Monday reading: Recaps and reactions, updated WCHA standings

action_ffsemi2_bc_cross_2Here are recaps of Sunday’s notable games. The rankings will change later today.

No. 18 Wisconsin 3, No. 2 Minnesota 2

CHICAGO — Sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel made 36 saves while sophomore forward Brendan Woods had two assists to lead Wisconsin to a 3-2 victory against Minnesota on Sunday in the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

“Joel was given the game puck by the team,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “His performance in the first period allowed us to get or feet underneath us.”

No. 12 Notre Dame 2, No. 3 Miami 1

CHICAGO — Notre Dame clinched a first-round CCHA playoff bye with a 2-1 win over Miami at the Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field, its first win over the RedHawks since Dec. 3, 2010.

Notre Dame freshman forward Mario Lucia opened the scoring midway through the second period. Junior forward Jeff Costello increased the Irish’s lead, finding the back of the net at the 8:33 mark of the third period.

Miami freshman forward Kevin Morris cut Notre Dame’s lead in half, but that was the only goal the RedHawks would score as Notre Dame held on for the win. Junior goaltender Steven Summerhays made 22 saves for Notre Dame, while Miami freshman goaltender Ryan McKay turned aside 26 shots.

Also, it was a tough week to be a top team as the Gophers beat writer points out.

No. 9 Minnesota State, the only top 10 team to sweep an opponent, is in third place in the WCHA entering a bye week.

2012-2013 WCHA STANDINGS
WCHA Games
Overall
GP
W
L
T
Pts
GF
GA
W
L
T
GF
GA
1
St. Cloud State
22
15
6
1
31
74
47
18
11
1
99
72
2
Nebraska Omaha
24
14
8
2
30
83
70
18
12
2
112
88
3
Minnesota State
24
14
9
1
29
77
57
20
9
3
104
71
4
Minnesota
22
12
6
4
28
73
53
20
6
4
110
59
North Dakota
22
11
5
6
28
72
56
16
8
6
96
74
6
Wisconsin
24
10
7
7
27
54
53
13
10
7
68
62
7
Denver
22
10
7
5
25
70
64
15
9
5
98
77
8
Colorado College
22
8
10
4
20
72
77
11
14
5
100
105
Minnesota Duluth
24
8
12
4
20
59
72
10
16
4
73
89
10
Bemidji State
24
5
13
6
16
50
72
6
17
7
62
89
Michigan Tech
24
6
14
4
16
62
82
10
16
4
89
94
12
Alaska Anchorage
26
2
18
6
10
50
93
4
19
7
61
104

WCHA roundup: OT win puts Nebraska-Omaha in second place

UNO celebrationFrom the WCHA …

No. 16 Nebraska-Omaha 6, Alaska-Anchorage 5 OT

ANCHORAGE — Johnnie Searfoss scored with 32 seconds left in overtime to lift Nebraska-Omaha to a 6-5 win at Alaska-Anchorage, which scored four power-play goals.

The win pushes UNO (18-12-2, 14-8-2) into second place in the WCHA.

No. 2 Minnesota could tie UNO with a win over No. 18 Wisconsin in the Windy City Classic outdoor games on Sunday.

No. 9 Minnesota State 6, Michigan Tech 1

MANKATO — Freshman goaltender Stephon Williams tied a career high with 37 saves and five different Mavericks had multiple-point games to lead Minnesota State to Saturday night’s 6-1 win against Michigan Tech at Verizon Wireless Center.

Minnesota-Duluth 1, Bemidji State 1 OT

BEMIDJI – Brady Wacker scored his third goal of the season to break a scoreless deadlock late in the second period, but the Beavers were unable to hold the lead as Cody Danberg scored his first goal since 2010 to help UMD force overtime at Sanford Center.

With one point and the draw, the Beavers earned three points this weekend to garner their first series victory of the season, move to 6-17-7 overall and 5-13-5 in WCHA play to climb into a tie with Michigan Tech for 10th place in the league standings.

