Monday, December 29, 2014

Jutzi back with Mavs

Minnesota State junior defenseman Jon Jutzi is back skating with the team after leaving the team and school for a semester due to undisclosed personal reasons.

“He’s registered for school, he’s back in town and he’s skating with us,” Hastings said on Monday. “I think he’s in pretty good shape. I think he’s taken care of his body, which I thought might be a major issue.”

Said Jutzi: "I tried to stay in shape and skate as often as I could so if and when I came back I wouldn't be too far behind."

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jutzi played in all 82 of MSU’s games in his first two seasons, compiling one goal and 14 assists. Last season, he ranked second on the team in blocked shots with 70 and was also plus-5, which ranked fifth on the team and third among defensemen.

“He was solid,” Hastings said. “His play last year, in a word, was reliable. He was consistent.”

Jutzi should provide some helpful depth to the Mavericks’ defensive corps, although, in his absence, the team has seen growth and development from players such as sophomore Casey Nelson and junior Blake Thompson, who were part-time players last season.

Hastings said Jutzi’s return doesn’t automatically move him in front of anyone on the depth chart, however.

“From a depth standpoint, (Jutzi) can potentially help us,” Hastings said. “But the guys we have, up to this point, have done a pretty good job. … We’ll wait and see how he practices.”

Jutzi said he wasn't going into any details about his departure. But, as he said in September, it was always his intent to return to MSU after Christmas.

"I just want to help the team any way I can," he said.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mavericks remain third

There was a change at the top of the U.S. College Hockey Online rankings this week, but Minnesota State remained No. 3 in the poll. The Mavericks received six first-place votes.

Boston University moved up to No. 1, while North Dakota slipped a spot to No. 2. Harvard and Michigan Tech flipped positions, going to No. 4 and 5, respectively.

Bowling Green, the other WCHA team in the poll, remained 13th.

Those positions were the same in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings, although the Mavericks received no first-place votes in that poll.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Flu outbreak cancels second Princeton game

Saturday night's Minnesota State men's hockey game against Princeton has been cancelled due to an illness that has affected several members of MSU's team.

"At this point (around 2 p.m.) Saturday, we're sick and getting sicker," coach Mike Hastings said. (Read more on The Free Press website here.) "We couldn't have put a team on the ice."

Athletic director Kevin Buisman, in a press release sent out Saturday afternoon, said:

"Several members of our men's hockey team have come down with the flu and we do not have enough healthy student-athletes to field a team tonight. After consulting with several stakeholders, including the NCAA, Verizon Wireless Center and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and discussing our options, it was decided to cancel the game. There were several complicating factors in the decision which involved facility scheduling, individual and team travel and the fact that there is no guarantee that we would have enough bodies to play tomorrow. We know that our fan base and those that follow us would have wanted to see the third-rated Mavericks play tonight and hope everyone can understand this difficult situation and the issues we faced in coming to this decision."

Buisman said that the game would be declared a "no contest" and that plans for ticket reimbursement will be announced at a later date.

According to NCAA policies and guidelines, no contest may be declared in cases in which a team cannot participate due to illness, weather conditions, vehicle breakdowns, etc. It is not a forfeit.

"It's an unfortunate situation," Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said in a release. "As our staff, our priority is to the well-being of the student-athlete."

Minnesota State is off until Jan. 2-3 when it will play a WCHA series at Northern Michigan.

The third-ranked Mavericks defeated Princeton 5-0 on Friday night. With the cancellation, they closed out the first half of their season with a 13-4-0 record.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mavericks 5, Tigers 0

Photo by Pat Christman
Freddy's three thoughts of the game:

1. Huggins is back: After some early-season struggles, Cole Huggins put together his best game of the season in goal, stopping 15 shots for his seventh career shutout. Now that might not seem like a busy night, but he had to be really good early on (nine shots in the first period) as his teammates were a little slow out of the gate (shots were 9-2 midway through the first) and Princeton had several good scoring chances. He's now in a four-way tie for the Mavericks' career shutout lead with teammate Stephon Williams and former players Mike Zacharias and Eric Pateman. You can read more about Huggins' night in my Free Press game story.

2. Stepan up: Another player who has gotten off to a slower start, at least statistically, is sophomore forward Zach Stepan. He, too, had a great game, assisting on three goals and finishing plus-3. "He was good," coach Mike Hastings said. "I think there's been an attention to detail that's helping him, but that's coming from him. I think he's done something with coach Knott and coach Blue as far as doing some extra work besides what we ask in practice." Stepan assisted on goals by Zach Palmquist, Dylan Margonari and Max Gaede.

