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‘Time to drop the puck’: Coaches excited to start 2013-14 season in newly-realigned WCHA

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BEMIDJI — The coaches might not know a whole lot about each other, but one thing is clear when it comes to the newly-realigned Western Collegiate Hockey Association: They’re ready to stop talking and play already.

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“This new league is exciting,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said during a leaguewide conference call with coaches and media Wednesday afternoon. “It’s time to drop the puck. We’re ready to play. It’s a league full of great programs and the coaching staffs are unbelievable.”

With all the changes in college hockey this season — the first season of Big Ten hockey and the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference — it would be easy for the WCHA to feel snubbed like an afterthought.

But league coaches Wednesday were universally ready for a new era in the historic league.

“The WCHA will be battle-tested,” MSU head coach Mike Hastings said. “Whoever is playing their best hockey at the right time at the end of the season is going to be tough in for anyone to face in the NCAA tournament.”

“You’ve got so many like programs competing against each other,” Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle said. “It’s healthy for all the schools. In any given year any team can win a title. That wasn’t always true in the past.

“It’s going to be very competitive, very close. It should come right down to the last weekend. Not just for the championship but for teams to make the playoffs.”

Newcomer Ferris State will play the first game as a conference member Oct. 5 at Colgate. The conference season begins in earnest in late October.

In conjunction with Wednesday’s teleconference, the league released the Mankato Free Press Preseason Coaches Poll Wednesday morning.

Much like the Bemidji Pioneer Preseason Media Poll, released Tuesday, coaches agreed: The Minnesota State Mavericks will be the team to beat this season.

“Everyone will be chasing them,” Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson said.

The Mavericks received nine of 10 first-place votes; coaches couldn’t vote for their own teams. MSU got 22 of 25 votes in the Bemidji Pioneer Media Poll.

Also agreeing with the media, coaches in the league selected the Preseason Player of the Year in junior forward Matt Leitner and the Preseason Rookie of the Year in freshman forward Zach Stepan.

Bemidji State was picked to finish seventh in the coaches poll; the Beavers were chosen to finish eighth in the media poll.

In the coaches poll, Ferris State was picked to finish second in the league, edging Michigan Tech, which received the other first-place vote. Bowling Green was fourth, followed by Alaska, Northern Michigan, Bemidji State, Lake Superior State, Alaska Anchorage and Alabama Huntsville.

The coaches’ picks for the preseason All-WCHA team were also identical to the media’s selections, featuring Leitner, Bowling Green junior forward Ryan Carpenter, Michigan Tech sophomore forward Alex Petan, MSU junior defenseman Zach Palmquist, Ferris junior defenseman Jason Binkley and MSU sophomore goaltender Stephon Williams.

Bemidji State defenseman Matt Prapavessis received a coaches’ vote for the All-WCHA team as well as a vote from the media.

Media package announced

On Tuesday the WCHA announced a new online package which will make all 140 conference games available to stream on the Internet.

The service, sponsored through America ONE, will cost $125 if purchased before Oct. 1 and $150 after. A 30-day pass is $45 and a 24-hour pass $8. To view on iOS or Android it’s an extra $1 per day.

Most games will be available in high definition. Fans can also watch multiple games at once using the service.

The league had initially planned to stream their games in conjunction with Fox Sports, on a new platform called Fox Sports Go, but that service wouldn’t have been ready in time for the season.

MANKATO FREE PRESS WCHA PRESEASON COACHES POLL

Team (First-place votes) Points

1. Minnesota State (9) 81

2. Ferris State 65

3. Michigan Tech (1) 64

4. Bowling Green State 58

5. Alaska 54

6. Northern Michigan 40

7. Bemidji State 35

8. Lake Superior State 25

9. Alaska Anchorage 18

10. Alabama Huntsville 10

Preseason Player of the Year: Matt Leitner, Jr., F, Minnesota State (5 votes); Alex Petan, So., F, Michigan Tech (2); Ryan Carpenter, Jr., F, Bowling Green (1); Cody Kunyk, Sr., F, Alaska (1); Blake Tatchell, So., F, Alaska Anchorage (1).

Preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year: Zach Stepan, F, Minnesota State (8); Brent Baltus, F, Michigan Tech (1); Shane Sooth, F, Northern Michigan (1).

Preseason All-WCHA Team

Forwards: Matt Leitner, Jr., Minnesota State; Ryan Carpenter, Jr., Bowling Green; Alex Petan, So., Michigan Tech.

Defensemen: Zach Palmquist, Jr., Minnesota State; Jason Binkley, Jr., Ferris State.

Goaltender: Stephon Williams, So., Minnesota State.

Others receiving votes: Forwards: Blake Tatchell, So., Alaska Anchorage; Matt Bailey, Sr., Alaska Anchorage; Cody Kunyk, Sr., Alaska; Garrett Thompson, Sr., Ferris State. Defensemen: Colton Parayko, So., Alaska; Matt Prapavessis, Jr., Bemidji State; Mike Sullivan, Jr., Bowling Green; Ralfs Freibergs, So., Bowling Green; Scott Czarnowczan, Sr., Ferris State; Kevin Czuczman, Jr., Lake Superior State; C.J. Ludwig, Sr., Northern Michigan. Goaltender: Kevin Kapalka, Sr., Lake Superior State.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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