Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New hockey ops director begins

Kevin Anderson
There's been a new face around All Seasons Arena this week, as Kevin Anderson began work as Minnesota State's director of hockey operations.

An Anoka native, Anderson has served in a similar position at Rensselaer (N.Y.) for the last five seasons. He also spent three years fulfilling those duties at Notre Dame.

His MSU responsibilities will include video coordination, including breaking down game film and prep and pre-scouting of upcoming opponents; team travel coordination; community relations; and academic work.

"We're extremely pleased to have someone with Kevin's background and experience join our staff," Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said in a press release. "We also liked the fact that he's from the area and has worked at programs with strong college hockey cultures."

The St. Cloud State graduate's resume also includes work at SCSU as a volunteer assistant coach. Following his time at Notre Dame, Anderson spent time at Hamline University where he was a graduate student and men's hockey assistant coach. He also has nine years of experience with the Minnesota Hockey Camps as an on-ice and off-ice clinician and was a junior varsity coach at Prior Lake High School for one season.

Anderson replaces Garrett Lind, who spent three years in that position, including last season in a full-time capacity.

Who is MSU's No. 1 rival?

Minnesota State will open WCHA play on Friday night at Bemidji State. It's a matchup of the league's only two Minnesota-based teams. There had been five, of course, but the big college-hockey shakeup took Minnesota to the Big Ten and Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State to the NCHC.

Even before the great schism, you might have had a hard time answering the question of just who Minnesota State's biggest rival was, but now, it seems, Mavericks-Beavers might fit that bill.

It's hardly a bitter matchup right now. Elsewhere in the league, Alaska Anchorage and Alaska have had a strong nonconference battle as have Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech. Those rivalries ought to get ramped up even more now that their games carry more weight in terms of points for the league standings.

And who's to say that MSU is tops on Bemidji State's radar. Last week, the Beavers opened conference play at Alabama Huntsville. Those two programs squared off several times as College Hockey America foes before that conference dissolved, and before that, they played each other for four NCAA D2 titles.

As I wrote about in my Tuesday Free Press column, Minnseota State has been seeking a real rival since it made the leap to D1. In the old D2/D3 days, Bemidji State was one of those teams, as was St. Cloud State, a team the Mavericks have played more than any other.

Fans and Mankato hoped Minnesota would be that team, or North Dakota. And while the Mavericks have had some great games and weekends against those two teams, you never really felt like the rivalry was reciprocated. Duluth? St. Cloud? The former also was a well-established WCHA team, while the latter seemed to be seeking the same from the power teams, rather than rekindling the old days with MSU.

The WCHA made Alaska Anchorage its playing partner, the team locked into a four-game, home-and-home every year while the other teams rotated throughout the schedule. Meanwhile Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha created a trophy series, the Spirit of the Maverick, for their games both as nonleague and league members. The trophy often felt forced, though. It seemed more important to UNO, which hyped it up as former MSU coach Troy Jutting (now an Omaha assistant) often downplayed the hardware.

Geographically, Bemidji State makes the most sense right now — for teams, players and fans. The Mavericks will continue to play Minnesota in nonconfernece games, and there's going to be the North Star College Cup that pits four of the state's five teams against each other each January. MSU coach Mike Hastings said he'd like to get Omaha back on the regular schedule and continue the trophy series after taking this year off. And it would only make sense for MSU to keep playing some of their old league foes in order to cut back on the crazy travel and expense of the new WCHA.

But who knows? Perhaps something will spark a different and new rivalry. Bowling Green? Ferris State? Michigan Tech?

Who do you think the Mavericks' main rival is?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday news and notes

That early bye week has thrown the blog for a loop. Time to get back on track ...

* Minnesota State remained ranked at No. 16 in this week's USCHO poll following its idle weekend and continued to receive votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top 15. The Mavericks return to play this weekend when they open their WCHA schedule at Bemidji State.

* Four teams began WCHA play last weekend, including the Beavers. Bemidji State swept Alabama-Huntsville on the road, 6-1 and 1-0, and Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan split their home-and-home series with each winning in front of its home crowd. NMU won Friday 2-0, and Michigan Tech won Saturday 4-1.

* Did a quick count to see how the new WCHA teams have fared so far in nonconference play. By my quick count, the league is 3-4-3 against the NCHC, 1-4-0 against the Big Ten, 0-6-0 against Hockey East, 6-4-2 against the ECAC and 8-0-1 against Atlantic Hockey. There's some good and bad mixed in there.

* Tyler Pitlick made his NHL debut a week ago and has since scored his first NHL goal. The Oilers were scheduled to play late Tuesday night. Former Mavericks standout Travis Morin was called up by the Dallas Stars over the weekend but was a scratch in both of the Stars' games since, including Tuesday.

