Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Going on vacation

PucKato will be dark for the next six days while I'm vacation. Have a good week everyone!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Backes is finalist for Selke

Former Minnesota State star and St. Louis Blues captain David Backes was named as one of three finalists for the NHL's Selke Trophy, which goes to the top defensive forward in the league (lately, it's gone to the best two-way forward).

Other finalists include Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. Datsyuk is a three-time winner.

Backes, a center, led the Blues in scoring this season with 25 goals and 30 assists. It was his fifth full year in the league. He also averaged a team high 19:59 of ice time per game and was plus-15. He also led St. Louis in hits (226) and had 72 blocked shots and 50 takeaways.

You can see Backes' and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock's reaction to the nomination here.

Backes and the Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks 4 games to 1 in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They will play the Los Angeles Kings in the second round.

Friday, April 20, 2012

News and notes

Things are pretty quiet around Mankato now that the coaching search is done and Mike Hastings is off on the recruiting for a couple of weeks. But here are a few hockey happenings from around the WCHA ...

Hakstol signs extension
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol signed a new six-year contract on Thursday. Hakstol just finished his eighth season with UND and has won more games over that span than any other WCHA coach. According to the Grand Forks Herald, Hakstol will earn a base salary of $300,000 and has a chance to earn bonuses and other deferred income that could bump him up to $400,000 per year.

By comparison, Mike Hastings contract with Minnesota State will pay $225,000. I believe that contract does not include any deferred payments that could increase his annual salary. Looking at some past stories about WCHA coaches pay, I believe Hastings' compensation puts him ninth in the WCHA, ahead of St. Cloud State's Bob Motzko, Bemidji State's Tom Serratore and Alaska Anchorage's Dave Shyiak. In the "new" WCHA in 2013-14, Hastings will rank second behind Michigan Tech's Mel Pearson, who makes at least $250,000.

Big Ten picks St. Paul, Detroit
The first Big Ten hockey championship will take place at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the conference announced on Thursday. The tournament will be played at the X in 2014 and 2016 and will go to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in 2015 and 2017.

Last month, it was reported that the Big Ten was working with the WCHA to have the latter's tournament in those buildings in opposite years (2014, '16 at the Joe; '15, '17 at the X), and that the NCHC was in negotiations with the Target Center in Minneapolis for its championship weekend. At the time, WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said that was one option, among others, his league was looking into.

According to Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman, the "new" WCHA is still looking into its championship, but he didn't expect anything to be decided until a June meeting. Buisman said representatives of the future league will not have much time together at next week's coaches convention in Florida and so have scheduled a June get-together. However, representatives do have regular conference calls.

Buisman said there are three main committees at work: championship/scheduling, marketing/broadcast and bylaws/administration.

Blais seeks assistant
Nebraska Omaha coach Dean Blais said he's not in a rush to replace Mike Hastings, telling the Omaha World-Herald that it will be tough to replace a "special" coach like MSU's new man in charge.

"We need a person of Mike Hastings' caliber to replace Mike Hastings," Blais said. "Guys like that are hard to find, but they're out there."

Be sure to click on the link above to see a great picture of Hastings.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hastings era begins

John Cross/The Free Press
Mike Hastings was back working a press conference in Mankato on Monday, just three days after being introduced as a "candidate" for the Minnesota State men's hockey coaching job. This time, he was the coach.

Hastings covered a gamut of topics related to his hiring and Maverick hockey. Among them:

• He told athletic director Kevin Buisman that if everything worked out he'd have needs and wants. He didn't go into too much detail on those, especially the wants. However, the needs included upgraded facilities and pitched his support for the renovations to the Verizon Wireless Center included in the bonding proposal. He said if that if it didn't pass, "then we've got to find another way to get our facilities taken care of. If we need to do that we're going to have to turn to the people of this area."

• Another need had to do with additional support for the team that takes some pressure off the assistant coaches, whom he wants to concentrate on recruiting and developing players. That support includes academic advising, training and hockey operations. Does this mean a full-time hockey ops person will be hired?

• On those notes, a big theme of the day was about commitment, and it seems MSU is indeed ramping up its commitment to hockey and making it, as Buisman said, the "marquee" sport at the university.

• Speaking of assistants, Hastings said he wants to talk to associate head coach Darren Blue and assistant Todd Knott about their futures in the next six or seven days. Blue has a full season remaining on his contract, while Knott's runs out June 30. Hastings had godo things to say about both men and added that hockey is a small world, not one like football where staffs get wiped out when a new coach comes in. Stay tuned.

