The 1995-96 WCHA season was another thriller. The Final Five had two overtime games and another one-goal game in the semi-finals. The Broadmoor Trophy made the University of Minnesota, winners of the Trophy in 1993 and 1994, its 1996 resting place.
After that Minnesota and MacNaughton Cup champions Colorado College advanced to the NCAA championships. In the West Regional Minnesota beat Providence (5-1) but lost to Michigan (4-3) while CC topped Mass-Lowell (5-3).
Don Lucia’s Tigers proved to be a gritty representative into the finals when they beat Vermont 4-3 in double overtime. The legs were weary in the finals but it still took Michigan overtime to win the title from the Tigers, who have won three straight regular season WCHA championships, 3-2.
Another piece of icing was added when Minnesota’s Brian Bonin, who was the league’s MVP, was named the Hobey Baker Award winner, climaxing a career that was nothing short of spectacular. The Hobey Baker Award is given annually to the nation’s best Division I hockey player.
The list of conference award winners would make any coach look for a Zamboni to ride. How about having Rookie of the Year Brian Swanson (Colorado College) at center with Defensive Player of the Year Eric Rud (Colorado College) at defense. Add in the Student-Athlete of the Year, Dan Trebil (Minnesota) to the mix.
The first all-WCHA team featured forwards Bonin, Peter Geronazzo (Colorado College) and Teeder Wynne (North Dakota) back up by defensemen Mike Crowley (Minnesota) and Nick Naumenko (North Dakota). Goalie Ryan Bach (Colorado College) topped off the team.
The All-Rookie team should have fans happy for years. Swanson, Matt Cullen (St. Cloud) and Erik Rasmussen (Minnesota) are up front. Scott Swanson (Colorado College) and Darren Bradley (Alaska Anchorage) are on the blue line and Steve DeBus (Minnesota) mans the nets.
Clear the ice and start that Zamboni.
The 1995-96 pre-season coaches poll had Doug Woog’s Gophers topping Colorado College. But the Tigers lost just twice in WCHA play (4-3 to Denver, 3-2 to Minnesota) and won the title by 12 points. Minnesota finished a solid second and five teams finished with 30 or more points. Only Alaska-Anchorage (8) and Northern Michigan (5) finished in single digits in wins.
It was easy to see why the Tigers won the title. They led the league with 178 goals and gave up the fewest, 78. Special teams play can make or break any team and once again Colorado College was strong. They converted on 31.8 percent of their power-play opportunities and killed off 86 percent of their opponents. Both stats were tops in the league.
A look at the final conference scoring race has four seniors at the top; Bonin (25-39-64), Wynne (23-37-60), Geronazzo (31-24-55) and Colin Schmidt (Colorado College) (15-33-48). Fans should be happy that five of the next six leading scorers could return; Brian Swanson (19-28-47), Crowley (13-33-46), Antti Laaksonen (Denver) (18-23-41), Rasmussen (13-27-40) and Scott Swanson (8-31-39).
Four of the top four goalies also could return; Judd Lambert (Colorado College) (12-0-2, 2.05 GAA, .923 Save %), Bach (14-2-2, 2.70, .898), DeBus (10-6-0, 2.91, .894) and Jim Mullin (Denver), 6-4-2, 3.13, .887.
Can 1996-97 be more exciting? Probably, but that’s another story.