Friday reading: CC, previews, UND video, UAH, outdoor hockey

CC Rylan Schwartz vs UNHThe Gazette’s David Ramsey talks about CC goalie Josh Thorimbert’s season. Both the Tigers and the visiting Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs know how big this series is for home playoff ice.

The buzz about the No. 6 North Dakota at No. 1 Minnesota series is reaching a fever pitch. Here are links to everything you need to know from the Grand Forks Herald.

The Mankato Free Press provides plenty of links about the other series.

Two future CC players were among the 19 future NCHC student-athletes who made the NHL Draft midterm rankings. Here are short previews on the future NCHC schools in action this weekend.

Here is the Air Force preview for its Saturday-Sunday road series at last-place Sacred Heart.

This news made my Thursday:  Here is more on the Alabama-Huntsville joining the WCHA from the Huntsville paper and details from USCHO which broke the news. There were some concerns that the travel subsidy and the fact that this means one less trip to Alaska each season apparently eased.

It was also a good night for me personally since I got to cover an outdoor club hockey game. Cold but a lot of fun. It was a good reminder what makes hockey such a great sport to be around.

WCHA roundup: UNO, Denver tie keeps both atop WCHA

rylan roadNo. 7 North Dakota 5, Colorado College 3

GRAND FORKS — Senior forward Danny Kristo had two goals and two assists and junior forward Mitch MacMillan added a goal and an assist to lift North Dakota to a 5-3 victory against Colorado College on Saturday night at Engelstad Arena.

CC’s Scott Winkler a nine game goalless streak with two in the first period while Rylan Schwartz scored to tie the game at 3-3 in the third period.

Here is the article on CCTigers.com.

No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha 3, No. 9 Denver 3 OT

DENVER — Junior forward Ryan Walters scored at 17:43 of the second period to lift the Nebraska Omaha Mavericks into a 3-3 tie with the Denver Pioneers on Saturday night at Magness Arena.

No. 1 Minnesota 7, Alaska-Anchorage 1

MINNEAPOLIS — Sophomore Kyle Rau recorded his first career hat trick and Nate Schmidt posted a career-high four assists as No. 1 Minnesota earned a decisive 7-1 win over Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday night, picking up the Gophers’ first Western Collegiate Hockey Association sweep of the season in the process.

With Minnesota’s first hat trick since Nick Bjugstad against St. Cloud State in a 5-0 win on Nov. 19, 2011, Rau ended Bjugstad’s one-day reign as Minnesota’s leading goal scorer on Saturday night against the Seawolves. The sophomore ended the night with 13 scores this season, enough to move into a tie for second in the league this year – one off the WCHA lead.

Here is video of Rau’s third goal.

Minnesota Duluth 5, Michigan Tech 4

DULUTH — Freshman forward Tony Cameranesi posted two goals and an assist and senior forward Mike Seidel added three assists to lead Minnesota Duluth to a 5-4 victory against Michigan Tech on Saturday night at AMSOIL Arena.

Wisconsin 2, No. 11 Minnesota State 1

MANKATO — Senior defenseman John Ramage scored his second overtime goal in as many nights to lift Wisconsin to a 2-1 win against Minnesota State on Saturday night at Verizon Wireless Center.

2012-2013 WCHA STANDINGS
WCHA Games
Overall
GP
W
L
T
Pts
GF
GA
W
L
T
GF
GA
1
Denver
16
8
4
4
20
54
44
13
6
4
82
57
Nebraska Omaha
16
9
5
2
20
59
49
13
9
2
88
67
3
Minnesota
14
8
3
3
19
47
34
16
3
3
84
40
North Dakota
14
8
3
3
19
52
37
13
6
3
76
55
5
St. Cloud State
14
9
5
0
18
45
33
12
10
0
70
58
6
Minnesota Duluth
16
7
6
3
17
46
44
9
10
3
60
61
Wisconsin
16
6
5
5
17
35
36
8
7
5
47
43
8
Minnesota State
16
8
8
0
16
48
43
14
8
2
75
57
9
Colorado College
16
6
9
1
13
53
62
9
13
2
81
90
10
Bemidji State
14
4
7
3
11
34
43
5
11
4
46
60
11
Michigan Tech
16
3
10
3
9
38
59
6
12
3
57
69
12
Alaska Anchorage
16
1
12
3
5
28
55
3
13
4
39
6

WCHA roundup: CC snaps winless skid; Denver downs UNO

Howe road saveFrom CC sports information and the WCHA …

Colorado College 4, No. 7 North Dakota 3
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Streaks, good or bad, often don’t mean that much.

