- Tradition Starts Here: The Men's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), among the most historic and successful conferences in college hockey, drops the puck on its 65th season this weekend.
- A New Era: The WCHA's 65th campaign features the introduction of several initiatives aimed at enhancing the overall fan and student-athlete experience.
- 3-on-3 OT and Shootout: Ensuring that each contest will have a "winner" in the league standings, each WCHA regular season league game that remains tied after regulation and the NCAA-mandated, five-minute 5-on-5 overtime period will now advance to a second five-minute overtime period, of 3-on-3 play; if the game is still tied, it will be settled in a sudden death shootout (wherein each team will receive a minimum of one shot, and the second team to shoot can match if the first team to shoot, scores). Games decided in 3-on-3 overtime or shootout will officially be recorded as a tie, but the winner will receive an extra point in the WCHA standings.
- Three-point Games: Coinciding with the new overtime format, each WCHA regular season league game will now be worth three points. Teams will be awarded the full three points for winning in regulation or the 5-on-5 overtime period; will receive one point for a tie (after regulation and the 5-on-5 overtime); and, one point for winning in 3-on-3 overtime or shootout.
- NHL Nets: WCHA skaters will have four additional inches to work with behind the net in each league rink this season, as all 10 member institutions will install the 40-inch goal frame that is standard across the NHL. A vast majority of WCHA arenas in 2015-16 had the 44-inch frames that long have been a staple of college hockey.
- On-campus Postseason Tournament: Following the regular season, the WCHA will debut its new, on-campus postseason tournament. Bringing the singular intensity and passion of playoff college hockey directly to its member institution fans, the "2017 WCHA Playoffs" will consist of four (4) best-of-three, quarterfinal round series hosted by the league's top four regular-season finishers the weekend of March 3-5, followed by two (2) best-of-three semifinal round series hosted by the highest remaining seeds the weekend of March 10-12. The "2017 WCHA Championship" will be a single game, hosted by the highest remaining seed, Saturday, March 18.
- Polling Place: Four WCHA teams open the campaign ranked in the USCHO top-20 preseason poll, mirroring their projected league finish in the coaches' and media polls: No. 14 Bowling Green, No. 17 Michigan Tech, No. 19 Minnesota State and No. 20 Ferris State.
- 4x20: With four separate 20-win teams for the first time since realignment, the WCHA in 2015-16 was one of just two Division I conferences to have at least that many (Hockey East led the country with five, 20-win teams).
- Michigan Tech (23-9-5), Bowling Green (22-14-6), Minnesota State (21-13-7) and Ferris State (20-15-6) formed the WCHA's 20-win quartet.
- Among the Best: Four (4) of the nation's top-15 winningest teams over the past three seasons play in the WCHA - the highest representation among that upper 25% of programs of any D-I conference since realignment (Hockey East and the NCHC each have three teams apiece, the Big Ten and ECAC Hockey both have two each and Atlantic Hockey has a single program).
- Minnesota State is fourth nationally with 76 wins, Ferris State is tied for 10th with 67, Michigan Tech is 12th with 66 and Bowling Green is 15th with 63.
The Week Ahead
- Cup Quest Begins: No. 20 Ferris State, the reigning Broadmoor Trophy winner as WCHA playoff champion, hosts Alabama Huntsville in a season- and league-opening series. The two contests mark the first of the 140- game quest for the MacNaughton Cup.
- Dogfight: No. 17 Michigan Tech, the defending MacNaughton Cup co-champion, renews acquaintances with a former league foe by opening its campaign with a nonconference series at No. 6 Minnesota Duluth.
- Exhibitions: Alaska Anchorage (vs. Simon Fraser), Bowling Green (vs. Windsor), Minnesota State (vs. Regina), Lake Superior State (vs. Laurentian), Northern Michigan (vs. Victoria) and Alaska (vs. Simon Fraser) will all play exhibition contests this weekend.
2015-16 Season in Review – WCHA Remains Highly-Competitive
As the past three years have shown, WCHA fans continue to enjoy all of the intensity, excitement and passion that have long been league hallmarks. The 2015-16 season saw the WCHA represented in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, place three teams in the final USCHO.com top-20 poll, had a quartet of programs reach the 20-win plateau, celebrate MacNaughton Cup co-champions for the seventh time in league history, host its last Final Five tournament, feature a Hobey Baker Memorial Award top-10 finalist, honor two student-athletes who earned candidacy for the Senior CLASS Award and applaud 33 players who signed professional contracts.
