Friday, April 14, 2006

WCHA Stars Leaving Left and Right

Colorado College's hockey team seems to be improving by default this offseason thanks to early departures around the league. The first to go was Denver defenseman and Hobey Baker winner Matt Carle. Carle bolted after the Pioneers were left out of the NCAA tournament. He signed with the San Jose Sharks and has been contributing quite a bit to their strong playoff push. The next victim was the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who lost leading scorer Ryan Potulny to the Philadelphia Flyers. Shortly after they lost another one of their top players, Danny Irmen, who signed with the Minnesota Wild. North Dakota also got hit with a double-whammy as sophomore forward Travis Zajac signed with New Jersey and junior defenseman and team captain Matt Smaby agreed to a deal with Tampa Bay. Minnesota State, Mankato lost their team captain and best player, David Backes to the St. Louis Blues, who desperately need all the help that they can get.The latest big loss in the WCHA is Wisconsin's Robbie Earl, who recently came to terms with the Toronto Maple Leafs and will start playing for their AHL affiliate. There's also cause for concern in St. Cloud due to the fact that, as Western College Hockey writes, the Pittsburgh Penguins will lose Bobby Goepfert's rights if they don't sign him before this summer.

So what does all this mean for CC? It makes the outlook for next year a little better, but not much. Defending champion Wisconsin will likely return all their underclassmen but Earl, and if Denver can hang onto Paul Stastny, which remains to be seen, they'll have the top returning scorer for next season. Not to mention North Dakota, who will have two of the best sophomores in the country next year if they can hang onto Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie. Many other teams will return solid cores of players despite some early departures. The good news is that no early departures are expected for CC, although they're always possible. Players to watch for CC this offseason would be rising seniors Brian Salcido and Matt Zaba and rising sophomore Chad Rau, although none are all too likely to bolt for the NHL.

The losses haven't just affected WCHA teams - some big names from other conferences, such as Cornell's David McKee, Bowling Green's Alex Foster, and Nebraska-Omaha's Bill Thomas have also signed pro contracts.


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