Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What did I miss?

Back from a week away, and, naturally, there were some mid-summer hockey happenings. Here are a few things that happened ...

• The WCHA hired Katie Million as its next vice president and women's league commissioner. She signed a three-year contract and will begin work on Sept. 2. Million replaces Aaron Kemp, who resigned in February. She comes from Lake Placid, N.Y., where she has been an executive with the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority.

• College hockey's NCAA rules committee decided to table a proposal to change overtime to 4-on-4 play. Proposed as a way to increase scoring, the idea of playing 4-on-4 wasn't well-received by coaches. On their own, conference can, however, play 3 on 3 following the five-minute 5-on-5 OT in order to break ties for league standings (those results will still be considered ties for national consideration).

• All's quite on the Minnesota State-to-NCHC proposal right now. No matter what happens, the Mavericks do believe they've made themselves into a player that cannot be ignored any longer. Here's a link to my column on that subject that ran last week.

• The Free Press' Mark Fischenich on Monday covered the lease situation between Minnesota State and the city of Mankato/Verizon Wireless Center, the details of which are still being haggled over. Minnesota State could pay as much as $872,000 annually for use of the facilities, although that price could be lowered significantly with some incentives that are built into the yet-to-be-agreed-upon contract.

• Finally, the Dan Meyer Blue Line Club Golf Classic was held on Monday at the Mankato Golf Club, and it appeared that there was a good turnout for the fundraiser. Notably, some hockey alumni participated in the tournament, including Tim Jackman, Andy Hedlund, Peter Holoien, Brett Stern and Bryce Gervais.

Gustavus' Don Roberts dies

Sad news out of Gustavus Adolphus College and St. Peter as legendary coach Don Roberts died on Sunday after a battle with degenerative heart disease. He was 83.

Free Press sports editor Jim Rueda wrote about Roberts in Tuesday's paper. You can read more about Roberts on the Gustavus website, too.

Roberts, whom Gustavus named its hockey rink after, coached the Gusties hockey team from 1964 to 1997 and retired as the winningest coach in NCAA Division III history. He compiled a 532-290-25 record over 33 seasons, winning 13 MIAC titles. His win total currently ranks 20th all-time in college hockey and sixth in DIII.

Not bad for a guy who, as a student at Gustavus, played football, basketball and baseball.

I didn't have the chance to cover Roberts or his teams, having arrived in Mankato in 2000. However, he often could be seen at Gustie games, and it was always a pleasure to talk to him.

I ran into former Minnesota State coach Don Brose on Monday (he is quoted in Rueda's piece linked above), and he said Roberts was instrumental in helping MSU get its hockey program started. Brose said Roberts allowed Brose's early teams to use the Gustavus rink. The two teams eventually developed an intense but friendly rivalry, one that lasted until MSU upgraded to Division I in 1997.

According to Gustavus, a private family service for Roberts will be held this week, however a public service celebrating his life will be held in Christ Chapel on the Gustavus campus in the very near future. Details will be announced in the coming days.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

MSU's letter to the NCHC

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald obtained a copy of Minnesota State's letter of inquiry for potential admittance into the National Collegiate Hockey Conference today. The letter, from university president Richard Davenport, makes clear the schools intentions as well as highlights the things — "added value" — MSU brings to the table. No real surprises based on Wednesday's news.

You can see the letter through a link in Schlossman's story here.

A few highlights from the letter:

• The letter was sent on May 18.

• Minnesota State's hope is to get into the league as a full member in 2018-19.

• Coach Mike Hastings' success over the last four years was noted, including his 100-49-7 record, the third-highest win total in DI over that time.

• Hastings' new contract signed last year as well as the team's full-time move into the upgraded Verizon Wireless Center show a financial investment and commitment that should make the program attractive. Later, the letter mentions MSU is working on a plan to phase in full cost of attendance aid.

• Geography (as I noted in map form on the previous blog post) is a big selling point with Mankato being a bus ride away for four current NCHC members (St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota) and having local charter service in town as well as close proximity to the MSP airport. Later, MSU's proximity to the Twin Cities is again brought up in reference to the NCHC's "Frozen Faceoff" championship weekend, which has been held at Target Center.

