Tuesday, October 09, 2007


No idea how to approach this. I don't want to sit here and babble endlessly about teams when I'm probably going to be wrong anyway, but it's always nice to give people at least some frame of reference for these teams.

If you don't like UMD, don't read ahead. Unlike others in media, I'll freely admit my biases and wear them as a badge. I'm a UMD guy. Deal with it. That said, I'm not silly enough to pick them to win the league. That would be a surprise for me. Pleasant, but a surprise.

I picked a 1-10 a couple weeks ago. No one seemed to have much of a problem with my picks, so I'll assume I was close to being right. That said, I made a couple modifications.

With apologies for anything important I may have missed (we'll learn about it all eventually, I suppose), I bring you a look at the 2007-2008 Western Collegiate Hockey Association season. Teams will be listed in order from the bottom to the top, mainly because that's what I feel like doing. 10-6 today, and 5-1 tomorrow.

Obviously, let me know if you have a gripe. However, don't just complain that your team isn't rated high enough. If you're going to whine about that, at least do enough homework to tell me which team(s) should come down so your team can be higher. Telling me UAA deserves a higher spot does me no good unless you make a case for Michigan Tech or someone else moving down.

10. Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves

It's nothing against Alaska, really. I have family in Anchorage (my brother lived there for some 15 years and still has a lot of ties there in his family), and it's one of my favorite WCHA road trips, despite an arena that sets the term "press accommodations" back about 35 years.

That's not what this is about, however. I just don't know that UAA has enough power to stick with the top teams in the league. They don't score many goals, and that's not likely to change on a dime this year. What was troublesome was the often-leaky play on defense, which led to a league-high 101 goals allowed in WCHA games.

The good: Sophomores Paul Crowder and Josh Lunden. The duo combined for 22 goals and 44 points as freshmen, and both will be called upon for even more this season.

The not-so-good: Nathan Lawson bolted, leaving sophomore Jon Olthuis as the only experienced goaltender. Olthuis got better as he gained experience last year, but unless the Seawolves improve their team defense, things won't get better.

9. Minnesota State Mavericks

I actually think this team has a chance to surprise. MSU returns netminders Mike Zacharias and Dan Tormey, and they have a nice group of young forwards to lean on.

However, the Mavericks had issues on defense last year, and they were notorious for getting into penalty trouble. In a league where goal-scoring is at more and more of a premium every year (or so it seems), teams that take clusters of penalties find themselves behind the eight-ball quite a bit.

The good: Junior Jon Kalinski tallied 17 goals to tie for the team lead last year, and senior Joel Hanson was right behind him with 15. If one or both of these guys can jump to a line in the general vicinity of 20-25--45, the offense will improve even without the graduated Travis Morin.

The not-so-good: A defensive corps led by Steve Wagner (6-23--29) last year can't lean on him anymore, as he's now a St. Louis Blue. The Mavs look to be woefully thin on defense, and their goaltenders, while solid, aren't "steal the game" good.

8. Michigan Tech Huskies

Last year's Final Five surprise, the Huskies have high hopes for this season. Tech brings back both goaltenders, Michael-Lee Teslak and Rob Nolan (first and fifth, respectively, in goals-against last year). They also have a good chunk of their scorers back, keyed by leaders Peter Rouleau and Tyler Shelast.

Don't discount the experience of a Final Five trip on this team, which will work tirelessly for coach Jamie Russell and his staff. A quick start, and Ambassadors could be rocking this winter.

The good: The team concept is alive and well in Houghton, and the fans there will adore this hard-working team. Shelast and Rouleau might not be high-end talents, but they'll keep the offense together until talented freshman Casey Pierro-Zabotel arrives after Christmas. The Huskies play their first six at home, including league series with Minnesota State and North Dakota.

The not-so-good: Unless Pierro-Zabotel makes a major impact once he's eligible, the Huskies don't have many guys with double-digit goal potential. There's a lot of pressure on Teslak and Nolan to keep the score down, and the defense will miss leader and minute-eater Lars Helminen. While the early home games are nice, Tech won't see their home rink for a league game between November 10 and January 25, playing 11 of 12 on the road (the only home game is the back end of a home-and-home with Northern Michigan).

7. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Had them higher before, but I have to level my emotions with my thoughts. I think this team has a serious chance to make noise, but I need to see where the goal-scoring is going to come from before I can freely accept bandwagoners.

Sometimes, a team performs better when you take away the best player. Everyone else relaxes, accepts their role, and doesn't wait around for someone else to do everything. UMD players have the attitude it takes to pull this off, but now they have to show it on the ice.

The good: Double-digit scorers MacGregor Sharp and Josh Meyers return, as do juniors Nick Kemp and Andrew Carroll, hard-working guys whose sophomore seasons were made forgettable because of injuries. Senior captain Matt McKnight is also healthy, and junior Michael Gergen wasn't a second-round pick because he can't do anything. Yes, Matt Niskanen is gone, but six key defensive contributors are back. Mobile goalie Alex Stalock is a super competitor who learned a lot as a freshman.

The not-so-good: Niskanen, Mason Raymond, and Bryan McGregor took 39 goals with them when they departed. 17 of those goals came on the power play, and McGregor chipped in three shorties. Departed goaltender Josh Johnson was key to UMD's second half last season, and Stalock has big shoes to fill in net.

6. St. Cloud State Huskies

Last year was supposed to be the year SCSU won their first NCAA game. Instead, the Huskies fell hard in the NCAA Regionals against Maine. The loss brought an end to the Huskies career of All-American goalie Bobby Goepfert, and it's time now to see if another strong defense can be rebuilt.

Joining Goepfert on the long list of departures are defensemen Casey Borer and Justin Fletcher, along with forwards Andrew Gordon, Dan Kronick, and Nate Raduns. Coach Bob Motzko believes he has enough talent in place to win, but there are questions.

The good: Sophomores Andreas Nodl and Ryan Lasch combined for 85 points last year. With Nate Dey centering the top line, the Huskies won't lose much offense even with 22-goal scorer Gordon gone.

The not-so-good: Goepfert played practically every night for a reason, though sophomore Jase Weslosky has the tools to be a good one. Depth all over the ice is in question, especially at forward, where junior John Swanson is among the returnees who need to step up their production.

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