* An update on the other former Mavs in the NHL, you say? OK. Going into Tuesday's games, David Backes has 6 goals and 5 assists and 30 PIMs in nine games for the Blues; Ryan Carter has no points and a lone penalty in eight games for the Devils; and Tim Jackman has no points and 19 PIMs in four games for the Flames.

* Spent some time at the Gustavus Adolphus rink on Tuesday to do some season previews on their men's and women's teams (see Thursday's Free Press for those). Always a nice time there in St. Peter. I'll be checking back on the Mavericks on Wednesday.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lunch chat

Join Shane Frederick for some Minnesota State and college hockey chat (or anything else you want to talk about), starting at 12:30 p.m. (CDT) Thursday. The chat will last about an hour.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hockey music

My friend and colleague Robb Murray has started a cool feature on his blog in which he invites folks to submit music playlists. I got the chance this week and decided to make mine about the music played at the Verizon Wireless Center during Minnesota State hockey games.

After covering the Mavericks for more than a dozen years, a lot of the music has grown stale, and I think it's time to mix in some fresh licks. I love that the pep band is back, but the pumped-in tunes aren't going away anytime soon.

Take a look at the my post and see what you think then come back here and post your own ideas.

You want answers?!?!

Join me at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday right here on the blog for a live chat about Minnesota State hockey, the WCHA, Mankato sports or anything else you feel like talking about. The chat will be in our ScribbleLive format, just like we do during MSU hockey games. Talk to you then!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pitlick to make NHL debut

The Edmonton Oilers on Monday called up former Minnesota State forward Tyler Pitlick, and he's expected to be in the lineup Tuesday night in Montreal.

Pitlick played for the Mavericks in 2009-10 and had a promising freshman season, scoring 11 goals and eight assists. The first pick of the second round of the 2010 draft, MSU hoped to keep him around for another season, but school wasn't his thing, and he opted to leave to play major junior before turning pro in 2011. He would have been a senior last season. Pitlick spent two full seasons with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons and seven games there this season before getting the call-up.

From the Oilers' website:
"Tyler is, I think, figuring it out," said Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish. "It does take time. I think, normally between the second and third year, in terms of development, you start to see guys figure out what they need to do to get a foot in the door at the NHL level. We felt Tyler did that at training camp. He added a level of consistency that he previously hadn't had and went down and sustained that down in the American Hockey League and we're excited to give him the opportunity."
Pitlick will become the eighth former Maverick to skate in the NHL, joining current players David Backes, Tim Jackman and Ryan Carter, as well as Grant Stevenson, Steve Wagner, Jon Kalinski and Travis Morin (who we could see again in the NHL someday).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mavs get ranking bump

After their sweep of UConn over the weekend, the Mavericks started moving back up the rankings after slipping to 18th a week earlier. Minnesota State moved up to No. 16 in the latest USCHO poll.

For the first time this season the Mavs were joined in the top 20 by another WCHA team. The 4-0-0 Lake Superior State Lakers debuted at No. 15. LSSU is one of just five unbeaten, untied teams in the country, along with No. 1 Minnesota, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 8 Providence and No. 20 Northeastern.

The Mavericks remained among the teams receiving votes in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top 15.

Minnesota State is idle this week and will play Nov. 1-2 at Bemidji State.

Several WCHA teams will take the weekend off, but league play begins with Bemidji State at Alabama Huntsville and Michigan Tech playing a home and home with Northern Michigan. Alaska will host a nonconference series against Mercyhurst.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mavericks 6, Huskies 1

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. O brother, where art thou: Senior defenseman Josh Nelson missed Saturday night's game with a lower-body injury, but his kid brother, Casey, stepped right in. The freshman had a goal and an assist in the romp and looked as calm, cool and collected as his big bro. "You know, he's been thrown into the deep end with ankle weights," MSU coach Mike Hastings said of Casey. "He runs one of our power plays, he's playing top-four minutes, and he's asked to kill penalties. He's handled it real well." Casey Nelson finished the game +4, as did his D partner Zach Palmquist.

2. Finally, some scoring: After scoring just three goals in their first three games, the Mavericks exploded for six in their fourth. Six different players scored: Nelson, Jean-Paul LaFontaine (who came flying out of Hastings' doghouse -- he was benched for a long stretch of the second period on Friday -- with a beautiful goal to open the scoring), Bryce Gervais, Dylan Margonari, Chase Grant and Jordan Nelson. Matt Leitner had two assists, and the Mavericks outshot the Huskies 48-17.

