WCHA Midseason Awards

Posted by: Dan Myers

With the WCHA at it’s true midway point for the next couple weeks, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at how I would vote these awards at the halfway point of the season. Obviously, there is a ton of hockey left to be played, and this is just one man’s opinion… but here is how I’d vote if the ballots were due today. I’m sure I’ll have no trouble soliciting some opinions — especially from North Dakota fans.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everybody. Rip away!

First Team
F — Jack Connolly (UMD)
F — Nick Bjugstad (MIN)
F —  Rylan Schwartz (CC)
D — Justin Schultz (WIS)
D — Brad Hunt (BSU)
G — Kent Patterson (MIN)
Here’s why: Connolly, Bjugstad and Schultz are no-brainers. Schwartz is tied with Bjugstad for the league lead in goals (16) but has also been clutch: He is second in power play goals and fourth in game winning goals. I love what Hunt brings; he is underrated on both ends of the rink. Patterson has already tied the school record for shutouts in a season.

Second Team
F — Mark Zengerle (WIS)
F — Erik Haula (MIN)
F — Brock Nelson (UND)
D — Nate Schmidt (MIN)
D — Nick Jensen (SCSU)
G — Kenny Reiter (UMD)
Here’s why: Zengerle is tied with Schultz for third in the WCHA in scoring and is second in the league in assists behind Schmidt. Haula’s willingness to shoot more has been a boon for Minnesota’s offense. Nelson is one of a three-headed monster, but has the most goals of the trio. Jensen might be the best all around defenseman in the WCHA not named Schultz. Reiter has been brilliant at times and hasn’t lost a game since October.

Third Team
F — Matt White (UNO)
F — Ben Hanowski (SCSU)
F — Jason Zucker (DU)
D — Brady Lamb (UMD)
D — Ben Blood (UND)
G — Josh Robinson (MTU)
Here’s why: White has identical numbers to Haula but plays on a team that’s not quite as good. I love what Hanowski has done in all facets of the game, especially with Drew LeBlanc out. Zucker could very well be the most gifted goal scorer in the league. Lamb has stepped up in the absence of Justin Faulk and Blood continues to be a physical force. Robinson’s jump in play is the main reason behind Tech’s surge to the middle of the pack.

Rookie Team
F — Kyle Rau (MIN)
F — Jean-Paul Lafontaine (MSU)
F — Blake Pietila (MTU)
D — Andrew Prochno (SCSU)
D — Joey LaLeggia (DU)
G — Andrew Walsh (BSU)
Here’s why: Rau looked like a legitimate All-America candidate in early November, but his goal scoring has slowed down just a bit since the season’s first month. Lafontaine has quietly put together a great first half on a terrible team. Pietila’s ability to score has given the Huskies another sorely needed offensive threat. Prochno and LaLeggia are both getting it done in both ends. Walsh has established himself as a legitimate goaltender, stealing the job away from a senior and leading the league in goals against and save percentage.

Player of the Year
Nick Bjugstad — Minnesota
For me, this is a competition between two players — Bjugstad and Minnesota Duluth forward Jack Connolly. Connolly leads the nation with 29 points, but Bjugstad is tops in goals. The confidence with which Bjugstad is playing with right now is truly something to watch, and he is one of the main reasons why the Golden Gophers are tied with the Bulldogs atop the WCHA standings. We knew coming into this season that Connolly was really good. Bjugstad’s freshman campaign last season was somewhat underwhelming. But there isn’t a player in the country that can contain him right now.

Defensive Player of the Year
Justin Schultz — Wisconsin
And it’s not just because Schultz is the best offensive defenseman in the league, perhaps the entire country. He’s also a team-best plus-6 on a team that has allowed more goals than it’s scored and currently resides in 10th place in the standings. Badgers coach Mike Eaves has churned out many a NHL-caliber defenseman over his decade in Madison, but Schultz might just be the best of the bunch.

Coach of the Year
Scott Sandelin — Minnesota Duluth
Yes, I’m gonna get ripped by the Michigan Tech crowd, but my vote of Sandelin is not meant as a slight at Mel Pearson, who’s worked miracles in Houghton through the season’s first half. But coming off a national championship and losing the amount of talent off that team should have relegated the Bulldogs to a mid-level spot in the WCHA standings. Instead, UMD is on top and they haven’t lost a game in over two months. TWO MONTHS! By the time this season is over, I’m guessing Pearson will be the runaway winner for this award among the rest of the league media. But at the halfway point, nobody has done a more masterful job than Sandelin.

Biggest Surprise
Michigan Tech
No surprise here, the Huskies were one of the nation’s worst teams last season but have rebounded under Pearson, the first year coach and long-time assistant at Michigan. The Huskies have slowed a bit since a torrid start, but have already doubled their win total from all of last season.

Biggest Disappointment
Minnesota State
The Mavericks weren’t expected to win any championships this season, or even compete for home ice (although I had them eighth on my preseason ballot). But MSU has been abysmal in the win-loss column this year and is off to its worst start since being admitted to the league over a decade ago. Mankato has been ravaged by injury over the course of the first half and are still looking for consistency — they followed up perhaps their best effort of the season last Friday against CC (a 2-1 loss) with maybe their worst on Saturday (a 6-2 loss).

Now it’s time for you to sound off. What do you think of these picks? What changes would you make? Leave your comments below.

One Response to “WCHA Midseason Awards”

  1. USA roster set for World Juniors | Rink and Run Says:

    […] Dan Myers of College Hockey News takes a look at the first half of the WCHA season here. […]