This is an article that I wrote for the Illegal Curve.
1.) Denver University - It would appear that the Denver Pioneers don't have many real weaknesses offensively; on the blue line the Pioneers will be young this season. There is a very good possibility that there could be two or three freshman defenseman playing in the top 6 defensive positions from night to night. The WCHA championship is theirs to lose. The Pioneers return forwards Anthony Maiani (11g-30a-41pts), Rhett Rakhshani (15g-22a-37pts), Joe Colborne (10g-21a-31), and Tyler Ruegsegger (15g-11a-26pts). On defense Patrick Wiercioch (12g-23-35pts) decided to not sign a contract. Junior goalie Marc Cheverie (23-12-5, 2.34 GAA and .921 SV %) is a very serviceable goaltender and with a younger defensive core he will be tested. The Pioneers lose forward Tyler Bozak (8g-15a-23pts), defensemen Patrick Mullen (4g-21a-25pts), and J.P. Testwuide (3g-10a-13pts). Dustin Jackson (3g-9a-12) was injured in preseason practice and will be out for the year. The Pioneers bring in some impressive recruits, defensemen William Wrenn and Matt Donovan, forward Drew Shore and goaltender Adam Murray. The Pioneers are the odds on favorite to finish first in the WCHA. Anything less than a trip to the Frozen Four is going to be unacceptable.
2.) University of Wisconsin - On paper the Badgers would appear to have one of the best defensive blue lines in college hockey: Brendan Smith (9g-14a-23pts), Jake Gardiner (3g-18a-21pts), Ryan McDonagh (5g-11a-16pts), and Cody Goloubef (5g-8a-13pts) is a pretty solid top four defensive group. While there seems to be the perception around the WCHA that Wisconsin is all defense and no flash, the Badgers were ranked 3rd in WCHA scoring last season. This season the Badgers should be a pretty balanced offensively, led by sophomore Derek Stephan (9g-24a-33pts) who is a game breaker and will only get better in his second season. The Badgers also return senior Ben Street who sat out last season with a knee injury. The biggest question mark for the Badgers is in goal.
3.) University of North Dakota - Dave Hakstol has been the coach of the Fighting Sioux hockey team for five seasons and has compiled a 130-70-19 record, winning a regular season title and a conference tourney title. Hakstol's teams have also finished 2nd (x1) and 3rd (x3) in the NCAA tourney. Last season was the first time in his tenure at UND Hakstol's team didn't win a regional title and advance to the Frozen Four. Key losses Ryan Duncan (20g-19a-39pts), Brad Miller (6g-29-35pts), and Matt Frattin (13g-12a-25pts). While there were some key losses for the Fighting Sioux, there are good replacements coming in for the Fighting Sioux in forwards Danny Kristo, Michael Cichy, Corbin Knight, Carter Rowney as well as defenseman Andrew MacWilliam. Goaltender Aaron Dell should challenge Brad Eidsness (24-12-4, 2.56 GAA and 906 SV%) for playing time.
4.) University of Minnesota - Key loss Ryan Stoa (22g-22a-46pts) signed with the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL in the off season. Super sophomore Jordan Schroeder (13g-32a-45pts) returns for what will probably be his last season in the WCHA. Key new arrivals for the Gophers are forward Zach Budish and defensemen Nick Leddy and Seth Helgeson. Gopher fans are wondering which version of Alex Kangas is going to show up this season. Will it be the version that finished in the top half of the league (12-10-9 1.98 GAA .930 SV %) in goaltending or the mediocre one (17-11-6, 2.79 GAA .901 SV %) that played for the Gophers last season? If the Gophers are to contend, their defense and goaltending must improve. The Gophers also need to get tougher as last year's team got pushed around all over the ice.
5.) University of Minnesota Duluth - While this season's version of the UMD Bulldogs might be a little young and minus some solid players, the Bulldogs also return an exciting pair of forwards named Connolly. No, they are not related: Mike Connolly (13g-29a-42pts) and Jack Connolly (10-19-29). Add to the mix Justin Fontaine who is an offensively gifted forward (15g-33-48pts). I have been told by UMD fans that Brady "Peanut Butter and Jelly" Hjelle (1-0-0, 1.50 GAA .941 SV %) is the second coming of Alex Stalock. Expect UMD to play very physical and be responsible defense in their end of the ice. Coming in for the Bulldogs this season is monster defenseman Dylan Olson from Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL who also played on the Canadian U18 team in Fargo this past spring. I was very impressed with his game and he skates pretty well for a big guy. Olson will probably have a pretty big impact on the blue line for the Bulldogs this season.
