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

By DJ Powers

Jamie Phillips - Michigan Tech University

Photo: Michigan Tech University goaltender and Winnipeg Jets prospect Jamie Phillips was a workhorse for the Huskies in 2014-15 as he played in all 41 games for that school (courtesy of Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

 

Bowling Green State University
NHL prospects: 1

The Falcons opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Ohio State.

Bowling Green is coming off their second consecutive WCHA Final Five appearance. This season, the Falcons are poised to be among the top contenders for the conference crown.

One of Bowling Green’s greatest strengths this season is in net. The Falcons return all of their goaltenders, including senior starter Tommy Burke. Last season, the Chaska, MN native began to establish himself as one of the WCHA’s top netminders and had the numbers to back it up. Burke is coming off an excellent junior campaign where he posted a 14-6-3 record in 23 appearances.

Bowling Green’s defensive corps is shaping up to be quite good this season, but they will be very young, too. Among those patrolling the Falcons blueline is the team’s lone NHL prospect, sophomore Mark Friedman (PHI). The Toronto, ON native is coming off a stellar freshman campaign where he posted 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 39 games en route to earning a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team. Friedman also established himself as a physical presence on the blueline. His 75 penalty minutes were second on the team.

Another of Bowling Green’s strengths this season is their more experienced forward lines. Sophomore Brandon Hawkins returns after an outstanding freshman campaign where he led the Falcons with 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 39 games. He joined teammate Friedman on the WCHA All-Rookie Team.

In addition to the returning veterans, Bowling Green welcomes six newcomers this season. One player to keep an eye on is winger Stephen Baylis. The Ottawa, ON native is a 6’1”, 201-pound power forward noted for his speed. This summer, Baylis attended the prospect camps of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ferris State University
NHL prospects: 1

 

The Bulldogs opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Western Michigan.

Last season, Ferris State played some of their best hockey down the stretch, reaching the WCHA Final Five. Repeating the feat this season could be a bit of a challenge, however.

Maybe the toughest challenge is the loss of starter and All-WCHA Third Team selection C.J. Motte, who has graduated. The workhorse from St. Clair, MI finished his stellar collegiate career with an 18-20-5 record that included five shutouts in 40 games.

The monumental task of filling Motte’s role this season will likely fall to juniors Trace Pennock and Charles Williams. Pennock played just 9:25 minutes last season as Motte’s backup. Williams missed the entire 2014-15 season due to injury. Also in the mix is freshman Darren Smith.

With the uncertainty in goal, the Bulldogs will be looking to their defensive corps to stabilize things on the back end. Stalwarts Jason Binkley and Travis White won’t be among those defenders, however, due to graduation.

Anchoring Ferris State’s blueline this season is redshirted assistant captain Simon Denis. The Burnaby, BC native is coming off an outstanding junior campaign where he led all Bulldogs defensemen with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 35 games.

Ferris State’s strength this season will be their forward lines. The Bulldogs return nearly all of their top scorers, including junior captain Kyle Schempp (NYI). The Saginaw, MI native is the lone NHL prospect on Ferris State’s roster. Schempp will be looking to bounce back this season after taking a bit of a dip in his sophomore campaign where he finished with 16 points (10 goals, six assists) in 37 games. But one area where Schempp did shine was on special teams as, of his 10 goals last season, four came on special teams – three on the power play and one shorthanded.

In addition to the returning veterans, Ferris State also welcomes seven newcomers. The one to watch is Zac Tierney. The London, ON native is a 6’0”, 182-pound offensive defenseman noted for his superb puck-moving ability. A 1996-born player, he is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Lake Superior State University
NHL prospects: 0

The Lakers opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus North Dakota in the Icebreaker Tournament in Portland, ME.

Lake Superior State tied for ninth in the WCHA last season. While the Lakers return nearly all of the their top players, they do have some issues to address as well.

The most significant issue will be generating more point production throughout their lineup. Lake Superior State was one of the worst offensive teams in the NCAA last season. The Lakers ranked 58th with an offense that averaged just 1.58 goals per game. Furthermore, the 60 total goals that Lake Superior State generated were third fewest nationally. Only Wisconsin and Princeton posted fewer.

