Because I cover the league as a whole, I do not receive an All-WCHA ballot. They are distributed by schools and their Sports Information Directors, generally to the local beat writers, radio guys, TV guys, etc. Coaches also get a vote, as do team captains. That’s how these guys are chosen.
Any scribes like myself who are not affiliated with a local daily or with the team itself do not get a ballot unless an SID provides us with one. Perhaps that will change in the new WCHA.
Anyways, without further ado, here is who I would choose if I had a ballot. I have no doubt I’ll be ripped, so you can do that in the comments below:
F – Jack Connolly (UMD)
F – Drew Shore (DU)
F – Nick Bjugstad (MIN)
D – Justin Schultz (WIS)
D – Nate Schmidt (MIN)
G – Kent Patterson (MIN)
EXPLAINED: Certainly plenty of worthy contenders for the first-team slots. In my estimation, Connolly is the best player in the country. If I had a Hobey vote, he’d have my vote. Shore and Bjugstad are two of the league’s best pure goal scorers. Bjugstad is the engine that powers Minnesota. Schultz is also a Hobey candidate and could be the best defenseman in the country. I originally had Blood penciled in here, but Schmidt’s sick plus-22 made me move him up. Patterson is the league’s goaltending champ and was a minutes-eating monster (which I know bothers some of you out there, but it’s something I look at).
F – Mark Zengerle (WIS)
F – Travis Oleksuk (UMD)
F – Brock Nelson (UND)
D – Ben Blood (UND)
D – Joey LaLeggia (DU)
G – Josh Thorimbert (CC)
EXPLAINED: Zengerle is one of the most underrated players in the league and has either scored or assisted on almost half of Wisconsin’s goals this season. Oleksuk gets lumped in with Connolly, but the two are not on the same line — making his 48 point season even more impressive. Nelson’s 23 goals are tied with Bjugstad for most in the league. Blood’s point totals won’t jump out at you, but he is as shutdown a defender as there is in the WCHA. LaLeggia’s numbers are ridiculous for any defenseman, much less a freshman. Thorimbert led the league in save percentage and finished third in goals against.
F – J.T. Brown (UMD)
F – Jason Zucker (DU)
F – Ben Hanowski (SCSU)
D – Brad Hunt (BSU)
D – Nick Jensen (SCSU)
G – Juho Olkinuora (DU)
EXPLAINED: Brown finished fifth in the league in scoring and his 21 goals are tied for fourth most. Zucker’s 1.35 points per game is third best in the league. Hanowski lifted the Huskies on his shoulders all season, leading the SCSU to the final home-ice spot. Hunt is a solid two-way defender and is a huge threat on the back-end in power play situations. Jensen is one of just four defensemen in the league to reach 30 points. Olkinuora is a big reason why the Pioneers were able to survive the Sam Brittain injury to finish third, as the Finn finished second in the league in both save percentage and goals against.
F – Kyle Rau (MIN)
F – Caleb Herbert (UMD)
F – Jean-Paul Lafontaine (MSU)
D – Joey LaLeggia (DU)
D – Andrew Prochno (SCSU)
G – Ryan Massa (UNO)
EXPLAINED: If not for the glut of forward talent this year, Rau would have been an all-league guy himself — his 34 points led all forwards. Herbert quietly put together a terrific year in Duluth, as his 13 goals was tied for second most among freshmen with Rau, UNO’s Jayson Megna and my final forward. Lafontaine gets the nod over Megna because the quality of player around him is not nearly as much. Believed to be more of a playmaker, Lafontaine showed he has the goal-scoring chops to be an All-WCHA pick for the foreseeable future. LaLeggia, as a defenseman, led all freshmen in scoring. Prochno’s 26 points was second best among blueliners behind LaLeggia, as were his 22 assists. I chose Massa because Olkinuora was my third team choice, and because he was a top-6 guy in both save percentage and goals against.
Coach of the Year – Don Lucia (MIN)
Hats off to a great season by Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson. Nobody saw the Huskies becoming so competitive so early in his tenure. But after a great first half, Tech stumbled down the stretch and will likely be a one-and-done in the WCHA playoffs. Like Tech, nobody saw Minnesota winning the league. Chosen to finish sixth by the coaches and the media, the Gophers led the WCHA standings for all but 24 hours this season. Perhaps most impressive were Minnesota’s splits by period and by game — Lucia built a team who was always best in the third period, and got better as the weekend went on. After going 7-7 on Fridays but 13-1 on Saturdays. My top-5, in order: Lucia, Motzko, Hakstol, Pearson, Sandelin.
Player of the Year – Jack Connolly (UMD)
Connolly’s 55 points is six more than the next highest player (Zengerle). Although he scored just 18 goals, Connolly has made a career of making those around him better. “That’s the hallmark of a truly great player,” said Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt when I spoke to him last week. I agree. Both Travis Oleksuk and J.T. Brown are among the league’s top-5 scorers, but Connolly doesn’t share a line with either of them. Instead, Connolly has spent a large chunk of this season playing with unheralded players like Mike Seidel and Joe Basaraba, who have both seen large jumps in their offensive production with Connolly centering them. The Bulldogs’ team captain will likely go down as the first three-time All-American in school history and will certainly be one of the favorites for the Hobey Baker Award this season. My top-5 in order: Connolly, Schultz, Shore, Bjugstad, Nelson.
Rookie of the Year – Joey LaLeggia (DU)
The runaway winner for me, LaLeggia put together a freshman season for the ages — perhaps the best freshman season from a defenseman in league history. LaLeggia’s 37 points were 16th best among all players and just five behind Wisconsin’s Schultz, who is considered a favorite for the Hobey Baker Award. Should he stick around for the long-haul, there is a great chance LaLeggia could be a Hobey winner himself — perhaps as soon as next season. My top-5 in order: LaLeggia, Rau, Lafontaine, Herbert, Olkinuora.