2015-16 WCHA Preview: Minnesota State seeks conference title repeat

By DJ Powers
Teddy Blueger - Minnesota State University

Photo: Minnesota State-Mankato forward and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Teddy Blueger had his best NCAA season in 2014-15, posting 10 goals and 28 points in 37 games for the WCHA champions (courtesy of Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

This season, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) features 12 NHL prospects representing five of the 10 member schools. Michigan Tech leads all conference teams with five prospects, followed by Minnesota State-Mankato with four.

Minnesota State edged out Michigan Tech to take the regular season title in 2014-15, then defeated those same Huskies in the WCHA Final Five championship game to take the WCHA crown. No WCHA team advanced to the Frozen Four, however.

No WCHA teams are ranked among the top 10 teams in the most recent NCAA hockey rankings for 2015-16.

Below is a 2015-16 preview of the 10 schools that make up the WCHA conference.

Minnesota State University-Mankato
NHL prospects: 4

The reigning WCHA regular season and tournament champions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Nebraska-Omaha.

The Mavericks saw their incredible season come to an unceremonious end at the hands of RIT in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Regional. While Minnesota State-Mankato returns much of last season’s squad, they will have some holes to fill for another successful run.

Two of their most significant losses were on the back end. All-American defenseman Zach Palmquist (MIN) has graduated and top goaltender Stephon Williams opted to forego his senior year to sign with the New York Islanders. Palmquist finished his magnificent senior campaign with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) playing in all 40 games. Williams finished his stellar junior campaign posting a 25-6-3 record that included five shutouts.

One player that could help fill part of the role left by Palmquist this season is junior Casey Nelson. The Wisconsin Rapids, WI native is coming off an excellent sophomore campaign where he led the Mavericks in defensive scoring with 33 points (seven goals, 26 assists) in 40 games en route to earning a spot on the All-WCHA Second Team.

Williams’ likely successor this season is junior Cole Huggins. The Centennial, CO native played quite well in his limited time as Williams’ backup last season, posting a 4-2-0 record that included one shutout in nine games. Minnesota State-Mankato hopes that Huggins will be able recapture his freshman magic from two seasons ago.

Despite graduating All-American top scorer Matt Leitner, the Mavericks will again be very deep up front. One veteran that the Mavericks will be relying on to help replace the 41 points that left with Leitner is senior alternate captain Teddy Blueger (PIT). The Riga, Latvia native is coming off a terrific junior campaign where he posted 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 37 games. Blueger developed into a bit of a clutch scorer last season, netting four power play goals and three game-winners.

Among the 10 newcomers for Minnesota State-Mankato this season are two transfers in senior winger Jimmy Mullin (TBL) from Miami, and sophomore defenseman Clint Lewis from Cornell.

University of Alabama-Huntsville
NHL prospects: 0

 

The Chargers opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus UConn.

Alabama-Huntsville made some great strides in their rebuilding process last season, but they also took a couple of steps back. This season, the Chargers will look to remedy the latter and continue the former.

Alabama-Huntsville, along with Western Michigan, racked up the most penalty minutes of any NCAA team last season posting a whopping 602. Like the Broncos, the lack of discipline was a big reason for the Chargers ‘demise. If the Chargers expect to make a serious run for the WCHA title, playing with more discipline will be key.

The best story coming out of Alabama-Huntsville last season was junior Carmine Guerriero. The Montreal, QC native was brilliant between the pipes, made even more impressive by the fact that he didn’t get much defensive support on most nights. Guerriero finished with a record of 8-18-3 in 29 games, and those numbers could rise significantly this season.

The Chargers defensive group is shaping up to be even better this season. Anchoring Alabama-Huntsville’s defense is junior Brandon Carlson. The Huntington Beach, CA native is coming off an solid sophomore campaign where he posted 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 38 games.

Although Alabama-Huntsville’s strength this season will be their forward lines, the Chargers will be looking to get more point production throughout their lineup. Leading the Chargers is sophomore Max McHugh. The Seattle, WA native is coming off a terrific freshman campaign where he led the team with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 38 games en route to earning a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team.

This season, Alabama-Huntsville brings in the WCHA’s largest incoming class with 11 newcomers. One player worth a look is Hunter Anderson. The Savage, MN native is a budding power forward that will add some size (6’4”, 212 lbs.) and grit to the Chargers’ lineup.

University of Alaska-Anchorage
NHL prospects: 0

 

The Seawolves opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Arizona State in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, AK.