The good news is that the Lakers return nearly all of their top scorers, none of whom generated 10 or more goals last season. Leading the group this season is senior assistant captain Bryce Schmitt. The Minot, ND native returns as Lake Superior State’s top scorer after posting 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 38 games.

One newcomer that will add some desperately needed offense for the team this season is winger Mitch Hults. The Stoughton, WI native is part of the Lakers’ 10-member incoming class and a former Minnesota commit. In addition to scoring, Hults will also add size (6’2”, 200 lbs.) and some speed to the lineup.

The best story coming out of Lake Superior State last season was sophomore netminder Gordon Defiel. No NCAA netminder faced more shots (1,255) or made as many saves (1,188) as the Stillwater, MN native did. Defiel played well in his freshman campaign, finishing with an 8-26-2 record that included four shutouts. He also established himself as one of the nation’s workhorses, starting in 35 of the Lakers 36 games in 2014-15.

Defiel should get more support this season from the defensive corps in front on him, which is shaping up to be much better. Anchoring Lake Superior State’s blueline is senior assistant captain Eric Drapluk. The Pembroke Pines, FL native led all Lakers defensemen last season with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 38 games.

Michigan Tech University
NHL prospects: 5

The Huskies opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 16th at Ferris State.

Michigan Tech is coming off a magical season that saw them make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 34 years. With most of the Huskies top players returning this season, the team is poised to make another strong run this season.

For Michigan Tech, it all starts with goaltending. No NCAA netminder started more games last season than senior Jamie Phillips (WPG). The Caledonia, ON native is coming off an extraordinary junior campaign where he posted a 28-9-2 record that included six shutouts in 41 games en route to being named a finalist for the Mike Richter Award. Phillips’ shutout total set a new school single-season record.

The Huskies return their defensive corps nearly intact, a group that may be even better this season. Among those patrolling Michigan Tech’s blueline this season is sophomore Matt Roy (LAK). The Canton, MI native enjoyed an excellent freshman campaign where he posted nine points (all assists) in 36 games. He also finished third on the team with a +21 rating. Roy and junior Shane Hanna comprised one of the WCHA’s best and most effective defensive pairings last season.

One issue that the Huskies will have to address this season is replacing the point production that left with graduates Tanner Kero (CHI), Blake Pietila (NJD) and David Johnstone. The trio accounted for a quarter of Michigan Tech’s total points last season.

Among the players that the Huskies will be looking to help replace some of that lost scoring is freshman Jake Jackson (SJS). The Maplewood, MN native is one of two San Jose Sharks prospects on Michigan Tech’s roster this season (the other is senior co-captain defenseman Cliff Watson). Jackson is versatile in that he can play both center and wing. He is noted for his great athleticism and powerful shot.

Northern Michigan University
NHL prospects: 0

The Wildcats opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Wisconsin.

Injuries took a devastating toll on Northern Michigan last season, with the team finishing seventh in the WCHA. Now healthy, the Wildcats will be looking to get things back on track this season.

An area where Northern Michigan was hit hard by the injury bug last season was on defense. The good news is that the Wildcats’ defensemen are healthy again, but the bad news is that they graduated two of their top defensemen in Mitch Jones and Jake Baker. Nevertheless, Northern Michigan’s defensive corps is shaping up to be quite good this season.

Anchoring the Wildcats blueline is junior assistant captain Brock Maschmeyer. The Bruderheim, AB native is coming off a superb sophomore campaign where he led Northern Michigan in defensive scoring with 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 38 games en route to earning a spot on the All-WCHA Third Team.

Northern Michigan’s goaltending position is an area well worth watching this season. Junior Mathias Dahlstrom returns after a terrific but injury-shortened sophomore campaign where he posted a 9-7-4 record that included four shutouts in 21 appearances.

Dahlstrom will get some serious competition for the starting job from highly regarded freshman Atte Tolvanen. The Vihiti, Finland native is part of Northern Michigan’s 10-member incoming class and the latest in a string of Europeans that have joined the Wildcats. Tolvanen is noted for his consistency and grace under pressure.

One of Northern Michigan’s strengths this season will be up front as the team returns all of their top scoring forwards, including senior Darren Nowick. The Long Beach, CA native enjoyed a breakout junior campaign where he led the Wildcats with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 38 games.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF

 

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