3. Just play: With Josh Nelson out of the lineup, redshirt sophomore Mat Knoll took his spot on defense as well as on one of the power plays. Knoll played as a forward on Friday night. Taking Knoll's place up front? Not one of the forward scratches (Taylor Herndon and Michael Huntebrinker) but another defenseman, Sean Flanagan. Flanagan saw his first college action and had an assist on the game's final goal. Big deal to move a D up front? "The way I look at it, they're hockey players," Hastings said. As for Flanagan, Hastings said, "He deserved an opportunity to play tonight because of his work ethic, his attitude, his discipline and his abilities. You have to reward that. He earned the right to play tonight."

Around the WCHA: Lake Superior 3, Union 2 ... Bowling Green 7, Colgate 0 ... Ferris State 5, St. Lawrence 3 ... Northern Michigan 6, Nebraska Omaha 3. ... Minnesota State 5, Bemidji State 1 ... Alaska Anchorage 3, Denver 2 (OT) ... Western Michigan at Alaska (late)

MSU vs. UConn — Game 2 live blog

Lines are posted below the live blog. Changes for MSU include senior defenseman Josh Nelson sitting out, presumably with an injury. Mat Knoll moves to his spot. Freshman D Sean Flanagan will make his debut tonight but is on the fourth forward line. ...

26-Margonari      23-Blueger      22-McInnis
21-Grant      18-Leitner      9-Gervais
24-Knowles     12-LaFontaine      25-Stepan
11-Flanagan      16-Nelson      8-Gaede

27-Stern      10-Knoll
28-Jutzi      5-Foguth
7-Palmquist      6-Nelson


Scratches: Buchanan, Nelson, Herndon, Huntebrinker

10-Skibba      19-Sims      16-Latta
27-Sharib      9-Pauly      18-Gerling
17-Tyson      15-Smith      28-Ferriss
12-Bouchard     21-Gaffney      13-Norris

4-Huson     33-Cooke
3-Segalla      5-Poe
25-Bond      26-Tuohy


Friday, October 18, 2013

Mavericks 2, Huskies 1

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. On the rebound: The Mavericks bounced back from last weekend's disappointing series at Providence to eke out a victory against UConn. The score didn't reflect just how much MSU controlled play. They outshot the Huskies 31-17 and didn't allow goalie Stephon Williams to be bothered by too many tricky shots. The Mavericks stayed out of the penalty box (just two trips compared to last week's parade) and got their own power play moving a bit (one goal on three chances). UConn goalie Matt Grogan was quite good, stopping 29 shots.

2. Top line shines: Minnesota State's top line was pretty dominant at both ends of the ice. Teddy Blueger and Dylan Margonari had goals, and Johnny McInnis assisted on both plays. McInnis stepped up his game and logged a lot of late minutes after UConn pulled Grogan for an extra attacker. "He deserved that at the end of the game," coach Mike Hastings said. "That's what a leader is supposed to do, and he did that. We need those players to win games, and our upperclassmen did their job tonight." Matt Leitner also had an assist and earned some praise from coach Mike Hastings for his defensive effort. Defenseman Jon Jutzi saw significant ice time, along with his playing partner freshman Carter Foguth.

3. Good crowd: The attendance was announced at 3,829, and it was a pretty good crowd. There still seemed to be too many empty seats, although they look much better in purple than in red and blue. The student section was pretty much packed, and the kids arrived early. The players took note of that, McInnis said, adding that it was one of the best student crowds he's seen in his MSU career. Speaking as a fan of college sports, I hope the students continue coming to the rink.

Deep thought: The MSU pep band was moved back to the student section this year, which seems like an odd choice as they try to fill that section with a rowdy crowd. Not sure where the best spot is for them. The band sounded good again, but I have one complaint: Take away the microphones. All they do is pick up the instruments playing directly into them, and that's what gets broadcast over the arena's sound system. The band should be able to make enough noise without any amplification.

Around the WCHA: Lake Superior State 6, Union 5 (OT) ... Bowling Green 1, Clarkson 1 (OT) ... St. Lawrence 3, Ferris State 2 ... Nebraska Omaha 2, Northern Michigan 1 ... Notre Dame 3, Michigan Tech 2 ... Minnesota 6, Bemidji State 3 ... Western Michigan 6, Alaska Anchorage 2 ... Alaska 3, Denver 2

Minnesota State vs. UConn live blog

Tonight's lines and scratches will be posted below the live chat window when available.

26-Margonari      23-Blueger      22-McInnis
21-Grant      18-Leitner      9-Gervais
25-Stepan    16-Jor. Nelson     8-Gaede
24-Knowles      12-LaFontaine      10-Knoll

7-Palmquist      6-C. Nelson
28-Jutzi      5-Foguth
27-Stern      2-Jos. Nelson


Scratches: Buchanan, Flanagan, Herndon, Huntebrinker

10-Skibba      19-Sims      28-Ferriss
27-Sharib      9-Pauly      18-Gerling
17-Tyson      21-Gaffney      12-Bouchard
13-Norris      15-Smith      11-Birmingham

4-Huson      3-Cooke
3-Segalla      5-Poe
25-Bond      26-Tuohy


Referees: Jared Moen, Derek Shepherd. Linesmen: Rick Nelson, Neil Missling

Friday morning skate

It's gameday in Mankato, and Minnesota State will open its regular-season home schedule again Connecticut. For the 18th-ranked Mavericks, they need to find a way to score a few goals, something they were unable to do last weekend at Providence.