ON THE ICE
A Look at the Final Polls: WCHA Final Five champion and NCAA Tournament Elite Eight participant Ferris State (No. 15), along with MacNaughton Cup co-champions Michigan Tech (No. 16) and Minnesota State (No. 17) gave the WCHA three ranked teams in the final USCHO.com top-20 poll for the second year in a row.
- The Bulldogs were also ranked 15th in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top-15 poll, while the Huskies - who finished 16th in the final pre-NCAA Tournament PairWise rankings - received votes.
- Bowling Green, which spent 17 weeks of the season ranked in the top 20, received votes in the final USCHO.com poll.
Elite Eight for Ferris State: Under the guidance of head coach Bob Daniels, Ferris State became the second WCHA team since realignment to reach the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight, matching its own 2014 accomplishment. The recipient of the WCHA's automatic bid and the league's lone representative, the West Regional fourth-seed Bulldogs posted a thrilling, 5-4 overtime victory over St. Cloud State in the regional semifinal - knocking off the West's top seed and the nation's overall second-ranked team in the process.
Winning Hockey: Half of the WCHA's 10 teams (five) finished above .500, matching Hockey East (6-of-12) and the Big Ten (3-of-6) for the third-highest mark, by percentage, among Division I conferences. ECAC Hockey led the way with 66.7 percent of its membership at-or-above .500 (8-of-12), followed by the NCHC at 62.5 percent (5-of-8).
- Michigan Tech's .689 winning percentage ranked seventh nationally, while Minnesota State (t-17th at .598), Bowling Green (t-19th at .595) and Ferris State (24th at .561) were also in the top 25.
The Cup Goes Home and Stays Put: For the seventh time in league history (also 1952-53, 1957-58, 1962-63, 1996-97, 2004-05 and 2012-13), the WCHA had regular season-co champions, as Michigan Tech and Minnesota State both ended the campaign with 39 points.
- Crafted in Calumet, Mich. and originally purchased back in 1913, the fabled MacNaughton Cup returned to its ancestral home in Copper Country for the first time since 1976, with the Huskies earning a share of their seventh WCHA title.
- The Mavericks won their second consecutive (and overall) league regular season crown.
"Underdawgs" Hoist Broadmoor Trophy: Ferris State went from the fourth seed in the WCHA playoffs to winning its first-ever conference tournament championship (CCHA or WCHA), going 4-0 and knocking off both MacNaughton Cup co-champions en route to capturing what would become the league's last Final Five crown.
- The Bulldogs swept visiting Northern Michigan in the best-of-three WCHA Quarterfinal Round series. FSU then defeated Michigan Tech, 1-0, in the Final Five semifinals and used a Gerald Mayhew penalty shot goal to outlast Minnesota State, 2-1, in the Broadmoor Trophy Championship Game at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Freshman goaltender Darren Smith, named the Final Five Most Valuable Player, played every minute in the Ferris State net and shone in the playoff spotlight. The rookie allowed just five goals during the WCHA postseason, finishing with a perfect 4-0 record, a 1.25 goals-against average, one shutout, 91 saves and a .948 save percentage.
Huskies in Elite Company: Michigan Tech was one of only four teams to rank in the top-10 nationally for both scoring offense and defense in 2015-16, joining Frozen Four participants Boston College, North Dakota and Quinnipiac.
- MTU ranked 10th with an average of 3.32 goals per game (123 in 37 games) and ninth by allowing just 2.08 goals per contest (37).
- UND, the 2016 National Champion, was seventh (3.64) and second (1.86); fellow finalist Quinnipiac was fourth (3.88) and fifth (1.90); and, Boston College was fifth (3.85) and seventh (1.98).
Standard for Success: Minnesota State has reached unprecedented heights during the four-year tenure of head coach Mike Hastings. The program has gone 100-49-14 (.656) during that span, matching Massachusetts Lowell for the third-most wins in the country (behind only North Dakota's 110 and Quinnipiac's 109).
National Accolades: WCHA Player of the Year and Michigan Tech co-captain Alex Petan was a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, while also earning Second Team CCM All-America honors.