• Hastings met with the team around 1 p.m., before the players had their weight-lifting session. The players seemed to like what they heard from them and were relived to have a coach in place. Jean-Paul LaFontaine said "family" seemed to be the theme of the day.

• Hastings will meet with the players individually during the first week of May, which is also finals week. He said he wants to hear their opinions of the program, what they like, what they don't like. He said he will also talking about his expectations and try to get them to buy in.

• Why the first week of May? Well, Hastings left Mankato Monday evening and headed out to where all coaches are this time of year — on the recruiting trail. USHL playoffs are beginning, and Canadian junior leagues in the postseason. He wants to meet with the Mavericks' signed players either face to face or by phone as quickly as possible. Next week, he'll go to Florida for the WCHA meetings and the hockey coaches convention.

You can read more about Hastings in Tuesday's edition of The Free Press. I'll also be working on a more extensive feature on the new coach for a future edition of the paper.

Hastings press conference this morning

Mike Hastings officially will be introduced as the new Minnesota State men's hockey coach during a press conference at 10:15 a.m. on Monday. You can watch it live here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

MSU unveils home schedule

Minnesota State has unveiled its season-ticket brochure and (tentative) home schedule already. A smart move less than a day after naming Mike Hastings as the program's new coach.

The Mavericks will have an exhibition game on Oct. 7 against the University of Lethbridge and then get into the regular season. Their official home opener is Oct. 19-20 against RPI. Here's the home schedule:

Oct. 7, Lethbridge (exhib.)
Oct. 19-20, RPI
Nov. 3, Minnesota*
Nov. 9-10, Denver
Nov. 30-Dec. 1, Bemidji State
Dec. 7-8, Alaska Anchorage
Jan. 4-5, Providence
Jan. 11-12, Wisconsin*
Jan. 26, Minnesota*
Feb. 15-16, Michigan Tech
March 8-9, North Dakota*

* = premium games

Season-ticket packages are $320. Blue Line Club Memberships cost $2,030, $1,015 or $520.

The road schedule has not been released. But I believe MSU opens the regular season at Alabama-Huntsville and also plays in the UConn tournament in late December. The Minnesota weekends are home-and-home series. The Mavericks' other road opponents include Colorado College, Alaska Anchorage, Nebraska Omaha, Minnesota Duluth, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hastings named Mavericks coach

Pat Christman/The Free Press
About 24 hours after introducing Mike Hastings as a candidate for the Minnesota State hockey job, the university named him its third men's hockey coach in program history. He agreed to a four-year deal that will pay him $225,000 annually with a portion of that funded privately.

Here is the MSU press release about the signing.

You can also read my story in Sunday's edition of The Free Press here.

Meanwhile, here are a few nuggets from Saturday in interviews with Hastings, athletic director Kevin Buisman and MSU President Richard Davenport:

• Davenport said Hastings was the No. 1 candidate going in and that Hastings confirmed that immediately: "After my first one-on-one meeting with him, I made up my mind." ... Buisman also said that Hastings' name consistently and independently came near the top of every list he asked for from trusted hockey people.

• What happened between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning (when the two parties agreed in principle on a contract)? Hastings said there were family things to get in order, like explaining to his children about a possible move. "And I'm sure Mankato was trying to do their due diligence."

• Hastings thinks the pieces are in place for some real improvement at MSU, between the current players, incoming freshmen and what appears to be some newfound commitment to hockey: "I think it's a program that's on the rise; I really do. ... There's a lot there to work with."

• Hastings returned to Omaha on Saturday morning and will come back to Mankato on Sunday afternoon. His first official day of work is Monday, and there will be a press conference at 10:15 a.m. at the Verizon Wireless Center. He has some work to do from the get-go, meeting his team, talking to assistant coaches (and deciding on their future), etc. Then he'll be off to do some recruiting and scouting.

• I couldn't get much for player reaction tonight. But Johnny McInnis, via Twitter, said: "Excited to get to work. I think people understand what we have here as a program and are capable of doing something special. It's time to prove it. As always, it's a great day to be a Maverick." ... I'm looking forward to talking to more players once they meet with their new coach.