The Mavericks are getting healthier, too. Dylan Margonari, who sat out last Saturday, missed some practice time this week, as did Chase Grant and Jon Jutzi. All three practiced on Thursday and are available for tonight.

Staying on the subject of health, did you know goalie Stephon Williams played with a torn labrum in his hip last year? He sure kept that quiet. He had surgery to repair the injury in the offseason and said he feels 100 percent at the start of his sophomore year.

UConn, meanwhile, is playing its first games of the season and is starting a new era. Mike Cavanaugh takes over as head coach after several seasons at Boston College. This will be the Huskies' final season in Atlantic Hockey. They will move to Hockey East next year and are in the process of becoming fully funded with the NCAA limit of 18 scholarships.

Going around the WCHA ...

Minnesota at Bemidji State: The Beavers had a solid showing on opening weekend with a close loss and tie at St. Cloud State. Tougher task this weekend, though, with the Gophers coming to town.

Colgate at Bowling Green: The Falcons are fresh off a come-from-behind victory over Ohio State on Tuesday and did it without standout Ryan Carpenter, who underwent surgery on his finger but could return next month.

Nebraska Omaha at Northern Michigan: The Wildcats found out last weekend at Wisconsin that they weren't as deep up front as they thought they were, so coach Walt Kyle has been tinkering with his lines.

Michigan Tech at Notre Dame (Friday-Sunday): The Huskies have one of the WCHA's toughest early season schedules as well as one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country. That slate of games includes this weekend's games against the fourth-ranked Irish.

Alaska Anchorage and Alaska in Alaska Goal Rush (with Western Michigan and Denver): The Seawolves and the Nanooks each get to face an old conference foe this weekend in Fairbanks. Anchorage will try to keep its good start going after opening 2-0. The Nanooks won their own tournament a year ago and hope to do that again this time around.

Meanwhile, Ferris State opens its home schedule with a series against St. Lawrence, while Lake Superior hits the road for Union.

On USCHO today, Marquette's Matt Wellens and I make our weekend picks. You can read our weekly WCHA notebook here.

College Hockey News put together its WCHA preview and also has a Q&A with new Anchorage coach Matt Thomas, who received much attention this week by getting his team halfway to last year's win total.

Check back on the blog later for tonight's lines, a pregame blog and a live chat during tonight's game.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mavericks drop in the polls

Minnesota State, ranked 11th in the preseason polls, dropped down after losing their first two games of the season at Providence.

The Mavericks fell to No. 18 in the U.S. College Hockey Online top 20 and out of the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top 15 (receiving votes, though.)

Miami moved to No. 1 in both polls, and Providence jumped up to No. 10 after its sweep of MSU. Here's a look at the rankings:

1. Miami (40 first-place votes)
2. Wisconsin (5)
3. Minnesota (2)
4. Notre Dame
5. Michigan
6. North Dakota
7. t-Boston College
7. t-Yale (3)
9. UMass-Lowell
10. Providence
11. St. Cloud State
12. Denver
13. New Hampshire
14. Quinnipiac
15. Boston University
16. Union
17. Rensselaer
18. Minnesota State
19. Cornell
20. Minnesota Duluth
Others receiving votes: St. Lawrence, Alaska Anchorage, Ferris State, Clarkson, Western Michigan, Colorado College, Harvard, Northeastern, Lake Superior, Niagara, Colgate, Brown, Nebraska Omaha, Sacred Heart, Michigan Tech, Bowling Green, Dartmouth, Ohio State, Air Force, Bentley, Canisius, Michigan State.

1. Miami (28 first-place votes)
2. Wisconsin (3)
3. Minnesota
4. Notre Dame
5. Michigan
6. t-Boston College
6. t-Yale (3)
8. North Dakota
9. UMass-Lowell
10. Providence
11. St. Cloud State
12. Denver
13. New Hampshire
14. Quinnipiac
15. Union
Others receiving votes: Boston University, Rensselaer, Minnesota State, Cornell, Minnesota Duluth, Colorado College, Brown, St. Lawrence

Sunday, October 13, 2013

East vs. West vs. refs

Last January, Cornell coach Mike Schafer blasted the WCHA referees after a 2-1 loss at Denver, calling their performance “disgusting” and ending his rant with, “I won’t come back to the WCHA.”

