Friday, June 29, 2012

Carter re-signs with Devils

On the verge of becoming a free agent, Ryan Carter opted to re-sign with the New Jersey Devils, the team he played for most of last season.

Carter began the year with the Florida Panthers but was waived just seven games into the season. The Devils claimed him, and the former Minnesota State forward found a role as a fourth-line center, grinding playing D and occasionally fighting.

Carter had a tremendous postseason, scoring five goals as New Jersey advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals where they fell to the Los Angeles Kings.

According to a tweet the agency representing Carter, Sheehy Hockey, Carter signed a two-year deal.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Maturi hoped Penn State would join CCHA

Penn State was the first domino to fall, starting the college hockey shakeup that will take place a year from now when it announced in fall of 2010 that it would be adding the sport to its varsity roll.

On Tuesday, outgoing University of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said he had hoped that Penn State would have joined the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, rather than have the Big Ten start a college hockey conference.

"I'm disappointed (the WCHA) broke up," he said, speaking to members of the Minnesota Associated Press Sports Association during its annual meeting in Minneapolis. "I would have liked to see it stay. My initial hope was Penn State would go to the CCHA. ... I think things would have been fine."

But with six teams carrying the sport, the Big Ten formed its hockey league, setting a course for 2013-14. That, of course, led to the creation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, the demise of the CCHA and a leftover group of nine teams from the CCHA and the WCHA that will make up the latter.

But during a discussion that often touched on Minnesota's own revenues and finances, Maturi said he is worried about what the coming shakeup will mean.

"I am concerned about the future of what will now become the WCHA and therefore the future of hockey," he said. "We only have 60 members. It's not like we can afford to lose a lot of members."

Maturi said Minnesota has vowed to continue to play all of it state rivals, including Minnesota State. That includes going on the road to Mankato, Bemidji, St. Cloud and Duluth from time to time. There will also be an annual "Beanpot"-type tournament at the Xcel Energy Center that will feature the Gophers and three of the other four Minnesota teams. The team out of the rotation would meet the Gophers twice that season, Maturi said.

Maturi, 67, who has worked at other schools with Division I hockey, including Wisconsin, Miami and Denver, said he understood why WCHA representatives approved the so-called "Alaska Plan" that will pit Anchorage and Fairbanks against each other during the first round of the WCHA tournament. While he said he does not have intiment knowledge of the new WCHA's plans, he assumes that travel costs will be going up and revenues likely will be going down, which will be a challenge.

"I think it's what the conference had to do," he said. "You've got to be realistic also."

Maturi said the cost of having two teams flying to or from Alaska on five days notice is crippling.

"That's going to be as expensive as every dollar they take in on their tournament," he said. "It's crazy. It's just the reality of it. So what they did to me made some sense from a fiscal responsibility standpoint."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Blueger to Penguins (updated)

Teddy Blueger shakes hands with Mario Lemieux after getting drafted.

Minnesota State incoming freshman Teddy Blueger was ranked No. 116 on the final Central Scouting Service rankings, but it's clear that the Pittsburgh Penguins felt a lot stronger about the center from Latvia and Shattuck-St. Mary's.

The Penguins selected the 17-year-old Blueger on Saturday in the second round of the NHL draft, which was taking place in Pittsburgh.

Blueger was in the Steel City for the event, and you can see video of Blueger's press conference on the Penguins' website. The site describes Blueger as an "intelligent Latvian import." Read press releases here and here

Blueger was picked No. 52 overall, which makes him the fourth MSU-related player to get taken in the second round. Others included Tyler Pitlick (31), Tim Jackman (38) and David Backes (62). Of that group, only Pitlick did not play college hockey after getting picked.

I spoke with Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings Saturday morning, and he was excited about the Blueger news. Remember Hastings went to Europe to meet Blueger just days after being named MSU's coach in April.

"I think it’s good for everybody,” Hastings said. “He’s going to a great organization in Pittsburgh that has a history of doing a great job developing players. Our job now is to hopefully help that process.”

Hastings credited assistant coaches Darren Blue and Todd Knott and former MSU coach Troy Jutting for landing Blueger. 

"I'm excited to be around the young man," Hastings said.

Blueger ended up being the only Maverick picked. There were a few possibilities, including incoming freshman goalie Stephon Williams and defenseman Eli May, a 2013 recruit. Word was incoming freshman forward Dylan Margonari, who was not rated in the CSS rankings, had an outside shot of getting taken, too.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Another recruit

According to a Twitter post from the North American Hockey League's Texas Tornado, forward Taylor Herndon has committed to play at Minnesota State. He is expected to arrive in Mankato this fall.

