Thursday, April 30, 2009

USHL finals

The USHL's Clark Cup finals begin Friday, with the Fargo Force taking on the Indiana Ice. Fargo, the first-year team features two Minnesota State recruits, including Mankato's own Corey Leivermann, who had an excellent second half of the season and, from some accounts, has become a very popular player in the Force's locker room.

Leivermann has two goals and two assists in six playoff games and finished the regular season with eight goals and 14 assists in 49 games. Before New Year's Eve, however, he had just four assists. His teammate, Matt Leitner, who will come to MSU with him in 2010 finished second on Fargo's scoring list with 14 goals and 43 assists. He has one goal and eight assists in playoff action.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Means among finalists for women's job

Minnesota State  men's hockey assistant coach Eric Means was named one of three finalists for the vacant MSU women's head coaching job, the university announced Wednesday.

The others are Harvard women's assistant coach Joakim Flygh and Mercyhurst women's associate head coach Paul Colontino.

Flygh will interview on Monday, Colontino will interview on Tuesday and Means will interview on Wednesday (May 6).

Means has been a member of the Mavericks men's staff for 14 years. For more on the candidates, go here.

How would 12 teams work?

So what would a 12-team WCHA look like?

In terms of scheduling, league commissioner Bruce McLeod touched on a three "pod" system with four teams in a pod that will maintain natural rivalries as well as the 28-game schedule. If I have this correct, I'll use Minnesota State as an example:

Currently, MSU's "rival" is Alaska-Anchorage, meaning the Mavs and the Seawolves always play each other four times. That would continue and two other teams would rotate into the pod each season. MSU would play those teams four times (two home, two away) each, which adds up to 12 games. The Mavs would then play the other eight teams twice each -- four at home and four on the road -- for 16 games.

McLeod said it would take five years for the rotation to go all the way around. In the current two-pod system, it takes four years.

If this goes through, Minnesota State should lobby to get a new "rival," in my opinion. Offer to take Bemidji State. If the 12th team is Nebraska-Omaha, that would be fine, too -- it would certainly make the Spirit of the Maverick Trophy more important. If that team is Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech would likely get a new rival, possibly putting Minnesota Duluth with Bemidji State.
Here are the current "rivals"
Minnesota State-Alaska-Anchorage
Minnesota Duluth-Michigan Tech
North Dakota-St. Cloud State
Denver-Colorado College
The other thing that came out of the 12-team scenario is the Final Five. Will it have to be called the Final Six? Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

One way the tournament could work is to have two Thursday play-in games with those teams playing in the semifinals against the top two seeds on Friday. The championship game would be Saturday.

Under that example, you could still call it the Final Five. Coaches hate the third-place game, so get rid of it and you still have five games. Instead of it being the last five WCHA teams standing, it will note the last five WCHA games of the season.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

WCHA statement on expansion

The WCHA appears to be seeking a 12th team to join the ranks (with Bemidji State likely being the 11th) by the 2011-12 season. Here is the text of today's press release:
MARCO ISLAND, FL – The membership of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s men’s league, acting at it’s annual meeting today (April 28, 2009), has opted to pursue expansion of the league membership from it’s current 10-member team to a future membership of 12 teams.

The timetable for expansion consists of lifting the current moratorium as of today and continuing indefinitely. The lifting of the moratorium on expansion means the WCHA can entertain membership applications from any interested institutions who meet the league’s criteria for membership. Meeting the criteria for membership does not, however, guarantee admittance into the Association.

“The Western Collegiate Hockey Association membership today took a positive step forward in their decision to embrace possible expansion,” said WCHA Commissioner Bruce M. McLeod, “and we will continue to explore we may expand once we have completed further studies and once we have been able to identify potential members that fit the league’s criteria for membership. Obviously, there are numerous issues involved in expansion, just a few of which include the transformation from a 10-team, 28-game conference schedule to an expanded 12-member team format that would still enable us to protect our natural rivalries as best as possible, and to make certain we safeguard our successful flagship event – the WCHA Final Five.