That certainly played out tonight as Colorado College snapped a 7-game winless streak (0-6-1) and ended North Dakota’s 7-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) with a 4-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) victory.

“Our shoulders aren’t as slumped as you think they’d be,” Tigers coach Scott Owens said.  “Despite our six or seven weeks, because we have played decent, we come to work every day with a smile on our face and work hard. It’s just nice for the kids to get rewarded a little bit. We’ve been bad some games and pretty good some games that we haven’t won either. So we will take it as a positive, enjoy it for an hour and square ourselves away.”

The loss, just North Dakota’s second in 11 games at Ralph Engelstad Arena this season. deprived North Dakota of a chance to move into a tie for first place in the WCHA, with league-leading Nebraska Omaha losing to Denver tonight.

Instead, Colorado College won it on a goal-mouth deflection by junior wing Jeff Collett at 12:56 of the third period, snapping a 3-3 tie. It was just his second goal of the season. North Dakota had tied it at 2:44 of the final period on a dazzling dash down the right wing by sophomore center Mark MacMillan.

MacMillan used his great speed to go around CC defensemen Aaron Harstad and Eamonn McDermott, then cut across the crease and slid his shot past the stick of sprawling CC goalie Joe Howe. Here is video of that score:


I will post a CC video when available.

No. 9 Denver 7, No. 13 Nebraska Omaha 4
DENVER — With the game tied 4-4, sophomore forward Zac Larraza scored twice in a 1:56 span of the third period to give Denver a lead it would not relinquish as the Pioneers defeated Nebraska Omaha, 7-4, on Friday at Magness Arena.
Wisconsin 4, No. 11 Minnesota State 3 OT
MANKATO — Senior defenseman John Ramage scored at 4:28 of overtime to lift Wisconsin to Friday night’s 4-3 win against Minnesota State in a back-and-forth battle at Verizon Wireless Center.
No. 1 Minnesota 4, Alaska-Anchorage 3
MINNEAPOLIS — Sophomore defenseman Ben Marshall scored Minnesota’s third power-play goal of the game at 19:09 of the third period to propel the Gophers to a 4-3 win against Alaska Anchorage on Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota Duluth 1, Michigan Tech 0
DULUTH — Junior forward Joe Basaraba scored the only goal of the game and freshman Matt McNeely earned his first career shutout with 28 saves as Minnesota Duluth topped Michigan Tech, 1-0, on Friday night at AMSOIL Arena.

Tuesday reading: CCHA, WCHA lookahead, web media poll

Here are notes of interest from the CCHA’s weekly Need to Know press release …

Miami- Miami split its CCHA opening-weekend series at Michigan, falling 4-2 Friday before rebounding for a 4-3 win Saturday. The RedHawks’ win was just their sixth victory in 53 tries at Yost Ice Arena. Miami is 6-46-1 all-time at Michigan.  On Saturday, U-M held a 2-1 lead entering the third period only to surrender three straight goals in a 4-3 loss to the RedHawks.

Notre Dame- Notre Dame’s 5-1-0 start this season equals the best start for the Irish since going 5-1-0 to start the 2010-11 season.  The last time that Notre Dame had a better start than that was in 2006-07 when the Irish started that year 6-1-0 on the way to a 9-1-1 start and a 32-7-3 final record.

Western Michigan- After a weekend off, the Broncos travel to Compton Family Ice Arena to take on Notre Dame. Sophomore goalie Frank Slubowski made all four starts against the Fighting Irish last season, posting a 2-1-1 record with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

From the WCHA …

The month of November launches later this week with four, two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association series on the docket for Friday the 2nd and Saturday the 3rd as Michigan Tech hosts Nebraska Omaha, Colorado College travels to Wisconsin, Minnesota State visits Minnesota and Denver hosts St. Cloud State.

