Tuesday, July 23, 2019

New players, new team

Minnesota State's men's hockey roster for 2019-20 has been posted, and it includes jersey numbers for the new players.

The seven incoming rookies are:

1-Jaxson Stauber, G
8-Nathan Smith, F
12-Colby Bukes, D
14-Ryan Sandelin, F
21-Lucas Sowder, F
27-Tony Malinowski, D
28-Cade Borchardt, F

The Mavericks graduated just three seniors from last year's team, one who played regularly in forward Max Coatta. The others were Ryan Schwalbe and Alec Vanko, who played both forward and defense over their time at MSU.

Also missing from last year's roster are goaltender Mathias Israelsson, who signed a pro contract in Sweden despite having a year of eligibility left, and defensemen Michael Bigelbach and Zak Galambos, both of whom saw limited playing time in their time at MSU. Bigelbach played in seven games as a freshmen but none over the last two years. Galambos appeared in four games last season, his first year of college hockey.

That still leaves a very competitive lineup for next season. Speculation in July about who's going to play where seems like a fool's errand.

The Mavericks will have: seven seniors -- Tuomie, Gerard, Scheid, Michaelis, Rivera, Hookenson and French; eight juniors -- Mackey, McNeely, Jaremko, Spooner, Lutz, Duehr, Gerads and Zmolek; and seven sophomores -- Carroll, Aamodt, McMahan, Napravnik, Van Os-Shaw, McKay and Berger.

Broken down by position, there are: 17 forwards -- Tuomie, Gerard, Michaelis, Rivera, French, Jaremko, Spooner, Lutz, Gerads, Duehr, McMahan, Napravnik, Van Os-Shaw, Smith, Sandelin, Sowder and Borchardt; nine defensemen -- Scheid, Hookenson, Zmolek, Mackey, McNeely, Aamodt, Carroll, Bukes and Malinowski; three goaltenders -- McKay, Berger and Stauber.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Wither, WCHA?

If July 11, 2011 was the end of the WCHA as we knew it (that was when the formation of the NCHC was first announced), June 28, 2019 might mark the beginning of the end of the WCHA altogether.

A group of seven WCHA teams, including Minnesota State, are exploring forming a new, "elite hockey conference" that would begin play in 2021-22, according to a press release sent out by athletics consultant Morris Kurtz, the former St. Cloud State athletic director.

Minnesota State, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan are the teams, which means they are planning to move on without Alaska, Alaska Anchorage and Alabama Huntsville.

The wheels are clearly in motion on this, as, according to the press release, all seven schools have "submitted formal Letters of Notice to the confernece office, initiating the withdrawal process in accordance with WCHA Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws." The schools intend to play in the league this coming season and in 2020-21.

In a statement issued by the WCHA, commissioner Bill Robertson said: “While this news is disappointing, the WCHA will work to assure that any members that do withdraw do so in accordance with WCHA Bylaws.”

The press release, which came out around 3:30 p.m. CDT Friday, refers all inquires to Kurtz and said the seven institutions' representatives, including presidents, ADs and coaches, would not be commenting.

The release said the seven schools "are like-minded in their goals and aspirations for the potential new league with a focus on improving regional alignment and the overall student-athlete experience while building natural rivalries within a more compact geographic footprint."

The seven schools are located in Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio. The Alaskas and UAH are the conference's geographic outliers. Also, the Alaskas have major financial issues, made worse today by a $130 million cut to the university system's budget in a governor's veto. Huntsville, meanwhile, is without an AD after E.J. Brophy was reassigned to a new position earlier this month.

The new league also would "establish itself as an elite hockey conference that would have the highest standards for overall competitiveness and rigorous non-conference scheduling, along with a level of institutional investment that demonstrates significant commitment to their hockey programs and facilities, while also establishing relationships with corporate partners and others that create a high degree of visibility and positive media exposure for the league."

Sounds a lot like what we heard when the NCHC schools left the WCHA and CCHA to form a new conference in reaction to the formation of the Big Ten. Those conferences began play in 2013, as did the new WCHA.

