Even before UMD coach Scott Sandelin handed my ballot to me Sunday at the Anchorage airport, I had been pretty well-versed on the issues facing the WCHA media voting for the league's annual awards and all-conference team.
This was going to be tough. I spent an hour or so Saturday looking at my notes and deliberating over the selections, then spent another 45 minutes or so staring at my ballot during Sunday's flight to the Twin Cities.
There were some extremely tough decisions, and as you are all aware, I strive to get this right. You can't please everyone, but in the interest of full disclosure (which I've always believed in), here is the ballot I submitted.
(Oh, and before I move on, I want to throw a challenge out to everyone who may read this and had a vote. Post your ballot. It's good for discussion.)
Jack Connolly, UMD
Blake Geoffrion, Wisconsin
Rhett Rakhshani, Denver
Joe Colborne, Denver
Mike Connolly, UMD
Derek Stepan, Wisconsin
Justin Fontaine, UMD
Jason Gregoire, North Dakota
Ryan Lasch, St. Cloud State
Apologies to ...
Kevin Clark, Alaska-Anchorage
Michael Davies, Wisconsin
Malcolm Gwilliam, Michigan Tech
Brett Olson, Michigan Tech
Tyler Ruegsegger, Denver
This was, easily, the toughest part of the ballot. All five players I listed as being the top ones I left off have a legitimate argument for selection. However, I love the way Gregoire played down the stretch. He looked dominant at times against UMD when we were there in February. I couldn't pick any of the five over Lasch, and Fontaine has been a top scorer all year.
Brendan Smith, Wisconsin
Patrick Wiercioch, Denver
Mike Montgomery, UMD
Nate Prosser, Colorado College
Cade Fairchild, Minnesota
Garrett Raboin, St. Cloud State
Apologies to ...
Ben Blood, North Dakota
Gabe Guentzel, Colorado College
Ben Youds, Minnesota State
Blood is already on my preseason team for next year. He improved incredibly throughout the season, and he's going to eat some big minutes in the playoffs. Montgomery gets my vote for his steady play, ability to step into the offense, and the work he's done mentoring freshman Dylan Olsen this year. The two are on the ice a lot together, and Montgomery is a big reason why Olsen continues to get better.
GOALIES (Listed from first team to third)
Marc Cheverie, Denver
Bred Eidsness, North Dakota
Dan Dunn, St. Cloud State
No-brainer in my opinion. I'm not sure there's really a fourth-place spot to consider. The top two are there easily, and Dunn scrapes in because of his winning percentage and overall stats being very good.
Danny Kristo, North Dakota
Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College
Craig Smith, Wisconsin
Matt Donovan, Denver
Nick Leddy, Minnesota
Joe Howe, Colorado College
Apologies to ...
Ben Hanowski, F, St. Cloud State
Justin Schultz, D, Wisconsin
Mike Lee, G, St. Cloud State
No real trouble making these choices. Leddy is night and day right now compared to November. Aaron Ness can only hope to make that kind of progress in his game someday.
Player of the Year: Marc Cheverie, G, Denver
Rookie of the Year: Danny Kristo, F, North Dakota
Coach of the Year: Scott Sandelin, UMD
Cheverie's selection was a simple one, especially when Wisconsin chose not to nominate Geoffrion, their captain and best player. You have to love the way Kristo's game progressed this year, and he didn't really suffer at all after playing in such a highly emotional World Junior tournament during the holidays.
Sandelin gets my vote because of the philosophy that Coach of the Year should go to the coach whose team does the best against expectations. No one thought UMD would be a home-ice team after losing nine key players like they did. Instead, they reloaded and got something that those nine key players never experienced: the right to play a WCHA playoff game at the DECC.
The head coach deserves credit for that, as opposed to voting for the coach of the team everyone thought would win the league and did (Denver), or the coach of the team many thought would finish in the top three and did (Wisconsin).