There will also be one non-conference set contested over the weekend as North Dakota entertains Hockey East Association-member Boston University.

At John MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton, Michigan Tech (2-4-0, 1-3-0 WCHA) will take on Nebraska Omaha (2-3-1, 0-1-1 WCHA) in a pair of 7:07 pm ET face-offs on Friday and Saturday. The two teams will then conclude their four-game series on Feb. 1-2 in Omaha.

At the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin will play its first regular season home games of 2012-13 as the Badgers (1-2-1, 1-0-1 WCHA) go up against visiting Colorado College (3-3-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) in back-to-back 7:07 pm CT puck drops. These will be the only two regular season meetings of the two clubs and will also be the Tigers’ first two league games this season.

Defending conference champion and pre-season favorite Minnesota (4-1-0, 1-1-0 WCHA) will play a home-and-home WCHA set against Minnesota State (2-2-2, 0-2-0 WCHA), with Friday’s contest at 7:07 pm CT at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis and Saturday’s match up at Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato at 7:07 pm CT. The No. 2-ranked Golden Gophers and Mavericks will then meet again on Jan. 25 in Minneapolis and Jan. 26 in Mankato.

And in the west, unbeaten and No. 3-ranked Denver (4-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) will entertain No. 18-ranked St. Cloud State (4-2-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) for a pair of league contests at Magness Arena, with game times at 7:37 pm MT on Friday evening and 7:07 pm MT on Saturday night. The Pioneers and Huskies will then meet again in St. Cloud on Jan. 18-19.

Outside the WCHA this coming weekend, No. 5-ranked North Dakota (2-1-1) will play host to No. 12-ranked Boston University (3-1-0) of the Hockey East Association. Face-offs at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks are 7:37 pm CT on Nov. 2 and 7:07 pm CT on Nov. 3.  Through 37 non-conference games so far this season, WCHA member teams stand 20-14-3 (.583) against other Div. 1 teams. Against each of the other leagues, the WCHA is 5-0-1 vs Atlantic Hockey, 7-9-0 vs the CCHA, 3-2-1 vs ECAC Hockey, 2-3-0 vs Hockey East, and 3-0-1 vs independents.

Three teams – Alaska Anchorage (2-2-2, 0-1-1 WCHA), Bemidji State (2-1-1, 1-0-1 WCHA) and No. 17-ranked Minnesota Duluth (2-3-1, 0-1-1 WCHA) – are idle this week.

Looking ahead to the conference schedule for the weekend of Nov. 9-11, North Dakota will play at St. Cloud State (Friday/Saturday), Denver heads to Minnesota State (Friday/Saturday), Alaska Anchorage hosts Minnesota (Friday/Saturday), Colorado College entertains Bemidji State (Friday/Saturday), and Minnesota Duluth visits Nebraska Omaha (Saturday/Sunday). Both Michigan Tech and Wisconsin will be idle.

Here are more details from the Tech Hockey Guide WCHA Web Media Poll for Week 3:

Team Pts Previous Record High Low
1) Denver (7) 138 2 4-0-0 1 3
2) Minnesota (5) 136 1 4-1-0 1 3
3) North Dakota 120 3 2-1-1 2 4
4) St. Cloud State 109 7 4-2-0 2 5
5) Colorado College 74 6 3-3-0 4 10
6) Wisconsin 72 10 1-2-1 5 11
7) Michigan Tech 69 5 2-4-0 6 10
8) Minnesota Duluth 64 4 2-3-1 5 11
9) Bemidji State 55 11 2-1-1 5 11
10) Nebraska Omaha 52 8 2-3-1 6 10
11) Alaska Anchorage 29 12 2-2-2 6 12
12) Minnesota State 18 9 2-2-2 10 12

Tuesday reading: Guentzel, Civitarese, Labosky, CC radio show, MSU Mankato, Western Michigan preview, national TV schedule

Former Tiger Gabe Guentzel will be playing for the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL after the Anaheim organization switched affiliates. He signed an AHL contract on Sept. 21.

