Tough Decisions Abound on WCHA Ballot
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
As the regular season winds down and the WCHA playoffs kick off next weekend, I have read all week on Twitter (@CHNDanMyers, if you're interested by the way) and on blogs how difficult it would be to fill out the all-league ballots handed out this week to various team and media personnel.
Because I don't cover a specific team, I will not receive a ballot. But I thought, "How hard could it be?" As it turned out, after a couple hours of thinking, the answer is, very hard.
The addition of two new teams to the league — one of which turned out to be pretty darn good — and no new additions to the All-WCHA ballot, made things very difficult. On the actual ballot, there is no Honorable Mention category. But because I felt it necessary (and because I can), I added that for your perusal.
So without further ado, here is my All-WCHA ballot… if I were getting one.
F - Matt Frattin (North Dakota)
F - Mike Connolly (Minnesota Duluth)
F - Justin Fontaine (Minnesota Duluth)
D - Justin Schultz (Wisconsin)
D - Jake Gardiner (Wisconsin)
G - Kent Patterson (Minnesota)
The WCHA's overall scoring leader and the league's scoring leader in conference games are not on this list. Why? Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine have scored more goals than Jack Connolly, which I value more. Jack makes his living feeding the puck to those two. Matt Frattin has been a monster this season and is my choice for the league's Player of the Year. Schultz has been a tremendous offensive defenseman with 45 points overall this season, including 17 goals. But he's not even the best overall defenseman on his team. That honor belongs to Gardiner, who may be the best defenseman in the WCHA. Off the top of my head, I had Patterson on my third team. But he's been tremendous in conference play, played more minutes than I had originally thought, and since taking over every night after the Alex Kangas injury, the Gophers have become one of the better teams in the league.
F - Jack Connolly (Minnesota Duluth)
F - Drew Shore (Denver)
F - Jason Zucker (Denver)
D - Chay Genoway (North Dakota)
D - Eric Olimb (Nebraska-Omaha)
G - John Faulkner (Nebraska-Omaha)
Connolly is the league's top overall scorer and will put up more than 50 points this season. Zucker has been lights out in conference play. Shore is just one of two players in the league heading into this weekend with at least 20 goals and 20 assists (Mike Connolly is the other). Genoway has missed time here in the second half, but was well on his way to being a Hobey Baker top-10 guy before his injury. He is still among the league's scoring leaders for defensemen, despite missing more than a month with a leg injury. Olimb has been a tremendous senior leader for the Mavericks and has chipped in offensively with 25 points. Faulkner's statistics rank in the middle of the pack of the WCHA, but he has played 1900 minutes (most in the league) and has helped guide UNO to a top-4 finish.
F - Drew LeBlanc (St. Cloud State)
F - Matt Ambroz (Nebraska-Omaha)
F - Matt Read (Bemidji State)
D - Kurt Davis (Minnesota State)
D - Matt Donovan (Denver)
G - Aaron Dell (North Dakota)
Surprisingly, LeBlanc has been the best offensive player for the Huskies this season, and will approach 45 points this season — Garrett Roe-like production. UNO has the third best scoring offense in the league, led by Ambroz and his 16 goals. Read's numbers weren't spectacular, but the All-American is a rock in the Beaver line up, helping on both ends of the rink and on special teams. There are few better puck movers in the WCHA both 5-on-5 and with the man advantage than Davis, who if he were six inches taller, would likely have been gone years ago. Donovan is the leader of the Pioneer defensive corps, one that hasn't had the star power of recent groups, but still been productive. Dell has fantastic numbers overall, but average ones in conference play. Still, his team won the MacNaughton Cup, so he deserves a spot on one of these teams.
All-League Honorable Mention Forwards: Craig Smith (Wisconsin), Corban Knight (North Dakota), Garrett Roe (St. Cloud State), Tyler Johnson (Colorado College).
All-League Honorable Mention Defensemen: Justin Faulk (Minnesota Duluth), cade Fairchild (Minnesota), Gabe Guentzel (Colorado College), Ben Youds (Minnesota State), Deron Cousens (Michigan Tech).
All-League Honorable Mention Goalies: Scott Gudmandson (Wisconsin), Sam Brittain (Denver).
F - Jason Zucker (Denver)
F - Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College)
F - Mark Zengerle (Wisconsin)
D - Nick Jensen (St. Cloud State)
D - Justin Faulk (Minnesota Duluth)
G - Sam Brittain (Denver)
All-League Honorable Mention Rookies: J.T. Brown (Minnesota Duluth), Milos Gordic (Michigan Tech), Rob Gunderson (Alaska-Anchorage), Chase Grant (Minnesota State), Cam Reid (St. Cloud State), Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota), David Makowski (Denver), Erik Haula (Minnesota).
Player of the year - Matt Frattin (North Dakota)
The Fighting Sioux are the best team in the WCHA — and perhaps the country — in large part to Frattin, who leads the league with 27 goals. His quick shot makes him a deadly sniper from anywhere in the offensive zone. While Chay Genoway is probably the most valuable player on the team, Frattin is the league's best player because of the constant threat he is on the ice.
Rookie of the year - Jason Zucker (Denver)
Rarely do rookies lead the WCHA in scoring in conference games, but Zucker has managed to do just that in 2010-11. Through 26 league games, Zucker has potted 20 goals and added 16 assists — one better than Minnesota Duluth's Jack Connolly (a junior) and Frattin (a senior). Zucker's 36 points (in conference play) is 12 more than the second best freshman (Jaden Schwartz), he is second in the league in game winning goals with five and has scored all but three of his goals while playing 5-on-5.
Coach of the year - Dean Blais (Nebraska-Omaha)
Blais is the best coach in the country, and this year he's proven why. In just two seasons at Omaha, Blais has transformed the Mavericks from a middle of the road CCHA team into a WCHA contender that battles every night. UNO, with some wins and help this weekend, could finish in second place in the league in their first season in the WCHA. Not bad for a squad picked by many to finish middle of the pack, at best, in 2010-11. The real question is: How good will this team be in two years when the entire roster is filled out with his own recruits?