‘Tougher’ WCHA crowd has league looking forward in 2010-11

In years past, this space has been used to recap the previous year a bit.

In other words, mention how Denver won the MacNaughton Cup, how North Dakota captured the Broadmoor Trophy, how the league got back to the Frozen Four thanks to Wisconsin, etc.

Justin Fontaine and Minnesota-Duluth have a lot of expectations to meet this season (photo: Minnesota-Duluth Athletics).

Justin Fontaine and Minnesota-Duluth have a lot of expectations to meet this season (photo: Minnesota-Duluth Athletics).

That would be past years.

This year, there’s too much new to talk about; primarily, the addition of the Nebraska-Omaha and Bemidji State to the league fold. Two new teams that get to see what it’s like to experience the meat grinder that is the regular season in the WCHA. Two teams that partially helped inspire the league’s new look and slogan, “Just Got Tougher,” because, after all, it’s true.

That “Just Got Tougher” line also can apply in a few other areas:

• North Dakota, thanks in part to the return of redshirt senior Chay Genoway, is gaining all the early hype as the consensus No. 1 team in the conference.

• Denver and Wisconsin, two perennial powerhouses, have the added difficulty of losing large chunks of their rosters, particularly their offenses.

• A brand new Final Five format in which the top two seeds get a bye, ensuring extra incentive for teams to play all out, all the time.

Obviously, in a new season in a new-look league with a new-look logo, it goes without saying that we’re going to be in for a year of exciting hockey.

Click on each team’s name for more detailed analysis.


Head coach: Dave Shyiak
2009-10 record: 11-23-2, 9-17-2 (20 points, ninth of 10 teams)
Key returners: F Tommy Grant, D Kane Lafranchise, F Sean Wiles
Key losses: G Bryce Christianson, G Jon Olthius, F Kevin Clark
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 11th, Tyler 11th, media 11th, coaches 11th
Bottom line: This looks to be another season at the bottom of the league for the Seawolves unless they get either some amazing rookie goaltending or some special teams help.

Bemidji State

Head coach: Tom Serratore
2009-10 record: 23-10-4, 14-3-1 (29 points, first of four CHA teams)
Key returners: G Dan Bakala, F Matt Read, D Brad Hunt
Key losses: F Chris McKelvie, D Chris Peluso
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 7th, Tyler 8th, media 8th, coaches 9th
Bottom line: Bemidji State built a new arena just in time to compete in a new league, hoping to achieve the same goal of qualifying for the national tournament. The Beavers are coming off two straight NCAA tournament berths.

Colorado College

Head coach: Scott Owens
2009-10 record: 19-17-3, 12-13-3 (27 points, sixth of 10 teams)
Key returners: D Gabe Guentzel, G Joe Howe, F Rylan Schwartz
Key losses: D Kris Fredheim, D Nate Prosser, F Bill Sweatt, F Mike Testwuide
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 10th, Tyler 5th, media 7th, coaches 6th
Bottom line: If the Tigers can continue to get strong goaltending from Howe as well as have a successful scoring-by-committee approach like Minnesota-Duluth did a few years back, they have the potential to do really well. They also have the potential to do really badly if it doesn’t pan out.


Head coach: George Gwozdecky
2009-10 record: 27-10-4, 19-5-4 (42 points, first of 10 teams)
Key returners: D Matt Donovan, F Jesse Martin, F Kyle Ostrow
Key losses: G Marc Cheverie, F Joe Colborne, F Rhett Rakhshani, D Patrick Wiercioch
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 5th, Tyler 6th, media 4th, coaches 4th
Bottom line: Gwozdecky thinks the Pioneers will be a more complete, four-line team this season and that goaltending will work itself out like it did a few years back. If he’s right, this year shouldn’t be too much of a struggle for a team that never seems to fall out of the league’s top half.

Michigan Tech

Head coach: Jamie Russell
2009-10 record: 5-30-1, 4-24-0 (eight points, 10th of 10 teams)
Key returners: G Kevin Genoe, F Brett Olson, D Steven Seigo
Key losses: D Drew Dobson, F Malcolm Gwilliam, F/D John Kivisto
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 12th, Tyler 12th, media 12th, coaches 12th
Bottom line: Though Russell has said he has revamped a few systems for the Huskies, the league is such that it will take a lot more than a new style of play for the team to crawl out of the cellar.


