Friday, September 30, 2016

Let the season begin

Minnesota State will play the University of Regina at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Verizon Center, using the official first day of the men's season for an exhibition game.

The game will be the first close look at this year's Mavericks team with so many new players and returning players in new roles.

"We'll probably play everybody," coach Mike Hastings said. "Experience is the best teacher, and we need to get some experience."

Hastings said that returning captain and senior defenseman Carter Foguth and junior forward C.J. Franklin will be the team's captains this season, each wearing the "C." Wearing the "A" as alternate captains will be seniors Michael Huntebrinker and Sean Flanagan and junior Brad McClure.

It's a big leadership group, but "that's the group they decided they want to follow," Hastings said. "I respect that. That's the group they want to be their leaders."

Look for my MSU preview in Sunday's edition of The Free Press, along with coverage of Saturday's game. As always, there will be live updates of the game and other tidbits from around college hockey right here on the blog and on Twitter.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

MSU women set to start

The Minnesota State women's hockey team gets underway on Friday night when it hosts RIT at the Verizon Center. 

The Mavericks are beginning their second season under coach John Harrington. In their first season, they had 21 freshmen and sophomores — 22, Harrington says, if you count him — so they come in this year with much more experience. Is it enough to move up the WCHA standings? Stay tuned.

One of the returning players is senior goaltender Brianna Quade, who started all but one game last year and was the Mavericks' MVP. Only one goaltender in the country saw more shots than Quade and only two others made more saves than she did. 

The Mavericks were picked to finish last in the WCHA. Wisconsin, the league's defending champion, was picked first with six first-place votes. Minnesota, the defending national champion, was second and earned the other two votes. From there, the list went: North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Ohio State and Minnesota State.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mavericks ranked 19th

Minnesota State is ranked 19th in the first U.S. College Hockey Online poll released Monday.

The Mavericks are coming off a 21-13-7 season and were ranked 17th in last spring's final poll.

Minnesota State is one of four WCHA teams in the rankings. Bowling Green is 14th, Michigan Tech is 17th and Ferris State is 20th. No other teams received votes.

North Dakota, the defending national champion, is No. 1, receiving 43 of 50 first-place votes. Quinnipiac is second, followed by Denver, Boston University, Boston College Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State. Massachusetts-Lowell, Notre Dame and Providence round out the top 10.

Here is the poll:

Preseason Division I Men's Poll
Minneapolis, Minn./September 26, 2016

   Team             (First Place)    Record   Pts  Last Year
 1 North Dakota              (43)   34- 6-4   993     1
 2 Quinnipiac                ( 1)   32- 4-7   856     2
 3 Denver                           25-10-6   848     4
 4 Boston University         ( 5)   21-13-5   774    14
 5 Boston College            ( 1)   28- 8-5   641     3
 6 Minnesota-Duluth                 19-16-5   621     9
 7 St. Cloud State                  31- 9-1   569     5
 8 Massachusetts-Lowell             26-10-5   535     7
 9 Notre Dame                       19-11-7   502    13
10 Providence                       27- 7-4   476     7
11 Michigan                         25- 8-5   470     6
12 Harvard                          19-11-4   422    10
13 Minnesota                        20-17-0   404    NR
14 Bowling Green                    22-14-6   370    NR
15 Northeastern                     22-15-5   361    12
16 St. Lawrence                     19-14-4   336    18
17 Michigan Tech                    23- 9-5   285    16
18 Yale                             19- 9-4   283    11
19 Minnesota State                  21-13-7   153    17
20 Ferris State                     20-15-6   126    15

Others receiving votes: Cornell 92, Nebraska-Omaha 85, Penn
State 63, Clarkson 62, RIT 62, Ohio State 33, Air Force 17,
Vermont 16, Miami 11, Wisconsin 10, Dartmouth 6, Robert
Morris 6, Michigan State 5.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mavericks in camp

According to College Hockey Inc., who did the research, 10 former Minnesota State players will be participating in NHL training camps, which are kicking off this week. Here's the list:

David Backes, Boston Bruins
Casey Nelson, Buffalo Sabres
Travis Morin, Dallas Stars
Ryan Carter, Minnesota Wild
Zach Palmquist, Minnesota Wild
Stephon Williams, New York Islanders
Teddy Blueger, Pittsburgh Penguins
Bryce Gervais, St. Louis Blues
Jon Jutzi, Toronto Maple Leafs
Dylan Margonari, Washington Capitals

In all, there are 50 former players from the current makeup of the WCHA in camps, including seven each from Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State; six from Ferris State; five each from Alaska and Bowling Green; three each from Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State and Northern Michigan; and one from Alabama Huntsville.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Extra enforcement will be out

When the college hockey season begins in nine days, don’t be surprised if you start seeing more penalties, more power plays and, perhaps, more scoring.

