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October 16, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

WCHA Team Preview Capsules

by Michael King/Staff Writer

Alabama-Huntsville

Head Coach: Mike Corbett
2012-13 Record: 3-21-1 (Independent)

Changes: The major change for UAH comes in conference membership. Unlike the many other schools which flipped their affiliations in the offseason, Huntsville joined the WCHA after spending last season as an independent. The difficulty of scheduling a full season of games against conference-oriented competition left primarily a slate of difficult road games. Playing a much larger portion of its games at home should contribute to the team’s development.

“This group has seen a lot over the past few years, especially the seniors,” new coach Mike Corbett said. “They’ve seen different coaches and schedules. I think they’ve learned from that adversity.”

Strength: The Chargers struggled in all facets of the game last season. The team ranked last in scoring and second-to-last in defense in all of Division I. Though goals were at a premium last year, the Chargers return most of their scoring from last season, including junior Jeff Vanderlugt.

Weakness: A team which only won three games the previous season typically enters the next year with many weaknesses. That is certainly the case with Huntsville. Look for the team to focus on keeping teams off of the scoreboard to counteract its anemic offense.

“The strength is our defensive corps,” Corbett said. “Anderson White is a player who will provide a lot of minutes for us. He’s a big, six-foot-four defensemen.”

2013-14 Outlook: Having now found a permanent home in the WCHA, first-year head coach Mike Corbett will have an opportunity to begin rebuilding the program. And the focus this season will have to remain on that development. Unsurprisingly, UAH is a young team, sporting 13 freshmen. Expect the Chargers to struggle their first season in the WCHA and likely battle Alaska-Anchorage at the bottom of the conference.

Alaska-Anchorage

Head Coach: Matt Thomas
2012-13 Record: 4-25-7, 2-20-6 WCHA (12th)

Changes: Last year was a difficult season for the Seawolves — so much so that the Anchorage administration was inspired to make a coaching change. Matt Thomas begins the project of building the Seawolves into a contender in the rebuilt WCHA. Thomas’ project is off to a strong start as the Seawolves defeated Air Force and national finalist Quinnipiac during the season’s first weekend.

“I think when a program experiences a difficult year like the Seawolves had last year, it’s easy to question the team and the character of the players,” coach Matt Thomas said. “But I think the team was in a lot of games that they deserved to win.”

Strengths: There’s not much to point to, specifically, as strengths for this squad aside from the fresh start under Thomas. Anchorage has a pair of senior goalies who will battle each other for starts and lead the team from the crease.

“Our been impressed with the progress already for some of our freshmen,” Thomas said. “The back end will also be stronger in terms of experience.

Weaknesses: The Seawolves ranked near the bottom of college hockey last year in both team offense and defense. Offensively, Anchorage is young and will regularly play five freshmen across the forward lines.

2013-14 Outlook: This year will likely be another rebuilding season for the Seawolves. But the excitement of being reunited with Alaska in conference should temper some of the expected disappointment with on-ice results. The teams play annually for the Governor’s Cup in a home-and-home series near the end of the year. But adding valuable conference points to those games should only help to expand the rivalry.

Alaska

Head Coach: Dallas Ferguson
2012-13 Record: 17-16-4, 12-13-3 CCHA (6th)

Changes: The Nanooks bring a young team to the WCHA for its first year as member of the conference. The team lost much offensive production from its graduated group of seniors. However, a large crop of freshmen should help to fill that void.

“We have some scoring and some gaps to fill from our seniors last year,” coach Dallas Ferguson said. “We’re always talking about developing our players and to put them in positions to earn more ice time and elevate their games. Our freshmen are starting to understand what it means to be a member of this program.”

Strengths: The Nanooks sport experience on the back end, which should prove invaluable with the team’s conference transition. Sophomore John Keeney returns in net, having made 27 starts in 2012-13. He’ll have the benefit of playing before a largely experienced set of defensive pairings.

“We’re returning our top four defensemen and excited to have that core back on our blueline,” Ferguson said. “We’re hoping that experience will help us early in the season.”

Weaknesses: Leading Scorer Andy Taranto is gone, as are several other seniors who made a contribution on offense last year. Pressure will fall on the younger players to fill the scoring gap this year. However, junior forwards Cody Kunyk and Colton Beck return having notched a combined 49 points last year.

2013-14 Outlook: Alaska should continue to enjoy success in the league, having moved from the highly competitive CCHA to this reformed conference. Teams with experienced defensemen tend to be the most reliable, as keeping the puck out of one’s net is the priority in college hockey.

Bemidji State

Head Coach: Tom Serratore
2012-13 Record: 6-22-8, 5-16-7 WCHA (11th)

Changes: Beyond its new opponents in conference, there are major changes for Bemidji State. The team lost nine players from last year and welcome 11 freshmen to the squad. For a young group, the team’s schedule is unkind. One third of teams Bemidji will face played in the NCAA tournament last year. This includes non-conference games again Minnesota, Miami and St. Cloud State.

