Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Must be a sign

Some nice signage has gone up above the Riverfont entrance of the Verizon Wireless Center, for the first time in 20 years showing that the arena is the home to Minnesota State hockey. Inside, renovations to the Mavericks' hockey center are in the final stages. Minnesota State has an exhibition game on Sunday afternoon against Alberta and then kicks off the regular season with a home series against Nebraska Omaha on Oct. 9-10.

MSU women's player honored

Corbin Boyd
The Minnesota State women's hockey team got off to a good start under new coach John Harrington, tying and defeating Union in a season-opening nonconference series in Mankato.

The Mavericks settled for a 2-2 tie on Friday, getting a late game-tying goal from freshman Corbin Boyd with 1:48 remaining in regulation. MSU outshot Union 46-19.

The next game, MSU goaltender Brianna Quade stopped 19 shots in a 3-0 victory for her first collegiate shutout. The Mavericks had 24 shots in that game.

Other goal scorers for MSU during the weekend included Katie Johnson, Anna Keys, Amanda Conway and Anna Fiegert. Johnson had a three-point weekend with a goal and two assists, as did Hannah Davidson, who had three assists.

Boyd, a Minnetonka native who played at Hopkins High, had an assist in the second game and was named the WCHA's Rookie of the Week for her two-point, five-shot, plus-2 weekend.

The Mavericks will hit the road this week, going to RIT to perhaps try to avenge the MSU men's NCAA tournament loss to the Tigers. The non conference series will take place at 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mavericks ranked 6th

The first U.S. College Hockey Online poll of the season — preseason, rather — was released on Monday, and Minnesota State is ranked sixth in the country to start the year. The Mavericks, who also received one first-place vote, were seventh in last year's final rankings and first at the start of the NCAA tournament.

I am a voter on this weekly poll and struggled with putting together a top 20. Proving I wasn't alone, there were 10 different teams that received at least one of 50 possible first place votes. Also, 35 of the 60 teams that play Division I men's hockey received at least one vote. Crazy.

Here's what the poll looked like (first-place votes in parenthesis; WCHA teams in bold):

1. Boston College (19) 907 points
2. Minnesota-Duluth (12) 836 
3. Boston University (6) 820 
4. North Dakota (1) 766 
5. Denver 739 
6. Minnesota State (1) 699 
7. Providence (6) 642 
8. Harvard (1) 592 
9. Minnesota (1) 530 
10. Nebraska Omaha 505 
11. Miami (1) 461 
12. Yale 432
13. Michigan 417 
14. UMass-Lowell (2) 398 
15. Michigan Tech 390 
16. Bowling Green 316 
17. St. Cloud State 236 
18. Quinnipiac 228 
19. St. Lawrence 156 
20. Colgate 129 

Others receiving votes: Robert Morris 63, Notre Dame 45, RIT 39, Michigan State 37, Northeastern 31, Vermont 23, Penn State 19, New Hampshire 18, Ferris State 11, Wisconsin 5, Bemidji State 4, Union 3, Alaska 1, Brown 1, Dartmouth 1.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Game on for the MSU women

John Cross/The Free Press
The Minnesota State women's hockey team begin their 18th season today and first under new coach John Harrington. The Mavericks will host Union in the first game of a two-game set at All Seasons Arena (gametimes are 7:07 p.m. today and 2:07 p.m. Saturday). These are expected to be the final college hockey games at the arena before the women move downtown to the renovated Verizon Wireless Center.

I wrote about Harrington and the Mavericks getting started in today's Free Press. Read that story here.

A few things to know about this year's MSU women's hockey team ...

Coaching staff: head coach John Harrington (first year), associate head coach Jeff Giesen, assistant coach Shari Dickerman.

Roster breakdown: 1 senior, 4 juniors, 10 sophomores, 10 freshmen.

Key returners: Hanna Davidison, so. F (6-9—15), Katie Johnson, sr. F (3-4—7), Elin Johansson, so. F (3-3—6), Anna Keys, so. D (3-3—6), Amanda Conway, so. F (2-4—6), Anna Fiegert, jr. D (0-4—4), Brianna Quade, jr. G (1-8-0, .888, 5.01).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mavericks on TV

Pat Christman/The Free Press
On Wednesday, members of the Minnesota State men's hockey team underwent their annual media day, which, really, was the time when the outstanding TV crew from Bethany Lutheran College shot footage to be used during the local broadcasts. Above is a photo of some of what was taking place — spotlights, fog machines, even drones.

All home games are broadcast on Charter cable, but there will be at least four other chances to catch the Mavericks on TV.

