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10 posts from July 2011

July 31, 2011

Vikings | Stringer is still missed

Posted by: Feldman

Ten years ago today (Monday, Aug. 1), I was standing outside the Gage Hall dormitory on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato, at one of the first days of Vikings training camp, 2001. I was waiting for my ride home, fellow P-B sports reporter Troy Young, when I overheard a radio reporter from the Twin Cities talking with Vikings linebacker Ed McDaniel.

McDaniel was in a hurry to get to lunch and, like a lot of veterans, didn't really want to talk, though he obviously understood it's part of the deal for players in the opening days of training camp.

"Who's the funniest guy on the team?" the reporter asked.

McDaniel's face lit up. With a big smile, he answered, "no question it's Korey Stringer. That guy could make anyone laugh."

On our drive home, we heard on the radio that Stringer had been taken from the field during the morning practice -- neither of us had noticed -- and that he had been transported to a local hospital.

Dehydration, we thought. Heat exhaustion, we thought. (The heat index that day had been close to 110; I remember wondering what in the world I had been thinking that morning when I put a dark blue polo shirt on). He'll be fine, back on the practice field in a couple of days, we thought.

The next morning, at about 7:45, I got a phone call from a friend and fellow Vikings fan.

"Dude, Stringer's dead."

I remember running to the TV to turn it on, speechless. I honestly don't know if I even said anything before I hung up the phone. Later that day, watching Denny Green, Cris Carter and Randy Moss give a tear-filled press conference, it was surreal. There's no other way to put it.

To watch Moss not be able to control his tears, to not care that he was breaking down in front of thousands of people watching on TV, it was a heavy reminder that these guys are people, just like the rest of us.

They may make more money, spend more money, have (much) bigger egos, and live a different lifestyle than many of us, but their emotions are the same.

A couple of weeks later, I was in the Washington, D.C., area, covering the Rochester Redhawks baseball team in a national Babe Ruth tournament (they weren't a Legion team at the time), and I went to a sports bar to watch the Vikings' first preseason game, on the road against New Orleans, a nationally-televised game on ESPN (the Vikes and Saints had met in the playoffs the previous season). It was a bar full of Redskins fans, but when Moss caught a deep ball early in the game for a long TD, and pointed to the sky, the bar erupted.

I can't say it's my favorite sports memory, but it gave me chills and it's one I won't forget for a long, long time. Just like Vikings fans won't forget Stringer.

It's hard to belive 10 years have passed since that day. Stringer's son, Kodie, is 13 now. Stringer would be 37, maybe still playing football, maybe still in Minnesota.

No doubt, though, he would still be able to make anyone laugh.

July 28, 2011

High school hockey summer camps: John Marshall

Posted by: Feldman

Jay Ness has spent the past eight seasons coaching youth hockey players. And while he has enjoyed it, specifically watching/coaching his children, he couldn't supress a smile Tuesday night when I asked him how he enjoyed his return to high school coaching.

"It's fun," he said. "After our first (summer) skate, I went home and told my wife, 'that was really fun.' I've been coaching little guys for eight years. It's a big difference. These guys are focused. They really want to learn. It's been a good summer."

Ness will be a first-year head coach of the Rochester John Marshall Rockets this winter.He coached some of Lourdes' best teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s, taking the  team to multiple state tournaments.

He has been working with JM's players for the past six weeks or so, in practice sessions that the Minnesota State High School League allows during the summer months.

JM lost eight seniors to graduation who had been varsity regulars since their sophomore years (actually, goalie Bryan King had been a regular since his freshman season). Yet, the Rockets have some talented players returning, and will build from the back-end out.

Goalie Jacob Garvey, a junior, will likely take over for King. Garvey won't be entirely new to varsity play, though. He filled in for King in the first half of the season, when King was out with a MSHSL rules violation.

Defensively, the Rockets welcome back Ryan Lakin and Matt Broman, seniors who will be third-year players. They'll have plenty of guys back up front, too, assuming players such as Gavin Sandwick, Hunter Heightland, Kyle Andrews, Alec McGinn and others I'm probably forgetting.

