Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A 'major' debate (update)

This is in no way intended to rip Tyler Pitlick for making the decision to leave Minnesota State for Medicine Hat. Whether he doesn't like school or wants to play more games, he has to make the decision he feels is best for him, ultimately. I do think he was due for a breakout sophomore season in the WCHA and, like many who follow the Mavericks, a tad disappointed we won't get to see that in Mankato.

That said, his decision seems to have quietly turned into a referendum on college hockey, at least in the minds of those who drafted him and others in Edmonton and around parts of the NHL, where there still seems to be pockets of anti-college bias.

The debate between college hockey and major junior hockey is a big reason why the college hockey commissioners hired Paul Kelly last November to promote their sport around North American and to prospective players. When one of NBC's most visible hockey analysts takes his digs at "university hockey," you can't plan those running the college game that they need a forum to rebut.

Anyway, here's a take on what happened over the weekend.

UPDATE: Check out this page and the audio link at the bottom that shows how College Hockey Inc., is trying to sell college hockey to prospective players in California.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pitlick is Saturday's first pick; Gaede also drafted (updates)

Tyler Pitlick's disappointment about not being taken in the first round of the NHL draft Friday night didn't last long on Saturday, as he was the first player taken when the draft resumed in the second round. The Edmonton Oilers selected the ex-Minnesota State and future Medicine Hat player. Hear Pitlick interviewed about the pick here and see the video from him and Oilers management here. He will someday be teammates with the draft's No. 1 overall pick, Taylor Hall.

Going 31st overall, Pitlick is now the highest draft pick affiliated with MSU. The previous high was Tim Jackman in 2001, who went 38th overall.

Late in the third round, Woodbury High School forward Max Gaede was taken by the San Jose Sharks with the 88th overall pick. Gaede will be playing in with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL this coming season before joining Minnesota State in the fall of 2011.

UPDATE: Just in case anyone had any doubt about Pitlick's future in Mankato, the WHL made his move to Medicine Hat official on Saturday.

UPDATE 2: You can watch a snippet of Sharks management talk Gaede here. ... By the way Brett Stern, a defenseman from Centennial High School, who will play in the USHL next season before coming to Mankato in '11, was not drafted over the weekend.

Friday, June 25, 2010

First round passes on Pitlick

Minnesota State continues to wait for its first first-round NHL draft pick. The first 30 picks went by on Friday night, and Tyler Pitlick, who many predicted to be a first-rounder, was not taken. He still has a chance to be the Mavericks' highest draft pick -- if he goes among the first seven picks in the second round on Saturday. Tim Jackman was taken 38th overall in 2001.

Several players with WCHA ties did get drafted on Friday. The group included: 14. Colorado College recruit Jaden Schwartz (Blues), 15. North Dakota recruit Derek Forbort (Kings), 19. Minnesota recruit Nick Bjugstad (Panthers), 20. Denver recruit Beau Bennett (Penguins) and 30. North Dakota recruit Brock Nelson (Islanders).

Warroad's Nelson, by the way, got the distinction of getting his name announced by "E" from Entourage. How cool is that? I'm not sure why he was there; I wasn't watching the draft because I was busy bailing water out of my basement after the storms. So it goes.

Besides that group of WCHA guys, four other players with collegiate ties were taken.

Other notes: Forbert, a defenseman, becomes the first Duluth native to go in the first round. ... Bjugstad was Minnesota's Mr. Hockey last year, out of Blaine HS.

Will Pitlick be MSU's first first-rounder?

The NHL draft begins tonight in Los Angeles, and Minnesota State's Tyler Pitlick is expected to be a first-round pick. If the center taken in the top 30, he'll become the first player with MSU ties to be taken in the first round. Pitlick is coming off a freshman season for the Mavericks in which he had 11 goals and eight assists but also appeared poised to have a breakout sophomore year. Unfortunately for MSU and the Mankato-area hockey fans, he won't be coming back and will be playing major junior hockey with the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Here's what folks are saying about Tyler Pitlick.

TSN had a couple of mock drafts and both have Pitlick going 25th to the Vancouver Canucks. Said analyst and apparent college-hockey hater Pierre McGuire:

He plays university hockey but has the potential to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers. Everyone knows his uncle is Lance Pitlick, and if he has the same character as his uncle, he'll be amazing, because he has even better skill than Lance.

