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.

Sunday reading: Tech ends Duluth’s home win streak

Josh Robinson made 29 saves en route to becoming the first goaltender to blank UMD since the University of North Dakota's Jean-Philippe Lamoureux recorded a 2-0 triumph on March 1, 2008 in Duluth.

Compiled from wcha.com and school web sites

Michigan Tech 5, No. 1 Minnesota Duluth 0

DULUTH, Minn. – Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson told the Houghton Mining Gazette earlier this week that the Huskies were looking to “shock the world, at least the college hockey world.”

Mission accomplished. The visiting Huskies scored nine unanswered over the final four periods of the weekend road series to walk out of Duluth with a stunnng three points.

After striking for the game’s final four goals to force a tie in Friday’s Western Collegiate Hockey series opener, Michigan Tech did all the scoring in a 5-0 victory over top-ranked Minnesota Duluth Saturday night. A sellout crowd of 6,776 was on hand at AMSOIL Arena as the Huskies (12-12-2 overall and 9-7-2 in the WCHA) handed the Bulldogs (17-5-4; 11-4-3) their first shutout loss in 105 league games.

In a complete reversal of the first period Friday night, Michigan Tech jumped out to a 4-0 lead over the defending NCAA champions. UMD was unable to sustain pressure on offense and came up empty on both of its power play chances while having its a nine-game home unbeaten streak snapped.

Senior goaltender Kenny Reiter made his 21st consecutive WCHA start in goal – dating back to last season – but was lifted prior to the start of the second period after stopping 10 of 14 shots. Sophomore Aaron Crandall made 17 saves and allowed just one goal (by Tanner Kero 40 seconds into the third period) in relief of Reiter.

“When you don’t put forth the effort and get outworked for 60 minutes, that’s unacceptable,” Bulldog head coach Scott Sandelin said. “They were hungrier, they won every battle and we didn’t put up the fight.”

Michigan Tech, which also got first-period goals from Brett Olson, Blake Pietala, David Johnstone and Jacob Johnstone, went 2-for-4 on the power play while UMD had just two opportunities with the man advantage. The Huskies came into the night having gone unbeaten against the Bulldogs in their last eight matchups (0-7-1).

UMD will hit the road for a two-game WCHA set next weekend at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

No. 15 Denver 6, Alaska Anchorage 3

ANCHORAGE — Freshman defenseman Joey LaLeggia scored one of four first-period goals for Denver as the Pioneers earned a weekend sweep at Alaska Anchorage with a 6-3 win on Saturday night at Sullivan Arena. Making his season debut in net for the Pioneers was All-WCHA Rookie Team goalie Sam Brittain, who missed 25 games with a knee injury. Brittain (1-0-0) furnished the win with 24 saves,

No. 3 Minnesota 3, St. Cloud State 2

ST. CLOUD — Minnesota gained the victory with a late third period goal by Sam Warning with 1:19 left. In his 21st appearance of the season, SCSU goalie Ryan Faragher helped the Huskies stay in the battle to the end with 43 saves to his credit. This total included 17 saves in the third period. The 43 saves was Faragher’s second best effort of the year for saves in a game.

On the night, Minnesota outshot the Huskies 46-12. On the power play, SCSU was 0-of-3 and Minnesota was 2-of-4. The Huskies continue their 2011-12 season with a road trip to Madison, Wis. for a pair of WCHA games against Wisconsin on Feb. 3-4.

No. 18 North Dakota 4, Wisconsin 2

GRAND FORKS — Junior forward Danny Kristo and sophomore forward Brock Nelson tallied a goal and an assist each to help North Dakota earn a weekend sweep of Wisconsin with a 4-2 victory on Saturday at Engelstad Arena.

Minnesota State 5, Bemidji State 2

BEMIDJI — Michael Dorr had two goals and an assist while Zach Lehrke and Eriah Hayes added a goal and an assist each to lead Minnesota State to a 5-2 win against Bemidji State on Saturday at Sanford Center. Goalie Andrew Walsh, who was inserted into Saturday’s line up due to an injury to senior Dan Bakala, was tagged with the loss surrendering four Maverick markers in 59:27. He was credited with 20 saves. He is 6-4-1 on the season.

BSU continues to hold a 46-37-13 advantage over Minnesota State in the all-time series and are 30-14-5 when hosting the Mavericks. However, MSU has won eight of the last 10 meetings between the teams. Bemidji State (12-12-2; 6-10-2 WCHA) returns to the road next weekend (Feb. 3-4) to battle Nebraska-Omaha, which along with Colorado College, was idle this weekend..

