Tuesday, June 28, 2016

MSU players head to NHL camps

Three Minnesota State men's hockey players, including one undrafted player, have received invitations to participate in NHL developmental camps this summer.

The group includes forwards Zach Stepan and C.J. Franklin, who will skate for the teams that drafted them, the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets, respectively. Defenseman Daniel Brickley has been invited to attend the Buffalo Sabres' camp.

Stepan, who will be a senior, was selected by the Predators in the 2012 draft and Franklin, a junior, went to the Jets in 2014. Brickley will be a sophomore.

Nashville's camp began Tuesday and runs through Saturday. Winnipeg's camp runs Sunday through July 7. Buffalo's camp goes July 6-12.

Dylan Margonari, who recently wrapped up his MSU career, will attend the Washington Capitals' camp as an undrafted free agent.

Speaking of former Mavericks, 10-year NHL veteran David Backes will be a free agent starting Friday. Read my Free Press column on him and where I think he should play next if it's not with his current team, the St. Louis Blues.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Mavericks land D recruit

On Thursday, Minnesota State received a commitment from Tri-City Storm (USHL) defenseman Jack McNeely.
McNeely is a 6-foot-3, 178-pound D from Burnsville via Lakeville North High School where he helped his team go 31-0 and win a state championship in 2015. He was previously committed to Nebraska Omaha, and his brother, Matt, was a goalie at Minnesota Duluth. It appears he will be returning to Tri-City for another season.

This year, his first full season in the USHL, he had eight assists in 59 games and another two helpers in 11 playoff games as the Storm won the Clark Cup championship.

The Storm also have another future MSU player on the roster, defenseman Jason Krych.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Carter seeks second Stanley Cup

Shane Frederick photo
Ryan Carter was in New Ulm on Wednesday as part of the Minnesota Wild Road Tour. The Wild forward and former Mavericks player (2004-2006) joined former Wild player Keith Ballard and play-by-play man Anthony LaPanta, and they signed autographs for an hour straight. It was a nice turnout at the New Ulm Civic Center with a steady stream of hockey fans going through the line.

Carter will be a free agent on July 1, and it will be interesting to see if he returns to the Wild, the team he's played with for the last two seasons, or if he ends up else where. His goal, he said, is to win a Stanley Cup "the old-fashioned way."

If you recall, he won one with the Anaheim Ducks during his first year of pro hockey. He grinded out the season in the minor leagues before getting called up for the playoffs. He played in four games, including less than 3 minutes of ice time during the Finals. That was enough to get his name on the Cup and his day with the trophy. But, now 32, he'd like to win one by helping a team from training camp on through the postseason.

He came close a few years ago with the New Jersey Devils; will he get another shot?

Please read my entire Free Press story about Carter here.

I also spoke to Ballard for a few minutes. The former Gopher played junior hockey for Mike Hastings in Omaha in 2000-01 and has fond memories of playing for the current MSU coach. It was challenging at times, he admitted, but the Lancers won a national title at the end of of the year.

Also, New Ulm had several stations for hockey fans to go through before meeting the Wild group. One of those was the new junior hockey team in town, the New Ulm Steel. The North American 3 Hockey League (NA3, for short) team, which moved to southern Minnesota from the Twin Cities, will be the subject of a Sunday Free Press story. Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Maverick vs. Maverick

Former Mavericks captain David Backes and the St. Louis Blues were knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs last week, and Backes had an emotional postgame presser that really showed his character after his season ended.

Backes may be done for the summer, but some former MSU players are still playing.

In the ECHL's Kelly Cup finals, it's Maverick against Maverick as Brett Stern and the Wheeling Nailers are taking on Jean-Paul LaFontaine and the Allen Americans. The series is tied 1-1 after two games (including a wild, 7-6 Wheeling win on Sunday afternoon) with Game 3 set for Wednesday night in Wheeling. Each former Maverick has an assist in the series.

Stern, a defenseman, has had an outstanding season in Wheeling (West Virginia). In 72 regular-season games he had 7 goals and 17 assists with 157 shots on goal, 63 penalty minutes and was +5. He's -10 in 22 playoff games but has four points (1 goal) with 42 shots and 16 PIMs.

LaFontaine, a forward, played 60 games in Allen (Texas), compiling 5 goals and 15 assists with 54 shots and 44 PIMs. His +/- is even. In 18 playoff games, he has seven points (1 goal) with 20 shots, one penalty and an even +/-.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

'Five' thoughts

When writing my Tuesday column earlier this week about the new WCHA playoff format (read it here), it dawned on me that the conference could have kept the well-known Final Five name for its tournament, considering teams need to win five league playoff games to clinch the Broadmoor Trophy.

As I wrote, the name would have been more accurate than its use over the last three years when four teams advanced to the championship weekend and played three games there.

