Monday, September 30, 2013

Lehrke calls it a career

Minnesota State suffered a big loss this week when senior forward Zach Lehrke decided to hang up his skates due to a medical condition he has suffered throughout his life. The hope for Lehrke is that he won't have to suffer too much anymore.

Lehrke, who was the Mavericks' fourth-leading scorer the last two seasons and a key member of the power play, has tried to fight and play through his condition -- one that causes painful, seizing cramping in his legs and throughout his body -- but finally decided enough was enough.

While it seems like short notice, Lehrke and coach Mike Hastings both said Monday that Lehrke was having one of his best offseasons. In other words, he was planning to play. The Park Rapids native stayed in Mankato over the summer and got himself in great shape. Unfortunately, his condition often made life miserable for him, and he opted to end his playing career.

"I felt like this was the best decision for myself and my body," he said.

Read my story on Lehrke here.

Lehrke, who said his brother Tyler, a former Bemidji State player, also suffers from the mysterious condition, ("I don't know exactly what it is," he said.) didn't miss many games during his MSU career, however, the cramping did prevent him from finishing several games. He said he hopes to find a why to remain involved with the team during his senior season and plans to talk with Hastings and the other coaches about that in the future.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How about the women's team?

The Minnesota State women's team open the 2013-14 season Friday evening at Mankato's All Seasons Arena with the first of two games against seventh-ranked Mercyhurst. Friday's game is at 6 p.m., and Saturday's game is at 1 p.m. As part of MSU's Homecoming festivities, Saturday's game features free admission.

The Mavericks are beginning their fifth season under coach Eric Means. This year's senior class was his first full recruiting class (11 players at the time; there are 8 from that group remaining). That group includes Kari Lundberg, who is in her second season as captain. Read more about her and a team preview here.

As I did earlier with the MSU men's team, I broke down the Mavericks' roster. It features players from a variety of places, including three countries and nine states/provinces.

United States (14)
Minnesota (8): Savannah Quandt, Lauren Barnes, Sara Bustad, Katie Johnson, Natalie Stoltz, Kari Lundberg, Danielle Scholzen, Casey Hirsch

New York (2): Lauren Kirwan, Shelby Moteyunas

Ohio: Tracy McCann

North Dakota: Lindsay Nagel

Idaho: Carina Randazzo

Illinois: Erin Krichiver

Canada (9)
Ontario (5): Giuliana Pallotta, Nicole Germaine, Haley Northcote, Brianna Quade, Danielle Butters

Manitoba (3): Kelsie Scott, Elisabeth Hewett, Melissa Klippenstein

British Columbia: Kathleen Rogan

Germany (1)
Anna-Maria Fiegert

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Purple progress

Stopped by the Verizon Wireless Center on Thursday afternoon to check out the progress and snap a few pictures. Purple makes a rather dramatic difference from the old red and blue seats. The new boards are being installed as well. I can only assume they'll be flooding and painting the ice soon. For some short video clips on the progress, go here.
More than half the new seats are in place, and most of the new boards have been set up.
Pallets of Plexiglass are in the middle of the rink ready to go.
The Verizon Wireless Center's center sections (Blue Line Club) feature padded seats.
A dump truck gets ready to haul away a load of the civic center's old red chairs. 
Workers marked the floor-plan after getting the correct pieces of the new boards and glass in place. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Calling on the WCHA coaches

"They're on their feet in Pittsburgh" "Who let the dogs out?" and a few other highlights from today's WCHA coaches conference call ...

There seemed to be a lot of relief about the season actually starting and the new league getting underway 2 1/2 years after the big college hockey schism started. As you can read in my Thursday Free Press story, the coaches are happy together, even if they don't know each other's teams and players very well yet. Commissioner Bruce McLeod said now that a lot of the hard work of putting the conference back together again he "feels like a  young kid with a new toy."

The league unveiled a conference-wide media package to broadcast games through America ONE sports. The subscription-based package, called WCHA TV, will be available on a variety of platforms through multiple websites, including the WCHA's and team sites. Games will be broadcast in high-definition live as well as on-demand, and subscribers will have the ability to watch multiple games at the same time. Pricing ($125 for a season pass if purchased before Oct. 1) can be found on the link above.