“The WCHA has a proud history of being sensitive to the issue of expansion and the plight of other collegiate hockey programs and today’s development is a further indication that the Association will continue its tradition of assisting in the growth and development of collegiate ice hockey with an ultimate goal of expanding.”

The 10 teams that currently make up the men’s WCHA are University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), Colorado College (CC), University of Denver (DU), Michigan Technological University (MTU), University of Minnesota (UM), University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSU), University of North Dakota (UND), St. Cloud State University (SCSU) and University of Wisconsin (UW). The last expansion in the WCHA occured in 1999-2000 when Minnesota State University, Mankato joined the conference as it’s 10th team.

The Commissioner’s office, in conjunction with the league’s structure committee, will head up the expansion effort with the goal of identifying potential member teams as soon as possible. The earliest the WCHA would be able to integrate new teams into the men’s league would be for the 2011-2012 season based on current contractual obligations.

“The WCHA also wants to note that Bemidji State University’s presentation to the league at the annual meeting on April 27 was very professional and well received,” said McLeod. “The BSU student body, faculty, alumni, and the entire community should know that the league membership came away impressed with the University’s commitment to the student-athlete, both on and off the ice, the long track record of success their hockey program has achieved, the breaking of ground for the new Bemidji State Regional Events Center, and the degree of excitement throughout the community and northern Minnesota for the future of BSU Hockey.”

Bemidji State University’s application for league membership will remain under active consideration.

Bemidji State is an original member of the WCHA’s women’s league, which was founded in 1999-2000 and this past season celebrated it’s 10th anniversary.

WCHA tables Bemidji vote

Bemidji State made its presentation for admission into the WCHA Monday and the league was to vote on the measure today. However, the league opted to push the vote back and allow other schools to apply for membership. It appears the league wants 12 teams, not 11, if it's indeed going to expand. WCHA commish Bruce McLeod will hold a conference call at 1 p.m. today. More later ...

Carter, Ducks advance

Ex-Maverick Ryan Carter had an assist Monday night in the Anaheim Ducks' series-clinching victory over the top-seeded San Jose Sharks in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

Carter was a scratch in the series' first three games but had a goal an an assist in the last three. Check out the note on Carter in today's Los Angeles Times. Here's a snippet:

Staying ready was easy for Ducks center Ryan Carter. Staying ready and not hurting anyone was the trick.

Carter sat out the first three games against the Sharks, but made sure he was prepared if the call came. He has played the last two, scoring a goal that got the Ducks started in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 5.

"You have to mentally challenge yourself in practice," the 25-year-old Carter said about his preparation the first three games. "That's your game. You skate hard, you back-check hard. You can't play physical, but you put yourself in the position where you could be physical."

Carter said the line between being physical and being prepared to be physical is easy to toe.

"You watch [Ducks defenseman] Scott Niedermayer," Carter said. "He's not a real physical player but knows how to be in position so he can be. That's the challenge. It's enough to know you could have rubbed someone out or had the opportunity to deliver a hit."

Remembering how to deliver the blow seemed to come back to Carter pretty quickly. He had three hits in 7 minutes 52 seconds of ice time in Game 4.

"You always want to give a player the opportunity," Coach Randy Carlyle said. "What's good to see is when the player sees he's getting that chance and goes out there with everything he has. That's a tribute to the player."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Backes added to national team roster

Former MSU captain David Backes, whose St. Louis Blues were recently eliminated in the Stanley Cup playoffs, was added to the U.S. National Team roster for the World Championships, which are being held in Switzerland.

Backes' Blues teammate and former North Dakota standout T.J. Oshie was also added to the U.S. team.