According to WCHA associate commissioner for public relations Matt Hodson, the league did consider keeping the Final Five name for the very same reason I suggested. However, office staff and the conference's 10 schools "felt it was time to rebrand the tournament going into a new era."

"The Final Five is synonymous with a different format and a different time," Hodson said on Wednesday afternoon. "This was the perfect time to make the change."

Going with WCHA Playoffs for the first two rounds of best-of-three play and WCHA Championship for the single title game (all at home sites) may sound generic, but, as Hodson pointed out, they do accentuate the league name — and probably more than the Final Five did.

The new playoff logos include the Broadmoor Trophy in their design. It's a unique trophy (making its debut in 2010, replacing the original trophy) the shape of The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo. The hotel, which included the Broadmoor World Arena, was an early supporter of college hockey and hosted the NCAA tournament 11 times between 1948 and 1969.

It's a nice-looking logo, and, perhaps, the WCHA should so something similar with the MacNaughton Cup in a redesign of the league's everyday logo.

Some other notes from my conversation with Hodson:

• The league is exploring TV coverage options for the WCHA playoffs and "there's interest in at least doing the championship game," Hodson said. There may be challenges with the other rounds taking place at multiple sites, but those games would at least be available on the league's WCHA.tv streaming package and through any local TV options (such as Minnesota State's arrangement with Charter.)

• Hodson said viewership on WCHA.tv last season was up 7 percent from the previous year.

• The search for a new WCHA women's commissioner is ongoing with hopes of having someone in place at the beginning of August.

• The WCHA women's playoff format is not changing. The league is locked in to doing its Final Face-Off at the University of Minnesota's Ridder Arena for the next two years.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mavs pick up Robertson Cup MVP

Minnesota State's most recent verbal commit is Reggie Lutz of the NAHL's Fairbanks Ice Dogs. It's been quite a week for Lutz, an Elk River native, as he recently led the Ice Dogs to the Robertson Cup championship. He was named MVP of the NAHL finals by scoring five of his team's seven goals in the three games (semifinals and finals).

According to a story in the Fairbanks News-Miner, Lutz visited MSU on Monday.

“When I went on my tour today, I just fell in love with the campus and the student life there,” Lutz said in the article. “I felt it was great fit for me with what I want to study, and the hockey there is great. For me, I think it was kind of an easy decision. Plus, it’s in Minnesota. It’s got everything that I want.”

Lutz, who is expected to join the Mavericks in 2017 after another season with the Ice Dogs, is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward who had 30 goals and 21 assists in 57 regular-season games and another nine goals and three assists in 12 playoff games.

As a high school senior, Lutz had 60 points in 25 games, including 35 goals.

“After going to Mankato it was an easy decision,” Lutz told the News-Miner. “The other schools, I was definitely interested in but I didn’t think they could match what Mankato could give me, such as schooling and playing wise and the great facilities that they have in Mankato.”

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mavericks' 2016-17 schedule is out

The Minnesota State men's hockey team will open the season with a bang in 2016-17. The Mavericks will host Michigan Tech on Oct. 7-8 at the Verizon Wireless Center in a clash of last season's MacNaughton Cup co-champions. They will follow that up with a nonconference series against in-state rival St. Cloud State on Oct. 14-15.

UPDATE: Read more about the schedule and coach Mike Hastings' comments on it and the WCHA's new playoff format here.

You can see MSU's full schedule here, but here are the highlights:

• The Mavericks will play 17 home games (plus one exhibition game), including the first half of a home-and-home nonconference series with Minnesota on Nov. 18-19. Eleven home games will take place in October, November and December.

• They will be playing just one other nonconference series, going to Princeton Dec. 16-17.

• Other home series include: Ferris State (Oct. 28-29), Bemidji State (Nov. 11-12), Alaska (Dec. 2-3), Bowling Green (Jan. 13-14), Lake Superior State (Jan. 27-28) and Northern Michigan (Feb. 17-18).

• Other road series include: Alaska (Oct. 21-22), Lake Superior State (Nov. 4-5), Ferris State (Dec. 9-10), Alabama Huntsville (Jan. 6-7), Michigan Tech (Jan. 20-21), Alaska Anchorage (Feb. 3-4) and Bemidji State (Feb. 24-25).

• Minnesota State's exhibition game will be Oct. 1 against the University of Regina.

• The series at Bemidji will close out the regular season, and the new WCHA playoff format begins a week later (March 3-4) with quarterfinal series. Semifinal series will take place March 10-12, and the championship game will take place March 18, a Saturday.

• It's interesting that MSU is playing just 34 games, despite going to Alaska twice. The NCAA allows more games for teams that make the trip to Alaska, and the Mavericks have traditionally played a 36-game schedule.

• The Mavericks are the team out of the North Star College Cup this year after playing in the first three.

The WCHA released its composite schedule for the season, and that can be found here.