“This is the youngest team I’ve ever had,” coach Tom Serratore said. “It will be baptism by fire for a lot of these young guys. In the early going, we’ll be trying to gain some experience and establish continuity among our lines.”

Strengths: Junior Andrew Walsh’s play in net will dictate much of the Beavers’ season. Though with few wins to show for his effort, Walsh stopped nearly 92 percent of the shots he faced last year. It remains to be seen if the goalie can improve his numbers playing in front a large number of freshmen.

Weaknesses: Given the youth, establishing consistent offense will be the challenge for the Beavers. Serratore expects freshmen to contribute immediately, with opportunities to earn time on the first and second lines.

“We’re offensively challenged. At times, you wonder who’s going to score the goals. We have a ways to go, but it’s an exciting process,” he said. “The freshmen will have to make a contribution. They will get time early to prove what they can do early in the season.”

2013-14 Outlook: This will likely be another rebuilding year for the Beavers. Though Walsh is good enough to steal victories against better teams, the onus to dominate games will be immense. Expect the difficult non-conference slate to take its toll on the squad, but lay the foundation for future success.

Bowling Green

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron
2012-13 Record: 15-21-5, 10-15-3 CCHA (9th)

Changes: Consistent is likely the best way to describe the Falcons. Aside from goalie Andrew Hammond, Bowling Green lost very little from last year’s team. The school’s success against Lake Superior State in the CCHA playoffs last year, as well as a pair of narrow one-goal losses, suggests the team could be poised for success.

Strengths: Defenseman Ralfs Freibergs leads a strong defensive corps. The sophomore won’t dominate games offensively, but the Latvian offers an excellent ability on defense.

On offense, Ryan Carpenter leads the forward lines. The junior paced the Falcons with 33 points last year and we be relied upon to provide an even greater contribution this season.

Weaknesses: Like many teams in the WCHA and throughout the country, the challenge for the Falcons will be goal scoring. The Falcons scored just under 2.50 goals per game last year. Though the team played strong defensively throughout the year, Bowling Green could not score enough to crack the upper half of the league.

“There’s been a lot more losing than winning recently, so our team has had to learn from adversity,” coach Chris Bergeron said. “We are young in goal and our offense will come from committee. We have to score more than we did last year, there’s no doubt about it.”

2013-14 Outlook: The Falcons should be competitive in their first year as WCHA members. The young teams that Bowling Green has fielded in the past should develop into an experienced, mature squad this year. Expect the Falcons to finish in the top half of the conference unless a lack of goal scoring ultimately slows the team’s growth.

Ferris State

2012-13 Record: 16-16-5, 13-12-3 CCHA (5th)
Head Coach: Bob Daniels

Changes: Ferris State lost only three players who offered significant minutes from last season’s team. The core of returning players are undoubtedly the biggest strength for Ferris State, which should serve the team well as it acclimates to membership in the WCHA.

Strengths: The Bulldogs experienced diminished results last season after reaching the Nation Championship game in 2011-12. Last year’s team was largely young and inexperienced. But Ferris State boasts a team laden with upperclassmen, especially in the defensive unit. Junior goaltender C.J. Motte is one of the league’s top puck stoppers.

“We played four freshmen defensemen a year ago,” coach Bob Daniels said.” I think out top four are as good as any team in college hockey. We can generate offense from our blueline forward.”

In fact, Daniels is confident enough in his defenders’ offensive abilities that he will experiment with their strong participation on special teams.

“I remember years where I put out five forwards on a power play. This year, it might be four defensemen and a forward. It’s about getting the best five offensive players out on the ice,” he said.

Weaknesses: At times, the Bulldogs struggled to score last season. Losing their two leading scorers to graduation does not help. Ferris State will likely find itself in many one-goal games late in the third period this season.

“Our big question mark is up front and where the scoring is going to come from,” Daniels said. “We lost two of top scorers from a year ago. We have some players I think who are ready to breakthrough.”

2013-14 Outlook: Though a potential lack of consistent scoring could become an issue, expect the Bulldogs to excel in their move to the CCHA. Matching the Final Four appearance from two seasons ago remains the goal for head coach Bob Daniels. If some of the younger forwards emerge into scoring threats, then the Bulldogs could be a threat nationally.

Lake Superior State

Head Coach: Jim Roque
2012-13 Record: 17-21-1, 11-16-1 CCHA (8th)

Changes: The team lost leading scorers Domenic Monardo and Nick McParland to graduation, but return strong depth on defense. Depth will remain an important concern this season. Last year, the Lakers ran a five-game winning streak through the holiday break before fading during the second half of the season.

