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.
Mike Hastings, an associate head coach with Nebraska Omaha the past three seasons, will interview today for the head men's hockey coaching position at Minnesota State Mankato with the the school's search committee.
Hastings, a Gophers assistant coach in the 2008-09 season, will then meet with the media and the general public at 4 p.m. at the Taylor Center on campus. That seems a little odd for a candidate, unless the job is nearly his already.
I talked with Hastings numerous times when he was at the University of Minnesota. He comes across as an impressive coach: knowledgeable, passionate, experienced. He primarily worked with the Gophers' forwards and ran practices when head coach Don Lucia was absent.
MSU reassigned Troy Jutting, the Mavericks' coach for 12 years, on April 1 and school officials have worked quickly, it seems, to find a replacement.
Hastings replaced Mike Guentzel at Minnesota and, in turn, was replaced by Grant Potulny.
He has a lot of head coaching experience in the USHL. In 14 years with the Omaha Lancers, he compiled a career record of 529-210-56 and never had a losing season. He had more victories than any coach in UHSL history. His last team there in 2007-08 won the Clark Cup.
His Lancers previously won Clark Cups for playoff championships in 1998 and 2001. His teams also won three Anderson Cups for regular-season titles in 2002, '05 and '08.
Hastings was the USHL coach of the year after the 1996-97 and 2001-02 seasons. And five times he was named the UHSL's general manager of year in 1997, 2002, '05, '07 and '08.
He is a native of Crookston, Minn., and played at St. Cloud State for two season before his college playing career ended because of injuries. He has a bachelor's degree in secondary education.
Hastings is the first finalist to interview for the MSU Mankato job. Will there be others? School officials are not saying.
Maybe there is somebody better out there for the Mavericks' job, but Hastings has to be a strong candidate.
A recent story in the Mankato Free Press mentioned Mike Guentzel's name as a possible candidate for the head coaching job at Minnesota State Mankato.
Troy Jutting was reassigned -- a nice word for dismissed -- on April 1. Kevin Buisman, the Mavericks' AD, said he has a short list of names and will have a new hockey coach by the end of the first week in May, if not sooner.
The Free Press lists three associate head coaches in the WCHA as possibilities: Guentzel of the Gophers, Cary Eades of North Dakota and Mike Hastings of Nebraska Omaha. Only Eades has expressed interest in the job.
Guentzel returned to the Gophers this season after being gone for three. He worked primarily with the defensemen and turned an inexperienced group into a usually reliable blue line corps.
Two other names the Free Press has mentioned are John Harrington, former head coach at St. John's University in Collegeville, and Tom Ward, the successful high school coach at Shattuck-St. Mary's.
* Sweden beat the U.S. 3-2 in an exhibition game before the U18 World Championships in the Czech Republic. The U.S. team had a 32-17 shot advantage. The winning goal came on a penalty shot. Defenseman Brady Skjei, a future Gopher, had an assist for the U.S.
The U.S. team plays Finland in its first game in the World Championships on Thursday.
After 12 seasons, Troy Jutting is out as hockey coach at Minnesota State Mankato.
He and the school reached an agreement in which he will reassigned to other administrative duties through June 2013 when his contract expires.
Said school President Dr. Richard Davenport, in a MSU news release: "This is the right time to make a change, and we’re committed to taking our men’s hockey program to new heights. Part of our emerging national prominence as a university is raising our level of competitiveness in men’s hockey and all of our sports."
Jutting's roots go deep with the Mavericks. He was a player there, an assistant coach for 10 years and head coach since 2000-01.
His record as head coach was 184-224-55. The Richfield native was the WCHA coach of the year after the 2002-03 and 2007-08 seasons, but those were the only two times his team finished in the top five in the conference.
His team made its only Final Five and NCAA appearances the same year, 2003.
The Mavericks finished 12-24-2 overall this past season, 8-18-2 in the WCHA which landed them in 11th place ahead of only Alaska Anchorage. Key injuries crippled MSU's chances but several of the Mavericks' top players were freshmen.
Gophers coach Don Lucia expects to lose two forwards from his top line for the Mariucci Classic later this month.
Sophomore center Nick Bjugstad and freshman left winger Kyle Rau will probably get invitations on Monday to participate in a pre-World Juniors Championships camp from Dec. 17-23 in Camrose, Alberta.