If the two-time defending Broadmoor Trophy champions can get back to the Final Five, they'll be on Fox Sports North. The WCHA announced on Wednesday that its championship weekend, the Final Five, will be televised on FSN, as it has been the last two seasons. This year's event, which includes the league playoff semifinals and championship game, will take place March 18-19 in Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Fox Sports North also announced a college hockey TV schedule for the season that includes four games involving Minnesota State. They are:

Friday, Oct. 16 at St. Cloud State
Saturday, Nov. 14 at Minnesota
Saturday, Jan. 30 vs. St. Cloud State (North Star College Cup)
Sunday, Jan. 31 vs. Bemidji State or Minnesota (North Star championship or consolation)

Besides the Charter broadcast, MSU's all other WCHA teams' home games will be available on WCHA.tv, an online subscription service which, this season, will be provided by Stretch Internet. More information, including pricing, can be found here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

10 things I learned from the WCHA coaches

On Monday, the WCHA coaches held their annual preseason conference call to preview the upcoming season.. Here's a nugget of information gleaned from each of the of the coaches, plus a couple of extra bits from the call:

1. Alaska Anchorage has just one senior forward, but he's a good one, Blake Tatchell (79 career points). Coach Matt Thomas, however, says he doesn't "want to put the burden of a young team on (Tatchell's and the three other seniors') shoulders."

2. Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said the Falcons will be a "by-committee team," and it's a pretty good committee with their top four scorers and six of their top seven returning from a year ago. Each had at least 20 points. "I feel this year's group is deep at all three positions," Bergeron said.

3. According to Ferris State coach Bob Daniels, Preseason Rookie of the Year Corey Mackin comes in "really highly touted." ... "He's a really talented player, he's gifted offensively and can skate. I think he can play at a fast pace. The transition should be pretty good for him."

4. Lake Superior State goalie Gordon Defiel led the country in saves (1,148) last season as a freshman, and coach Damon Whitten hopes the Lakers can give him more goal support. LSSU averaged about 1.5 goals per game. "It was a tough situation," Whitten said. "(Defiel) felt like, if he gave up one goal, it was going to be a tough night."

5. Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson is keenly aware of what's standing in the way of his team. "We have to figure out a way to beat Minnesota State," he said. Indeed, the Huskies, who finished the season 29-10-2, were 0-4-1 against MSU last season, including the Final Five championship game.

6. Northern Michigan, according to coach Walt Kyle, lost 156 man games to injury last season. "We were extremely beat up and couldn't get anything going," he said. Among the injured was goalie Mathias Dahlstrom, who suffered a concussion and a torn ACL.

7. Alabama Huntsville coach Mike Corbett admitted that his team isn't "the sexiest program out there," but he's trying to recruit hard-working, tough-to-play-against guys who are "up to the challenge of building a program." ... "Getting guys who want to be here, that's my litmus test," he said.

8. Four of Bemidji State's top seven returning scorers are centers, coach Tom Serratore said, and he thinks the Beavers' strengths are up front and in net where goalie Michael Bitzer returns from a great freshman season. Defense will be a different story with Matt Prapavessis gone.

9. Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings didn't shy away from the questions surrounding his team and, really, asked them himself: "Can Bryce Gervais survive without Matt Leitner?" and "Can the seniors step up, (like) Teddy Blueger going into his fourth year." Of course, goaltending is another question, and Hastings said that "situation is wide open."

10. Alaska has the Preseason Player of the Year in Tyler Morley, but in the most inspiring player on the roster is defenseman Justin Woods, who, coach Dallas Ferguson said, will be back on the ice htis year after missing all of last season while undergoing treatment for a rare form of bone cancer.

Another thing ... WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said the league is taking "baby steps" on exploring national TV coverage of the league. Look for an announcement on this soon, he said. Robertson also said the league continues to look into expansion as well as a Final Five opportunity beyond 2017 when it returns to St. Paul (it will be in Grand Rapids at the end of the upcoming season).

And another thing ... WCHA officials chief Greg Shepherd talked about the new emphasis on scoring when it come to contact with the goaltender. If a goalie is in the crease and contact is made by a player in the crease, a goal will be waved off. If the goalie is outside the crease, the goal will count.

Monday, September 21, 2015

How I voted

Besides compiling The Free Press' WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll, I also had a vote in the Bemidji Pioneer's Media Poll. In the interest of full disclosure, here is my ballot (with some commentary):

Predicted order of finish:
1. Minnesota State
The champs are deep and their D might be better, although goaltending will be a question mark.

2. Michigan Tech
The Huskies finished one point shy of the Mavericks last year and might have more back.

3. Bowling Green
The Falcons have nearly everyone back and might be motivated by its narrow miss of the NCAAs.

4. Alaska
The Nanooks will miss the early departure of D Colton Parayko but they have top-four talent.

5. Bemidji State
Another team that has holes to fill on D, losing Matt Prapavessis, but will compete for home ice.

6. Northern Michigan
Injuries derailed the Wildcats' season last year. If healthy, there's a lot of potential in Marquette.

