Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Upgrade drawings

Getting ready to take a few days of R&R, but I stumbled upon some photos on my phone of the drawings of the hockey part of the Verizon Wireless Center upgrades that were shown to members of the legislative bonding committees when they visited Mankato last fall.

Gov. Dayton signed the construction projects bill on Tuesday, meaning the project is a go. When I return from vacation, I plan to do a more detailed story on the hockey portion of the civic center project. Meantime, here's how it's supposed to look:

This is the arena floor level, which, on the west side (left) of the rink, where the current locker rooms are, will have men's and women's locker rooms, a trainer's room, coaches' film room, equipment and laundry, players' lounge, coaches' offices, hockey operations office and recruiting area. The east side (right) will have visiting team locker and coaches rooms, youth locker rooms and what appears to be dressing rooms for other events.
Here's a closer look at the west side.
A new second floor on the west side of the rink will have a training/conditioning (weight room) area, as well as a kitchen and dining area for the hockey teams.
Read my column from Tuesday's Free Press about the long wait for state funds here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hockey upgrades coming

After several swings and misses, state funding for upgrades to the Verizon Wireless Center finally appear to be a reality.

Passed by both houses of the Minnesota legislature, the borrowing and spending bills for construction projects include $14.5 million for a long-wished-for Mankato civic center project. So, in all it's about a $30 million project.

Part of that money will go to hockey-specific improvements and making the arena the full-time home of the Minnesota State men's and women's programs.

According to Dan Linehan's Free Press' coverage of the bill', which is expected to be signed by the governor, the entire project will include the state money and an equal share of local sales tax funding. About $4 has been spent on arena improvements already, the story says. Last year, a new floor and rink system was put in place, and the arena's seats were replaced.

The next phase of the project is expected to begin in the fall, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said. However, the hockey portion likely won't begin until the following March, after the upcoming season.

Plans shown to members of the bonding committee a few months ago showed a major hockey renovation for team use. It included new dressing rooms for the men's and women's teams, as well as visiting-team and youth locker rooms moved to the east side of the rink. Also, there were coaches offices and a recruiting area as well as a player lounge and space for athletic training, dryland workout (weight room, etc.) and dining.

Last August, Hentges said that, after a recent tour of Bemidji's now 4-year-old Sanford Center, the Verizon Wireless Center upgrades "will be far and away classier."

"It's got everything and is probably a far-superior layout to what I saw in Bemidji," he said. "I think we're on the right path."

The only thing not included in the project, at least at the time, was a large video scoreboard capable of showing replays.

But the upgrades should be a good step for Minnesota State as it tries to keep up in the fast-moving world of hockey facilities. New rinks in Bemidji and Duluth, which received state money for their construction, have received much praise, and St. Cloud State's major renovation to the National Hockey Center, partially funded by state money, is turning heads.

Nebraska Omaha is building a new on-campus rink, and the standard bearer for hockey arena's, North Dakota's Ralph Engelstad Arena, is getting a major locker-room and team-area overhaul this summer, despite the arena being just 13 years old.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

MSU's '14-15 schedule released

Minnesota State released its men's hockey schedule for next season, and the Mavericks will open the regular season Oct. 14-15 with a nonconference series at Nebraska Omaha.

MSU's first four games will be against former WCHA rivals, starting with UNO and followed by a home-and-home series with Minnesota Duluth. The second game of that series, Oct. 18, will be the Mavs' home opener and "Hockey Night in Mankato."

The Mavericks will play 17 regular-season home games as well as an exhibition at the Verizon Wireless Center. Home opponents include UMD (one game, nonconference), Alabama Huntsville, Bemidji State, Alaska, Princeton (nonconference), Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Alaska Anchorage and Michigan Tech.

MSU will again play in the North Star College Cup tournament in St. Paul. The Mavericks will open the Jan. 23-24 tournament against Minnesota and play either UMD or Bemidji State the next day.

Other road opponents include UNO (nonconference), UMD (one game, nonconference), Bowling Green, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Alaska and Bemidji State.

