94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll: Denver picked No. 1, Bemidji State No. 10, my ballot and some schedule thoughts

Bemidji State was picked 10th in the 94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll and Denver was No. 1. Bemidji State's Jamie MacQueen and Denver's Drew Shore eye up a face-off in this photo from the 2011 WCHA Final Five. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

Denver was awarded the top spot in the 94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll released Tuesday.

Bemidji State was slotted 10th in the poll, which surveyed 26 members of the media who cover the league.

Denver’s Jason Zucker was named the Preseason Player of the Year, North Dakota freshman Rocco Grimaldi was named the Preseason Rookie of the Year and Colorado College’s Scott Owens was named Preseason Coach of the Year.

Named to the Preseason All WCHA team were Zucker, Colorado College’s Jaden Schwartz, Minnesota-Duluth’s Jack Connolly, North Dakota’s Ben Blood, Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz and North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell. Schwartz and Schultz were unanimous selections.

Below is the 94X Preseason Media Poll

1. Denver (16 first-place votes) … 11.35 poll average
2. Colorado College (7) … 10.54
3. North Dakota (2) … 10.31
4. Nebraska-Omaha (1) … 8.31
5. Minnesota Duluth … 8.12
6. Minnesota … 7.73
7t. Wisconsin … 5.54
7t. St. Cloud State … 5.54
9. Alaska-Anchorage … 3.85
10. Bemidji State … 2.92
11. Minnesota State … 2.12
12. Michigan Tech … 1.69

Jason Zucker, forward, Denver (10 votes); Jaden Schwartz, forward, Colorado College (8)
Others receiving votes: Jack Connolly, forward, Minnesota Duluth; Justin Schultz, defenseman, Wisconsin; Drew Shore, forward, Denver.

Rocco Grimaldi, forward, North Dakota (17 votes)
Others receiving votes: Seth Ambroz, forward, Minnesota; Scott Mayfield, defenseman, Denver; Sam Mellor, forward, Alaska-Anchorage; Kyle Rau, forward, Minnesota

Scott Owens, Colorado College (9 votes); Mel Pearson, Michigan Tech (5)
Others receiving votes: Dean Blais, Nebraska-Omaha; George Gwozdecky, Denver; Don Lucia, Minnesota; Dave Shyiak, Alaska-Anchorage

Jack Connolly, Minnesota Duluth; Jaden Schwartz, Colorado College (unanimous selection); Jason Zucker, Denver
Others receiving votes: J.T. Brown, Minnesota Duluth; Rocco Grimaldi, North Dakota; Corban Knight, North Dakota; Danny Kristo, North Dakota; Drew Shore, Denver
Ben Blood, North Dakota; Justin Schultz, Wisconsin (unanimous selection)
Others receiving votes: Gabe Guentzel, Colorado College; Brad Hunt, Bemidji State; Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State; Brady Lamb, Minnesota Duluth; David Makowski, Denver
Aaron Dell, North Dakota
Others receiving votes: John Faulkner, Nebraska-Omaha, Kent Patterson, Minnesota

The following media members took part in the 94X Preseason Media Poll.

David Ahlers, KKAR Radio/University of Nebraska-Omaha; Stephen Anderson, Daily Mining Gazette; Roman Augustoviz, Minneapolis Star Tribune; Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal; Mike Chambers, Denver Post; Bruce Ciskie, KZIO Radio/Bulldog Radio Network; Chris Dilks, Western College Hockey; Shane Frederick, Mankato Free Press; John Gilbert, WCHA.com; Kurt Haider, KENI Radio; Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times; Dirk Hembroff, WKMJ Radio; Tim Hennessy, KQHT Radio; Ken Landau, 103.9 FM The Eagle Radio; Todd Milewski, USCHO.com; Dan Myers, College Hockey News; Jess Myers, Inside College Hockey; Joe Paisley, Colorado Springs Gazette; Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune; Brian Posick, WIBA Radio/Badger Radio Network; Chad Purcell, Omaha World Herald; Brad Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald; Wally Shaver, KSTP Radio/Gopher Radio Network; Jay Stickney, 87.7 The Ticket Radio; Eric Stromgren, Bemidji Pioneer; Mike Sullivan, KTOE Radio

My ballot

Here’s my ballot in the interest of transparency.

1. Denver
2. North Dakota
3. Minnesota-Duluth
4. Minnesota
5. Colorado College
6. Nebraska-Omaha
7. Wisconsin
8. St. Cloud
9. Bemidji State
10. Alaska-Anchorage
11. MSU, Mankato
12. Michigan Tech

All-WCHA Team
F-Jason Zucker, Denver
F-Jaden Schwartz, CC
F-Jack Connolly, Duluth
D- Ben Blood, North Dakota
D- Justin Schultz, Wisconsin
G- Kent Patterson, Minnesota

Player of the Year
Jason Zucker, Denver

Rookie of the Year
Seth Ambroz, Minnesota

Coach of the Year
George Gwozdecky, Denver

Parting thoughts

All-WCHA Team: Picking five was tough. Cases could be made for other players in the league like (in no particular order) Denver’s Drew Shore, Duluth’s J.T. Brown, Bemidji State’s Jordan George, Colorado College’s Gabe Guentzel, St. Cloud State’s Nick Jensen and North Dakota’s Aaron Dell.

Everyone has their own method of figuring out the 1-12 ranking.

I looked to the conference schedule as my method then adjusted my projections some based on a few gut feelings. There are three schedule pods containing four teams and each team will play four games against podmates (12 total) for a maximum potential of 24 points.

Here’s the schedule pods for this year:

Pod A: Duluth, Michigan Tech, Mankato, Anchorage
Pod B: North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State
Pod C: Bemidji State, Denver, Colorado College, Omaha

Pod A: I like Duluth at the top of this group and a good bet to finish near the top of the league. The few key players the Bulldogs lost combined with the difficult non-pod league schedule will keep the defending national champs out of first or second. Anchorage will find points in this group but like Duluth will have to make up ground outside the pod. I like Michigan Tech to be improved but not finish above Mankato. Defense will be the biggest challenge for the purple Mavs.

Pod B: This group should be a major battle. I like the Sioux be on top of this group despite the offense it lost from last year’s regular season title team. I think UND can make up ground in the standings throughout the season with non-pod home series against Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, Michigan Tech and Mankato. I expect Minnesota to be better and UND’s main challenge in this group. Wisconsin may have lost a bit though the Badgers have a great home-ice advantage in Madison and they will find points there. St. Cloud State played excellent at the end of last season after a slow start and that should carry over to the start of this season. This group is tough draw for the Huskies.

Pod C: Denver’s loss of goalie Sam Brittain for at least the season’s first half hurts, but I think the Pioneers are deep enough to be on top of this group and the WCHA. I like Denver’s non-pod home series against Mankato, Duluth, Minnesota and North Dakota. If Denver finishes on top of the league, points in those games is crucial and playing those games at Magness Arena is ideal for the Pioneers. Denver and Colorado College play their four games in a pair of home-and-home series. The Tigers are an excellent team but will have work to do. Unlike Denver, Colorado College will need to find points in road series against Mankato, Duluth, Minnesota and North Dakota. This is an interesting draw for the Beavers. BSU played well against CC last year, struggled at Denver and dominated Nebraska-Omaha. BSU will need to replicate that success to stay above UNO in this group. UNO surprised the league last year but lost its top three scorers, all seniors. Coach Dean Blais will find a way to get the Mavericks home ice again in the first round of the playoffs this year.

Follow Eric Stromgren on Twitter at @estromgren and on Facebook.