Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Williams expected to sign

The Free Press
After a fabulous freshman season, Minnesota State goaltender Stephon Williams was drafted by the New York Islanders. Two years later, after an even better junior season, it appears Williams will be signing with the Islanders.

According to sources, Williams is expected to forgo his senior season with MSU and sign with the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2013.

Williams would not confirm his plans, and there has been no announcement yet.

The Fairbanks, Alaska, native may be striking while the iron is hot. He went 25-6-3 with a .925 save percentage and a 1.65 goals-against average this season.

For his college career, he has 51 victories, which ranks third all-time at Minnesota State and a program-best 10 shutouts. He went 51-24-5 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average.

A colorful character, who will be remembered not just for his great goaltending but also for a 5-minute stint in the penalty box and for flipping over the goal to get a stoppage, twice won the WCHA’s goaltending championship with the league’s lowest goals-against average.

After winning 21 games as a freshman, Williams slumped as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting job to Cole Huggins. But he earned it back this season.

As for the Mavericks, Huggins will be back next season. He followed up his 21-win rookie season by going 4-2 with a .864 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average in just nine appearances.

Freshman Aaron Nelson also returns, although he did not play outside of an exhibition game in October.

The Mavericks also have a verbal commitment from goalie Jason Pawloski, an Omaha, Neb., native who is in his third season of junior hockey, currently with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.

The Islanders last week signed Ferris State goalie C.J. Motte, following his stellar career. Motte was an undrafted free agent.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Palmquist signs with Wild

The Free Press
Minnesota State senior defenseman Zach Palmquist signed an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild for next season, the team announced on Monday.

A free agent who spent time last summer at the Wild's development camp, Palmquist wrapped up a stellar career with the Mavericks, compiling 96 points (25-71), which tied for first among defensemen in the program's Division I era. He, along with fellow senior Chase Grant, also played in more games (160) than anyone in MSU history.

The 6-foot-0, 175-pound Palmquist was a first-team All-WCHA pick for the second year in a row and had a career-high eight goals and 29 points this season.

The Wild will get a smooth-skating, puck-moving D-man who can log a lot of minutes. They also get a hometown kid, as Palmquist grew up in South St. Paul.

Word was, last summer, that he had an excellent camp with the Wild. It was his third summer at an NHL's camp, going to ones put on by the Sharks and Flyers in previous years. The Wild must have continued to like what they saw then.

Will he be able to make the leap to the big club? Stay tuned.

For the remainder of this season, he will sign an amateur tryout contract and report to the Iowa Wild, Minnesota's American Hockey League affiliate.

Frozen Four field set

RIT, which stunned top-overall seed Minnesota State on Saturday, gave Omaha all it could handle in the finals of the Midwest Regional on Sunday in South Bend, but the red Mavericks prevailed with four goals in the third period and a 40-save (40!) performance from goalie Ryan Massa in a 4-0 win over the Tigers.

RIT had half that many shots against Minnesota State on Friday but won 2-1, becoming the first 16 seed to knock off No. 1 since the field was expanded from 12 to 16 in 2003.

So the Frozen Four field is all set, with Omaha, North Dakota, Boston University and Providence all advancing out of this weekend's regionals. Two NCHC teams, two Hockey East teams.

On Thursday, April 9, in Boston, Omaha will play Providence, followed by North Dakota against Boston University, and the two winners will square off on April 11 for the national championship.

By the way, Massa, who also stopped 33 of 34 shots on Saturday against Harvard, was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player. The All-Tournament Team also included Omaha forward Jake Randolph and defenseman Brian Cooper; RIT forward Josh Mitchell (who scored the controversial game-winner against MSU) and defenseman Alex Kuqali; and Harvard forward Jimmy Vesey.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tigers 2, Mavericks 1

Pat Christman/The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Season's over: What a tough, gut-wrenching loss for the Mavericks. A stunning 16-over-1 upset by RIT, but one that was also marred with controversy. The game-winning goal was initially (and rather emphatically) ruled no-goal on the ice, as it appeared that Matt Garbowsky hit Zach Palmquist, who stumbled backward into goalie Stephon Williams as Josh Mitchell's shot whistled by. But after review, the referees reversed their call. The NCAA issued a press release, saying:
NCAA official statement on the use of video replay:
At the 5:51 mark of the third period, the on ice call determined by the referees was no goal as a result of contact by the RIT forward into the Minnesota State defensive player. The referees felt this contact caused the Minnesota State goalie to be interfered with on the play. 
Upon further video review, the referees determined that the Minnesota State player initiated the contact with the RIT player and overturned the initial on ice call. 
Trying to be an objective reporter here, but that explanation seems dubious at best. Really thought Palmquist got checked pretty good by Garbowsky as he skated by.

