Skates hit the ice

Colleges are back in session around the country and that means the sound of skates carving up the ice is back.

UND started a week ago. The players are skating on their own until the coaches are allowed to be with them, which is typically for about two hours a week starting mid-September. So for now, it’s just the players working out on their own.

I ventured over there last week and don’t have anything big to report. From the small sampling I got, I thought you could tell who the veteran players were and you could tell who the freshmen were. Not unexpected being it’s the first week of school. I will say Ben Blood is a monster and could be the best player on the team this season.

This month, the Herald will be putting together the annual preview. As I dig into that, blog updates may continue to be a bit spotty.

A few things to check out, though….

The NCAA-CHL battle gained attention in Grand Forks with J.T. Miller’s decision to go to the OHL. In a different case, the GM of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets throws Vermont under the bus, admits they will be recruiting Vermont recruit Zemgus Girgensons in-season and says he thinks they will get UVM commit, who is expected to be a first-round pick next summer and join the Catamounts in 2012. Zemgus shot back in a Twitter post.

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The Sporting News also has a in-depth story on the NCAA-CHL battle with mentions of a few Sioux players.

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Former Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan is nearing a contract to be back in the States this year. Expect him to soon ink a deal that will set him up to play in the AHL on the East Coast this season.

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Over in Europe, the 12 Nations Invitational Tournament is going on.

No surprise, but the Lamoureux twins are playing very well. Monique and Jocelyne rank 1-2 in points per game on the team. Monique has 9 in 4 games. Jocelyne has 8 in 4 games.

I will say this again to the men’s hockey fans in the area: If you haven’t gone to see the Sioux women and the twins play, I strongly suggest it. They are extremely rare talents. If they aren’t the best female players in the world, they have to be in the conversation. Who knows if or when players of that talent-plus-work ethic will come through here again.

Anyway, the tournament concludes today with the Americans taking on UND’s Michelle Karvinen and the host Finns.

NCHC likely to add

The NCHC currently sits at six teams, but there’s no question it wants to expand. Fielding a nonconference schedule that large is not going to be an easy or fun task.

Whether the NCHC will go to seven or eight teams by the end of the next month is unknown, but I would expect it to happen. At the press conference last month, the league’s ADs didn’t rule out someday expanding to 10, but it’s highly unlikely to happen by 2013.

An update on the possible candidates:

1. Notre Dame – Has a standing invite to join. With Hockey East appearing to fade as an option for the Irish, it seems to be either the NCHC or going as an independent. The Irish certainly aren’t showing their hand. I’ve done some digging in the last couple of weeks to see if anyone knows which way they are leaning and there’s no info out there. They are dragging their feet on this decision, though.

2. Western Michigan – Does not have an invite… yet. Western played its cards correctly when the WCHA invite came. It expressed gratitude to the WCHA for the invite, but did not accept it yet. The Broncos are waiting to see what the NCHC will do. If they get an invite, they will likely take it. If not, they have a little less than 30 days to join the WCHA.

3. St. Cloud State – A darkhorse that is quietly entering the picture. I’d say the Huskies are “on the outside looking in” at this point. Despite rumors, St. Cloud State was NOT part of the initial discussions with the “Original Six.” The St. Cloud State talk fired up recently. I could be wrong, but will speculate that their NCHC chances increase if Notre Dame goes independent.

4. Bowling Green – Unlikely to be in the mix. Bowling Green is the other CCHA school that has not yet accepted its WCHA invite, but I couldn’t find anyone who has heard rumblings that the Falcons are in the mix with the NCHC. I would expect Bowling Green to accept the WCHA invite soon.

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There have been several questions about buyouts in the WCHA for schools who may be interested in the NCHC. Last year’s WCHA handbook says there are not buyouts for schools who give at least a one-year-in-advance notice that they are leaving. With the NCHC and Big 10 being two years away, that means everyone will skate away to their new leagues free of charge.

However, at the Florida meetings, Alaska-Anchorage’s AD proposed a six-figure fine for anyone leaving. While that was tabled and never voted on, you have to wonder if the schools may bring something like that back up for the future.

