Steve Johnson resigns in Lincoln

Former Sioux hockey player Steve Johnson resigned as head coach of the Lincoln Stars today after holding the position for all 11 years of the franchise.

Johnson will be pursuing a business opportunity, according to a release by the Stars.

He led Lincoln to three Anderson Cups (regular season) and two Clark Cups (postseason), while posting an overall record of 406-188-47. He had 10 winning seasons in Lincoln.

Johnson, a 1988 Hobey Baker finalist, made it no secret that he would like to get back to Grand Forks. He says he now has a good opportunity to do that.

"I felt that the timing was right was right to accept an opportunity in our hometown that will allow me to spend more time with my family and still stay in hockey to a lesser extent," Johnson said.

Decision day approaching

Within the next three days we could know the futures of a pair of top-10 NHL picks and the WCHA’s defensive player of the year.

Sioux sophomore defenseman Brian Lee said he plans on making a decision by the end of the week. Lee is the No. 9 overall pick of Ottawa in the 2005 draft. If he decides to come back, UND is scheduled to return everyone from the blue line back.

Also, WCHA fans will be keeping an eye on Minnesota’s Kyle Okposo and Alex Goligoski. Gopher coach Don Lucia told his players he wants to know whether they are returning or turning pro by June 1. Of course, there’s really no way of punishing a player for breaking his coach’s wishes in this circumstance. But we haven’t heard anyone say that more time is needed yet.

Check here and grandforksherald.com for news.

Sioux hockey season officially over

UND’s season ended a month and a half ago. Now, all of the recruits and former players are done, too. Jason Notermann was the last one left. So, Sioux hockey season is officially over. In about four months, it will be going again. Here’s looking back at notable accomplishments from the season by future, current and past players:

Championships

Brad Malone (USHL), Ben Blood (national midget), Brad Williamson (CHL), Aaron Schneekloth (CHL), Jason Notermann (UHL)

Major awards

Ryan Duncan (Hobey Baker; WCHA player of the year), Chris Porter (West Regional MOP), Zach Parise (NHL YoungStars MVP), Matt Frattin (AJHL rookie of the year)

All-Americans/All-Conference/All-Stars

Ryan Duncan (AHCA first team; WCHA first team), Jonathan Toews (AHCA first team; WCHA second team), Taylor Chorney (AHCA second team; WCHA second team), T.J. Oshie (WCHA third team), Jason Blake (NHL), Brandon Bochenski (AHL), Drew Stafford (AHL), Curtis Murphy (AHL), Brad Williamson (CHL), Derrick LaPoint (USHL), Matt Frattin (AJHL), Brad Eidsness (CJAHL)

NHL debuts

Travis Zajac (New Jersey Devils), Drew Stafford (Buffalo Sabres)

Played in the NHL

Travis Zajac (New Jersey Devils), Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils), David Hale (New Jersey Devils/Calgary Flames), Drew Stafford (Buffalo Sabres), Jason Blake (New York Islanders), Brandon Bochenski (Chicago Blackhawks/Boston Bruins), Mike Commodore (Carolina Hurricanes), Ryan Bayda (Carolina Hurricanes), Matt Greene (Edmonton Oilers), Matt Jones (Phoenix Coyotes), Travis Roche (Phoenix Coyotes), Ed Belfour (Florida Panthers), Lee Goren (Vancouver Canucks), Ryan Johnson (St. Louis Blues)

Notermann goes out on top

Jason Notermann is leaving professional hockey in style.

The former Sioux forward led the Rockford Ice Hogs to the United Hockey League championship Thursday night by scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the series against Kalamazoo.

Earlier this season, Notermann said he planned to retire after 2005-06, but Rockford coach Steve Martinson convinced him to come back for one more season. Notermann said no matter what happened, it would be his last.

Notermann had big numbers last season, racking up 81 points in 71 games. He even played seven games in the American Hockey League for the Milwaukee Admirals. His numbers were down this season, scoring 32 points in 60 games, but he scored goals at big times — much like Thursday night.

Not only was the season finale a send-off for Notermann, it also was the last game Rockford played as a UHL team. Next season, the Ice Hogs will be the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate.

Here is the local newspaper’s story on Game 7. You’ll notice several other former WCHA players’ names among the Ice Hogs.

Also a member of the Rockford squad is former Grand Forks Central goaltender Jake Moreland, who played 11 games during the regular season and saw 32 minutes during the playoffs.

Williamson, Schneekloth win CHL title

A pair of former UND defensemen helped the Colorado Eagles win the Central Hockey League championship on Wednesday night.

Brad Williamson and Aaron Schneekloth both were key players for Colorado, which defeated Laredo in six games to win the Ray Miron President’s Cup. Williamson had two assists in the final game to lead the Eagles.