Mike Hastings' quote, really, says it all for how he felt about it: "I started playing hockey at 6. I'm 49. That's a tough one to swallow."

2. Scoring drought: While that goal proved to be massive in the outcome of the game, it doesn't take away the fact that the Mavericks simply couldn't score. Lots of missed nets. Just 1 for 5 on the power play. And, of course, a great performance by goalie Jordan Ruby. Minnesota State has scored just two goals in its last three NCAA tournament games, all losses, getting shut out by Miami two years ago and going scoreless until 10 seconds remained against UMass-Lowell last season. MSU got away with Matt Leitner, Bryce Gervais and Jean-Paul LaFontaine being held off the scoreboard last weekend at the Final Five (save for an empty-netter by Gervais), but a second week in a row, no matter how deep an offensive team they are, was playing with fire.

3. They'll be missed: The Mavericks' group of six seniors helped lay a rather nice foundation for the program. Leitner, LaFontaine, Palmquist, Chase Grant, Max Gaede and Brett Stern came, with Hastings in charge, took MSU to a different level — three NCAA tournaments, a WCHA championship, two Final Five titles, a No. 1 ranking for the first time. Pretty good stuff. The team is going to look awfully strange without that group, which has played so many games, rarely sitting as healthy scratches, since they first arrived. The next step for the current and future players is for the program to win at the national-tournament level.

Read my game story here. Read my regional notebook here.

MSU vs. RIT — Midwest Regional live chat

The Mavericks and Tigers face off at 3 p.m. CDT in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Join the conversation below or by going here.

Saturday Morning Skate

It's the Midwest Regional edition of the skate ...

The Mavericks are set to square off against the RIT Tigers at 3 p.m. (CDT) today, making their third straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. While MSU coach Mike Hastings might not be, uh, comfortable with the choice of words, senior Chase Grant said he thinks his team is "comfortable" this year, at least when it comes to handling the weekend hype.

For MSU and its longtime rival Nebraska Omaha (which plays Harvard in today's second game), there are plenty of familiar faces, especially on the coaching staffs. Notably, former Mavericks coach Troy Jutting, a UNO assistant, is seeing his old team's success up close. Meanwhile Hastings and his old boss, Omaha coach Dean Blais, also have gotten a chance to catch up face to face.

The previous link goes to a notebook from Friday and includes comments from RIT coach Wayne Wilson on his team as well as on his team's opponent today, a very deep MSU team.

For more on Minnesota State and the other three teams in the regional, check out The Free Press' College Hockey Gameday feature.

Free Press photographer also has a photo gallery from Friday's events.

In other coverage ...

• The New York times profiled Hastings and his low tolerance for losing.

• The Star Tribune also has a feature on what the Mavericks have been doing this season.

• Upset-minded RIT has a mantra when it comes to playing the No. 1 team in the nation: Die on empty.

• Omaha stumbled into the tournament but is now much healthier than it was before postseason play began.

• The Omaha World-Herald also has capsules on each team in the regional.

• The Boston Globe writes about Harvard's Jimmy Vesey, the nation's leading goal scorer.

Regional play began on Friday, and there were some great games with some surprising results.

The NCAA field's only other WCHA team, Michigan Tech, lost a heartbreaker in overtime to St. Cloud State on an unfortunate play for a senior defenseman. Also in Fargo, North Dakota cruised to a win over Quinnipiac, setting up an all-NCHC final in the West.

In the Northeast, Boston University edged Yale in overtime, and, in the game many thought would be the most-competitive of the day, Minnesota Duluth scored three first-period goals and rolled over Minnesota. The Gophers went 1-4 against the Bulldogs this season.

There are six games today, including finals feature North Dakota-St. Cloud State and Boston University-Minnesota Duluth. There are the two Midwest regionals, of course, and in the East, Miami plays Providence and Denver plays Boston College.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Preview day

Greetings from South Bend, Ind. ...

It was a busy day from the moment we arrived at Notre Dame's beautiful Compton Family Ice Arena. Practices and press conferences ruled the early part of the day, writing after that.

For all of today's coverage from the Free Press, including some great photos from Pat Christman, be sure to go to our MSU hockey page.