Tuesday, August 25, 2015

North Star College Cup schedule change

The North Star College Cup will move from a Friday-Saturday format to a Saturday-Sunday format this year, the University of Minnesota announced on Tuesday.

Perhaps in a move to boost attendance for the tournament's first game, games will take place at 1 and 5 p.m. each day.

Minnesota State has the first game this year, taking on St. Cloud State on Saturday, Jan. 30. Minnesota and Bemidji State will follow with Minnesota Duluth sitting out this year's tournament. The two losing teams will play at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31, with the two winners playing at 5 p.m.

This will be the third year of the North Star College Cup. Bemidji State won last year, defeating Minnesota State in the championship game.

Fundraising ramps up

Since the announcement that David Backes was donating $100,000 to Minnesota State's strength and conditioning room, two more major gifts to the campaign to finish off the new hockey center at the Verizon Wireless Center have been announced, pledges of $15,000 and $35,000

Including an initial $50,000 gift, that's at least $200,000 (announced donations, anyway) of the $800,000 or so MSU is seeking for the project, which is going to furnishings, fixtures and equipment for the area the Mavericks men's and women's teams will call home.

The fundraising was the subject of my column in today's Free Press, which you can read here.

If done right, coaches and other officials hope the efforts can be a sustaining campaign, one that would allow for other "competitive needs," such as cost-of-attendance allowance now approved by the NCAA and summer aid. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

City says yes to new scoreboard

The Verizon Wireless Center is about to step into the 21st century — finally.

The Mankato City Council on Monday night unanimously approved a new, four-sided, center-hung video scoreboard to be installed sometime this fall. Cost of the project is $640,000.

According to Mark Fischenich's story from Monday's meeting, officials hope to have the board up and operational sometime in November.

This is great news to the folks who attend hockey games. Replay is a huge part of the fan experience (to say nothing of the reporters'!), especially in a fast game in which big things can happen in a snap.

Of course, it probably means the Kiss Cam is coming to Mankato, too. Oh well.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Backes gives back to MSU

David Backes holds a significant place in Minnesota State hockey history. Now he’ll be an important figure in its future.

On Monday, during the MSU Blue Line Club’s annual Dan Meyer Golf Classic, Backes announced that he and his wife, Kelly, are donating $100,000 to the final renovations to the Verizon Wireless Center’s hockey upgrades. The money, specifically, will go to the strength and conditioning room, which will be named in Backes’ honor.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” said Backes, who played for the Mavericks from 2003 to 2006 and is now the captain for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. “We felt a pull in our heart to give back.”

Backes, who was a team captain and an All-American during his third and final season with the Mavericks, graduated from Minnesota State with a degree in applied organizational studies in 2014. Kelly Backes is also an MSU alum.

“Mankato has a special place in our hearts,” Backes said. “To have the facility named after us is something pretty special.”

For more on Backes' gift, see the MSU press release here.

Several hockey alumni attended Monday's golf outing, including Backes, Ryan Carter of the Minnesota Wild and Tim Jackman of the Anaheim Ducks, as well as Chad Brownlee, now a country music singer in Canada who performed a concert on Sunday night at the Mankato Brewery.

As for other upgrades to the civic center, the Mankato City Council on Monday tabled a motion to approve the purchase of a new four-sided, center-ice scoreboard for the arena. The council is seeking more information about the proposed $600,000 scoreboard before holding a special meeting next week. More coverage of the scoreboard debate here.

Hockey fundraising underway

The Dan Meyer Golf Classic, the Minnesota State Blue Line Club's annual fundraising event for men's and women's hockey, takes place today (Monday, July 27) at the Mankato Golf Club. But the big campaign to raise money for the finishes at the the Verizon Wireless Center, as well as for other "competitive needs" is well underway.

Last week (while Puckato was on vacation), MSU announced the first major gift to the private donor campaign, as the David Christensen and Jill Evans Fund gave $50,000 to the program through the Mankato Area Foundation.

"We are grateful to David and Jill for taking the lead on this," Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said in a statement. "We have had good visits with a number of other prospective donors, and we hope this commitment will ramp up further interest in helping us achieve our fundraising goals. This initiative is critical to our ability to sustain and build upon our current level of success."

The campaign is raising funds for furnishings, fixtures and equipment that will be in the new team spaces currently under construction at the arena. MSU hopes to raise up to $1 million, with funding for the NCAA's newly allowed full cost of attendance scholarships, as well as summer school grant-in-aid support, also being addressed.

"David and Jill's generosity is a great example of the passion they have for the community and the university," MSU athletic director Kevin Buisman said in the press release. "Their enthusiastic support is greatly appreciated. Their gift is a nice starting point for us, and we hope it will spur others to join the effort."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Civic center project taking shape

Photos by John Cross/The Free Press
Monday was quite a day for the future of the Minnesota State hockey team. The announcement of Mike Hastings' new contract with MSU somewhat overshadowed the first half of the event at the Verizon Wireless Center. The day started with a tour of the new hockey facilities being constructed at the arena, and a discussion of that project, which is more than half done, followed.

Read my story on upgrades here (the online version has photos, which there was not room for in the print edition).

One clarification: The fundraising emphasized in the press conference is for the finishes to the hockey project, not for the scoreboard, which was another big piece of the announcement (but also one overshadowed by the Hastings news; they even used a rendering of the scoreboard (see related photo below) to reveal the contract announcement). The scoreboard would be a city/civic center project. Still, a four-sided video scoreboard would be a huge and important improvement to the fan experience during MSU games.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Hastings signs 8-year contract extension

Photo by John Cross/The Free Press
Minnesota State locked up Mike Hastings for the next eight years, announcing a new contract for the Mavericks coach on Monday. The deal, which will last through the 2022-23 season, tears up the final year of the original four-year deal Hastings signed three years ago and will pay him $290,000 annually, according to athletic director Kevin Buisman.

Read my story in The Free Press here. Read the MSU press release here.

It was all about the future of the program during the announcement, which coincided with an update on the Verizon Wireless Center hockey expansion, which includes new locker rooms, offices, training facilities and other amenities for men's and women's hockey, as well as the unveiling of a potential center-ice scoreboard design for the arena.