April 23, 2012
Minnesota won the McNaughton Cup and advanced to the Frozen Four
MADISON, Wis. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association's recently completed campaign of 2011-12 will surely be one to remember. And although the league fell short of adding to it's record total of 37 men's national championships won since it's founding in 1951 and defending it's 2010-11 crown, there were still an abundance of noteworthy team and individual highlights that helped keep college hockey's most historic and successful conference among the best in the sport.
Witness the following:
• Four WCHA-member teams earned trips to the national tournament in Denver, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota
• After claiming the NCAA West Regional crown, Minnesota advanced to the NCAA Men's Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida along with first-time qualifiers Ferris State and Union College along with eventual champion Boston College
• The Golden Gophers also prevailed for the league's regular season title and MacNaughton Cup with a 20-8-0 conference mark and 40 points
• The 12 Western Collegiate Hockey Association-member teams combined for a 51-33-8 record and .593 winning percentage against Division 1 non-conference opponents in 2011-12
• Four WCHA-member teams were ranked among the nation's top eight in the final USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men's Division 1 College Hockey Poll issued on April 9 they were Minnesota at No. 4, Minnesota Duluth at No. 5, North Dakota at No. 6 and Denver at No. 8.
• In the final USCHO.com Division 1 Men's College Hockey Poll issued on April 9, Minnesota was ranked No. 4 nationally, North Dakota was No. 5, Minnesota Duluth was No. 6 and Denver was No. 12. Two other league teams Colorado College and St. Cloud State also received votes.
• North Dakota skated to a record third consecutive Red Baron WCHA Final Five playoff championship title and Broadmoor Trophy UND won all three Final Five games to become only the third team ever to do so (Minnesota Duluth in 2009, North Dakota in 2010).
• Minnesota Duluth senior forward Jack Connolly earned both the Hobey Baker Memorial Award and the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award
• A resurgence was launched at Michigan Tech under first-year WCHA Coach of the Year Mel Pearson, with the Huskies winning more games (16) this season than in the previous three combined and earning a highly-coveted berth in the Red Baron WCHA Final Five
• Seven league-member team players received All-American acclaim West First Team honorees from the WCHA were Minnesota Duluth senior forward Jack Connolly, Colorado College sophomore forward Jaden Schwartz and Wisconsin junior defenseman Justin Schultz Both Connolly and Schultz were repeat First Team All-Americans West Second Team All-American selections were Minnesota sophomore forward Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota Duluth sophomore forward J.T. Brown, Minnesota senior goaltender Kent Patterson and Denver sophomore forward Jason Zucker
• Denver defenseman Joey LaLeggia was chosen as the National Rookie of the Year LaLeggia also was the WCHA Rookie of the Year and earned All-WCHA First Team and All-WCHA Rookie Team honors
• Post-season individual honors handed out by the WCHA for 2011-12 saw Minnesota Duluth senior forward Jack Connolly earn WCHA Player of the Year honors, North Dakota senior goaltender Brad Eidsness chosen as WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year, Wisconsin junior defenseman Justin Schultz named WCHA Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, Denver defenseman Joey LaLeggia selected as WCHA Rookie of the Year, Michigan Tech's Mel Pearson honored as the WCHA Coach of the Year in his first season behind the Huskies' bench, Connolly capture the league scoring championship, and Minnesota senior Kent Patterson claim the WCHA Goaltending Championship
• Four WCHA teams recorded at least 25 victories overall; Minnesota had 28, North Dakota had 26 and both Minnesota Duluth and Denver had 25.
• A record 110 men's and women's student-athletes were honored as WCHA Scholar-Athletes in 2011-12
• A record number of 150 men's student-athletes earned All-WCHA Academic Team accolades
• The 2012 Red Baron WCHA Final Five, held at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul from March 15-17, drew a total attendance 73,002 and an average per game crowd of 14,600. The total attendance of 73,002 including crowds of 16,738 on Friday night and 16,838 for the title contest was the best at the playoff championship since 2009 and was the eighth highest in the 20-year history of the Final Five.
• WCHA alums Mark Johnson and Jeff Sauer were honored by the National Hockey League in October of 2011 with the prestigious Lester Patrick Award, awarded for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
• And five WCHA member-team players were honored as national players of the month or national rookies of the month by the Hockey Commissioners' Association (HCA) this season Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson was the National Player of the Month for October Minnesota freshman forward Kyle Rau was National Rookie of the Month for October Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad was National Player of the Month for November Bemidji State freshman goaltender Andrew Walsh was National Rookie of the Month for December Denver freshman defenseman Joey LaLeggia was National Rookie of the Month for January.
In year-end national tournament play, the WCHA was represented at the NCAA Men's Div. 1 Ice Hockey Championship tournament by league and West Regional champion Minnesota, Red Baron WCHA Final Five champion North Dakota, defending Frozen Four champion Minnesota Duluth and Denver.
The Gophers, winners of five previous national championships in 1974, 1976, 1979, 2002 and 2003, made their 20th Frozen Four appearance overall and first since 2005 in Columbus, Ohio, when an all-WCHA national championship round included eventual champion Denver, runner-up North Dakota, Minnesota and Colorado College. The Gophers fell to eventual national champion Boston College by a 6-1 count in one of the two semi-final match ups at the 2012 NCAA Men's Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla.
Minnesota had earned the trip to Tampa by winning the West Regional at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul March 24-25, defeating both Boston University, 7-3, and league-rival North Dakota, 5-2.
Denver fell by one goal to Ferris State, 2-1, on March 23 in a semifinal at the Midwest Regional at Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis. The FSU Bulldogs went on to capture that regional and advance to the Frozen Four with a 2-1 victory over Cornell on Saturday.
Defending national champion Minnesota Duluth came up one victory shy of reaching the Frozen Four when the Bulldogs fell 4-0 to Boston College in the title contest at the Northeast Regional at DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. Minnesota Duluth advanced to the regional championship after a 5-2 triumph over Maine in a semifinal.
The other regional victor this season was Union College, as the Dutchmen came out on top at the NCAA East Regional at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn. Union skated past Michigan State, 3-1, in a semifinal and then downed UMass-Lowell, 4-2, in the championship tilt.
Over 92 games this season, WCHA-member teams stood a combined 51-33-8 in games against other Divsion1 conference-member teams. WCHA teams were 13-1-0 (.929) vs the Atlantic Hockey Association, 8-2-0 (.800) vs Independents, 11-5-4 (.650) vs ECAC Hockey, 7-9-3 vs the Hockey East Association (.472) and 12-16-1 (.431) vs the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.