Friday, June 26, 2009

It's official: BSU, UNO to join WCHA

Checking in from vacation real quick for the PucKato faithful: The WCHA is announcing that Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha will be admitted for the 2010-11 season. This coming year will be the final season of the WCHA as a 10-team league. There certainly ought to be great coverage of this event by various college hockey media. Click on any of the links to left for more. I'll add more after vacation.

Following is the WCHA's press release:

June 26, 2009/For Immediate Release

WCHA Membership Votes to Admit Bemidji State, Nebraska Omaha into Association Family
Two New Conference Members to Come on Board for 2010-11 Season

MADISON, Wis. – In what will rank among the most significant days in the storied, 58-year history of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the membership today voted to admit both Bemidji State University and the University of Nebraska Omaha into the Association family beginning with the 2010-11 season. This marks the first expansion of the WCHA since Minnesota State University, Mankato was admitted as a 10th member for the 1999-2000 season and eighth time overall the league has expanded since it’s founding in 1951.

The admission of Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha will bring the league membership to 12 teams. The current 10-team membership of the men’s WCHA is comprised of University of Alaska Anchorage, Colorado College, University of Denver, Michigan Technological University, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State University, Mankato, University of North Dakota, St. Cloud State University and University of Wisconsin.

“I am extremely pleased to announce that the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is expanding to twelve teams,” said WCHA Commissioner Bruce M. McLeod. “With the addition of Bemidji State University and the University of Nebraska Omaha the WCHA solidifies and positions itself to maintain and expand upon the excellence that is the WCHA.

“This is certainly a defining moment for the WCHA and we are proud to add Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha to our already strong organization.

“This is a happy and proud day for me,” continued McLeod. “I’m happy because I think this is such a win-win circumstance for the WCHA, our new members and collegiate hockey in general. I could not be more proud of the way our WCHA members have handled this very complex circumstance and have been able to look beyond their own backyard and do what is best for college hockey and the WCHA.

“The WCHA is proud of what they’ve put together in 58 years (2009-10 will be the league’s 58th season) and I think this day will go down as a watershed day. I fully anticipate what we’ve done today will make us even better. I’m excited about the future and can’t wait to get going.”

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association is home to a collegiate record 36 national championship teams since it’s founding in 1951, a record 13 Hobey Baker Memorial Award Winners, some 400 players who have gone on to play in the National Hockey League and some 725 NHL Draftees, more than 150 alums who have played on various Olympic hockey teams, and more than 40 players and coaches who have been part of Stanley Cup (NHL) winning clubs. In addition, the WCHA has drawn in excess of 1,500,000 fans in each of the past seven seasons and in excess of 1,000,00 for 16 consecutive years and annually conducts one of college hockey’s premier post-season tournaments – the Red Baron™ WCHA Final Five held annually at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The Final Five drew 82,065 fans this past March.

“The pieces are all falling into place for Bemidji State hockey,” stated BSU Director of Athletics Dr. Rick Goeb. “Beginning with the efforts to elevate our hockey programs to the NCAA Division I level and having the women’s program join the WCHA over 10 years ago, to our partnership with the city to see a world-class venue like the Bemidji Regional Event Center come to fruition, and now the men’s hockey program being approved for membership into the elite conference in all of college hockey.
“We want to thank the city of Bemidji, our dedicated fans and the student body who have supported Bemidji State hockey. These outstanding hockey fans and partnerships have made membership into the WCHA a reality.”

Said Bemidji State men’s hockey coach Tom Serratore, who took his team to the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four in April of this year, “This is a great day for the Beavers.“

“First, I want to thank the WCHA for this opportunity. It is truly an honor to be a part of the greatest hockey conference at the Division I level and we feel privileged to come along side the other Division I hockey programs in the state of Minnesota as members of the WCHA.

“Beaver Hockey reaches far beyond this campus so that makes today’s announcement a dream come true for our alumni, many in the community and many in the region. This is a proud day for all involved with Bemidji State.”

Said University of Nebraska Omaha Director of Athletics Trev Alberts, “The WCHA is an outstanding conference with a long history of excellent players and coaches. When we were approached about admission, we took a long look at all aspects of a move to the WCHA. In the end, we felt there were many long-term benefits to our program. We’re excited about becoming a part of the WCHA’s rich tradition of outstanding hockey.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Alberts continued. “We have had a fruitful ten-year affiliation with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. It is a very well-run conference, and its member institutions have been outstanding partners. We know the CCHA will continue to thrive after we depart.”

“I was happy to hear that we would be joining the WCHA in a year’s time,” said Dean Blais, UNO’s new head coach. “I’m obviously very familiar with the league as both a head coach and assistant coach for 19 years and as a player. It’s a league with a great tradition and excellent coaches, and I’m looking forward to competing against them.”