3. One for the Gator: Gaede's goal was his first of the season and just the seventh of his career. The senior forward has now played in 129 games (all in a row) and has carved out a spot on the Mavericks' fourth line or energy line. He seems to get plenty of scoring chances but has trouble finishing. Even though the game was well in hand when he scored MSU's fifth goal with 5:57 remaining in the game, the bench reacted like it was a tiebreaker. Well-liked player who works hard out there. He had two goals last season and one the year before. Gaede is plus-9 for the season. Bryce Gervais and C.J. Franklin had MSU's other goals. Gervais' was his team-leading 11th.

Around the WCHA: Ferris State 5, Lake Superior State 2 ... Bemidji State 4, Northern Michigan 2 ... Minnesota Duluth 3, Michigan Tech 1 ... Alaska 2, Alabama Huntsville 1 (OT)

Minnesota State vs. Princeton — Game 1 live blog

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Friday Morning Skate

The No. 3 Mavericks will close out what's so far been a successful first half of the season with a nonconference series against Princeton at the Verizon Wireless Center.

Minnesota State's veteran depth up front has been a common theme over the last 2 1/2 months, but two rookies are making big impacts on this team. C.J. Franklin and Brad McClure certainly aren't playing like first-year players thus far.

For more on the series, check out The Free Press' gameday preview, too.

It's a big weekend for MSU sports, with the football team hosting a national semifinal game on Saturday afternoon. There's also thoughts going out to athletic director Kevin Buisman, who recently revealed that he has cancer.

Going around the WCHA ...

Minnesota Duluth at Michigan Tech: The series of the weekend takes place in Houghton where the No. 9 Bulldogs take on the No. 4 Huskies. This will be the 226th and 227th meetings between the two teams, who are now nonconference foes, but perhaps one of the most meaningful.

Lake Superior State at Ferris State: The Lakers and the Bulldogs meet in Big Rapids where the home team needs to win a couple of games if it wants to stay in the hunt for home ice over the second half of the season. After this weekend, 10 of Ferris State's next 12 games are on the road.

Northern Michigan at Bemidji State: This should be another good series and an important one for possible movement within the league standings. Bemidji State has seen recent improvement after losing a bunch of close games. Special teams has been a big difference between losing and winning.

Alabama Huntsville at Alaska: In Fairbanks, the Nanooks, coming off their series split in Mankato will host an improved Chargers team, one that has its sights on taking postseason-ineligible Alaska's place in the league playoffs at the end of the year.

For more on the WCHA (and the UMD-Tech series) check out Jack Hittinger's and my USCHO column this week. Also see who we pick in this weekend's games.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hastings 'concerned' about civic center cuts

Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings on Tuesday said he is "concerned" about the slim and trim budget and proposed cuts to the Verizon Wireless Center project and hopes that money can be found to get the things his program needs during next summer's renovation.

"It's not a Band-Aid," he said in a story published in Wednesday's Free Press. "It's the future."

As in the future of the program.

During Monday's Mankato City Council meeting, City Manager Pat Hentges reported on the cuts and said that Minnesota State is going to have to come up for the money to pay for things like therapy whirlpools, steam rooms, a reception area, displays and other items.

Those items, Hastings said, not only were expected to be in the final project but things like the whirlpools are vital, items in the modern care of the players through injury.

The cost of the civic center expansion project is just under $31 million, but the hockey portion of the project is set at just $4.7 million, and now there is a shortfall of at least $444,000.

Hastings said he was told since the day he was hired that state bonding money would take care of the facility issue that Minnesota State has at the civic center and All Seasons Arena, its part-time practice home (and current full-time home of the MSU women's team). 

After officials toured Bemidji's now 4-year-old, $75 million Sanford Center (they also toured the 4-year-old, $80 million Amsoil Arena in Duluth recently), Hastings was told that MSU's renovation would be far better than what Bemidji has. Now, he's not so sure.

He's also seeing the arena arms race escalate, with Nebraska Omaha opening an $82 million on-campus arena next season, Minnesota proposing $8 million or more in locker room and other renovations to Mariucci Arena and even hockey's crown jewel, North Dakota's Ralph Engelstad Arena, getting a multi-million-dollar locker room update (link includes video of the completed project).

"We're at a point of importance," Hastings said.

And, oh by the way, there's still no talk about a video scoreboard.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mavs fall, rise to No. 3

Following their home split with Alaska over the weekend, the Mavericks moved to No. 3 in both national polls.