6.) Saint Cloud State University - Garrett Roe (17g-3a1-48pts) and Ryan Lasch (18g-24a-42pts) lead the SCSU offense, while Garrett Raboin (10g-23-33pts) leads the Huskies on the blue line. Last season the Huskies 18-17-3 including a horrible 0-6-0 record against the Gophers who ended the Huskies season in the WCHA playoffs. Key additions for the Huskies: Goalie Mike Lee, Forward Ben Hanowski, Defensemen Taylor Johnson, David Eddy. Rookie Goalie Mike Lee is highly regarded and expected to take the reins in net for the Huskies if Dan Dunn (2-4-1, 2.60 GAA and .904 SV %) stumbles.
7.) Colorado College - C.C. has had a horrible off season. First they lost their top goalie Richard Bachman (14-11-10, 2.63 GAA and .914 SV %) to the Dallas Stars and then lost two of their top recruits John Moore to the NHL and Colton St. Clair to UND. The good news for C.C. is that Bill Sweatt (12g-11a-23pts) decided to come back to finish school and not sign a professional contract. The Tigers lost solid players Chad Rau (18g19a-37pts) and Eric Walsky (12g-24a-36pts) to graduation.
8.) Minnesota State University - Mankato - The good news is that the Mavericks return five of their top six scorers: sophomore forward Mike Louwerse (13-13--26), juniors defenseman Kurt Davis (6-25--31) and forward Rylan Galiardi (8-20-28), and seniors forwards Kael Mouillierat (17-13--30), and Geoff Irwin (12-16-28). The bad news is that the Mavericks lose goaltenders Mike Zacharias (14-14-6, 2.00 GAA and .911 SV %) and Dan Tormey (1-3-0 3.87 GAA and .878 SV %) as well as forwards Mick Berge (7g-21a-31pts) and Trevor Bruess (12g-5-17pts). More bad news: the Mavericks have three inexperienced goaltenders, none who have played in a division one college hockey game, competing for the starting goaltending job.
9.) University of Alaska Anchorage - I am going to go out on a limb and say this year's UAA team is not going to finish in the basement of the WCHA. However, I don't see the Seawolves finishing any higher than the eighth or ninth spot either. Sure UAA was a better team last season than they were the previous three seasons when they finished in the ninth spot as opposed to their customary tenth position. Many took notice when the Seawolves swept cross-state rival University of Alaska Fairbanks who was the fourth place team in the CCHA. That says a lot about the strength WCHA in comparison to the CCHA and how our mediocre teams can beat the fourth place team in the CCHA. That being said, I don't expect the UAA Seawolves to do much at all in the WCHA this season. Nothing personal, now go ahead and prove me wrong Seawolves. Key returnees for UAA are senior forwards Josh Lunden (14g-6a-20pts) and Kevin Clark (13g-18a-31pts) and junior Tommy Grant (15g-10a-25pts). In net the Seawolves have a two headed monster with unimpressive numbers, Bryce Christenson (8-8-4, 2.60 GAA and .893 SV %) and John Olthuis (6-9-1 3.43 GAA and .873 SV %).
10. Michigan Tech University - The good news: the Michigan Tech Huskies will enter the 2009-10 season with three-fourths of their scoring offense returning from a the 2008-2009 season. They also return an experienced blue line as six of their nine defenders return from last season's team. The Huskies also return sophomore goalie Josh Robinson who played in 20 games last season and had a 4-8-2, 3.09 GAA and a .889 SV %. Senior captain Malcolm Gwilliam (2g-5a-7pts) returns to the Huskies line up after suffering a stroke nine games into last season. Senior Drew Dobson (5g-14a-19pts) is a talented player that can play both forward and defense. The bad news: Michigan Tech will be much younger than last season with freshmen and sophomores accounting for 17 of the 27 players on the roster.