Founded in 1951, the original seven members of the WCHA - then known as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League - were Colorado College, University of Denver, Michigan Tech University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota and University of North Dakota. In 1953-54, the league changed it’s name to the WIHL, or Western Intercollegiate Hockey League, and then in 1959, the league became known as the WCHA.

The first expansion of the league membership occured effective with the 1965-66 campaign, when the University of Minnesota Duluth became the WCHA’s eighth team. In 1969, the membership rose to nine teams with the addition of the University of Wisconsin for the 1969-70 season. And then in 1971, the WCHA increased its membership to 10 teams with the admittance of the University of Notre Dame for the 1971-72 season.

The WCHA remained an Association of those 10 teams through the 1980-81 playing season, when Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Notre Dame left the fold to join the CCHA, or Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The WCHA then remained a six team league up until 1984-85, when Michigan Tech returned to the Association and the league welcomed Northern Michigan University as an eighth member team.

Then in 1990, the WCHA again grew to nine teams with the admittance of St. Cloud State University for the 1990-91 campaign and on to ten teams again when the University of Alaska Anchorage was admitted for the 1993-94 season.

In 1997, Northern Michigan opted to leave the WCHA to join the CCHA, again giving the WCHA nine teams before Minnesota State University, Mankato joined the family for the 1999-2000 campaign.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Last post before vacation

PucKato is getting a much-needed vacation and by the time I get back the WCHA could have 12 teams.

Reports out of Bemidji are that WCHA athletic directors will take a straw poll tonight to gauge their schools' interest in bringing both Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha into the league under terms negotiated by commissioner Bruce McLeod. An official vote by the schools' faculty representatives likely would take place later in the summer.

After tabling the Bemidji vote in hopes of getting a "12th school" involved last April, Omaha seemed to be the WCHA's target (although rumors out of Fairbanks hinted that Alaska might have shown some interest). Since then, Omaha hired former North Dakota coach Dean Blais to run the program. And, although both Blais and UNO athletic director Trev Alberts denied it, Let's Play Hockey was reporting that Blais came aboard with the understanding that the red Mavs would eventually change conferences.

Folks will be curious to see what the terms of UNO's move would be. Will the WCHA waive its entry fee or allow Omaha to get a cut of the Final Five money immediately? If that's the case, would Bemidji get the same sweet deal? And how would MSU feel about that? While it's a different time and a different circumstance now, MSU had to pay in about $40,000/year for three years and not get a cut of the tournament money over that same period as part of its entry and that was after a period of being an associate member of the conference.

More when I get back in a week or so ...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wild coming to Kato today

The Minnesota Wild's summer Road Tour tour kicks off today, and the southern Minnesota leg will be at the Waseca Community Arena from noon to 1 p.m. and Mankato's All Seasons Arena from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Scheduled to appear are players Cal Clutterbuck and Colton Gillies and radio guy/former North Star Tom Reid.

Wild mascott "Nordy" is also expected to be in Mankato.

The same crew will be in Fairmont (noon to 1 p.m.) and New Ulm (4 p.m. to 5 p.m.) on Tuesday.

Another note on the Wild ... I believe MSU women's hockey coach Eric Means played with new Wild coach Todd Richards for one season at the University of Minnesota. It was Means' first year with the Gophers and Richards' final year there.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The K is 'Knott' silent

A little more on Todd Knott, the MSU men's hockey team's new assistant coach:

First of all, here is The Free Press' story on Friday's announcement. And here is sort of a Q&A I found with Knott (pronounced kuh-NOT) from Sioux City.

Looks like a good hire by Troy Jutting, who hinted that this was someone he had in mind for the job ever since former assistant Eric Means started showing interest in the Mavericks women's job. Jutting said he's known Knott for several years, and the two have worked together in USA Hockey national select camps many times.

Jutting said Knott and now-fellow assistant Darren Blue will share recruiting and on-ice duties, likely similar to the way Blue and Means have operated over the last few years.

By the way, Knott scored two of his 14 career college goals against Minnesota State. They came in the same series, a season opening split in Bemidji in 2001 -- one goal each in a 7-6 Bemidji win and a 5-3 MSU win.

Some have asked if any MSU alumni were candidates for the job. I'm not sure if there were any official applicants. Had this opening come a few years down the road, undoubtedly Ryan McKelvie would have been considered. McKelvie, a 2006 MSU grad, spent two years as a graduate assistant coach at Bemidji State and recently completed his first year as associate coach of the North American Hockey League's Wenatchee Wild in Washington state.

Friday, June 19, 2009

MSU hires Knott, Vogt

The Minnesota State men's and women's hockey teams Friday named new assistant coaches.

