Picking out the best players of the first half in the WCHA.
Now that we've played about half of the WCHA season, most of our preseason assumptions can safely be thrown out the window. The midway point of the season is a good time to hit the reset button and see who is leading the WCHA heading into the home stretch of the final season of the WCHA.
So without further ado, here's the first annual Dahl/Owens awards for outstanding achievement in the field of first-half excellence.
First Team All-First Half WCHA
Forwards: Ryan Walters, Nebraska-Omaha, Corban Knight, North Dakota, Nic Dowd, St. Cloud
Walters is the front-runner for WCHA player of the year so far. Corban Knight leads the WCHA in conference scoring, and was my only preseason pick that was remotely a candidate for this, so he gets the nod, just to make myself look better. The third spot was a real toss-up, but I've been very impressed by what Dowd has done so far this year.
Honorable Mention: Colorado College's dynamic duo of Rylan Schwartz and Alex Krushelnyski were both strongly considered. Colorado College hasn't been great this year, but things would be looking a lot worse for them if those two hadn't performed so well. An argument could be made for Knight's North Dakota teammate Danny Kristo.It's a toss-up and I ended up going with Knight. Again, an argument could be made for Dowd's teammate Drew LeBlanc, who has been great coming back from a devastating injury, but I liked what Dowd provides on both ends of the ice a little better.
Defense: Nick Jensen, St. Cloud, Joey LaLeggia, Denver
There's a lot of good offensive defensemen in the WCHA this year. Jensen comes the closest to being a complete player on both ends of the ice. LaLeggia got the nod because, even though he's been less than stellar defensively, his six goals from the blue line leads all defenders, and has been an incredibly valuable part of the Denver offense.
Honorable Mention: Colorado College's Mike Boivin has quietly been very good in his senior season. Nate Schmidt has scored a lot, but again, isn't strong in the defensive end. Minnesota-Duluth's top pairing of Wade Bergman and Andy Welinski also merited consideration.
Goalie: Juho Olkinuora, Denver
The Pioneers have struggled of late, but it certainly hasn't been Olkinuora's fault. If anything, it's a head-scratcher why the Pioneers aren't playing him more. During Denver's eight game winless streak, Olkinuora has started every Friday night game, and been very good, while his replacement on Saturday night hasn't been nearly as good. He's near the top of the league in save percentage and goals against average, and his team is much better with him in net.
Honorable Mention: Goal tending was a big question mark coming into the season, but Ryan Faragher has played well enough for his team to be in first place at the break. Landon Peterson has the best stats in the league, but his counterpart in goal has also been pretty good, which kind of hurts his case. Minnesota State's Stephon Williams came on strong in at the end of November and has his team in the hunt for home ice in the playoffs.
Forwards: Tony Cameranesi, Minnesota-Duluth, Kalle Kossila, St. Cloud, Rocco Grimaldi, North Dakota
Defense: Andy Welinski, Minnesota-Duluth, Jordan Schmaltz, North Dakota
Goalie: Stephon Williams, Minnesota State
First Half Player of the Year: Ryan Walters, Nebraska-Omaha
First Half Rookie of the Year: Tony Cameranesi, Minnesota-Duluth
First Half Coach of the Year: Mike Hastings, Minnesota State