On the officiating front, Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd said this year's points of emphasis include: holding and pinning along the boards (they are trying open up the skating aspect of the game), protection of the puck carrier once he gets rid of the puck (defenders are allowed to hit that player right away but if he starts to make a move first, interference will be called), faceoff interference and, of course, checking from behind. On the CFB, Shepherd said there will be "no gray area" and referees will be held accountable. The penalty will be a 5-minute major and a game misconduct. Last year, he said, 47 CFBs were called in WCHA games. "Our job isn't to call penalties; our job is to protect the players," Shepherd said.

Another note about the officials, Shepherd is getting guidance and assistance from former Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer, who has been an adviser to the WCHA for several years, as well as former CCHA supervisor Brent Rutherford.

There was lots of praise for the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., where the Final Five will be held next March. Underrated town with a bustling entertainment area with lots of good restaurants around the Van Andel Arena, they said.

A few comments on the transition to the new WCHA: Ferris State coach Bob Daniels called the move "seamless," thanks to the league staff. ... Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque said his program "never felt like a stepchild; we always felt like a good partner." ... Alabama Huntsville's Mike Corbett said there's a lot of excitement in Huntsville right now.

One player to watch who was left off all of the ballots was Michigan Tech's Blake Pietila. A junior forward who played on the U.S. World Junior Team and is a New Jersey Devils draft pick, Pietila has had a solid start to his career but got overshadowed a bit by Alex Petan (a preseason player of the year candidate) last year. Huskies coach Mel Person said Pietila is "ready for a breakout year."

MSU coach Mike Hastings said goalie Stephon Williams had offseason hip surgery and is 100 percent now. As good as Williams was last season as a freshman, the coach expects freshman Cole Huggins and senior Evan Karambelas to push him.

There will be more to come from the conference call on the individual WCHA teams and their outlooks for this season. Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

WCHA coaches pick Minnesota State

Minnesota State was pretty much the unanimous choice to win the WCHA in the Mankato Free Press Preseason Coaches Poll. Coaches couldn't vote for their own teams, and the Mavericks received all nine first-place votes possible.

Like the media poll released on Tuesday, MSU's Matt Leitner was named Preseason Player of the Year, Zach Stepan was named Rookie of the Year and Leitner, Zach Palmquist and Stephon Williams were named to the Preseason All-WCHA team.

Read reaction from MSU coach Mike Hastings here.

Here are the results of this year's poll:

Mankato Free Press WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Minnesota State (9 first-place votes), 81 points
2. Ferris State, 65
3. Michigan Tech (1), 64
4. Bowling Green, 58
5. Alaska, 54
6. Northern Michigan, 40
7. Bemidji State, 35
8. Lake Superior State, 25
9. Alaska Anchorage, 18
10. Alabama Huntsville, 10

Player of the Year: Matt Leitner, Jr., F, Minnesota State (5 votes); Alex Petan, So. F, Michigan Tech (2); Ryan Carpenter, Jr. F, Bowling Green (1); Cody Kunyk, Sr. F, Alaska (1); Blake Tatchell, So. F, Alaska Anchorage (1).

Rookie of the Year: Zach Stepan, F, Minnesota State (8 votes); Brent Baltus, F, Michigan Tech (1); Shane Sooth, F, Northern Michigan (1).

Preseason All-WCHA Team
Forwards: Matt Leitner, Jr., Minnesota State; Alex Petan, So., Michigan Tech; Ryan Carpenter, Jr.
Defensemen: Zach Palmquist, Jr., Minnesota State; Jason Binkley, Jr., Ferris State.
Goaltender: Stephon Williams, So., Minnesota State

Others receiving votes: Forwards--Blake Tatchell, So., Alaska Anchorage; Matt Bailey, Sr., Alaska Anchorage; Cody Kunyk, Sr., Alaska; Garrett Thompson, Sr., Ferris State. Defensemen--ColtonParayko, So., Alaska; Matt Prapavessis, Jr., Bemidji State; Mike Sullivan, Jr., Bowling Green; Ralfs Freibergs, So., Bowling Green; Scott Czarnowczan, Sr., Ferris State; Kevin Czuczman, Jr., Lake Superior State; C.J. Ludwig, Sr., Northern Michigan. Goaltender--Kevin Kapalka, Sr., Lake Superior State.

