Winnipeg gets its team back

A press conference has been scheduled for 11 a.m. today to announce that the Atlanta Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg.

Winnipeg lost its NHL team in 1996 when it moved to Phoenix. Since that time, however, the strengthening Canadian dollar, a strong ownership group and a new arena in Winnipeg have changed things.

Winnipeg is expected to remain in the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference for one season.

UND’s Jason Gregoire is set to become a free agent soon. It will be interesting to see if the hometown team is one considered by Gregoire.

UND has another connection to the Winnipeg team. The chairman of True North, the group purchasing the Thrashers, is Mark Chipman — who played football for the Sioux and earned undergraduate and law degrees from UND.

Q and A with Mike Parks

There will be a lot of new faces in the Sioux locker room next season, so this summer and fall, I will try to post some information on each recruit. I recently wrote stories about the commitments of defenseman Dan Senkbeil and forward Michael Di Puma — and will soon go into depth with possible first-round picks Rocco Grimaldi and J.T. Miller.

Others, I will try to post some short Q&As, and we will start with Missouri native Mike Parks, who recently completed his season with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the USHL. Parks scored 25 goals and had 42 points in 56 games.

Talk about your season with Cedar Rapids. How did it go?

PARKS: We had a disappointing end to our season (losing in semifinals). We wanted it to go a little longer than it did. It was a good year, though. My team won the Anderson Cup (best team in regular season). That was a really cool thing to win. We worked really hard to win that.

From the outside, it appeared that your team’s depth was the strength. Was that so?

PARKS: Yeah, we had a lot of depth. We had four good lines up front and we had really solid goaltending.

When you are on your game, what type of player would you say you are? What should Sioux fans expect to see?

PARKS: I’d probably say a two-way forward. I like to contribute offensively and defensively as well. I played on the power play and on the penalty kill this past year. I’ve really been working on being an all-around player and I hope I can bring that to the Sioux.

I noticed you went from No. 61 to No. 16 last year. Any reason for the change?

PARKS: Yeah, our team decided we were going to go with traditional numbers — under 35. So, I just flipped them.

Did you get a chance to see any Sioux games last year?

PARKS: I didn’t get a chance to watch too many games, but I’d watch the highlights on the blog and things like that. Occasionally, I’d see a game on repeat on Sunday on Fox College Sports. So, I did get to see them every once in a while.

The Sioux are losing a lot of forwards from last year’s team. Does that open your eyes to the possibility of more ice time?

PARKS: Yeah, when you see a couple guys signing and going pro early, it means more opportunity for everyone. It’s a little more motivation for the possibility of more ice time.

When do you plan on arriving on campus?

PARKS: I’ll be up there for three weeks in the summer starting in July. I think a lot of the freshmen are coming then.

When is the last time you’ve been in Grand Forks?

PARKS: It has been a while. Probably January 2009.

Last man standing: Aaron Schneekloth

Former Sioux defenseman Aaron Schneekloth is this year’s last man standing.

Schneekloth was the final UND player remaining alive with his pro team in the playoffs this year, edging Matt Smaby by about an hour. Smaby didn’t play for Tampa Bay in the playoffs, though.

Schneekloth and the Colorado Eagles lost in Game 7 of the Central Hockey League finals. Schneekloth has spent the last five seasons with the Eagles and the last seven in the CHL. Although he faced injury setbacks this year, he managed 33 points in 36 games from the blue line.

In the playoffs, he had 13 points in 16 games.

The elimination of Smaby and the Lightning ends any chance that a former Sioux will get his name on the Cup this year. That doesn’t mean there’s no UND connection to the Stanley Cup finals. I’ll have a story on that later in the week.

Since we started tracking the last man standing on the blog four years ago, it has gone to a player in a different league each time.

UND’s last man standing

2011: Aaron Schneekloth, Colorado Eagles (CHL)
2010: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
2009: Phil Lamoureux, Alaska Aces (ECHL)
2008: Andy Schneider, Portland Pirates (AHL)

Random updates

With the exception of Jason Gregoire’s move to the NHL, it has been a relatively quiet couple of weeks in the college hockey world. But there’s still some news to catch up on….

