WCCHA Regular Season Recap
Waldorf Leads the Pack Into the 2014 Conference Tournament
(Featured Image: Last year’s champions, UMD, will face a strong field of teams this year.)
Recap, Tourney Preview and Photos courtesy of Ryan Donovan, WCCHA Commissioner.
(ST. PAUL, MN) – As the dust settles on another competitive WCCHA season, the Waldorf Warriors emerged at the top of the pile as the regular season recently concluded. Behind a strong home record of 8-3-1, Waldorf earned first place with 21 league points and a 10-3-1 overall record. The surprise of the season, however, might just be newcomers UW-Eau Claire, who won 5 of their last 6 league games (including a sweep of Wisconsin last weekend) to rise from sixth to third place in the conference standings.
Here are the final league standings for 2013-2014:
University of St. Thomas
St. Cloud State University
University of Minnesota-Duluth
Northern Michigan University
University of Minnesota
University of Wisconsin
A team-by-team review of the WCCHA season and individual tournament preview:
#1 Waldorf Warriors (18-8-3-1 Overall, 10-3-1 WCCHA) – In only their second year of conference play, the Warriors reached the pinnacle of the league standings with steady play through the season. Waldorf started off the season on the right foot, winning their only conference road games in a sweep of eventual 2nd place St. Thomas. Although the team tends to play close games, the Warriors were the only league team not to be swept this season. They enter the WCCHA Tournament as the favorites while carrying a seven game winning streak, with forwards Jess Engquist and Dan Pletta providing the firepower up front and goaltender Michael Nelson anchoring an always-strong defense.
#2 St. Thomas (18-8-0-0 Overall, 9-5-0 WCCHA) – UST rebounded from a down year to restore some pride to a program that amassed three straight trips to Regionals at the end of the last decade. Despite an early home sweep at the hands of Waldorf, St Thomas built a strong conference record with sweeps of Minnesota, UW-Eau Claire and Minnesota-Duluth. The highest scoring team per game in the Central Region with an average of 6.5 goals/game, the Tommies – led by forwards Shael Hechter and Will Pavek – will be looking to out duel opponents at this year’s tournament, themselves carrying a nine game winning streak into competition this weekend.
#3 Wisconsin-Eau Claire (11-5-1-0 Overall, 8-5-1 WCCHA) – A strong finish to the WCCHA season put the first-year Blugolds in a high seed for this year’s tournament. After mixed results through the first half of the season, UWEC closed with a surprising road-sweep of St. Cloud State and a home romp over Wisconsin. This team never takes a shift off, which has proven to pay dividends through the course of the season and will almost certainly come into play during the tournament. Defensemen Austin Oungst and Dan Michaelson provide grit and leadership from the blue line, while forward Austin King leads the attack for UW-Eau Claire.
#4 – St. Cloud State (12-6-2 Overall, 7-5-2 WCCHA) – The early front runners for the WCCHA title appear to be one team entering the tournament on mixed form. However, if there is one thing SCSU has proved in the past, it’s that the battle for the Carla Berg Trophy brings out their best. With forwards Riley Bengston and Calvin Richardson anchoring this explosive offense, strong play from goaltender Patrick Bergen often puts the team in a position to beat anyone they face. An overtime, penalty shot lost in last season’s final may be just the fuel this team needs to retake the championship this season.
#5 – Minnesota-Duluth (11-7-0 Overall, 7-7-0 WCCHA) – Last season’s WCCHA Champions have struggled to replace the offensive strength lost due to graduation, but their continued strong defensive play saw the team battle to a .500 record in conference play. Of note, the Bulldogs are undefeated outside of conference, which could provide a confidence boost entering the tournament. Defensemen Rick Weber and Steve Hollapa are joined by goalie Alex Glockner in keeping opponents at bay, while any number of players can contribute on the scoring end. UMD will look to relive their heroics from the 2013 in a first-round championship rematch this season.
#6 – Northern Michigan (14-17-2 Overall, 5-7-2 WCCHA) – Having recorded perhaps the league’s best season last year, the Wildcats appeared to fall back to earth this season having garnered 12 league points. A dominant team at home, NMU was a mixed bag on the road this season, but always brings a good attitude and a toughness to every game. Forward Kellen Michalak was a clear offensive leader for most the season, but the strong defense provided by Ben Wheeler and Evan Weber was also an obvious bright spot. The team, currently ranked #13 in the central region, could greatly benefit from a strong showing at this year’s tournament as they seek a second consecutive trip to Regionals.
#7 – University of Minnesota (8-12-0-1 Overall, 4-10-0 WCCHA) – The four-time WCCHA Champions experienced a down season this year, but did manage a few strong conference results. Strong play from forward Eric Freeburg and defensive stallworth Lucas Shaw paced this team through the season, with wins over St. Cloud State, UW-Eau Claire and a sweep of Northern Michigan. If history shows anything, it could be that the Gophers often save their best play for the conference tournament.
#8 – University of Wisconsin (5-21-1-1 Overall, 3-11-0 WCCHA) – Feeling the effects of large turnover from the previous season, the Badgers struggled with consistency throughout conference play. However, a surprising victory over St. Thomas and a sweep of Minnesota were bright spots, as the team was led offensively by Zach Vanderveldt and Matt Vishny while defenseman Dan Truehl led the defensive effort. Wisconsin will enter the tournament looking to pull the upset in their first round matchup with league leaders Waldorf.
2014 WCCHA Tournament – February 7-8, 2014
Once again, the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine will play host to the WCCHA’s annual conference tournament. The event, which includes three rounds of play over two days, will culminate with a championship battle for the Carla Berg Memorial Cup. With so much parity over the course of the season, this year’s tournament could prove to be the best yet. Admission to all games is free to the public, and those unable to attend can follow the league on twitter (@wcchahockey) or Facebook (facebook.com/wcchahockey) for game updates.
SCHEDULE (also available on the WCCHA website):
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2014
QF #1 – 6:30 PM (SR1) :: #1 Waldorf vs. #8 Wisconsin
QF #2 – 9:00 PM (SR1) :: #2 St. Thomas vs. #7 Minnesota
QF #3 – 9:00 PM (SR4) :: #3 UW-Eau Claire vs. #6 Northern Michigan
QF #4 – 9:30 PM (SR2) :: #4 St. Cloud State vs. #5 Minnesota-Duluth
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2014
SEMIFINAL #1 – 8:45 AM (SR1) :: Winner QF2 vs. Winner QF3
CONSOLATION #1 – 8:45 AM (SR1) :: Loser QF2 vs. Loser QF3
SEMIFINAL #2 – 11:15 AM (SR14 :: Winner QF1 vs. Winner QF4
CONSOLATION #2 – 11:15 AM (SR4) :: Loser QF1 vs. Loser QF4
3rd Place – 6:30 PM (SR1) :: Loser SF#1 vs. Loser SF#2
Consolation Final – 9:00 PM (SR4) :: Winner CS#1 vs. Winner CS#2
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – 9:00 PM (SR1) :: Winner SF#1 vs. Winner SF#2
** Home team is always the higher seed **
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