Strengths: Lake Superior returns a tandem of strong senior goalies. Kevin Murdock and Kevin Kapalka split time in net during 2012-13 and will likely do the same this year. Both produced strong statistical seasons, stopping at least over 91 percent of shots faced. In addition, the Lakers return strong depth on the blueline.

Weaknesses: A lack of consistent goal scoring victimized the Lakers during last year’s stretch run. Losing 54 points from last year’s senior pair of Monardo and McParland is difficult to replace.

“We will likely have 5-6 freshmen forwards up front,” Roque said. “We’ve had some problems recently with early signings, but that’s a credit to our program. We’ll likely not be as big as we have been up front, though, we will skate pretty well.”

2013-14 Outlook: Strong senior leadership in the goaltending position is a particularly valuable asset during the transition to a new conference. It remains to be seen if the Lakers can score enough to mount a challenge for the league title, but expect the team to finish in the middle of the conference.

Michigan Tech

Head Coach: Mel Pearson
2012-13 Record: 13-20-4, 8-16-4 WCHA (10th)

Changes: The Huskies, unlike much of the league, lost very little goal scoring during the offseason. In addition, Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson recruited several players who could be impact players as freshmen. However, the team lost veterans Steven Seigo and Carl Nielsen on the blue line to graduation.

Strengths: The returning core of forwards will drive this team. Michigan Tech averaged nearly three goals-per-game last year and appears poised to eclipse that mark with the experience returning.

Weaknesses: Goaltending will be the most competitive position for playing time this year for the Huskies. Sophomores Phoenix Copley and Jamie Phillips shared starts last season. That experience – though limited – should offer an advantage over incoming freshman Matt Wintjes.

2013-14 Outlook: The lack of an established, experienced starter in net could be the undoing for the Huskies this year. With any semblance of goaltending consistency, then Michigan Tech could be challenging Minnesota State and Ferris State for the league crown.

Minnesota State

Head Coach: Mike Hastings
2012-13 Record: 24-14-3, 16-11-3 WCHA (4th)

Changes: Undoubtedly, Minnesota State is the class of the WCHA. The team qualified for the NCAAs last year before bowing out to Miami is the Midwest Regional semifinals. Given that the team won 24 overall games but only managed a fourth-place finish, speaks to the quality of the former league’s construction. However, the coaches nearly unanimously picked the Mavericks to win the conference this year.

“History doesn’t guarantee anything and only suggests what could be there,” coach Mike Hastings said. “We hope that we’ll continue to grow this season.”

Strengths: Last season, the Mavericks had little trouble scoring goals. Success in the offensive end should return for 2013-14. Leading scorer Matt Leitner returns for the Mavericks after scoring 17 goals a season ago. Freshman Zach Stepan also could make an immediate impact from the forward position.

“Up front will be a place of strength for us. We’ll go as our upper classmen go,” Hastings said. “We’ll need those guys to set the pace for us.”

Weaknesses: The Mavericks have few identified areas of concern. It will be the responsibility of the rest of the league to exposure any potential vulnerable areas. Sophomore goalie Stephon Williams had off-season hip surgery. It remains to be seen if he can regain the outstanding form of last season. But the New York Islanders draft pick is arguably the league’s best goalie.

“We’re young in net. But we had a freshman step-up last year and have a phenomenal season,” Hastings said. “We’re hoping that our other goalies can push Stephon and make him better.”

2013-14 Outlook: For many, the Mavericks are a near lock to win the league and return to the NCAAs. In addition, the team will have the primary responsibility for proving that the WCHA should remain in the conversation of the college hockey’s best conferences.

Northern Michigan

Head Coach: Walt Kyle
2012-13 Record: 15-19-4, 9-15-4 CCHA (10th)

Changes: The primary storyline in Marquette this past offseason was the decision of star net minder Jared Coreau to forego his senior season and sign a professional contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Coreau produced strong numbers last year, playing behind a largely inexperienced group of defensemen. His game-changing ability will be difficult to replace.

Strengths: Last year, the Wildcats struggled defensively, allowing 2.87 goals-per-game. This year the team welcomes a pair of Hockey East transfers to bolster the position. Luke Eibler joins the squad from Northeastern, while fellow defenseman Barret Kaib spent a year at Providence. Both should provide turn this previous weakness into a team strength.

Weaknesses: With a similar refrain throughout college hockey, Northern Michigan’s season will rest largely on its ability to establish quality goaltending. With Coreau starting the season with the Detroit Red Wings, head coach Kyle Walt will look to a competition between three sophomores and one freshman.

2013-14 Outlook: Goaltending notwithstanding, the Wildcats return a strong team. Expect the team to struggle early in the WCHA season. The team could make a run for the top half of the conference if the defense becomes poised enough to propel the squad up the standings.

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