Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
The USHL's 64-game regular season is over.
And at the top of the scoring list are the three Minnesota players on Waterloo's top line.
Taylor Cammarata, the left winger from Plymouth, finished with 38 goals and 55 assists for 93 points in 59 games. He was a plus-39 and will wear the Gophers' maroon and gold next season. He came within two points of the franchise record for a single season.
He won the USHL scoring titlte by six points over Justin Kloos, of Lakeville.
Kloos, the center, had 29 goals and 58 assists for 87 points in only 54 games. He was a plus-34. Kloos will also play for the Gophers next season. His 58 assists were one shy of the USHL TIer I record.
Both Cammarata and Kloos had 10 power-play goals.
Zach Stepan, of Hastings, the right wing on Kloos' line did pretty well, too. He had 32 goals and 46 assists for 78 points, third in the USHL. He is a cousin of Derek Stepan, who plays for the New York Rangers. Zach Stepan has committed to Ohio State and will join the Buckeyes next season.
Waterloo finished the season in third place in the Western Conference at 39-21-4 (third number is overtime losses) for 82 points -- just one point out of a tie for second. The Black Hawks will play at Fargo on Wednesday in the first round of the USHL playoffs.
The Black Hawks tied the franchise record for victories with 29 after beating Indiana 5-2 on Sunday. They set a franchise record for goals with 273. They are on an eight-game winning streak.
P.K. Handley, Waterloo's coach, marvels at Kloos sometimes. "He has got ways to make plays."
“He is so unselfish with the puck, and obviously he has two unbelievable linemates that have found some chemistry together,” O’Handley was quoted as saying in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. “The great story about Justin is he is so humble. You wouldn’t know he won Minnesota ... anything. [Kloos was Mr. Hockey.] He is a Waterloo Black Hawk and likes being a Black Hawk.
“He could’ve came here with a little chip on his shoulder thinking maybe I should be at Minnesota right now. But he came in with the exact opposite approach that ‘I need to learn everything I can and work as hard as I can on and off the ice.’ I respect how he approached this season. He approached it as a professional, and I think in time he will be one.”
Until midsummer last year, Kloos still had a chance to be a Gopher for the 2012-13 season. His status was dependent on whether Nick Bjugstad turned pro or not. Bjugstad, of course, stayed for his junior year at the U and Kloos joined Waterloo and tore up the league.
The roster for the U.S. team going to the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Men's World Championships in Sochi, Russia, was released on Monday.
Not that it was much of a secret. It's made up of the players on the U.S. national development program team based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
It has five Minnesotans on it, including one that will be on the Gophers roster next season for sure and one that is a maybe.
The Gophers recruits on the team are forward Hudson Fasching of Burnsville and defenseman Tommy Vannelli of Minnetonka.
Don Lucia's staff is bringing in four or five forwards, including Fasching, and at least one defenseman, and there are at least three candidates there, including Vannelli.
The others are Jack Bischoff of Grand Rapids and Mike Brodzinski of Blaine. Both are playing on USHL teams.
Bischoff for Omaha, Brodzinski for Muskegon. Bischoff has played only 10 games for the Lancers -- he played for his high school. Brodzinski is 10th among D-men in scoring in the USHL with 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points.
The other Minnesotans going to Sochi are goalie Hunter Miska of North Branch and defensemen Gage Ausmus of East Grand Forks and Clint Lewis of Burnsville.
The U.S. team has won gold medals in this tournament the last four years, so it has quite a run going. Dates this year are April 14-28.
Gophers coach Don Lucia always says he understands that passionate fans sometimes get upset when his team loses.
If you read the message boards or the comments on recent stories in the Star Tribune on the Gophers, some are upset now.
"Don't blame the players, if you want to blame somebody. blame me," Lucia said on his final Monday radio show of the season. "That goes with the territory.
"You still have to look at the big picture and what the kids accomplished. ... It was a pretty good run for our guys."
And now it's over for some of them.
"Obviously, we will miss Seth Helgeson," Lucia said.
Helgy was the lone senior on the team this season. A big defensive defenseman. He was part of a class of four, including Zach Budish who had a medical redshirt year and is considered a junior now eligibility-wise.
But Helgy won't be the only Gopher leaving. Some will turn pro early, before their college eligibility is up.
"Now we have to wait to see what happens," Lucia said. "Some kids will make decisions over next week or so."
Lucia talks to all of his players after the season ends. And those who want to leave, he won't try to persuade them otherwise.
"We can't talk kids into staying, and we shouldn't," he said.
Lucia said he wants his players to have both feet in the program, not one foot out the door.
"And the last few years, the guys that stayed had both feet in," Lucia said.
Lucia said he also plans to watch a few USHL games soon to see how the players the Gophers recruited -- some of whom signed last November -- are looking.
"We will have a little injection of offense with some incoming freshman forwards, which I think we will need," Lucia said.
The Gophers needed some extra offense this season, too, as it turned out.
Freshman Connor Reilly, the Gophers most exciting offensive prospect coming into the season, didn't play a game. He suffered a preseason injury (torn ACL) at a team party and needed surgery.