I say moved, because they went down one spot in the U.S. College Hockey Online rankings and up a position in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings.

Ah ... rankings.

North Dakota stayed No. 1 in both polls. Boston University is No. 2, Michigan Tech is No. 4 and Harvard is No. 5.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mavericks 5, Nanooks 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Hat tricks for everybody: For the fourth time this year — the fourth time in MSU's last five series — a Minnesota State player has recorded a hat trick. On Saturday, it was Dylan Margonari's turn to join the club (members also include Bryce Gervais, Teddy Blueger and Brett Knowles). Margonari had a "special" night, to use coach Mike Hastings' word. The junior center's speed and fearlessness was just what the Mavericks needed against a tough Alaska team that seemed to present some matchup problems for them at times. Margonari scored a power-play goal in the second period, got the game-winner 41 seconds into the third when the game was tied 2-2 and completed the trick in the final minute after an unselfish set-up from Teddy Blueger.

2. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: PucKato has given a lot of praise to Stephon Williams in recent weeks, but he struggled again on Saturday. After Alaska scored two second-period goals to erase MSU's 2-0 lead, Hastings finally made the switch and put Cole Huggins in for the third period. Williams allowed seven goals on 34 shots over five periods and an overtime against the Nanooks, including two goals on just eight that got to him on Saturday. I'm sure he would have liked a better result against his hometown team. Huggins faced only six shots to get his first win of the season and helped the Mavericks kill a major penalty in the process. Hastings said he has confidence in all three goaltenders, but he probably doesn't like having to tinker with the position at this point. Curious to see what happens going forward.

3. Casey at the point: The Mavericks got off to their 2-0 lead thanks to sophomore defenseman Casey Nelson's performance on the power play. He scored the game's first goal and assisted on Margonari's first goal. He now has 14 points, which ranks fifth on the team in scoring. Nine of the points have come on the power play. "The kid is growing up right in front of our eyes," Hastings said. As a freshman, Nelson, the brother of former MSU defenseman Josh Nelson (the two were teammates last year) had just five points in 19 games. "He plays a calm game," Hastings said. "The young man has spent time developing his trade, and I don't think he's afraid to play the game. He wants the puck at important times." Thanks, in part, to Nelson, the Mavericks' power play finished 3 for 5 on Saturday.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 5, Northern Michigan 0 ... North Dakota 3, Lake Superior State 1 ... Bemidji State 4, Alaska Anchorage 4 (OT)

Minnesota State vs. Alaska — Game 2 live blog

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Nanooks 5, Mavericks 4 (OT)

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Streak comes to an end: So there was a moment on Friday evening when Lake Superior State had leads of 3-0 and 4-1 over North Dakota, and it was easy to think about the curse of No. 1 and what it might mean next week if indeed UND lost and Minnesota State moved up to the top spot. Never mind. Not only did North Dakota come back and win that game 7-4 but MSU lost, too, falling 5-4 to Alaska in overtime and seeing their six-game winning streak come to an end. It was a wild and wacky game, especially in the third period and overtime, with the teams trading five goals and having an Alaska goal awarded via review 29 seconds after it happened. MSU freshman Brad McClure scored a falling-down game-tying goal with 3:20 left in regulation. But it was another rookie, Austin Vieth, who potted the winner at 2:59 of OT.

2. Pressure's on: Alaska did a good job sustaining pressure in the MSU end, winning races to rebounds and loose pucks and forcing turnovers. The Mavericks ended up stuck on some long defensive shifts, including on the game-winning goal. The Nanooks just seemed to have that slight edge on Friday that allowed them to upset the Mavericks. "We're a hard-working team," said Vieth, who also scored the reviewed goal, initially ruled to have gone off the crossbar. "We have a bunch of guys who work hard. We don't have all the skill in the world, but when we work hard it shows up."

3. Jones outduels Williams: Alaska goaltender Davis Jones stopped 38 of 42 shots, including 16 of 17 in the first period to get the win, his fifth of the year. Meanwhile, the Mavericks' Stephon Williams lost for the first time since Nov. 1, stopping 21 of 26 shots. Not his best night. He allowed five goals a week after scoring back-to-back shutouts on the road and two weeks after being a rock on the back end against then-No. 1 Michigan Tech. On Friday, he certainly could have used a little more help clearing rebounds and clearing the zone from time to time. But he did the goal support that's usually good enough to win games.

