We’re under two weeks until the hockey season gets underway, as the Falcons welcome Wilfrid Laurier on Sunday, October 1st. Before that, the WCHA will release their yearly preseason polls which include the opinions of the coaches and media members of the conference. This year only two media entities per school were invited to contribute, and I’m honored to be one of the choices.
This year our friends at UAHHockey.com are compiling the poll results for the media poll. Shane Frederick (Mankato Free Press) reprises his role for the coach’s side of the poll.
My picks for the awards are listed below, and are separated by section. You can expand/shrink each section by clicking/tapping on the header.
Last year at this time, the Falcons were on their way to their first preseason #1 ranking in the WCHA media and coaches poll. Unfortunately, Bowling Green struggled out of the gate but managed to finish in third place. They came up just short in the end, falling to Michigan Tech in the WCHA Playoffs Finals.
How do I see this year shaping up? Let’s take a look at the teams, in order of projected finish:
Minnesota State: Don’t be suprised to see the Mavericks get some love from the national media as well when the national polls start coming out. MSU returns presumed #1 goalie Jason Pawloski who finished last season with a stout 2.10 GAA and .919 SV%. Minnesota State also only lost around a fifth of their scoring from last season, and led the league last year in goals scored in-conference (89).
Key additions: Jake Jaremko (F), Reggie Lutz (F), Connor Mackey (D)
Notable losses: Cole Huggins (G), Michael Huntebrinker (F)
Head Coach: Mike Hastings (Sixth season), 122-62-18 (.649), $335,887/year for 10 years.
Bemidji State: The Beavers were the surprise of the league last year, jumping out to an early conference lead and running away with the McNaughton Cup as the regular season champions. But, the Beavers couldn’t get past a surging Falcons and lost in the WCHA Playoff Semifinals. Michael Bitzer, easily the best goalie in the league last year (and arguably one of the best in the nation), returns in net for BSU. But, the Beavers will need to replace nearly a third of their scoring from last season. Good thing they have the goaltending if their offense struggles.
Key additions: Connor Brown-Maloski (F), Brendan Harris (F), Aaron Miller (F)
Notable losses: Brendan Harms (F), Phillip Marinaccio (F)
Head Coach: Tom Serratore (16th season), 266-256-70 (.508), $205,371/year for four years.
Bowling Green: To call the Falcons a motivated squad entering the 2017-2018 campaign would be an understatement. After being picked to win the league in last year’s preseason polls, the Falcons stumbled out of the gate and finished the year in third place. A great playoff run ended when BG came up just short in the Finals against Michigan Tech. BG will need to replace a third of their scoring and top goaltender, but has some very good underclassmen that should be primed to step up.
Key additions: Eric Dop (G), Justin Wells (D), Cameron Wright (F)
Notable losses: Kevin Dufour (F), Mark Friedman (D), Chris Nell (G), Sean Walker (D)
Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (Eighth season), 123-132-33 (.484), $185,000/year for six years.
Michigan Tech: No team has had a rougher off-season than the Huskies. Their starting goalie split for the NHL after one season and their head coach now wears maize and blue. The Huskies kept it in-house and promoted Joe Shawhan to helm the mighty ship Husky. MTU will also need to replace over a third of their scoring from last season, and will have a goalie controversy to start the season. But, I still think the Huskies host a playoff series this year.
Key additions: Robbie Beydoun (G), Seamus Donohue (D), Justin Misiak (F)
Notable losses: Shane Hanna (D), Reid Sturos (F), Angus Redmond (G)
Head Coach: Joe Shawhan (First season), n/a, $210,000/year for four years.
Lake Superior: To be honest, spots five through eight are probably a toss-up, but I like the Lakers chances of making some noise this season. This will be Damon Whitten’s third season for Lake Superior, and he returns three-quarters of his offense from last season. The key to this season will be Gordon Defiel (G) and whether he has a strong senior season or not. If not, Nick Kossof or incoming freshman Mareks Mitens in net could pick up LSSU. The tools are there otherwise for a good season in the Soo.
