Sunday, April 28, 2013

MSU award winners

Minnesota State announced its team award winners on Sunday night, and there were no big surprises. Here are the awards:

• Eriah Hayes was named team MVP after a 20-goal, 16-assist senior season. The forward and co-captain had 12 power-play goals, which ranked second in the nation and moved up to 10th on the Mavericks' D1-era career scoring list.

• Junior defenseman Josh Nelson won the Unsung Hero Award for his consistent play and career-high numbers (5-9—14). I thought he might win Most Improved but that went to ...

• Freshman forward Taylor Herndon took Most Improved honors, as he performed admirably when Eli Zuck went down late in the season. (I always wonder what that award means. Is it improvement from one season to the next or over the course of a season. In this case, it was the latter.)

• Best Hustle or Hardest Worker went to defenseman Tyler Elbrecht. The senior co-captain also won this award in 2010-11 and has set a standard for what hustle and hard work mean at MSU.

• Star of the Year. This is based on the Three Stars of the Game Awards given out after every home game Points are given for the first second and third stars, and sophomore center Matt Leitner was at the top of the list at the end of the year. He edged Hayes, sophomore forward Johnny McInnis and freshman goalie Stephon Williams. Leitner finished the year as MSU's leading scorer with 47 points, including 30 assists.

Read MSU's release on the awards here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hayes finishes strong

The AHL's Worcester Sharks finished their season over the weekend, and they — and their parent club, San Jose in the NHL — had to be pleased with what they saw in now-former Maverick Eriah Hayes.

Hayes played in Worcester's final seven games and ended up with three goals and an assist. He also had four penalty minutes and 26 shots on goal, including a Sharks season-high 10 shots on goal on April 13.

Not too shabby, but not too surprising.

I'm guessing Hayes can be a very good player in the AHL. Will he be able to make the jump to the show and be the next MSU alum to get a banner at the Verizon Wireless Center? I wouldn't be against him.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A look at the recruits

NAHL photo
Wednesday was the first day of the spring signing period, and Minnesota State inked a pair of Nelsons — Josh's younger brother Casey Nelson, a defenseman, and unrelated center Jordan Nelson. They will help make up a class of six incoming freshmen for the fall.

Read more about them and coach Mike Hastings' emphasis on defensemen (including midseason transfer Blake Thompson, there will be four new D — five, when you throw medical redshirt Mat Knoll in there — and 10 total) for next year here.

Meanwhile, here's a look at all six recruits, some a few comments Hastings made in an interview on Wednesday. ...

• Casey Nelson, D, Johnstown Tomahawks (NAHL): Josh's brother (pictured) is a 6-foot-3, 180-pounder (Josh is 6-0, 180) who had 10 goals and 22 assists this past season and led all NAHL defensemen with 189 shots on goal. "We need some help at the back end, and I think Casey's  going to do that," Hastings said. "He can play power play, kill penalties, play even strength. He's got good length at 6-3. I think he's a guy who can give us a little more offensive flare from the blue line.

• Jordan Nelson, F, Fargo Force (USHL): He had 17 goals and 16 assists and was plus-10 in 56 regular-season games. The USHL playoffs began this week, and Fargo is playing Waterloo. Hastings compared Nelson to Eli Zuck, and there will be an opening at that center spot with Zuck graduating. "We hope he can step in and play a role down the middle," Hastings said. "We want that to be a position of strength for us." ... "He can skate, and he's got a little offense to his game. He plays with an edge, and he's able to defend."

• Mike Huntebrinker, F, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL): Going into the playoffs, he had 18 goals and 24 assists in 46 games. He missed time early in the year with a wrist injury and closed the regular season with 12 points (6-6) in 10 games, including an eight-game win streak. "He's had a good second half," Hastings said. "You look to see players who make an impact at the most important time of the year, and I think he's done that."

• Carter Foguth, D, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL): A 6-2, 210-pound defensive defenseman, Foguth had 2 goals and 3 assists and was -5 in 59 games. Hastings called him "a big body who will be hard to play against."

• Sean Flanagan, D, Penticton Vees (BCHL): The 6-1, 170-pound defenseman had 6 goals and 12 assists in 18 games between Penticton and Salmon Arm this regular season and 1 goal and 4 assists in 13 playoff games so far. "A puck distributor," Hastings said, Flanagan had 31 points a year ago. "We're trying to improve our ability to move pucks from our goal line to their goal line and make plays in all three zones."

