wins a season ago. Don’t be surprised if MSU tallies 35+ wins and is playing in Detroit in April.
- Bowling Green: The Falcons are an interesting team this year. They enter this season with 27% less offensive production and 80% of their goaltending wins were lost when Ryan Bednard signed with the Florida Panthers. The biggest loss is arguably Lukas Craggs who probably wins a poll for the player most teams were happy to see go. His ability to control play with his physical style and offensive touch are largely missing from the WCHA. Add in that Ty Eigner will be entering his first season as the bench boss and this might be the most difficult Falcon team to predict in a decade. I still expect them to finish second in the league, however.
- Lake Superior: The surprise team of 2018-2019 won’t surprise anyone anymore. The Lakers seem to have finally righted the ship under Damon Whitten and should experience success this season despite some heavy losses. They’ll need to replace 17 of their 23 goaltending wins lost along with 35% of their offensive production from a season ago. Longtime fans should be happy to see Bowling Green’s most frequent opponent returning to form as we get ready to enter a new decade.
- Michigan Tech: Entering his third season behind the bench will act as Joe Shawhan’s defining campaign of his young head coaching career. He inherited a Cadillac that struggled to stay on the road for a couple of years. The Huskies lost 35% of their offensive production, but just one goaltending win from a season ago. I’d expect Houghton to see home ice in at least the first round of the playoffs.
- Northern Michigan: NMU has been a thorn in the Falcons’ backside the past few seasons, with one of the biggest reasons for that being Atte Tolvanen. The Finnish goaltender has finally graduated and took all but three of the Wildcats’ goaltending wins from the past three seasons with him. Add that departure with 46% of Northern’s offensive production lost and it’s easy to see NMU take a step back. They should still contend for a first-round home playoff series though.
- Bemidji State: Don’t be surprised if Tom Serratore’s squad surprise everyone this year. They’re a darkhorse top-four team in a league that will probably see some regression from a year ago. They did lose a bit offensively (30%), but return all of their producing goaltenders from a season ago. That’s key for a team that’s well known for their defensive play year-to-year.
- Alaska: The Nanooks could be another team that outplays expectations. They finished last season with just 12 wins but also showed flashes of a team that seemed to be heading in the right direction. They return the second-highest percentage of scoring from a season ago and return all of their goaltending wins as well. It’ll be interesting to see how their arena situation shakes out as their ice-making plant is said to be a ticking time bomb in terms of needing to be replaced. They’ll use their much smaller on-campus rink if need be.
- Alabama-Huntsville: Every year it seems like I say “this is the year the Chargers turn it around!” I’m not saying that this season. It feels like UAH just treads water in mediocrity on a year-to-year basis with a few upset wins every campaign. I’d expect more of the same as they’ll need to replace nearly half of their scoring from a season ago that won them just eight games.
- Ferris State: Is it time to panic in Big Rapids? The Bulldogs have been in a nosedive the last few seasons and have begun to see defections from upset players who are abandoning ship. Similar to the Chargers, they’ll need to replace over half of their scoring from a team that won just 10 games in 2018-2019.
- Alaska-Anchorage: The Seawolves had just 110 total offensive points last season and still lost 41% of that production. They won just three games last year and lose two of those goaltending wins to graduation. I’d expect UAA to improve, but I’d be surprised if they win more than six games this season.
Next, let’s take a look at the All-WCHA teams as I predict them.
|Forward||Marc Michaelis (Sr.)||Minnesota State|
|Forward||Max Johnson (Jr.)||Bowling Green|
|Forward||Brandon Kruse (Jr.)||Bowling Green|
|Defenseman||Philip Beaulieu (Sr.)||Northern Michigan|
|Defenseman||Alec Rauhauser (Sr.)||Bowling Green|
|Goaltender||Dryden McKay (So.)||Minnesota State|
|Forward||Parker Toumie (Sr.)||Minnesota State|
|Forward||Connor Ford (Jr.)||Bowling Green|
|Forward||Max Humitz (Sr.)||Lake Superior|
|Defenseman||Connor Mackey (Jr.)||Minnesota State|
|Defenseman||Jack McNeely (Jr.)||Minnesota State|
|Goaltender||Eric Dop (Jr.)||Bowling Green|
You probably noticed a trend. I fully expect the WCHA to be a two-team race this year between some bovine and birds.
