Sunday, June 30, 2013

Isles draft Williams (updated)

Pat Christman/The Free Press
Stephon Williams appeared on some rankings leading up to the NHL Draft in 2012, but he was not picked during the summer before his freshman year at Minnesota State.

The goaltender's stock seemed to skyrocket during his first college season, but that year, his name was left off the public rankings.

On Sunday, some observers thought there was an outside shot that last season's WCHA rookie of the year and first-team all-conference goaltender might get taken.

Sure enough, Williams got his name called, as the New York Islanders drafted him in the fourth round Sunday evening in New Jersey. Williams was the 106th overall pick and the 10th goaltender selected (and the second by the Isles — the first was third-rounder Eamon McAdam, a Penn State recruit and a junior teammate of Williams in Waterloo).

Shortly after being picked, the sophomore-to-be tweeted: Truly an honor to be drafted by the Islanders! Wanna thank everyone for all the support it is a dream come true #nhldraft

Williams finished his freshman season at MSU with a 21-12-2 record, a .923 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average in 35 games.

Williams will be one of four draft picks on next season’s MSU roster, joining junior Max Gaede (San Jose, third round, 2010), sophomore Teddy Blueger (Pittsburgh, second round, 2012) and freshman Zach Stepan (Nashville, fourth round, 2012). The last time the Mavericks had four NHL draft picks on their roster was in 2004-05 when they had David Backes, Travis Morin, Chad Brownlee and Jake Brenk.

Williams was the first player from the "new" WCHA (probably time to stop calling it that) to be drafted on Sunday. With the departure of the Big Ten and NCHC schools, the WCHA had just three players taken. The others were Michigan Tech's Dane Birks and Jacob Jackson, who were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively.

For a complete list of current and incoming college players drafted on Sunday, College Hockey Inc. has a list.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

News and notes

Catching up a bit ...

Taking some vacation time (I know, the blog looks like I've been off for awhile) but thought PucKato ought to catch up on a few things ...

The WCHA held meetings in Bemidji last week, and, while a ton of news wasn't made, the presidents and athletic directors were presented a potential league-wide broadcast package that would offer every game online on multi-platforms (computer, tablet, smartphone). Sounds like it would be a free app, and games would be streamed in HD. If this works out, it would be a big step in the right direction for the league. It's ideas like that that make WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod encouraged about the conference in what will be his 20th season and possibly final season in charge.

Alaska Anchorage ended 81 days of tumult this week when it finally hired a hockey coach. The Seawolves, who fired Dave Shyiak, went through two searches, and fired their athletic director over the last 2 1/2 months, went with veteran ECHL coach Matt Thomas to lead the way. There's definitely a lot of work to do with that program right now.

Thomas' hiring leaves the WCHA and college hockey with one coaching vacancy, and that's at Alabama Huntsville. A stunning, perplexing, irony-of-all-ironies report came out on Wednesday that former Denver coach George Gwozdecky was in Huntsville and is possibly a candidate for the job. Stay tuned!

Back in Mankato, women's hockey coach Eric Means hired a new assistant coach, former Concordia (Moorhead) women's coach Brett Bruininks. Bruininks led the Cobbers to three winning seasons, including 2012 when he was MIAC coach of the year and took the program to the NCAA tournament for the first time. The former Notre Dame and minor-league player replaces Jon Austin, whose contract was not renewed. Means recently received a two-year contract extension after his original four-year deal expired. He retained Shari (Vogt) Dickerman as the team's the other assistant.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stepan stories

In case you missed it ...

Here is my story on Minnesota State's latest recruit, Zach Stepan, who says the No. 1 reason he chose Minnesota State was to be close to his family (his mom recently moved to Rochester). But other factors included the chance to play with his "best buddy" Teddy Blueger, with whom he was on a line at Shattck-St. Mary's School, and his good impressions and credentials of MSU coach Mike Hastings.

Stepan says that Ohio State gave him his "full release," which means there were no restrictions on his landing place once he decommitted. "They gave me my full release on my papers," he said. "THey were nice enough to let me be closer to my family and let me play where I wanted to play. I really appreciated that. It was more of a family thing than anything else. I have nothing against (OSU's new coach Steve) Rohlik."

This wasn't in the story, but when I asked Mike Hastings if he's thought of pairing Stepan with Blueger (they were quite successful on a line together at Shattuck), the coach said he's made no promises. "I'm sure there will be a day when they knock on my door and say, 'Coach can we talk? ... But it's a two-way street."

Here is Minnesota State's release about Stepan. He will be part of a class of seven freshmen, which includes his Waterloo Black Hawks teammate Mike Huntebrinker.

Earlier this week, I wrote a column about Stepan's commitment and how that should create even more excitement about the next year's Minnesota State team. And the excitement ought to be there regardless of what conference the Mavericks are playing in or what their home schedule looks like. Too many people get hung up on MSU's opponent rather than the home team. And next year the home team's going to be pretty darn good.

This week Stepan was one of 40 forwards and defensemen selected for the U.S. World Junior Team evaluation camp, which will take place in August in Lake Placid, N.Y. If he makes that team, he will be the first MSU player to do so (Blueger was the first to play in the World Junior Championships, playing for Latvia last year). He'd also play against his Minnesota State teammates in an exhibition game in Mankato scheduled for Dec. 17. So that could be fun.

Stepan will have a busy summer. He's moving to Mankato at the end of the month and taking two classes as he begins offseason workouts. He'll attend the Nashville Predators' prospect camp in July and the U.S. World Junior camp in August.