• Mankato's downtown with the full-service Hilton Garden Inn attached to the civic center via skyway, giving visiting teams an easy "stay and play" experience. (Indeed, I have heard this has been very attractive to visiting teams when it comes to scheduling nonconference games.)

• The Mavericks' game play is brought up, too: "We are committed to a wide-open, fast-paced style of play that fans enjoy watching and which allows for the complete growth and development of young student-athletes ..."

Schlossman's article says that the application fee for the NCHC is $20,000 and that would be applied to an unknown membership fee if the applying team is accepted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Contemplating the future

Freddy's three thoughts of today's events ...

1. Feeling like-minded: Sorry to bring up a term that rubbed so many people (myself included) five years ago, but does Minnesota State's announcement Wednesday that it has applied to join the NCHC mean it's a different program than it was five years ago? Well, it should because it is. Since the first six NCHC teams (St. Cloud State and Western Michigan came later) got together on this day (July 13) in 2011 to announce their like-mindedness, Minnesota State has undergone quite the extreme makeover, especially once Mike Hastings came aboard as coach. The program has won 100 games in four seasons and has been one of, if not the best team in the new WCHA. The Verizon Wireless Center has been modernized both for the team and the fans and the commitment of support from the MSU administration is real and visible. The Mavericks might have been ignored in 2011 (see below), but they've put themselves into a position to be considered now.

2. What are the chances? Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald writes that the NCHC's decision on expansion could come by October. He also says the yay or nay on MSU largely depends on what the NCHC wants to do with Arizona State, which is looking for a conference home right now. If the league lets in the Sun Devils, it will want a 10th team. Would MSU be the perfect fit? If what I wrote above fits into their criteria, so does geography. According to a cool site that an old map nerd like me could lose hours on, Mankato is basically geographic center (in this case, the center of minimum distance) of the current NCHC (actually, it's closer to New Ulm). MSU would also be a Minnesota school and one close to the Twin Cities where the NCHC is still playing its tournament championship. More local fans could only help that event, provided that league is still doing that in 2018 after the WCHA and the Big Ten abandoned theirs.

3. What about the WCHA? In a statement, commissioner Bill Robertson expressed deep disappointment in MSU's decision to explore other conference options for the future and is hoping to convince the school to stay in the league. The Mavericks may not have a choice, if they're rejected by the NCHC (why it's better to be up front about the potential move, I think). Despite some of the financial issues due to crazy travel and low attendance at conference tournaments, the new WCHA has been good for Minnesota State from a competitive standpoint, and all of MSU's officials spoke positively about the league. Mike Hastings today said he's more concerned about the WCHA this season than what's to come in the future (Hey, his team plays Michigan Tech in a mere 86 days!) A lot of credit has to go to the WCHA and several of its members in the post-realignment era. What MSU, Tech, Ferris State and Bowling Green (Would the Falcons be a potential NCHC member? Western Michigan and Miami would like that.) have done has been impressive, and it will continue to be a tough league for its members and nonconference opponents this season, I believe. But MSU does have to look out for itself and its best interests. If there was a lesson to be learned five years ago, it was that.

Deep thought: Speaking of five years ago, I recall being asked about what Minnesota State did or didn't do to not get invited to the NCHC the first time around. (Remember: St. Cloud State wasn't on the original guest list either.). My thought was that MSU wasn't on their minds. The top teams went off together to form a Super Conference (remember that term?). Minnesota State wasn't on the radar back then. Sort of reminds me of one of the great lines in Casablanca:

Minnesota State applies to NCHC

Minnesota State announced Wednesday afternoon that it has formally applied for membership in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, as the university contemplates the future of its men’s hockey program.

Approval of MSU’s application is anything but assured at this point, the release says, and even the timeline for consideration by the NCHC is unknown. 

The earliest the Mavericks could get into the new league, sources say, would be for the 2018-19 season. 