Referees have been directed to crack down on obstruction and interference this season, WCHA supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd said during the league’s annual preseason conference call on Tuesday.

The WCHA has been criticized for turning a blind eye to such infractions, which can take away scoring chances and result in low-scoring games. However, Shepherd said, it’s a concern throughout the sport.

“This is around all hockey, all leagues,” Shepherd said, “that we kind of slacked off on the standard of play.”

Shepherd said the NCAA rule committee stressed to supervisors of all conferences this summer the importance of enforcing rules that improve the standard of play.

“Holding along the boards, obstruction, holding a player up trying to get in the zone, faceoff interference, things like that will be called and will be called tightly. No ifs, ands or buts. … We want players to play. We want them to skate.”

Rule changes for this season include the requirement that all players and officials on the ice wear helmets at all times except during the national anthem. The rule is a reaction to the death of WCHA referee Oliver “Butch” Mousseau. Mousseau suffered critical head injuries after falling on the ice during warmups prior to a WCHA Final Five game March 18 in Grand Rapids, Mich. He died a week later.

At the same time, the NCAA has now said that mouthguards are recommended but not required for players, since they wear full face shields.

Also, coaches may challenge offsides and too many players on the ice on goal-scoring plays prior to the last two minutes of the game. In those final minutes and overtime, review is the referees’ responsibility.

How I voted

The WCHA preseason coaches and media polls were released on Tuesday, and they were fairly close in their selections. I conduct the coaches poll, but I also participate in the media poll put together by Jack Hittinger at the Bemidji Pioneer. Here's how I voted in the media poll:

1. Bowling Green
2. Michigan Tech
3. Minnesota State
4. Ferris State
5. Northern Michigan
6. Bemidji State
7. Lake Superior State
8. Alabama Huntsville
9. Alaska
10. Alaska Anchorage

Preseason player of the year: Gerald Mayhew, Ferris State

Preseason newcomer of the year: Parker Tuomie, Minnesota State

Preseason All-WCHA:
F-Gerald Mayhew, Ferris State
F-C.J. Franklin, Minnesota State
F-Dominik Shine, Northern Michigan
D-Sean Walker, Bowling Green
D-Matt Roy, Michigan Tech
G-Chris Nell, Bowling Green

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

WCHA Coaches Poll: BG is favorite, MSU 3rd

Bowling Green has been picked as the favorite to win the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA regular-season champion by the league's coaches in the fourth annual Mankato Free Press WCHA Men's Hockey Preseason Coaches Poll.

The coaches picked Ferris State senior forward Gerald Mayhew as the conference's Preseason Player of the Year and Minnesota State freshman forward Parker Tuomie as the Preseason Rookie of the Year.

Bowling Green, which has finished third in the standings in each of the last three seasons, received eight of the 10 coaches' first-place votes and had 89 points in the poll. Michigan Tech had the other two and finished second with 79 points. 

Minnesota State was third with 71 points. Michigan Tech and Minnesota State shared the league championship a year ago. 

Ferris State, the winner of last year's WCHA playoff title, was picked fourth, one point out of third place. The Bulldogs' Mayhew had 25 points in league play last year (9 goals, 16 assists), which ranked third in the scoring race and his 41 points overall (16 goals, 25 assists) led the conference in scoring. 

Northern Michigan (54 points) was picked fifth, followed by Bemidji State (48), Lake Superior State (44), Alaska Anchorage (29), Alabama Huntsville (23) and Alaska (21).  

Tuomi, a native of Germany, finished 11th in the United States Hockey League scoring race last season, scoring 54 points (30 goals, 24 assists) for the Sioux Falls Stampede. His goal total ranked seventh in the USHL. 