Key additions: Tyler Anderson (D), Mareks Mitens (G), William Riedell (D)
Notable losses: Gus Correale (F), Mitch Hults (F)
Head Coach: Damon Whitten (Third season), 33-68-14 (.348), $100,000/year for one year.
Ferris State: The 2016-2017 campaign was a rough one for the Bulldogs. They struggled to develop any consistency before their season was mercifully ended as they were outscored 11-4 in a first round match-up with Bowling Green in the WCHA Playoffs. FSU will need to replace over a third of their scoring from last season and hope Darren Smith (G) shakes off the sophomore slump in his junior season. Still, if I’ve learned anything over the last nine years it’s to not bet against Bob Daniels.
Key additions: unknown (roster not posted)
Notable losses: Ryan Lowney (D), Gerald Mayhew (F), Jared VanWormer (F)
Head Coach: Bob Daniels (25 seasons), 430-443-100 (.493), unknown salary/terms
Alaska: The Nanooks had to replace their coach late in the off-season, as Dallas Ferguson split for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. Like MTU, Alaska kept things in-house and promoted Lance West to the top position. While coaching changes were the story of the WCHA off-season this summer, the Nanooks are hoping a new voice will bring them more success. They’ll return over 80% of their scoring from last season, but will need a much better effort from Their young goalies in net. Alaska is young but should improve.
Key additions: Steven Jandric (F), Tony Rehm (G), Justin Young (F)
Notable losses: Marcus Basara (F), Brandon Morley (F)
Head Coach: Lance West (First season), n/a, unknown salary/terms
Northern Michigan: Grant Potulny was hired at NMU after the dismissal of long time head coach Walt Kyle in Marquette. Potulny is a “Minnesota guy” but should have tempered expectations to get the Wildcats back on track. On paper NMU returns some talent, but a new voice and new system might cause some growing pains in the UP. If Atte Tolvanen (G) can get hot early he’ll take some pressure of the offense to produce, but there’s some big shoes to replace in the scoring category.
Key additions: Joseph Nardi (F), Caleb Schroer (F), Mitchel Slattery (F)
Notable losses: Gerard Hanson (F), Brock Maschmeyer (D), Dominik Shine (F)
Head Coach: Grant Potulny (First season), n/a, $196,100/year for five years.
Alabama-Huntsville: The positives for the Chargers include their ability to improve their in-conference record every year. Unfortunately, UAH lost two senior goaltenders. They return almost 90% of their scoring from last year, but they only found the net 68 times last season. No player scored goals in the double digits last year, so Alabama-Huntsville badly needs some offense to take the next step in the WCHA.
Key additions: Josh Astorino (G), Andrew Dodson (F), Connor Merkley (F)
Notable losses: Carmine Guerriero (G), Matt Larose (G), Matt Salhany (F)
Head Coach: Mike Corbett (Fourth season), 26-104-14 (.215), $107,110/year for an unknown term.
Alaska-Anchorage: The Seawolves are a head scratcher. They always seem to play below expectations, and unfortunately I don’t see a lot of improvement this season. Like UAH, the Seawolves struggled to score goals last year, with only one player achieving a double digit total. Olivier Mantha will continue to be one of the most underrated goalies in the league but should get some notoriety should UAA get off to a good start. They’ll have to improve on their league-worst 52 goals this season, though.
Key additions: Drake Glover (F), Aaron McPheters (D), Joe Sofo (F)
Notable losses: Chase Van Allen (D)
Head Coach: Matt Thomas (Fourth season), 44-79-17 (.389), $200,000/year for one year.
For the All-WCHA teams media members were asked to submit a “first” and “second” team. The players are listed in alphabetical order, by position.
All-WCHA First Team
All-WCHA Second Team
Finally, the media votes on individual awards for the assumed overall Player of the Year, regardless of position, and the Rookie/Newcomer of the Year. These selections, as requested, are listed with three players for each award ranked one through three.
WCHA Player of the Year
Mitch McLain (#1)
Marc Michaelis (#2)
Michael Bitzer (#3)
WCHA Newcomer/Rookie of the Year
Reggie Lutz (#1)
Cameron Wright (#2)
Brendan Harris (#3)
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and look out for the full release of the WCHA Preseason Awards next Monday, September 25th.