Free Press Staff Writer
Some good may come out of the breakup of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association after all.
Minnesota’s five Division I programs (Minnesota State, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Bemidji State and St. Cloud State), which will be split into three conferences in 2013-14, are on the verge of agreeing to start an annual tournament at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center tentatively called the “Minnesota Cup.”
The inaugural tournament would take place in January, 2014, according to a Star Tribune report earlier this week.
On Wednesday, Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman confirmed that it’s close to being a done deal. The weekend prior to the Super Bowl is a potential target date, he said.
“All five schools have expressed a commitment to something like this,” Buisman said .”Some schedule and financial details need to be worked out.”
The Minnesota Cup would be a four-team event with Minnesota remaining a permanent fixture in the field in order to maximize ticket sales. One of the other four teams would rotate out of the tournament each year.
Currently, the five teams are members of the WCHA. But after the 2012-13 season, Minnesota will go to the new Big 10 hockey conference, Duluth and St. Cloud will join the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference and MSU and Bemidji will remain in a revamped WCHA.
Minnesota has expressed a commitment to playing its in-state rivals after the breakup.
“We want to play every one of them,” Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune. “(The tournament) is the way we are going to do it.”
Said Buisman: “To the credit of the University of Minnesota, Joel Maturi and coach (Don) Lucia, they always seem to act in what’s in the best interest of college hockey in general and, in this case, college hockey in Minnesota.”
Buisman said MSU, Bemidji, Duluth and St. Cloud also are trying to work out an imbalanced home-and-home schedule with Minnesota in addition to the tournament.
Many college hockey fans in Minnesota have been clamoring for an event similar to Boston’s Beanpot, which pits that city’s four Division I teams (Boston University, Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern) in a tournament played over consecutive Mondays each February.
Hayes gets honor
Minnesota State junior forward Eriah Hayes was named WCHA offensive player of the week after his performance in last weekend’s series split against Nebraska Omaha.
Hayes had a hat trick in Saturday’s 5-4 overtime win and an assist in Friday’s 2-1 overtime loss for a four-point weekend.
It was Hayes’ first conference honor.
Other WCHA weekly honorees included Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schultz (defensive) and St. Cloud State defenseman Andrew Prochno (rookie).
North Mankato native and Mankato West graduate Tyler Bruggeman has been selected to play in the North American Hockey League Top Prospects Tournament Feb. 20-22 in Troy, Mich.
Bruggeman, a goalie in his last year of junior hockey, made one of the four 20-man teams that will compete in the event.
Teams were chosen by the league’s 28 coaches.
Bruggeman plays for the Austin Bruins. He is fourth in the NAHL with 18 wins this season, tied for sixth with a .928 save percentage and tied for eighth with a 2.22 goals-against average.
MSU prospect plays
Future Minnesota State goaltender Stephon Williams stopped 20 of 23 shots while playing a little more than 30 minutes during Tuesday’s United States Hockey League/NHL Top Prospects Game.
Williams and Team West lost 5-3 to Team East in the game, which was played in Muskegon, Mich.
The game featured USHL players who are projected to be selected in this summer’s NHL draft.
Former MSU men’s player Adam Gerlach competed in and took 25th place in the Red Bull Crashed Ice extreme downhill skating competition in St. Paul Jan. 12-14. ... Former Gustavus women’s players Laura Vannelli, Jessie Doig and Liz Haakenson were part of the women’s championship team at last weekend’s U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis. ... The Gustavus women moved up to No. 4 in the national rankings, while the men fell out of the top 15 but continued to receive votes.