|Teams listed in predicted order of finish|
|UW-Stevens Point's 5-1 win over St. Norbert handed the WIAC its second national title in four seasons.
Photo: Jeff Melnik for d3photography.com
2015-16 NON-CONFERENCE RECORD
2015-16 NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD
UW-Stevens Point W 5-2 @ Adrian
UW-Stevens Point W 5-1 v. SUNY Geneseo
UW-Stevens Point W 5-1 v. St. Norbert
THEY'RE PLAYING FOR THE TITLE
With the league relying on just an eight-game league schedule for the second year in a row, available conference points are limited which means any slip-up will prove difficult to overcome.
Despite that, and despite the fact we expect UW-Superior to be improved, perhaps significantly, under first-year head coach Rich McKenna, we again expect this to be a veritable toss-up between UW-Stevens Point, UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls.
All three spent nearly the entirely of last season ranked in the D3hockey.com Men's Top 15 and traded wins during the regular season, though River Falls proved the toughest regular season team of the bunch as it went 3-1 against the Blugolds and Pointers. It was enough to land the Falcons the top seed in the WIAC playoffs, though it was the third-seeded Pointers who ultimately scored the league postseason title.
There's no reason to think things won't be just as tight between the three this season, so we're calling it a legitimate toss-up. Who ultimately claims the regular and postseason WIAC crowns is anyone guess, though it's a safe bet the champs will come from the aforementioned trio. To that end, keep an eye on the head to head match-ups between the three, which are as follows:
|Dec 2||-||River Falls @ Stevens Point|
|Dec 3||-||Eau Claire @ River Falls|
|Jan 19||-||River Falls @ Eau Claire|
|Jan 20||-|| Eau Claire @ Stevens Point
|Jan 21||-|| Stevens Point @ River Falls
|Feb 11||-||Stevens Point @ Eau Claire|
WHY UW-EAU CLAIRE?
We went with the Blugolds last year as well and turned out to be wrong, though not by much. Despite that, we're going with them again, and here's why: Mainly, we believe Eau Claire returns the most talent in the league.
While none of the three contenders suffered crippling losses to graduation, Eau Claire returns its top nine scorers from a year ago as well as senior netminder Jay Deo, who has proven himself plenty capable of anchoring a top team. In addition, the Blugolds will feature over 15 upperclassmen, including senior forwards Adam Knochenmus, Patrick Moore, and Garret Clemment, a trio that combined for 96 points a year ago.
As discussed above, the WIAC race is going to be a tight one which means we have to look for any edge we can find here, and we think the Blugolds' heavy dose of returning talent and experience gives them that edge. Plus it's a team that should be hungry, so if they can find some of the grit that helped define the 2013 national champ Blugolds...the ceiling for this year's edition is extremely high.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Sticking with the Blugolds for a moment, Knochemus looks like a contender after tying for second in the nation in goals (22) last season, and Deo could certainly be in the mix if he gets number one minutes this year. Junior forward Kyle Gattelaro (9-10-19) is perhaps the most likely suspect from River Falls, while senior forwards Kyle Sharkey (19-19-38) and Lawrence Cornellier (23-12-35) headline Stevens Point, though goaltender Max Milosek could play his way into contention if he can improve on last season's .917 save percentage.
If one is looking for a true dark horse candidate, UW-Superior could be the place to look as junior forward Ian Ecklund (10-19-29) and senior forward Anton Svensson (13-13-26) are coming off very strong individual seasons.
BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR
We don't know which player it will be, but we're going with "someone from UW-Superior." As we alluded to earlier, we believe the Yellowjackets will be a much better team than they were a year ago. As such, some guys are going to step up and perform to make it happen and we expect to become familiar with some new names in the process...