Tuesday, August 23, 2016

WCHA adding 3x3, shootout

WCHA games will have winners this season — at least for standings purposes — as the league on Tuesday announced that it will implement 3-on-3 overtime and shootouts to games that are still tied at the end of the NCAA-mandated five-minute, 5-on-5, sudden-death overtime.

The league also is implementing a new point system for the standings, giving three points to teams that win in regulation or in 5-on-5 overtime instead of the usual two. A team that loses in that situation gets zero.

If games are tied after the first overtime, they will go down officially as ties per NCAA and Pairwise standards. However, a five-minute, 3-on-3, sudden-death overtime will be played after that to get a winner for league purposes. If the game remains tied, a shootout will take place. Shootout and 3-on-3 winners will get two points, and the losing team will get one for the standings.

UPDATE: Mavericks coach Mike Hastings, whose team had a league-high seven ties last season and still shared the MacNaughton Cup championship, said he likes the move: "We're trying to get away from ties. Also, part of the goal is to provide entertainment to the fans who pay a dollar to watch us play."

The WCHA also announced that it will use NHL-sized nets which are shallower by four inches, leaving more room for players behind the net.

For more on the WCHA changes, go here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

College hockey at risk in Alaska

The University of Alaska system is facing a huge budget crisis, and on Thursday, a review committee released a set of options to help quell the situation across the board.

When it comes to athletics, none of the possible solutions floated would be good for college hockey at Alaska Fairbanks or Alaska Anchorage, both of which play in the WCHA along with Minnesota State.

Two of the options involve cutting hockey completely from both schools (along with other sports — in one option, all sports), while the other would cut hockey from one of the two campuses with the schools competing as one.

Anchorage hockey coach Matt Thomas told the Alaska Dispatch News he hopes "cooler heads will prevail," however, the Seawolves could help their cause by winning games and drawing fans:

"I know everyone wants us to win — it takes time, and I think we're getting there. It would be a shame for hockey to go away, because if it goes, it's never coming back. I've got a lot of confidence in knowing there is a supportive hockey community here, and we need those people to show their support."

Read more from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jackman returns

Photo by Bre McGee/The Free Press
August has been relatively quiet, hockey-wise, but Minnesota State's players are back in town now as classes begin next week.

There will be one student going to school next week 14 years after the last time he sat in a classroom. That's former MSU player Tim Jackman.

Jackman played for the Mavericks for two seasons, from 2000 to 2002, before departing for professional hockey. Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he played for six different NHL teams until he hung up his skates.

Trying to figure out what to do next, he got in touch with MSU assistant coach Darren Blue, who has been in his position since Jackman's freshman year, and found out that, not only could he come back to Mankato and start working on his college degree again, but he could work with his old college team as a student-assistant coach.

Jackman and his family are all in, too, buying a home in North Mankato earlier this month and settling into the community.

Read more in my feature about Jackman in today's Free Press.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What did I miss?

Back from a week away, and, naturally, there were some mid-summer hockey happenings. Here are a few things that happened ...

• The WCHA hired Katie Million as its next vice president and women's league commissioner. She signed a three-year contract and will begin work on Sept. 2. Million replaces Aaron Kemp, who resigned in February. She comes from Lake Placid, N.Y., where she has been an executive with the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority.

• College hockey's NCAA rules committee decided to table a proposal to change overtime to 4-on-4 play. Proposed as a way to increase scoring, the idea of playing 4-on-4 wasn't well-received by coaches. On their own, conference can, however, play 3 on 3 following the five-minute 5-on-5 OT in order to break ties for league standings (those results will still be considered ties for national consideration).

• All's quite on the Minnesota State-to-NCHC proposal right now. No matter what happens, the Mavericks do believe they've made themselves into a player that cannot be ignored any longer. Here's a link to my column on that subject that ran last week.

• The Free Press' Mark Fischenich on Monday covered the lease situation between Minnesota State and the city of Mankato/Verizon Wireless Center, the details of which are still being haggled over. Minnesota State could pay as much as $872,000 annually for use of the facilities, although that price could be lowered significantly with some incentives that are built into the yet-to-be-agreed-upon contract.

• Finally, the Dan Meyer Blue Line Club Golf Classic was held on Monday at the Mankato Golf Club, and it appeared that there was a good turnout for the fundraiser. Notably, some hockey alumni participated in the tournament, including Tim Jackman, Andy Hedlund, Peter Holoien, Brett Stern and Bryce Gervais.

Gustavus' Don Roberts dies

Sad news out of Gustavus Adolphus College and St. Peter as legendary coach Don Roberts died on Sunday after a battle with degenerative heart disease. He was 83.

Free Press sports editor Jim Rueda wrote about Roberts in Tuesday's paper. You can read more about Roberts on the Gustavus website, too.

Roberts, whom Gustavus named its hockey rink after, coached the Gusties hockey team from 1964 to 1997 and retired as the winningest coach in NCAA Division III history. He compiled a 532-290-25 record over 33 seasons, winning 13 MIAC titles. His win total currently ranks 20th all-time in college hockey and sixth in DIII.

Not bad for a guy who, as a student at Gustavus, played football, basketball and baseball.

I didn't have the chance to cover Roberts or his teams, having arrived in Mankato in 2000. However, he often could be seen at Gustie games, and it was always a pleasure to talk to him.