He has started to skate with the team the last month. "He will be fine next year," Lucia said.
But he expects there won't be a next year for several of his top junior forwards.
After Friday's 3-2 overtime loss to Yale, team captain Budish said he will be back next season. But Lucia is not even sure about Budish, a redshirt junior who has been at the U of M for four years.
"Zach graduates this spring," Lucia said. "Nashville does want to sign him. It would be great if he comes back [as a grad student], but we understand if he doesn't. ... We will lose some good players, good kids."
The Predators drafted Budish several years ago.
The big risks of going early are Nick Bjugstad, who went well into the summer a year ago before deciding not to sign with the Florida Panthers. The NHL lockout was looming at the time. There is no such threat this year.
Erik Haula, the Gophers leading scorer with a career-high 51 points, is a Wild prospect and the team has seen him play a lot.
"Honestly, Bjugstad, Haula and Budish up front are juniors who have had good years, and [NHL] teams want them," Lucia said. "And [defensman] Nate Schmidt, being a free agent, people are knocking on his door."
THE NEXT WAVE
Expected to replace those forwards will be players like Taylor Cammarata and Justin Kloos of the Waterloo Black Hawks.
Cammarata. of Plymouth, is only 5-7, 156 but he has made a big impact on the USHL this season. In 53 games, he has 34 goals and 48 assists for a league-leading 82 points. He is a plus-32.
He has 24 points on power plays, including 10 goals, and has five game-winning goals.
This is Cammarata's second full season in the USHL. He turns 18 on May 13.
Only five points behind him, in second in USHL scoring, is Kloos. He finished high school at Lakeville South before playing in the USHL.
In his first full season of junior hockey, Kloos has 26 goals and 51 assists for 71 points. He is a plus-27 and has 28 points, including 10 goals on the power play.
Kloos is a litlte bigger, 5-9, 170, and older, at 19, than Cammarata.
Their team is in fourth place in the Western Conference of the USHL, still fighting for a playoff spot with two weeks and six games, four on the road, left in the regular season.
Waterloo is 33-21-4 (four overtime losses) this season, which adds up to 70 points. The Black Hawks are the highest scoring team in the USHL with 242 goals, but have given up 203, the third most in their conference.
Gabe Guertler, of Plantation, Fla., is another USHL forward that Lucia expects to be on the Gophers' roster next season.
He is about Kloos' size, 5-9, 178, and turns 18 on May 3. He has 31 goals and 20 assists for 50 points for Fargo in 58 games.
He is a plus-22, and has five shorthanded goals and seven on power plays. His goal total jumped from nine last season at Fargo to 31 this season.
A recent story on Guertler is here.
Then there isHudson Fasching, of Apple Valley. He is a fourth forward who will join the Gophers next season. He plays for the the U.S. national development team in Ann Arbor, Mich. He has 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 57 games.
He has size. Fasching, who is 18, is 6-2, 214.
Lucia also mentioned Vinnie Letteiri as another possible forward next season. Lettieri is a scorer, too. He has 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points in 57 games for Lincoln. He and Guertler are tied for 25th in USHL scoring.
Letteiri, who played high school hockey for Minnetonka, is a grandson of Lou Nanne's. He is 5-8, 170 and 18 years old.
So the Gophers will get younger and smaller up front.
But Lucia is optimistic. "Those guys will be able to bring it ... And four or five of them will come in," he said.
The Gophers will also bring in one defenseman for sure, Lucia said, and move junior Justin Holl back to that position, his normal position. He has played forward a lot this season.
THE DON SAYS
* On the Big Ten Conference: "It is going to be a little different. Going into a new conference, you don't have great feel for your opponents." The Gophers did sweep a series from Michigan State this season and played Wisconsin four times. The other three teams in the new conference will be Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
* On how to increase scoring in college hockey: "If you saw the Yale game, there were 25 blocked shots. ... I don't think it would hurt to make the goals a little bigger." He suggested putting the pipes on the outside of the present pipes. "[So] every time it hits the pipes now, [the puck] is in the net."
MOTZKO: NEUTRAL REGIONALS TOO COSTLY
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko does not want NCAA regionals to return to campuses -- at least not quite yet.
Regionals at neutral sites have not drawn well, Motzko said, but that is because tickets are over-priced.
He wants the NCAA to try regionals his way at least once. Cut ticket prices for everybody, Motzko said, then let youth in for $5. Give each school 250 tickets for students, then bus them in for more atmosphere.
"We were a fourth seed [in Toledo, Ohio]," Motzko said. "It wold have been very difficult for us to win at Notre Dame."
The Irish were the No. 1 seed and, under a plan being suggest by many, would have hosted the regional if the NCAA had gone back this year to campus sites.
* The Huskies leave for Pittsburgh, the site of the Frozen Four, on Tuesday of next week.
* Motzko is currently batlting a cold. And Motzko on SCSU going to Frozen Four: "There is nothing like the first time."
The Gophers are having trouble scoring goals this season, especially five-on-five.
