Monday, July 27, 2015

Backes gives back to MSU

David Backes holds a significant place in Minnesota State hockey history. Now he’ll be an important figure in its future.

On Monday, during the MSU Blue Line Club’s annual Dan Meyer Golf Classic, Backes announced that he and his wife, Kelly, are donating $100,000 to the final renovations to the Verizon Wireless Center’s hockey upgrades. The money, specifically, will go to the strength and conditioning room, which will be named in Backes’ honor.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” said Backes, who played for the Mavericks from 2003 to 2006 and is now the captain for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. “We felt a pull in our heart to give back.”

Backes, who was a team captain and an All-American during his third and final season with the Mavericks, graduated from Minnesota State with a degree in applied organizational studies in 2014. Kelly Backes is also an MSU alum.

“Mankato has a special place in our hearts,” Backes said. “To have the facility named after us is something pretty special.”

For more on Backes' gift, see the MSU press release here.

Several hockey alumni attended Monday's golf outing, including Backes, Ryan Carter of the Minnesota Wild and Tim Jackman of the Anaheim Ducks, as well as Chad Brownlee, now a country music singer in Canada who performed a concert on Sunday night at the Mankato Brewery.

As for other upgrades to the civic center, the Mankato City Council on Monday tabled a motion to approve the purchase of a new four-sided, center-ice scoreboard for the arena. The council is seeking more information about the proposed $600,000 scoreboard before holding a special meeting next week. More coverage of the scoreboard debate here.

Hockey fundraising underway

The Dan Meyer Golf Classic, the Minnesota State Blue Line Club's annual fundraising event for men's and women's hockey, takes place today (Monday, July 27) at the Mankato Golf Club. But the big campaign to raise money for the finishes at the the Verizon Wireless Center, as well as for other "competitive needs" is well underway.

Last week (while Puckato was on vacation), MSU announced the first major gift to the private donor campaign, as the David Christensen and Jill Evans Fund gave $50,000 to the program through the Mankato Area Foundation.

"We are grateful to David and Jill for taking the lead on this," Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said in a statement. "We have had good visits with a number of other prospective donors, and we hope this commitment will ramp up further interest in helping us achieve our fundraising goals. This initiative is critical to our ability to sustain and build upon our current level of success."

The campaign is raising funds for furnishings, fixtures and equipment that will be in the new team spaces currently under construction at the arena. MSU hopes to raise up to $1 million, with funding for the NCAA's newly allowed full cost of attendance scholarships, as well as summer school grant-in-aid support, also being addressed.

"David and Jill's generosity is a great example of the passion they have for the community and the university," MSU athletic director Kevin Buisman said in the press release. "Their enthusiastic support is greatly appreciated. Their gift is a nice starting point for us, and we hope it will spur others to join the effort."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Civic center project taking shape

Photos by John Cross/The Free Press
Monday was quite a day for the future of the Minnesota State hockey team. The announcement of Mike Hastings' new contract with MSU somewhat overshadowed the first half of the event at the Verizon Wireless Center. The day started with a tour of the new hockey facilities being constructed at the arena, and a discussion of that project, which is more than half done, followed.

Read my story on upgrades here (the online version has photos, which there was not room for in the print edition).

One clarification: The fundraising emphasized in the press conference is for the finishes to the hockey project, not for the scoreboard, which was another big piece of the announcement (but also one overshadowed by the Hastings news; they even used a rendering of the scoreboard (see related photo below) to reveal the contract announcement). The scoreboard would be a city/civic center project. Still, a four-sided video scoreboard would be a huge and important improvement to the fan experience during MSU games.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Hastings signs 8-year contract extension

Photo by John Cross/The Free Press
Minnesota State locked up Mike Hastings for the next eight years, announcing a new contract for the Mavericks coach on Monday. The deal, which will last through the 2022-23 season, tears up the final year of the original four-year deal Hastings signed three years ago and will pay him $290,000 annually, according to athletic director Kevin Buisman.

Read my story in The Free Press here. Read the MSU press release here.

It was all about the future of the program during the announcement, which coincided with an update on the Verizon Wireless Center hockey expansion, which includes new locker rooms, offices, training facilities and other amenities for men's and women's hockey, as well as the unveiling of a potential center-ice scoreboard design for the arena.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Staying and going: NHL free agency begins

Minnesota Wild photo
Wednesday was the first day of free agency in the NHL, and a couple of Mavericks were in on the action.