Incoming freshmen Rocco Grimaldi and J.T. Miller continue to be projected first-round picks by a couple of scouting services. Red Line Report has both of them going in the top 10. International Scouting Services has both of them going in the top 16.

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Two UND players remain in action. Aaron Schneekloth and the Colorado Eagles are down 3-2 in the Central Hockey League championship. Game 6 is Wednesday in Colorado. Matt Smaby and the Tampa Bay Lightning are tied 2-2 with the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. Smaby has not played in the postseason yet.

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Duluth coach Scott Sandelin parlayed the team’s national championship run into a big pay day. Sandelin sign a contract extension and will earn a base salary of $235,000 — almost a 40 percent raise from his previous base salary of $170,000. Entering the year, Sandelin had pretty much an identical record at Duluth as Troy Jutting at Minnesota State. That’s the impact of a Broadmoor a couple years ago and a national title this year.

The Bulldogs did lose assistant Brett Larson, who accepted the head coaching job at Sioux City in the USHL. There, he will coach the USHL’s defenseman scoring champ and UND recruit Jordan Schmaltz.

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Although Craig Smith tore it up at the World Championships, he re-affirmed his plans to return to Wisconsin in the fall. That should be big for the Badgers, who lost Jordy Murray to the pros earlier this spring.

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St. Louis hockey reporter Andy Strickland wrote this week that Jaden Schwartz will return to Colorado College for his sophomore year. Schwartz will likely be getting my vote for preseason WCHA player of the year.

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Bemidji State named Ben Kinne its captain for next season. That’s a pretty good storyline for the Beavers. Kinne missed all of last season after suffering a stroke during the offseason. Also of note that Malcolm Gwilliam served as captain for Michigan Tech after taking a year off to recover from a stroke. Gwilliam had a great final season and Kinne will be looking to do the same.

Jake Areshenko, the grandson of former Sioux basketball coach Dave Gunther, will serve as alternate captain for the Beavs.

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Taylor Matson will serve as captain for the Gophers.

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Minnesota confirmed that forward Max Gardiner is leaving the team to go to the USHL. He will play for the newly crowned Clark Cup champion Dubuque Fighting Saints.

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Canadian Junior A player of the year Zach Hyman, who recently de-committed from Princeton, ends up being a late steal for Michigan. He committed to the Wolverines along with his brother.

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The Big 10 is discussing possible playoff formats.

Winnipeg about to land NHL team?

Jason Gregoire may soon have the option of playing for his hometown team.

There is plenty of smoke out there to suggest that the Atlanta Thrashers are on the verge of moving to Winnipeg. A couple of published reports say it should be done by next week. And the Winnipeg mayor said today that it will happen. “It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

This would be a big development for hockey fans living in the Grand Forks area. Winnipeg would be the closest NHL team.

My question is for those who live in the Herald readership area. Would Winnipeg become the team that you are most interested in following? Would your first team still be the Wild?

We’re currently discussing how we would cover an NHL team that’s just 2.5 hours away. It appears close to happening.

The hilarious adventure

For those of you who are not on Twitter, which I know is most people, you missed Dillon Simpson chronicling his adventure driving from Grand Forks back home to Edmonton with Matt Frattin.

Frattin’s car died and they got stuck in Kenmare, N.D. for a day. The updates kept me entertained all day, so I will share some of them.

Frattin and Simpson eventually got back home and the newest Toronto Maple Leaf will be looking for a new car this summer. Anyway, several Sioux players — past, current and future — are on Twitter now.

If you are already on, or if you want to join, here’s what I have for open Sioux accounts:

Local media

Myself — @schlossmangf
Tom Miller, GF Herald — @tommillergf
Jayson Hajdu, UND men — @UNDSID
Matt Schill, UND — @mattschill
Derek Koenen, UND women — @derekkoenen
SiouxSports.com — @siouxsports

Current players

Dillon Simpson — @Simmer18
Tate Maris — @Tmaris35
Mike Parks — @mike_parks92
Corban Knight — @corbanknight
Joe Gleason — @gleasonj020
Rocco Grimaldi — @RGrimaldi23
Derek Forbort — @derekforbort4
Derek Rodwell — @drodwell11
Aaron Dell — @ADell32
Brock Nelson — @Bnelson29

