Wednesday, August 31, 2016

NCHC says no to expansion

Minnesota State’s hopes of getting admitted into the National Collegiate Hockey Conference are on hold, at least for now.

On Wednesday, the NCHC announced that its board of directors has decided not to expand its membership.

Minnesota State, which currently is a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, announced in mid-July that it had applied to the NCHC for the 2018-19 season. Arizona State also applied to the NCHC.

“After careful consideration and a thorough vetting process, the (NCHC) Board of Directors announced the conference will not move forward with membership expansion at this time,” NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said in an official statement. “We will continue to be attentive to the college hockey landscape and any future changes that may come. However, our focus right now is guided by what we can do to strengthen our current membership into the future.”

Through the athletic department’s official Twitter feed, Minnesota State announced:

“Officials at Minnesota State acknowledge information released earlier this afternoon by the (NCHC) regarding membership expansion. At this time Minnesota State declines any comment regarding the NCHC’s statement."

Minnesota State was seeking to rejoin six former WCHA members who left the league in 2013 for the new NCHC: Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota and St. Cloud State. Miami and Western Michigan are the other NCHC members.

In its application Minnesota State touted its success over the last four seasons under coach Mike Hastings, major improvements to the Verizon Wireless Center’s hockey facilities and strong administrative support qualities that might make the Mavericks an attractive ninth or 10th member of the NCHC. Also, Mankato is as close to the geographic center of the NCHC as any city in the six states represented by the league.

Minnesota State is one of two Minnesota schools in the WCHA, along with Bemidji State. The other members are Alabama Huntsville, Alaska (Fairbanks), Alaska Anchorage, Bowling Green (Ohio), Ferris State (Mich.), Lake Superior State (Mich.), Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan.

The future of the two Alaska schools is in doubt due to a budget crisis at the University of Alaska system. Options under consideration include cutting one or both hockey programs. There was some speculation Wednesday that the situation in Fairbanks and Anchorage might have been one of the reasons the NCHC decided top put expansion on pause.

What does this mean for Minnesota State and Arizona State going forward? For MSU, nothing really changes right now. The Mavericks were set to stay in the WCHA — where they have done quite well in the conference realignment era — for at least the next two seasons. ASU is a team without a league. The Sun Devils were an NCAA team for the first time last season and have been exploring their options. The Big Ten announced it was not interested in ASU as an affiliate member, and now the NCHC has opted not to expand. The WCHA had been pursuing Arizona State in the past. Is that still an option?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

WCHA adding 3x3, shootout

WCHA games will have winners this season — at least for standings purposes — as the league on Tuesday announced that it will implement 3-on-3 overtime and shootouts to games that are still tied at the end of the NCAA-mandated five-minute, 5-on-5, sudden-death overtime.

The league also is implementing a new point system for the standings, giving three points to teams that win in regulation or in 5-on-5 overtime instead of the usual two. A team that loses in that situation gets zero.

If games are tied after the first overtime, they will go down officially as ties per NCAA and Pairwise standards. However, a five-minute, 3-on-3, sudden-death overtime will be played after that to get a winner for league purposes. If the game remains tied, a shootout will take place. Shootout and 3-on-3 winners will get two points, and the losing team will get one for the standings.

UPDATE: Mavericks coach Mike Hastings, whose team had a league-high seven ties last season and still shared the MacNaughton Cup championship, said he likes the move: "We're trying to get away from ties. Also, part of the goal is to provide entertainment to the fans who pay a dollar to watch us play."

The WCHA also announced that it will use NHL-sized nets which are shallower by four inches, leaving more room for players behind the net.

For more on the WCHA changes, go here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

College hockey at risk in Alaska

The University of Alaska system is facing a huge budget crisis, and on Thursday, a review committee released a set of options to help quell the situation across the board.

When it comes to athletics, none of the possible solutions floated would be good for college hockey at Alaska Fairbanks or Alaska Anchorage, both of which play in the WCHA along with Minnesota State.

Two of the options involve cutting hockey completely from both schools (along with other sports — in one option, all sports), while the other would cut hockey from one of the two campuses with the schools competing as one.

Anchorage hockey coach Matt Thomas told the Alaska Dispatch News he hopes "cooler heads will prevail," however, the Seawolves could help their cause by winning games and drawing fans:

"I know everyone wants us to win — it takes time, and I think we're getting there. It would be a shame for hockey to go away, because if it goes, it's never coming back. I've got a lot of confidence in knowing there is a supportive hockey community here, and we need those people to show their support."

Read more from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jackman returns

Photo by Bre McGee/The Free Press
August has been relatively quiet, hockey-wise, but Minnesota State's players are back in town now as classes begin next week.

There will be one student going to school next week 14 years after the last time he sat in a classroom. That's former MSU player Tim Jackman.

Jackman played for the Mavericks for two seasons, from 2000 to 2002, before departing for professional hockey. Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he played for six different NHL teams until he hung up his skates.

Trying to figure out what to do next, he got in touch with MSU assistant coach Darren Blue, who has been in his position since Jackman's freshman year, and found out that, not only could he come back to Mankato and start working on his college degree again, but he could work with his old college team as a student-assistant coach.

Jackman and his family are all in, too, buying a home in North Mankato earlier this month and settling into the community.

Read more in my feature about Jackman in today's Free Press.