The pair finished as the top two scoring defenseman in the CHL playoffs and they also racked up the two best plus-minus ratings for defensemen in the postseason.

In 25 playoff games, Williamson finished with three goals and 19 assists for 22 points. He was a plus-18. Schneekloth, meanwhile, had eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points, while racking up a plus-19 rating. No other defenseman had more than six postseason goals.

Williamson also was the top scoring defenseman in the league during the regular season, racking up 69 points (10 goals, 59 assists) in 62 games. He also had the best plus-minus of the defensemen during the regular season. Schneekloth was third in that category.

Of note, the No. 3 goal scorer in the CHL playoffs (and the top goal scorer out of teams that didn’t make the finals) was former UND forward Mike Prpich. Prpich had 14 goals in 16 games for New Mexico.

Gregoire commits to UND

Another week, another highly touted recruit for UND.

Jason Gregoire, of Winnipeg, is the latest to give a verbal commitment to the Sioux.

Gregoire wasn’t highly recruited a year ago. He emerged onto the scene as a rookie in the USHL. He missed a few months with an ankle injury and was outstanding when he returned. He admits he’s not great an any aspect of the game. It’s his all-around game that makes him so good.

To learn more about Gregoire, the Lincoln Journal-Star wrote an extensive piece on him three months ago. Check it out here.

For those looking for a list of all the future recruits and their anticipated arrival dates, here they are:

Forwards
Evan Trupp, Penticton (BCHL), 2007
Brad Malone, Sioux Falls (USHL), 2007
Brett Hextall, Penticton (BCHL), 2007
Matt Frattin, Fort Sask. (AJHL), 2007 or 2008
Brett Bruneteau, Omaha (USHL), 2008
Mike Cichy, Boston Jr. (EJHL), 2008
Jason Gregoire, Lincoln (USHL), 2008
Danny Kristo, U.S. Under-17, 2009
Mike Fink, Hopkins (Minn.), 2009

Defensemen
Derrick LaPoint, Green Bay (USHL), 2007
Jake Marto, Omaha (USHL), 2007
Ben Blood, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, 2008
Joe Gleason, Edina (Minn.), 2008 or 2009

Goaltender
Brad Eidsness, Okotoks (AJHL), 2008

Toews featured on chat

Jonathan Toews was featured on a chat at chicagoblackhawks.com today.

He addresses several UND-angle questions:

*How close was he to coming back to UND and how hard was the decision?

*What did he think about choosing college over the WHL?

*What are his favorite memories from UND?

*Who has been his most influential coach?

*And most important… what is he going to do in Chicago with no more Red Pepper?

Check it out here.

New Duluth arena on hold

It appears that renovations and expansion at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center is on hold again.

The state legislature failed to pass funding for expansion before lawmakers adjourned early today. The funding would give the Bulldogs a new arena. This is the second year in a row the DECC failed to make it through the legislature.

Read more here.

A different outlook

In looking at the list of early departures in the WCHA so far this offseason, there is a distinct difference from the last. Almost every team is getting hit this summer. And the hits are evenly spread out.

Last summer, that wasn’t the case. UND and Minnesota got hammered, losing nine guys between the teams. Mankato, Wisconsin and Denver also lost multiple guys. But four of the 10 WCHA teams (Tech, Anchorage, Duluth and St. Cloud State) came out of the summer without losing any underclassmen.

That won’t be the case this summer.

Eight of the 10 teams have lost someone already. And the early departures haven’t been limited to the top teams in the league. Here’s a look at how the summers compare:

Summer of 2006: 17 departures

Teams that finished 1st through 5th: All five teams were hit for a total of 14 early exits.
Teams that finished 6th through 10th: One team was hit for a total of 3 early exits.

Summer of 2007: 10 departures (so far)

Teams that finished 1st through 5th: Four teams were hit for a total of 4 early exits.
Teams that finished 6th through 10th: Four teams were hit for a total of 6 early exits.

So if you look at percentages, last summer, 82 percent of departures came from the top five teams, whereas this summer, 40 percent have come from top five teams.

List of the early departures (teams in order of 2006-07 finish):

Minnesota (1): Erik Johnson, freshman
St. Cloud State (1): Andrew Gordon, junior
UND (1): Jonathan Toews, sophomore
Denver (1): Ryan Dingle, junior
Colorado College (0)
Michigan Tech (0)
Wisconsin (2): Jack Skille, sophomore; Joe Piskula, junior
Mankato (1): Steve Wagner, junior
Duluth (2): Mason Raymond, sophomore; Matt Niskanen, sophomore
Anchorage (1): Jay Beagle, sophomore

…on a side note, an early departure from last year — Mankato’s Ryan Carter — made his NHL debut tonight with Anaheim in the Western Conference finals.