David Civitarese will get some extra coaching with Capitals coach Adam Oates working for AHL Hershey during the NHL lockout.

CC commit Daniel Labosky (2013 or 2014) is tied for fifth in points (15) in 11 games in the Upper Midwest Elite League.

The monthly Coach Scott Owens Show will be broadcast live from McCabe’s Tavern, 520 S. Tejon St., from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays on Oct. 9, Nov. 15, Dec. 4, Jan. 15, Feb. 5 and March 12. Schedule is subject to change, of course.

Western Michigan has the Mason Cup on display in Andy Murray’s office and the Broncos are not about to let it leave.

Minnesota State Mankato single-game tickets went on sale on Monday.

Here is the national and regional TV schedule. The first game broadcast will be the Manitoba at North Dakota exhibition (really) on Saturday night.

CC picked 7th, Thorimbert shares goalie honor in WCHA media poll

Compiled and written by Bruce Ciskie, KZIO Radio/Bulldog Radio Network …

A year after surprising many by winning the WCHA’s MacNaughton Cup Championship, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are a nearly-unanimous pick of WCHA media to win the league. The annual 94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll, released Wednesday, shows the Gophers easily outdistancing the rest of the league.

A panel of 25 members of the WCHA media voted on a predicted order of finish, along with a handful of individual honors.

Minnesota received a whopping 24 of 25 first-place votes. Defending WCHA playoff champion North Dakota had the other first-place vote and finished a distant second. Denver came in third, followed by Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth. St. Cloud State claimed the final “home-ice” position in the preseason balloting.

Minnesota junior forward Nick Bjugstad, pictured, was a runaway choice for the Preseason Player of the Year. He also anchors the media’s second annual Preseason All-WCHA Team, where he is joined at forward by Wisconsin junior Mark Zengerle and St. Cloud State senior Ben Hanowski. The defensemen on the team are Denver’s Joey LaLeggia and Nick Jensen of St. Cloud State. Sam Brittain of Denver and Josh Thorimbert of Colorado College tied for the goaltending nod.

For the second straight year, the media chose North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi as Preseason Rookie of the Year. Grimaldi took a redshirt after an injury-ravaged season, and he is again eligible for rookie honors.

Teams were scored under a standard system of 12 points for a first-place vote, 11 for second, and so on. The number listed with each team is the number of points that team averaged per vote.

94X WCHA PRESEASON MEDIA POLL

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Minnesota (24 first place votes) … 11.92 poll average

2. North Dakota (1) … 10.76

3. Denver … 9.92

4. Wisconsin … 7.8

5. Minnesota Duluth … 6.88

6. St. Cloud State … 6.84

7. Colorado College … 6.08

8. Nebraska Omaha … 5.48

9. Michigan Tech … 5.2

10. Minnesota State … 3.6

11. Bemidji State … 2.48

12. Alaska Anchorage … 1.04

PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Nick Bjugstad, forward, Minnesota (16 votes)

Others receiving more than one vote: Erik Haula, forward, Minnesota (4); Mark Zengerle, forward, Wisconsin (3)

PRESEASON ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Rocco Grimaldi, forward, North Dakota (8 1/2 votes)

Others receiving more than one vote: Nic Kerdiles, forward, Wisconsin (5); Jordan Schmaltz, defenseman, North Dakota (2 1/2); Brady Skjei, defenseman, Minnesota (2); Andy Welinski, defenseman, Minnesota Duluth (2)

PRESEASON ALL-WCHA TEAM

Forwards

Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota (20 votes); Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin (17); Ben Hanowski, St. Cloud State (8)

Others receiving more than one vote: Danny Kristo, North Dakota (7); Erik Haula, Minnesota (6); Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College (5); Corban Knight, North Dakota (3)

Defensemen

Joey LaLeggia, Denver (20 votes); Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State (9)

Others receiving more than one vote: Nate Schmidt, Minnesota (7); Wade Bergman, Minnesota Duluth (3)

