Random updates

The USHL playoffs are in full swing right now, but there’s been lots of buzz about coaching positions in the league.

Fargo is currently searching for its replacement for John Marks, who retired at the end of the season. All four coaches in franchise history have either played or coached at UND, and it appears that Fargo may be headed down that road again.

It sounds like Sioux Falls head coach Cary Eades is emerging as the top candidate in Fargo. Eades is currently in the middle of a playoff push with the Stampede. Eades would give Fargo another UND-connected head coach and another one with local name recognition.

Should Fargo hire Eades at the end of the season, there’s considerable buzz that former Colorado College coach Scott Owens would be a top candidate in Sioux Falls.

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Speaking of the USHL, UND defenseman recruit Hayden Shaw is currently dominating in the playoffs. He has 10 points in five games to lead all USHL scorers in the playoffs — forwards included. Shaw, who was traded from Waterloo to Dubuque this year, is coming to UND in the fall.

Shaw’s Dubuque teammate, Grand Forks Red River’s Jacob Benson, also is having a great playoffs with six points in five games. He’s tied as the sixth-leading scorer in the USHL postseason.

Dubuque is currently playing Muskegon in the semifinals. UND defenseman commit Christian Wolanin is currently the second-leading scorer in the playoffs for the Lumberjacks with six points in five games. He’s also coming to UND in the fall.

In the other half of the draw, it’s Eades’ Sioux Falls team against UND commit Chris Wilkie and Tri City. Wilkie has four points in four games for the Storm.

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In the NHL playoffs, former UND stars Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise will meet up in the conference semifinals once again. Toews currently leads the NHL playoffs in scoring with eight points. Parise is one back with seven.

The only other player still alive from UND is Brock Nelson with the New York Islanders, who play in a Game 7 tonight against the Washington Capitals.

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There are a number of former UND players still alive in the AHL playoffs, which is in the first round right now.

Carter Rowney is off to a huge start with four points in two games for Wilkes Barre-Scranton. Others in the mix include Derek Forbort (Manchester), Evan Trupp (Worcester), Aaron Dell (Worcester), Matt Frattin (Toronto), Andrew MacWilliam (Toronto), Danny Kristo (Hartford), Dillon Simpson (Oklahoma City), Rocco Grimaldi (San Antonio) and Corban Knight (San Antonio).

Frattin had a big Game 2 for Toronto, scoring a pair of goals as the Marlies went up 2-0 in the series.

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In the NAHL playoffs, UND’s newest commit, Mike Gornall, had a hat trick and four points for Topeka in a 5-4 loss. Goalie commit Matej Tomek was pulled in that game after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

The Minot-Austin series, featuring GF’s Casey Johnson and Jon Lizotte and Grafton’s Jade Miller, is tied 1-1.

Third annual all-dining team

Those who go on college hockey road trips know that there’s a lot more that goes into it than hockey games. The trips are an experience that encompasses all you do that weekend. Most fans usually try to do some sightseeing, some eating and some drinking while on the road.

That brings us to my top picks from the 2014-15 season and the third annual all-dining team, which happens to coincide with the announcement that Nebraska Omaha will have a taco cannon at home games in the new rink.

First team (restaurants)

Legal Harborside, Boston: We went there our first night at the Frozen Four. The baked scrod was so amazing that we went back the next night for some more. It’s located right on the water with a great view, which I’m sure looks nicer when it’s not dark out.

Pepperjax, Omaha: Yeah, I missed out on my traditional Omaha meal at Upstream Brewing Company for this, but I wasn’t disappointed. My Philly rivaled those that I ate at the Frozen Four last year.

Sam’s No. 3, Denver: I don’t eat breakfast too often, but if Grand Forks had a Sam’s, that could change. All-American diner type of plays with tremendous breakfast food.

Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis: They are famous for their Bloody Marys, but we had a fairly large group there and none of us tried them. We all had different meals and everyone spoke glowingly about their lunches. We’ll be back.

Spicy cajun dog vendor, Colorado Springs: Yeah, he’s still there. Downtown on Tejon Street. Right across the street from the CSprings Gazette. If I worked there, it would be game over.

Second team (pizza places)

Ian’s, Madison: Amazing pizza by the slice. It has all sorts of crazy options. The Mac and Cheese is their classic, but I had the chicken quesadilla pizza and will definitely be doing that again.

Will’s Pizza, Oxford: It’s a regular pizza joint that turns into pizza-by-the-slice late at night. Have never had a bad experience there.