• Hastings has had many brushes with greatness in terms of working with coaches. He has spent the last three seasons working for Dean Blais and a year prior to that on the staff with Don Lucia. As a player at St. Cloud State (two years before a lower vertebrae injury ended his playing career), he played one season when Herb Brooks was the coach there. Before he became he Omaha Lancers' coach, he was an assistant on that team, working for Mike Guentzel, now the associate head coach at Minnesota and a person many thought might be a top candidate for the MSU job. He also played junior hockey for Frank Serratore, now the coach at Air Force.

What do you think?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Everything but an offer (updated)

Pat Christman/The Free Press
The Johnson Alumni Room at Minnesota State's Taylor Center was filled with media, boosters, fans, alumni, players and MSU coaches and athletic staff late Friday afternoon. It looked like a coronation was imminent.

As it turned out, it was just an open forum/press conference with a candidate for the Mavericks hockey coaching vacancy, Mike Hastings, the associate head coach at Nebraska Omaha.

Hastings appears to be the leading candidate — Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman said Hastings is the only finalist being announced at this time — but he said he had not been offered the job.

"This has been a process, and it's one that we've had a lot of conversations on," he said. "It's gone incredibly positive, and we're just trying to continue in that process."

Hastings arrived in Mankato at 11:15 p.m. on Thursday night. Besides doing interviews on Friday, he and his family toured schools and neighborhoods. They will stay the night in Mankato, he said.

"I have a family to be concerned about, and (MSU has) a program to be concerned about," he said, "and we just have to continue on that process right now."

Hastings, 46, said he was impressed with Minnesota State and the people he met and certainly wants to be a head coach. He said he thinks there's a "renewed commitment" to hockey at MSU.

Buisman said he didn't think anything would be decided on Friday night and that they would reconvene with President Richard Davenport soon to take the next step in the process.

UPDATE: Read The Free Press story here. Read a story out of the Omaha World-Herald here. Minnesota State shot video of the event; see that here.

Hastings in Mankato to interview

Mike Hastings, Nebraska Omaha's associate head coach is interviewing for Minnesota State's coaching position today, the university announced on Friday. There will be an open session with Hastings for the media and general public at 4 p.m. today in the Johnson Alumni Room.

Hastings has been at UNO for the last three seasons. He also spent one season on the bench as an assistant at Minnesota. Prior to that, Hastings was was the head coach and general manager for the Omaha Lancers junior team with whom he became the USHL's all-time winningest coach.

According to MSU athletic director Kevin Buisman, Hastings is the only finalist that the university is announcing right now. Hastings' family is in Mankato with him.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Waiting to be 'blown away'

Minnesota State president Richard Davenport's comments on Wednesday seemed to stir up the interest in the coaching vacancy there, but there didn't appear to be much movement on Thursday.

Trying to clarify Davenport's "just a few days" timeline, athletic director Kevin Buisman said in a text: "Search process continues to progress nicely."

Stay tuned ...

Moving quickly (and other notes)

Kudos to The Free Press' Mark Fischenich for tracking down some hockey news during his busy day today. Actually, our political writer was covering Wednesday's event to drum up support for state bonding money for the Mankato civic center expansion project, which includes upgrades to the hockey side of the arena. Minnesota State University President Richard Davenport spoke to business leaders and government officials (and media) at the event and had some interesting things to say about the coaching search.

Among his comments:

• "The candidates we have, you're just going to be blown away by. They are just outstanding."

• "We're going to nail down one of them with a contract in just a few days."

• "Right now as I speak — and I have to leave in a couple of minutes — we're entertaining top coaches for our hockey program to put us back into the winning circle where we haven't been for awhile."

I tried to follow up on that last comment and got the impress from those I talked to that he was referring to the process and that there weren't actual candidates on campus — at least at that time — on Wednesday.

If Davenport's "just a few days" comment is accurate, then MSU is moving quite quickly on this, even faster than what athletic director Kevin Buisman suggested last week. Does this mean the university has its guy or at least has its short list made even shorter?

Meanwhile, the new coach now has a full recruiting class for next season as the last of the eight incoming freshmen, defenseman Nick Buchanan, signed his letter of intent on Wednesday, which was the first day of the signing period. Buchanan committed to MSU in mid-December.

Staying on the subject of Buchanan. He and another MSU recruit, Bryce Gervais, were celebrating the BCHL playoff championship on Wednesday night. Their Penticton Vees defeated the Powell River Kings (and future Mav Jon Jutzi) 3-2 in the clinching game.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

More attendance facts

Brian Gomez of the Colorado Springs Gazette did a breakdown of all of the attendance figures in college hockey this season. Take a look at all of those numbers here.

