Before the second half of WCHA conference play begins, I feel like it would be a good opportunity to step back and reflect upon the first half of the season. There have been some ups and downs along the way. Players who have expected to dominate have struggled while a few teams have exceeded every expectation from the preseason. Most importantly, the play continues to live up to the high standards of the WCHA. It’s a treat to watch all 12 teams every weekend and with 6 teams within 4 points of first place, the final second half of the conference as we know it cannot get any better.
So without further adieu, here are my WCHA first-half awards. Winners receive nothing except for the praise of seeing their name on the internet. Those excluded will have others make arguments for them because this is the internet.
F- Ryan Walters, Nebraska-Omaha
F- Corban Knight, North Dakota
F- Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State
D- Joey LaLeggia, Denver
D- Nate Schmidt, Minnesota
G- Juho Olkinuora, Denver
Rationale: Walters and Knight are both Hobey Baker contenders along with LeBlanc, who is second in the nation in points with 30. On D, LaLeggia (who leads all defensemen in scoring) and Schmidt continue to produce on both ends of the ice while Olkunuora leads the WCHA in GAA and save percentage.
F- Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College
F- Erik Haula, Minnesota
F- Danny Kristo, North Dakota
D- Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State
D- Derek Forbort, North Dakota
G- Stephon Williams, Minnesota State
Rationale: Schwartz is dangerous in bunches; the senior has 9 multi-point games. Haula, meanwhile leads a potent and deep Gopher offense with 26 points and Kristo is one point behind. Both Jensen and Forbort are pillars for their team’s defenses. Williams has been a major influence in Minnesota State turning things around in the first half.
F- Michael Mersch, Wisconsin
F- Matt Leitner, Minnesota State
F- Nic Dowd, St. Cloud State
D- Andrej Sustr, Nebraska-Omaha
D- Mike Boivin, Colorado-College
G- Landon Peterson, Wisconsin
Rationale: Mersch, who is second in the nation in goals on a Wisconsin team that is 46th in total offense, and Leitner have quietly been putting up points. Nic Dowd . Boivin has 15 points while the 6’8″ Sustr, who also has 15, has taken the next step in his development. Peterson, who has split time with Joel Rumpel for Wisconsin, has shined in his limited role and has given up 2 or fewer goals in 5 of the 8 games he’s played. He’d be higher if not for that limited role.
HM (in no particular order): Nick Shore (Denver), Andrew Walsh (Bemidji State), John Faulkner (Nebraska-Omaha), Jake McCabe (Wisconsin), Wade Bergman (Minnesota-Duluth), Blake Pietila (Michigan Tech), Chris Knowlton (Denver), William Rapuzzi (Colorado College), Ben Hanowski (St. Cloud State), Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota), Scott Winkler (Colorado College), Dominic Zombo (Nebraska-Omaha), Clarke Saunders (North Dakota)
F- Tony Cameranesi, Minnesota-Duluth
F- Kalle Kossila, St. Cloud State
F- Alex Petan, Michigan Tech
D- Andy Welinski, Minnesota-Duluth
D- Mike Reilly, Minnesota
G- Adam Wilcox, Minnesota
Rationale: Cameranesi, Kossila and Petan have each stepped right in to their respective offenses and contributed. Welinski was tough to leave off one of the above teams and Reilly has been a key member of the Gopher blue line. Although Wilcox hasn’t faced the number of shots some of his fellow goalies have, he does have 3 shutouts and has answered Minnesota’s biggest question mark entering the season.
Rocco Grimaldi All-Redshirt Freshman Team
F-Rocco Grimaldi, North Dakota
F-David Morley, St. Cloud State
Rationale: This is an excuse to give Grimaldi and Morley credit for their respective first half play while not counting them as rookies.
WCHA Player of the First Half - Ryan Walters, Nebraska-Omaha.
The toughest decision personally was who to pick for this dubious honor. On one hand, Walters leads the nation in both goals and points in addition to being on the top team in the WCHA standings. On the other hand, Corban Knight of North Dakota has done more in fewer games: 4 less points than Walters in 3 fewer games and UND has the best winning percentage in the WCHA. He also is an outstanding center when it comes to face-offs.
However, it’s hard to overlook Walters’ ascension from last year. The junior, who has 33 points in 22 games) has already passed his point total from his sophomore season (when he had 25 points in 33 games) midway through this year. I came close to copping out and giving both Walters and Knight co-player honors, but in the end I’m going to give it to the Nebraska-Omaha forward.
WCHA Rookie of the First Half - Stephon Williams, Minnesota State
As stated above, Williams, who has a .928 save percentage, has been a major influence in the Mavericks’ success. Minnesota State is 11-4-1 when he plays and is 11-1 with 3 shutouts since November 23rd.
This was another close one between Williams, Adam Wilcox and Kalle Kossila. Wilcox has similar stats to the Minnesota State goalie but Williams faces more shots and is counted on by his team a little more than him.
WCHA Comeback Player of the First Half – Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State (30 points in 22 games a year after a major knee injury)
WCHA Coach of the First Half – Mike Hastings, Minnesota State
There you go. Agree with my selections? Disagree? Have at it.