Monday, December 20, 2010

WCHA First Half Award Show

With all but two (SCSU and Tech) teams of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams done with the first half of their conference schedule, it's time to assess the first 14 games and give out some awards.

As always there are some surprises, and some things that shocked no one. The talk of the WCHA's first half is the play (or lack there of), of St. Cloud State in the first half of the season. Projected to finish in the top 3 in the conference by virtually everyone who follow the WCHA, St. Cloud has been a major disappointment sitting in 11th place in the WCHA at the half way mark. Garrett Roe looks lost out there with the departure of former line mate and SCSU all time point leader Ryan Lasch. Neither Mike Lee, nor Dan Dunn has gotten the job done in the net through the first half of the year.

One of those things that shocked no one has been the play of North Dakota through 14 games. I anointed the Fighting Sioux as my pre-season favorite for the National Championship immediately after last season ended if they were able to bring back the bulk of their roster which they were. Matt Frattin is playing like a Hobey Baker candidate this season with 17 total goals. The only surprise so far for the Sioux has been in goal where Brad Eidsness, the starter the past two seasons has been atrocious and Sophomore Aaron Dell has taken over the starting job. It's going to be an up hill battle, but Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, and Nebraska-Omaha are all within striking distance of North Dakota for the MacNaughton Cup.

First Half All-WCHA Team

First Team
F-Matt Frattin-North Dakota (Sr)
F-Jaden Schwartz-Colorado College (Fr)
F-Jack Connolly-Minnesota-Duluth (Jr)
D-Justin Schultz-Wisconsin (So)
D-Chay Genoway-North Dakota (Sr)
G-Scott Gudmandson-Wisconsin (Sr)

Second Team
F-Drew Shore-Denver (So)
F-Mark Zengerle-Wisconsin (Fr)
F-Justin Fontaine-Minnesota-Duluth (Sr)
D-Matt Donovan-Denver (So)
D-Kurt Davis-Minnesota State (Sr)
G-Sam Brittain-Denver (Fr)

Third Team
F-Jason Zucker-Denver (Fr)
F-Craig Smith-Wisconsin (So)
F-Matt Read-Bemidji State (Sr)
D-Justin Faulk-Minnesota-Duluth (Fr)
D-Jake Gardiner-Wisconsin (Jr)
G-Kent Patterson-Minnesota (Jr)

All-Rookie Team
F-Jaden Schwartz-Colorado College
F-Mark Zengerle-Wisconsin
F-Jason Zucker-Denver
D-Justin Faulk-Minnesota-Duluth
D-Nick Jensen-St. Cloud State
G-Sam Brittain-Denver

First Half WCHA Player of the Year: Matt Frattin (North Dakota)
First Half WCHA Rookie of the Year: Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College)

Brief first half thoughts on each team:

1. North Dakota
I've already provided some thoughts on UND so this will be short but they have lived up to the expectations so far which is something new for Dave Hakstol. Usually his UND teams start slow and pick up momentum, for their sake, I hope they haven't peaked too early. But let's be honest, this team is loaded, they will be at the top throughout the second half. Projected finish (1).

2. Denver (tie)
I'm not sure I would say I'm shocked that Denver is in second place at the break but I wouldn't have been shocked to see them in 7th either. There is a ton of parity in the WCHA this season and Denver is right there. They've gotten great production out of their outstanding freshman class. Sam Brittain is playing all world in goal and Jason Zucker has been better than advertised up front. Drew Shore is having a magical sophomore season and you know Denver is playing their hearts out for their buddy Jesse Martin who was seriously injured earlier in the season. Projected finish (3).

2. Minnesota-Duluth (tie)
Duluth has played as well as they could have in the first half of the season. Most expected them to be good, I'm not sure many expected them to be this good. They boast the second best line in the country with Connolly, Connolly, and Fontaine and they have played outstanding so far. Freshman defenseman Justin Faulk has been playing at a level that won't keep him in northern Minnesota very long. Their only real question mark is in goal where Kenny Reiter and Aaron Crandall have been alright but not fantastic. Projected finish (2).

4. Nebraska-Omaha
I picked UNO to finish fourth in my pre-season poll so I'm not surprised they are in this spot right now. I think they might have surprised some teams in the first half being new to the league and teams might have taken them for granted. The Mavericks don't have any standout players (as evidenced by having none on the All-WCHA team) but they have been playing great hockey for Dean Blais. Junior John Faulkner has been great in goal and is probably their first half MVP so far. Projected finish (4).

5. Colorado College
Raise your hand if you had CC getting home ice for the WCHA playoffs? ...I don't see many. Scott Owens has his club exceeding expectations at this point and rookie Jaden Schwartz has been as good as advertised. Joe Howe has been a mainstay in the nets for the Tigers and they are getting production up and down the lineup. Jaden's older brother Rylan is also having a big season. I'm not sure the Tigers can keep this pace in the second half but they are a team to watch. Projected Finish (7).

6. Wisconsin (tie)
Right on the edge of home ice is exactly where I projected the Badgers to be this season. Their young squad has looked phenomenal at times and lost at others. The roller coaster ride can drive one crazy at times but also makes you giddy at the potential of this roster. Scott Gudmandson has been great in goal and their top line of Jordy Murray, Craig Smith, and Mark Zengerle has been outstanding. Justin Schultz and Jake Gardiner are playing great hockey from the blue line as well. Projected Finish (5).

6. Minnesota (tie)
No one has doubted the talent on the Minnesota roster because in that department they are second to none. But as usual, Don Lucia hasn't been able to mold that talent in to a consistent winner. If this team doesn't finish in the top half of the WCHA this season you have to assume that this could be it for the Don in dinkytown. Kent Patterson has been the savior of the season so far for the Gophers. As he goes, so do the Gophers. Projected finish (6).

8. Alaska-Anchorage
Lots of Badger fans gasped when UW lost on Friday night up in Anchorage. But this isn't your fathers Seawolves team. Shiak has this team playing above expectations and this squad believes they can win every time they hit the ice. They have infused some young talent into this squad and Tommy Grant is having a solid season up at the North Pole. Projected finish (9).

9. Minnesota State
I've caught Minnesota State on TV a few times this season and they have a nice squad this year. Kurt Davis and Ben Youds are two of the best defensmen in the league and Phil Cooke has stood on his head at times this season to steal some games for the Mavericks. I'm not sure this squad has enough talent to make a legitimate run at home ice but they have the ability to upset any team in the league. Projected finish (8).

10. Bemidji State
I think Badger fans got a good view of what Bemidji brings to the table last weekend. They certainly have the ability to win games in this league but they don't have the depth on the roster to be a realistic player this season. Matt Read and Jordan George are great but they aren't getting much help. They are going to start recruiting a higher level of talent now that they are in the best league in the country and that should help in future years. Projected finish (11).

11. St. Cloud State
What can I say? They have been the disappointment of the league so far this season. Besides Drew LeBlanc no one is putting any points up on the board. Both goalies look disinterested and besides Nick Jensen on the blueline, everyone else is playing O'lay hockey. Bob Motzko has his work cut out for him in the second half to dig them out of this hole and I'm not confident they can move up much more than where they are at. Projected finish (10).

12. Michigan Tech
Yikes, these guys are just bad. I hate to be that blunt but they are playing awful. I have a tough time seeing Jamie Russell keeping his job after this season. 1 win and 1 tie in 12 conference games is unacceptable no matter what program you're in. Projected finish (12).