I can't help but think that Backes is a virtual lock to make the U.S. Olympic team next winter in Vancouver.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

West's Essay to be AD (updated)

Mankato West High School boys hockey coach Ken Essay has been chosen to be the school's new activities director, the school district announced Wednesday morning. Read today's Free Press story here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Backes scores four

Former Mavericks captain David Backes had a four-goal game Thursday night, and he did it in what might have been the Blues' biggest win of the year.

What a season it's been for Backes, who has broken out with 30 goals and 163 PIMs and is helping St. Louis make a run at the playoffs (they haven't been there since 2004). His 30 goals, a career high, are tied for the team lead and he's second on the club with 51 points.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The answers you want

Thanks to all of you asked questions but, more importantly, thanks to everyone who has followed PucKato throughout the hockey season. Now, onto the answers ...

Which freshman forward coming next year do you predict to have the biggest impact on the Mavericks 09/10 team? This is always hard to predict. I've heard great things about Centennial forward Tyler Pitlick, although he will be right out of high school and that's always a big leap. Perhaps one of the freshman goaltenders -- Kevin Murdock or Phil Cook -- will have a Dan Tormey-like rookie season.

Tyler Thompson was playing in games early last year. Did he get injured last year or was he just a healthy scratch for the last half of the season? I believe he was a healthy scratch, although I know he was sick part way through the year, too. With the exception of redshirt Mike Louwerse, the freshman forwards didn't make a huge impact last year. While Thompson played more early in the year, Adam Mueller and Justin Jokinen appeared to have a leg up at the end of the season. They played in 26 an 24 games, respectively. Thompson played in 22 games. Joe Schiller played in 18 and was practicing as a defenseman late in the year after Channing Boe went down. I'll be curious to see where Schiller lines up next fall.

Which sophomore player do you think will have the biggest turn around from their freshman season to this upcoming 09/10 season? Jumping off the last question, I think I'd put Jokinen in that category. I think he looked like he was starting to figure out the college game and how he needs to play it over the last month or so of the season. He'll likely put on some needed weight this summer, too. I'd expect Mueller to significantly increase his point production, too.

How is Pitlick's game? Will he play next year? Does he have the skill to contribute right away? Not that we need him right away given the returning talent but I'd hate to see MSU, upward trending, go backward. I have not seen him play, although I've heard from people who have that he looks like he can step right in and play. He's listed as 6-foot-2, 185. He's a Mr. Hockey finalist and an AP all-state selection. He's the nephew of former NHLer Lance Pitlick. Those are good credentials, but it's always interesting to see how someone coming straight out of high school does.

I have been checking the Hershey Bears box scores and have yet to see Bruess' name listed. Any idea if he's just not seeing any playing time yet, or he perhaps doesn't intend on joining the team until next season? I, too, have been checking Hershey's website and have been surprised that his name hasn't come up on any game sheets yet. I found this nugget this morning though, which says that Bruess was released from his amateur tryout contract. I know Hershey his competing for an AHL championship and perhaps doesn't have room for Bruess or other newcomers right now. I guess if nothing happens the rest of this season, he'll attend Washington's rookie camp and training camp over the summer. I'll see what else I can find out about this.

Anymore rumblings on players that may be leaving the Mavericks early? As you mentioned, there are a ton of forwards coming in. I have to believe Jutting had a reason for recruiting so many for the upcoming season. I really don't believe any other underclassmen will be turning pro. There are only three forwards coming in -- Pitlick, Eli Zuck and Eriah Hayes -- and the Mavericks lost Bruess and Mick Berge up front. I can't imagine that forward Brett Peterson, who has not played in any games and had back surgery in January, will be on the roster. MSU will also have Michael Dorr, the transfer from Minnesota, available in January, so there will be plenty of competition for playing time.

How is the defense shaping up ... any defensive minded blueliners? Sorry i live in colorado and i just can't get a handle on their play. I saw the Mavs in Colorado Springs and it just seems like they had problems in front of the net (5-2 Friday). I assume that was also part of the reason Zacharias gave up almost a full goal more in 08-09 than in 07-08. Minnesota State certainly wasn't as good defensively this year as it was last year. The Mavericks missed R.J. Linder much more than anyone anticipated. Also, Joel Hanson and Jon Kalinski were excellent penalty killers and defensive forwards who seemed to relish playing those roles. Obviously, the Mavs will lose Brian Kilburg and Blake Friesen to graduation, but I like what Cameron Cooper and Baylor Dieter -- who is more of defensive defenseman -- showed during their freshman season. Dieter didn't even play until the second half of the season and seemed to do fine. As for Zacharas' numbers, the Mavericks allowed 52 power-play goals this season, compared to 35 a year earlier. One WCHA writer told me that stat alone led him to put Zacharias as his second-team, all-conference ballot this year.

I believe that Matt Leitner is coming in in 2010-at least that's what it says on Fargo's website. Shane, do you know what happened to Eli Zuck the second half of the year in USHL? Is Danny Heath still coming in? I believe that is correct about Leitner. Zuck was injured partway through the year (I'm not sure what the injury was). In fact, it was a rough year for MSU recruits in Tri-City. Zuck played in 25 games, and Heath was lost for the season on the first game of the year. From what I've heard, Heath -- whom team insiders are very high on -- will play another year of junior hockey. He was a AAA player in Arizona to start the 2007-08 season and went to the USHL halfway though the year, so this past year was supposed to be his first full year of juniors.

Who do you think will be the starting goalie for the Mavs next year? It's anybody's guess at this point. This is the first time since I've been covering the Mavericks that the team will start the season with zero game experience in goal (when Tormey and Zacharias arrived, Chris Clark had played in 24 games). Austin Lee has practiced for two years, so, if I were betting, I'd say he'll be the starting goalie on opening night. After that, who knows. Then again, Kevin Murdock is the top goaltender, statistically, in the USHL right now. Through Wednesday, he has a .922 save percentage and a 2.19 goals-against average. Phil Cook is fifth in the NAHL with a .922 save percentage.

This year's team was still young and we only lose 5 or 6 Bruess. Offensively, we return 9 of our top 10 scorers but is there anyone, Lee or Murdock, who can play well enough to give us a shot at top five or even contend for the conference title? Actually, MSU loses two of its top seven scorers. However, goaltending is always the big mystery. The Mavericks have to shore up its penalty problems and defensive game like it did in 07-08 to help out the young goalies (they needed to do it this year to help out their veteran goalie!). North Dakota's biggest question mark this season was goaltending, and Eidsness had a great year. Denver was led by a sophomore, Cheverie, who had played in only five games as a freshman. CC's Richard Bachman was the best player in the league as a freshman in 07-08. Look what Kangas did for the Gophers at the end that year.

I count 7 seniors for next year's team assuming no more defections (which, I believe is a fair assumption, correct?). Who is your front runner for team captain in the 09-10 campaign? That's a really good questions. Obviously, Bruess was an assistant captain this year and he's gone. I'm not in the locker room, so I don't know who's the leader in there. Kael Mouillierat really stepped up his game this year. Zach Harrison is certainly a good face for the program, and he's asked to do so much defensively, playing against opponents' best forwards, which I think his teammates have to respect. I think there might be some good leadership in next year's junior class, too, with Rylan Galiardi, Channing Boe, Kurt Davis and Ben Youds.

Thanks again for all of your questions. Keep checking the blog throughout the offeseason.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Does it go to 11?

Can the WCHA handle being an 11-team league? That's the question its members will have to ponder when they consider (Frozen Four-bound) Bemidji State's application to join the conference later this month. According to the StarTribune, BSU was the only school to apply for membership.

Other schools were apparently expressed some interest but did not apply by Tuesday's deadline.

WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod is already talking about the difficulty of being an 11-team league, telling the Strib: "It makes for a tough decision for the league. Eleven teams -- we've tried to figure out some league schedule, some rotation with some fairness and some balance. It makes it very difficult."