WCHA media like MSU

The Bemidji Pioneer's Jack Hittinger conducted this year's WCHA Preseason Media Poll, which is out a day before The Mankato Free Press' Coaches Poll (conducted by yours truly; check Wednesday's paper). The media like Minnesota State, picking the Mavericks to finish first and forwards Matt Leitner and Zach Stepan as the Preseason Player and Rookie of the Year, respectively. Leitner, defenseman Zach Palmquist and goaltender Stephon Williams were named to the Preseason All-WCHA team. Twenty-five media members participated in The Pioneer's poll. Here are the results:

Team (First-Place votes) Total Points
1. Minnesota State (22) 244
2. Ferris State (2) 218
3. Alaska 168
4. Bowling Green State 149
5. Michigan Tech 144
6. Northern Michigan 137
7. Lake Superior State 117
8. Bemidji State (1) 108
9. Alaska Anchorage 54
10. Alabama Huntsville 36

Preseason Player Of The Year
Matt Leitner, F, Minnesota State
Others receiving votes: Garrett Thompson, F, Ferris State; Stephon Williams, G, Minnesota State

Preseason Rookie Of The Year
Zach Stepan, F, Minnesota State
Others receiving votes: Thomas Scholl, G, Bowling Green; Brendan Harms, F, Bemidji State; Mathias Dahlstrom, G, Northern Michigan; Cliff Watson, D, Michigan Tech

Preseason All-WCHA Team
Matt Leitner, Minnesota State; Alex Petan, Michigan Tech; Ryan Carpenter, Bowling Green
Others receiving votes: Cody Kunyk, Alaska; Reed Sekel, Northern Michigan.
Jason Binkley, Ferris State; Zach Palmquist, D, Minnesota State
Others receiving votes: Stephan Vigier, Northern Michigan; Matt Prapavessis, Bemidji State; Ralfs Freibargs, Bowling Green; Colton Paraynko, Alaska; CJ Ludwig, Northern Michigan
Stephon Williams, Minnesota State
Others receiving votes: CJ Motte, Ferris State; Andrew Walsh, Bemidji State.

The following media members took part in the Bemidji Pioneer WCHA Preseason Media Poll: Justin Bradford, ESPN Radio Nashville; Bruce Cech, KCBF 820/UAF play-by-play; Dave Danis, Northern Michigan play-by-play; Erik Drygas, KCBF 820 AM/UAF color analyst; Drew Evans,; Casey Ford, ESPN Radio UP; Shane Frederick, Mankato Free Press; Kevin Gordon, Bowling Green Sentinel Tribune; Kurt Haider, KENI News/KTZN Sports/UAA hockey play-by-play; Dirk Hembroff, 93.5 FM/MTU play-by-play; Dom Henning, Ferris State Bulldog Sports Network/Ferris Television; Jack Hittinger, Bemidji Pioneer; Dan Kowalski, Ferris State Bulldog Sports Network/Ferris Television; Budd McLaughlin, hockey writer; Geof Morris,; Kevin Myers, Bowling Green Radio Sports Organization; Tim O’Donnell, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner; Rob Roos, Sault Evening News; Martin Slatger, Big Rapids Pioneer; Jerry Taylor, ABC10 UP; John Wagner, Toledo Blade; Matt Wellens, Marquette Daily Mining Journal; Kevin Wells, KTUU-Channel 2; Scott Williams, Lakeland Public Television/KBUN Sportsradio, Brandon Veale/Michael Bleach, Daily Mining Gazette

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mavericks ranked 14th (and other news)

One of the first official polls of the men's college hockey season, from USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine, was released on Monday, and Minnesota State was ranked 14th. That's lower than a couple other prognostications, including College Hockey News, which had the Mavericks 10th in its preseason top 10. College hockey's favorite ESPN personality John Buccigross had MSU seventh in a recent tweet:

Here is the USA Today/USA Hockey poll: 1. UMass-Lowell, 2. Miami, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Boston College, 5. Minnesota, 6. North Dakota, 7. Notre Dame, 8. Yale, 9. St. Cloud State, 10. Michigan, 11. Quinnipiac, 12. Union, 13. New Hampshire, 14. Minnesota State, 15. Providence.

WCHA members Ferris State and Michigan Tech were among the other teams receiving votes.

In other news ...

* Minnesota State got a commitment for 2015 over the weekend as River Falls, Wis., native and current Cedar Rapids Roughriders player Casey Jerry tweeted the news. A '95, Jerry is a 6-foot-1, 180-pound forward. ...

* Tyler Elbrecht, who signed with the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads this summer, is starting his pro career at Texas Stars (AHL) training camp.

* Staying with the Texas Stars, former Mav standout Travis Morin has carved out a nice career with that team, although he's still holding out hope to play for the big club in Dallas, with whom he's played just three games. He signed a two-year contract with Dallas this offseason.