Former players

Erik Fabian — @erikfabian21
Jeff Ulmer — @ulms44
T.J. Oshie — @osh74
Taylor Chorney — @tchorney41
Jordan Parise — @72series
Matt Watkins — @mcwatkins86
Evan Trupp — @trupper19
Mike Cichy — @MikeCichy
Brad Malone — @bmalone22
Brett Hextall — @bhextall
Brad Pascall — @bradpascall
Jason Gregoire — @JGregs17
Brian Canady — @briancanady
Mike Commodore — @commie22

Future players

Miles Koules — @keepitkouler57
Stefan Matteau — @smatteau32

Women’s team

Brian Idalski — @UND_WIH
Erik Fabian — @erikfabian21
Alyssa Wiebe — @alyssawiebe
Monique Lamoureux-Kolls — @moniquelam7
Jocelyne Lamoureux — @jocelamoureux17
Margot Miller — @margotmiller19
Michelle Karvinen — @M3Karvinen
Steph Roy — @sroy39

If I’m missing some, feel free to post in the comments.

Gregoire’s under-appreciated season

As Matt Frattin tore up the country during the course of the year, what was lost on everyone was the big season that Jason Gregoire compiled.

Gregoire had 25 goals — an achievement only Frattin, Ryan Duncan, Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski accomplished during the Ralph Engelstad Arena era for the Sioux. All were Hobey finalists; all but Bochenski were Hobey Hat Trick finalists.

Gregoire, on the other hand, was a third-team all-WCHAer.

Not only did Gregoire reach the 25-goal plateau, he did it despite missing seven games with a concussion. Where would Gregoire’s 0.71 goals per game rank among WCHA players in past years?

2010-11 — second (behind Frattin’s 0.82)
2009-10 — first
2008-09 — first
2007-08 — first
2006-07 — second (behind Duncan’s 0.72)

As it is, Gregoire’s 25 goals ranked third among WCHA players behind Frattin and Mike Connolly. And goal-scoring isn’t even what Gregoire is known for.

When I asked coach Dave Hakstol what stands out to him about Gregoire, he paused for a while and said: “Maybe that’s the telling thing about Jason. There’s not one part of his game that stands out. He’s a complete player. He has some special abilities in terms of his stick and stick strength and his overall outstanding understanding of the game.”

Gregoire ends his career without much acclaim as far as individual awards go. He was never an All-American, wasn’t an all-rookie team member, missed out on all-WCHA as a sophomore and was just a third-teamer last year. But his big award will come in the form of a big contract come July. The guy who has been perhaps the WCHA’s most underrated player of the last two years is on his way to the NHL.

Gregoire turning pro

Jason Gregoire has withdrawn from school and will sign an NHL contract this summer.

Because he’s four years removed from his draft year, Gregoire is allowed to take advantage of a loophole in the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows him to withdraw and become a free agent if he’s not signed within 30 days by the team that drafted him.

Gregoire was drafted by the New York Islanders and said it’s very much a possibility that he will sign with them, but he’s keeping his options open and he’s looking to get more information.

Minnesota’s Blake Wheeler is the only other college player known to have taken advantage of this loophole. Most players aren’t able to do it, because they don’t play a year of juniors after they were drafted.

“I hold the Islanders in the highest regard,” Gregoire said. “In no way, shape or form have I ruled them out. I just don’t have all of the information right now to make a decision.

“I think very highly of them and they think the same of me. They know what’s going to happen as far as me keeping my options open. We’ll talk some more. If they are the best option, I will go with them.”

Gregoire scored 25 goals and had 43 points in 35 games. Only four other Sioux players have scored 25 goals in the Ralph Engelstad Arena era: Matt Frattin, Ryan Duncan, Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski. All were Hobey finalists. Gregoire did it this season and missed seven games.

“Always a tough decision to leave a place you love,” Gregoire wrote on Twitter. “But I will never forget Grand Forks and the Sioux family. Thanks for a memorable three years.”

Gregoire is the second UND player to turn pro early this offseason, joining classmate Brett Hextall, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Sioux will lose seven seniors, two NHL signings and two transfers from last year’s team. They aren’t expected to lose anyone else early this offseason.