With the Sioux on a little bit of a break, aside from playing some of the best young players in the game of hockey, I thought it might be a good time to blog about the WCHA and give each team a letter grade based on how they are doing. Feel free to add comments and whatnot. We'll go from top of the standings to the bottom.
North Dakota: A-
The only thing preventing me from giving the Sioux an A is the fact that they were swept by Maine early in the season. North Dakota is playing very well right now, with a solid goaltender in Aaron Dell and Matt Frattin leading the league in scoring. Chay is playing well and assisting his team quite nicely. This is an unusual start for a Hakstol-led team, but Sioux fans are enjoying being in first place at Christmastime.
For as much as I hate DU's fanbase and find their coach arrogant and egotistical, I'm very proud of this Denver team. Responding well to Jesse Martin's very unfortunate neck injury, DU has overachieved with a team of freshman and sophomores. Combine that with Sam Brittain in net who has done absolutely fantastic, and DU is in a great place at the break. I picked DU to finish in the top half, but still...I didn't think they would be this good.
Sandelin has had some really good teams and some really bad teams in his tenure at UMD. This is a really good team. The Connolly's are fantastic and both are Hobey worthy. The only reason I'm ranking UMD at an A- is they faltered a bit last weekend at the Gophers, but not for effort; UMD outplayed the Gophers in every aspect of the game except the scoreboard. This is a dangerous team; I look for them to return to the Frozen Four for the first time since Junior Lessard.
Mark Blehm convinced me to up them from an A to an A+, if nothing else then they were predicted to finish anywhere from 7th-9th in the WCHA. This UNO team is ranked, and ranked highly in the USCHO.com poll. Dean Blais, a coach Goon predicts will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday, has recruited a solid team that plays hard, physical, WCHA hockey. They are not the most talented, but certainly they work hard each night. I don't know if the grind of the WCHA will wear them down, but we shall see. So far, so good for UNO.
Colorado College: B
Had CC decided to show up earlier in the season, they very well could be a top 3 team right now in the WCHA. Jaden Schwartz, who made Canada's World Junior Roster, is a fantastic young player and leader for the WCHA ROTY. CC is one of those teams you cannot plan to walk all over; they will show up each night and play. I think they are overachieving right now and will come down to earth a bit, but Scott Owens has this team on the right track for now.
Which team shows up on any given night? The Minnesota Golden Gophers that are able to dominate a team and showcase flashes of brilliance, or the Gophers that roll over and play dead? In the past few years, Minnesota has been struggling to find its identity, and this year is no different. Cepis has been absent for the most part, Barriball hasn't been playing well, and the goalie situation is a mess. The Gophers have way too much talent to not play better, but who knows if they can at this point.
What to say about Wisconsin? They are falling right about where we all thought they would. They showcase some great talent, but for the most part, their freshman are struggling right now and their home crowd has booed the team, which never seems to happen in any Wisconsin stadium, ever. It's Wisconsin, so never count them out...but at the same time...this team isn't anything special this year, either.
I figured by this point UAA would be hovering in 11th or 12th place, with only a few points. Instead, UAA is playing very well at home. Shyiak might not have the top tier program recruitment, but he's recruited some freshman that are doing quite well, like Jordan Kwas who is 2nd on the team in points. Matt Bailey, another freshman, is 3rd on the team in points. UAA is one of those teams we all root for to do well and they usually end up disappointing their fans and us, but this UAA team might be different. We'll see.
A couple weeks ago, Mankato was getting close to cracking the top-20 in the polls. But they've quickly come back down to earth. I don't doubt Mankato; in fact I believe they are always capable. However, they lack the killer instinct and because of that, they never seem to get over the hump. We'll see what they are capable of in the 2nd half.
No one can say they saw this coming. No one. Bemidji was picked to do pretty well in the WCHA this year. They opened a new arena, they had traditionally done well against the WCHA in non-conference play and were in the Frozen Four two years ago. What's happened? I think a lot of things, but mostly the players are probably a little star-struck. After all, the WCHA isn't the CHA; this league features some of the best talent at this level of hockey. Don't write Bemidji off yet; a sweep of UNO showed that they can beat teams. But they have an uphill battle to prove they belong in the top of the WCHA.
St. Cloud State: F
This team is too good to be where they are in the standings. But they are 11th and let's face it: they aren't climbing out of the cellar anytime soon. They play uninspired hockey and show no interest in showcasing the talent they have. Plus let's be honest: Bob Motzko is a crappy coach. A good alternative to Dahl maybe, but he's lackluster and better fit for the minors or juniors. St. Cloud will probably be back in the 2nd half, but we'll see.
Michigan Tech: D-
Mark Blehm again mentioned to me a few things about Tech: basically, they suck. They lack the winning instinct. They don't try hard enough. And from my observations, they are just not that good. It's rare that there's a team in the WCHA you can sleep on and win. Tech is one of those. The only reason they don't get an F is they cracked the top 20 early in the season. Otherwise, Tech is flat out bad and will continue to be so until Russell is fired, IMO.