Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kivlenieks skips college for NHL

One of Minnesota State's prized recruits for 2017, goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks, has opted to sign with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets rather than go to college. Columbus announced the signing on Thursday.

The USHL Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year recently completed his junior hockey career, losing 2-1 in overtime of the decisive fifth game of the USHL's Clark Cup playoffs. The Chicago Steel won the championship, defeating Kivlenieks' Sioux City Musketeers.

There has been speculation since late in his phenomenal season that NHL teams were interested in Kivlenieks and that they might woo him before he ever set foot on the Minnesota State campus.

The Mavericks, don't forget, still have Jason Pawloski, who will be a junior. For all of MSU's inconsistency in goal, he finished last season with good numbers, going 4-2 with a .937 save percentage and a 1.52 goals-against average in the team's last six games. For the season, which included a gap between mid-December and mid-February in which he didn't play, Pawloski was 8-5-2, .920, 2.10. 

Then there's Aaron Nelson, the former third-stringer, who got a stretch of starts in January and February and put some real pressure on the other goalies. He'll be a senior. The Mavericks certainly will be on the lookout for a goalie they can bring in late. 

Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

MSU recruits win USHL title

The Chicago Steel won the USHL Clark Cup as the legaue's tournament champions on Tuesday night, defeating the Sioux City Musketeers 2-1 in overtime of the decisive fifth game.

The Steel had three future Minnesota State players on the roster, including two who are coming to Mankato next fall: Jake Jaremko, Reggie Lutz and Wyatt Aamodt.

Jaremko and Lutz, forwards from Elk River, will be freshmen next season. Jaremko had 13 points (5-8) in the USHL playoffs, which ranked fourth. Lutz had 12 points, including 7 goals. Aamodt, a defenseman from Hermantown, was a scratch during the playoffs.

Sioux City goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks is also an Minnesota State recruit. The USHL player and goalie of the year finished the postseason with an 8-5 record (two OT losses), a .925 save percentage and a 2.08 goals-against average.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Mavericks name team award winners

Minnesota State announced its team award winners on Thursday. No real surprises on the list. Here's a look (plus some Puckato comments):

Most Valuable Player: Marc Michaelis, freshman forward. Hard to quibble too much with this choice. He led MSU and the WCHA (overall games) in scoring and was the league's rookie of the year as well as a first-team all-conference pick. Puckato would have given strong consideration to C.J. Franklin and Daniel Brickley for this award, too.

Hardest Worker: Max Coatta, sophomore forward. Probably a candidate for most-improved player, too (more on that in a bit), he played in all 39 games, seemingly locking down a job as the kind of third- or fourth-line grinder — responsible and can chip in a few points — that the Mavericks value so much. Puckato would have considered Brickley, Carter Foguth and Jordan Nelson, too.

Most-Improved Player: Ian Scheid, freshman defenseman. As I've written before, this award can have a couple of interpretations — improvement from one year to the next or improvement over the course of a season. Scheid definitely improved as the year went on, but he also had a strong start to an excellent freshman year. He'd definitely get Biggest Surprise Award, if one existed, being a late recruit who scored 24 points and was plus-16, which led the team. Others Puckato would have thought of: Brickley, Coatta, Zeb Knutson and Parker Tuomie.

Unsung Player: Carter Foguth, senior defenseman. Foguth is an anagram for fought, something auto-correct haunted me with regularly. That's appropriate, as Foguth fought as hard as anyone for the Mavericks. No player did the tough, dirty work like he did. He logged a ton of minutes, played through a lot of bumps and bruises — and worse! — with no complaint. He's going to be a tough player to replace. Can't think of another player to consider for this award.

Don Brose Leadership Award: Foguth. I can't argue with the leadership award, as I don't see much behind the scenes, but Foguth was a three-time captain (twice wearing the "C") and highly respected by players and coaches alike, a great example to whoever gets a badge next season (captains have not been announced yet).

Three-Star Award: Parker Tuomie, freshman forward. This award is determined on a point system for the Three Stars of the Game that are announced after each home game. Tuomie was No. 1 twice, No. 2 once and No. 3 three times. Brad McClure was No. 1 three times. Nine others were No. 1 once. Brickley was No. 2 four times. Tuomie came into the season with more hype than Michaelis. It took him a bit longer to get going, but he finished strong, which should bode well for next season.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mavs' 2017-18 schedule released

The Minnesota State men's hockey team will have a challenging nonconference schedule in 2017-18, one that includes two in-state rivals and a trip east to face a national power.

The Mavericks will begin the regular season on Oct. 7 at home with a nonconference game against St. Cloud State on Oct. 7 and will follow that with a two-game series at Boston University. The Hockey East-member Terriers, some already have predicted, could be among the nation's top five teams to start the season.

Minnesota State will wrap up the home-and-home series with St. Cloud State on Wednesday, Nov. 22, to start a Thanksgiving road trip. The back end of that swing will be a nonconference game at Minnesota Duluth on Saturday, Nov. 25.