If Minnesota State were to be admitted, it would rejoin six of its former Western Collegiate Hockey Association that left that in 2013 conference behind for the upstart league — Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota and St. Cloud State.

Minnesota State’s success under fifth-year coach Mike Hastings (100 victories in four seasons), major improvements to the team’s Verizon Wireless facilities and strong administrative support for hockey could be attractive qualities to the NCHC, along with the school’s location. Mankato is as close to the geographic center of the NCHC as any city in the six states represented by the league.

According to the release, MSU has been up front with the WCHA about its decision to apply to the NCHC, and the WCHA responded with a statement, expressing disappointment and understanding.

And here is the NCHC's response.

Please see the story on The Free Press' website for updates.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Leivermann lands coaching gig

Former Mankato West, Minnesota State and Gustavus Adolphus hockey player Corey Leivermann was hired to coach a junior hockey team, the Jersey Shore Wildcats, a member of the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3).

Leivermann, 26, a 2008 West graduate, played 2 1/2 seasons at MSU before finishing his career with the Gusties. He was Gustavus' captain and a Division III All-American as a senior. Following his college career, he had a brief professional stop in Germany and the SPHL. Last season, he was a scout for the NAHL's Wichita Falls Wildcats.

“We are very excited to have Corey on board with us this season,” Wildcats general manager Eric Brule said in a press release. “After numerous interviews of potential candidates for the position, we are confident Corey is the right person for the job and was also highly recommended by the coaching staff in Wichita Falls. Corey is a natural leader with a great personality that will fit nicely with the players. With the relationships his has at the junior and collegiate levels, he will be a great asset for the players to have a chance to be promoted in the future. I look forward to have him on our staff and work with him on and off the ice."

For more on the NA3, read my story on the New Ulm Steel, a team that is moving from the Twin Cities and will begin play this fall. One of that team's players: Dylan Leivermann, Corey's younger brother.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Roster revealed

Minnesota State's 2016-17 roster is up, which means it's time to take a look at the numbers. As in the new players' numbers (it doesn't appear any returning players are changing, which is always a good thing for the writers. Here are the Mavericks' eight new players:

6-Parker Tuomie, F, Bremerhaven, Germany (Sioux Falls, USHL)
9-Charlie Gerard, F, Rocky River, Ohio (Madison, USHL)
14-Michael Bigelbach, D, Red Wing, Minn. (Omaha, USHL)
18-Ian Scheid, D, Coon Rapids, Minn. (Sioux Falls, USHL)
20-Marc Michaelis, F, Mannheim, Germany (Green Bay, USHL)
23-Nicholas Rivera, F, Pacific Palisades, Calif. (Omaha, USHL)
24-Edwin Hookenson, D, Lampman, Saskatchewan (Nanaimo, BCHL)
26-Josh French, F, Woodbury, Minn. (Omaha, USHL)

The Mavericks have 26 players on the roster. One player no longer on the roster is defenseman Jaden Schmeisser, who played in 28 games last year as a sophomore and 31 for his career.

The roster includes 15 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goalies. It also continues to be a melting pot with players from all over the place, including three countries (United States-20, Canada-4, Germany-2), 12 U.S. states (Minnesota-7, North Dakota-2, California-2, Michigan, Utah, Ohio, South Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin Alaska, Colorado, Nebraska) and 3 Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan-2, British Columbia, Ontario).

Minnesota State's first exhibition game, by the way, is a mere 88 days away!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Backes signs with Bruins

Well, my wish didn't come true ...

David Backes, the former Mavericks star and 10-year veteran of the St. Louis Blues, agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal with the Boston Bruins on Friday, about a half hour into NHL free agency.

(Read the Associated Press story here.)

Those terms were too long and too rich for the Blues' -- and the Minnesota Wild's -- blood, so Backes is moving on. 

I've written a lot about Backes over the years, noting, in particular, his character. Here's another example of that: His tweet today about leaving St. Louis, something, it's clear, he didn't really want to do:
Yep, class act. All the way.