Goalie

Sam Brittain, Denver and Josh Thorimbert, Colorado College (7 1/2 votes each)

Others receiving more than one vote: Juho Olkinuora, Denver (3), Joel Rumpel, Wisconsin (2)

The following media members took part in the 94X Preseason Media Poll:  David Ahlers, KKAR Radio/University of Nebraska-Omaha; Stephen Anderson, Daily Mining Gazette; Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal; Tyler Buckentine, USCHO.com; Mike Chambers, Denver Post; Bruce Ciskie, KZIO Radio/Bulldog Radio Network; Chris Dilks, Western College Hockey; Shane Frederick, Mankato Free Press; John Gilbert, WCHA.com; Kurt Haider, KENI Radio; Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times; Dirk Hembroff, WKMJ Radio; Jack Hittinger, Bemidji Pioneer; Ken Landau, 103.9 FM The Eagle Radio; Don Lyons, Leighton Broadcasting/St. Cloud; Todd Milewski, USCHO.com; Dan Myers, Minnesota Hockey Magazine; Jess Myers, 1500ESPN.com; Joe Paisley, Colorado Springs/Colorado College; Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune; Chris Peters, United States of Hockey; Brian Posick, WIBA Radio/Badger Radio Network; Chad Purcell, Omaha World Herald; Brad Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald; Jay Stickney, 102.3 ESPN Radio.

Tuesday reading: Picks, Clarkson, Mankato, OHL, Hockey East

Here is the Mankato beat writer’s preseason picks which has CC in seventh and Josh Thorimbert, pictured, as the preseason first team goalie. Here is my take.

Here is Bruce Ciskie’s WCHA preseason picks. Thanks to him for compiling the poll. The Western College Hockey Blog also weighs in.

Clarkson junior forward Ben Sexton is the catalyst for the Knights’ offense. CC opens against Sexton and his teammates Oct. 12-13.

Mankato has a high-skill center coming in in Latvian native Teddy Blueger.

The OHL lowered the fine it levied against the Windsor Spitfires.

The NCAA women’s season will soon be underway.

Defending NCAA champion Boston College was chosen by the Hockey East media to repeat as regular season champion for 2012-13 in the third annual poll of the Hockey East Writers & Broadcasters Association.

The Eagles received 21 of a possible 25 first-place votes. Last year’s regular season runner-up, Massachusetts-Lowell, finished second in the balloting and received three first-place votes.

CC hosts UMass-Lowell on Oct. 20.

Boston University was picked third, followed by New Hampshire and Providence. Maine came in sixth, just behind the Friars, and received the remaining first-place vote.

CC hosts UNH on Nov. 23. Here is a capsule look at the Wildcats.

Merrimack, Northeastern, Massachusetts and Vermont rounded out the remaining four spots in the poll.

The media once again selected a preseason All-Hockey East Team. Because of a tie in the balloting at forward, four forwards were named this year. The four were Joey Diamond (Sr., Maine), 2012 NCAA Tournament MVP Johnny Gaudreau (So., Boston College), Matt Nieto (Jr., Boston University) and last year’s Hockey East Rookie of the Year, Scott Wilson (So., Massachusetts-Lowell).

Garrett Noonan (Jr., Boston University) and Chad Ruhwedel (Jr., Massachusetts-Lowell) were named on defense. Parker Milner (Sr., Boston College) was the choice of the media in goal.

My WCHA preseason picks

Here are my preseason picks for the WCHA this 2012-13 season. Try not to laugh out loud. Remember prognostication mean nothing after Oct. 12.

Here goes:

The parity of the WCHA is best exemplified by the bottom three. All three will be quite tough at home when they can set up their best individual matchups against the visitors. Each will get at least one home win (two is likely) over a ranked opponent that will shake up the league standings.

12. Alaska-Anchorage – Three of the top four scorers are no longer with the Seawolves. That and the usual toll travel takes will wear down UAA, but not before knocking off a couple ranked visitors.

11. Bemidji State – Always a tough opponent, the Beavers will need more balanced scoring to complement returning leading scorer Jordan George and Ben Kinne; replacing graduated goalie Dan Bakala will be a tough task.