Campus Pizza, Minneapolis: I learned it was closing its doors during the regionals sadly. One of my favorite all-time pizza places. Great food, great people. Will miss this place a lot.

Erbelli’s, Kalamazoo: One of those places where the pizza is terrific as it’s going down, but you feel horribly uncomfortable about 10 minutes after you are done. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to eat good pizza.

Deek’s Pizza, Grand Forks: No explanation necessary.

Third team (bars)

Bukowski, Boston: Matt Schill found this hole-in-the-wall type joint near the Back Bay neighborhood in Boston. Ended up being a great find.

Burdick’s, Kalamazoo: Ended up here every night of the trip. I had the chicken nachos four times. We could never decide whether it was actually chicken on the nachos, but when it tastes that good, it doesn’t matter.

Howie’s, St. Cloud: Needed to find a place to watch the Miami Hurricanes in the afternoon. The people there were kind enough to hook me up. That mean’s you’re making the team.

The Ritz, Colorado Springs: Our traditional stop in downtown Colorado Springs. I’m not sure if the bar is great or if it’s great because it’s located 2 blocks from the spicy cajun dog vendor.

Doyle’s, Boston: First place to sell Sam Adams beer. Cool Jamaica Plain neighborhood bar with great food. Four movies have been filmed there, including 21.

Fourth team (top sights)

Royal Gorge Bridge, outside Colorado Springs: It’s only about an hour drive out of the Springs and I’m glad I did it. Incredible views from the suspension bridge. If you haven’t done it, I highly recommend.

Fenway Park, Boston: If you are a baseball fan, you know how surreal it is to see the park where Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb once played.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs: If you get a nice day, it’s a fun place to roam. Again, fun sights and rock formations all around you.

Creighton-Georgetown basketball: No, I didn’t see Doug McDermott. Yes, I did see Creighton miss 22 straight shots and go 18 minutes without a field goal. But Creighton hoops is the big thing in town there, and I still had fun checking out the game.

Random gas station, Sioux Falls: When you’ve been on a bus in a snowstorm for eight hours with nothing to eat, walking into this place was one beautiful sight.

Major awards

MVP: Ian’s Pizza. When you need late-night food and this is located just blocks from my hotel (and all the bars), it’s a life savor.

Rookie of the year: Legal Harborside. Nobody had a bad meal there.

Coach of the year: Chris Lee, Omaha. He’s the one who steered us to Pepperjax, and he also dropped several other places that I could have gone had I not decided to jump on the overnight bus back to Grand Forks after Saturday’s game. Included in the list was a Bar Rescue bar where Jon Taffer once dropped a classic “Shut it down!”

Inaugural Hall of Fame inductee

Some of these spots pop up on the list every year, so I’m going to start inducting places into the Hall of Fame. The first entry is a place I stop every time I’m in Denver. Congrats, Cherry Cricket, you are the first restaurant to enter the Hall of Fame.

UND gets commit from Topeka forward

Topeka (NAHL) forward Mike Gornall has committed to UND and will come to campus in the fall as an older forward.

Gornall, a 1994-born player, is the team’s captain.

He was previously committed to Air Force. According to a release, there was a mutual agreement during the admissions process that there may be a better fit for him.

Gornall will come as a 20-year-old from Irwin, Pa. He finished second on Topeka in scoring this season with 49 points in 58 games.

Presumably, Gornall will start as a depth player for UND, which needs to replace at least five senior forwards.

Former players win titles

A pair of former UND players have won pro titles. Ryan Duncan helped Salzburg to the championship in Austria and Ryan Hill helped Knoxville win the SPHL title.

Duncan was fourth in playoff scoring, tallying 16 points in 13 games for Salzburg. Duncan is signed to play there again next season.,

Hill, a defenseman, played in all seven playoff games for Knoxville, tallying one assist.

Duncan played at UND from 2005-09. Hill played from 2009-11 before transferring to D-III Wisconsin-Superior.

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In other news, the AHL playoffs are about to begin and the Toronto Marlies made a second-half push to get to the postseason. They have a couple of players on the roster who know a thing or two about second-half surges.

Read a note here about the Marlies, Matt Frattin and Andrew MacWilliam.

UND’s faceoff numbers

One small, recurring storyline for UND this season was faceoffs. There were a few games early in the season where UND got dominated in the circle, and it was especially noticeable on special teams.

But in looking at season-ending statistics, maybe I was a bit too harsh on the team’s performance in the dot.