The 21-year-old is 6-foot-3, 191 pound and scored 20 goals and 17 assists this season, his second with Texas. Herndon is an Oklahoma City native who had 60 points in 86 games over two seasons.

Texas won the Robertson Cup as the NAHL playoff champion this year. Herndon had seven points in eight postseason games.

UPDATE: Read the Tornado's press release here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

'Alaska plan' causes stir

The WCHA's "Alaska plan," which will pit Anchorage and Fairbanks against each other in the first round of the 2013-14 playoffs no matter where they finish (unless they win the league) is already causing quite a stir.

Choosing fiscal responsibility over competitive equity (to paraphrase Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman) may make sense on the ledger sheet of a conference that's almost acting as a start-up with the departure of most of its popular and most-powerful programs, but it also raises a ton of questions. It only took a few moments after details of the plan started to be reported upon (details weren't included the league's original press release) that scenarios were thought up that might blow up the integrity of the tournament.

Buisman told me on Thursday that "nothing is forever," hinting that the "Alaska plan" could be scrapped in a year or two. But it might be revisited even sooner, according to commissioner Bruce McLeod, who was reached by The Mining Journal's Matt Wellens (Marquette, Mich.) on Friday.

Stay tuned ...

More quality reporting on the subject done by Jack Hittinger of the Bemidji Pioneer, Stephen Anderson of the Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton, Mich.), Doyle Woody of the Anchorage Daily News and Danny Martin of the Faribanks Daily News-Miner.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

WCHA wraps up 'productive' meetings

The revamped WCHA issued a press release on Thursday touting its meetings in Detroit.

The league approved a 28-game league schedule for 2013-14 as well as a nine-team playoff format. The latter, however, had no specifics about what that playoff format would be. Will the regular-season champion get a bye into the Final Five? Would there be a play-in game involving the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds? Stay tuned ...

UPDATE: Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman said the regular-season champion will get a bye into the Final Five. The other eight teams will play a best-of-3 series to get there, and the Final Five will be the traditional format, with a play-in game into the semifinals.

UPDATE 2: As for those first-round series, the WCHA decided to go with a cost-cutting measure due to its crazy geography and pit the two Alaska schools against each other in the first round regardless of finish (unless, of course, one of them wins the McNaughton Cup). Buisman called it "less than ideal," but said the league did consider playoff formats that dropped the first round entirely or went with just four or six teams.

Read my Free Press story here.

As for the Final Five, the league still called the event that name in the release but did not decide on a set venue. It said the "membership discussed and continues to explore several potential venues for the annual WCHA Final Five playoff championship."

"This is certainly an exciting time for the newly-integrated WCHA," said Minnesota State President Richard Davenport, who is the chair of the league's President's Council. "Our meetings this week were spirited and full of camaraderie, and we are all looking forward to the 2013-14 season. Across the board we are 100% committed to putting a highly competitive product on the ice in the WCHA, to compete for championships, to give our student-athletes the best possible experience and to provide our fans with a great game-day experience. The WCHA brand is strong, historic and full of rich tradition and we will carry on that tremendous tradition and also build upon it."

According to the release, the WCHA also updated league bylaws, discussed expansion and potential future members (Alabama Huntsville?) and talked about marketing and public relations initiatives.

You can read the WCHA's entire press release here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hastings lands first recruits

Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier
Mike Hastings' first recruits have committed to Minnesota State, according to various online reports.

Forward Mike Huntebrinker of the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks verbally committed for the fall of 2013, according to the Black Hawks' website. He'll play one more season for Waterloo.

Huntebrinker (pictured), 19, is a Chesterfield, Mo., native who just completed his rookie season in the USHL. Listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, he finished the year with 17 goals and 17 assists in 54 games. During the Clark Cup playoffs, he had four goals and six assists in 13 games as Waterloo advanced to the finals where it lost to Green Bay.

"We asked Mike to do a lot of different things last season," Waterloo coach P.K. O'Handley said in a press release. "He rose to the occasion and was an important contributor when we needed more scoring near the end of the year."

Meanwhile, defenseman Hunter Warner, a soon-to-be junior at Eden Prairie, also committed to the Mavericks, his high school coach told MN Hockey Hub. The 6-3, 190-pounder had a goal and nine assists for the Eagles as a sophomore.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

WCHA still seeking postseason home

With Monday's announcement that the NCHC will hold its championship weekend at Target Center in Minneapolis for the next five years and the Big Ten's decision to split their first four tournaments between the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the WCHA is left as the only conference still looking for a postseason home following the big shakeup coming a year from now.

