WIAC Preview: UW-Eau Claire Picked To Win Men's Ice Hockey Title

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MADISON, Wis. (Blugolds.com) - University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the defending NCAA Division III champion, is expected to win the 2014 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) men's ice hockey championship, according to a preseason poll conducted by the league's head coaches and sports information directors.

This will mark the first season that conference teams will compete solely under the banner of the WIAC, after previously being members of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association. The winner of the four-team league tournament following the conclusion of the regular season will be crowned the conference champion.

UW-Eau Claire picked up eight first-place votes in the league projections. The Blugolds return 17 letterwinners from last year's squad that set a program record with 24 wins, won the first WIAC crown in program history and claimed the first national title for the conference since UW-Superior in 2002.

Two of the top-four point scorers from a year ago are back, including seniors Mark Pustin and Daniel Olszewski. Pustin compiled 9 goals and 17 assists to place fifth in the league with 26 points, while Olszewski contributed 7 goals and 16 assists. Junior Jack Callahan, an American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-America First Team selection in 2013, was second in the WIAC with 18 assists. The Blugolds will play four of their first six and five of their final eight contests away from Hobbs Ice Center during the 2013-14 campaign.

UW-Stevens Point received the remaining two first-place votes in the poll and has claimed nine conference crowns in program history, while winning four NCAA Division III titles. The Pointers bring back 19 letterwinners and will have a roster that includes four seniors, 10 juniors, nine sophomores and seven freshmen. The top-five point-scorers from a year ago return, including senior Garrett Ladd, who topped the squad with 15 assists and 22 points. Senior Kyle Heck contributed a team-leading 12 goals. The Pointers will play seven of their first 11 contests at home.

UW-River Falls owns a league-leading 16 WIAC championships and has made 11 NCAA Division III championship appearances, including two NCAA Division III crowns. They have registered at least 16 victories in 18 of the last 21 seasons. The Falcons return 14 letterwinners from a season ago, including senior Scott Lewan, who has played 93 percent of the team's minutes in goal for the past three years - compiling 38 victories, a 2.58 goals-against-average, a .915 save percentage and 6 shutouts. Junior Willie Hess was second on the team with 10 goals and 17 points a season ago, while seniors Alec Hagaman and Jeff Burke added 15 points and 12 points, respectively. Head coach Steve Freeman enters his 18th season in charge of the Falcons and owns 305 career victories - the most in WIAC archives.

UW-Superior possesses a league-high 13 NCAA Division III Championship showings and has amassed at least 20 victories in 11 of the last 20 seasons. The Yellowjackets welcome back 14 letterwinners from a season ago, including senior Pat Dalbec, who is 32 points shy of the 100-point mark for his career. He finished second in the WIAC with 27 points in 2013 and has been the team's leading scorer the past two seasons. Senior Jeff Forsythe, an AHCA All-America Second Team pick in 2013, was second on the team with 12 assists and third with 18 points. He could become the program's second four-time All-WIAC first team selection, joining Dale Lupul (2002-05). Junior transfer Dayn Belfour, who spent the past two seasons at University of Nebraska-Omaha, is the son of Hockey Hall of Fame member Ed Belfour.

UW-Stout has 14 new players on its roster for the 2013-14 campaign and returns three of its top-10 scorers from a year ago, including senior Kevin O'Donnell, who was fifth in the conference with 12 goals and sixth with 24 points. He has scored at least 19 points in each of his three years with the Blue Devils. The Blue Devils will play six of their first nine contests at home. Head coach Terry Watkins also coached the club program for eight seasons before the program returned to varsity status in 1996. He has been with the program almost since its beginnings in 1968 – as a player, assistant coach, coach of the club team and head coach of the varsity squad. Watkins played in UW-Stout's first game, but was on the opposing team.


2013-14 Preseason Predictions – Voted on by WIAC Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors

2012-13 Record
1. UW-Eau Claire (8) 24-5-2 overall, 10-2 WIAC
2. UW-Stevens Point (2) 15-11-1, 7-4-1
3. UW-River Falls 13-11-4, 4-5-3
4. UW-Superior 11-14-2, 4-6-2
5. UW-Stout 10-15-2, 2-10
( )--First-place votes



Team Tidbits

UW-Eau Claire
Head Coach: Matt Loen; 7th season at UWEC; 84-72-12
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 17/9
Goalies Returning/Lost: 1/2
Returning All-WIAC: Ross Andersen, Jr., F (2012-Honorable); Jack Callahan, Jr., D (2013-First); David Donnellan, Sr., D (2013-Honorable); Mark Pustin, Sr., F (2013-Honorable)

UW-River Falls
Head Coach: Steve Freeman; 18th season at UWRF; 305-156-37
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 14/9
Goalies Returning/Lost: 2/1
Returning All-WIAC: Jeff Burke, Sr., D (2012-Honorable, 2013-Honorable); Alex Hagaman, Sr., F (2011-Honorable, 2012-Honorable); Willie Hess, Jr., F (2013-Honorable); Blake Huppert, Jr., F (2013-Honorable); Scott Lewan, Sr., G (2011-Honorable, 2012-First, 2013-First)

UW-Stevens Point
Head Coach: Chris Brooks; 3rd season at UWSP; 29-22-5
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 19/6
Goalies Returning/Lost: 1/1
Returning All-WIAC: Max Bobrow, Sr., F (2011-First); Alex Brooks, So., D (2013-First); Josh Daley, So., F (2013-Honorable); Kevin Gibson, Jr., D (2012-Honorable, 2013-Honorable); Kyle Heck, Sr., F (2012-First, 2013-First); Scott Henegar, Jr., F (2013-Honorable); Brandon Jaeger, Jr., G (2012-First, 2013-Honorable); Andrew Kolb, Jr., F (2013-Honorable); Garrett Ladd, Sr., F (2013-Honorable)

UW-Stout
Head Coach: Terry Watkins; 18th season at UWST; 207-233-28
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 16/14
Goalies Returning/Lost: 2/2
Returning All-WIAC: Kevin O'Donnell, Sr., F (2011-Honorable, 2012-Honorable, 2013-First); Jordan Tredinnick, Jr., F/D (2012-First, 2013-Honorable); Zach Vierling, Jr., F (2012-Honorable, 2013-Honorable)

UW-Superior
Head Coach: Dan Stauber; 14th season at UWS; 229-100-51
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 14/8
Goalies Returning/Lost: 3/0
Returning All-WIAC: Pat Dalbec, Sr., F (2012-First, 2013-First); Jeff Forsythe, Sr., D (2011-First, 2012-First, 2013-First); Joey Massingham, Sr., F (2012-Honorable, 2013-Honorable); Derek Stauber, Sr., D (2010-Honorable, 2011-Honorable, 2012-Honorable); Drew Strandberg, Sr., F (2011-First, 2012-Honorable)