- Tradition Starts Here: The men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), among the most historic, tradition-rich and successful conferences in college hockey, drops the puck on its 64th season this weekend. Nine of the league's teams open their regular season schedules, while the 10th hosts an exhibition contest.
- Polling Place: No. 6 Minnesota State, No. 15 Michigan Tech and No. 16 Bowling Green give the WCHA a trio of teams in the preseason USCHO.com poll, while the Mavericks (No. 9) and Huskies (No. 15) are also ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll (the Falcons have the most votes of any team outside the top-15).
- Preseason Accolades: MTU senior forward Alex Petan (4th among D-I active players with 102 career points) and UAH junior goaltender Carmine Guerriero (.927 save pct. while facing most shots per minute in the country last year) were both named to the College Hockey News Preseason All-America Second Team. MSU's Bryce Gervais (2nd in the nation with 27 goals in 2014-15) and UAF's Tyler Morley (8th among active players with 92 career points) were named among USCHO.com's "Top 10 Forwards to Watch." That same outlet also pegged 2015 WCHA Rookie of the Year Michael Bitzer (BSU) and Winnipeg Jets draftee Jamie Phillips (MTU) to its goalie watch list.
- More of the Same?: Minnesota State (1st at .762), Michigan Tech (No. 3 at .732) and Bowling Green (No. 7 at .654) gave the WCHA an NCAA-best three of the nation's top 10 winning percentages last year. Bemidji State closed the 2014-15 campaign on a 13-7-5 run, while Alaska went 7-0-1 in its final eight contests.
- Experience Counts: Minnesota State (107), Bowling Green (103) and Michigan Tech (99) rank second, fourth and fifth nationally, respectively, for most returning goals. Ferris State is 10th with 80.4% of its points back in a Bulldog uniform.
By the Numbers
- 1: The MacNaughton Cup race has been decided by just a single point in each of the first two seasons of the WCHA's current alignment. Minnesota State is the coaches' choice to repeat as WCHA regular season champions in 2015-16.
- 79: Wins for Minnesota State since the start of the 2012-13 season, most in D-I hockey over that three-year span.
- 161: Days between Friday's regular season openers and the March 18 start of the 2016 WCHA Final Five, which returns to Grand Rapids, Mich. and the Van Andel Arena - home to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Week Ahead
- Nonconference Tests: After improving its nonconference winning percentage by 102 points last year, the WCHA opens 2015-16 with 18 games against the NCHC (9), Big Ten (5), Hockey East (2) and, for the first time, D-I independent Arizona State (2).
- Tournament Time: Alaska Anchorage hosts the 25th anniversary addition of the Kendall Hockey Classic, while formally welcoming Arizona State to D-I hockey. Alaska and No. 17 St. Cloud State round out the field. Lake Superior State travels to Portland, Maine for the Ice Breaker Tournament, where the Lakers will skate against No. 4 North Dakota and Michigan State.
- Ranked Mavericks Tussle: Two teams in the top 10 of the USCHO.com poll, No. 6/9 Minnesota State and No. 10/11 Omaha, face off at the Verizon Wireless Center in a Mavericks vs. Mavericks series.
2014-15 Season in Review
As the past two years have shown, WCHA fans continue to enjoy all of the intensity, excitement and passion that have long been league hallmarks. The 2014-15 season saw the WCHA finish with three nationally-ranked teams, including two in the top ten. The league also produced an NCAA-best three of the country's top-ten winning percentages, while placing a pair of teams in the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Tournament.
ON THE ICE
Polling Place: No. 7/6 Minnesota State, No. 9 Michigan Tech and No. 18 Bowling Green gave the WCHA three ranked teams in the final opinion polls, including a pair of top-10 squads.
- Minnesota State and Michigan Tech both spent time as the nation's top-ranked team.
- Seven (7) of the WCHA's 10 teams spent at least one week ranked in the top 20 of the USCHO.com poll.
Winning Hockey: Minnesota State (No. 1 at .762), Michigan Tech (No. 3 at .732) and Bowling Green (No. 7 at .654) gave the WCHA an NCAA-best three of the nation's top 10 winning percentages.
- Alaska (No. 19 at .588) rounded out the WCHA quartet in the top 20 winning percentages, just one behind Hockey East for most of any conference.
- Minnesota State finished with the top PairWise ranking in the nation, while Michigan Tech was seventh and Bowling Green was 16th – just .0002 behind eventual national champion Providence.
Nonconference Improvement: The WCHA finished with the third-best nonconference record in the country at .493 (30-31-9, including the NCAA tournament). This represented a huge improvement over 2013-14, when the league was just 26-46-12 (.381).
