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In Wisconsin's final year as a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the Badgers have been picked to finish fifth by league coaches.
Next season, Wisconsin will join the Big Ten conference for hockey along with Minnesota, Michigan, Michgigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. While that is certainly exciting, the Badgers want one last crack at the MacNaughton Cup given out to the regular season winners of the WCHA.
It's been a long time since the Badgers have won the regular season title. In fact, Mike Eaves has never done it during his 10 seasons in Madison. His best shot was probably during the 2006 season, but that hope was derailed after star goaltender Brian Elliott missed extended action in the middle of the regular season after a knee injury.
Wisconsin went on to win the national championship that year, but that elusive MacNaughton Cup slipped away once again.
The last time the Badgers won the cup was during the 1999-2000 season when Wisconsin was led by Steven Reinprecht and Dany Heatley.
The 42nd annual Grand Forks Herald WCHA coaches poll was released Wednesday night, and it projects the Badgers to finish fifth. Not quite first, but a major improvement on their 10th-place league finish last season.
Nick Bjugstad (pictured) from Minnesota was the leading vote getter for the pre-season player of the year. He collected 8 of 12 votes from the league coaches. Wisconsin's Mark Zengerle was the only other player with more than one vote, as he was picked as the league's top player by two coaches.
North Dakota's Rocco Grimaldi received the most votes (7) for rookie of the year. Grimaldi is actually a redshirt freshman, as he missed last season with a knee injury. Wisconsin's Nic Kerdiles received one vote.
While you won't find many picking the Badgers to win the league right now, there is a lot of confidence in the Wisconsin locker room these days.
When told where his club was picked on Wednesday night, Wisconsin junior Mark Zengerle wasn't shy to give his opinion.
"We will be better than fifth, I know that."
42nd annual Grand Forks Herald coaches poll
1. Minnesota 121 (11)
2. North Dakota 110 (1)
3. Denver 91
4. SCSU 90
5. Wisconsin 70
6. Duluth 69
7. Colorado College 56
8t. Omaha 51
8t. Michigan Tech 51
10. MSU-Mankato 37
11. Bemidji State 31
12. Anchorage 15
Preseason player of the year: Nick Bjugstad, F, Minnesota (8); Mark Zengerle, F, Wisconsin (2);
Matt White, F, Omaha (1); Ben Hanowski, F, SCSU (1)
Preseason rookie of the year: Rocco Grimaldi, F, North Dakota (7); Mike Reilly, D, Minnesota
(3); Nic Kerdiles, F, Wisconsin (1); Andrew Welinski, D, Duluth (1)
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