* The San Jose Sharks on Sunday sent Eriah Hayes to Worcester (AHL) as they trimmed their training camp roster. Hayes played in Friday's preseason game for San Jose, getting 12:23 of ice time and finishing -1 with no shots.

* Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman is one of five finalists for the AD vacancy at Wisconsin-Green Bay. His interview was scheduled for Monday.

* Funny moment in Sunday night's episode of "Breaking Bad": A 1998 college hockey game between Wisconsin and Denver aired on a TV in a bar Walter White was having a drink in. Spoiler alert: If you're not caught up on your BrBa, you might not want to click the link. Kudos to the hockey nerds who took the time to track that down.

* The Mankato Free Press WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll will be released on Wednesday morning. Watch for it.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

MSU women picked 6th

The WCHA women's preseason poll came out today, and Minnesota State was picked to finish sixth. The Mavericks finished sixth last season as well. Here is the coaches' predicted order of finish:

1. Minnesota (7 first-place votes) 49 points
2. Wisconsin (1) 42
3. North Dakota 36
4. Ohio State 31
5. Minnesota Duluth 27
6. Minnesota State 17
7. (tie) Bemidji State 11
7. (tie) St. Cloud State 11

Minnesota sophomore forward Hannah Brandt was voted preseason player of the year, getting five votes. Wisconsin senior goalie Alex Rigsby received the other three votes.

Preseason rookie of the year went to Minnesota forward Dani Cameranesi with three votes. Wisconsin forward Sarah Nurse received two votes. One vote apiece went to Bemidji State goalie Brittni Mowat, North Dakota defenseman Halli Krzyaniak and Duluth forward Ashleigh Brykaliuk.

Saturday (Sept. 21) marks the official start of the women's season. Minnesota State will host Mercyhurst in a two-game nonconference series Sept. 27-28 at All Seasons Arena.

Coach Eric Means is beginning his fifth season with the Mavericks. Some key returning players include forwards Tracy McCann (15 goals, 26 points last year) and Kathleen Rogan (20 points) and goalie Danielle Butters (.913 save percentage). Many eyes also will be on freshman Savannah Quandt of Mankato East, who committed to MSU after her sophomore season.

Media daze

The new Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference held competing media days today with the former taking place at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and the latter at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The WCHA will continue to hold its preseason media event via conference call, and that will take place on Wednesday (Sept. 25).

During Thursday's events, the new leagues unveiled their preseason predictions. The WCHA will do the same next week. Here are the polls:

Big Ten
1. Wisconsin
2. Minnesota
3. Michigan
4. (tie) Michigan State
4. (tie) Ohio State
6. Penn State

Players to watch: Kyle Rau, F, Minnesota (unanimous pick); Alex Guptill, F, Michigan; Matt Berry, F, Michigan State; Ryan Dzingel, F, Ohio State; Max McCormick, F, Ohio State; Nic Kerdiles, F, Wisconsin; Michael Mersch, F, Wisconsin; Mark Zengerle, F, Wisconsin; Mac Bennett, D, Michigan; Mike Reilly, D, Minnesota; Jake McCabe, D, Wisconsin; Adam Wilcox, G, Minnesota; Jake Hildebrand, G, Michigan State.

1. Miami (7 first-place votes)
2. North Dakota (5)
3. St. Cloud State (4)
4. Denver
5. Western Michigan
6. Minnesota Duluth
7. Colorado College
8. Nebraska Omaha

Not that it matters much, but I was surprised that the NCHC didn't do any preseason player awards or, like the Big Ten, watch list. The WCHA will have a preseason player of the year and rookie pick as well as a preseason all-league team.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Hockey also released its preseason poll this week. Here it is:

Atlantic Hockey
1. Niagara (3)
2. (tie) Mercyhurst (4)
2. (tie) Air Force (2)
4. Canisius (3)
5. RIT
6. Connecticut
7. Robert Morris
8. Holy Cross
9. Bentley
10. Army
11. American International
12. Sacred Heart

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mavericks at NHL training camps

Kael Mouillierat, who played at MSU from 2006 to
2010,  is at Winnipeg Jets training camp this week
National Hockey League training camps opened this week with seven former Minnesota State players on preseason rosters.

That group includes NHL veterans David Backes (St. Louis Blues), Ryan Carter (New Jersey Devils) and Tim Jackman (Calgary Flames).

Three American Hockey League players are training with their teams' big clubs, including Travis Morin (Dallas Stars), Ben Youds (Boston Bruins) and Kael Mouillierat (Winnipeg Jets).

