Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cullen Munson commits to Minnesota

Janesville Jets (NAHL) forward and Edina, MN native Cullen Munson verbally committed to Minnesota. Munson announced his decision via Twitter and The Gopher Hockey Blog confirmed.

Munson had previously verbally committed to Army in 2014. The 21 year-old used up his junior eligibility this past season, meaning he will be playing for the Gophers in 2017-18.

“It’s a dream come true for a kid from Minnesota,” Munson told the Jets' website. “It’s amazing.”

High school teammates at Edina (MN-HS) with current Gophers Ryan Zuhlsdorf and Tyler Nanne, where they won a Class AA state championship, he spent the past three seasons in Janesville. Munson finished 2016-17 tied for second in points with 55 (20G-35A) in 56 games and third on the Jets in goals. Janesville won the NAHL's Midwest Division regular season title. The team continued its run in the postseason, advancing to the four-team Robertson Cup championship.

Listed at 5'11", 190 lbs, Munson is a speedy, two-way player. He comes to Minnesota next season filling a hole as the team's 15th forward. It allows Sam Huff to not be rushed to college, like Luke Notermann was in 2016-17 coming directly out of high school, and develop with time in juniors.

Huff is just finishing his senior year of high school and could use a year in the USHL with Waterloo, the team which drafted him in the USHL Phase 2 Draft's opening round rather than struggle for playing time.

Another option for that spot would be another onetime Edina forward, and Munson high school teammate, Garrett Wait, who signed a letter of intent to play at Minnesota in November 2015. The expectation is that Wait also spends another year in the USHL with Waterloo, however. Wait can do so since as a 1998-born he has junior eligibility remaining.

With Munson coming in, and if Wait and Huff go to juniors, Minnesota's 2017-18 freshman class consists of four forwards - Munson, Brannon McManus, Casey Mittelstadt and Scott Reedy - to replace five graduating seniors. The Gophers had 16 forwards on the 2016-17 roster.

Catching up with Minnesota & college hockey (May 2017)

Here's what has been going on with Gopher hockey that you may or may not missed this month. Don't worry if you fall into the latter category. It is the offseason, after all.

-As far as the men's team goes, Minnesota still remains without an assistant coach. It's one of two college hockey vacancies although the other (Michigan assistant) appears to be filled yet not announced. Don't expect the Gophers to go too much longer (sometime this week or early next) without Grant Potulny's replacement. With the school year over and interviews had, little is left other than naming a new assistant.

The job is open due to Potulny last month taking over as head coach of Northern Michigan.

-While the men have already announced its 2017-18 schedule, the women's schedule won't be out until June. North Dakota's decision to drop the sport put much of the calendar in flux. Each of the remaining seven WCHA teams had four games to fill.

I'm interested to see Minnesota's final result. Booking non-conference games in the past has been a challenge. Between travel (other than Lindenwood, every non-WCHA school is east of Ohio and a flight), financial (it's cheaper for ECAC and Hockey East teams to play one another) and competition, the Gophers ended up with interesting non-conference schedules. Minnesota hosted "1 for 2" with Penn State and BU where the Gophers played a single game against those two teams at home (St. Cloud State came down to be the fourth team) for a two-game road series.

The team technically played 33 games each of the past two seasons in spite of needing to fill only six non-conference games. One of those was the US Hall of Fame Game where Minnesota faced a fellow WCHA team. Two others that didn't count were against the post-collegiate Minntesota Whitecaps (another team with issues scheduling others).

With an extra four to fill this season, going from 28 to 24 WCHA games, would playing conference opponents in non-conference be the case again? Does it open up new opportunities for Minnesota? What effects does this have for other WCHA teams? Plenty of good questions will be answered.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

BLOG: 4 Minnesota commits at NHL Scouting Combine

Less than a month before the 2017 NHL Draft, four future Minnesota players - forwards Casey Mittelstadt and Scott Reedy along with defensemen Nate Knoepke and Clayton Phillips
- are in Buffalo, NY to take part in this week's Scouting Combine.

All except Phillips signed Letters of Intent to play at Minnesota. He is expected to be on campus in 2018, a year later than the others.

The scouting combine, which began Monday and goes until Saturday (June 3, 2017), can be an opportunity for draft-eligible players to interview with all 31 NHL teams and undergo medical and physical testing.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

BLOG: Chicago wins USHL Clark Cup, Penticton falls in RBC Cup to cap 2016-17 commit season

The last of Minnesota's commits had his season end Tuesday.

(There remain a few in the pros. Phil Kessel and Pittsburgh play Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals tonight. Former Gopher defensemen Michael Brodzinski and Ben Marshall's AHL teams are in their league semis although both players only appeared in a handful of playoff games.)

Brannon McManus became Tuesday the first person committed to Minnesota to hoist the USHL Clark Cup since Nico Sacchetti in 2008 when Chicago defeated Sioux City 2-1 in overtime of winner-take-all Game 5.

