Minnesota State has won four of the past five WCHA men’s regular-season championships, and there’s no sign of the Mavericks taking step back in 2019-20, according to the league’s coaches and media who cover the conference.

The Mavericks are the unanimous selection in both the Mankato Free Press preseason coaches poll and the poll of media members, the conference announced Wednesday. Minnesota State received all nine first-place votes from the coaches – a coach couldn’t vote for his own team – and all 10 first-place votes from media members to outdistance Bowling Green.

“I don’t think there’s any question Mankato and B.G. are 1 and 2,’’ Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said during the WCHA preseason media conference call. “And they’re 1 and 2 for a reason. On paper, they’re a cut above the rest right now.’’ Serratore’s Beavers are picked to finish third by the coaches, fifth by the media.

Minnesota State, which won the league’s tournament and was a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA tourney last season, also boasts the top preseason individual honors. Senior forward Marc Michaelis was named player of the year by both the coaches and media, and freshman forward Nathan Smith garnered rookie of the year honors from both groups. In addition, Michaelis, Mavericks senior forward Parker Tuomie and sophomore goalie Dryden McKay were named to both All-WCHA teams.

“It’s an opportunity we’re looking forward to – trying to compete for a championship in our league and trying to get back to the NCAA tournament again,’’ said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings, whose team returns seven seniors and eight juniors from a squad that lost to Providence in the first round of the East Regional.

Completing both all-conference teams were Bowling Green junior forward Brandon Kruse and senior defenseman Alec Rauhauser and Northern Michigan senior defenseman Philip Beaulieu.

The 2019-20 WCHA season comes after a tumultuous summer for the conference. On June 28 seven members of the conference – Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan – announced they are leaving to form their own league after the 2020-21 season. That will leave only Alabama Huntsville, Alaska and Alaska Anchorage in the conference after the next two seasons.

“We’re waiting to see what’s actually happening. For lack of a better term, the seven schools are looking to become free agents, so to speak,’’ Alabama Huntsville coach Mike Corbett said. “There’s a lot that can possibly happen amongst college hockey, not just the WCHA. … We’ve said from Day One: We want to continue to be part of the WCHA.’’

Compounding the situation for the Alaska schools is the state’s budget crisis. Faced with budget cuts of $135 million that later were reduced to $25 million for this school year, the University of Alaska system decided to merge its three universities into one single-accredited institution with multiple location. That leaves the futures of Alaska (based in Fairbanks) and Alaska Anchorage in doubt, though they will play the 2019-20 season.

“It’s the million-dollar question, the gorilla in the room, the pink elephant in the room,’’ Alaska Anchorage coach Matt Curley said of the Seawolves’ future. “Unfortunately, right now I don’t have an answer one way or another. … I’m hoping to get more definitive answers in the coming weeks and months as our board of regents and university leaders make headway for a plan of the future and certainly a future that involves the Seawolves.’’

Alaska coach Erik Largen is glad it’s time to play hockey.

“With all the stuff that went on this summer, we were unsure for a little bit,’’ he said. “You have optimism and confidence that things will work out the right way, but you never really know. There’s that little doubt that’s in you. To be back on the ice with the guys and to know that our seniors are going to be able to graduate this year … it’s a blessing.’’

WCHA preseason polls

Mankato Free Press coaches poll

1. Minnesota State (9 first-place votes) 90

2. Bowling Green 82

3. Bemidji State 63

4. Northern Michigan 61

5. Michigan Tech 59

6. Lake Superior State 56

7. Alaska 39

8. Ferris State 38

9. Alabama Huntsville 30

10. Alaska Anchorage 20

Player of the year: Marc Michaelis, sr. F, Minnesota State

Rookie of the year: Nathan Smith, fr. F, Minnesota State

All-WCHA team

F: Marc Michaelis, sr., Minnesota State

F: Parker Tuomie, sr., Minnesota State

F: Brandon Kruse, jr., Bowling Green

D: Philip Beaulieu, sr., Northern Michigan

D: Alec Rauhauser, sr., Bowling Green

G: Dryden McKay, so., Minnesota State

Preseason media poll

1. Minnesota State (10 first-place votes) 100

2. Bowling Green 89

3. Northern Michigan 72

4. Michigan Tech 68

5. Bemidji State 62

6. Lake Superior State 57

7. Ferris State 37

8. Alaska 27

9. Alabama Huntsville 26

10. Alaska Anchorage 12

Player of the year: Marc Michaelis, sr., Minnesota State

Rookie of the year: Nathan Smith, fr., Minnesota State

All-WCHA team

F: Marc Michaelis, sr., Minnesota State

F: Parker Tuomie, sr., Minnesota State

F: Brandon Kruse, jr., Bowling Green

D: Philip Beaulieu, sr., Northern Michigan

D: Alec Rauhauser, sr., Bowling Green

G: Dryden McKay, so., Minnesota State

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