7. Ferris State
C.J. Motte isn't in goal anymore, which could mean a big slip if the Bulldogs don't score.

8. Alabama Huntsville
With goalie Carmine Guerrero, coach Mike Corbett is building something with the Chargers.

9. Alaska Anchorage
The Seawolves took one step forward in '13-14 and two back last year. Still work to be done.

10. Lake Superior State
It will be interesting to see how the Lakers do in coach Damon Whitten's second season.

Preseason player of the year: Tyler Morley, F, Alaska
Tough call here with Bryce Gervais and Alex Petan also considered, but Morley was 14-19—33 in league play last year, sandwiched between All-Americans Tanner Kero of Tech and Matt Leitner of MSU.

Preseason newcomer of the year: Jimmy Mullin, Minnesota State (transfer)
Since this award wasn't limited to incoming freshmen, I went with the senior and former Miami player. History shows he has potential to be a top-six forward for the Mavericks.

Preseason team
F-Tyler Morley, Alaska
F-Bryce Gervais, Minnesota State
F-Alex Petan, Michigan Tech
D-Casey Nelson, Minnesota State
D-Mark Friedman, Bowling Green
G-Jamie Phillips, Michigan Tech
Mentioned all of those forwards in my player-of-the-year selection. Casey Nelson is one of the top-scoring D in the league. Friedman had an impressive freshman year (although it came down to him and Tech's Shane Hanna). Phillips has a shot at being the best player in the league.

Mavs picked first by coaches, media

Minnesota State, the WCHA's defending MacNaughton Cup and Broadmoor Trophy champion, has been tabbed as the favorite to win the conference title again this year, garnering 8 of 10 first-place votes in the third-annual Mankato Free Press WCHA Men’s Hockey Preseason Coaches Poll and 12 of 19 votes in the Bemidji Pioneer's Preseason Media Poll.

In the coaches poll, Bowling Green and Michigan Tech each received a first-place vote and were picked to finish second and third, respectively

Bemidji State was picked to finish fourth, followed by Alaska, Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Alabama Huntsville, Alaska Anchorage and Lake Superior State.

Alaska forward Tyler Morley was selected as the league's Preseason Player of the Year. Morley, a senior from Burnaby, British Columbia, is the WCHA's top returning scorer with 33 points in league play last season (he finished with 37 total). He received seven of the 10 coaches' votes for the honor.

Ferris State freshman forward Corey Mackin was picked as the Preseason Rookie of the Year. The Philadelphia native was the the Canadian Junior Hockey League's most valuable player last season, playing for the Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League.

Morley was chosen to the Preseason All-WCHA team, along with forwards Bryce Gervais (Minnesota State) and Alex Petan (Michigan Tech); defensemen Shane Hanna (Michigan Tech) and Casey Nelson (Minnesota State); and goaltender Jamie Phillips (Michigan Tech).

Gervais was chosen as Preseason Player of the Year by the media, with freshman forward Stephen Baylis of Bowling Green getting the nod above a crowded field for Newcomer of the Year.

Here are the results of the polls:

2015-16 Mankato Free Press WCHA Men’s Hockey Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Minnesota State 89 (8)
2. Bowling Green 79 (1)
3. Michigan Tech 78 (1)
4. Bemidji State 61
5. Alaska 55
6. Ferris State 51
7. Northern Michigan 49
8. Alabama Huntsville 29
9. Alaska Anchorage 27
10. Lake Superior State 22

(Points accumulated on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 system. Coaches could not vote for their own teams.)

Preseason Player of the Year: Tyler Morley, sr. forward, Alaska (7); Bryce Gervais, sr. forward, Minnesota State (2); Alex Petan, sr. forward, Michigan Tech (1)

Preseason Rookie of the Year:
Corey Mackin, forward, Ferris State (6); Stephen Baylis, forward, Bowling Green (2); Max Coatta, forward, Minnesota State (1); Mitch Hults, forward, Lake Superior State (1)

Preseason All-WCHA Team
Forward——Tyler Morely, sr., Alaska
Forward——Bryce Gervais, sr., Minnesota State
Forward——Alex Petan, sr. Michigan Tech
Defenseman——Shane Hanna, jr., Michigan Tech
Defenseman——Casey Nelson, jr., Minnesota State
Goaltender——Jamie Phillips, sr., Michigan Tech

Others receiving votes: Forwards——Brandon Hawkins, so., Bowling Green. Defensemen——Mark Friedman, so., Bowling Green; Brock Maschmeyer, jr., Northern Michigan. Goaltenders——Carmine Guerriero, jr., Alabama Huntsville; Olivier Mantha, so., Alaska Anchorage; Mathias Dahlstrom, jr., Northern Michigan; Michael Bitzer, so., Bemidji State.