I have more thoughts on this but am on vacation right now, so keep checking the blog throughout the next week.

Monday, June 3, 2019

WCHA names new women's commissioner

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association looked to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference to find its next women's commissioner.

Jennifer Flowers was named WCHA vice president and women's commissioner on Monday. Flowers has been the NSIC's assistant commissioner for membership services since August of 2016. She will be the WCHA's fourth women's commissioner.

Northern Sun members Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth all have WCHA women's programs.

Flowers, who will begin her WCHA duties in July, replaces Katie Million, who was with the conference for three years before recently taking a job with USA Hockey.

“Jennifer stood out among an outstanding group of finalists," Mavericks coach John Harrington, a member of the selection committee, said in a league press release. "Her previous experience in administration with coaches, athletic directors and faculty representatives shows she can build relationships and involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process. Her vision to continually address and improve the student-athlete experience in the WCHA is important as we move forward under her leadership.”

During her time at the NSIC, Flowers spearheaded a committee that created the league’s first transgender student-athlete participation guidelines and coordinated the launch of the league’s SAAC Cup, which was designed to encourage engagement of campus student-athlete advisory councils. She also developed and implemented the NSIC Women’s Coaches Symposium in 2017, which has since been rebranded the NSIC Women’s Leadership Symposium.

Besides her NSIC duties, Flowers, serves on the NCAA women’s volleyball rules committee, is the co-chair of the Minnesota Coalition for Women in Athletic Leadership and serves as a mentor in the Women Leaders in College Sports mentoring program.

From 2012 to 2015, Flowers worked as an associate athletic director and senior woman administrator in the second of two stints at Winona State. She was also an assistant women’s basketball and volleyball coach at Simpson College in 2005-06.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Seawolves moving games to campus

Alaska Anchorage announced on Wednesday that it is leaving Sullivan Arena after more than 30 years and will play games starting this coming season at its practice rink in the on-campus Wells Fargo Sports Complex.

The reason for the move is financial as, according to the press release, "state budget cuts require the university to evaluate its venue needs." The release said the Wells Fargo rink will be expanded to a 2,500-seat facility by 2021. Currently it holds only 750 seats. Sullivan Arena holds about 6,200, although UAA averaged 1,944 fans per game last season.

The WCHA issued a statement in support of the move, saying, "given the current budget climate in Alaska ... (the league) views it as a step towards strengthening the long-term viability of the Alaska Anchorage men’s hockey program." The statement added that UAA has assured the WCHA that the facility will meet all league and NCAA requirements for hosting games.

The future of the Alaska programs has been in question over the last couple of years due to the financial issues in that state.

Earlier this spring, Alaska Fairbanks announced that it will remain in that city's Carlson Center this upcoming season, but is looking to move back on campus within two years. One reason for that is the Carlson Center's aging ice plant. The Patty Ice Arena at UAF will serve as a backup home arena this season. The Carlson seats 4,324 for hockey, while the Patty has seating for 1,047. The linked story from March said no renovation plans for the on-campus rink were announced but that the WCHA requires its arenas to have at least 2,500 seats.

According to an attendance list on USCHO, there were 13 arenas in men's college hockey last season that had seating under 2,500. They were:

Brown, 2,495
Ferris State, 2,490
Air Force, 2,470
Union, 2,225
Colgate, 2,222
Princeton, 2,100
Bentley, 1,917
Canisius, 1,800
Niagara, 1,800
Robert Morris, 1,589
Holy Cross, 1,400
Mercyhurst, 1,300
Arizona State, 747

Here were the sizes of the WCHA arenas (does not include standing room):

Alabama Huntsville 6,600
Alaska Anchorage, 6,206
Bowling Green, 5,000
Minnesota State, 4,832
Bemidji State, 4,373
Alaska, 4,324
Michigan Tech, 4,466
Northern Michigan, 3,754
Lake Superior State, 3,373
Ferris State, 2,490

In some good news on the arena front, Alabama Huntsville is exploring building a new arena.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sioux Falls, with MSU connections, wins Clark Cup

Photo courtesy Rylan Galiardi
The Sioux Falls Stampede won the Clark Cup as the United States Hockey League’s playoff champion on Friday night. 

