All-WCHA Team: That awkward moment when even your final draft’s rough

Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson looks on during the Gophers' 3-2 win over Nebraska Omaha at CenturyLink Center on Feb. 25, 2012. (Photo credit: Matthew Semisch)

As the proprietor of the North Dakota blog A Tradition of Excellence invited me to take part in a WCHA bloggers’ all-league poll, I’ve decided that, for full disclosure’s sake, I would post my choices for that poll here.

The college hockey Twitterverse – or at least my timeline, anyway – was buzzing Monday with talk of how difficult it was to decide who would end up where on our ballots.

I wasn’t immune to this problem, as I went through three drafts of my own ballot before I was happy with it.

(Nearly said ‘before my brain finally stopped bleeding’ there. Wait, hang on…)

Perhaps the biggest issue was that the WCHA was very deep on forwards this season, and that left me and many colleagues wracking our brains as to who would go where and who we would have to leave out.

Here, you will find my all-WCHA first, second and third teams, all-league rookie team, and my WCHA individual awards. Each bit will be followed by a section overview explaining my choices.

My ballot only counts towards the bloggers’ poll and not the official WCHA poll, but I call on everybody who makes a WCHA awards list like we do to be open about their choices.

Readers are, as ever, welcome to use the comments section at the bottom of the page to air their views. I’m always interested to see who everyone has where when it comes to things like these, so let me know where you stand, either in the comments here or on my writing Twitter or Facebook pages.

All-WCHA First Team:
F – Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota
F – Brock Nelson, North Dakota
F – Jack Connolly, Minnesota Duluth
D – Justin Schultz, Wisconsin
D – Nate Schmidt, Minnesota
G – Kent Patterson, Minnesota

Overview:
I originally had Bjugstad and Nelson on my second team as goal-scoring alone – they finished joint-top of the WCHA in goals – doesn’t make for a complete forward. Their numbers couldn’t be ignored, though, and neither could those of Jack Connolly, who had a terrific senior season for the Bulldogs.

Schmidt had a huge sophomore season for Minnesota, and Schultz was one of the few real shining lights on a disappointing Wisconsin team.

Patterson ought to be every voter’s WCHA first-team goaltender from this season. Kenny Reiter was great for UMD, but I felt that Patterson was just that little bit more consistent in his play throughout the season.

All-WCHA Second Team:
F – Drew Shore, Denver
F – J.T. Brown, Minnesota Duluth
F – Travis Oleksuk, Minnesota Duluth
D – Joey LaLeggia, Denver
D – Ben Blood, North Dakota
G – Josh Thorimbert, Colorado College

Overview:
Having just seen him play against Nebraska Omaha last weekend, I look in particular at Drew Shore here (21 G, 26 A) as proof of the WCHA’s strength in depth at the forward positions. Those are numbers that would make him a star in any conference, let alone this one.

Brown (44 points) and Oleksuk (48) were also brilliant for UMD. LaLeggia also made a name for himself in his freshman season, finishing only behind Schultz as the league’s top-scoring defenseman.

Brown in particular will only get better. I love his quickness and his style of play. He’s one of those guys, I think, that you’d love to have on your team but who you hate playing against.

Blood also excelled this season, both keeping his tough-as-nails demeanor on the ice and also turning into a go-to man on offense for UND.

Thorimbert also deserves a special mention here, as the sophomore was excellent before and after making CC’s starting netminder’s job his own.

All-WCHA Third Team:
F – Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin
F – Jason Zucker, Denver
F – Jaden Schwartz, Colorado College
D – Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State
D – Brady Lamb, Minnesota Duluth
G – Brad Eidsness, North Dakota

Overview:
You look in particular at the forwards on this line, and it’s hard to believe that they’re third-teamers. Each of them has had a great season, and each, I firmly believe, will go on to have solid NHL careers once they’re out of college.

Jensen was a rock on the Husky blue line, keeping injury-hit SCSU in the hunt for home ice (which, of course, they eventually earned). Lamb also impressed me in his role at UMD. I have high hopes for him as time goes on.

Eidsness had another solid season for UND, although, to be honest, Reiter and Bemidji State’s Dan Bakala could also have gotten picked here just as easily.

All-WCHA Rookie Team:
F – Kyle Rau, Minnesota
F – Caleb Herbert, Minnesota Duluth
F – Jayson Megna, Nebraska Omaha
D – Andrew Proncho, St. Cloud State
D – Joey LaLeggia, Denver
G – Juho Olkinuora, Denver

Overview:
Rau, Herbert and LaLeggia were all easy picks here, and it’s pretty much a dead heat between Megna and Matt White over which UNO player has put in the best performance as a freshman that I’ve seen in quite a while.

Proncho also played very well for SCSU, and I’d have to expect to see him feature in my postseason awards again next season.

Olkinuora was brought into DU’s program in July after Sam Brittain went down with what ended up being a long-term injury, and he was superb. Proof of that came last Friday against UNO in a 3-0 win for the Pioneers. The Mavericks didn’t have one of its best games of the season that night, but the Finn was excellent when called upon.

WCHA Player of the Year:
Jack Connolly, Minnesota Duluth

Overview:
You could make a case for Schultz here, but Connolly wins out just because of UMD’s success as a team and what he means to the Bulldogs.

WCHA Defensive Player of the Year:
Justin Schultz, Wisconsin

Overview:
Played brilliantly and led all WCHA defensemen in scoring with 42 points despite playing on a team that had an otherwise massively disappointing season. This is a no-brainer for me.

WCHA Rookie of the Year:
Juho Olkinuora, Denver

Overview:
See what I said about him under the all-rookie list. I was very tempted to go with UNO’s Ryan Massa as my all-rookie goaltender, but I think Olkinuora’s play meant a bit more to DU than Massa’s did to the Mavericks.

WCHA Coach of the Year:
Mel Pearson, Michigan Tech

Overview:
Everyone agreed before the start of this season that, coming from Michigan and having worked under Red Berensen, that Pearson was a great hire for MTU. He didn’t disappoint, and the Huskies came closer than I had expected to getting home ice in the postseason.

There are a few other coaches that could win this award – Dave Hakstol from UND and Minnesota’s Don Lucia immediately spring to mind – and I could sleep at night if any of those three or one of a couple of others won. I think Pearson will get it, though.

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