CURRENT STANDINGS

WCHA Games
Overall
GP
W
L
T
Pts
GF
GA
W
L
T
GF
GA
Minnesota
20
15
5
0
30
66
38
19
9
1
108
59
Minnesota Duluth
18
11
4
3
25
70
46
17
5
4
99
65
Denver
18
10
5
3
23
66
55
15
8
3
95
72
Colorado College
18
11
7
0
22
69
57
14
9
1
84
68
North Dakota
20
11
9
0
22
56
54
15
10
2
82
75
Nebraska Omaha
18
9
6
3
21
57
56
12
10
4
79
76
Michigan Tech
18
9
7
2
20
62
53
12
12
2
79
75
St. Cloud State
20
7
10
3
17
57
57
10
14
4
83
82
Wisconsin
20
7
11
2
16
56
64
12
12
2
81
77
Bemidji State
18
6
10
2
14
45
61
12
12
2
70
73
Minnesota State
20
5
14
1
11
52
74
9
18
1
76
94
Alaska Anchorage
20
3
16
1
7
42
83
6
16
2
59
92

Friday reading: Previews and recaps

North Dakota faces an unfamiliar foe, Harvard, with plenty of familiar players from Minnesota. As beat writer Brad Schlossman points out, this is an important series for UND, which needs to pick up some Pairwise ranking points.

That said, CC, No. 15 in the latest rankings, needs them too. Playing a tough, physical opponent like Air Force followed by No. 10 Union is business as usual for Nos. 5/6 Colorado College.

“It’s just like a weekend in the WCHA,” senior defenseman Gabe Guentzel said earlier this week. “You empty the tank on Friday and come back for more on Saturday.”

Last year  a 6-4 win over Air Force was followed by a rout at the hands of No. 1 Yale, which according to Pairwise analysts secured a top seed based on that 5-1 win. Fortunately for CC fans, Union plays Denver the night before.

Here’s the Gazette’s previews focusing on CC and Air Force, which hosts Denver on Saturday.

The NCHC commissioner search looks to be lasting until January.

Former CC goalie Michael Shibrowski is still waiting for his chance to play. Kent Patterson will start against Niagara tonight at the Mariucci Classic with a game against either Princeton or Northeastern on Saturday for No. 2 Minnesota. Here’s notes from the Minnesota beat writer, including a setback for UND nickname supporters.

Nebraska-Omaha has a chance to boost its nonconference record (2-4) with a weekend series against Quinnipiac.

A hot Bemidji State (5-1-1 of late) team takes on future WCHA foe Bowling Green, winless in its last eight, for the first time.

MSU-Mankato takes on the USA U-18 squad in an exhibition tonight.

Thursday’s recaps from WCHA.com …

St. Cloud State 4, No. 8 Western Michigan 2

ST. CLOUD —  The St. Cloud State University men’s hockey team (8-9-4, 5-6-3 WCHA) rallied to win a big 4-2 decision over #8 Western Michigan University (9-5-5, 7-4-3 CCHA) on Thursday, Dec. 29 at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn.

The series concludes tonight in St. Cloud.

The Huskies relied on a pair of goals by senior forward Jared Festler to capture the victory, which included Festler’s game winner at 16:55 of the third period with power play assists from freshman defender Andrew Prochno and sophomore defender Nick Jensen.

No. 14 Michigan State 3, Michigan Tech 1

DETROIT – Michigan Tech held a 46-26 advantage in shots on goal but fell 3-1 to Michigan State in the first semifinal of the 47th annual Great Lakes Invitational Hockey Tournament at Joe Louis Arena. Down 2-0 after two periods, the Huskies (9-10-1) pulled within one with 12 minutes to play before the Spartans (11-6-2) added an empty net goal.

“I’m proud of our team,” said Tech’s head coach Mel Pearson. “We played a pretty good game today and just didn’t get the bounces. I’m disappointed for the guys because I feel like we deserved a better result.”

The Huskies play No. 3 Boston College which lost 4-2 to No. 20 Michigan later Thursday for third at 2 p.m. Friday.

Notes: Junior forward Chad Pietila played his first game in a Tech uniform after sitting out a year because of NCAA Division I transfer rules …Junior defenseman Tommy Brown saw his first action since the opening weekend against American International. He had sat out with a medical condition.