On Saturday night, after losing 3-0 in a game that included a combined 25 penalties for 80 minutes, Minnesota State’s Mike Hastings had a message for Schafer (or to that night's refs).

“One thing, Mike Schaffer, I want to let you know, we’re even now,” he said, “because a team from out west came out here and … I saw you last year and it sounded like you got it pretty bad. And I’m going to tell you that I believe east and west are even now.”

Providence plays in Hockey East, not Cornell’s ECAC, but this was hardly the first time a coach has expressed frustration with the way the game is called conference to conference, region to region.

“If you talk to (Providence coach) Nate (Leaman), Nate was probably a little upset at the officiating in the first period. And from the second period on it was a bit of gong show from that standpoint,” Hastings said in a postgame interview posted online by MSU.

The Mavericks failed to convert on five first-period power plays and finished 0 for 10 (although two came in the game’s final minute). The Friars were 1 for 10, scoring on a 5-on-3 after MSU’s Bryce Gervais got 5 and a game for contact to the head. MSU received two majors/game misconducts and another 10-minute misconduct.

“I want to give credit to Providence, Nate Leaman,” Hastings said. “I think they’ve got a heck of a hockey team. I think that staff does a great job. And it’s too bad that two teams -- one from the west, one from the east -- can’t go out without having, I believe it was, 18 power plays throughout the game. 

"I thought that was a bit ridiculous. But, again, we gotta go back and get better and focus on what we can control because we couldn’t control those two individuals tonight.”

The Mavericks had 14 penalties for 58 minutes on Saturday and 9 for 58 on Friday. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mavericks swept at Providence

The Mavericks fell back to Earth after being lifted up in the preseason. It's amazing how quickly preseason predictions get tossed by the wayside after the first weekend of the season.

Minnesota State lost 3-0 on Saturday as Providence completed the series sweep. One goal on the weekend and lots and lots of penalty minutes (58 on Saturday, including two majors/game misconducts and a 10-minute misconduct) do not an 11th-ranked team make.

Talking to coach Mike Hastings after the game, he said the Mavericks competed better than they did in the opener and couldn't solve All-American goaltender Jon Gillies early when they had a few power plays of their own. MSU put 20 shots on goal in the first period and 38 for the game and game up empty.

Providence scored three times in the second period, including its first goal just 17 seconds in.

"We need to get better this week," Hastings said. "We need to be a bit more selfless. ... We need to get to work."

Should be an interesting week as the Mavericks gear up for their home opener against UConn.

Read the box score here.

Mavericks fall to Friars

From the sound of things, Minnesota State had a heck of a start on Friday night. The Mavericks dominated play for 10-plus minutes, grabbed a 1-0 lead and held that lead through one period of play. Even after two period, when they found themselves down just 2-1, things didn't seem that bad.

But the wheels came off early in the third period, and Providence ran away with a 5-1 season-opening win.

The Friars scored three goals in less than 9 minutes to start the final period, and the Mavericks took just as many penalties in that stretch.

Chatting with Mike Hastings on the phone after the game, he said some of MSU's old habits reared their ugly head. Indeed, nine penalties (two each by Chase Grant, Brett Stern and Max Gaede) and a bit of a drubbing in the shot category did them in in the end. Stephon Williams, who got the hook early in the third period, seemed to be hung out to dry more than once, judging by the radio call.*

Bryce Gervais scored the Mavericks' lone goal, getting an assist from Jon Jutzi. The Mavericks finished 0 for 6 on the power play.

John Gilmour had two goals and an assist for the Friars, and Mark Jankowski scored twice. You can read the Providence Journal's account here.

* Did you catch the radio call? With Mike Sullivan's voice out of commission right now, MSU communications guy Paul Allan, who usually does color commentary with Sully on the road, went solo with the play by play. I won't go so far as to say this is a Lou Gehrig-Wally Pipp situation, but PA held his own calling the game. Kudos to him.

There were a couple interesting scores around college hockey on opening night. Sacred Heart upset top-ranked UMass-Lowell, and Bentley went to Omaha and shocked UNO. The new WCHA went 3-5-1 with Alaska beating Air Force, Lake Superior State topping Robert Morris and Alaska Anchorage defeating Quinnipiac.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday morning skate

The college hockey season is here, and it feels a little strange to get going. For one thing, the Friday Morning Skate involves seeking out coverage from the new-look WCHA. Fortunately for the league, there continue to be good folks covering college hockey, whether it's in Alaska, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio or Alabama.

Minnesota State begins the season at Providence in a matchup of ranked teams. The Mavericks swept the Friars last season in Mankato, but the visitors that weekend didn't have their All-American goalie with them. Jon Gillies is back, and, on paper, it should be quite a battle between him and MSU's Stephon Williams, two of the top freshmen in the country a season ago. Check out more in The Free Press' gameday preview.