Youds and Mouillierat are camp invitees who are on AHL contracts. Youds, who spent time in the AHL and ECHL last season, signed with the Providence Bruins this offseason. Mouilierat is with the St. John's IceCaps (42 points in 50 games there last year). Morin, who played in his fourth full AHL season last year with the Texas Stars (44 points in 59 games) is on a two-way contract with Dallas.

For Mouillierat, it is his first NHL training camp. This week also marks the first camp for last season's MSU MVP Eriah Hayes (San Jose Sharks).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

MSU on the radar

With less than four weeks until the official start date of the men's college hockey season, preseason stories have started to trickle in. College Hockey News on Monday unveiled its preseason top 10 and picked Minnesota State 10th in the country.

The Mavericks' first opponent of the season, Providence (MSU will play there on Oct. 11-12), is ranked ninth. Massachusetts-Lowell is first.

Minnesota State is the only team from the new WCHA on the list. However, there are three former teams, including Wisconsin (3), North Dakota (5) and Minnesota (6).

Staying on the subject of the new WCHA, The Free Press will be handling this year's preseason coaches poll, which will be released at the end of the month. For 42 years, the Grand Forks Herald conducted the poll, but, with North Dakota out of the league, that paper won't be doing it anymore. Enter Puckato!

As for the media poll, which had been conducted by Minnesota Duluth radio voice Bruce Ciskie, it looks like Bemidji Pioneer scribe Jack Hittinger will be putting that out before the season begins.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

No more working title (and other news)

The January tournament featuring four of the five Division I hockey teams in Minnesota has a name. On Thursday, it was announced that the event will be called the North Star College Cup.

Read more about the name here.

The tournament, which people have been calling the Minnesota Cup as a working title since it was announced last year, will take place Jan. 24-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Minnesota State will play Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State will take on Minnesota on Friday, with the two winners and two losers facing off the next day.

The state's fifth team, Bemidji State will rotate into the brackets next season. The plan is to have Bemidji, Duluth, St. Cloud and MSU rotate through, with Minnesota staying on as a permanent, host participant.

The North Star College Cup was chosen from a group of eight finalists that included: the Herb Brooks Classic, the Hot Dish, the Minnesota College Hockey Classic, the Northern Lights Cup, the Star of the North Classic, the 10,000 Lakes Classic and the Taconite Cup.

A fan vote and consideration of the five coaches and administrators from the five schools involved led to the decision.

So what do you think?

My thoughts? Simply the North Star Cup would have been good; didn't need College in there. I didn't mind naming it after Brooks, and I'm sure fans would have called it the Herbie for short, which would have been cool. Hot Dish would have been a nice play off Boston's Beanpot. I liked it but know others didn't. I suggested on Twitter that they could have used the French translation of star of the north, since that's Minnesota's state motto: L'Etoile du Nord.

Preseason poll
In other news, I'll be taking over the WCHA preseason coaches poll, since, due to the conference changes, the Grand Forks Herald is out after doing it for 42 years. It likely will be called the Mankato Free Press WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll. It will have a predicted order of finish, as well as preseason player and rookie of the year and a preseason all-conference team. Ballots will be sent out to coaches next week, and the league hopes to release it at the end of the month.

Hobey hopefuls
Chris Dilks of the Western College Hockey blog has picked five WCHA players who might be Hobey Baker candidates by the end of the season. His list includes two Minnesota State players, junior forward Matt Leitner and sophomore goaltender Stephon Williams. Leitner is one of the nation's top returning scorers, while Williams was the WCHA's rookie of the year and first-team goaltender a year ago. Dilks also mentions Bowling Green forward Ryan Carpenter, Michigan Tech forward Alex Petan and Ferris State goalie C.J. Motte. Read more here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

MSU women to go outside

The University of Minnesota is getting this year's Hockey City Classic outdoor hockey event, and will host it on Jan. 17 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The headline event is a Big Ten men's game between the Gophers and Ohio State. But the opening act will be a women's game between Minnesota and Minnesota State.

You can read more from Minnesota State's release and Minnesota's release, but this should be a fun event. Too bad the Maverick men will be home that weekend playing Ferris State in what should be a big series in the new WCHA.

Last year, the first Hockey City Classic took place at Soldier Field in Chicago and featured men's games between Miami and Notre Dame followed by Minnesota and Wisconsin. Like last year, this year's event will feature youth, high school and adult hockey events, as well as private ice rentals, a public skate and more.