When the puck drops Friday night in three Western Collegiate Hockey Association rinks, including the DECC, it will mark the start of the league’s 58th season and the last in a 10-team format.
Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha will be added in 2010-11 for an even dozen.
Denver is expected to be featured in the WCHA’s farewell edition. The Pioneers were the overwhelming preseason choice of the media and coaches, and have a large senior class led by forwards Rhett Rakhshani and Tyler Ruegsegger.
“I picked Denver No. 1, but after that, there are a lot of teams that are pretty even,” said Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, whose team was voted to finish sixth. “It’s a challenge to finish in the top five in our league in any year, but it’s a very realistic goal for us this season.”
North Dakota won the 2009 MacNaughton Cup as regular-season champion and Denver was one game back. The next six teams were separated by five points. UMD placed seventh and then won five straight games and the league playoff championship. The Bulldogs went further than any WCHA team in the Division I tournament, reaching the quarterfinals.
Yet, the league, for the first time in a decade, had no representatives in the Frozen Four.
“We were good last year, but not good enough,” said coach George Gwozdecky, whose Denver team lost in the first round of the 2009 NCAA West Regional. “That’s our biggest goal [this season], to develop into a good team.”
The Pioneers split a season-opening home series with powerful Vermont last weekend.
“[Denver’s] loaded with top-end talent, and they have a veteran in goal [Marc Cheverie] who’s as good as anyone in Division I,” said Alaska Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak.
MANKATO AT THE DECC
Minnesota State-Mankato faces UMD on Friday and Saturday at the DECC. The Mavericks (2-0) opened with two home wins 3-2 and 4-1 last weekend over Bowling Green, picked to finish last in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
A pair of goalies made their collegiate debut for the Mavericks — sophomore Austin Lee and freshman Kevin Murdock. They’re following last season’s seniors Mike Zacharias and Dan Tormey.
“Goaltending is a position in which a freshman can be successful,” said Mankato coach Troy Jutting, who signed a four-year contract extension in July through 2012-13.
Many teams in the WCHA hope that’s true.
Little-tested goalies will be playing at Mankato, UMD, Colorado College, Michigan Tech, St. Cloud State and Wisconsin.