Wisconsin’s defensive talent was best displayed all season in that it could dress five first- or second-round NHL draft picks among its six blueliners.
Now there’s another way to quantify how good the Badgers’ defensive corps is: One of their own is the WCHA’s player of the year.
Junior Jamie McBain got that award Thursday before the start of the league’s Final Five. McBain, the league’s top defensive scorer, is Wisconsin’s seventh recipient of the league’s top individual honor but the first defenseman.
“No one was more surprised than me when coach told me,” said McBain, also the only WCHA player among the top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. “You look around the league at all the great players. One that came to my mind is (Minnesota forward) Ryan Stoa, just from the year he had, especially coming back after that injury.
“I was surprised, but, obviously, it’s a huge honor and something I’m very proud of.”
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol was named the league’s coach of the year after leading the Sioux to a second-half surge that was good enough to claim the regular season title.
He brought one of his players along for the first-team honorees. Defenseman Chay Genoway joined McBain as the top two defenseman, and Genoway took the hardware as the league’s best defensive player, an award voted on only by the 10 head coaches.
Stoa, the league’s leading scorer, headed the first team. Colorado College forward Chad Rau, St. Cloud State forward Ryan Lasch and Minnesota-Duluth goaltender Alex Stalock joined him.
Only two defensemen have won the WCHA’s player of the year award in the last 12 years — Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Carle was the other.
McBain came out on top of league balloting against six other players — Stoa, Stalock, Lasch, Genoway, Colorado College goaltender Richard Bachman and Denver goaltender Marc Cheverie — with an all-around game that, like the Badgers’ season, leveled off after a rough start.
In an 0-6-1 start to the season, McBain was minus-13 in plus/minus rating. He enters the Final Five at minus-9, but he helped give his team the chance to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament by helping lead the young UW defense out of that early abyss.
A scoring line of seven goals and 29 assists didn’t hurt matters in voting. McBain is second in the nation in points behind defensemen, trailing only Air Force’s Greg Flynn.
McBain also said he was surprised that he’s the first UW defenseman to earn the award.
“You look at the D-men that have been out of here: (Tom) Gilbert, (Brian) Rafalski, (Chris) Chelios,” McBain said. “With all those great players, it’s pretty astonishing.”
Steve Reinprecht was Wisconsin’s last WCHA player of the year, in 2000.
Hakstol has improved the Sioux’s regular season finish one place in each of his five seasons at North Dakota, leading to the MacNaughton Cup this season.
“This game is about teamwork and everything being a team effort,” Hakstol said. “I can say this: Our entire staff enjoys what they do. I think we all work hard at it. But most importantly, we work together at it and that includes not just our coaches, it includes our athletic trainers, it includes our managers.
“So, yeah, there’s satisfaction in building something a year at a time. That’s something that our whole staff takes pride in.”
A full list of the awards follows:
Player of the year: Jamie McBain, jr., D, Wisconsin
Student-athlete of the year: J.P. Testwuide, sr., D, Denver
Defensive player of the year: Chay Genoway, jr., D, North Dakota
Rookie of the year: Jordan Schroeder, F, Minnesota
Scoring champion: Ryan Stoa, jr., F, Minnesota
Goaltending champion: Alex Stalock, jr., G, Minnesota-Duluth
Coach of the year: Dave Hakstol, North Dakota
First team: Ryan Stoa, jr., F, Minnesota; Chad Rau, sr., F, Colorado College; Ryan Lasch, jr., F, St. Cloud State; Jamie McBain, jr., D, Wisconsin; Chay Genoway, D, jr., North Dakota; Alex Stalock, jr., G, Minnesota-Duluth
Second team: Ryan Duncan, sr., F, North Dakota; Jordan Schroeder, fr., F, Minnesota; Justin Fontaine, so., F, Minnesota-Duluth; Patrick Wiercioch, fr., D, Denver; Garrett Raboin, jr., D, St. Cloud State; Marc Cheverie, so., G, Denver
Third team: Garrett Roe, so., F, St. Cloud State; Anthony Maiani, so., F, Denver; Rhett Rakhshani, jr., F, Denver; Josh Meyer, sr., D, Minnesota-Duluth; Kurt Davis, so., D, Minnesota State; Brad Eidsness, fr., G, North Dakota
Rookie team: Jordan Schroeder, F, Minnesota; Joe Colborne, F, Denver; Mike Connolly, F, Minnesota-Duluth; Patrick Wiercioch, D, Denver; Jake Gardiner, D, Wisconsin; Brad Eidsness, G, North Dakota