Minnesota State ranked 24th in total attendance (58,110), 25th in average (3,228) and 39th in capacity (65%) out of 58 Division I teams.

Last season, the Mavericks ranked 20th in average. In 2008-09, their best year when they brought in 72,827 fans over 16 games, their 4,552 average ranked 15th in the country.

Just to crunch some of Gomez's numbers, here's a look at how MSU's averages compare to the rest of the WCHA, both current and future, as well as to other teams of interest:

WCHA teams (current)
1. Wisconsin, 11,773*
2. North Dakota, 11,341^
3. Minnesota, 9,539*
4. Nebraska Omaha, 7,864^
5. Colorado College, 6,754^
6. Minnesota Duluth, 6,328^
10. Denver, 5,359^
13. St. Cloud State, 4,939^
21. Bemidji State, 3,521
25. Minnesota State 3,228
28. Alaska Anchorage 3,093
32. Michigan Tech, 2,933

* future Big Ten members
^ future NCHC members

WCHA teams (starting in 2013-14)
21. Bemidji State, 3,521
25. Minnesota State, 3,228
28. Alaska Anchorage, 3,093
29. Alaska, 3,078
31. NorthernMichigan, 2,964
32. Michigan Tech, 2,933
37. Lake Superior State, 2,154
39. Bowling Gren, 2,078
44. Ferris State, 1,859

Others of note
8. Michigan (future Big Ten member), 5,997
9. Michigan State (future Big Ten member), 5,364
19. Ohio State (future Big Ten member), 3,799
22. Western Michigan (future NCHC member), 3,444
30. Miami (future NCHC member), 3,021
46. Alabama Huntsville (independent), 1,527

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Coaching search to move quickly

With Boston College beating Ferris State 4-1 in the national championship on Saturday night in Tampa, Fla., it's now officially the offseason. And, right now, the biggest story in college hockey might be the one playing out in Mankato, with the search for a new coach. So here's a quick update on the search.

Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman says he will have a coach in place by the time the spring semester ends, which is the first week in May. But ideally, he said, the hope is to make the hire within the next two weeks — before coaches convention and conference meetings take place in Florida.

There's no question they're moving pretty quickly on this.

"This is a defining moment for the program," Buisman said.

Buisman wouldn't reveal his short list of candidates, but did say, "I'm confident the names being bandied about are the kind of coaches we can attract for this job. They're not out of the realm of possibility in terms of candidates for this opportunity."

Read more in my stories in today's Free Press, including a possible short list.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Connolly wins Hobey

Jack Connolly, Minnesota Duluth's standout senior, was awarded the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey this season. It's deserving — and I say that as a former Hobey voter.

Connolly finished second in the nation in scoring this season with 20 goals and 40 assists in 41 games this season. That capped a fantastic career in which he was just three points shy of 200. He had 66 goals and 131 assists and never missed a game, playing in 166.

Any MSU fan who saw him knew how talented he was. For his career he had 7 goals and 15 assists for 22 points in 14 games against the Mavericks.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Who's it going to be? A short list (updated)

The search is underway for Troy Jutting's replacement. In fact, Minnesota State officially posted the job online yesterday. Who's it going to be and when will he be named? As for the latter question, the sooner the better for MSU, its players and its fan base. With the semester ending in about month and the Florida coaches and conference meetings coming up in about three weeks, it would be ideal to have someone in place before both of those take place.

As for the first question, names are being floated everywhere you turn it seems. Here's a list of 10 possibilities, based on the usual suspects, a couple of my own ideas, as well as some rumblings around Mankato and college-hockey circles:

Current college assistants
Mike Guentzel, Minnesota associate head coach. If MSU is serious about stepping things up a notch, this probably should have been the first call made by Kevin Buisman on Monday morning. The Gophers are in the Frozen Four this weekend — and Guentzel certainly is getting a lot of credit for their turnaround — but MSU should at least gauge his interest, even if he is the supposed heir apparent at Minnesota.

Cary Eades, North Dakota associate head coach. Besides Guentzel, this might be the other big name out there that might immediately excite fans in Mankato. Word is that he's interested in running his own program and with the success the team formerly known as the Sioux have had under Dave Hakstol, that's not going to happen in Grand Forks anytime soon. UPDATE: Sources have indicated that Eades has already applied for the job and is very interested.