Said TSN's Scott Cullen:

Pitlick is a pro-sized forward who needs to prove he can score after uninspiring numbers (11 G, 8 A, 19 PTS in 38 GP) as a freshman.  Will play for Medicine Hat in the WHL next season. 

The Toronto Sun has Pitlick going 27th to the Montreal Canadiens, saying the Habs need to take skill in the middle, while the Montreal Gazette predicts that he'll go 24th to the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.

Inside College Hockey took a look at Pitlick among other college players in the draft. You can read that story here. It quotes a scout who, although he thinks Pitlick will fall to the second round, saw much improvement in his game from one viewing to the next, saying:
I think he'll probably slide to the second round. The first time I saw him, I wasn't too impressed. The second time I saw him, he was the best player on the ice. He played in all situations, and he was good on the power play, where he played one of the points. He's got deceptive speed. When he's got the puck on his stick, he can really go. It doesn't seem like he's moving that fast, but no one on the ice can catch him. Once he gets quicker and gains another step, look out. But he's not afraid to get the dirty goals, either. He'll take the puck right to the net and drive to the far post.

Again, I think Pitlick was due to have a monster season in his second year in the WCHA and college hockey. Remember, he turned 18 on Nov. 1 but didn't often play like a youngster. Although he had just one goal in the Mavericks' playoff series against St. Cloud State, he may have had his best weekend in an MSU uniform. It was, alas, his last weekend in an MSU uniform.

Also this weekend, watch for MSU recruits Max Gaede and Brett Stern to be drafted. They will be coming to Mankato in 2011.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Coaches, commissions trying to stop proposed rules

It sounds like college hockey commissioners and coaches are working quickly to try to stop some of the new, proposed rule changes before they are passed.

Specifically, they are upset about the proposal to ban penalty killers from icing the puck. The Grand Forks Herald talked to North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol and Bemidji State's Tom Serratore, the latter of whom called the rule "a crime," "preposterous," "radical," "drastic," "far-fetched" and "off the wall."

Apparently, all of the coaches voted against the icing rule during their spring meeting in Florida.

College Hockey News reported on Monday that it doesn't expect the icing rule to stay in the proposal. Interestingly, the story says that Alaska athletic director Forrest Carr said he did not expect the rule to make it into the final rule-changes package but members were persuaded by some presentations from commissioners, the NHL and people who play by that rule at USA Hockey camps.

I'm curious to know why the NHL would be pushing such a rule. Does it see college hockey as a good place to observe some rule tinkering without harming its own product and minor league system? If the NHL or one of the minor leagues were playing this way and passing it along I would understand. What is the NHL's interest in college hockey adopting the rule, other than seeing the college game as a guinea pig?

Due to some time off and other assignments, PucKato hasn't had a chance to get MSU coaches' opinions  on the rule proposals. In past conversations with Troy Jutting, he often has stated that he doesn't like the constant tweaking and thinks the game is a pretty good as it's currently played.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New rules?

It was reported on Friday that the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee is proposing some new rules for the next couple of seasons. While the proposal still must be approved, one possible rule has many hockey followers up in arms.

That rule, which one writer has called always-on icing, would prevent players killing penalties from icing the puck. Already, it seems people are against this rule, and count me as one of them.

Killing penalties is hard enough as it is for teams and to take away the icing chance seems like almost too much of an advantage for power plays, especially since you can't make line changes after an icing (a rule that I like, by the way).

Rules chairman and Alaska AD Forrest Karr did have an interesting comment to USCHO, saying: "The question people always ask is, why is it that you commit some type of infraction and you are actually rewarded and allowed to do something that you aren’t allowed to do normally?" He raises an interesting point, but I'm not sure how much that question is really asked. I never thought anything was wrong with.

The PK icing rule isn't just a tweak; it's toying with a rule that really hasn't been a problem.

Other rule proposals include:

• Making contact-to-the-head penalties five-minute majors. Looks like a game misconduct or DQ could be added as well. This could be interesting.

• Another icing tweak that would go to a pro-style touch-up system. Instead of an actual touch, however, officials will determine who would get to the puck first by using the faceoff dots as a reference point. The USHL uses this, and I'm told it's successful and kind of fun, with races to the dots in icing situations.