I ran into former Minnesota State coach Don Brose on Monday (he is quoted in Rueda's piece linked above), and he said Roberts was instrumental in helping MSU get its hockey program started. Brose said Roberts allowed Brose's early teams to use the Gustavus rink. The two teams eventually developed an intense but friendly rivalry, one that lasted until MSU upgraded to Division I in 1997.

According to Gustavus, a private family service for Roberts will be held this week, however a public service celebrating his life will be held in Christ Chapel on the Gustavus campus in the very near future. Details will be announced in the coming days.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

MSU's letter to the NCHC

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald obtained a copy of Minnesota State's letter of inquiry for potential admittance into the National Collegiate Hockey Conference today. The letter, from university president Richard Davenport, makes clear the schools intentions as well as highlights the things — "added value" — MSU brings to the table. No real surprises based on Wednesday's news.

You can see the letter through a link in Schlossman's story here.

A few highlights from the letter:

• The letter was sent on May 18.

• Minnesota State's hope is to get into the league as a full member in 2018-19.

• Coach Mike Hastings' success over the last four years was noted, including his 100-49-7 record, the third-highest win total in DI over that time.

• Hastings' new contract signed last year as well as the team's full-time move into the upgraded Verizon Wireless Center show a financial investment and commitment that should make the program attractive. Later, the letter mentions MSU is working on a plan to phase in full cost of attendance aid.

• Geography (as I noted in map form on the previous blog post) is a big selling point with Mankato being a bus ride away for four current NCHC members (St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota) and having local charter service in town as well as close proximity to the MSP airport. Later, MSU's proximity to the Twin Cities is again brought up in reference to the NCHC's "Frozen Faceoff" championship weekend, which has been held at Target Center.

• Mankato's downtown with the full-service Hilton Garden Inn attached to the civic center via skyway, giving visiting teams an easy "stay and play" experience. (Indeed, I have heard this has been very attractive to visiting teams when it comes to scheduling nonconference games.)

• The Mavericks' game play is brought up, too: "We are committed to a wide-open, fast-paced style of play that fans enjoy watching and which allows for the complete growth and development of young student-athletes ..."

Schlossman's article says that the application fee for the NCHC is $20,000 and that would be applied to an unknown membership fee if the applying team is accepted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Contemplating the future

Freddy's three thoughts of today's events ...

1. Feeling like-minded: Sorry to bring up a term that rubbed so many people (myself included) five years ago, but does Minnesota State's announcement Wednesday that it has applied to join the NCHC mean it's a different program than it was five years ago? Well, it should because it is. Since the first six NCHC teams (St. Cloud State and Western Michigan came later) got together on this day (July 13) in 2011 to announce their like-mindedness, Minnesota State has undergone quite the extreme makeover, especially once Mike Hastings came aboard as coach. The program has won 100 games in four seasons and has been one of, if not the best team in the new WCHA. The Verizon Wireless Center has been modernized both for the team and the fans and the commitment of support from the MSU administration is real and visible. The Mavericks might have been ignored in 2011 (see below), but they've put themselves into a position to be considered now.

2. What are the chances? Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald writes that the NCHC's decision on expansion could come by October. He also says the yay or nay on MSU largely depends on what the NCHC wants to do with Arizona State, which is looking for a conference home right now. If the league lets in the Sun Devils, it will want a 10th team. Would MSU be the perfect fit? If what I wrote above fits into their criteria, so does geography. According to a cool site that an old map nerd like me could lose hours on, Mankato is basically geographic center (in this case, the center of minimum distance) of the current NCHC (actually, it's closer to New Ulm). MSU would also be a Minnesota school and one close to the Twin Cities where the NCHC is still playing its tournament championship. More local fans could only help that event, provided that league is still doing that in 2018 after the WCHA and the Big Ten abandoned theirs.

3. What about the WCHA? In a statement, commissioner Bill Robertson expressed deep disappointment in MSU's decision to explore other conference options for the future and is hoping to convince the school to stay in the league. The Mavericks may not have a choice, if they're rejected by the NCHC (why it's better to be up front about the potential move, I think). Despite some of the financial issues due to crazy travel and low attendance at conference tournaments, the new WCHA has been good for Minnesota State from a competitive standpoint, and all of MSU's officials spoke positively about the league. Mike Hastings today said he's more concerned about the WCHA this season than what's to come in the future (Hey, his team plays Michigan Tech in a mere 86 days!) A lot of credit has to go to the WCHA and several of its members in the post-realignment era. What MSU, Tech, Ferris State and Bowling Green (Would the Falcons be a potential NCHC member? Western Michigan and Miami would like that.) have done has been impressive, and it will continue to be a tough league for its members and nonconference opponents this season, I believe. But MSU does have to look out for itself and its best interests. If there was a lesson to be learned five years ago, it was that.

Deep thought: Speaking of five years ago, I recall being asked about what Minnesota State did or didn't do to not get invited to the NCHC the first time around. (Remember: St. Cloud State wasn't on the original guest list either.). My thought was that MSU wasn't on their minds. The top teams went off together to form a Super Conference (remember that term?). Minnesota State wasn't on the radar back then. Sort of reminds me of one of the great lines in Casablanca: