Monday, September 22, 2014

Season's almost here

The Mavericks are practicing. Just two hours a week with coaches (plus captains' practices and conditioning), but they are practicing. The official start day is just 12 days away, and they'll jump right in after that with an exhibition game on Oct. 5 and a trip to Omaha five days later.

Preseason rankings should begin trickling in soon, and the WCHA will release its preseason coaches poll (compiled by yours truly) next week. Where do you think the Mavericks will stand in the conference prognostications? What about the national rankings?

Minnesota State put out its preseason prospectus in recent days. Here are a few highlights going into this season:

* This will be Mike Hastings' third season as head coach. Assistant coach Darren Blue begins this 15th season with the Mavericks, and Todd Knott begins his sixth on the staff.

* Of the nation's active players, Matt Leitner ranks third in career points with 121. He's behind Miami's Austin Czarnik (124) and Minnesota's Kyle Rau (123). His 81 assists rank second behind Czarnik's 87.

* Jean-Paul LaFontaine's 42 career goals rank fifth among active players. He's behind Cody Wydo of Robert Morris (65), Alex Grieve of Bentley (50), Rau (47) and Jonny Brodzinski of St. Cloud State (43). His 26 power-play goals rank first among active players. Rau has 22.

* Minnesota State needs 14 victories to reach 800 in program history. MSU is 786-601-138 since 1969. They are 305-313-77 in the Division I era.

* For the third year in a row, Teddy Blueger, now a junior forward, is the youngest player on MSU's roster (Aug. 15, 1994). Chase Grant (Aug. 17, 1989, is the oldest).

* The Mavericks' 25-player roster is a true melting pot. It includes players from three different countries and 14 different U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The breakdown includes: U.S.--Minnesota (6), North Dakota (2), Michigan (2), Wisconsin (1), South Dakota (1), Pennsylvania (1), Oklahoma (1), Alaska (1), Colorado (1), California (1) and Missouri (1); Canada--British Columbia (3), Saskatchewan (1) and Ontario (1); and Latvia (1).

* In an aside, the MSU women's team's 24-player roster has players from five countries (U.S., Canada, Germany, Norway and Sweden) and nine U.S. states/Canadian provinces (Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, New York, British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario). Ten players are from Minnesota. Put the two teams together and you get six countries, 14 states and four provinces.

Monday, September 8, 2014

WCHA announces office, staff changes

The WCHA on Monday announced that it will be headquartered in a centralized office at Minnesota State University's 7700 France campus in Edina.

This is something new commissioner Bill Robertson said he wanted to do upon being hired. No more dividing the duties between Denver, Madison and St. Paul.

Robertson and women's commissioner Aaron Kemp will share the office, along with league staff, and there will be some staff changes.

The league announced the hiring of two associate commissioners, Matt Hodson and Alyssa Bennett.

Hodson will handle public relations duties and oversee external and internal communications, brand marketing and social media. He has experience working for the San Francisco Giants as well as Stanford University and the University of Minnesota. He replaces longtime PR man Doug Spencer, who had been with the league for 28 years.

Bennett will mange the WCHA's budget and finance, handle vendor contracts, serve as a liaison with member institutions, handle office operations, marketing, social media and manage championships. She replaces Carol LaBelle-Ehrhardt, another longtime league official.

The league also announced that Greg Shepherd will remain on as its supervision of officials.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jutzi off roster, out of school (updated)

Preseason workouts have begun for the Minnesota State men's hockey team, but they're taking place without junior defenseman Jon Jutzi.

Jutzi was removed from the roster on the MSU website last week, and coach Mike Hastings confirmed on Wednesday that he's off the roster and currently not enrolled at the college.

Hastings said he could not elaborate on the circumstances "because it is a student data privacy issue."

"He is currently off the roster and currently not enrolled in school," Hastings said. "I can't talk about anything other than that."

Reached later via a Twitter message, Jutzi said he's off for "Personal reasons that are going to be held between myself and my family. Every intention on returning to MSU after Christmas."

Hastings said that any future changes to the roster could be discussed if and when they occur.

Jutzi played in all 82 games over the last two seasons and had one goal and 14 assists in those games. Last season he ranked second on the team in blocked shots with 70 and was also plus-5, which ranked fifth on the team and third among defensemen.

