Michael Russo's 2012-13 WCHA season preview

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 19, 2012 - 7:30 AM
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Christian Isackson celebrated with Nick Bjugstad after Bjugstad scored a first-period goal against Michigan State.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Staff writer Michael Russo takes a look at the WCHA teams, listed in order of predicted finish in the preseason league coaches' poll.

1. Gophers

The defending MacNaughton Cup winners return seven of their top eight scorers and all six starting defensemen while adding two incoming freshmen defensemen in Brady Skjei and Mike Reilly, who made immediate impacts in consecutive routs over Michigan State to open the season. ... The Gophers return leading goal scorer Nick Bjugstad (25) and leading scorer Erik Haula (49 points), and each had three points last weekend. ... After losing Kent Patterson, coach Don Lucia will rotate goalies Michael Shibrowski and Adam Wilcox at least the next two weekends; both won their first games last weekend.

2. North Dakota

UND lost Brock Nelson (28 goals, 47 points) but returns forwards Rocco Grimaldi (coming off season-ending injury, WCHA Preseason rookie of the year), Danny Kristo (45 points, 109 in his career) and Corban Knight (40 points, 97 in his career) and defensemen Nick Mattson and Derek Forbort. ... Top incoming freshmen include forwards Drake Caggiula, Bryn Chyzyk and Coltyn Sanderson, goalie Zane Gothberg and defenseman Jordan Schmaltz.

3. Denver

Picked to win the WCHA by most preseason polls last year, the Pioneers suffered injuries all year long and finished third. They return a quality roster, but will be hurt by the losses of Jason Zucker to the Wild and Drew Shore to Florida. ... Junior center Nick Shore returns after scoring 41 points, and defenseman Joey LaLeggia is back after earning National and WCHA Rookie of the Year honors after 11 goals and 38 points.

4. St. Cloud State

After advancing to the Final Five last year, the Huskies, who lost twice at New Hampshire last weekend, return forwards Ben Hanowski (46 career goals) and Nic Dowd (23 points) and defensemen Andrew Prochno (29 points, All-WCHA rookie team) and Nick Jensen (All-WCHA third team). ... Senior Drew LeBlanc received a medical redshirt last season but is back. He has 98 career points. ... Sophomore goalie Ryan Faragher is back between the nets after posting a 2.78 goals-against average last year.

5. Wisconsin

Coming off a disappointing season, the Badgers lost standout defenseman Justin Schultz to the Edmonton Oilers but return 15 of their top 16 scorers. ... Junior forward Mark Zengerle (88 career points) returns after leading Wisconsin with 50 points last year. ... Anaheim draft pick Nic Kerdiles, a highly touted freshman, was suspended by the NCAA for the year for dealings with an NHL agent. His appeal was heard Thursday.

6. Minnesota Duluth

The Bulldogs were the second-highest scoring team in the country last year but lost Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly, J.T. Brown, Travis Oleksuk and Brady Lamb, who combined for 191 points. ... UMD will look for Mike Seidel and Caleb Hebert to continue to make steps forward after combining for 63 points last year. ... Defenseman Chris Casto, one of six returning blue-liners, had the best plus-minus (+21) of any rookie defenseman in the country.

7. Colorado College

The Tigers lost leading scorer Jaden Schwartz to the St. Louis Blues but return older brother Rylan Schwartz, who scored 23 goals and 40 points last year. ... Junior goalie Josh Thorimbert posted a WCHA-best 12-4-1 record with a .928 save percentage in conference play last year and will platoon with senior Joe Howe.

8. Nebraska Omaha

The Mavericks have yet to make the Final Five in their two seasons in the WCHA. ... Dean Blais lost Terry Broadhurst, Jayson Megna and goalie Ryan Massa but has a top incoming freshman class, including defensemen Brian Cooper and Wild prospect Nick Seeler. ... Top returners include forwards Matt White (40 points) and Ryan Walters (25 points).

9. Michigan Tech

Second-year coach Mel Pearson, last year's WCHA coach of the year after guiding the Huskies into the Final Five, played at Edina. ... The Huskies, who play only 16 home games this year, had nine eight-goal scorers last season, the most in the nation. Six return, including Hill-Murray graduate Ryan Furne (12 goals) and David Johnstone (11).

10. Minnesota State Mankato

Mike Hastings, the former St. Cloud State defenseman and Gophers and Nebraska Omaha assistant, takes over the program. He's the all-time winningest coach in the USHL, coaching the Omaha Lancers to 529 victories. ... Forward Matt Leitner, last year's leading scorer with 29 points, had a goal and three assists in an exhibition victory over Lethbridge. ... Senior forward Eriah Hayes is the Mavericks' active career scoring leader with 60 points in 112 games.

11. Bemidji State

Senior forward Jordan George returns after posting three consecutive 30-point seasons and a career-high 19 goals last season. He has 49 goals and 101 points in his BSU career. ... This is five-time College Hockey America Coach of the Year Tom Serratore's 12th season, and he has led the Beavers to five conference titles and four NCAA appearances.

12. Alaska Anchorage

The Seawolves return 16 players from last season, including goalies Rob Gunderson and Chris Kamal. ... Junior Matt Bailey is their leading returning scorer with 10 goals and 17 points. ... Senior forward Jordan Kwas played only 21 games last year but still registered 14 points.

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