MTU picked No. 4 in WCHA preseason poll
Huskies No. 4 in media poll, No. 5 in coaches’ poll
HOUGHTON — Michigan Tech was chosen among the top half in WCHA preseason polls released Wednesday.
The Huskies were chosen No. 4 in the media poll and No. 5 in the coaches’ poll.
Minnesota State was chosen the clear-cut No. 1 in both polls, earning all but one vote for the top spot. Bowling Green, the No. 2 pick in both polls, received a first-place vote in the coaches’ poll.
WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said during a Wednesday telephone conference that the league has seen a lot of successful teams the last few years and make runs in the NCAA tournament.
“The WCHA programs are continuing to improve on and off the ice,” Robertson said. “Three of our programs are on multi-year runs winning 20 or more games a season. Those include Minnesota State, Bowling Green and Northern Michigan. We also believe there will be great improvement for all 10 of our institutions on the ice as all have made incredible efforts to be ready for the start of the year in our expansive non-conference schedule.”
Minnesota State senior forward Marc Michaelis was chosen in both polls as the preseason WCHA Player of the Year. He was named All-WCHA First Team after he helped the Mavericks to a 32-8 record last year and the WCHA championship. Michaelis finished second in the WCHA with 42 points (19 goals) in 42 games.
The Mavericks appear poised for another run atop the WCHA, but head coach Mike Hastings emphasized that it’s a process.
“Everybody’s looking forward to a new start and that’s exactly what it is,” he said. “You can’t get to March without starting in September into October. From our standpoint, we’re looking forward to getting together as a group. Each day that clicks away we’re looking forward to getting to our first exhibition game. I think last year doesn’t really do anything from us. I think the experience does. Hopefully we’re a little bit more prepared for this upcoming season than we were last year.”
Multiple Michigan Tech players earned votes for multiple preseason awards.
Sophomore Brian Halonen earned a vote for the preseason All-WCHA Team. Senior goaltender Matt Jurusik also earned a vote.
While Tech didn’t land any players on the preseason WCHA team, the media gave preseason Rookie of the Year votes to freshman goaltender Blake Pietila and his twin brother Logan, a forward, along with forward Parker Saretsky.
Tech also announced Tuesday it added David Raisanen to the roster. The forward, standing 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, joins Tech as a sophomore transfer from Cokato, Minnesota. His sister Annie played volleyball at MTU.
Raisanen last played for the Minot Minotauros in the North American Hockey League. Last season he scored 50 points (24 goals) in 60 games. He scored eight points in 34 games the season before and did not play the 2016-17 season.
Huskies head coach Joe Shawhan said Raisanen has had a strong showing in workouts.
“David was recruited by a couple of schools. I wouldn’t say that he fell on our lap but in some ways he did,” Shawhan said. He’s got ties to Michigan Tech and he’s got family in this area. He’s from Minnesota. He’s what they call a legacy individual, which means he’s got family that has went here. I think that financially this was a good fit for him over some of the opportunities at some other schools. He came in and he’s done a good job in the limited time we’ve had with him. He competes hard, he’s an intelligent young man. He has a real character base and has pedigree. The research we did on him, it wasn’t a real difficult decision for us to add him as depth. He’s got limited eligibility. Kind of an ironic case — he started school maybe three years ago at Minnesota and gave up hockey. Rekindled his passion for hockey and played in the North American League for a couple years. It’s a good story and hopefully it has a real good ending.”
Northern Michigan senior defenseman Philip Beaulieu received votes for WCHA preseason media Player of the Year. He was also named to the preseason media and coaches All-WCHA Team and he also received votes for the WCHA Media Player of the Year.
The Wildcats, earned two more points than the Huskies in the coaches’ poll. Northern Michigan head coach Grant Potulny said the team has obvious holes to fill after the WCHA’s second-leading goal scorer Troy Loggins graduated and signed a pro contract with the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.
Lake Superior State seemed to have turned a corner last season, winning 16 games and finishing fourth in the WCHA. The Lakers were swept in the conference semifinals by eventual champion Mavericks. LSSU head coach Damon Whitten, an MTU assistant from 2010-14, said it’ll take more than a good year for the team to establish sustained success.
“I think we’re moving towards that. Obviously the results in the win-loss column reflected that,” Whitten said. “It was a big point for us and a good season to kind of tip that over. It certainly doesn’t happen in one year and it doesn’t stay in place just because you did it. We’ve got another strong leadership group that replaced those guys and we think we can do better. That’s the goal.
“We understand we can play with anybody. We’re going to know who we are very early on. There’s a belief we can play with anybody in the country. We’re excited to show everyone who we are in our 19-20 version.”
Mystery, Alaska hockey
Alaska Anchorage announced in May that the team will play home games at an on-campus facility this season after 36 years at Sullivan Arena.
But the college faces bigger questions than a venue change, like whether a hockey program could exist in the near future.
The Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks schools have weathered financial windfalls while the state weighs fiscal issues.
In June, Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy line-item vetoed $130 million from the University of Alaska system’s budget. So as the state and university figures out its future, the fate of the Anchorage and Fairbanks hockey programs hang in the balance.
In a May 29 article by KTUU-TV, Alaska Anchorage Vice Chancellor Beverly Shuford said the Seawolves paid about $200,000 per year to play at Sullivan Arena and were unable to keep revenue from parking and concessions. That partly motivated the move to the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, which seats just 750 people. The other motive, Alaska Anchorage head coach Matt Curley said, was to make Seawolves games more student-centric.
But WCHA rules require member schools to play in a facility with a capacity of at least 2,500 people.
If that isn’t enough, seven WCHA schools (including MTU and NMU) announced jointly this summer they’ll leave the conference following the 2020-21 season. That leaves Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks and Alabama-Huntsville to figure it out.
But Curley said the focus for he and the team is on hockey.
“We do know right now, budget-wise, we’re in good shape,” Curley said. “The next hurdles that are coming up for us in the immediate future is the state of the university system as a whole. Quite frankly, in the world of academia, we play a very minor role in it. Myself, as a hockey coach, has little bearing in what the university decides to do.
“Where that leaves us, we’re hoping to get more definitive answers in the coming weeks, months as our board of regents and leaders shape our feature. Hopefully that future involves the Seawolves.”
No rules changes
As far as officiating goes, it was an uneventful offseason without rules changes. But Greg Shepherd, WCHA supervisor of officials, said too many players on the ice resulting in a goal, and an offsides that results in a goal are two replay reviews that can only be handled by officials after a coach’s challenge.
Michigan Tech begins the season Oct. 4-5 at Robert Morris. The Huskies’ home opener is Oct. 11-12 against Alaska Fairbanks. … All of Tech’s Saturday conference games will begin an hour earlier than Friday games, except Oct. 26 at Bowling Green, Nov. 16 at Lake Superior State, Nov. 30 at Alaska Fairbanks and Feb. 1 at Alabama-Huntsville. Tech closes out the regular season Saturday, Feb. 29 at home against Northern Michigan.