Saturday, July 28, 2012

WCHA loses another (player, not team)

Pat Christman/The Free Press
The Omaha World-Herald reported Friday that Nebraska Omaha sophomore-to-be Jayson Megna, is turning pro. Megna (pictured) was the red Mavericks' second leading scorer, coming off a 13-goal, 31-point freshman season in which he was named to the WCHA's All-Rookie team.

Megna is deciding between the Penguins, Bruins and Jets, according to the report.

It's been a tough off-season for UNO, which also lost captain Terry Broadhurst a year early; lost out to Broadhurst's brother and recruit Alex Broadhurst to the major-junior ranks; had sophomore-to-be Ryan Massa, a goalie, decide to take a year of for personal reasons; and, of course, lost associate head coach Mike Hastings to Minnesota State, where he is now the head coach.

UPDATE: Over the weekend it was reported that the team's other assistant coach has left, as Brian Renfrew has taken a scouting job with the Winnipeg Jets.

The list of early departures in the WCHA is now 12 (13 if you include Massa). Combined with graduated seniors, that leaves just three of last season's top 10 scorers (overall games) and 12 of the top 20 back this season.

Meanwhile, Minnesota State's players are due to report to Mankato by Sunday, according to Hastings. Many are already in town.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More thoughts on Blue, Knott

Mike Hastings could have gone a few different routes when selecting his coaching staff after he was hired in April. He could have cleaned house. He could have kept one assistant around and brought in one of "his guys." Or he could have kept both coaches around.

"Hasty" wasn't hasty in his decision.

The process perhaps took a little longer than was inferred during Hastings' first couple of weeks on the job, but after spending nearly two months working with Darren Blue and Todd Knott, he opted to keep both assistant coaches.

Blue had a full year remaining on his contract, and Knott's expired on June 30, but Hastings said he was under no pressure to keep either coach around. And considering the university's decision to change head coaches, pay Hastings a significant salary (while having to pay the balance of Troy Jutting's contract) and renew its commitment to the men's hockey program, Hastings would and should have had every right to make any changes to the staff he felt necessary to start getting the program back on track.

Perhaps some of those changes will come in the form of redefined duties, workload and expectations of assistants, but the fact that Hastings basically hired both for his staff speaks volumes.

Blue, 41, has been a part of the MSU staff since 2000 when Jutting was hired as head coach. He is firmly rooted in the community is well-connected in Mankato and has represented the hockey program well in the area. Hastings noted on Tuesday about how Blue has kept in close contact with alumni (Blue is also an alum) as well.

"He's a man of many hats," Hastings said. "People have a lot of respect for him here. Darren is pretty intertwined in this community and this university."

Those community and alumni connections are important, but Hastings also wants Blue as a coach first and foremost. That's part of the reason why the team will be hiring a director of hockey operations this summer.

Knott, 33, will be going into his fourth season with the Mavericks. Hastings said he didn't know Knott as well as he knew Blue going into the job. But Knott made a strong impression, especially as a recruiter, over the last couple of months.

"He's confident in what he does and what he sees as a recruiter," Hastings said. "He's willing to stick his neck out for his beliefs. I like his conviction."

Hastings also said other coaches around college hockey have seen Knott in action and told him that he had a good assistant.

Interesting notes on the Mavericks' coaching staff: All three grew up in northwestern Minnesota. Hastings is from Crookston, Blue is from East Grand Forks and Knott is from Red Lake Falls. All three played at and graduated from MnSCU schools. Hastings went to St. Cloud State, Blue went to Minnesota State and Knott went to Bemidji State.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Assistants will stay

This comes as no surprise (especially since their names are on the '12-13 roster and no jobs openings have been posted), but Mike Hastings will keep Darren Blue and Todd Knott as his coaching staff. On Monday night, Hastings told attendees of the Dan Meyer Golf Classic that he was keeping both assistants around this year.

Both assistants worked through the interim between Troy Jutting's reassignment and Hastings' hiring as well as in the transition following Hastings being named coach. Blue had a full year-plus remaining on his contract while Knott's expired on June 30.

"Professional and personally, I really take seriously who I'm surrounded by," Hastings said in an interview on Tuesday. "It takes awhile to get to know someone and not just job-related. Our business needs trustworthy, loyal, honest, hard-working people, and that just gives you a start. I needed to get to know if they'd be a good fit."

Blue recently completed his 12th season on the MSU coaching staff. He is a former Mavericks player and captain. Knott has been with Minnesota State for three years.

"These guys have a track record," Hastings said. "I've crossed paths with Darren and Todd in the past, and I did my homework. ... I feel good about them, really good about them."

Hastings said there will be "a lot of crossover" with various duties, but Knott will be the primary recruiter, while Blue will be on the bench with Hastings more often.