Mike Hastings, Nebraska-Omaha associate head coach. Like Guentzel, he's the likely heir apparent at his current school. But also like Guentzel, how long will he have to wait? Hastings was one of the most successful junior coaches in USHL history and also worked as an assistant under Lucia at Minnesota before moving to Dean Blais' staff. Insiders have said his personality would be a good fit in Mankato.

Eric Rud, assistant coach, Colorado College. Rud has been a hot prospect in recent years. A young up-and-comer in some minds. After a successful year in Green Bay of the USHL, he interviewed for the Michigan Tech job last year and also was rumored to be on the short list at Western Michigan before returning to CC, his alma mater. He also worked as an assistant at St. Cloud State.

Steve Rohlik, associate head coach, Ohio State. The former Wisconsin player was a long-time assistant at Minnesota Duluth before joining his college teammate Mark Osiecki at OSU. The St. Paul native also worked as an assistant at Omaha and coached high school hockey at Hill-Murray.

Junior coaches
Derek Lalonde, head coach/GM, Green Bay Gamblers. The former Denver assistant has had a great first season in the USHL. No other coach in that league's history has won more games in his first year (he surpassed Eric Rud's record). Lalonde spent five years at Denver; before that he was an assistant at Ferris State.

Other levels
John Harrington, former St. John's head coach. Harrington currently is the hockey director for the Herb Brooks Foundation after some time coaching in Europe. However, I've heard his name pop up several times since Jutting's reassignment was announced. Sounds like he's interested. "Bah" had a very successful 15-year tenure with the Johnnies. The former UMD player and assistant coach at Denver and St. Cloud State was also a member of the 1980 Olympic team.

Tom Ward, Shattuck-St. Mary's hockey director/prep coach. If he's interested, Ward shouldn't be hard to find. He's just down the road in Faribault. He's coached some of the best players to play college hockey over the last 10 years so — as well as Sidney Crosby. There are some MSU connections, too, as Des Christopher is an assistant at Shattuck and the Mavericks have had past (Ben Youds), current (Eli Zuck) and future (Teddy Blueger, Ryan Schwalbe) play there.

Could they also consider ...
Brett Petersen, Gustavus Adolphus head coach. His coaching credentials aren't all that different than Harrington's, considering he played at Denver and was an assistant at St. Cloud State before taking over the Gusties in 2000. His successful tenure includes a national runner-up finish in 2009.

Darren Blue, Minnesota State associate head coach. With all of the talk about change, it would be interesting to see how much, if any, consideration would be given to Jutting's longtime assistant coach. My guess is that they want to go outside the program. But it might be worth talking to him to see what he would do if he were in charge.

Do any of those names trip your trigger? Who do you like? Who's missing? Minnesota State's job posting says applications will be reviewed beginning April 10. This could move fast.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

More Jutting reaction

During today's media session at the Frozen Four, Gophers coach Don Lucia was asked about Troy Jutting's reassignment. Here's what he said (from the press conference transcript):
Q. Have you spoken to Troy Jutting at all and any reaction to his being removed in his coaching duties at Minnesota State?
COACH LUCIA: Actually, when I found out, I think Paul texted me Sunday night. I texted him right away that night. And he appreciated that. And he said: You got more important things to worry about than me.
And I said I texted him back, I said: Nothing's more important than friends and family.
And I've always liked Troy and gotten along very well with him. I feel bad for him because they had a year where they got devastated by injuries the first half of the season.
They have a lot of good young players, and I think their top scorers are all freshmen and things are set up to have a pretty darned good year. And I think you'll see them have a bounceback year similar to what they had at Tech because they had the same thing happen with the injuries and a lot of good freshmen that were going to become sophomores.
So it's part of what we do. I think we all understand that, that you coach long enough, very few get to leave on their own terms in not just hockey, but any sport, pro, college, whatever, it's just the nature of what we do.
Also, St. Cloud Times hockey writer Mick Hatten asked St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko about it. Here's what he said:
"He's a good friend of all of ours. I've known Troy for many, many years and we're good friends," Motzko said. "The truth is that Mankato's had a couple tough years, but they were  also hit by the injury bug. This (Mavericks) team has got a chance to be very, very strong next year. That's a team on the upswing. Doug Woog's theory was that at any given moment you're either a program that's going up or down. There's a program that's going to go up fast."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