• Still with the icing ... looks like the "obtainable pass" rule that would wave off icing if officials decided that a pass was actually being made is no more. This is a good thing. I never quite understood what was "obtainable" and I don't think any WCHA officials ever did either.

• Allowing teams to go on power plays even if they score goals during delayed penalties.

• Having teams change ends for overtime. This might make sense for playoffs when there is a full intermission, but it's silly for a 5-minute, regular-season OT -- especially in horseshoe rinks like Mankato's where you want the home team shooting in the end where the students are sitting.

What do you think of the proposed changes?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pitlick update

I let Ben Bradlee (via Jason Robards) do the talking when I complained earlier today that I (and others) didn't have a definitive on-the-record word that Tyler Pitlick is leaving MSU to play major junior hockey in the Western Hockey League next season. Well, thanks to master web surfer Chris Dilks of Western College Hockey blog -- which this week had an NHL Draft Combine source confirming the departure -- Pitlick has spoken about the move. Read the story here.

"It's more professional style of play," Pitlick told Buzzing the Net blogger Neate Sager. "Plus it would help working through the mental blocks you deal with in a long season, getting through those long bus rides ... that's the biggest thing of my game that I have to work on, getting my body going, getting my legs under me."

Pitlick, who did not return phone calls and text messages from The Free Press when it was reported that he was exploring a move after just one year of college hockey, also said this about playing for the Mavericks:

"It was a good time (at MSU). I met  a lot of good people. I got a lot of opportunities. I got a pretty good shift. I thought I grew a lot as a player."

Back on the grid

Of course, there would be some hockey news while PucKato took a well-deserved vacation. Here's a recap ...

It looks like Minnesota State has its third goalie, as Evan Karambelas (pictured) committed to the Mavericks over the weekend. Karambelas, a Fort Saint John, B.C., native, ranked fourth in the North American Hockey League, going 22-4-1 for the Topeka Roadrunners with a 2.27 goals-against average. The 21-year-old is another big goalie, standing 6-foot-2, 205 pounds (Phil Cook and Austin Lee are both 6-3).

Western College Hockey Blog got some good info from the NHL Draft Combine last week, including news from a source "involved in the interview process" who confirmed that MSU's Tyler Pitlick is indeed leaving school and going to the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers. No surprise here, of course, but it is the first time we've heard something that sounds definitive about the potential first-round pick. The Pitlick story isn't exactly Watergate, but ... The draft will begin on June 25.

There was a question about the Mavericks bringing in more players for next season. By my count, MSU will have a full 28 players on its roster, including three goalies (Cook, Lee, Karambelas), eight defensemen (Cooper, Youds, Elbrecht, Mosey, Davis, Boe, Nelson, Heath) and 17 forwards (Louwerse, Galiardi, Jokinen, Dorr, Sackrison, Thompson, Mueller, Hayes, Schiller, Peterson, Zuck, Burkemper, Grant, Leitner, Lehrke, Leivermann, McInnis). So it seems unlikely that anyone else is coming in at this time.

Philadelphia made it a series against Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday night, winning 4-3 in OT. Ex-Mav Jon Kalinski likely was in the press box watching the win. He was called up by the Flyers during the playoffs and is practicing with the team in hopes of getting a sniff. Although it seems unlikely that he will play, stranger things have happened. Remember Ryan Carter? He get called up until the 2007 playoffs and played just 2:45 of Finals time. But that was more than enough time to get his name engraved on the Cup. Anyway, here's a story on Kalinski's experience so far.

In other MSU alumni news, Travis Morin will be playing for the Calder Cup, the American Hockey League championship, starting tonight. Morin plays fro the Texas Stars, who are taking on the Hershey Bears. Morin, a 26-year-old AHL rookie who spent the last two-plus years in the ECHL, had 52 points in 80 games during the regular season and has 13 points in 18 playoff games so far.

In more not-so-surprising news, Wisconsin junior defenseman Brendan Smith signed with the Detroit Red Wings, forgoing his senior season with the Badgers.

Not sure if I had this before but should report that Mankato East standout Dan Billiar will play D-III college hockey at St. Mary's of the MIAC next season.