North Dakota Edged Pioneers in Tight Race for WCHA Championship Last Season
by Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks, N.D. – The Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches believe the roles will be reversed this year. Denver is the preseason pick to win the league in the 39th annual Grand Forks Herald WCHA preseason coaches poll. The Pioneers gained eight of 10 first-place votes to finish ahead of UND, Wisconsin, Minnesota and St. Cloud State in the poll. The Sioux received the other two first-place votes.
“We were fortunate enough not to lose too many players, other than our senior class and Tyler Bozak,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “We have a majority of our team from last year coming back. Once the season begins, who knows? I don’t know how many times the coaches poll has been accurate, but I’d be willing to wager, more times than not, they’ve been wrong. “The monkey is on our back this year.”
Indeed, the coaches haven’t always been able to pick the winner. Only twice in the past eight years have they been right. Last season, projected winner Colorado College finished fourth.
UND is the defending league champion, but it lost a nine-player senior class that included a former Hobey Baker Award winner. The Sioux have the largest freshman class (10) and smallest senior class (three) in the WCHA, so the second-place projection in the poll surprised coach Dave Hakstol a little bit.
“We’re a team that has to answer a lot of questions,” Hakstol said. “We have a lot of players that quickly have to develop into some key roles. Chemistry is such a big factor in this game. We’re going to have to develop chemistry real quick within a team structure. “The league is going to be very good this year. As you look through the league, there are a lot of guys who have the potential to be premier players on the national scene.”
Two of those players — St. Cloud State senior Ryan Lasch and Minnesota sophomore Jordan Schroeder — are the co-preseason players of the year as voted by the coaches. Both Lasch and Schroeder received three votes as player of the year. UND senior defenseman Chay Genoway received two votes, while Denver defenseman Patrick Wiercioch and Pioneer forward Rhett Rakhshani both got one vote.
Mike Lee, who led Roseau to a Minnesota big-school state championship as a sophomore in 2007, is the WCHA’s preseason rookie of the year. Lee, expected to be the No. 1 goalie at St. Cloud State, received five of 10 first-place votes. Minnesota defenseman Nick Leddy and Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Dylan Olsen each got two votes, while Denver defenseman Matt Donovan got one.
“I think the poll makes for some interesting talk, but that’s about it,” Gwozdecky said. “Our players will look at it and say, ‘OK.’ They don’t have any bearing on how we play this coming Sunday night, and they don’t have any bearing on the games thereafter. The poll is just where everybody thinks people are when the season begins. “We’ve got to play hard and take care of the little things. In this league, things are so difficult and competitive. There’s such a fine line between success and failure. It’s usually not determined by better talent, but how the talent plays together.”
39th Annual Grand Forks Herald WCHA Coaches Preseason Poll
Rank, Team (First Place Votes), Points
1. Denver (8), 80
2. North Dakota (2), 70
3. Wisconsin, 61
4. Minnesota, 58
5. St. Cloud State, 55
6. Minnesota Duluth, 37
7. Minnesota State, Mankato, 34
8. Colorado College, 26
9. Alaska Anchorage, 20
10. Michigan Tech, 9
WCHA Player of the Year: Ryan Lasch, F, SCSU (3); Jordan Schroeder, F, UM (3); Chay Genoway, D, UND (2); Rhett Rakhshani, F, DU (1); Patrick Wiercioch, D, DU (1).
WCHA Rookie of the Year: Mike Lee, G, SCSU (5); Nick Leddy, D, UM (2); Dylan Olsen, D, UMD (2); Matt Donovan, D, DU (1).
(Story courtesy of Grand Forks Herald)