Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mavericks add exhibition game

Minnesota State will play a preseason exhibition game on the Sunday before its first regular-season series. The Mavericks will play Canadian college Trinity Western out of British Columbia at 5:07 p.m. on Oct. 5.

In the meantime, MSU has put out its hockey season-ticket promo video today:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Big year for BillyRob

Photo by Shane Frederick
Bill Robertson is on a "goodwill tour" of WCHA cities and hopes to hit them all before the year is out. On Monday, the new league commissioner was in Mankato, playing golf and getting to know more about Minnesota State hockey and the culture surrounding it. It was a perfect venue to rub elbows with coaches, administrators, sponsors, boosters, alumni and even fans and players.

Read my story on Robertson's visit in Tuesday's edition of The Free Press.

A few highlights of note (and some things that didn't make the cut):

* Robertson said the league soon will be moving into a centralized office in Minneapolis and plans to have all staff working out of the same venue. Before, Bruce McLeod worked in Denver while others were in Madison and St. Paul.

* New women's commissioner Aaron Kemp also will work in the Minneapolis office and the two leagues, while separate, will share staff. Robertson said they're currently reviewing the league's staffing needs.

* Robertson acknowledged the talk of another shift of the college hockey landscape in the next three to five years but also mentioned that he's had conversations with "western" schools that have at least explored the idea of adding hockey. It would take big donors for that to happen, of course (like Penn State), and a school likely would have to add women's hockey. Nothing imminent, he said, but he would like to see college hockey expand.

* Current stability and promotion of the league as it goes into its second season post-realignment is important, though, especially in the revenues-expenses area, which has changed dramatically. A lot of focus is on the Final Five, which will return to St. Paul this year, and acquiring sponsorships and boosting ticket sales. But promoting the league and the current teams in order to educate fans is big, too. Social media will be an important part, no doubt.

* Robertson said he was encouraged by having two WCHA teams in the NCAA tournament last year (Minnesota State and Ferris State), but the hope is to have three teams in the tournament. Two or three every year would be ideal, he said.

Monday, July 28, 2014

WCHA commish, others in Mankato

Photo by Shane Frederick
The Dan Meyers Golf Classic is being played on Monday at the Mankato Golf Club. The fundraiser for the MSU Blue Line Club had a full lineup that included new WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson (pictured above, right, with Mavericks coach Mike Hastings).

I talked to BillyRob before the outing, and that story will appear in Tuesday's edition of The Free Press. Be sure to check it out.

Other folks of note at the golf tournament included former Minnesota State players and current pros David Backes, Tim Jackman and Travis Morin. Aaron Forsythe, who is now the athletic director (and former hockey coach) at Forest Lake High School, was also there.

I also learned on Monday that former MSU and Gustavus player (and Mankato native) Corey Leivermann plans to try to play professional hockey in Germany. He said he has agreed to a tryout deal with the Hannover Scorpions.

More to come ...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rule changes for 2014-15

A major penalty for interference in the case of blindside hits and other significant contact not to the head or neck area is among the college hockey rule changes approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel for the 2014-15 season.

The changes were recommended by the Men's and Women's Ice Hockey Rules Committee in June.

The rules include expanded video replay to determine: if goals are scored before a penalty occurs, if offsides or too many players on the ice are missed on a goal-scoring play and use of video of any source available to officials (not just TV broadcasts).

Other changes include:

* Players taking a faceoff no longer can use their hand to play a puck. Violation will result in a minor penalty (similar to NHL rule).

* In end-zone faceoffs, the defending team's player is required to put his/her stick down first. Previously, the attacking team did that. Center-ice and neutral-zone faceoffs will continue to require the visiting team to put their sticks down first.

* If the puck goes out of play during on an offensive team's attempt to score, the faceoff will remain in the attacking zone.

* In the case of high sticks and hand passes, faceoffs will now move one zone closer to the offending team's goal.

* If the goal becomes dislodged by the goalkeeper during a penalty shot or shootout, a referee can award a goal (if intentional or if a goal is obvious or imminent) or allow the team to shoot again.

* If a player awarded a penalty shot is injured and unable to take the shot, another player who was on the ice at the time of the infraction can be chosen to shoot.

* 10-inch goal pegs must be in place at all NCAA levels by the 2016-17 season.

* A Look-Up Line, a warning-track style line intended to impact safety near the boards, as been approved but is not mandatory.

* Women's hockey will get an experimental rule in which the puck can be played legally with a high stick.

