WCHA Season Preview

Story posted October 4, 2019 in Sports, CommRadio by Christopher Hess

As another season comes around, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will look to springboard itself into the national spotlight after a relatively underwhelming performance from a large majority of its members last year.

Minnesota State and Bowling Green were the only WCHA teams to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota State’s magical season was cut short in the first round by Providence, and Bowling Green was also eliminated in the first round by eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth.

As a whole, the conference should be far more competitive as teams are bringing back key pieces and contributors from last year’s teams. With that being said, let’s preview some of the WCHA’s top contenders, as well as one independent team that plays out west and earned a spot in the tournament last season.

Bowling Green

2018-19 record: 25-11-5

Key returners: Max Johnson, Brandon Kruse, Connor Ford, Alec Rauhauser, Lucas Craggs

Key losses: Ryan Bednard

There is absolutely no mistaking that this Bowling Green team is ready to go after last year’s heartbreaking finish: a 2-1 overtime loss to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth.

The Falcons return their top five point leaders from a year ago, and they will look to build on a season in which they finished No. 10 in scoring with 3.17 goals per game. Max Johnson, Brandon Kruse, Connor Ford, Alec Rauhauser and Lucas Craggs will definitely make some statements once the season starts.

The loss of goalie Ryan Bednard will only sting for a short amount of time, as the Bowling Green offense will remain extremely potent and the defense will also remain relatively intact. If the Falcons can catch Minnesota State at the right time, watch out.

Lake Superior State

2018-19 record: 23-13-2

Key returners: Max Humitz, Collin Saccoman, Jacob Nordqvist

Key losses: Diego Cuglietta, Anthony Nellis, Gage Torrel

Located on the Canadian border in Michigan’s upper peninsula, the Lake Superior State Lakers return to action having lost one of their most dynamic players in program history, Diego Cuglietta, to graduation. Cuglietta scored 25 goals last season and led the team in points with 41.

Additionally, the losses of Anthony Nellis and Gage Torrel also hurt an offensive attack that ranked seventh in the country in 2018-19 with 3.22 goals per game.

However, if returning players such as Max Humitz, Collin Saccoman and Jacob Nordqvist can produce at a higher level with Nick Kossoff maintaining stability in net, Lake State could be a serious dark horse.

Minnesota State

2018-19 record: 32-8-2

Key returners: Marc Michaelis, Parker Tuomie, Charlie Gerard, Dryden McKay, Conor Mackey, Ian Scheid

Key losses: None

Well, there’s a reason why the Mavericks are projected to finish first in the WCHA this upcoming season, and the “key returners” list tells the entire story.

This team is absolutely loaded from top to bottom: elite offense, smothering defense and incredibly stable goaltending.

In all likelihood, Minnesota State will be a top-five team for the entirety of the 2019-20 season, win the WCHA regular season and tournament titles, and be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Northern Michigan

2018-19 record: 21-16-2

Key returners: Philip Beaulieu

Key losses: Troy Loggins, Adam Rockwood, Tony Bretzman, Atte Tolvanen

Northern Michigan will have to replace a whole lot of production, as the 75 combined points between Troy Loggins and Adam Rockwood were lost as a result of graduation. The duo anchored the offense and defense, respectively, and their 219 combined career points will be missed along with Tony Bretzman’s plus-minus rating of plus-16 on defense. In addition, goalkeeper Atte Tolvanen and his 1.98 goals against average in conference will have to be replaced.

Philip Beaulieu and his plus-minus rating of plus-16, the highest on the 2018-19 team, will lead a rebuilding Wildcats team into the new season.

Arizona State

2018-19 record: 21-13-1

Key returners: Johnny Walker, Tyler Busch, Brinson Pasichnuk

Key losses: Joey Daccord

Arizona State is not a WCHA program, but, as a contending independent team that plays out west, there’s no better place to put the Sun Devils than here.

The youngest program in all of college hockey did some serious growing up in 2018-19, as Arizona State made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in just its fourth season of Division I play.

Johnny Walker and Tyler Busch will once again lead a balanced offensive attack, as the two teamed up for 55 total points last year, accounting for about 19% of the team’s total points.

On defense, Brinson Pasichnuk returns for his senior year as one of the best defensemen in college hockey. His plus-minus of plus-25 ranked sixth in the country, and he is expected to only get better.

Goalie Joey Daccord signed with the Ottawa Senators at the conclusion of last season, and, as a result, the Sun Devils will need to search for a new netminder.

 

Christopher Hess is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email christopherhess22@gmail.com.