Mankato Free Press WCHA Men's Hockey Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Bowling Green (8) 89 
2. Michigan Tech (2) 79 
3. Minnesota State 71 
4. Ferris State 70 
5. Northern Michigan 54 
6. Bemidji State 48 
7. Lake Superior State 44 
8. Alaska Anchorage 29 
9. Alabama Huntsville 23 
10. Alaska 21 

Predicted order of finish. Teams received 10 points for a first-place vote, 9 for a second, etc. Coaches could not vote for their own teams. 

Preseason WCHA Player of the Year:
Gerald Mayhew, Sr. F, Ferris State (7 votes) 
Others receiving votes: Mark Friedman, Jr. D, Bowling Green (1); Brandon Hawkins, Jr. F, Bowling Green (1); Chris Nell, Jr. F, Bowling Green (1) 
Preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year
Parker Tuomie, F, Minnesota State (4 votes) 
Others receiving votes: Cam Clarke, D, Ferris State (2); Colton Leiter, F, Alaska (1); Marc Michaelis, F, Minnesota State (1); Collin Peters, F, Northern Michigan (1); Angus Redmond, G, Michigan Tech (1) 
Preseason All-WCHA Team 
Forwards—Gerald Mayhew, Sr., Ferris State; Dominik Shine, Sr., Northern Michigan; Brandon Hawkins, Jr., Bowling Green (tie); Corey Mackin, So., Ferris State (tie) 

Defensemen—Mark Friedman, Jr., Bowling Green; Matt Roy, Jr., Michigan Tech 

Goaltender Chris Nell, Jr., Bowling Green 

Others receiving votes (listed alphabetically by position): Forwards—Gerry Fitzgerald, Jr., Bemidji State; C.J. Franklin, Jr., Minnesota State; Brendan Harms, Tyler Heinonen, Sr., Michigan Tech; Sr., BSU; Joel L'Esperance, Jr., Michigan Tech. Defensemen—Mark Auk, Jr., Michigan Tech; Daniel Brickley, So., Minnesota State; Shane Hanna, Sr., Michigan Tech; Sean Walker, Sr., Bowling Green. Goaltenders—Michael Bitzer, Jr., Bemidji State; Gordon Defiel, Jr., Lake Superior State; Cole Huggins, Sr., Minnesota State; Darren Smith, So., Ferris State. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Downtown hockey facility named after Brose

Minnesota State's 1-year-old hockey facility at the Verizon Wireless Center is now called the Don Brose Training Center. It's named after the university's first and longtime head coach.

When the Mavericks called All Seasons Arena home, their hockey facilities were named after Brose, who spent 30 years (1969-2000) as the team's coach.

"The Don Brose Training Center at Verizon Center will stand as a fitting tribute to the significance that Coach Brose has had in the City of Mankato and for Minnesota State University for the game of hockey. His contributions as a whole cannot be overstated," Mankato city manager Pat Hentges said in a statement.

Said MSU athletic director Kevin Buisman: "We are thrilled to provide this well-deserved naming recognition opportunity for Coach Brose. Don Brose is an iconic figure in this area and his name is synonymous with Maverick Hockey. His pioneering ways and vision for the impact this sport would have combined to create an indelible impact on our University, this community, and all of southern Minnesota. We are indebted for his leadership and proud to have his name associated with the new home of Maverick Hockey at Verizon Center."

Read more from MSU here and from The Free Press here.

Pressing on

We're less than a month away from the start of the 2016-17 season. Ice is going in. Calls have been sent out to WCHA coaches for the annual preseason poll. Teams are practicing two hours a week.

For Minnesota State, concentration is on the upcoming season, even after last week's announcement from the NCHC about expansion.

In my Tuesday Free Press column this week, I argued that Minnesota State needs to press on despite the NCHC's decision not to expand. Mavericks coach Mike Hastings is fond of saying his team — his program — has to get better, no matter how well it's doing. And that mantra remains true.

The NCHC, which always had the option to not expand, no matter how attractive the applicants, didn't appear to close the door completely on adding teams in the future. But also, MSU is in a conference, the WCHA, and needs to be a leader in the evolution of that league, especially considering the league's financial issues, the tenuous outlook for the Alaska schools and other changes that might be coming down the road.

Some have suggested that Minnesota State is now in the awkward position of going into the WCHA this season after making it known that it's prepared to leave for another league. I disagree. Isn't it better to have your cards on the table? Isn't it better than what happened five years ago when five teams (then six) announced they were leaving the league almost out of the blue?

In a month, all eyes will be on the ice.