For Mavericks captain Johnny McInnis, the trip means rare games close to his Boston home. McInnis has carved out his own path when it comes to his hockey career, and that may be a reason he's wearing the "C". "It's about our team going out there and getting two wins, not about a homecoming for me," McInnis said. "That's a little extra incentive for me, but the main goal is to get two wins."

Besides Gillies, Providence returns nine of its top 10 scorers from a year ago. That includes junior forward Ross Mauermann, a Wisconsin native who basically recruited himself to that team. The Friars will be opening their recently renovated Schneider Area tonight; perhaps the Mavericks will get some more ideas for their Verizon Wireless Center wish list.

Going around the WCHA ...

Bowling Green at Union: It's a tough start to the season for the Falcons, who will be without Ryan Carpenter (broken finger) to start the season. The injury happened in practice this week. Bowling Green has a very busy week, as they'll play Ohio State on Tuesday, too.

Bemidji State at St. Cloud State: The Beavers have a difficult schedule to start the season, beginning with this trip to see their former WCHA rivals. Bemijdi's trying to bounce back from a tough season but will have to do so with one of coach Tom Serratore's youngest teams.

Michigan Tech at Minnesota Duluth: Another matchup of former WCHA foes takes place in Duluth, and for the Huskies, the series kicks off a season full of optimism.

Northern Michigan at Wisconsin: The Wildcats are back in the WCHA but the Badgers are out. They'll meet in Madison this weekend, with Wisconsin ranked third in the country, but NMU has had success in the state of Wisconsin in recent years.

Alaska/Alaska Anchorage vs. Air Force/Quinnipiac at Kendall Hockey Classic: Anchorage is the host school for this tournament, and the Seawolves are hoping that it's the beginning of a major rebuilding project. The Fairbanks News-Miner breaks down the field.

In other matchups, Lake Superior State hosts Robert Morris and Alabama Huntsville is at Northeastern (links to come, I hope).

Meantime, check out USCHO's WCHA preview and the individual team previews, including Minnesota State.

Finally, I can't ignore my old press-box pals from the old WCHA. I'll continue to follow them and their coverage and post links to interesting stories. Brad Schlossman from the Grand Forks Herald has a good piece today on the state of college hockey recruiting.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The building of a team

In today's Free Press column, I wrote about how this year's freshman class is the first full recruiting class for Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings. The continuity of the program, thanks to keeping assistant coaches Darren Blue and Todd Knott and Hastings' blind trust (a term he used on Sunday night) in them has, perhaps, made it easy to forget about that. Also, it's hard to ignore the impact Hastings made on the veteran players and rookies in his first season with the program.

But now, with Zach Stepan, Michael Huntebrinker, Jordan Nelson, Casey Nelson, Carter Foguth, Sean Flanagan and Cole Huggins on the roster, we're getting a closer look at how Hastings is building his team here.

One can also look ahead to the recruits committed for next season and beyond.

On Monday night, the Penticton Vees of the BCHL announced that their leading scorer, Max Coatta, has committed to Minnesota State for 2015. Coatta is a Minnetonka High School graduate and holds that program's career records for goals (89), assists (101) and points (190) after playing four seasons on the varsity. As a senior he led the Skippers with 59 points in 27 games.

"I felt really comfortable with coach Hastings and his staff," Coatta said in the Vees' press release. They're coming off a great season, and they've recruited well. It's exciting to be going to a program that's on the rise."

Said Vees coach/GM Fred Harbison: "In a short period of time Max has become a go-to guy in all situations. His maturity and approach matched with his offensive instincts make him a dynamic player who will have continued success at both the Junior A and NCAA level."

As for 2014, the Mavericks appear to have done well. Among the players expected to sign in November are Sioux Falls Stampede players Zeb Knutson and C.J. Franklin, who are off to great starts. Knutson has nine points in five games, which ranks second in the USHL, and Franklin is sixth with eight points in five games. Ryan Schwalbe, a Shattuck graduate who played in the BCHL last year is with Youngstown of the USHL now. Steen Cooper of Cowichan Valley of the BCHL, is off to a good start with nine points in 12 games.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mavericks 7, Pronghorns 1 (exhibition)

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. 1A and 1B: The No. 1 line on the Mavericks' chart included center Matt Leitner with wings Zach Stepan and Bryce Gervais. Hard to argue with that. The No. 2 line was center Teddy Blueger with wings Dylan Margonari and Johnny McInnis. Talk about a one-two combination. The Blueger line was dazzling on Sunday, with Blueger getting four points (1G, 3A), McInnis getting three (1G, 2A) and Margonari scoring a beautiful breakaway goal, showing off some blazing speed after catching Blueger's perfect pass. "I feel like, with Margs and Johnny, I know where we're going to be and where we expect to be in certain situations," Blueger said.