2015-16 Bemidji Pioneer WCHA Men’s Hockey Preseason Media Poll
1. Minnesota State 265 (12)
2. Michigan Tech 263 (9)
3. Bowling Green 250 (8)
4. Bemidji State 184
5. Alaska 164
6. Ferris State 142
7. Northern Michigan 138
8. Alabama Huntsville 88
9. Lake Superior State 54
10. Alaska Anchorage 47

Preseason Player Of The Year: 
Bryce Gervais, sr. forward, Minnesota State (9); Alex Petan, sr. forward, Michigan Tech (8); Tyler Morley, sr. forward, Alaska (7); Jamie Phillips, sr. goaltender, Michigan Tech (1); Carmine Guerriero, jr. goaltender, Alabama-Huntsville (1); Brad McClure, so. forward, Minnesota State (1).

Newcomer of the Year: Stephen Baylis, fr. forward, Bowling Green (5); Corey Mackin, fr. forward, Ferris State (4); Jake Jackson, fr. forward, Michigan Tech (2); Troy Loggins, fr. forward, Northern Michigan (2); Brett Boeing, fr. forward, Michigan Tech (1); Dillon Eichstadt, fr. defenseman, Bemidji State (1); Owen Headrick, fr. defenseman, Lake Superior State (1); Jetlan Houcher, fr. forward, Alabama-Huntsville (1); Nikolas Koberstein, fr. defenseman, Alaska (1); Jake Lucchini, fr. forward, Michigan Tech (1); Chandler Madry, fr. forward, Minnesota State (1); Jimmy Mullin, sr. forward (transfer), Minnesota State (1); Anthony Nellis, fr. forward, Lake Superior State (1); Chad Staley, fr. forward, Alaska (1).

Preseason All-WCHA TeamForward——Tyler Morely, sr., Alaska
Forward——Bryce Gervais, sr., Minnesota State
Forward——Alex Petan, sr. Michigan Tech
Defenseman——Shane Hanna, jr., Michigan Tech
Defenseman——Casey Nelson, jr., Minnesota State
Goaltender——Jamie Phillips, sr., Michigan Tech

For more on the media poll go here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

And so it begins

Today is September 15, which is the "soft opening," so to speak for the men's college hockey season. Starting today, coaches can go on the ice with their teams for a total of two hours a week. Those limitations are in effect until Saturday, Oct. 3 when the season official begins. Of course, when that day comes around, things escalate quickly, with the Mavericks playing an exhibition game the next day and a regular-season series the following weekend.

"It's the officials start," junior defenseman and captain Carter Foguth said Monday for my story. "It's the day when we start our journey. It's full speed from there."

The Mavericks are still practicing at All Seasons Arena and are scheduled to move into their new digs at the Verizon Wireless Center at the end of the month. Coach Mike Hastings said things are progressing well with the new hockey center's construction, although much work remains over the final couple of weeks.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

While I was out ...

The college hockey season begins in a month, and I've taken the last of my long vacations for the year. A few things happened while I was away, so here an ICYMI ...

Former Minnesota State player Jake Brenk will be the next alum to skate in the NHL. Only he will be there as a referee. Brenk, who played at MSU from 2001-05 and had 48 points in 125 college games, never made it to the big leagues as a player, despite being a fifth-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2001, but did play five years of pro hockey in North America and Europe before putting on the stripes. The 33-year-old from Detroit Lakes worked his way up as an official on junior hockey and the minor leagues, including the CHL, ECHL and AHL.

Matt Leitner didn't sign with an NHL team when last season ended, but he has been invited to the Florida Panthers' rookie camp on a tryout basis. The camp begins Friday.

Two more players who wrapped up their Maverick career last spring, signed with the ECHL's Toledo Walleye recently: Jean-Paul LaFontaine and Max Gaede.

Eriah Hayes, who was not re-signed by the San Jose Sharks and ended up agreeing to terms with the AHL's Chicago Wolves, is getting a tryout chance with the St. Louis Blues, the Wolves' parent club.

The MSU men's hockey team is looking for a new certified athletic trainer after Masa Takaiwa left to take a position as massage therapist for the NHL's Dallas Stars.

Minnesota State last week received a commitment from forward Nick Rivera of the Omaha Lancers. Rivera. The California native is beginning his second year in the USHL, following a 14-goal, 14-assist season a year ago. Prior to that he played in the NAHL with the Wenatchee Wild, where former Mav Chris Clark was (and still is) an assistant coach. Rivera considered a leader and high-character player, as well. He's the third player on Omaha's current roster to commit to MSU, joining Josh French and Michael Bigelbach.

Here is a Q&A with former Mavericks captain Johnny McInnis, who plays with the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears. His college days do come up.

Speaking of Q&As, the NAHL's Minot Minotauros have three Mankato natives on their roster this year: West grads Derek Frentz and Max Mettler and East grad Grayson Gavin. Click on their names to get to know a little more about these players with college-hockey dreams.