• Cole Huggins, G, Coquitlam Express (BCHL): He went 22-23-1 with three shutouts this season. He ended up with a .905 save percentage and a 3.41 goals-against average.

"We're going to ask the young guys to come in and contribute immediately," Hastings said. "Our freshmen had an impact on our program last year, and our freshmen have to come in and make an impact next year."

The Mavericks graduate five players: forwards Zuck and Eriah Hayes, defensemen Tyler Elbrecht and Evan Mosey and goaltender Phil Cook.

Here's how the roster will shape up for next season:

Forwards (15): Zach Lehrke, Johnny McInnis, Chase Grant, Matt Leitner, Jean-Paul LaFontaine, J.P. Burkemper, Max Gaede, Charlie Thauwald, Teddy Blueger, Dylan Margonari, Brett Knowles, Bryce Gervais, Taylor Herndon, Mike Huntebrinker, Jordan Nelson.

Defensemen (10): Josh Nelson, Zach Palmquist, Brett Stern, Jon Jutzi, Nick Buchanan, Mat Knoll, Blake Thompson, Carter Foguth, Sean Flanagan, Casey Nelson.

Goalies (3): Stephon Williams, Evan Karambelas, Cole Huggins

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Last day of the season, end of an era

Today is the final day of the 2012-13 college hockey season. Top-ranked Quinnipiac and its ECAC and in-state rival Yale (Connecticut, the state of hockey!) will square off in the national championship game (6 p.m., ESPN).

When it's over, the conference changes will really kick into gear, with the formation of the Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, the dismantling of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and the restructuring of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Next year will take some getting used to, for sure (In need of a "new" WCHA primer already; check out this blog post by the Toledo Blade's John Wagner.)

On Friday, St. Cloud State got its first Hobey Baker winner, as Drew LeBlanc captured the award. LeBlanc probably won more on his story than his stats (13 goals, 50 points ... In 2002, St. Cloud's Mark Hartigan led the nation in goals with 37 and was second in points with 75 and lost out to Minnesota defenseman Jordan Leopold), and it's a story that's good for college hockey. I honestly thought Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell was going to win and probably should have won the award this year after playing in 41 games with a .934 SV% and a 1.53 GAA (although I'm not going to say he got hosed).

LeBlanc becomes the ninth Hobey winner from the WCHA since 2002. With the balance of power changing with the conference shakeups coming, that has prompted some to wonder ...

I saw that tweet and immediately thought it could happen in the next year or two if Minnesota State's Matt Leitner continues his scoring pace (47 points this year). There is also Mavs goalie Stephon Williams and Bowling Green forward Ryan Carpenter.

Also on Friday, the American Hockey Coaches Association named its All-Americans for the season. I wasn't necessarily expecting a Minnesota State player to make All-American, but Denver goalie Juho Olkinuora was named to the West's second team. He was second-team WCHA, too, while the Mavericks' Williams was a first-team pick.

(Isn't it odd that college hockey's All-Americans are still divided between East and West with two teams each, for a grand total of four AA teams? Making it odder is that this year's East first team has three defensemen for seven players. I'd advocate for making it truly national; perhaps go to three teams with East and West honorable mentions.)

Finally, the next week or so will be interesting to see who gets hired to fill the coaching openings at Alaska Anchorage, Denver, Maine and Connecticut.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Frozen Four thoughts

The Frozen Four semifinals are today, with UMass-Lowell taking on Yale at 3:30 p.m. and St. Cloud State playing Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. (both games will air on ESPN2). One of the themes of this year's championship weekend is the newness of the field, which has people asking, "Who are these guys?"

Three of the teams are making their first appearance in the Frozen Four, and Yale is there for the first time since 1952.

The big names — Boston College, North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, etc. — might be missing, but as  St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko said on Wednesday, "The right teams are here. It's not the named teams aren't here. The right teams are here."

He's right. Quinnipiac is No. 1 in the country and won the ECAC, St. Cloud State was the WCHA co-champion, Lowell won the Hockey East regular-season and Yale had a 20-win season.