2. First day on the job: The freshmen "weren't shy," making an immediate impact, coach Mike Hastings said. Stepan had a goal and an assist. Michael Huntebrinker also had a goal, and Jordan Nelson had an assist. Huntebrinker and Nelson, playing on what was a rock-solid fourth line with sophomore Taylor Herndon, showed off some physical play, too. "They don't mind playing in traffic," Hastings said. On defense, Carter Foguth, Casey Nelson and Sean Flanagan all got a shot, and it will be interesting to see which six defensemen get to play at Providence. Rookie goalie Cole Huggins played the third period and stopped all four shots he saw.

3. Welcome back: Remember Mat Knoll? He was the Mavericks' most improved player in 2011-12 as a freshman. But last year he had to miss the season -- he didn't even get practice -- after undergoing eye surgery. The defenseman is back this year, however, and looked poised, especially on the power play early on. He assisted on Blueger's power-play goal that made it 3-1 late in the first period. Throw his name in the mix of defensemen, too. Competition will make that group better, that's for sure.

Deep thought: There a couple of quotes in my game story, but the Mavericks are raving about the new-look Verizon Wireless Center. The purple seats make it look like home, and, according to McInnis, the ice is fantastic compared to years past.

Around the WCHA: Colgate 1, Ferris State 0 ... Northern Michigan 3, Laurentian 2 (ex.) ... USA U18 Team 3, Lake Superior State 2 (ex.)

MSU vs. Lethbridge - live blog

Minnesota State's lines can be found below the live chat. ... Since it's an exhibition, MSU is allowed to dress all available players. ... F Chase Grant is out with an upper-body injury. ...

25-Stepan     18-Leitner     9-Gervais
26-Margonari     23-Blueger     22-McInnis
24-Knowles     12-LaFontaine     8-Gaede
14-Herndon     16-Jor. Nelson     17-Huntebrinker

2-Jos. Nelson      7-Palmquist
28-Jutzi     5-Foguth
27-Stern     6-C. Nelson
11-Flanagan     4-Buchanan


Exhibition gameday

The Mavericks skated on the new ice at the Verizon Wireless Center for the first time on Saturday, and there seemed to be some excitement about the new-look arena. The whole place seemed brighter, fresher, cleaner.

The civic center will get a test drive Sunday evening when Minnesota State plays Lethbridge in an exhibition game. Lethbridge played Minnesota on Saturday night and lost 5-1 in a game that included 105 minutes worth of penalties, including five majors/misconducts for facemasking, slashing and, yes, spearing.

I'll be covering the MSU game tonight and plan on getting a live chat going, so check back on the blog later this afternoon for that coverage.

In the meantime, check out today's season-preview story and outlook in The Free Press.

Several WCHA teams were/are in exhibition action this weekend, but one team, Ferris State, started the regular season already. The Bulldogs defeated Colgate 7-4. Game 2 of that series is today.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Almost here

Saturday marks the official start date of the college hockey season, and Minnesota State will have its first full practices after a couple of weeks of limited preseason workouts. On Sunday, the puck drops already with the Mavericks playing Lethbridge in an exhibition game at the refurbished Verizon Wireless Center (5 p.m.). The upgrades look fantastic so far, and people seem to be very excited about those purple seats. We'll soon find out how excited they are about the hockey team, which enters 2013-14 with more hype than it's normally used to this time of year. I'll be wrapping up my preview(s) for Sunday's Free Press today, so look for those stories on your doorstep soon. See you at the rink later that day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Burkemper departs

On Wednesday, J.P. Burkemper, an oft-injured forward for the Mavericks, tweeted that he was "Leaving Mankato a little earlier than planned. Tough to say goodbye to a place with so many great friends and memories made. Cali tomorrow". Contacting him through Twitter, the senior said he's decided to move to California and turn pro. He said he has plans to try out for the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL.

Burkemper, 22, played in just three games last season before deciding to have surgery for a hip problem midway through the season. Injuries also limited him to 17 games as a sophomore. He played in 31 games as a freshman. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder showed promise that season with his skating ability and his three goals and nine points.

I'm not sure what plans were in place for Burkemper this season, but, healthy, he certainly would have provided good depth up front. The Mavericks might have the most talented group of forwards in the WCHA, possibly in the country, but they currently have 13 forwards after the departures of Burkemper and Zach Lehrke, who announced earlier this week that he was done with hockey due to a medical condition.

I'm curious to see how the lines will look when practice starts on Saturday and the Mavericks play in their exhibition game on Sunday evening. One thing's for certain: the freshmen will play. In a teaser to my Sunday preview story for the Freep, coach Mike Hastings said the rookies (up front, Zach Stepan, Mike Huntebrinker, Jordan Nelson) will be called on to make an impact just as last year's (Teddy Blueger, Bryce Gervais, Dylan Margonari, Brett Knowles, Taylor Herndon) did.