There will be about 30 players at the camp. Twenty-two will make the U.S. team roster for the World Junior Championships starting Dec. 26 and running until Jan. 5.
Asked about Gophers likely to make the team, Lucia said, "There are a couple of guys on our team. Obviously, Bjugey played last year. I am sure he will be on the team this year. Kyle has certainly played himself into contention.
"There has been some dialogue with the [USA Hockey] staff. They have been here scouting. I have talked to Tim Taylor about it. He was here for a weekend watching the guys."
Taylor is USA Hockey's director of player development.
Certainly, their statistics alone make a strong case for Bjugstad and Rau. Bjugstad has 15 goals in 16 games and is tied for first in scoring nationally with 25 points. Rau has 10 goals and 18 points, more than any other freshman.
"Kyle is an example of a kid who wasn’t in their junior [evaluation] camp this summer [at Lake Placid, N.Y], but obviously the way he has played, he has played with Bjugey, he is in the conversation," Lucia said.
Sophomore defenseman Justin Holl was at USA Hockey's evaluation camp in August, but did not make the cut when they reduced the number of players there halfway through it. He is more of a longshot to make the U.S. team.
"Whoever we lose, we will only lose [them] for the two games," Lucia said. "They will return the Friday before we play Notre Dame in that hall of fame game. ... We will get our guys back for that."
The No. 4/5 Gophers play the No. 2 Irish (10-3-3) on Saturday, Jan. 7.
WJC players will miss the Mariucci Classic on Dec. 30-31. The Gophers will play Niagara (3-5-4) in their first game and either Northeastern (4-7-2) or Princeton (3-7-1) in their second game.
"Anytime you can wear the USA sweater it is a tremendous honor and it is good for our program to have those kids," Lucia said. "Do we miss them? Yeah. Is it going to hurt us? Yeah. But in the long run for those players to have an opportunity to play in such an event, especially this year in Canada --. I don’t think the people in our country have any idea how big the World Juniors tournament is. If they are going up to Canada, it is every bit as big as the Olympics, or really the Super Bowl."
LINE-UP CHANGE TEMPORARY
Lucia sat two freshman forwards last Saturday, Sam Warning and Seth Ambroz. But by Monday, they were both back in their regular spots, Warning at left wing on the second line and Ambroz at right wing on the third line.
"We took [Sam] and Seth out of our line-up on Saturday," Lucia said. "Sometimes we can take a step back to step forward. I just thought it would be good for them. They were pressing a bit offensively -- that it would be good to sit up and watch a game. And maybe at times the game slows down and you see where you should go and [what] you should do.
"Both of them have done a lot of nice things on our team," Lucia said. "A guy like Seth, he is exactly what our program needs, a big, strong power forward and his best days are going to be ahead of him. [He's] been a little big unlucky. He just needs to get that goal to get untrack, the same with Sam."
Warning had three goals and three assists for six points. He is a plus-4. But he has taken only 17 shots on net and has not had a point in his last nine games.
Ambroz has two goals and one assist for three points. He has taken 31 shots, is a plus-2 but is pointless his past 10 games.
* Warning is the Gophers' first player from Missouri, Chesterfield to be exact. That's a suburb of St. Louis. "There is an example, a lot like Dallas right now or Phoenix where you have guys that went there and played pro hockey," Lucia said. "[Now] they live there, they have kids they coach [on] youth teams.
"Now you have pockets of players that are coming, whether it is St. Louis or whether is is Colorado or Dallas or Phoenix or L.A. It is not just Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan anymore. There are a lot of great players from throughout the country."
DORR FOUND NICHE
Midway through his freshman season at Minnesota, Mike Dorr left the program. He wound up at Minnesota State.
"He wasn’t playing a lot and, like a lot of kids, it is a lot of work," Lucia said. "He made a decision that he wanted to try to get more ice time. He ended up going to Minnesota State and it has worked out well for him. He is getting a chance to play on a regular basis.
"He is a senior now and he played junior hockey, he is older, he is experience and he is a guy they count on to score for them."
In 12 games this season, Dorr has one goal and five assists for six points. All of his points have come in the past seven games. Dorr, of Roseville, is a Mavericks co-captain this season. He has 18 goals and 30 assists for 48 points in his college career.