And in a change that will make at least one sportswriter extreeeeeeemly happy, all home games will be 7:07 p.m. starts next season.

Here is the full schedule:

Oct. 5, exhibition TBA
Oct. 10-11, at Nebraska Omaha
Oct. 17-18, at/vs. Minnesota Duluth
Oct. 24-25, vs. Alabama Huntsville
Oct. 31-Nov. 1, at Bowling Green
Nov. 7-8, vs. Bemidji State
Nov. 21-22, at Michigan Tech
Nov. 28-29, at Lake Superior State
Dec. 5-6, vs. Alaska
Dec. 12-13, vs. Princeton
Jan. 2-3, at Northern Michigan
Jan. 9-10, vs. Lake Superior State
Jan. 16-17, at Ferris State
Jan. 23-24, North Star College Cup vs. Minnesota, UMD/BSU
Jan. 30-31, vs. Ferris State
Feb. 6-7, vs. Alaska Anchorage
Feb. 13-14, at Alaska
Feb. 27-28, vs. Michigan Tech
March 6-7, at Bemidji State
March 13-15, WCHA First Round
March 20-21 WCHA Final Five, St. Paul

Read more about the schedule here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

MSU awards

It's been awhile, folks. A little vacation, a little different offseason sports duties at the Freep, some thinking about how to spice things up on the blog for the summer and going forward to next season ...

Minnesota State announced its team award winners for this season on Friday. No big surprises in the group. Here's a list of them, along with a Puckato comment or two:

Don Brose Leadership Award: Johnny McInnis

Comment: This was a no-brainer at the end of the season, but there were some questions about how he'd handle having the "C" before the year began. It was a delight watching McInnis grow into this role as the year went on. It seemed as though he got better on the ice as he grew off the rink, and he ended up signing a pro contract when all was said and done. First-class kid. 

Hustle Award (Hardest Worker): Bryce Gervais

Comment: Another lock. After watching the NFL draft and listening to the talking heads ramble about players' motors, here's a guy with a motor that doesn't quit. Great penalty killer who set a high bar for the rest of his college career with a phenomenal second half. Best non-goaltender in this year's Final Five. Chase Grant also Could have received consideration for this award.

Most Improved Player: Sean Flanagan

Comment: As I often talk about, is this award for best improvement over the course of a season or from season to season. Lately, it's been the former for the Mavericks, and Flanagan, a freshman defenseman, really started to figure things out over the second half of the season. From the North Star Cup on, he was a consistent performer who had earned a permanent spot in the lineup. Going season to season, Gervais might have been most deserving.

Unsung Hero: Zach Lehrke

Comment: Hard to disagree here. The season could have been divided into B.L. and A.L. (Before Lehrke and After Lehrke). The Mavericks seemed to be lost during his 10-game retirement, but his return sparked a run that took the team to the Broadmoor Trophy championship and a second-straight NCAA tournament. Other consideration could have gone to Brett Stern.

Most Valuable Player: Cole Huggins

Comment: What a year Huggins had, especially at the end (another candidate for Most Improved Player, perhaps). Was named WCHA Final Five Most Outstanding Player. Hard to ignore a 21-8-1 record, .926 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average. Future should be bright, too. At different times in the season, this award could have gone to Jean-Paul LaFontaine, Matt Leitner and Johnny McInnis. I'd have little issue with any of those four winning the honor.

Star of the Year: Johnny McInnis

Comment: This is based on the Three Stars of the Game awarded after every home game. Points are tallied based on being first, second or third star. McInnis was No. 1 three times and No. 2 three times, compiling 15 points. Next was LaFontaine (11), Gervais (10), Leitner (9), Huggins (8), Zach Stepan (8), Lehrke (7), Teddy Blueger (5), Sean Flanagan (5), Dylan Margonari (4), Casey Nelson (3), Michael Huntebrinker (3), Jordan Nelson (2), Zach Palmquist (2) and Chase Grant (1).