"With both of them, they don't mind working hard," Hastings said. "Work ethic is not the issue."

Hastings also plans to hire a fulltime director of hockey operations. That job has been a graduate assistant position, most recently held by Garrett Lind.

Alumns (living) in town

R.J. Linder
I was thinking about Monday's blog post with video of Shane Joseph and Tim Jackman, along with today's Free Press column, which also mentioned Brad Thompson and Aaron Fox, who also participated in the Dan Meyer Golf Classic (*).

I called them out-of-town hockey alumni because there are others who continue to live in the area. That group includes Ken Essay, Chris Hvinden and Des Christopher, who were in a foursome with Mankato resident/West boys hockey coach/Minnesota Duluth hockey alum Curtis Doell. And I'd be remiss to forget Mavericks assistant coach Darren Blue and former head coach Troy Jutting.

It also now includes R.J. Linder, who now makes his home in the Mankato area, working in sales and marketing for Volk Transfer. Matt Tyree lives in St. Peter and does quite a bit of hockey officiating, including in the American Hockey League and other pro leagues (**). Both Linder and Tyree participated in the golf outing as well.

* I was told Monday that the Dan Meyer Golf Classic, a fundraiser for the MSU Blue Line Club, had a record turnout with 38 foursomes, as well as a big jump in sponsors. Surely this is a reaction to the hiring of Mike Hastings. While officials didn't have exact numbers, they said season-ticket sales are also up.

** Another former Maverick making his way through the professional officiating ranks is Jake Brenk, who is working as a linesman in the AHL and ECHL.

Monday, July 23, 2012

MSU hockey alumni in town

The annual Dan Meyer Golf Classic took place Monday at the Mankato Golf Club. The event raises funds for the MSU Blue Line Club, the hockey booster club. A few hockey alumni participated in the event, including out-of-towners Shane Joseph, Tim Jackman, Brad Thompson and Aaron Fox. Here are some videos of Joseph and Jackman.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dog days

Time for a little summer housekeeping ...

On Thursday, Minnesota State announced its 2012 Hall of Fame class. It includes former hockey goalie Ken Hilgert, who played for the Mavericks 1984-1988. Hilgert was an All-American goaltender in 1986-87 and won the Small College Hobey Baker the next year. He was a two-time Mavericks MVP and a two-time All-NCHA selection.

Word is highly touted Minnesota State recruit Teddy Blueger had solid showing at the Pittsburgh Penguins' development camp earlier this month.

Staying on the subject of MSU recruits from Shattuck-St. Mary's, Ryan Schwalbe of the 2013 freshman class, will be playing junior hockey for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League next season.

It's been about a year since the big college hockey shakeup took place. What's changed since then? Well, Minnesota State has been able to turn the focus on itself rather than on the uncertainty coming next year.

There was some interesting news in the early signings department. Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad decided to return to the Gophers next season rather than sign with Florida, a move that likely will make them the favorite to win the WCHA. The early departure that did take place this month was Wisconsin winger Jason Clark, who played in just 35 games in two seasons with the Badgers but battled injuries.

So far 11 WCHA players have opted to sign early. That group includes: Denver's Drew Shore, Jason Zucker and Beau Bennett; St. Cloud State's David Eddy and Mike Lee; Wisconsin's Clark and Justin Schultz; Minnesota Duluth's J.T. Brown; North Dakota's Brock Nelson; Colorado College's Jaden Schwartz; and Nebraska Omaha's Terry Broadhurst.

Omaha is also losing goalie Ryan Massa for a year. Massa announced that he will skip the upcoming season due to personal reasons. You may recall Mass as the goalie who had to be hospitalized after a collision in an overtime game in Mankato last January.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Going camping

Three Minnesota State players are attending development camps with NHL teams this week. That group includes Teddy Blueger with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Max Gaede with the San Jose Sharks and Zach Palmquist with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Blueger, who will be a freshman at MSU, was drafted by the Penguins in the second round last month. Gaede, a sophomore, is a Sharks draft pick. And Palmquist is a nondrafted invitee.

Interesting note about Blueger. Besides being drafted by the Penguins, he was selected in the CHL import draft by the Ontario Hockey League's Oshawa Generals, a major junior team in Canada.

In a recent news article, Oshawa general manager Jeff Twohey said while there's no guarantee of getting Blueger, the team is going to "go after him and do everything we can to get him here."

Blueger has spent time in Mankato this summer, but it looks like the MSU's recruiting job with the Latvia native and Shattuck St. Mary's almu won't end until he arrives here to start school next month.

There is an ongoing battle between college hockey and major junior hockey for players. The Mavericks have had a little experience in that, as Tyler Pitlick went to the Western Hockey League after one year at Minnesota State.