- Ferris State's Darren Smith was named the national freshman Goaltender of the Year by College Hockey News, earning a spot on the website's All-Rookie Team.
THE NEXT LEVEL
NHL Impact: Led by two-time WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and NHL rookie sensation Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues, WCHA alumni continue to make an impact at the sport's highest levels. 2016 WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Casey Nelson went from the Final Five championship game with Minnesota State one Saturday to his NHL debut with the Buffalo Sabres the next weekend, while 33 players who played in the league last season have signed professional contracts.
- Parayko, who earned league Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2014 and 2015, led all rookie skaters with a +28 rating and ranked second among first-year blue-liners with 33 points (9g-24a). He teamed with fellow WCHA alumnus David Backes (Minnesota State) in leading the Blues to their first Western Conference Final appearance since 2001.
- Nelson, who went from undrafted free agent to NHL ice, finished with four assists, five shots on goal and a +1 rating in seven contests overall after debuting March 26.
Member-Institution Alumni in the NHL: Twenty-four (24) alumni, representing all 10 current WCHA member institutions, played in the NHL in 2015-16.
- The 2014-15 WCHA Player and Defensive Player of the Year, Tanner Kero (Michigan Tech / Chicago Blackhawks) and Parayko, respectively, both played in the NHL this past season. They were joined by Nelson, the 2015-16 Defensive Player of the Year.
- In one of the top feel-good stories of the 2015-16 season, Michigan Tech alumnus John Scott was voted by fans into the NHL All-Star Game, where he scored twice and earned All-Star Game MVP honors.
- Ferris State alumnus Chris Kunitz hoisted the Stanley Cup for the third time, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the championship. The 13-year veteran followed up a 40-point regular season (17g-23a) with 12 points (4g-8a) and a +2 rating in 24 postseason contests.
NHL Draft: Twelve (12) NHL draft picks were on WCHA rosters in 2015-16, including 2015 Los Angeles Kings selection Matt Roy of Michigan Tech (fellow 2015 draftee Ryan Bednard, a goaltender chosen by the Florida Panthers, is slated to join Bowling Green this fall).
- The 2016 NHL Draft saw incoming Ferris State commit Cameron Clarke go to the Boston Bruins (fifth round), while Bowling Green sophomore-to-be Adam Smith was tabbed by the Nashville Predators (seventh round).
NHL Development Camps: Forty-six (46) players with ties to WCHA programs – including 32 slated to skate in the league this upcoming season – were invited to participate in 2016 NHL Development Camps.
- Michigan Tech rising junior defenseman Mark Auk was one of just 11 NCAA players to attend two camps (Chicago and Edmonton).
International Competition: Former Alabama Huntsville goaltender and current Edmonton Oilers backstop Cam Talbot helped Canada earn gold at the 2016 IIHF World Championships, posting a .940 save percentage, 1.25 goals-against average and four shutouts in eight games. Backes (Team USA) and Parayko (Team North America) competed in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
IN THE CLASSROOM AND IN THE COMMUNITY
CoSIDA Academic All-District: Alabama Huntsville senior Chad Brears, Ferris State junior Chad McDonald, and Bemidji State juniors Brendan Harms and Reid Mimmack all earned CoSIDA Academic All-District accolades for their combined performances athletically and in the classroom.
Scholar-Athletes: Seventy-two (72) student-athletes, representing all 10 WCHA Men's League member institutions, earned WCHA Scholar-Athlete Awards for maintaining a GPA of 3.50 or above.
- This number represented an 80-percent increase, from 40 in 2014-15.
All-Academic Team: One hundred and forty (140) student-athletes, representing all 10 WCHA Men's League member institutions, earned a spot on the WCHA All-Academic Team for maintaining a GPA of 3.00 or above.
- This number represented a 6.1-percent increase, from 132 in 2014-15.
Senior CLASS Award: Ferris State defenseman Simon Denis and Michigan Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips were two of the initial 20 candidates for the 2016 Senior CLASS Award. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.
Hockey Humanitarian Award: Michigan Tech junior forward Tyler Heinonen and Alaska Anchorage senior defenseman Austin Sevalrud were two of 18 nominees for the 2016 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, presented annually to college hockey's finest citizen – a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism.