WCHA coaches: watch for Gophs, UNDGRAND FORKS — Minnesota is the defending MacNaughton Cup champion.
By: Brad Schlossman, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Minnesota is the defending MacNaughton Cup champion.
University of North Dakota is the defending Broadmoor Trophy winner.
If the Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches are correct, those two teams will be battling to win the league’s championship in 2012-13 before departing for new, startup leagues.
The Gophers are picked to win the league in the 42nd annual Grand Forks Herald WCHA coaches poll, getting 11 of 12 first-place votes and 121 points. UND, which received the other first-place vote, is picked to finish second with 110 points.
Denver (91 points), St. Cloud State (90), Wisconsin (70) and Minnesota-Duluth (69) round out the top six.
“First and foremost, we want to be able to get home ice,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “To get in that top three, it’s going to be a long haul. For a team to be in the top three in this league, you’ve got to play well early and you’re going to have to be consistent through the year.”
Minnesota and UND both return significant portions of their rosters from last season, when they met in the West Regional championship. Minnesota won that matchup and advanced to the Frozen Four.
The Gophers will be led by Nick Bjugstad, who is the WCHA coaches preseason player of the year. Bjugstad received eight votes for player of the year.
Bjugstad racked up 25 goals and 42 points in 40 games last season, earning first-team all-WCHA honors. In the offseason, he decided to return to Minnesota instead of sign a pro contract with the Florida Panthers.
Other player of the year votes went to Wisconsin forward Mark Zengerle (two), Omaha forward Matt White and St. Cloud State forward Ben Hanowski.
“Maybe that’s one of the storylines for this season — some of the returning veterans and some of the returning players who were very good in our league last year,” Hakstol said. “They are coming back one more year to mature and I think it’s going to be a deep league.”
The WCHA also boasts an impressive crop of rookies.
North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi is voted the best of them.
Grimaldi, voted the league’s preseason player of the year last season as well, was injured in preseason camp, only played four games and received a medical redshirt to return once again as a rookie this season.
Grimaldi received seven first-place votes.
“We know him so well as a person and know him well as a player,” Hakstol said. “We’re excited to have him contribute on the ice and contribute to the team and be a big part of the team. It’s so hard to do that when you are injured and out of the lineup for the majority of the season. Our whole team is looking forward to having him back in the lineup.”
Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly (three votes), Wisconsin forward Nic Kerdiles and Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Andrew Welinski also received preseason rookie of the year votes.
UND opens preseason play Saturday against the University of Manitoba. Its first regular-season game will be Oct. 19 against Alaska Anchorage in Fairbanks, Alaska.