A few more thoughts (other than I wish I was there):

• No matter who's playing in the Frozen Four, though, the event has become huge and a very hot ticket for fans. Last year's championship game between Boston College and Ferris State in Tampa, Fla., drew 18,818. (Perhaps this is another reason why the regionals are so poorly attended; fans might are making — or hoping to make — the Frozen Four the destination.)

• Remember when Lowell came to Mankato at the beginning of the 2011-12 season and swept the Mavericks? MSU fans were stunned because the River Hawks had won just five games the season before and made a coaching change. Norm Bazin turned things around there, though, winning 24 games and getting to the NCAA tournament. This year, Lowell won 28 games, the Hockey East title and is in the Frozen Four. After the big leap MSU made under Mike Hastings this year, could this be the next step for the Mavs?

• It was announced on Wednesday that Bazin won the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year. Motzko and Quinnipiac's Rand Pecknold were listed as co-runners-up. Last week, MSU's Hastings was named one of the finalists for the award.

• The Hobey Baker Award will be announced on Friday, and two of the three finalists (the Hobey Hat Trick) are in the tournament. They are Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell and St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc. The other is Boston College foward Johnny Gaudreau. I am a former Hobey voter and this would be a tough vote this year, especially between the two seniors. I love LeBlanc's story— coming back from a horrific injury the previous season, being the WCHA's player of the year and student-athlete of the year — but I think the dominant Hartzell (40 games, 1.55 GAA, .933 SV%) has the edge.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2012-13 top 10

We're less than two weeks removed from the end of a pretty special season for the the Minnesota State hockey team. With a Division I era-best 24 wins, the Mavericks provided plenty of memorable moments.

Here is Puckato's top 10 list from this season. It includes moments, games, series and significant stretches. Call it Freddy's 10 thoughts of the season. What do you think?

1. Playing in the postseason (March 21, March 29): The Mavericks didn’t have their best performances against Wisconsin or Miami, but they were playing in the WCHA Final Five and the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade, significant steps for the once-struggling program. In St. Paul, they turned in a bit of a clunker, a 7-2 loss to the Badgers, but they were better against the Redhawks despite the 4-0 loss in Toledo, Ohio.

2. Finally, a playoff victory (March 17): Minnesota State advanced to the Final Five with a Game 3 victory over Nebraska Omaha in Mankato. The series started with an overtime thriller that ended with a Chase Grant goal at the 7:04 mark. After a 2-1 loss on Saturday, the Mavericks finally won a third game (they had lost their previous four Game 3s, winning the Friday-night game in all of those series). Thanks to a dominant first-period performance that included Max Gaede’s only goal of the season, MSU won 3-1.

3. The turnaround begins (Nov. 23-24): Freshman goalie Stephon Williams got back-to-back starts for the first time and stopped 65 of 69 shots in a series sweep over Wisconsin. It was MSU’s first-ever sweep in Madison and set the wheels in motion for Williams’ WCHA Rookie of the Year campaign (he started every game after that). Matt Leitner finished the series with three goals and five points, and Eriah Hayes also scored three goals on the weekend.

4. Getting the Gophers, Part 1 (Nov. 3): Phil Cook was an MSU success story. He came in as a third-stringer as a freshman and perhaps wondered if he’d ever get in a game. By the time his career ended he had played in 73 career games (fifth on the school's all-time list) and compiled a 28-29-7 record. While he lost his starting job to Williams this season, his last victory was a big one, as he stopped 30 shots in a 5-3 home win over No. 1 Minnesota. Freshman Dylan Margonari scored the game-winner with 3:41 to play.

5. Getting the Gophers, Part II (Jan. 25): Minnesota was still No. 1 in late January when the Mavericks went to Mariucci Arena and won 2-1. It wasn’t quite the upset of the November game, as MSU had moved into the national rankings by then. But it was a thriller nonetheless. Williams was brilliant, stopping 20 third-period shots and 37 for the game, and another freshman, Brett Knowles, potted the game-winning goal with just 44 seconds remaining in regulation.

6. Stopping the Sio … uh, UND (March 9): With a crowd of 5,088 at the Verizon Wireless Center, the Mavericks clinched home ice for the WCHA playoffs (and prevented North Dakota from getting a share of the league title) with a 2-1 overtime victory. Once again Brett Knowles was the hero, scoring the game-winner. Fellow rookies Margonari (one goal) and Williams (30 saves) were also excellent in that game.