Over the summer, reserve forward Charlie Thauwald, who played in just one game last season, transferred to Division III Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Last Christmas, forward Corey Leivermann, who had played in just two games over the first half of the year, transferred to Gustavus Adolphus.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

More accolades

Minnesota State has a lot to live up to this season. We're still three days before the official start of the season, and more praise has been heaped upon the Mavericks.

U.S. College Hockey Online named MSU junior center Matt Leitner one of its 10 forwards to watch this season. Quoting an opposing coach, USCHO wrote: "Matt Leitner is a very savvy 5 on 5 and on the power play. He is very patient with the puck and is the type of player who is very dangerous on the rush and making plays in the offensive zone. He has been a top scorer in the USHL as well as in the WCHA. He has natural offensive ability."

Other WCHA players on USCHO's 10 to Watch lists include: Bowling Green forward Ryan Carpenter, Ferris State defenseman Jason Binkley, Ferris State goalie C.J. Motte and, as I wrote earlier, MSU goalie Stephon Williams.

Meanwhile, College Hockey News named Leitner a second-team forward in its Preseason All-CHN Teams.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

McInnis gets a capital C

Johnny McInnis
Small C on the back of the jersey. Big C on the front.

Minnesota State senior forward Johnny McInnis will be the team's captain this season, the university announced on Tuesday night. Two defensemen, senior Josh Nelson and junior Brett Stern will be the team's alternate captains.

McInnis, the Boston native, has played in 92 career games. He has compiled 22 goals -- eight game-winners, which ranks 11th on MSU's all-time list -- and 19 assists for 41 points.

"At this point, I'm excited about the way Johnny McInnis is going," coach Mike Hastings said on Tuesday morning, hours before he announced his leadership. "I've seen a maturity out of him ... off and on the ice."

More from Hastings: "You look at the step (last season's captain) Eriah Hayes took from his junior to senior year. We're going to need Johnny McInnis to take that step as a leader. He was dominant at times last year."

Nelson, a Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., native was named MSU's Unsung Hero Award winner last year and has totaled six goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 84 career games.

Stern, a Lino Lakes native, has two goals and seven assists for nine points in 56 career games with the Mavericks.

More preseason hype

The first U.S. College Hockey Online poll of the season was released on Monday, and Minnesota State came in tied for 11th in the nation by the preseason rankers. The Mavericks are tied with Michigan in that spot; they finished 13th in the poll following the Frozen Four last April. Minnesota State is the only WCHA team in the top 20, however, Ferris State, Michigan Tech, Alaska and Bowling Green did receive votes. Here is the poll (WCHA teams in bold):

1. UMass-Lowell (19 first-place votes), 844 points
2. Miami (14), 837
3. Wisconsin (2), 740
4. Boston College, 728
5. Minnesota (1), 660
6. Yale (8), 644
7. North Dakota, 636
8. Notre Dame, 575
9. St. Cloud state, 513
10. Quinnipiac, 419
11. t-Michigan, 417
11. t-Minnesota State, 417
13. New Hampshire, 354
14. Providence, 271
15. Rensselaer, 266
16. Union, 258
17. Denver, 241
18. Western Michigan, 117
19. Boston University, 113
20. Niagara, 94
Others receiving votes: Cornell 80, Ferris State 67, Harvard 18, Minnesota Duluth 18, Nebraska Omaha 16, Air Force 14, Michigan Tech 14, Canisius 12, Colorado College 11, Ohio State 11, Alaska 10, Mercyhurst 10, Michigan State 6, Rochester Institute of Technology 5, Bowling Green 4, Brown 4, Dartmouth 2, Merrimack 2, Robert Morris 2.


The Mavericks also received a little more attention this week when USCHO named goaltender Stephon Williams one of its 10 goaltenders to watch this season. Kind of a strange quote from an unnamed opposing coach, though: "Williams goes in there with not a lot of expectations, you know, a new team. He was really, really good. ... He's a very good goalie."


All of the attention that MSU is getting this fall isn't just because of the their favorite status in the new WCHA. They were going to get it regardless of the conference affiliation. Not that it matters, but where  would they have been picked had the conferences stayed intact. On the above poll, MSU is the fifth team from the old league, coming in behind Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and St. Cloud State and getting ranked ahead of Denver, Duluth, Omaha, Michigan Tech and Colorado College.


Some news from out east: Providence, Minnesota State's season-opening opponent, gave coach Nate Leaman a contract extension on Friday. It was announced during the grand re-opening of the renovated  Schneider Arena. Leaman is entering his third season with the Friars.