But they have some good prospects who are doing well in the USHL. Taylor Cammarata of the Waterloo Black Hawks is leading the USHL in scoring with 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points. He is a plus-14 and has played in 21 games.
Teammate Justin Kloos, who nearly was a Gophers this fall, is tied for second in USHL scoring with 13 goals and 24 assists for 37 points. He had a big game Saturday with two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist in a 5-4 overtime victory over Sioux City. He has five power-play goals, including his last goal in OT.
The 5-9, 170-pound Kloos, who is a plus-15, was going to join the Gophers if Nick Bjugstad decided to turn pro and leave early.
Here is a nugget on Bjugstad from Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald:
Minnesota – Nick Bjugstad, the preseason player of the year, racked up 1.38 points per game during the first 16 league games of last season. In his last 23 league games, Bjugstad is averaging just 0.61. He’s currently 64th in the race for the league scoring title with seven points in 12 games.
But back to the USHL ... Tied for eighth in scoring is another future Gopher, forward Gabe Guertler of Fargo. He had 19 goals and 11 assists for 30 pints in 28 games. He is a plus-10, with five power-play goals and five short-handed. He also leads the USHL in shots on goal with 116, so he has been active on the ice.
By comparison, Cammarata has 62 shots, Kloos 79.
Fargo is second in the Western Conference of the USHL with a 15-8-5 record for 35 points, one point back is Waterloo at 17-9-0.
Waterloo has scored the most goals in the USHL with 109 -- the Black Hawks are averaging 4.2 goals per game -- Fargo is tied for second with 101.
Too bad the Gophers can't call up one or two of these players for the second semester. The season-ending injury to freshman forward Connor Reilly (knee) at a preseason team party looks a lot more damaging than ever.
He was expected to be a top six forward perhaps and be able to score.
None of the other freshmen have added much to the offense.
The Hockey Writers are predicting that Hudson Fasching, another future Gopher, will got No. 27 (near bottom of first round) in NHL draft next June.
A photo of Fasching signing his national letter of intent with the Gophers in mid-November that he tweeted is here.
The Hockey Writers' write-up on Fasching, who played hockey for Apple Valley, before leaving this season to play for the under-18 U.S. national development team based im Ann Arbor, Mich.:
27. Fasching, Hudson
a – Vitals: R – RW – 6’2, 214 – 28-Jul-95 – USA – USHL – USA U18 #22
b – Rank: NHL–USA-3; CR-THR–21; ISS-24; McK-25; THN-19; TSN-69
c – Commentary: Mr. Special – Power forward in the making with excellent size, good skating and decent hands, makes this player special. Go ahead, Hudson, add some every game consistency and drive, and you can turn that special into extra special.
In nine USHL games, Fasching has two goals and one assist for three points.
Tommy Vannelli could have gone to Ann Arbor, Mich., and joined the U.S. national development team. But he chose to stay home, and play with Minnetonka.
Now, it seems, he has decided to stay home for college, too. Late this afternoon, he announced he had committed to the U of M.
Vannelli is a 6-2, 175-pound defenseman who appears to be on the fast track in development.
Last season he had seven goals and 18 assists in 28 games with Tonka. This summer he was at the USA Hockey Select 17 camp in June and played with the U.S. team in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in ther Czech Republic and Slovakia in August.
This fall he was on the Team Northwest team in the Upper Midwest Elite League. His team tied for first during the regular season with a 14-4-3 record while he had four goals and 10 assists for 14 points.
He is 17 and a second cousin to the Vannelli brothers, Tom and Greg, who coach St. Thomas Academy. The Skippers, off to a 3-0-0 start, play the Cadets, a Class 1A power, on Thursday at Pagel, the Skippers' arena. Minnetonka has beaten Apple Valley, Osseo and Hibbing without much trouble so far, outscoring them 18-3 and holding them to an average of 12 shots.
Tommy Vannelli has one goal and five assists in those three games for six points.
PIPELINE TO MINNETONKA
The Gophers already have one Minnetonka player on their roster, junior defenseman Justin Holl.
And, in late October, junior forward Jack Ramsey of the Skippers committed to the U. Then there is Vinni Letteri. He would have been a senior forward at Minnetonka this season but chose to play in the USHL for the Lincoln (Neb.) Stars.
Letteri also has committed to the U. He is the grandson of Lou Nanne, the ex-North Stars and Gopher player. He led Minnetonka in scoring last seaosn with 23 goals and 37 assists for 60 points in 28 games.
This season Lettieri, who turns 18 in February, has six goals and eight assists for 14 points in 17 games for the Stars. He is 5-8 or 5-9, 165 or 170, depending on where you look on the Internet, and a plus-5 in even-strength situations at Lincoln.
So Vannelli makes it three Skippers on the way to Don Lucia's Gophers. ... Max Gardiner, another Minnetonka forward, was at the U for one season, but left. He played in the USHL for Dubuque last season and now is a sophomore center at Penn State (6-5-0). Gardiner is the Nittany Lions' second-leading scorer with two goals and seven assists for nine points.
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