Men's coach Troy Jutting announced that he has hired Todd Knott to replace Eric Means, who became the MSU women's head coach. Knott spent last season as the head coach/general manager of the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL. He also spent three years as an associate coach with the Des Moines Buccaneers and two seasons with the NAHL's Fargo-Moorhead Jets. The Red Lake Falls native played college hockey for Bemidji State and graduated from BSU in 2002.

Meanwhile, Means made his first hire Friday, bringing former MSU goaltending great Shari Vogt on his staff. Vogt, a 2004 graduate, is arguably the Mavericks' greatest player. She spent last season coaching girls hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault. Means said he hopes to hire his other assistant by the end of next week.

For more on Knott and Vogt, check out Saturday's edition of The Free Press.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blais to coach Mavericks ...

.. the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, that is, at least according to The Omaha World-Herald.

UNO will announce its new men's hockey coach at a 2 p.m. press conference today. There has been lots of speculation as to who it will be this morning, but the World-Herald is reporting that it will be former North Dakota coach Dean Blais, who led the Sioux to two national titles and one runner-up finish in a five-year span. After leaving UND, he was an assistant coach with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets and, most recently, the general manager/coach of the USHL's Fargo Force, where he coached two future MSU Mavericks, including Matt Leitner and Mankato's Corey Leiverman.

(By the way, the Fargo Forum is reporting that Blais has already resigned from Fargo.)

This is a big splash for UNO and new athletic director Trev Alberts. It will certainly fuel speculation that Omaha could make the jump to the WCHA along with Bemidji State in two years.

This will also make this year's Spirit of the Maverick Trophy series a little more interesting for fans. By the way, that home-and-home series is Dec. 18-19 with the first game in Mankato.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

MSU 15th in attendance

Minnesota State ranked 15th among Division I men's college hockey's 58 teams in average attendance last season, drawing a team-record 4,552 fans per game. The ranking is the highest MSU has ever been on the list.

Wisconsin led the nation with an average of 13,785, followed by North Dakota (11,719) and Minnesota (10,022).

Arena size drops off significantly after those WCHA arenas, as Michigan (6,714) was fourth, Colorado College (6,573) was fifth and Nebraska-Omaha (6,211) was sixth.

Other WCHA schools on the list included St. Cloud State (seventh, 5,988), Denver (10th, 5,604), Minnesota Duluth (16th, 4,485), Alaska-Anchorage (22nd, 3,520) and Michigan Tech (34th, 2,463).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

MSU releases schedule, opens season Oct. 9-10

The Minnesota State men’s hockey team will open the 2009-10 season on Oct. 9 at home against Bowling Green, the first of 19 home games, the university announced Wednesday.

The Mavericks will play an exhibition game against Canadian university Lethbridge (Alberta) on Oct. 3 at the Alltel Center before beginning the regular season a six days later with the first game of a nonconference series against Bowling Green. Minnesota State played at Bowling Green last season, tying and winning against the Falcons.

Other MSU home opponents will include Wisconsin (Oct. 23-24), Colorado College (Nov. 13-14), Michigan Tech (Nov. 27-28), Minnesota (Dec. 5), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 18), Rochester Institute of Technology (Jan 8-9), Minnesota Duluth (Jan. 15-16), Alaska-Anchorage (Feb. 19-20), Denver (Feb. 26-27) and St. Cloud State (March 5).

The Mavericks will  open the Western Collegiate Hockey Association season Oct. 16-17 at Minnesota Duluth. They will also play road games at Denver (Oct. 30-31), Alaska-Anchorage (Nov. 20-21), Minnesota (Dec. 4), Bemidji State (Dec. 11-12), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 19), North Dakota (Jan 8-9), Michigan Tech (Jan. 29-30), Wisconsin (Feb. 12-13) and St. Cloud State (March 6).

Season tickets for 2009-10 are on sale now. Single-game tickets will go on sale in early October. For more information call the MSU athletic office at 389-6111.

Minnesota State men’s hockey 2009-10 schedule
Oct. 3...............vs. Lethbridge (exhibtion)
Oct. 9-10..........vs. Bowling Green
Oct. Minnesota Duluth
Oct. 23-24.........vs. Wisconsin
Oct. Denver
Nov. 13-14........vs. Colorado College
Nov. Alaska-Anchorage
Nov. 27-28........vs. Michigan Tech
Dec. Minnesota (home and home)
Dec. Bemidji State
Dec. 18-19........vs./at Nebraska-Omaha (home and home)
Jan. 1-2............RIT
Jan. 8-9 North Dakota
Jan. 15-16.........vs. Minnesota Duluth
Jan. Michigan Tech
Feb. Wisconsin
Feb. 19-20.........vs. Alaska-Anchorage
Feb. 26-27.........vs. Denver
March 5-6.........vs./at St. Cloud State (home and home)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

St Cloud State extends Motzko

St. Cloud State gave men's hockey coach Bob Motzko a six-year contract extension this week.

More here.