Read more in my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 5, Northern Michigan 5 (OT) ... North Dakota 7, Lake Superior State 4 ... Bemidji State 3, Alaska Anchorage 3 (OT)

Minnesota State vs. Alaska — Game 1 live blog

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Friday Morning Skate

The Mavericks are back home for the first time since Nov. 8 and after four games on the road, which has to be a good feeling for the No. 2 team in the country. Minnesota State will host Alaska in what ought to be an entertaining WCHA series at the Verizon Wireless Center.

One of the most impressive things about MSU has been its depth up front and, really, throughout the lineup. More proof of that came in the form of a hat trick from Brett Knowles last week. Patience certainly has paid off for the junior forward, who missed a big chunk of the beginning of the season while continuing rehab and recovery from offseason surgeries.

A couple of extra comments from Knowles that didn't make the story:

• "I think anyone playing the game here, really, they want to play, right? So it's just learning to be patient and learning to read your body and kind of letting it tell you when to go rather than push things too far."

• "We were successful before I came back, so I just tried to come in and, realistically, not disturb things too much. Just kind of be what I need to be."

• "Obviously, my track record hasn't been scoring goals like I did on the weekend. I just try to bring energy and speed to the game, and I was lucky enough to pot a few goals. So hopefully, that will continue, too."

For more on the Mavericks' depth and the Alaska series, see The Free Press' College Hockey Gameday preview here. Also, read more on goaltender Stephon Williams' improved play here.

As for the Nanooks, they are looking for more consistency after winning five in a row, losing five in a row and splitting their last two series. One player who has found some of that consistency is sophomore Marcus Basara. He has 10 points, including seven goals, in his last nine games after starting the season a bit slowly.

Going around the WCHA ...

Bowling Green at Northern Michigan: This has the makings of a great weekend, with a pair of top-20 teams squaring off. Falcons coach Chris Bergeron is calling it a "huge series," especially with the challenge of facing Wildcats goalie Mathias Dahlstrom. Northern Michigan returns home after a two-series road trip to Alaska, where it went 2-2-0.

Bemidji State at Alaska Anchorage: Both of these teams snapped long losing streaks their last time out. For the Beavers, who had lost seven in a row despite playing well, they are finally seeing an increase in scoring and hope that's a trend that continues for them. The Seawolves, meanwhile, are looking for more goals from their senior captains.

Lake Superior State at North Dakota: Things get no easier for the Lakers, who were shut out twice at home by Minnesota State last weekend. Off to No. 1-ranked North Dakota for the teams' first meeting in 41 years. Can UND avoid the curse of No. 1, which has bumped off Minnesota, Michigan Tech and Boston University in consecutive weeks? More good stuff from Grand Forks hockey writer extraordinaire Brad Schlossman here.

For more on the league, including, yes, more on Minnesota State's depth, read my and Jack Hittinger's USCHO column. And see our weekend picks here.

College Hockey News also has its thoughts on this week in the WCHA.

And the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune's Ryan Satkowiak gives his WCHA power rankings.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Williams honored — again

For the second week in a row, Minnesota State goaltender Stephon Williams was named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

Hard to argue with handing him another, considering he shut out Lake Superior State twice on the road. Williams stopped all 45 shots he faced for the sixth and seventh shutouts of his career.

And here's something I missed while taking a little time off: Williams is now tied for the most shutouts in MSU history, joining Eric Pateman, who had seven shutouts between 1998 and 2002, and Mike Zacharias, who blanked seven teams from 2005 to 2009.

Williams is now 11-1-0 with a .931 save percentage. His 1.52 goals-against average ranks fourth nationally.

Other WCHA award winners this week were Michigan Tech's Alex Petan (offensive) and Bemidji State's Gerry Fitzgerald (rookie).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mavericks move up to No. 2

With its national-best six-game winning streak, 11-3-0 record and hold on the top spots in the getting-more-meaningful-everyday Pairwise Rankings, there was some thought that Minnesota State might be the No. 1 team in the nation on Monday when the opinion polls came out.

Several teams ahead of them, including last week's No. 1, Boston University, lost two of three following their rise to the top of the poll.

Well, the Mavericks aren't there yet.

They are, however, ranked No. 2 in the nation in the USCHO rankings, their highest position ever in the poll. North Dakota is No. 1.

The Mavericks received five first-place votes (North Dakota had 29) and were one of seven teams that received first-place votes.

Perhaps being No. 2 is a good thing for Minnesota State, as teams holding the No. 1 spot recently haven't fared too well the following week (BU, Michigan Tech, Minnesota). The Mavericks will host Alaska on Friday and Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Center.

Other WCHA teams in the poll including Michigan Tech at No. 5, Bowling Green at No. 14 and Northern Michigan at No. 19.