No one is quite sure how the revamped WCHA will play out this season -- there is sentiment that it could be a circuit with greater parity -- but the media that cover the league have checked in with their first guess.
The inaugural Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer WCHA Preseason Poll -- courtesy of the work of Jack Hittinger, who rounded up 25 folks to vote -- was released today and UAA landed at No. 9 in the 10-team league. UAF earned a No. 3 billing.
The top spot went to Minnesota State-Mankato, which is backstopped by goaltender Stephon Williams of Fairbanks, who last season helped propel the Mavericks and then-rookie coach Mike Hastings into the NCAA Tournament, and was voted the WCHA's Rookie of the Year and all-league masked man. The Mavericks were 24-14-3 last season.
That UAA would be predicted for ninth isn't a shock. The Seawolves went 4-25-7 last season, the last of Dave Shyiak's tenure, and finished last in what was then a 12-team league bolstered by traditional national powers. UAA is now coached by Matt Thomas, who is engineering the rebuild in a new WCHA that is basically made up of schools like UAA -- that is, Division II schools that play Division I pucks.
UAF is coming off a 17-16-4 season, hence its high billing. Checking in at No. 2 is Ferris State (Mich.), which last season went 16-16-5.
The only school picked below UAA was Alabama-Huntsville, previously an independent and 3-21-1 last season. The Chargers' new coach is Mike Corbett, who was a finalist for the UAA job.
Minnesota State-Mankato's Matt Leitner, who racked 17-30--47 totals last season was predicted to be the Player of the Year. Mankato's Zach Stepan, who earned 32-46--78 totals in 56 games with Waterloo of the USHL last season, was tabbed Rookie of the Year. And Williams (21-12-2, 2.00, .924, four shutouts) was the goalie on the preseason All-WCHA team.
The Blog declined to vote in the poll, and here's why. Because we cover both the Seawolves and the Alaska Aces, we rarely see entire UAA road games, and most often only see a period, if that. That doesn't make for a secure grasp on the relative strengths and/or weaknesses of UAA opponents, and doesn't leave The Blog feeling like a vote in the poll would be anything other than a semi-educated guess, at best. This season, of course, the WCHA is recast with teams from the old WCHA and the now-defunct CCHA, so a preseason poll is a bit of a crapshoot anyhow.
OK. Enough of that. Here's the poll, and the picks for preseason individual honors:
Team (First-Place votes) Total Points
1. Minnesota State (22) 244
2. Ferris State (2) 218
3. UAF 168
4. Bowling Green State 149
5. Michigan Tech 144
6. Northern Michigan 137
7. Lake Superior State 117
8. Bemidji State (1) 108
9. UAA 54
10. Alabama-Huntsville 36
Preseason Player Of The Year
Matt Leitner, F, Minnesota State
Others receiving votes: Garrett Thompson, F, Ferris State; Stephon Williams, G, Minnesota State
Preseason Rookie Of The Year
Zach Stepan, F, Minnesota State
Others receiving votes: Thomas Scholl, G, Bowling Green; Brendan Harms, F, Bemidji State; Mathias Dahlstrom, G, Northern Michigan; Cliff Watson, D, Michigan Tech
Preseason All-WCHA Team
Matt Leitner, Minnesota State; Alex Petan, Michigan Tech; Ryan Carpenter, Bowling Green
Others receiving votes: Cody Kunyk, UAF; Reed Sekel, Northern Michigan.
Jason Binkley, Ferris State; Zach Palmquist, D, Minnesota State
Others receiving votes: Stephan Vigier, Northern Michigan; Matt Prapavessis, Bemidji State; Ralfs Freibargs, Bowling Green; Colton Paraynko, UAF; CJ Ludwig, Northern Michigan
Stephon Williams, Minnesota State
Others receiving votes: CJ Motte, Ferris State; Andrew Walsh, Bemidji State.