Simpson signs with Edmonton

UND captain Dillon Simpson is following in the footsteps as his father, signing an NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

Simpson’s father, Craig, won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers.

I wrote a story on the topic here. (Strangely enough, I remember sitting on this same couch chatting with Simpson the night he committed to UND. I guess I’ve lived in this place longer than I thought. Time flies).

Edmonton seems to be a good fit for Simpson. By my count, the Oilers should only enter the offseason with one defenseman on a one-way deal (presumably, it will re-sign three RFAs to one-way deals, too, bringing that number to four).

Even so, at this point, it seems that defenseman spots are up for grab in an organization that has been doomed by its defenseman play in recent years.

It’s hard to believe that Simpson could make the big club out of camp, but once he gets comfortable at the pro level, he may have a shot.

As a freshman, Simpson’s foot speed was, at times, an issue. Even during his sophomore year. But he spent tons of time working on that during the offseasons, and that was evident come his junior and senior years.

Simpson really rounded out his game throughout his college career. He improved his foot speed. He increasingly showed good hockey sense — as evidenced by the number of passes he read and broke up in the Frozen Four this season. Defensively, he led the country in blocked shots (109). Offensively, his half-slap shot was effective.

Off the ice, he had an idea resume. He was an honor student in managerial finance and he was good in the community. Whenever UND had a tough loss, he was typically the go-to guy for quotes for us media types. That’s the captain’s job.

His college career is now finished — something that he said saddened him a little bit. “It’s been a memorable four years, the best four years of my life. I’m going to miss it a lot,” he said.

But at age 21, he’s set himself up well for the future. He has an NHL contract. He will give it his best shot to eventually play in the NHL. And once his pro hockey career is over, he already has his degree and will be able to move on in the business world.

Not a bad model for future players to follow.

Kemp to be WCHA women’s commish

The WCHA will introduce Mercyhurst associate athletic director Aaron Kemp as its next commissioner on Wednesday, the Herald has learned.

Kemp has a strong hockey background, having served as an assistant coach for the Canisius men’s team and the Mercyhurst women’s team.

Kemp is a graduate of Canisius College.

He replaces Sara Martin, who retired at the end of last season. The WCHA will have new commissioners on both sides as Bill Robertson replaces Bruce McLeod on the men’s side.

Offensive D-man commits to UND

UND received a verbal commitment from an offensive defenseman from Elk, River, Minn., on Saturday.

Matt Kiersted, a sophomore, made a visit to UND on Saturday, received an offer and committed.

“Ever since I’ve been a little kid, I’ve always dreamed of going to North Dakota and playing for the Sioux,” Kiersted said. “When I played for the Minnesota Machine, we would go up to Winnipeg and play and we’d always stop on the way in Grand Forks and get a tour of the arena. I fell in love with the town and the school ever since then.”

Kiersted expects to play next season with Elk River. He will get picked in the USHL draft next month. There’s a good chance he could play his senior year in the USHL with whatever team picks him.

Last season, Kiersted had 25 points (6 goals, 19 assists) in 27 games for Elk River, which lost in the section final to Duluth East.

He’s a 1998-born defenseman who stands at 5-foot-11, 165 pounds. Kiersted said he likes being the fourth guy in the rush and adding offense. He plans to work on his defensive game and being gritty in the corners and in front of the net next season.

His UND arrival date is up in the air.

“Coach (Dave) Hakstol said it will depend on my development,” he said.

Kierstad said he’s happy with his decision.

“Even going up there today, I like how it’s not a huge college and not a small college. It’s right in the middle,” he said. “I like the class sizes. It just seemed like a good fit for me. I like the small-town feel.”

The final rankings

UND is ranked No. 4 in the final USCHO poll this season (for whatever it’s worth) and I decided to go and look up some past polls. Some of the findings were interesting.

Only five teams have been ranked in the final poll in each of the last five seasons (which tells you a little about the parity in the sport these days). Who are those five teams? North Dakota, Boston College, Michigan, Denver and Union.

So yes, Union has been having similar success to the nation’s best programs over the past five seasons. Its national championship did not exactly come out of thin air.

The other striking stat to me: UND is the only program that has been ranked in the top 16 for each of the past nine years. And the lowest UND has been in that span is No. 7. While UND hasn’t finished off a national championship in that span, that is rather remarkable.

If you go back the last decade, UND has been in the top 10 each season in the final USCHO poll.

Worst final rank of the last decade

10. North Dakota (2005)
17. Denver (2014)
20. Michigan (2013)
20. Boston College (2009)
NR. The rest of the country’s teams

*Of note, USCHO used to do its final ranking before the start of the NCAA tournament. The last four years, they have conducted a poll after the NCAA tournament.

It was interesting to me that UND’s worst season of the last decade — as ranked by the polls — was a year in which it played for the national championship.

The 2014-15 schedule

UND’s 2014-15 schedule (subject to change) is highlighted by two big nonconference matchups — at Wisconsin and home against Providence.