The loss hurts the Mavericks' depth at the position, although there remain eight defensemen on the roster (six dress for games), including several regulars from last year: seniors Zach Palmquist and Brett Stern and sophomores Sean Flanagan, Carter Foguth and Casey Nelson.

Juniors Blake Thompson and Nick Buchanan also have experience, and freshman Jaden Schmeisser will be competing for a spots.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mavs lose Warner

Oldish news but worth noting ...

Minnesota State recruit Hunter Warner, a defenseman from Eden Prairie earlier this month opted to sign with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. Due to join the Mavericks in 2015, he opted for the major junior route instead of college hockey.

Minnesota State doesn't have a lot of experience losing players to the major junior level. Most notably, Tyler Pitlick left MSU in 2010, after his freshman year, to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers. Warner hadn't signed with MSU but had been verbally committed since 2012 following his sophomore season at Eden Prairie.

Warner, a 6-2, 205-pound D-man, had two goals, 10 assists and 125 penalty minutes for the USHL's Fargo Force last season.

The 19-year-old went undrafted in the NHL's June draft but was then invited as a free agent to the Minnesota Wild's development camp. Word is he had a very good camp. Perhaps that played into his decision to go to Prince Albert.

The Raiders' rookie camp begins this week.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mavericks add exhibition game

Minnesota State will play a preseason exhibition game on the Sunday before its first regular-season series. The Mavericks will play Canadian college Trinity Western out of British Columbia at 5:07 p.m. on Oct. 5.

In the meantime, MSU has put out its hockey season-ticket promo video today:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Big year for BillyRob

Photo by Shane Frederick
Bill Robertson is on a "goodwill tour" of WCHA cities and hopes to hit them all before the year is out. On Monday, the new league commissioner was in Mankato, playing golf and getting to know more about Minnesota State hockey and the culture surrounding it. It was a perfect venue to rub elbows with coaches, administrators, sponsors, boosters, alumni and even fans and players.

Read my story on Robertson's visit in Tuesday's edition of The Free Press.

A few highlights of note (and some things that didn't make the cut):

* Robertson said the league soon will be moving into a centralized office in Minneapolis and plans to have all staff working out of the same venue. Before, Bruce McLeod worked in Denver while others were in Madison and St. Paul.

* New women's commissioner Aaron Kemp also will work in the Minneapolis office and the two leagues, while separate, will share staff. Robertson said they're currently reviewing the league's staffing needs.

* Robertson acknowledged the talk of another shift of the college hockey landscape in the next three to five years but also mentioned that he's had conversations with "western" schools that have at least explored the idea of adding hockey. It would take big donors for that to happen, of course (like Penn State), and a school likely would have to add women's hockey. Nothing imminent, he said, but he would like to see college hockey expand.

* Current stability and promotion of the league as it goes into its second season post-realignment is important, though, especially in the revenues-expenses area, which has changed dramatically. A lot of focus is on the Final Five, which will return to St. Paul this year, and acquiring sponsorships and boosting ticket sales. But promoting the league and the current teams in order to educate fans is big, too. Social media will be an important part, no doubt.

* Robertson said he was encouraged by having two WCHA teams in the NCAA tournament last year (Minnesota State and Ferris State), but the hope is to have three teams in the tournament. Two or three every year would be ideal, he said.

Monday, July 28, 2014

WCHA commish, others in Mankato

Photo by Shane Frederick
The Dan Meyers Golf Classic is being played on Monday at the Mankato Golf Club. The fundraiser for the MSU Blue Line Club had a full lineup that included new WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson (pictured above, right, with Mavericks coach Mike Hastings).

I talked to BillyRob before the outing, and that story will appear in Tuesday's edition of The Free Press. Be sure to check it out.

Other folks of note at the golf tournament included former Minnesota State players and current pros David Backes, Tim Jackman and Travis Morin. Aaron Forsythe, who is now the athletic director (and former hockey coach) at Forest Lake High School, was also there.

I also learned on Monday that former MSU and Gustavus player (and Mankato native) Corey Leivermann plans to try to play professional hockey in Germany. He said he has agreed to a tryout deal with the Hannover Scorpions.

More to come ...