MSU attendance figures

Here are Minnesota State's home attendance figures since moving into the Verizon Wireless Center, according to MSU's season-ending wrap-up press release. By the way, the Mavericks are 153-106-41 all-time at their home rink. ...
1996-97 was Minnesota State's first year of Division I hockey;
1999-2000 was MSU's first year in the WCHA;
2000-01 was Troy Jutting's first season as head coach;
MSU hosted WCHA playoff series in '99-00, '02-03, '07-08
It's worth noting that the Mavericks did not host big draws Minnesota or North Dakota in 2011-12. They also had three home series in a row during a time when the students were away from campus for either Thanksgiving break or semester break. However, the figure of 3,228 represents tickets sold for games and didn't account for no-shows among season-ticket holders.

Jutting stories

Former MSU coach Troy Jutting listens to President Richard Davenport discuss Jutting's reassignment  during a press conference on Monday morning in the Johnson Alumni Room in Taylor Center. Next to Jutting is Mavericks assistant coach Todd Knott. Seated is player Tyler Elbrecht. (John Cross/The Free Press)
Here's what went down in today's Free Press: Three stories on the Troy Jutting reassignment at Minnesota State:

Both MSU President Richard Davenport and athletic director Kevin Buisman heaped praise upon Jutting during the press conference. So much so that the question had to be repeated: Why make the change? All of the speakers, including Jutting, came back to one real theme, and that was economics. Specifically, they're hoping a new coach will pump some life into a dwindling fan base, boost walk-up ticket sales, season-ticket sales and Blue Line Club memberships. Said Buisman: "We hope the investment we make in a new coach will help us revive interest in the program and bring fans back into the stands. All those factors will help turn it financially.

Jutting addressed his team, as did Buisman, on Sunday night, and they were pretty shocked by the move, according to the players present at the press conference. They didn't seem angry. Eriah Hayes said he had mixed feelings about it but owed a lot to Jutting. Tyler Elbrecht said he hopes this will bring the team closer together. Former MSU coach Don Brose also attended the event and said he was "saddened" about the decision.

Finally, we look to the the future a bit. Buisman said he has a short list of candidates that he'd like to recruit, and Davenport said the university has already received calls about the head coaching job. When will they get a person in place? Quickly, they said but did not mention a timeline. Davenport said by the end of summer, but he may have misspoke. Buisman said there's a 5-6 week window between now and the end of the school year. The players both said they'd like to know who will be leading them before the semester ends.

A couple of other nuggets worth noting: 

• Associate coach Darren Blue's contract with MSU runs through June 30, 2013, the same time Jutting's deal ends. Assistant coach Todd Knott has a contract through June 30 of this year. Buisman said he would encourage whomever is hired to consider both coaches.

• According to MSU VP of finance and administration Rick Straka, the fact that Jutting is due to make about $200,000 over the remaining 15 months of his contract will not be a detriment to the search for a new coach. Straka called it a "university cost," not a cost specific to the budgets of the hockey team or the athletic department. He also doesn't believe it will be a "sunk cost," considering Jutting's new position at the university and if attendance/support increase with the presence of  new coach.

• Both Davenport and Buisman said that outside pressure did not factor into the coaching change. Said the president: "There are always a lot of rumors in regard to the hockey program. I didn't personally feel any pressure to make the change." 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Newsy day

I just finished my third and final (at least for today) story on the Troy Jutting situation for The Free Press. Look for those on the Freep website later tonight or in Tuesday's paper.

More to come on the blog later ...

'Time for something new'

Troy Jutting speaks during Monday's press conference about his dismissal as  MSU men's hockey coach. Jutting will take on an administrative role at the university through the remainder of his contract. (John Cross/The Free Press)
Minnesota State officials said that Troy Jutting left the university’s hockey program in good shape. But the time was right to make a coaching change, they said during a press conference on Monday morning.

“Troy has served us very well, but like in anything, it’s time for a change and time for something new,” university president Richard Davenport said. 

Jutting was reassigned to an administrative position in which he will assist Davenport, who has taken on a leadership position in the realigned Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Jutting has 15 months remaining on his contract and is due to make approximately $200,000 over that span. 

Davenport said he likely would have hired such an adviser anyway in preparation for the conference shakeup coming in 2013-14. 

However, dwindling attendance at MSU home games and the financial impact of that caused the university to look at how to reinvigorate the fan base, according to athletic director Kevin Buisman and vice president of finance and administration Rick Straka. 