Head coach: Don Lucia
2009-10 record: 18-19-2, 12-14-2 (26 points, seventh of 10 teams)
Key returners: C Jacob Cepis, D Cade Fairchild, G Alex Kangas
Key losses:D Nick Leddy, F Tony Lucia, F Jordan Schroeder
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 4th, Tyler 7th, media 6th, coaches 5th
Bottom line: Minnesota lost two of its most talented players to professional hockey this offseason, but Don Lucia’s latest batch of recruits might have the skills to match Nick Leddy and Jordan Schroeder.

Minnesota State

Head coach: Troy Jutting
2009-10 record: 16-20-3, 9-17-2 (20 points, eighth of 10 teams)
Key returners: G Phil Cook, F Rylan Galiardi, G Austin Lee, D Ben Youds
Key losses: F Geoff Irwin, F Kael Mouillierat, F Jerad Stewart
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 8th, Tyler 10th, media 10th, coaches 10th
Bottom line: Eight departed forwards and no go-to goal scorer will contribute to Minnesota State’s lack of scoring punch and anchor the Mavericks to the bottom of the WCHA standings.


Head coach: Scott Sandelin
2009-10 record: 22-17-1, 16-11-1 (33 points, fifth of 10 teams)
Key returners: F Jack Connolly, F Mike Connolly, F Justin Fontaine
Key losses: C Rob Bordson, G Brady Hjelle
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 3rd, Tyler 3rd, media 2nd, coaches 3rd
Bottom line: Minnesota-Duluth had one of the WCHA’s most lethal scoring trios in Fontaine, Mike Connolly and Jack Connolly last season. All three are back to lead the Bulldogs’ attack.


Head coach: Dean Blais
2009-10 record: 20-16-6, 13-12-3-2 (44 points, sixth of 12 CCHA teams)
Key returners: G John Faulkner, F Joey Martin, F Rich Purslow
Key losses: D Eddie Del Grosso, F John Kemp, F Nick Fanto
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 9th, Tyler 9th, media 9th, coaches 8th
Bottom Line: Blais returns to the league in which he won multiple Broadmoor Trophies and MacNaughton Cups. His Nebraska-Omaha team was average in the CCHA last season and will have to adapt to a much “tougher” WCHA.

North Dakota

Head coach: Dave Hakstol
2009-10 record: 25-13-5, 15-10-3 (33 points, fourth of 10 teams)
Key returners: G Brad Eidsness, F Matt Frattin, D Chay Genoway, F Jason Gregoire
Key losses: F Chris VandeVelde, F Darcy Zajac
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 1st, Tyler 1st, media 1st, coaches 1st
Bottom line: Looking at all that the Fighting Sioux returned, it’s no wonder why almost everyone is picking them first in the league. All they can hope for is that they live up to the hype — not only in the league, but on the national stage come April.

St. Cloud State

Head coach: Bob Motzko
2009-10 record: 24-14-5, 15-9-4 (34 points, third of 10 teams)
Key returners: G Dan Dunn, G Mike Lee, F Tony Mosey, F Garrett Roe
Key losses: F Ryan Lasch, D Garrett Raboin
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 2nd, Tyler 2nd, media 3rd, coaches 2nd
Bottom line: Ryan Lasch graduated as St. Cloud State’s all-time leading scorer. Garrett Roe isn’t far behind Lasch on the school’s career points list and the Huskies are expecting big numbers from the senior this season.


Head coach: Mike Eaves
2009-10 record: 28-11-4, 17-8-3 (37 points, second of 10 teams)
Key returners: G Scott Gudmandson, D Justin Schultz, F Craig Smith
Key losses: F Michael Davies, F Blake Geoffrion, D Brendan Smith, F Derek Stepan
2010-11 predicted finish: Theresa 6th, Tyler 4th, media 5th, coaches 7th
Bottom line: Out of all the teams, the Badgers may have been hit the hardest with losses on both their front and back lines. However, keeping their goaltending intact may end up being a redeeming factor in what has potential to be a long season in Madison.