I thought all of this would play out by the end of August, but here we are on the last day of the month with a few cards left to shuffle in the deck. With the WCHA’s 30-day deadline in place, we should know by mid-September.

Earlier this summer, multiple people told me that Notre Dame is the lynch pin in the realignment of college hockey, and once the Irish decide, the dominoes will fall. As it turns out, it might be the opposite. All of the dominoes may fall, then the Irish will decide. Kind of ironic.

Kozek to Japan

Former Sioux forward Andrew Kozek is headed to play in Japan this year.

Kozek will suit up for the Nikko Ice Bucks, who play in the Asia Ice Hockey League. Nikko is located about 90 miles north of Tokyo.

Kozek’s team has 24 players on the roster according to Wikipedia — 21 of them are Japanese. One is Korean and two are Canadian.

The site lists Shjon Podein as a famous former player.

Kozek’s three-year contract with the Atlanta Thrashers expired after last season. He started last season with Atlanta’s AHL team, the Chicago Wolves, then was traded to the Hershey Bears.

WCHA invites leftover CCHA teams

The WCHA has invited the leftover CCHA teams — minus Notre Dame — to join the league for 2013-14 both conference have confirmed.

It’s pretty much a slam dunk that Lake Superior State, Bowling Green, Alaska and Ferris State will accept the invitations. The big question is whether Western Michigan will, or whether the Broncos will be invited by the NCHC. They have 30 days to decide.

NCHC and Big Ten teams have to be happy about this development as it will take away one automatic bid, freeing up one more at-large team to get into the NCAA tournament.

It also solidifies a strong league for the rest of the WCHA and CCHA members. If they were left with six teams, both leagues would always have to worry about becoming the old CHA.

For more on this development, read the story at College Hockey News, which broke the story.

NCHC picks out its digs

The NCHC has picked out office space adjacent to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo., that will serve as the league’s headquarters.

The league announced the development today.

Although they wouldn’t confirm it at the time, I’m fairly certain they had picked out The Springs has the place they wanted the headquarters by the July presser.

Now for the inevitable question: What will Notre Dame do?

Things have been unusually quiet on that front. Mike McMahon from the Eagle Tribune reported that Hockey East is a longshot destination for the Irish, which pretty much leaves two options: the NCHC or going as an independent.

I think there’s a chance that the Irish could go independent, although the coaches can’t be for it. But the administration might want it if the Irish are going to create their own television network.

I didn’t think that we’d get to September without a decision by the Irish, but now that is looking very possible.

Move-in day, etc.

Today is move-in day for the freshmen at UND. By the end of the weekend, all of the players should be back in Grand Forks, getting ready for the first day of class (Tuesday).

I’m sure that they will start skating without coaches at the Olympic rink soon (the main rink is being scrubbed from top to bottom after the fire) and hopefully I will be able to get out there a couple times to watch.

The Sioux will first step on the ice in 42 days to play an exhibition against the University of Regina.

A few other notes today:

  • Chris Peters, who writes the United States of Hockey blog, says that Sioux recruit Stefan Matteau has confirmed he will play for the U.S. Under-18 team this year. That’s a victory for the Sioux. Matteau was being courted by the QMJHL.
  • The NCAA has adjusted selection criteria. It makes the Pairwise more difficult to understand, but it appears that the aim is to help schools that play a more difficult schedule. That should benefit UND.
  • Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux have been selected to play for Team USA in a 12-team tournament in Finland from Aug. 24-31.
  • Sioux recruit Sam LaShomb is playing for Team USA in a three-game series against Canada. The Americans won Game 1 last night 3-2. LaShomb, a defenseman from South St. Paul, will come to UND in 2012.
  • Michelle Karvinen, the standout recruit from Finland, is currently on campus, which is a good thing for UND. No word on whether she’s been cleared to play yet. She was very impressive at the world tournament in April and would be of huge help to the Sioux.
  • Minnesota Hockey Hub currently is counting down the top 100 players in Minnesota high school history. Roseau’s Don Ross checked in at No. 97.