A few days earlier Penticton, with Gopher commits Mat Robson (goalie) and Sam Rossini (defense), ended its season two wins short of taking home the RBC Cup, the highest prize in Canadian Junior A. The BCHL league champions lost 3-1 Saturday to eventual RBC Cup winner Cobourg.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sarah Potomak & Amy Potomak among 28 players named to Hockey Canada's Olympic centralization roster

When I asked Sarah Potomak about her younger sister Amy signing her Letter of Intent to play at Minnesota last November, the idea was the two of them would be teammates with the Gophers.

"I'm really excited to finally play with her at the 'U'. We're really close so it's going to be a lot of fun when she comes," she said at the time.

The two will still play together next season, however, it will be with Hockey Canada. Both Potomaks were among the 28 named to their country's Olympic centralization roster announced Thursday (May 11, 2017).

Starting in August the players will be training and preparing in Calgary for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

BLOG: Brannon McManus, Mat Robson and Sam Rossini advance to junior league championships

Both the upcoming Canadian Junior A and USHL championships will be contested by players heading to the University of Minnesota.

Brannon McManus, Mat Robson and Sam Rossini all advanced over the weekend. Garrett Wait, meanwhile, can join them tonight (May 9, 2017) when Waterloo (USHL) faces Sioux City in a winner-take-all Game 5.

Whichever team wins advances to the Clark Cup Final to face McManus' Chicago Steel team in a best-of-five series. (5/9 9:40 pm CT Update: Sioux City took Game 5 and the series with a 8-3 victory.)

Chicago earlier defeated Dubuque 3 games to 1 to take the USHL Eastern Conference title. The 5'9", 181 lbs forward continued his scoring streak after notching the game-tying and game-winning goals in Game 1. McManus, who split the season between Omaha and Chicago, finished the four game series with four goals and an assist.

Here is McManus (#15) scoring in Chicago's 7-3 Game 4 win (starts at 1:19 mark).

Robson and Rossini, teammates with Penticton, already won the BCHL championship. They will get a chance to compete for the Canadian Junior A championship after advancing to the RBC Cup with a 3-2 win over Chilliwack to grab the second spot.

The Vees were one of two teams to come out of the Western Canada Cup, made up of the four western Canadian league champions (and BCHL runner-up Chilliwack since Penticton doubled as host).

Robson, who signed a letter of intent to play at Minnesota last month, has shined in net in single-elimination situations this postseason. Penticton had five Game 7s or must-win games, including needing to win twice in the Western Canada Cup. In those the Toronto native stopped 107 of 112 shots, finishing with a .955 save percentage, 0.97 GAA and a pair of shutouts in five victories.

Rossini, a defenseman from Inver Grove Heights, is getting his legs back following a season debut in Game 7 of the BCHL Final (also against Chilliwack - somehow those two teams played each other 11 times in a season).
The RBC Cup begins this weekend in Cobourg, Ontario. Teams will play a round-robin tournament with the top four teams advancing to the semifinals.

Any champion this season would join fellow Minnesota commit Blake McLaughlin in claiming a title. McLaughlin helped lead Grand Rapids to the Minnesota Class AA boys hockey title. He also skated for the Steel following Grand Rapids' season, but did not play in the series against Dubuque.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Kelly Pannek, 6 Minnesota alums make US National Team for 2018 Olympics

Senior to-be Kelly Pannek for now will be putting off her final year at Minnesota to pursue an Olympic gold medal.

The United States announced its national team roster Friday (May 5, 2017) following a week-long tryout camp with 42 players.

Seven of the eight players with Minnesota ties at the camp were among those named to the 23 woman roster.

That includes Pannek, the nation's 2016-17 leader in points, who was one of three players with college eligibility remaining on the team along with Wisconsin forward Annie Pankowski and Minnesota Duluth goaltender Maddie Rooney.

They will live and train together in Tampa, Florida for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea beginning in September. The USWNT will also participate in pre-tournament competitions. Relocating to Florida is a change from past Olympic cycles where the US team spent time in Blaine, MN.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Minnesota's 2017-2018 Schedule & Thoughts

Via @GopherHockey

Consider it schedule day. Minnesota, the Big Ten and WCHA all announced its 2017-2018 schedules.

In it the Gophers face three Frozen Four finalists, six Big Ten opponents, a service academy, and a temporary break of a 25 year-plus tradition.

The first half of this morning's article remains relevant. Go ahead and ignore the second half.