10. MSU-Mankato – New coach Mike Hastings will revitalize the program and could push the purple Mavs into home-ice contention for a while until depth becomes an issue. This program, like Bemidji State, will be a contender year in and year out in the new-look WCHA starting with the 2013-14 season.

Spots 4-9 should be pretty fluid throughout the season. I would not be shocked to see this portion of the list flipped depending on injuries and which teams see the most improvement from key players. Here is my best guess:

9. St. Cloud State – Seniors Ben Hanowski and Drew LeBlanc and junior Nic Dowd and Nick Jensen combine to lead a heralded group of underclassmen including Joe Benik. Opening at New Hampshire is a tough opener but home series against Alabama-Huntsville and Mankato should help the underclassmen get their feet under them. Depth may be an issue.

8. Minnesota-Duluth – The Bulldogs have some key contributors back from last season but replacing Hobey winner Jack Connolly, Travis Oleksuk, J.T. Brown and Brady Lamb’s 131 combined points will be a huge challenge. It feels wrong putting UMD so low, but a slow start with games against Ohio State (home), at Notre Dame, Wisconsin (home), at Nebraska Omaha and then at North Dakota is possible.

7. Nebraska Omaha – Too much offseason tumult with two top scorers leaving early for the pros and a heralded recruit heading to Canada instead.  If freshman goalie Anthony Stolarz is the real deal, then UNO could garner home ice. Goalie John Faulkner could ride to the rescue if Stolarz stumbles.

6. Michigan Tech – Mel Pearson turned the program around quickly. Now with good returning talent and more of his recruits in the mix, the Huskies should contend for home ice and flirt with the top 20 especially with a strong start against area rival Lake Superior State and a home series against Minnesota (keep an eye on this series).

5. Colorado College – The Tigers have some good freshmen forwards coming in; Cody Bradley and Hunter Fejes spring to mind. Jared Hanson looks strong. With solid goaltending and more offensive production from a larger defensive corps, this team should grind out a winning record and home ice.  How well the underclassmen and some key seniors perform will make a big difference in whether the Tigers finish in ninth or third place or somewhere in between.

4. Wisconsin – The Badgers have to replace Justin Schultz, but with 15 of 16 top scorers back including Mark Zengerle and some defensive improvement, UW could contend for the league title and an NCAA berth.

The top three have a slight edge over the teams designated 4-9 because of more returning talent and balance. The known positives carry a lot of weight in my mind.

3. Denver – This team has enough remaining offensive talent (Joey LaLeggia, Nick Shore, Shawn Ostrow, Ty Loney), physical defenders and impressive goalie depth (Sam Brittain, Adam Murray, Juro Olkinuora) to overcome having only three seniors (captain Chris Knowlton, Murray and practice goalie Zack Hope) on the roster. Freshman Quentin Shore should be a big help.

2. North Dakota – Remember Rocco Grimaldi? I do and with him back healthy, UND has the playmaker it needs to challenge for the league championship. Corban Knight, Danny Kristo and Carter Rowney can produce points early if Grimaldi is slow to get back into form. Freshman Zane Gothberg and Huntsville transfer Clarke Saunders give UND good goaltending behind a solid defenseman corps (Nick Mattson, Dillon Simpson). The nonconference opener against Alaska-Anchorage just got a whole lot tougher because of those one-game suspensions. An early home series against Boston University will be a good measuring stick

1. Minnesota – Is any team more loaded with offensive talent with Erik Haula, Kyle Rau, Zach Budish, and Nick Bjugstad back? The only possible hiccup is the unproven goaltending.  I think former CC short-term backup Michael Shibrowski can take the step up into a starting role. I predict a fair number of 5-2 wins.

My preseason honorees:

F – Erik Haula, Minnesota

F – Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin

F – Rylan Schwartz, CC

D – Joey LaLeggia, Denver

D – Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State

G – Josh Thorimbert, Colorado College

ROY – Rocco Grimaldi, North Dakota

POY – Erik Haula, Minnesota

COY – Don Lucia, Minnesota