Thursday, August 27, 2015

UMD News and Notes

Couple UMD headlines from the last couple weeks:

--> For those unaware, Duluth native Brett Larson was chosen to replace Derek Plante as an assistant coach. Larson was a no-brainer choice if he was interested, given his experience with this program from 2008-2011, one of the more successful three-year runs in UMD history. He knows a lot of these kids already, and he obviously knows the system and the culture of the program. Larson is a high-character guy who will relate well to kids and parents out on the recruiting trail.

--> UMD picked up another St. Scholastica transfer, adding forward Luke Simpson. As a freshman at CSS, Simpson talled 12 goals and 26 points in 28 games. He's from Canmore, Alberta, and will have to sit out this season as a transfer. He will wear No. 26 and can practice with the team even though he can't play. He will have three years of eligibility starting next fall (technically, this is considered a redshirt year for Simpson, so he doesn't lose a year of eligibility on the transfer). He's listed at 6-1 and 195 pounds, so he's not at all undersized. It'll be interesting to watch him compete in practice.

Defenseman Brenden Kotyk transferred from CSS to UMD in 2013, and it was obvious early in the 2013-14 season he was a guy who could play at this level. He proved that when he actually played at this level last year.

--> A couple former UMD players have signed pro contracts recently. 2013-14 co-captain Joe Basaraba signed with Orlando (ECHL) after a year in Cincinnati last year. 2013 graduate Drew Olson is heading to Hungary to play for MAC Budapest. Also, 2012 Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly, for those wondering, will play for Rogle BK of the Swedish Hockey League (their top league, used to be called Elitserien). It will be Connolly's fourth season in Europe and third in the top flight (Rogle was in the second division last year, but earned promotion through a playoff). Connolly had four goals and 30 points for Rogle last year.

--> UMD rotates out of the North Star College Cup this year, but for those interesting in going anyway (we're playing in Marquette, Mich., that weekend), the event has been shifted a day. The NSCC will be a Saturday-Sunday event January 30 and 31 at XCel Energy Center in St. Paul. The semifinal matchups are St. Cloud State vs Minnesota State, followed by Bemidji State vs Minnesota. Bemidji is the defending champion. I asked around, and it appears to be a move aimed at improving attendance. One of the big fan complaints I've heard was it was impossible to get to the early game Friday for anyone who worked all day. Hopefully this helps drive some more attendance for the event, which despite my admitted skepticism is pretty cool.

One thing it likely isn't tied to much is television. The Wild are off that weekend for the All-Star break, so FSN's only potential conflict is the Timberwolves.

UMD Depth Chart 2015-16

Greetings, and hope you've enjoyed the summer.

I'll post separately with a couple headlines from the last week or more, but here is the annual UMD men's hockey depth chart.

The normal reminders: The lines are simply an opinion/guess meant for entertainment purposes only. Then again, if you're betting on college hockey line combinations, you should probably seek some sort of help. I'll throw a few comments after each position group.

Austin Farley - Tony Cameranesi - Karson Kuhlman
Alex Iafallo - Dominic Toninato - Adam Johnson
Kyle Osterberg - Jared Thomas - Sammy Spurrell
Charlie Sampair - Cal Decowski - Austyn Young
Blake Young - Billy Exell - Parker Mackay

I believe we start the season with what became last year's top line intact. There is little doubt that Farley, Cameranesi, and Kuhlman were the go-to guys down the stretch, with the shift made possible by their consistent play, combined with Iafallo's illness, Toninato's injury, and Krause getting suspended for the playoff opener in Denver. The door was ajar and those three blew it open. Farley and Kuhlman may not have scored at Cameranesi's clip, but they played off their center very well and helped him have what I thought was his best season at UMD.

Johnson is a lefty, but certainly capable of playing at the right hand of Toninato, who really needs to show improvement (well, more consistency) in the faceoff circle this season. No reason to break Toninato and Iafallo up now, and Johnson could really benefit from their chemistry as the third member of this line. Based on last year's lines, this is the only spot in the "top six" that appears to be open as the season approaches.

Thomas emerged late last season, and at a great time as Toninato was injured, and I think Spurrell was ticketed for more than fourth-line minutes before his season was wrecked by back surgery. Osterberg is a great fit on this line.

Decowski has the versatility to play just about anywhere on any line, and his attitude is such that he'll do that is asked of him. Sampair struggled, I thought, last year, but started to emerge in the second half, even if the numbers didn't necessarily show it. However, a couple experiments with more five-on-five minutes didn't go that well. The Youngs were both a bit of a surprise. I thought Austyn did a great job becoming a solid third- and fourth-line guy, and Blake worked his tail off to get better. As he learns more and more how to use his big body, he will be a threat to crack the lineup every night. Exell has speed to burn, and Mackay played a ton in juniors in different roles. He could be an interesting guy to watch develop.

Carson Soucy - Andy Welinski
Neal Pionk - Willie Raskob
Willie Corrin - Brenden Kotyk
Nick McCormack - Dan Molenaar

Struggled with where to put Pionk, but I tend to think he'll settle into the top four given how well he played in Sioux City. Soucy and Welinski are easily UMD's big-minute guys, with Soucy's pro future really starting to brighten (Hockey News ranks him eighth among Wild prospects).

We tried to tell Raskob's story a lot late in the season. Outside of a game here or there, he showed a ton of improvement as the year wore on. Raskob was a healthy scratch a couple times in the first half, but he kept battling and eventually settled comfortably in the top four.

Corrin also emerged as a playmaking threat last year, scoring his first three collegiate goals and showing a knack for jumping in the play offensively. His chemistry with Kotyk was a factor, as the big man jumped in to a regular spot in the UMD lineup after sitting out a transfer season.

McCormack and Molenaar are both good players, but both struggled with health last year. They will keep everyone else on their toes as they challenge for playing time.

Kasimir Kaskisuo - Matt McNeely - Nick Deery

Clearly, Kaskisuo is the top dog entering the season, but give McNeely credit. After a shutout of Notre Dame at the Ice Breaker, McNeely struggled mightily the following Friday against Minnesota State, and he ended up ceding the job to Kaskisuo the next night in Mankato. "Kas" started every game after that until the third-place game at the North Star Cup, and Kaskisuo played every minute of UMD's NCHC schedule.

But when UMD needed McNeely, he was ready. It didn't translate to many minutes, but the work-ethic was there and it's a great sign heading into his senior season. Deery replaces Alex Fons as the third goalie. He's the "In case of emergency: Break glass" option, and he had Division I interest. He won't play much, if at all, but he'll have plenty of opportunity to get better in practice.

UMD's team save percentage of .912 was the team's best since the Alex Stalock-led .920 put up in 2008-2009.