February 14, 2008
Sustained Success Sends Mavs Up Standings

By Jess Myers

Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting acknowledges that times are good for his Mavericks these days, with them having won six in a row to move into the top half of the WCHA standings. But ask him about the start of the good times, and Jutting looks back not just six games, but more than six weeks.

WCHA Notebook

Trevor Bruess is emerging as one of the top scoring threats in the WCHA as a sophomore.

National TV Schedule

Before leaving for Madison earlier this week, Jutting turned the clock back to Nov. 30, when the Mavs were 3-6-1, and noted that his team has gone 12-4-3 since then.

"I don't know that it's been that big of a turnaround when you consider that we've only lost four times in our past 19 games," Jutting said. "We've actually been playing pretty well for quite a while."

A microcosm of the Mavericks' successes can be found in sophomore forward Trevor Bruess, who heads into this weekend's series with Wisconsin on a six-game scoring streak. A month ago, he had a five-game scoring streak come to an end when he locked up in an NHL-caliber scrap with North Dakota's Rylan Kaip during a 2-1 loss in Mankato. After sitting out the next night due to the fighting disqualification, Bruess started the streak that continues today, and has pushed him to the top of the Mavs' scoring chart with 25 points and a team-leading +19 mark.

Jutting thinks the second-year player from Minneapolis is indicative of a sophomore-laden team coming together at the right time.

"They have that first year where they don't really know what they're doing, but by this time in a player's sophomore year, they're a college hockey player," Jutting said. "You see a time when it kind of clicks and they start to get a pretty good handle on what's happening."

Bruess and junior Mick Berge have clearly been the leaders, but Jutting notes the offensive emergence of players like Andrew Sackrison, Jason Wiley and Joel Hanson, along with a change in some coaching philosophies, has helped. Mankato used to be a place where 8-7 games weren't unheard of, as the Mavericks usually played a wide-open game. The addition of some better defensive cogs (like star goalie Mike Zacharias) has led to the appearance of a new brand of Mavs.

"We still like to go, but recently we've placed a lot more emphasis on being defensively responsible and defensively conscious," Jutting said. "You've got to coach the team to fit the players you have."

Asked if those players are all hitting their stride at the right time, Jutting said the notion that his club is "peaking too early" doesn't really fit.

"In terms of getting home ice, this is the right time," Juttig said. "We're playing our best hockey of the year right now, but I still think we can play a lot better."


Snow storms back into Gopher Land: New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow, the former Maine goaltender, was in Minnesota last weekend for his new team's game versus the Wild – his first visit to the since his controversial signing of fomer Gopher Kyle Okposo in December. He told INCH that Okposo has done excellent work with the Islanders' AHL affiliate since leaving Minnesota, but there are no plans to call him up to the big club just yet.

"Right now he's going to stay in Bridgeport," Snow said. "We'll see. The plan all along was to get his feet wet playing professional hockey in the AHL, and we're not going to deviate from the plan."

Asked about the decision to sign Okposo in the middle of the season, Snow mentioned the credentials of Islanders employees like Ken Morrow and Bryan Trottier, and said he trusts their judgment in evaluating players and doing what they feel is right for each of them.

"The bottom line is we wanted to do what's best for Kyle and what's best for our organization," Snow said. "A lot of the meetings we have, we've got some very knowledgeable hockey people on my staff who know exactly what it takes to be a pro hockey player. The credentials speak for themselves – a lot of hardware."

As for the current relationship between the NHL and college hockey, in the wake of in-season defections like Okposo and Brock Trotter, Snow fondly recalled his time at Maine, while claiming that things between the pros and college are sound.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my college experience. I had a great time. I even stayed for a fifth year," he said, with a laugh. "As for the relationship between college hockey and professional hockey, from my own personal view, it seems to be more of an issue between college hockey and the NCAA than it is between college hockey and pro hockey."

Snow also claimed that despite the ill feelings of many Gopher fans after his signing of Okposo, he had no trouble walking around St. Paul last weekend. Islanders media relations man Chris Botta even claimed that Snow had signed over 100 autographs during his time in Minnesota.

"Minnesota people are the nicest people. Well, number two right next to Long Island," Snow said. "People have been great. We share the same passion – that's hockey."

Rink Talk on Capitol Hill: The opening week of the 2008 legislative session at the Minnesota State Capitol could've featured a ceremonial puck drop, what with all of the rink talk beneath the dome in St. Paul this week.