GOALIE SHUFFLE AT MANKATO
Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting played three goalies last weekend in a 5-4 loss and a 5-5 overtime tie with Alaska Anchorage.
Senior Austin Lee play Friday, making 19 saves. He is 3-7-0, with a 3.44 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
Junior Phil Cook started Saturday, but for the third time in his past three games, was pulled. The Seawolves scored on five of seven shots on Cook. He was gone at 7:26 of the second period.
Cook is 0-3-0 with a 6.68 gaa and a .791 save pct.
Freshman Evan Karambelas replaced Cook and, in his first college game, stopped all six shots he faced.
It will be interesting to see which two goalies the Mavericks bring to Mariucci Arena this weekend. Cook, who beat the Gophers twice last season in one-goal games, might not be on the bus. He is a terrible slump.
So does the goalie shuffle at MSU cause the Gophers scouting problems?
"We don’t spend much time worrying about who the [other team's] goalie is," Lucia said. "You spend a lot of time worrying about who the goalie is and you are shooting over the net and hitting the glass.
"We spend most of our time worrying about ourselves -- [we want to] continue to try to grow and get better. Who the other team's goalie is, really doesn’t make any difference."
A media member with a comical bent suggested to Don Lucia that the solution to the Gophers' string of Friday night losses might be to schedule Saturday-Sunday series.
The Don did not laugh. "I don’t look at it as we have a big problem as much as we have played some tough road games," said Lucia, in his 13th year as the Gophers head coach. "If you look at the big picture of where we are at, we are in really good shape."
The Gophers are 11-4-1 overall -- they are the nation's only team with 11 victories although a number of top teams like Merrimack (10 games, 9-0-1) and Colorado College (11 games, 7-4-0) have played far fewer games. The Gophers also are in first place in the WCHA standings -- by one point over Minnesota Duluth and two points over Nebraska Omaha.
"We have got out to some bad starts on Friday on the road," Lucia said.
He's right there. The Gophers trailed Wisconsin 3-0 at the Kohl Center until scoring a consolation goal in the last two minutes.
They were down 4-1 to St. Cloud State at the National Hockey Center before rallying for two goals in the second half of the third period.
They were down 2-0 to Michigan State last Friday and lost 4-3.
"Maybe you can overcome that [multiple-goal deficits] at home," Lucia said, " but when you are playing good quality opponents on the road, it just makes it that much more difficult."
The Gophers have a string of seven home games through early January starting with a series this weekend with lowly Minnesota State Mankato, tied for 11th place in the WCHA. Of course, the Mavericks are 5-1 in their last six meetings with the Gophers.
INJURIES PLAGUE MAVS
"When you look at their year, you can sum it up by injuries," Lucia said, referring to the Mavericks' struggles. "I don’t know who they have and who they don’t have, but it is awfully difficult at any level when you are playing without half a dozen players you expect to have in your line-up.
"We went through that last November and it is no fun. They have some good freshman that are obviously playing very well for them. But more than anything else, they are waiting to get their guys back."
Lucia said he worried about the Gophers' blue line corps before the start of this season. Not anymore.
"I am really happy with where they are at," he said. "That was a big question mark coming into the season. We had lost three players who played regularly last year."
That would be seniors Cade Fairchild, who made his NHL debut with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, and Kevin Wehrs and junior Aaron Ness, who left school early to sign a pro contract.
Among the D-men back were sophomores Jake Parenteau and Nate Schmidt. "[They were] two guys who played off and on [as freshmen], but did not have much experience," Lucia said, "and we had to count on those guys this year.
"Our three sets [of defensemen] are pretty balanced," Lucia said. "At this time we don’t have a superstar back there, but we have a good solid corps of six."
That's all you need unless someone gets hurt or ill.
"Probably. the one area [to clean up] was rush defense," Lucia said. "We gave up three goals on Saturday night. A little confusion, is it a three-on-two or a three-on-three? And who has got who? That can be overcome a little bit by just better communication and that is something we have stressed from Day 1. Things happen a little quicker in [Michigan State's] rink."
The Spartans' rink is NHL-size, meaning it is narrower than the Olympic-size sheet of ice at Mariucci Arena.
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