“That’s where you can make an argument for change before the contract expired,” Buisman said. 

A national search for a new coach is underway. Buisman said he has a short list but has not contacted anyone yet. Davenport said the school has already heard from coaches interested in the job. 

“We’d like to go as quickly as efficiently as the process will allow,” Buisman said. 

Jutting spoke at the press conference and said he understands the nature of coaching means the possibility of losing your job. Besides the attendance woes, the Mavericks finished 11th in the 12-team WCHA the last two seasons and hasn’t had a winning since since 2007-08. 

“I understand,” he said. “I’m a big boy.”

More to come ...

Early reaction to Jutting firing

It's three days before the Frozen Four, but a lot of college-hockey followers are looking toward Mankato right now after the news that Troy Jutting is out as Minnesota State's coach. 

I'll get more reaction today, starting with an MSU press conference at 10:30 a.m., but here are some of the things being said about Jutting and the decision this morning ...

Former assistant coach and current MSU women's coach Eric Means: (from The Free Press' story): "I guess I'm kind of shocked. ... Looking at the writing on the wall, they're set up for a good year. If you really break it down, there may not be a David Backes, tub there are a lot of good hockey players there. They're set up to be a really good hockey team."

Former MSU defenseman Channing Boe tweeted: "Jutts was a great coach and mentor in my 4 years at MSU. Very classy and (professional) guy. Can't thank him enough for everything. Wish him the best."

Dan Myers of College Hockey News, who covered the Mavericks for the MSU Reporter and, wrote a column about Jutting being a class act.

Joe Schiller, who just finished his Maverick career, responded to Myers' column via Twitter: "Great job capturing Jutts the man. I thank for every opportunity."

Jess Myers of Inside College Hockey tweeted: "Sadded to hear about Troy Jutting. Always a class act, and good to deal with. Hoping he lands on his feet."

Bruce Ciskie, radio guy in Duluth, tweeted: "Jutting leaves some solid pieces in place with guys like Leitner, Lafontaine, Gaede, etc., ready to make a leap."

Eric Stromgren, former Bemidji State beat writer, tweeted: "Troy Jutting is out as coach at Mankato. He was a colorful interview and one of a kind in the WCHA. Bold move by MSU."

Chris Dilks, who writes the Western College Hockey blog, has a post about the move and also tweeted: "As much as a move had to be made, college hockey is definitely losing one of its most colorful characters."

Also, the Twitter is blowing up with thoughts of Jutting's successor. The usual suspects have been mentioned, including Minnesota assistant Mike Guentzel and North Dakota assistant Carey Eades. Other names that have popped up include Ohio State assistant and former Duluth assistant Steve Rohlik and Nebraska-Omaha assistant Mike Hastings, among others.

Stay tuned for more throughout the day.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jutting out as Mavs coach

Minnesota State made the move on Sunday, relieving Troy Jutting of his coaching duties and reassigning him to another position at the university.

Jutting, a two-time WCHA coach of the year, had been the coach for 12 seasons and part of MSU hockey for 26, including four as a player and 10 as an assistant. His teams had a record of 184-224-55 (.463), including a 12-24-2 mark this past season.

Read my Free Press story on the move here. Minnesota State's official press release can be found here.

Surprising move? Yes and no.

It's a bit surprising in that Jutting has a season (15 months total) remaining on a contract that pays him more than $150,000/year (that's a bold move for the school, although the press release does say an agreement has been reached between MSU and Jutting), and his team improved through an injury-riddled season and looks like it has some pieces in place for next year and certainly the first few years of the new WCHA.

However, two 11th-place finishes in the WCHA, dwindling attendance at the Verizon Wireless Center (WCHA-era low 3,228 average) and going nine years without getting to the Final Five probably caused the powers that be at MSU to make a change now.

Minnesota State will begin a national search for Jutting's replacement immediately. I'm guessing MSU would like to move fairly quickly on this, and there should be some good candidates. I'll explore more on that tomorrow, but whoever inherits the program will get one that seems to be in pretty good shape to start (not unlike and perhaps better than what Mel Pearson got at Michigan Tech this year).

As for Jutting, he sounded disappointed, naturally, when I talked to him but was gracious in both his comments to me and those on the press release.

Minnesota State has scheduled a press conference for 10:30 a.m. Monday with President Richard Davenport, athletic director Kevin Buisman and some players.