The Stampede, which had four connections to Minnesota State, crusied through the postseason by winning 11 of 12 games. The team's MSU include alum Rylan Galiardi, an assistant coach (at left in photo), and three future Mavericks (pictured from left after Galiardi): forward Brenden Olson, goaltender Jaxson Stauber and forward Cade Borchardt.

Stauber was named the Clark Cup’s Most Valuable Player, going 11-1 with an impressive .941 save percentage and 1.46 goals-against average in the playoffs. 

I had a chance to talk to Galiardi on Monday morning, and a column about the Stampede's win and a few future Mavs will post online later tonight on The Free Press' website.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Mavericks announce team awards

On Monday, Minnesota State announced its team award winners for the 2018-19 season. Here they are, along with my own comments (or how I would have voted if I had a vote):

Most valuable player: Marc Michaelis. Michaelis led the Mavericks with 19 goals and 42 points, playing in all 42 games. He was plus-22 and had nine power-play goals and two short-handed goals. 

Comment: No argument here. Michaelis was the top producer on a very balanced team. He also moved from wing to center this season and handled the faceoff and defensive duties with aplomb.

Most improved player: Charlie Gerard. Gerard had 30 points, mostly playing on the top line with Michaelis and Parker Tuomie. That was a 25-point improvement from the previous season. He led MSU with 111 shots on goal and four game-winners.

Comment: Gerard probably would have been my choice, too, although defenseman Jack McNeely at plus-27 would have been a very close second. This is where I usually note if the award is for most-improved from one year to the next or most-improved over the course of a season. Gerard and McNeely the former description. Walker Duehr and even Josh French deserved votes, too.

Unsung player: Edwin Hookenson. Hookenson played in all 42 games, had 10 points, was plus-13 and, most impressively, was second in the country with 97 blocked shots. 

Comment: The Mavericks' defensive corps was excellent throughout, even though Connor Mackey and Ian Scheid got many of the accolades because of their point production. Hookenson, Riese Zmolek and McNeely all would be deserving of this award.

Hardest worker: Max Coatta. Coatta won this award for the third year in a row. The only senior to regularly play this season, he had eight goals and 15 points in 33 games, missing time with a knee injury. 

Comment: To win this three years in a row is impressive. There might have been some close competition this year, though, with Nick Rivera and Jared Spooner. Rivera might have gotten my vote, but that's no knock on Mighty Max.

Don Brose Leadership Award: Coatta. Coatta was the lone senior in the everyday lineup and one of the team's three captains. He was also a second-year captain. 

Comment: I don't see too much behind the scenes, so I'll trust the players and coaches on this one. But from what I have seen, Coatta is a strong leader and is very respected by everyone. Right now, there's just one hole to fill in next year's lineup, but it's a big one.

Three-Star Award: Parker Tuomie. Tuomie wins this based on three-stars-of-the-game voting at each home game. Tuomie also won this in 2017. He finished the season with 40 points in 36 games, leading MSU with 26 assists.

Comment: This is not a voted-upon award, but Tuomie often plays like a star when the lights go on. He and Michaelis should be fun to watch as seniors next year.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Mavericks' 2019-20 schedule is out

Minnesota State and the WCHA put out the schedule for next season, which is great, because it's never too early to start planning your fall and winter weekends.

Perhaps the biggest news of the schedule is that MSU has opted to start its Saturday-night games at 6:07 p.m.

"We made the decision on the move to an earlier start time on Saturday after a great deal of thought, deliberation, and discussion," athletic director Kevin Buisman said in a press release. "This is a strategy that has been effective in other markets and after consulting players, coaches, fans, event staff and other program supporters we decided to move forward with immediate implementation. I think this change will be particularly appealing to families with younger children and this is a demographic we need to grow as they represent the future fan base of Maverick hockey."