The WCHA will hold three days of meetings in Detroit starting today and is expected to discuss the issue. Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman doesn't expect an announcement to come directly out of the meeting but the plan is to get closer to a decision.

"We have to consider what's best for the league," Buisman said.

A lot of things need to be considered, Buisman said, including proper size of venue, finances, fan and athlete experience and competition, among others.

"The biggest challenge might be trying to rectify all of those factors," he said. "Some of them are competing priorities. How do we weigh those priorities? We haven't stumbled on a solution that balances all of those qualities."

Read more about it here.

Considering the size and popularity of the teams leaving the league as well as the geography of the revamped WCHA, there indeed seems to be no ideal location for the Final Five — or whatever the tournament will be called.

Should the league try to stay big at the start and consider going to the X and the Joe in opposite years of the Big Ten? Should it look at smaller venues in centralized, neutral sites like Duluth, Green Bay, Minneapolis, Milwaukee or the Chicago area? What about home sites, whether they're top seeds or pre-determined arenas?

What do you think?

Buisman, MSU President Richard Davenport, coach Mike Hastings and former coach/special assistant to the president Troy Jutting are attending the meetings.

Other items on the agenda include finalizing the league's first regular-season schedule, travel subsidies with the Alaska schools, postseason tournament format (including first round), the future of the league office and branding and marketing.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hockey musings

The Star-Ledger
Ryan Carter and the New Jersey Devils stayed alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs by defeating the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 in Game 4 on Wednesday night. LA leads the series 3-1 with it moving back to Newark on Saturday. I was among many who said this series was over after the Kings won Game 3, but remember, LA won the first two games in overtime. ...

Apparently Ryan Carter's mustache (really, an inability to grow a proper playoff beard, has inspired at least one teammate). ...

Back to the world of college hockey, Nebraska Omaha has hired Mike Hastings' replacement, nabbing Steve Johnson from the St. Cloud State staff. Johnson. Johnson is an old rival of Hastings, having coached the Lincoln Stars in the USHL for many of the same years Hastings was in Omaha. Johnson played at North Dakota when Blais was an assistant coach there. He's been an assistant coach in St. Cloud the past two seasons. Interesting that there's already speculation that Johnson might be Blais' successor at UNO, a label that Hastings had for the last three years.

As for Hastings' staff at Minnesota State, there has been no official word yet about assistant coaches. Associate head coach Darren Blue (who has a full year left on his contract) and assistant Todd Knott (whose contract expires at the end of the month) remain at work in the Mavericks' offices. Right now, they are listed as the assistants for next year on the MSU website, and no job opening has been posted. Stay tuned. ...

Currently, there are two WCHA assistant jobs open, St. Cloud State and North Dakota. ...

Representatives of the future WCHA are scheduled to meet next week in Detroit. Among the items to be hashed out: playoff format, championship venue and what to do about Alabama Huntsville. ...

There's been some administrative movement among future WCHA teams, as Northern Michigan hired Alaska's Forrest Karr as its new athletic director. ...

The NCAA hockey rules committee is meeting this week. Among the issues they're dealing with: three-quarter face shields instead of full shields/cages, as well as overtime formats (shootouts, 4x4, longer OTs), replay and goals off skates. ...

Finally, the first looks at next season have begun over Inside College Hockey. They have Minnesota as their preseason No. 1.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Kato's Cup connections

The Associated Press
Former Maverick Ryan Carter scored another playoff goal for the Devils on Saturday, giving him five for the postseason. His goal in the third period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals tied the game at 1-all, but the Kings won in overtime again to go up 2-0 with the series returning to Los Angeles on Monday night.

I talked to Carter for a Free Press story on Friday, and he said he was planning to be in Mankato over the weekend to participate in the "Can-Am Cup," an annual golf outing of MSU hockey alumni that pits Americans against Canadians, Ryder Cup-style. Carter was to be the U.S. captain this year. Let's just say his teammates gave him a pass, considering the more-prestigious Cup he's playing for.

Meanwhile, L.A. also has a Mankato connection as former play-by-play radio man Mike Kalinowski is a communications manager for the Kings. He has worked his way up to the NHL the hard way, covering college hockey and moving through the minor leagues. He's been in Utica, N.Y.; Rockford, Ill.; and Manchester, N.H.; before getting hired by the Kings six years ago.

Kalinowski said that the run the Kings are on is the most exciting thing he's been a p part of in hockey since the Mavericks upset North Dakota 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 of their 1999 WCHA playoffs series. MSU was not yet a full member of the WCHA and was made the tournament's 10th seed. Kalinowski correctly recalled that Andy Fermoyle scored the game-winner. North Dakota ended up winning the next two games to take the series.