WCHA play begins this weekend

Junior Nico Sacchetti carries the puck into a wrap around behind the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s goal Friday at Mariucci Arena.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Junior Nico Sacchetti carries the puck into a wrap around behind the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s goal Friday at Mariucci Arena.

by Austin Cumblad

Read all the preseason polls, projections and prognostications you want, it takes only one weekend of college hockey to prove that no one knows what a season holds in store âÄî especially in the WCHA.

Consider Clarkson: the Golden Knights played two WCHA teams over the weekend, newcomer Nebraska-Omaha and contender St. Cloud State. On Friday, they were stomped on 8-0 by the unranked Mavericks; on Saturday, they rolled over the 4th-ranked Huskies 6-2.

What does that prove? Only that we have no idea what will happen in 2010-11. But letâÄôs take a look at the WCHA anyway, in order of where each team was picked by the coaches to finish in the conference.

No. 2 North Dakota (1-0-1)

The Fighting Sioux spent their opening weekend in Anchorage for the Kendall Hockey Classic, where they tied WCHA foe Alaska Anchorage (picked to finish 11th in the conference) and edged Alaska Fairbanks 3-2. North Dakota returns 22 skaters from the team that won the WCHA Final Five championship a year ago and was selected by the coaches as the overwhelming conference favorite.

The return of defenseman and captain Chay Genoway from a medical redshirt will provide an additional boost, though the Sioux hardly need one. They open WCHA play this weekend at conference newcomers Bemidji State.

No. 11/10 St. Cloud State (1-1-0)

The Huskies plummeted down the rankings from No. 4 after a stunning 6-2 loss to Clarkson on Saturday at the Maverick Stampede (hosted and won by WCHA newcomer Nebraska Omaha). Still, St. Cloud State made it to the championship of the WCHA Final Five last year, and Garrett Roe, the Huskies leading scorer in 2009-10, returns for his senior year.

No. 7 Minnesota Duluth (1-0-1)

The Bulldogs likely wonâÄôt play a ranked opponent until Nov. 5 when they visit North Dakota, which should give head coach Scott Sandelin and his team plenty of time to gain confidence. Junior forward Jack Connolly was selected by the coaches as the preseason WCHA player of the year.

No. 6/8 Denver (1-0-1)

Another experienced team, the Pioneers return 18 players from last yearâÄôs squad. That said, theyâÄôll sorely miss All-Americans Marc Cheverie and Patrick Wiercioch. They opened 2010-11 with a win and a tie against Vermont.

No. 13 Minnesota (2-0-0)

The Gophers were one of only three teams in the WCHA to open their season with two wins. They swept Massachusetts with back-to-back five-goal nights, and senior captain Jay Barriball returned from a knee injury in style by notching a hat-trick on Saturday. MinnesotaâÄôs roster includes 10 freshmen, but theyâÄôre not a particularly young team âÄî many newcomers spent time in the USHL before arriving on campus. This should help as the Gophers try to return to the NCAA tournament after two disappointing seasons.

No. 15 Wisconsin (1-1-0)

Sixth in the WCHA seems too low for a team that made the NCAA final last year, until you consider that the Badgers lost their top four scorers (all with 50+ points), including the programâÄôs first Hobey Baker award winner, Blake Geoffrion. Wisconsin lost to Boston University to open the season but rolled over Holy Cross on Sunday, 6-0.

No. 17 Nebraska Omaha (2-0-0)

The Mavericks are newcomers to the WCHA this season, so itâÄôs hard to say how they will adjust to the speed and physicality. But UNO has a chance to quickly put the conference on alert this weekend when it travels to Mariucci Arena to play the Gophers. The Mavericks won the tournament they hosted last weekend with wins over Clarkson and RIT.

Bemidji State (0-0-0)

The Beavers are also first-year WCHA members and will be thrown immediately through the ringer this weekend against conference favorite North Dakota. Of course, letâÄôs not forget that Bemidji State made the NCAA tournament last season, a claim that only four other WCHA teams can make – seems as though the Beavers should fit in just fine.

Minnesota State (0-0-2)

The Mavericks tied St. Lawrence twice over the weekend. If last season is any indication, they need to mount early leads to win games. In 2009-10, Minnesota State was 11-2-0 with a lead after the first period and 14-1-0 with a lead entering the third. But if the Mavericks trailed before the final period, they were 1-12-0.

Alaska Anchorage (1-0-1)

A tie against conference favorites North Dakota wasnâÄôt a bad way to start the season, but a lot will have to go right for the Seawolves to pull themselves out of the basement of the conference.

Michigan Tech (2-0-0)

The Huskies won the Superior Showcase, outperforming conference rivals Minnesota Duluth. Though picked to finish last in the WCHA by the coaches, Tech received votes in both the USCHO and USA Today polls.