WCHA coaches pick UAA to finish 9th

Doyle Woody

Mirroring a poll of league media one day previous, the inaugural Mankato (Minn.) Free Press WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll on Wednesday pegged UAA for a ninth-place finish in the revamped 10-team league this upcoming season.

UAF, meanwhile, was picked to finish fifth by coaches after the media figured the Nanooks for third place.

Minnesota State-Mankato, an NCAA tournament team last season, earned the crystal ball-gazing nod to become the league champ from both coaches and media.

Of course, with five team clubs entering the league from the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Alabama-Huntsville coming in from the limbo of existence as an independent, several coaches in Wednesday's conference call conceded that predicting the order of finish is a crap shoot.

One certainty, though, is the Seawolves want to do better than ninth, for at least a couple of reasons.

Of course, no team wants to finish ninth in a 10-team league -- that doesn't boost self-esteem, or reputation.

And this season there's a penalty to be served in the WCHA by the teams that finish ninth and 10th -- they don't make the playoffs. Previously, all WCHA members qualified for the first round of the league playoffs, even if they didn't win a game -- UAA, for instance, went 0-22-6 in league games in 2002-03 and got to play extra hockey.

But now there's tough love in the WCHA. Only the top eight regular-season finishers qualify for best-of-3, first-round series, with the four series winners advancing to the Final Five at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., March 21-22.

"The season means something,'' said Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque. "You can be eliminated.''

For his part, first-year UAA bench boss Matt Thomas knows he's somewhat starting from scratch with the Seawolves, who finished last in the then-12-team WCHA in each of the last two seasons. UAA went 4-25-7 last season, triggering the departure of coach Dave Shyiak after eight seasons.

"To me, everybody's freshmen in this situation,'' Thomas said. "It truly is a blank slate here -- clean slate, sorry.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

Mankato Free Press WCHA Men's Hockey Preseason Coaches Poll

Predicted order of finish (first-place votes in parenthesis).

Based on a 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale; coaches could not vote for their own teams

1) Minn. St.-Mankato (9 first-place votes) 81 points

2) Ferris St. 65

3) Michigan Tech (1) 64

4) Bowling Green 58

5) UAF 54

6) Northern Michigan 40

7) Bemidji St. 35

8) Lake Superior St. 25

9) UAA 18

10) Alabama-Huntsville 10

Preseason WCHA Player of the Year

Matt Leitner, Jr., F, Minn. St.-Mankato (5 votes); Alex Petan, So., F, Michigan Tech (2); Ryan Carpenter, Jr., F, Bowling Green (1); Cody Kunyk, Sr., F, UAF (1); Blake Tatchell, So., F, UAA (1).

Preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year

Zach Stepan, F, Minn. St.-Mankato (8); Brent Baltus, F, Michigan Tech (1); Shane Sooth, F, Northern Michigan (1).

Preseason All-WCHA Team

Forwards -- Matt Leitner, Jr., Minn. St.-Mankato; Ryan Carpenter, Jr., Bowling Green; Alex Petan, So., Michigan Tech.

Defensemen -- Zach Palmquist, Jr., Minn. St.-Mankato; Jason Binkley, Jr., Ferris St.

Goaltender -- Stephon Williams, So., Minn. St.-Mankato.

Others receiving votes: Forwards: Blake Tatchell, So., UAA; Matt Bailey, Sr., UAA ; Cody Kunyk, Sr., UAF; Garrett Thompson, Sr., Ferris St. Defensemen: Colton Parayko, So., UAF; Matt Prapavessis, Jr., Bemidji St.; Mike Sullivan, Jr., Bowling Green; Ralfs Freibergs, So., Bowling Green; Scott Czarnowczan, Sr., Ferris St.; Kevin Czuczman, Jr., Lake Superior St.; C.J. Ludwig, Sr., Northern Michigan. Goaltender: Kevin Kapalka, Sr., Lake Superior St.