The Mavericks will host UMD, last season's national runner-up, on Jan. 23 in a rare Tuesday game.

As for the Mavericks' Western Collegiate Hockey Association schedule, the Mavericks will host Michigan Tech (Oct. 27-28), Bowling Green (Nov. 17-18), Alabama Huntsville (Dec. 15-16), Northern Michigan (Dec. 29-30), Alaska Anchorage (Feb. 2-3), Ferris Sate (Feb. 16-17) and Bemidji State (Feb. 23-24).

On the road, Minnesota State will be making a long post-holidays trip to Alaska, playing at Anchorage and Fairbanks on back-to-back weekends (Jan. 5-6, Jan. 12-13). Other WCHA road games include: Bowling Green (Oct. 20-21), Northern Michigan (Nov. 3-4), Bemidji State (Nov. 10-11), Lake Superior State (Dec. 8-9) and Alabama-Huntsville (Feb. 9-10).

The Mavericks will play 34 regular-season games. Just five of their first 17 games are at home, however, they will be at home for seven of their final nine games.

Minnesota State has scheduled two exhibition games at home: Sunday, Oct. 1 against Regina and Saturday, Jan. 27 against the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Thanks to an alert commenter, I looked into this: Minnesota is not on MSU's schedule in any form (including the now-defunct North Star College Cup) for the first time since the 1996-97 season, which was the Mavericks' first year of Division I.

More information can be found on MSU's press release and the WCHA's composite schedule can be found here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Pearson leaving Tech for Michigan

Mel Pearson has been named the new coach at Michigan after six seasons putting Michigan Tech back on the college hockey map.

He'll be formally introduced as the Wolverines' coach today during an afternoon press conference.

Pearson was an assistant coach at Michigan for 23 seasons, helping legendary coach Red Berenson win two national titles and get to the Frozen Four 11 times.

He went to Tech, his alma mater, in 2011, to try to turn around the Huskies' struggling program — no easy task. He did just that, going 118-92-29, including a 75-34-14 record over the last three seasons. The Huskies won the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular-season champions for the first time in 40 years in 2016 and won the league's tournament title this past year. The Huskies went to two NCAA tournaments (the same number as Michigan did), too.

Michigan Tech now will be looking for its next coach. It will be the second opening in the WCHA this offseason, as the Huskies' arch-rival, Northern Michigan, also had a change, hiring Grant Potulny last week to replace the fired Walt Kyle.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Northern Michigan hires Potulny

Northern Michigan filled the lone coaching vacancy in the WCHA on Tuesday when it hired Minnesota assistant Grant Potulny as its new coach. Potulny, 37, a Grand Forks, N.D., native, played for the Gophers, winning a national championship in 2002 and '03, and has been an assistant to Don Lucia for the past eight seasons.

Potulny will be the third head coach in Wildcats history, replacing Walt Kyle, who was let go in March.

Northern Michigan was one of several coaching openings in college hockey this offseason. Michigan and Niagara remain open, and many eyes are on the Michigan job. If longtime Wolverines assistant and current Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson lands that gig, that will leave another void in the WCHA. There has been conflicting speculation about Michigan's interest in Pearson. Pearson, naturally, says he's got it pretty good at Tech right now.

Here are the coaching changes in college hockey:

Team                              New coach               Replaces
Northern Michigan         Grant Potulny          Walt Kyle
Michigan State               Danton Cole             Tom Anastos
Nebraska Omaha            Mike Gabinet           Dean Blais
RPI                                 Dave Smith              Seth Appert
Canisius                          Trevor Large*          Dave Smith
Michigan                        ???                            Red Berenson
Niagara                           ???                            Dave Burkholder

* Interim


Kolstad coming home

North Dakota made the stunning, budget-slashing decision last month to drop it's women's hockey program. That left several players twisting in the wind, wondering what their future in the sport will be. One player already has announced her intention to move on, though.

Mankato native Rebekah Kolstad will come home and play her final two seasons of hockey at Minnesota State. She signed with MSU on Monday before returning to Grand Forks, N.D., for the remainder of her semester.

Kolstad has played in every game over two seasons with the Fighting Hawks but saw a big jump in her point production this past season. At 5-foot-10, she will add some significant size to the Mavericks' lineup.

Kolstad said it's not an easy time for players to transfer. Many schools' rosters are fairly full, as are their scholarship commitments. Minnesota State did have space and money for her, she said. Could more North Dakota players end up at MSU? Kolstad wasn't sure, but she hoped so.

North Dakota's move leaves the WCHA with seven teams. The Fighting Hawks were 16-16-6 and in fourth place in the league last season. The Mavericks were eighth at 7-26-4.

North Dakota also cut men's and women's swimming in order to control costs at a time when the university is in some financial trouble. Minnesota State, on the other hand, appears committed to women's hockey. The upgrades to the Verizon Center facility, which included equal space for men and women, are just two years old. And, recently, MSU athletic director Kevin Buisman said that recent commitments made to men's coach Mike Hastings for in cost-of-attendance aid for players and other improvements would also benefit the women's team.