Mavs to volunteer at Mission of Mercy

Members of the MSU men's hockey team will be volunteering Saturday at the Mission of Mercy event, which is providing free dental care to children and adults who do not have access to it. The even takes place today (Friday) and Saturday and is expected to treat as many as 2,000 patients.

The Mavericks will assist in Saturday's tear-down and load-out, according to an MSU release.

For more on Mission of Mercy and the patients who were already lining up as early as Thursday morning, see this story in Friday's edition of The Free Press.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Palmquist experiences third NHL camp

Photo by Pat Christman
Minnesota State senior defenseman Zach Palmquist is spending most of the summer in Mankato but took a few days to attend the Minnesota Wild's developmental camp, starting a week ago.

I had the chance to talk to the first-team All-WCHA player on Tuesday and ask him a bit about the camp, the third one he's attended (he went to San Jose last summer and Philadelphia the year before that).

Read more about his experience my Free Press story here.

The Star Tribune's Michael Russo, Wild beat writer, made brief mention of Palmquist in his recap of Monday's scrimmage (in which Palmquist was partnered with '12 first-round draft pick Matt Dumba), saying he "stood out."

As previously mentioned, Palmquist is one of 10 players with MSU ties who have or are going to NHL prospect camps. Here are a few more links about some of those players:

• The Sharks have a video interview with former Mav Eriah Hayes.

• Goaltender Stephon Williams told a New York Islanders blogger that last year was a "learning experience" for him.

• The Hockey Writers blog did a Q&A with Zach Stepan while he attended Nashville Predators camp.

Meanwhile, in other MSU coverage, coach Mike Hastings was interviewed on The Pipeline Show on Tuesday night. Listen here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

WCHA releases schedule

The WCHA released its 2014-15 composite schedule on Thursday, and, although most of the teams, including Minnesota State, have put out their season schedules already, there are a few nuggets to highlight.

Most notably, the league's playoff format will remain the same as last season, despite a few rumblings that it might consider something that would put all 10 teams in the tournament.

Like last year, eight teams will play in the postseason, while the bottom two teams' seasons will end. Last year, Lake Superior State and Alabama Huntsville missed out, with the Lakers losing an eighth-place tiebreaker with Bemidji State and having their coach, Jim Roque, fired afterward.

After a best-of-three-games first round, the top four teams will advance the Final Five, which will return to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on March 20-21 after a year in Grand Rapids, Mich. (it's scheduled to go back to Grand Rapids in 2016). Prior to the Broadmoor Trophy championship game on Saturday, March 21, the Minnesota Wild will play a game against the St. Louis Blues (and MSU alum David Backes).

"The WCHA Final Five is our conference showcase," new commissioner Bill Robertson said in the press release, "and we will do everything in our power to make that special March 20-21 weekend event a preferred destination for fans of all ages."

Other items of note:

* The WCHA will again partner with America ONE Sports for live and on-demand streaming of games online, a broadcast service that seemed to work quite well for fans. "Our video streaming partnership with America ONE Sports brought notable dividends to the league and our member teams in year one," Robertson said.

* There will be a conference series right away opening weekend (Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 4-5) with Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State playing a series.

* Six times during the regular season all 10 league teams will be in action against each other. Those weekends are Nov. 21-22, Jan. 8-10, Jan. 16-17, Feb. 13-14, Feb. 27-28 and March 6-7. Nice that the scenario falls in three of the final four weeks of the season, including the last two.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Going camping

Ten players with Minnesota State ties -- including alum Eriah Hayes -- are participating in NHL development camps this week, a big number that surely coincides with the Mavericks' recent success.

The group includes eight players on the current roster. Senior defenseman Zach Palmquist will, starting Wednesday, be skating at the Minnesota Wild's camp, along with verbally committed recruit Hunter Warner.

The Wild will hold two free and open-to-the-public scrimmages: 2 p.m. Friday at Braemar Arena in Edina and 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Sophomore goaltender Cole Huggins received a little publicity while participating at the Calgary Flames' camp.

Other MSU players at NHL camps this week include: Teddy Blueger (Penguins), Zach Stepan (Predators), Stephon Williams (Islanders), Sean Flanagan (Jets), C.J. Franklin (Jets) and Brad McClure (Penguins).

Meanwhile, College Hockey Inc. put out an article about the record number of NHL players with college hockey experience. There were 309 college hockey alums in the league this year, representing 31 percent of the league. The players represented 49 schools.

There were six from Minnesota State who played NHL games. Without looking, can you name them and their teams? (Scroll down a bit for the answers.)

