The Minnesota Golden Gophers, the WCHA regular season champions in 2011-12, were runaway favorites to repeat that feat in a 2012-13 league media poll conducted by 94X Radio in Duluth, Minn..
The annual poll conducted by Minnesota Duluth play-by-play announcer Bruce Ciskie saw 24 of the 25 media members invited to participate pick the Gophers, with the only other first-place vote going to North Dakota.
Radio Free Omaha, which also tabbed Minnesota to finish atop the WCHA in the 2012-13 campaign, will publish its season preview for the Gophers next week to cap RFO’s series of preseason previews for each of the league’s 12 teams.
Denver, Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth rounded out the top five in the media poll. St. Cloud State came in in sixth place, while the bottom six spots were filled by, in descending order, Colorado College, Nebraska Omaha, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, Bemidji State and Alaska Anchorage.
Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad was voted the league’s preseason player of the year. The junior forward earned 16 of the 25 votes for the award, and Gopher head coach Don Lucia will hope to see Bjugstad equal or better the 42-point (25 goals, 17 assists) effort that he contributed to Minnesota’s last campaign.
North Dakota forward Rocco Grimaldi earned the poll’s preseason rookie of the year award for the second year running. Grimaldi was highly-touted when he arrived in Grand Forks, N.D. a year ago, but a knee injury early in the 2011-12 season forced him to take a medical redshirt and sit out the rest of the way.
The WCHA’s two Colorado schools saw their starting goaltenders share the preseason goaltender of the year award with, oddly, seven and one-half votes apiece. The two netminders, Sam Brittain from Denver and Colorado College’s Josh Thorimbert, will battle with each other and the league’s remaining stable of goalies to see who ends the 2012-13 season with the last laugh.
The WCHA media poll in full:
1.) Minnesota (24 first-place votes)
2.) North Dakota (1)
5.) Minnesota Duluth
6.) St. Cloud State
7.) Colorado College
8.) Nebraska Omaha
9.) Michigan Tech
19.) Minnesota State
11.) Bemidji State
12.) Alaska Anchorage
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Nick Bjugstad, forward, Minnesota (16 votes)
Others receiving more than one vote: Erik Haula, forward, Minnesota (4); Mark Zengerle, forward, Wisconsin (3)
PRESEASON ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
Rocco Grimaldi, forward, North Dakota (8 1/2 votes)
Others receiving more than one vote: Nic Kerdiles, forward, Wisconsin (5); Jordan Schmaltz, defenseman, North Dakota (2 1/2); Brady Skjei, defenseman, Minnesota (2); Andy Welinski, defenseman, Minnesota Duluth (2)
PRESEASON ALL-WCHA TEAM:
Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota (20 votes); Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin (17); Ben Hanowski, St. Cloud State (8)
Others receiving more than one vote: Danny Kristo, North Dakota (7); Erik Haula, Minnesota (6); Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College (5); Corban Knight, North Dakota (3)
Joey LaLeggia, Denver (20 votes); Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State (9)
Others receiving more than one vote: Nate Schmidt, Minnesota (7); Wade Bergman, Minnesota Duluth (3)
Sam Brittain, Denver and Josh Thorimbert, Colorado College (7 1/2 votes each)
Others receiving more than one vote: Juho Olkinuora, Denver (3), Joel Rumpel, Wisconsin (2)
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; Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal; Tyler Buckentine, USCHO.com; 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; Jack Hittinger, Bemidji Pioneer; Ken Landau, 103.9 FM The Eagle Radio; Don Lyons, Leighton Broadcasting/St. Cloud; Todd Milewski, USCHO.com; Dan Myers, Minnesota Hockey Magazine; Jess Myers, 1500ESPN.com; Joe Paisley, Colorado Springs/Colorado College; Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune; Chris Peters, United States of Hockey; Brian Posick, WIBA Radio/Badger Radio Network; Chad Purcell, Omaha World Herald; Brad Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald; Jay Stickney, 102.3 ESPN Radio.