With that said, who’s this year’s Forward, Defenseman, and Goaltender of the year?
Forward: Marc Michaelis (Sr.) – Minnesota State
Defenseman: Alec Rauhauser (Sr.) – Bowling Green
Goaltender: Dryden McKay (So.) – Minnesota State
Again, I’m not exactly going out on a limb here with these picks.
Finally, for something a little fun I’m going to rate the best road trips in the leagues. I’ve been to every rink in the WCHA except one (UAA) so I’d like to think I have a decent view on things. Here’s my completely unscientific, probably skewed rating of where you should spend your travel dollars:
- Minnesota State: The perfect hockey weekend. Park your car in the parking garage (or, ramp, as Minnesotans call it) and don’t see it again until you leave. The hotel is attached to the arena and provides just under a dozen restaurant and bars to visit before and after the games. Fly into either Minneapolis/St. Paul or Rochester and make the 90 minutes or so drive to the Key City. Pro tip: Mankato has a Pagliai’s pizza (different than BG’s) and is a must-eat.
- Michigan Tech: First, the negative – unless you’ve got the money to burn on an expensive flight, there’s no good way to get to Houghton. It’s a boring-as-hell drive and can get pretty scary depending on the weather. But, once you get there you’ll have a great time. A wonderful downtown area with plenty of hotels, dining, and bars awaits you. Lots to do for the person who enjoys outdoor winter sports as well. This is also the best in-arena atmosphere in the league and one of the best in the country.
- Northern Michigan: The UP is well represented in this list. Marquette has some remarkable views as it sits right on the lake. But, like Houghton, isn’t the easiest to get to from northwest Ohio. Another great downtown that is very walkable depending on the weather and which hotel you pick. The arena is…meh. But easy parking and a relaxed crowd.
- Alabama-Huntsville: What’s a good trip to make when it’s 30 degrees and you’re tired of seeing gray skies for months? The south. Huntsville is the opposite of what you think of when Alabama comes to mind: it features a NASA visitors center which is definitely unique amongst this list. If you like BBQ then Dreamland seems to be the go-to spot for the tourists. Another ideal hotel setup with a couple located a stone’s throw from the arena. Speaking of the Von Braun: another meh arena but a cheap ticket to get you into the door. That should allow you to have your pick of location thanks to small crowds.
- Lake Superior: Ok, so this is probably an emotional choice more than anything. Sault Ste. Marie is the first-ever road trip Todd and I made when we launched this site. We both fell in love with this tiny hockey town after a 10-year-old at the bar was pouring himself a Shirley Temple and called himself a “sniper.” Fantastic little arena with a fun crowd when the Lakers are good. My favorite food spot is Wicked Sister, but for bucket list sake make sure you stop at the Antlers and ask them to ring the bell.
- Alaska: When I flew out to Alaska it was -11 when my flight landed. It was only November. The citizens of Fairbanks are extremely friendly and also features a nice downtown area which isn’t a bad walk when it’s warm enough. But, this is definitely a road trip that’s going to require a rental for the weekend. Arena is too big and not the best maintained. But, how many times in your life will you be able to say you watched your team play in Alaska? Pro tip: ask the front desk at your hotel if they have a Northern Lights wake-up call. They’ll ring your room if it’s a nice night to see the aurora borealis.
- Bemidji State: I should point out I didn’t hate this trip at all. It has a hotel attached to the arena and another one that sits just a mile or so away. This would be a perfect fall trip as Lake Bemidji is stunning amongst the autumn foliage. But, you’re guaranteed two flights and the arena is nowhere close to the downtown area. Very nice arena but is a little sterile and tickets are expensive.
- Ferris State: There’s only one rink/trip I hate in the WCHA and it’s Big Rapids. Tiny rink, the university isn’t very close to downtown, and there seems to be a push towards chain restaurants. However, if you want to make a long weekend of it Grand Rapids is just up the road and is a must-stop if you’re a beer connoisseur.