David Backes (Blues), Tim Jackman (Flames/Ducks), Ryan Carter (Devils), Travis Morin (Stars), Eriah Hayes (Sharks), Tyler Pitlick (Oilers)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mouillierat signs with Islanders

A week and a half ago, when I spoke with Travis Morin, he expressed his hopes that his old Minnesota State teammate Kael Mouillierat would get his first NHL deal this summer. Sure enough, that happened on Tuesday, a blip amid the flurry of free-agent activity that was going on.

Mouillierat signed a one-year, two-way contract with the New York Islanders.

The 26-year-old forward had 20 goals and 33 assists for 53 points with the St. John's IceCaps of the American Hockey League and additional 13 points in the playoffs where his team fell to Morin's Texas Stars in the Calder Cup finals.

The Islanders' AHL affiliate is the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a team Mouillierat played 44 for in 2011-12.

He has played in 160 career AHL games, compiling 120 points, including 39 goals, and also had 119 points (55 goals) in 117 games in the ECHL.

Meanwhile, former Maverick Ryan Carter is a free agent. He played for the New Jersey Devils the past 2 1/2 seasons. He played 62 games this season, compiling seven goals and three assists, along with 35 penalty minutes. Reports are that the Devils would like to re-sign him.

2014-15 roster + staff, recruiting news

Minnesota State released its 2014-15 roster on Tuesday, and it includes the numbers that will don the jerseys of the five incoming rookies:

10—Zeb Knutson, F
15—C.J. Franklin, F
19—Brad McClure, F
22—Jaden Schmeisser, D
29—Aaron Nelson, G

It does not appear that any other players are changing numbers for next season (always a good thing for the beat writer), although the roster does confirm that Taylor Herndon and Matt Knoll are not returning next season. Herndon played in eight games last season, and Knoll played in 11.

There are 26 players on the roster. Breaking it down, it includes 14 forwards, 9 defensemen and 3 goalies; 6 seniors, 8 juniors, 7 sophomores and 5 freshmen.

New athletic trainer
Minnesota State announced on Tuesday that it has hired Masayasu Takaiwa as its new assistant athletic trainer. Takaiwa, whose primary duties will be with the men's hockey team (he'll also work with the baseball team), had been at Nebraska Omaha, working with the hockey team and other sports there, since 2009. Obviously, that means he and Mike Hastings are familiar with each other.

A native of Tochigi, Japan, Takaiwa also spent time at Eastern Michigan and Lake Superior State. He's a Nebraska Omaha grad and got his master's at Kent State.

Takaiwa replaces Chad Brinkman, who worked with the MSU men's hockey team last year, and will be the Mavericks' third athletic trainer in as many years.

Read more about him here.

Adding recruits
While we have a few months to see how the above-mentioned freshman, the Mavericks are already making moves on the future with a couple of commitments.

On Tuesday, Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) coach/GM Bliss Littler tweeted that Parker Tuomie committed to MSU. Tuomie, according to Chris Dilks' SB Nation blog, is a German born player with Minnesota ties. He was second on the Wild in scoring with 24 goals and 25 assists in 49 games a season ago. The 5-foot-9, 178-pound 18-year-old also played for Germany's World Junior team. Sounds like he'll be in the USHL at least one more season before joining the Mavericks.

The Mavericks received another commitment from a former NAHL/future USHL player in defenseman Michael Bigelbach last week. Bigelbach, an 18-year-old Red Wing native, started last season in Minot before being traded to Janesville. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound blueliner had 16 points and 73 PIMS in 62 games.

End of one era, the beginning of another

Monday marked the last official day of work for WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, who is now retired. There wasn't a lot of pomp and circumstance despite 20 years on the job. He spent Monday at his office at the University of Denver, cleaning and going through files. 

I gave him a call and spoke with him about what he leaves behind with the league. It's certainly not the league he expected leave when thoughts of retirement first creeped on his mind.

McLeod oversaw an era of great success in the WCHA and college hockey. He admitted that a lot of that success was not his doing but rather a "perfect storm" of program and facility building -- including the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, which the league took full advantage of for 13 years.

He also oversaw the league's breakup, one sparked by the start of the Big Ten conference and kindled by a splinter group of programs that started the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. McLeod was was left with a league to put back together, grabbing leftovers from the defunct CCHA and independent Alabama Huntsville.

The league survived but McLeod wondered what remained of its and college hockey's soul after realignment. 

You can read more about McLeod in my Free Press column here.

Meanwhile, the conference moves on with Bill Robertson as commissioner. He was in Bemidji on Monday, along with new WCHA women's commissioner Aaron Kemp, starting a goodwill tour of WCHA towns. Not sure when he'll be in Mankato, but it's clear work is already being done to promote and grow the league.

Maybe even to find its soul again.