Ryan Carter signed a one-year, $650,000 deal to stay with the Minnesota Wild, according to the Star Tribune's Michael Russo,. The 31-year-old had a solid season last year until an injury set him back. With Kyle Brodziak leaving to sign with the St. Louis Blues, Carter's penalty-killing skills likely will be relied on heavily.

Kael Mouillierat, who made his NHL debut last season, playing six game for the New York Islanders, signed a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It's a one-year (two-way), $575,000 deal, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Will he spend the season in the AHL in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton or will he get some time with Sidney Crosby and the gang?

Eriah Hayes was not tendered a qualifying offer by the San Jose Sharks before Wednesday, so he is a free agent looking for a deal. Hayes played in four NHL games this season and 15 the year before that. He has been skating and working out some in Mankato this summer.

Several MSU players are/will be attending NHL development camps. According to information received before the draft, the following were invited to summer camp:

Teddy Blueger (Pittsburgh Penguins)*
Jimmy Mullin (Tampa Bay Lightning)*
Zach Stepan (Nashville Predators)*
C.J. Franklin (Winnipeg Jets)*
Bryce Gervais (Detroit Red Wings)
Jon Jutzi (Calgary Flames)
Dylan Margonari (New York Rangers)
Carter Foguth (Calgary Flames)
Casey Nelson (Philadelphia Flyers)
Brad McClure (Minnesota Wild)

* = draft pick

There was some thought that freshman defenseman Daniel Brickley was going to get drafted last week. That didn't happen, but he's getting a chance to show his stuff to the New York Rangers, according to that team's camp roster. Margonari, however, is not listed. He was not skating with the Mavericks last week, but was shooting by himself in the dryland area due to an injury. Perhaps that's keeping him away from New York right now.

As for former Mavericks, Stephon Williams will be attending the New York Islanders' camp, and I'd assume Zach Palmquist will be with the Wild.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mavericks' 2015-16 roster set

It's July 1, and, taking a peek at Minnesota State's website, the roster is set for the upcoming season. So for those of you who enjoy uniforms and numbers (yeah, I'm one of those nerds), here are what the Mavericks' newbies will be wearing starting this fall:

4-Clint Lewis, sophomore D (started career at Cornell)
7-Steen Cooper, freshman F
8-Daniel Brickley, freshman D
12-Max Coatta, freshman F
13-Chandler Madry, freshman F
14-Jimmy Mullin, senior F (graduate transfer from Miami)
21-Alex Vanko, freshman D
27-Ryan Schwalbe, freshman F
39-Jason Pawloski, freshman G

A couple other notes from the roster:

• None of the returning players changed numbers, which is always a good thing for the beat writer, especially at the beginning of the season.

• The Mavericks have 27 players this season, including 15 forwards, 9 defensemen and 3 goaltenders.

• The roster confirms that defenseman Nick Buchanan is not returning to the team. I understand he is staying in school but is done with hockey. Well-liked and a good kid who practiced hard, he did not get in a game last season and only played 31 games in three years (24 as a freshman).

• Here's a breakdown of the roster by class: Seniors (7) —Thompson, Gervais, Mullin, Blueger, Knowles, Margonari, Jutzi. Juniors (7) — Foguth, C. Nelson, Flanagan, J. Nelson, Huntebrinker, Stepan Huggins. Sophomore (6) — Lewis, Knutson, Franklin, McClure, Schmeisser, A. Nelson. Freshmen (7) —Cooper, Brickley, Coatta, Madry, Vanko, Schwalbe, Pawloski.

• Where are they from? Again, Minnesota State continues to be a melting pot of players from all over the place — 19 from the United States, 7 from Canada, 1 from Latvia. The 13 U.S. states represented include: Minnesota (5), Wisconsin (2), North Dakota (2), Michigan (1), Utah (1), South Dakota (1), California (1), Ohio (1), Missouri (1), Pennsylvania (1), Alaska, (1), Colorado (1), Nebraska (1). The three provinces represented include British Columbia (3), Saskatchewan (2), Ontario (2).

• As always, it will be strange to see different players in some very familiar numbers next season, especially 7 (formerly Zach Palmquist), 8 (Max Gaede), 12 (J.P. LaFontaine), 21 (Chase Grant) and 27 (Brett Stern). No number 18 (Matt Leitner) this season, though.