As we've known, the Mavericks will play nonconference home games against Arizona State (Oct. 11-12) and North Dakota (Oct. 18-19), and they'll go to national-champion Minnesota Duluth (Nov. 29-30) and to Minnesota's Mariucci Classic (Dec. 28-29).

They'll play WCHA home series against Bowling Green, Alaska Anchorage, Lake Superior State, Alaska, Bemidji State, Northern Michigan and Alabama Huntsville. And they'll play WCHA road series at Alabama Huntsville, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Bowling Green, Alaska Anchorage and Bemidji State.

Here's a quick look at the schedule:

Oct. 5, Mount Royal (exhibition): As usual, the Mavericks will start the year with a preseason game against a Canadian college team. They defeated Mount Royal 7-3 last season.

Oct. 11-12, Arizona State: The Sun Devils, who are still looking for a conference home, were the surprise team in college hockey last year, making the NCAA tournament. MSU and ASU tied 2-2 at the Desert Hockey Classic with the Sun Devils winning the shootout for third place in the tournament.

Oct. 18-19, North Dakota: The Fighting Hawks will be in Mankato for the first time since March 8-9, 2013. Last season, MSU and UND played for the first time since then and split their series at Grand Forks.

Oct. 25-26, at Alabama Huntsville: The Mavericks will open their MacNaughton Cup defense when they go on the road to to face the Chargers.

Nov. 1-2, Bowling Green: An excellent home schedule to start the season continues with a rematch of the thrilling Sauer Trophy championship game. The Falcons will have a new coach in Ty Eigner after Chris Bergeron's departure to Miami.

Nov. 8-9, at Michigan Tech: If you're looking to finally make that road trip to Houghton (a bucket-list item for any college hockey fan), an early November weekend might be as good as any.

Nov. 22-23, Alaska Anchorage: The Mavericks play 10 home games in the first half of their schedule. We should know by this time how much the Seawolves have improved after last year's rough season.

Nov. 29-30, at Minnesota Duluth: Thanksgiving weekend in Duluth will be special for the Sandelin family as UMD coach Scott will face his son Ryan, who will be an MSU freshman.

Dec. 6-7, Lake Superior State: The Lakers made a big leap in the league last year and this weekend will return to Mankato where their season ended.

Dec. 13-14, at Northern Michigan: The Wildcats will look very different than the team the Mavericks battled with the last few years, losing some key players to graduation.

Dec. 28-29, at Mariucci Classic: This year's tournament will be an all-Minnesota filed with Minnesota, St. Cloud State and Bemidji State. The pairings have not been announced yet, but the hope is MSU will play the Gophers and Huskies.

Jan. 3-4, Alaska: The Nanooks will be the foe to start the second half of the season in which MSU has eight homes games before playoffs.

Jan. 10-11, at Ferris State: This will be the only meeting of the regular season between the Mavericks and Bulldogs. Too bad Ferris won't be in Mankato next season.

Jan. 17-18, at Bowling Green: The Mavericks don't have crazy road stretches this season, but back-to-back weekends at Big Rapids, Mich., and Bowling Green, Ohio, will be tough. 

Jan. 24-25, Bemidji State: That tough road stretch will be followed by the first meeting with the rival Beavers, who don't lose much from a solid 2018-19 season.

Jan. 31-Feb. 1, at Alaska Anchorage: The Mavericks are making just one trip to Alaska this season, which is never a bad thing. 

Feb. 7-8, Northern Michigan: The Wildcats didn't play at Mankato last year, so this should be one MSU fans will be excited about.

Feb. 21-22, Alabama Huntsville: Minnesota State's last regular-season home series will be against the Chargers, the team they begin the league schedule against four months earlier.

Feb. 28-March 1, at Bemidji State: The Mavericks will close out the regular season on the road. Will they be celebrating another MacNaughton Cup this weekend? They'll certainly be the favorite, but the Beavers should be one of the teams that's standing in their way.