In-Season Tournament Champions: Alaska (Kendall Hockey Classic and Brice Alaska Goal Rush), Lake Superior State (Florida College Hockey Classic) and Bemidji State (North Star College Cup) all captured in-season tournament titles.
League Champions: Minnesota State hoisted the first MacNaughton Cup in school history after capturing the league's regular season title, while the Mavericks successfully defended their Broadmoor Trophy championship by winning the Final Five.
NCAA Tournament: For the second consecutive season, two teams (Minnesota State and Michigan Tech) represented the WCHA in the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Tournament.
The Next Level: Twenty-three (23) alumni, representing all 10 current WCHA member institutions, played in the NHL during the 2014-15 regular season.
- Twenty-five (25) players who played in the WCHA in 2014-15 signed professional contracts following the season.
Coach of the Year: Minnesota State bench boss Mike Hastings was selected as the recipient of the 2014-15 Spencer Penrose Award as the national coach of the year after leading the Mavericks to the country's best overall winning percentage at .762 (29-8-3).
- Michigan Tech's Mel Pearson was honored as the College Hockey News Coach of the Year following a season that saw the Huskies ascend to the top of the national polls, win 29 games and advance to its first NCAA tournament since 1981.
All-Americans: Four players earned CCM All-America honors – first team forwards Tanner Kero (Michigan Tech) and Matt Leitner (MSU), and second team defenseman Colton Parayko (UAF) and Zach Palmquist (MSU).
Hobey Baker Award Finalist: Michigan Tech's Kero was a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for his work in propelling the Huskies back to the national stage. The WCHA's regular season and overall scoring champion, Kero tied for 12th nationally with 46 points (20g, 26a) while tying for third with seven game-winning goals (tied for the fourth-most in WCHA history).
Mike Richter Award Finalist: After emerging as one of the nation's top goaltenders, Michigan Tech's Jamie Phillips was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award. The Winnipeg Jets' draftee played in all 41 games, logged the third-most minutes in the country (2417:18), and also ranked among NCAA D-I leaders for save percentage (5th - .934), goals-against average (3rd - 1.74), winning percentage (4th - .744) and shutouts (t2nd - 6).
USCHO.com Honors: Minnesota State's Bryce Gervais earned third team All-USCHO.com accolades.
FOR THE RECORD BOOKS
Historically Good: Minnesota State (21-4-3, .804) and Michigan Tech (21-5-2, .786) posted the third- and fourth-best conference winning percentages, respectively, in WCHA history for a 28-game league season. The 21 wins tied for the third-most in league annals. In all, 230 teams have completed a 28-game WCHA schedule, spanning 24 such seasons.
- The Mavericks also rattled off a 12-game WCHA unbeaten streak from Dec. 6 through Feb. 13, tied for the sixth-longest run in league history.
Road Warriors: Michigan Tech's .813 road winning percentage (12-2-2) was the third-best in league annals.
The Puck Stops Here: Michigan Tech set an all-time WCHA record for fewest average goals allowed per game at 1.80 (74ga, 41gp), while Minnesota State established the standard for conference play at 1.68 (47ga, 28gp).
- MSU's Stephon Williams set the all-time WCHA record with a 1.55 goals-against average during conference play, while posting the third-best overall winning percentage (.779, 25-6-3) and goals-against average (1.65) in league annals.
- BSU's Michael Bitzer had a historic freshman campaign, finishing just behind Williams in league history with a 1.61 GAA during WCHA play. His 1.80 season mark is the eighth-best by a WCHA netminder. Bitzer's .936 save percentage is tied for seventh in the league's 63-year history.
- MTU's Phillips became the eighth goalie in league history to win 20 WCHA games in a single season, going 20-4-2 (.808). His 1.71 GAA during league play was the fourth-lowest ever, while his overall 1.74 mark was fifth-best. Phillips also posted a .933 save percentage to rank third in WCHA annals.
- UAH's Carmine Guerriero set the WCHA record (fifth in NCAA history) with 76 saves in an epic performance at Michigan Tech in the opening game of the league playoffs.
Penalty-Killing Prowess: Bowling Green set the WCHA record with a 89.9% penalty-kill percentage (141-for-157).
IN THE CLASSROOM AND IN THE COMMUNITY
Senior CLASS Award: Michigan Tech's Kero and Ferris State's CJ Motte were two of the 10 finalists for the 2015 Senior CLASS Award, both earning First Team Senior CLASS All-America status.
Scholar-Athletes: Forty (40) student-athletes, representing all 10 member institutions, earned Scholar-Athlete Award status for maintaining a GPA of 3.50 or above.
All-Academic Team: One hundred thirty-two (132) student-athletes, representing all 10 member institutions earned a spot on the All-Academic Team for maintaining a GPA of 3.00 or above.