7. Call it the streak (Nov. 23-Dec. 14): The series sweep at Wisconsin began a run of seven consecutive wins that included home sweeps (and a pair of Williams shutouts) over Bemidji State and Alaska Anchorage. It finished with an impressive 6-3 win at Nebraska Omaha. In that game, the freshmen shined again as Teddy Blueger had three assists, Gervais scored short-handed breakaway goal, and Margonari and Jutzi (How much better did he get as the season went on, by the way?) had goals.

8. Nonconference success (various dates): The Mavericks had a better Pairwise ranking than WCHA co-champion St. Cloud State, mainly because of the two teams’ nonconference record. Minnesota State went 6-0-2 in nonconference play, which included games against solid opponents like RPI, Providence, Brown and UConn. The wins included a two overtime victories, with Eriah Hayes (RPI) and Chase Grant (Providence) scoring the winners, a Williams shut out of the Friars and Johnny McInnis garnering MVP honors not far from home at the UConn tournament.

9. Hayes’ weekend in Duluth (Feb. 8-9): Eriah Hayes had his best weekend of his best college season when the Mavericks swept the Bulldogs at Amsoil Arena. The right wing, who led the nation in shots on goal and finished the season with 20 goals, was dominant, scoring seven points — including a hat trick in the series finale — to help MSU win its first games in Duluth since 2006.

10. Special delivery (Nov. 30): What was the play of the year this year? There are many to choose from, including more than a few goals listed above, plenty of pretty Matt Leitner passes (he had 30 assists) as well as more than a few nifty saves by Williams, the WCHA rookie of the year. For now, anyway, I’m going with Hayes’ no-look, between-the-legs assist to Zach Lehrke for a goal against Bemidji State. Have a look:

What’s do you think? What’s missing from the list? Feel free to comment on your favorite moments from this past season.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New WCHA? Old WCHA? MSU should be favorite

With all of the offseason changes happening at Denver, Minnesota and North Dakota (yes, I know we still have a weekend remaining in the college hockey season), it seems like Minnesota State might have been poised to make another big move in the WCHA next season, perhaps even win the league.

Of course, that's the old WCHA. Those teams will be gone in the impending conference shakeup. Considering the Mavericks' turnaround season, it would have been interesting to see how they would have fared in one more season in the old league.

But the changes are coming, and the Mavericks ought to be the favorite in the new WCHA. They were the only team of that group to make the NCAA tournament and, of course, will return the bulk of this year's team.

Talking to folks at the Midwest Regional two weekends ago in Toledo, most people seemed to think the new WCHA was going to be a fine, competitive league. And even if it's considered a "mid-major" compared to the Big Ten, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Hockey East, so what? The ECAC is thought of that way, and it has two teams in the Frozen Four this week.

The subject of the conference shakeup was discussed in Toledo because the four teams represented (five, if you include host-school Bowling Green) the WCHA and the CCHA but would be part of three different leagues next year: MSU and Bowling Green to the new WCHA, Miami and St. Cloud State to the NCHC and Notre Dame to Hockey East with the CCHA dissolving.

You can read comments from the four coaches here, but here's the full transcript of what MSU's Mike Hastings had to say about the future of the WCHA:
"First of all, we’re still going to end up focusing on what is the WCHA up until this point and until we move into this next stage next year. But from my standpoint and in talking about Bowling Green right away, you go ahead and you look at the progress that coach Chris Bergeron has made at that program in his short time there, and you look at the history of NCAA championships with Northern Michigan and Lake State -- programs that are going to be made up in the new WCHA. Final four appearances by Bemidji State -- that’s something that I look at. ...
"We’re going to deal with what we’re dealt, and there’s certain decisions that we control and we try to talk about those every day and then there are certain decisions that don’t. We’ll move on to that -- we’re very proud of being part of the WCHA and what it is now and what it’s going to be tomorrow. Because you go on and look at history, and I think the WCHA has a pretty proud, rich history. And we’re going to try and continue to build on that in the new WCHA, and that’s no disrespect to the NCHC, Hockey East or the Big Ten. The game that we’re playing is pretty special. There’s a lot of good hockey players out there and we’re excited about where we’re at and where we’re going and the programs we’re going to be associated with down the road."
Given that, here are this past season's "new WCHA" mythical standings, based on overall record and winning percentage:

1. Minnesota State           24-14-3 (.622)*                 
2. Alaska                        17-16-4 (.514)                
3. Ferris State                 16-16-5 (.500)                 
4. Lake Superior              17-21-1 (.449)                 
5. Northern Michigan       15-19-4 (.447)               
6. Bowling Green            15-21-5 (.427)
7. Michigan Tech             13-20-4 (.405)*                 
8. Bemidji State               6-22-8 (.278)*                 
9. Alaska Anchorage         4-25-7 (.208)*                 
10. Alabama Huntsville     3-21-1 (.140)

* = Current WCHA members     

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hayes signs with Sharks (updated)

Minnesota State senior and co-captain Eriah Hayes signed an NHL contract with the San Jose Sharks this week, he confirmed on Friday, and will report to the AHL's Worcester Sharks on Saturday for the remainder of the season.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound right wing signed a two-year, two-way deal that, according to reports, is above the entry-level contract because of his age (24, 25 in July).

Reached on Friday, Hayes said there were at least two other teams vying for his services when the season ended but the sharks were "the best fit." "That's where I felt most confident," he said." It's a great organization. I'm really happy to have picked them."

Hayes, MSU's co-captain, said he didn't think much about a pro contract until MSU's season ended last week in the NCAA Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio.

"I had my mind on the guys and the team as a whole," he said.

Hayes had his best season as a senior, scoring a team-high 20 goals, including 13 on the power play (second in the nation). He led the country with 185 shots on goal. According to MSU coach Mike Hastings, Hayes developed his overall game and became a better, more-consistent and more-disciplined player.

"He became a lot harder to play against," Hastings said. "He played a better game being physical and being responsible. He could pay between the dots when he needed to play between the dots, and we've always known he could play along the wall. Courage has never been a question for Eriah Hayes."

Worcester has nine games remaining in the regular season, starting Saturday. Hayes didn't know if he'd be in the lineup.

In a San Jose press release issued Friday night, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said: "Eriah has had an outstanding collegiate career under the tutelage of both Mike Hastings and Troy Jutting, along with their staffs, and we are excited to add him to our prospect pool. His leadership this season as one of the team captains is something we feel will help him with his professional development, and we are excited to be a part of that process."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hastings named finalist for Penrose award

Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings was named one of seven finalists for the Spencer Penrose Award as the national coach of the year, the American Hockey Coaches Association announced on Wednesday.

Hastings was named WCHA coach of the year after his first season with the Mavericks, an honor that made him a candidate for the Penrose honor. Conference coaches of the year and those whose teams made the Frozen Four are up for the award.

The list also includes Bob Motzko of St. Cloud State, Keith Allain of Yale, Norm Bazin of UMass-Lowell, Enrico Blasi of Miami, Dave Burkholder of Niagara and Rand Pecknold of Quinnipiac.

The winner will be announced on April 10.

Earlier this year, College Hockey News named Hastings its national coach of the year.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Shocker! Gwozdecky out at Denver

It wasn't an April Fools joke. George Gwozdecky was fired by the University of Denver on Monday, ending a 19-year run there. That run included two national championships (2004, 2005) and a run of 12 straight 20-win seasons that included this past year — the Pioneers were the only team in the country on that long of a streak.

The Pioneers' season ended on Friday night when they were bounced out of the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was the fifth time in six years they lost their first-round matchup. Denver also missed out on the WCHA Final Five this season, getting beat by rival Colorado College in three games during the tournament's first round.

Gwozdecky just finished the 11th year of a 12-year contract that he signed with Denver in 2001, according to the Denver Post, and the inability to come to terms on a new extension might have factored into the coach's release, the story said.

Ironically, Gwozdecky's ouster means he won't be leading Denver into the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season. He appeared to be one of the driving forces behind the formation of the league.

With that news, there are two coaching openings in what was this past year's WCHA now — Denver and Alaska Anchorage. It will be interesting to see how those posts get filled as well as to see where Gwozdecky eventually lands.