Zajac’s Iron Man streak to end

Travis Zajac, who has played in 401 consecutive regular season games and 429 consecutive overall games for the New Jersey Devils, will see his impressive Iron Man streak come to an end.

Zajac injured his Achilles tendon Wednesday during off-ice training and had surgery to repair it. The healing process will take about three months, according to the New Jersey Bergen Record.

The last time Zajac missed a game was October 2006 against Pittsburgh. It was Zajac’s rookie year.

Zajac’s Iron Man streak was a team record.

Recruits, LaPoint and other updates

I haven’t been able to get in touch with him yet, but did confirm that UND has landed a verbal commitment from Hill-Murray turned U.S. Under-17 team forward Luke Voltin, who will likely come in 2013.

Voltin tallied 28 points in 25 games as a sophomore for a 21-3-1 Hill-Murray squad. He will team with Devils Lake’s Keaton Thompson this year with the NTDP.

Hopefully, I will get in touch with Voltin today and have more updates on him.

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While UND added one player from the NTDP in Voltin on Wednesday, it will have to sweat out another committed player from the Program.

Stefan Matteau, expected to join the UND next season, is flirting with the QMJHL. This doesn’t mean he’s definitely going major juniors — we all know plenty of others in the past have thought about it and stayed with college — but with the track record of NTDP players this summer, there’s good reason to be concerned.

And if he does go to major juniors, questions need to be asked as to what’s going on in Ann Arbor. NTDP players J.T. Miller, John Gibson, Reid Boucher and Connor Murphy all backed out on college commitments in July. Others are on the watch list. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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Speaking of all the high-end players who are giving up college commitments to play in the CHL (many because it’s thought of as “the fast route to the NHL”), there was an article on TSN this week that reminded me of this cautionary tale about a top prospect who ended up choosing college hockey over the CHL and has been a train wreck ever since. Read about him here.

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UND recruit Rocco Grimaldi surprised everyone and tweeted that he’s going with “the Dub.”

Yes, after spending the last few years in Ford and GM country, the Volkswagen was an unexpected purchase.

Of course with the WHL being nicknamed “the Dub,” I had several frantic e-mails and texts from fans. Grimaldi soon after tweeted a picture of him with “the Dub” and mentioned that he liked his hat (which was a Sioux hat).

Knowing some of the pranks that the guys pull on each other in the locker room, it is safe to say that Grimaldi will fit in around here.

“The Dub” currently is on the road from California to North Dakota.

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There’s a short story on NHL.com about another UND-committed player with the NTDP — forward Miles Koules.

His father, former Tampa Bay Lightning owner Oren Koules, played in the WHL, but told NHL.com that Miles will be going to UND and that he’s pretty excited about it.

When Miles committed last summer, he said that he developed a passion for the Sioux while playing at Shattuck and made it his goal to get to UND. He’s a year away.

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Sioux coach Dave Hakstol was featured on The Pipeline Show this week and had a good interview with host Guy Flaming.

They touched on a number of topics, including last year’s ending, who could step up this year, which rookies will provide an instant impact, the Alberta boys, J.T. Miller and the NCHC.

If you want to listen to the segment, go here. If you want to read a good roundup, go here.

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I posted this earlier in a comment section, but figured I should in a blog post as well because of all the questions I’ve been getting about it — Michael DiPuma will not be joining the Sioux this season.

I don’t know any specifics, but I don’t think that he was able to get through the NCAA Clearinghouse. Could he join the Sioux in future years? To my knowledge, that hasn’t been determined yet.

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In former player news, defenseman Derrick LaPoint became a free agent on Monday, as did all other unsigned NCAA seniors.

LaPoint, a Florida Panthers draft pick, will now have the option of signing anywhere. I haven’t heard what his options may be. The last Sioux player to use this option was Chris Porter, who was drafted by the Blackhawks and signed with the Blues.

LaPoint and Evan Trupp are the only two seniors who remain unsigned for next season.

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Former UND defenseman Mike Commodore is back in Grand Forks after spending some time at Burggraf’s skating camp in Fargo-Moorhead. He’s working out at The Ralph, as he does every summer.