UND actually finished second in the NCHC in faceoffs (.529), only behind Miami. It finished quite a bit ahead of St. Cloud State, a team that had UND’s number in the dot a couple times this season.

UND’s .529 percentage was better than its team percentage of each of the previous two seasons (.523, .525).

Nationally, UND finished ninth. Minnesota was first at .556 and Princeton was last at .419.

UND’s coaching staff worked on this throughout the season at practice. They didn’t just drop the puck for two guys to face off, they also had the wingers present because they can be as critical as the centerman to winning draws sometimes. The work paid off.

Top NCHC faceoff teams

.548 Miami
.529 North Dakota
.520 Denver
.518 Western Michigan
.500 St. Cloud State
.481 Omaha
.459 Minnesota Duluth
.454 Colorado College

Mark MacMillan was UND’s best, but they had several guys who finished with very nice marks.

UND’s top faceoff men

.572 Mark MacMillan
.566 Stephane Pattyn
.561 Connor Gaarder
.542 Drake Caggiula
.495 Nick Schmaltz
.473 Luke Johnson

Obviously, UND loses its top three on this list and will need others to improve in this area for next season.

LaDue’s unique option

UND standout defenseman Paul LaDue is in a very unique position.

He is currently trying to decide whether to sign with the Los Angeles Kings (who drafted him in the sixth round in 2012) or return to UND for his junior season. His decision is different than most.

Because of his age, LaDue has the rare option of staying in college through his senior season and becoming an unrestricted free agent not bound by entry-level contract restrictions.

For starters, if a player stays four years, he becomes a free agent if not signed by Aug. 15 after their senior year.

More important in LaDue’s case: If a player is 25 years old as of Sept. 15 of the year they sign their contract, they are not considered an entry-level player. LaDue would be 24 when he graduates, but his birthday is Sept. 6, so according to the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, he would be considered 25 years old.

Entry-level deals are mandatory two-way contracts, which means you have different compensations based on whether you are playing in the NHL or AHL. As a 2012 draft pick, LaDue could make a maximum of $925,000 if in the NHL and $70,000 if in the AHL. The max signing bonus would be $92,500. Once he was through his entry-level deal, he would become a restricted free agent.

However, if LaDue plays college hockey through his senior season, he would be able to sign a one-way deal (same compensation, whether you are playing in the NHL or AHL) with any team for any compensation, any length and any signing bonus.

Off hand, I can only think of two college players who have used this clause to their advantage.

Bemidji State’s Matt Read (undrafted) waited until he turned 25. His first NHL contract was a one-way deal with a larger-than-usual signing bonus.

Boston University’s Matt Gilroy (undrafted) signed a two-year, $3.5 million one-way deal after turning 25.

Obviously, there are a lot of factors that will go into LaDue’s decision, but I believe he’s the first coveted NHL prospect at UND to have this option.

To read the clauses in question in NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, check out 8.6 (c, i), 9.1 and 9.2.

Decisions ahead for UND players

It’s Decision Time for a handful of UND players who will undoubtedly have an opportunity to sign NHL contracts this offseason. Here’s a quick look at the five:

Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues): He’s the most likely to sign. NHL teams don’t like top prospects playing their senior seasons, because the possibility exists for them to become a free agent after their senior year. They can’t lose their top assets for nothing. Blues will be coming hard. Based on what I’ve been told, I’m expecting him to sign.

Zane McIntyre (Boston Bruins): McIntyre told the Herald that he will not use a loophole to become a free agent, and his decision is down to UND or the Bruins. Both McIntyre and others told me that he’s weighing a lot of factors and that he has not made any decision. Boston fired its GM today, though, which could throw a wrench into things.

Paul LaDue (Los Angeles Kings): The Kings will probably try to sign LaDue, as he’s an older prospect, but there are reasons for him to return for his junior season as well. He battled injuries for much of this season and could have a big junior year. The Kings also have a deep defensive corps and it will be tough to step into Los Angeles next season.

Troy Stecher (free agent): Scouts have been following him closely since early in the season. I’m guessing he will have multiple offers for his services, and the Frozen Four game only helped his stock.

Drake Caggiula (free agent): I’ve been told that there’s at least one NHL offer out for Caggiula, who I’m surprised went undrafted last season. He has the ability to beat guys one-on-one and plays a tenacious game. He also could come back and have a big senior season around guys like Nick Schmaltz and Brock Boeser.