After a promising start last season, the wheels fell off for Alaska-Anchorage with the team finishing in the WCHA basement. And, with the loss of many top players, it could be another long season for the Seawolves.

In goal, Alaska-Anchorage returns two of last season’s three netminders including starting sophomore Olivier Mantha. The La Turque, QC native played remarkably well despite posting a 7-18-3 record that included one shutout in 29 appearances.

Mantha will be relied on heavily this season due in part to the Seawolves having graduated two of last season’s top defensemen in Austin Coldwell and Derek Docken.

Among those patrolling the blueline this season is junior Chase Van Allen. The Anchorage, AK native returns after a rock-solid sophomore campaign where he led all Seawolves defensemen with 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 31 games.

Up front, Alaska-Anchorage graduated two of their top three point producers from last season in Brett Allen and Scott Allen, but the team does return senior Blake Tatchell. The North Battleford, SK native is coming off an outstanding junior campaign where he led the Seawolves with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists). Tatchell was also one of only five players to play in all 34 games last season.

One player that will provide some much-needed scoring punch for Alaska-Anchorage this season is freshman Sean MacTavish. The Edmonton, AB native is the son of Edmonton Oilers‘ VP of Hockey Operations Craig MacTavish. The younger MacTavish is a former Boston University recruit and part of the Seawolves’ 10-member incoming class.

University of Alaska
NHL prospects: 1

 

The Nanooks opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus St. Cloud State in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, AK.

Alaska is coming off a strong fourth-place finish in the WCHA last season. While the Nanooks have an outstanding returning group, they also lost some key players from the 2014-15 squad.

The most significant loss was that of All-American and WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Colton Parayko, who opted to forgo his senior season to sign with the St. Louis Blues. The St. Albert, AB native was the WCHA’s best defenseman last season. Parayko finished his sensational junior campaign leading the Nanooks in defensive scoring with 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 34 games.

Among the rearguards that will have the daunting task of eventually filling at least part of the void left by Parayko is freshman Nikolas Koberstein (MTL). The Barrhead, AB native is one of eight newcomers and the lone NHL prospect on Alaska’s roster this season. Like Parayko, Koberstein has size although he isn’t as big (6’2”, 201 lbs.) and brings a hard-hitting style to his game.

With a predominantly young defensive corps this season, the Nanooks will be relying heavily on their goaltenders to stabilize things on the back end.

Alaska returns two of their three netminders from last season, including junior Davis Jones. The St. Albert, AB native was very good last season, but he was also streaky. He finished with a 9-6-1 record that included four shutouts in 17 games. Jones, who platooned with now-graduate Sean Cahill season, could potentially be the starter.

Offense will be the Nanooks strength this season. Among those leading Alaska’s offensive attack is dynamic junior Marcus Basara. After a stellar freshman campaign two years ago, the Port Moody, BC native followed it up with an equally impressive sophomore campaign last season where he finished with 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in 34 games. This summer, Basara attended the Washington Capitals‘ prospect camp.

Bemidji State University
NHL prospects: 0

 

The Beavers opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Minnesota-Duluth.

Bemidji State is coming off a fifth-place finish in the WCHA. As solid as they were last season, they could potentially be even better this season.

One of the best stories coming out of the WCHA last season was sophomore netminder Michael Bitzer. The Moorhead, MN native wrapped up a sensational freshman campaign where he posted a 14-11-3 record that included four shutouts in 28 games en route to capturing the WCHA Rookie of the Year honor.

The steady play of Bitzer will be especially important this season due to turnover on the blueline. The Beavers graduated three of their top four defensemen, most notably Matt Prapavessis. The Oakvillle, ON native led Bemidji State last season with 24 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 38 games and earned a spot on the All-WCHA Second Team.

Among the returning rearguards that Bemidji State will be need to step up this season is senior captain Grahame McCormack. The Thunder Bay, ON native returns as the Beavers top scoring defenseman after posting 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 38 games last season.

Bemidji State’s strength this season will be up front as the team returns all of its top forwards. Leading the Beavers offensive charge is junior Brendan Harms. The Steinbach, MB native is coming off an excellent sophomore campaign where he led all Bemidji State forwards with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 29 games and was named to the All-WCHA Third Team.

This season, the Beavers welcome eight newcomers. The one to watch is Justin Baudry. The LaBrouquerie, MB native is a 5’11”, 184-pound offensive defenseman who could eventually fill the role left by Prapavessis. A 1996-born player, Baudry is eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

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