The Badger series will be a rematch of the NCAA regional game and the Friars have nearly everyone back, including star goalie Jon Gillies, from their NCAA tournament team.

UND also will host the Hall of Fame Game on Nov. 1 against Air Force.

I posted the new schedule on the right side of this page, so you can return here for quick reference and not have to seek out this blog post.

2014-15 schedule

Oct. 5 — Canadian exhibition TBA
Oct. 11 — at Bemidji State
Oct. 17 — at Colorado College
Oct. 18 — at Colorado College

Nov. 1 — AIR FORCE (Hall of Fame Game)
Nov. 7 — at Wisconsin
Nov. 8 — at Wisconsin
Nov. 14 — MIAMI
Nov. 15 — MIAMI
Nov. 21 — at St. Cloud State
Nov. 22 — at St. Cloud State
Nov. 28 — OMAHA
Nov. 29 — OMAHA

Dec. 12 — at Denver
Dec. 13 — at Denver

Jan. 3 — U.S. UNDER-18 (exhibition)
Jan. 9 — DULUTH
Jan. 10 — DULUTH
Jan. 16 — NIAGARA
Jan. 17 — NIAGARA
Jan. 30 — at Omaha
Jan. 31 — at Omaha

Feb. 13 — DENVER
Feb. 14 — DENVER
Feb. 20 — at Western Michigan
Feb. 21 — at Western Michigan

March 6 — at Miami
March 7 — at Miami
March 13-15 — NCHC first round (higher seed)
March 20-21 — NCHC tournament (Target Center, Minneapolis)
March 27-29 — NCAA tournament (Scheels Arena, Fargo)

April 9-11 — NCAA Frozen Four (T.D. Garden, Boston)

Some notes about the schedule:

  • If UND makes the NCAA tournament, it will automatically be placed in Fargo. UND is the host of that regional. The other regional sites are South Bend, Ind., Providence, R.I., Manchester, N.H.
  • Two North Dakota kids will return back home to play in Lake Superior State’s Bryce Schmitt of Minot and Air Force’s Chad Demers of Grafton.
  • UND will go almost a month and a half without a road game from the middle of December to the end of January. UND has a lengthy Christmas break followed by three straight home series to open the second half.
  • For those curious, Wisconsin’s football team is on the road at Purdue when UND is in Madison. So, you won’t be able to check that out if you make that trip, but it should mean that there are more hotel possibilities.
  • Duluth is the one place that UND does not visit and Western Michigan is the one team that doesn’t come to The Ralph.
  • UND closes the regular season in Oxford against Miami. With the RedHawks getting all of their stars back for next season, that could be a series with huge implications.
  • Lastly, we could potentially have two Serratore fan lunches in a month span. Does it get any better than that?

Schmaltz, Gothberg returning

Decision season is underway. So far, so good for UND.

Jordan Schmaltz and Zane Gothberg are among the players who have decided that they are returning to UND for their junior seasons, which means the strength of next year’s team will be from the blue line back.

Schmaltz will get the unique opportunity to play with his brother, Nick, who will be a freshman on next year’s team.

Schmaltz’s father, Mike, also had that opportunity at UND. He played football alongside his brother, Marc.

Gothberg had a terrific end to his sophomore season, going 18-5-1 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.72 goals-against average.

Michael Parks also confirmed that he will be back for his senior season. It appears that Rocco Grimaldi is the last remaining player to make a decision.

Mattson commits to UND

UND received a verbal commitment Tuesday from Grand Rapids sophomore forward Mitchell Mattson (no relation to Nick).

Mattson is a 6-foot-3 forward with good skills. He’s UND’s first 1998-born recruit. Mattson’s arrival date is still up in the air.

Mattson also had an offer from Minnesota Duluth and was planning to visit Minnesota, but after his trip to Grand Forks, he knew that’s where he wanted to play college hockey.

His older sister, Sidney, is a UND volleyball recruit.

Here’s the Herald story on Mattson’s commitment.

Nelson to play at Worlds

Former UND forward Brock Nelson just completed his rookie season in the NHL with 14 goals and 26 points. But he’s not done just yet.

Nelson was one of the first 15 players selected to Team USA’s World Championship roster on Tuesday.

Nelson, who played two seasons at UND and led the WCHA in goals as a sophomore, will head to Belarus next month to play in the tournament.

Three 2013-14 college players will join the roster, too, including UMass-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck, BC’s Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes, according to USA Today.

Seven chasing the Cup

Seven former UND players will be chasing the Cup this playoff season.

They are Jonathan Toews (Chicago), T.J. Oshie (St. Louis), Chris Porter (St. Louis), Zach Parise (Minnesota), Brad Malone (Colorado), Matt Greene (Los Angeles) and Matt Frattin (Columbus).

Also of note, Rick Wilson is an assistant coach for the Wild and James Patrick is an assistant coach for the Stars.

A couple of them will be going head-to-head: Parise vs. Malone; Toews vs. Oshie and Porter.

The playoffs start Wednesday. For a full schedule, including TV listings, check this site.