On Wednesday, the Senate Economic Development Committee heard proposals from city and school leaders in Bemidji and Mankato, both of which are seeking state dollars. The college hockey-related topics were familiar ones for the committee's chair, State Senator David Tomassoni of Chisholm, who was a four-year letterwinner on defense for Denver in the 1970s.

Bemidji State president John Quistgaard and city leaders asked for $22 million in state funds to get construction on the new downtown arena and events center underway. The city is expected to pay $66 million for the new home of the Beavers.

Mankato city officials gave details of the expansion they want to make to the Alltel Center, and are asking the state or $1.2 million in planning and design money, as they seek to add a second ice sheet to the building to house the Minnesota State women's hockey program. It was noted that the building, which opened 13 years ago, was built without any state funding.

Also expected to be heard before the session ends are proposals for expansion and renovation of the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, where they want to add a new lobby, team offices and a merchandise store to the 19-year-old facility. And Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty recommended that upwards of $40 million in state bonds be sold for construction of a new waterfront arena in Duluth, which would replace the 41-year-old home of the Bulldog men's and women's teams.

The Minnesota House and Senate approved said funding for Duluth a year ago, only to see Pawlenty veto the bill.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Denver at North Dakota
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, serving his school-mandated two-game suspension, will be just one of countless TV viewers this weekend when the Fighting Sioux host Denver in a series that will determine if Colorado College will have a challenger for the WCHA crown, and which team will do the challenging. The Sioux could move into a first-place tie with a sweep, while Denver needs a sweep to move ahead of their weekend hosts.

While You're There: Saturday is Hockey Day 2008 in Grand Forks, meaning that in addition to great college hockey, there are high school playoffs and a chance for players of all ages to get in on the fun. Between noon and 2 p.m., bring your skates to University Park for a free skate with several Fighting Sioux hockey legends. Event organizers assured us that hot chocolate will be available on site.

Stick Salute

There's a nice family event in Madison this weekend, giving kids a chance to get autographs and photos of their favorite college hockey players. Skate with the Badgers, which runs from 2-4 on Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center is free and open to all comers. Bring your skates and a camera.

Bench Minor

Another Hockey Day in Minnesota has come and gone with some great features and some great hockey. Sadly, for the second consecutive year, the TV coverage featured a much-hyped Gopher game and nary a mention of the state's other four D-I college programs. Apparently, it's only Hockey Day in selected parts of Minnesota.


• Sophomore forward Josh Lunden's play has been a bright spot for Alaska Anchorage recently. Lunden tallied goals in both games last weekend at Minnesota State, pushing his team-leading total to 13, and has scored a goal in three of the Seawolves' last four games.

• League-leading Colorado College, which is idle this weekend, needs just one more win to clinch home ice in the playoffs. It's a long shot, but despite last Saturday's home loss to St. Cloud State, at least one Tiger would likely love to see the Huskies again this season. Sophomore defenseman Kris Fredheim, who came out of the penalty box to score on a breakway in the first period of last Friday's 5-3 CC victory, has notched both of his career goals against St. Cloud State.

• Even after a tie and loss with Wisconsin last weekend, Michigan Tech's all-time record during its annual Winter Carnival series is an impressive 58-30-10. As an aside, carnival weekend MVP Shane Connelly, the Wisconsin goalie who backstopped the Badgers to three points, apparently was informed ahead of time of his duty to kiss the Winter Carnival Queen upon being handed the award at center ice. After some soul-searching Connelly followed the tradition.

• How cold is the Golden Gopher offense? Minnesota has been held to one goal in four consecutive games and has scored a total of 10 goals in its last eight games. The last time Minnesota scored fewer goals in an eight-game stretch was Jan. 4-27, 1930.

• When Colorado College fans recall their team's first (and so far, only) home loss this season, they'll undoubtedly think of Matt Hartman. The St. Cloud State senior (a St. Cloud native) had a career-best four-point night, assisting on all of his team's goals in the 4-2 win.

• Minnesota Duluth goalie Alex Stalock has started all 26 of the Bulldogs' games this season, but has a way to go to make a mark in the league standings and the school record books. He still trails North Dakota's Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and Wisconsin's Shane Connelly in minutes played this season and can't touch the school record of 72 consecutive starts, set by Brant Nicklin between Oct. 12, 1996 and March 15, 1998.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jess Myers can be reached at jess@insidecollegehockey.com.