2017-18 Minnesota Schedule

All games Friday/Saturday unless otherwise noted

10/1/17 (Sunday) - vs. University of Alberta (Mariucci Arena) - EXHIBITION
10/6/17 - University of Minnesota Duluth (Amsoil Arena) - Ice Breaker Tournament
10/7/17 - Michigan Tech/Union (Amsoil Arena) - Ice Breaker Tournament
10/13/17 - vs. Penn State (Mariucci Arena)*
10/14/17 - vs. Penn State (Mariucci Arena)*
10/20/17 - at North Dakota (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
10/21/17 - at North Dakota (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
10/27/2017 - vs. Clarkson (Mariucci Arena)
10/28/2017 - vs. Clarkson (Mariucci Arena)
11/3/2017 - vs. Michigan State (Mariucci Arena)*
11/4/2017 - vs. Michigan State (Mariucci Arena)*
11/10/2017 - at Michigan (Yost Arena)*
11/11/2017 - at Michigan (Yost Arena)*
11/17/2017 - vs. Harvard (Mariucci Arena)
11/18/2017 - vs. Harvard (Mariucci Arena)
11/24/2017 - at Notre Dame (Compton Family Ice Arena)*
11/25/2017 - at Notre Dame (Compton Family Ice Arena)*
12/1/2017 - vs. Wisconsin (Mariucci Arena)*
12/2/2017 - vs. Wisconsin (Mariucci Arena)*
12/8/2017 - at Ohio State (Schottenstein Center)*
12/9/2017 - at Ohio State (Schottenstein Center)*
12/29/2017 - vs. Army (Mariucci Arena)
12/30/2017 - vs. Army (Mariucci Arena)
1/6/2018 - at St. Cloud State (Herb Brooks National Hockey Center)
1/7/2018 (Sunday) - vs. St. Cloud State (Mariucci Arena)
1/12/2018 - vs. Michigan (Mariucci Arena)*
1/13/2018 - vs. Michigan (Mariucci Arena)*
1/18/2018 (Thursday) - at Michigan State (Munn Ice Arena)*
1/20/2018 - vs Michigan State in NYC (Madison Square Garden)*
1/26/2018 - vs. Notre Dame (Mariucci Arena)*
1/27/2018 - vs. Notre Dame (Mariucci Arena)*
2/2/2018 - BYE
2/3/2018 - BYE
2/9/2018 - at Wisconsin (Kohl Center)*
2/10/2018 - at Wisconsin (Kohl Center)*
2/16/2018 - vs. Ohio State (Mariucci Arena)*
2/17/2018 - vs. Ohio State (Mariucci Arena)*
2/23/2018 - at Penn State (Pegula Arena)*
2/24/2018 - at Penn State (Pegula Arena)*

3/2-3/4/2018 - Big Ten Quarterfinals (Best of 3)+
3/10/2018 - Big Ten Semifinal (Single Game)+
3/17/2018 - Big Ten Championship+

3/23-3/25/2018 - NCAA Tournament Regionals (Sioux Falls, SD; Allentown, PA; Bridgeport, CT; Worcester, MA)
4/5/2018 - Frozen Four Semifinals (Xcel Energy Center)
4/7/2018 - Frozen Four Championship (Xcel Energy Center)

*Big Ten Conference Game
+At higher seed on campus

What's Next? An Early Look At The 2017-18 Schedule (Part 2)

Photo: Nathan Wells

Back in March, when I wrote Part 1 less than 24 hours after the season ended, Part 2 was going to be on the incoming freshmen. That's not the case. Since much of April has been spent chronicling many of their playoff runs, I'm going to switch gears in May and give the schedule some attention before it comes and goes (and comes back again when TV gets announced).

Don't worry about the incoming freshmen. I'll get to them. It's a long offseason.

When it inevitably ends, however, Minnesota will be playing 36 games through a condensed schedule thanks to a new team and format.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Seven Minnesota commits selected in USHL Drafts

Seven Minnesota commits were selected over two USHL Drafts Monday and Tuesday. Three went in the first round with one, Chaska D Michael Koster, selected with the second overall pick.

If you need a simple refresher as to what is Phase 1, or why there are two phases, yesterday's post dives into the tangled web of Tier 1 hockey drafts.

USHL Phase 1
-Michael Koster, D - Tri-City (Round 1, 2nd Overall)
-Kaden Bohlsen, F - Des Moines (Round 1, 10th Overall)
-Jake Boltmann, D - Bloomington (Round 2, 22nd Overall)
-Nik Norman, F - Tri-City (Round 6, 94th Overall)

All four 2001-born players currently committed to the Gophers were chosen in the first 100 picks. Additionally, Rem Pitlick's brother Rhett went 102nd to Bloomington.

Monday, May 1, 2017

BLOG: What to look for in this week's USHL Draft

The USHL Draft takes place over the next two days. With the draft, hundreds of players, several committed to Minnesota, and several future commits will be chosen by junior hockey teams in two phases.

It's also at times a bit of mess to untangle. There are two phases with one being much longer than the other. Draft picks don't necessarily have to play in the USHL. Many won't.

Here's what to look for if you're a Minnesota fan trying to follow along Monday and Tuesday.