Point is, the cupboard's not bare by any means, and that has Ness excited.

"It's a matter of figuring out what each player can bring to the table," Ness said. "We've done a lot of skill work (this summer)."

Ness said he's started formulating potential line combinations in his head, as the Rockets will have few practices this winter before games begin.

"This team has some skill," he said. "We'll be strong defensively and some real good young forwards."

July 25, 2011

College Hockey | Ferschweiler among final candidates for WMU job

Posted by: Feldman

When Pat Ferschweiler took an assistant coaching job at his alma mater, Western Michigan University, last summer, I'm guessing he didn't think the chance to become a head coach would happen so soon.

But, David Drew of mlive.com and the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette, notes in an article today that Ferschweiler is one of four confirmed or rumored finalists to become WMU's head coach. The announcement will be made Tuesday.

Ferschweiler, a Rochester John Marshall grad, played at WMU for three seasons (1990-93). He had 30 goals and 65 assists in three seasons, then played six seasons in the IHL.

The job at WMU opened when Jeff Blashill took an assitant coach job with the Detroit Red Wings earlier this month.

It's also been reported that if Ferschweiler isn't named head coach, he's still under contract for the upcoming season as an assistant.

The list of four finalists is an impressive one. It includes Ron Rolston, the head coach of the of the USNTDP U-18 team, Nebraska-Omaha assistant (and former Gophers assistant) Mike Hastings, and former NHL coach Andy Murray.

Rolston was reportedly on WMU's campus last Wednesday for an interview. He has never been a college head coach, but has been an assistant at four schools (Lake Superior State, Clarkson, Harvard and Boston College).

Those guys are intrigued with the job, a) because Blashill turned the program in a nice direction last season, qualifying for the NCAA tournament, and b) WMU could very well end up in the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which could provide the program with some national TV exposure, as well as games against big-time programs such as Denver and defending national champ UMD. WMU, which plays in the CCHA, will lose a lot of those big-time conference opponents when Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State leave in two years for the Big Ten.

July 21, 2011

High school hockey summer camps: Rochester Century

Posted by: Feldman

A couple of weeks ago I posted an epic Q-and-A with Dodge County boys hockey coach Eric Hofmann (well, epic in Hof's mind, anyway) following a summer practice session the Wildcats had at the Dodge County Ice Arena in Kasson. (Here's a link to that Q-and-A).

After talking to Hofmann that night, I figured it could make a cool little series for the Faceoff blog this summer if I made a stop at each of the local high school hockey summer workouts (actually, I figured it would fill the summer hockey void ... always looking to do that!). So, earlier this week, I ventured over to the Rec Center where Rochester Century was practicing. Nothing like stepping out of my car into 115-heat index weather, having my glasses fog up instantly, all while I'm wearing a hooded sweatshirt (hey, it's not shorts-and-Tshirt weather at ice level!).

So, back to the matter at hand, first-year Panthers head coach Josh Klingfus is clearly enjoying being back in the high school coaching biz. Klingfus was an assistant at Century for eight seasons, but stepped down a couple of years ago.

He said Century has been hammering away at skills and fundamentals — a lot of shooting, passing and stick-handling — during their practice sessions, which will conclude on Friday (other teams will go into next week, but Century chose to use all their available practice sessions on as many consecutive days as possible).

Indeed, during the 30 minutes or so I watched, the Panthers' drills were all about passing and stick-handling.

"The biggest thing is just getting the kids used to our style of coaching and getting to jell with the boys on and off the ice," Klingfus said. The Panthers' varsity staff will be entirely new this year, as former JM head coach Aaron Neurer will be Klingfus' top assistant.

I asked Klingfus how he feels about being a head coach after about five weeks of practices.

"I think I have everybody's name down now," he said with a laugh. "We've gotten to know what the kids can do, what they need to work on and what they can bring to the program."

Century has a big group of talented players back from a team that finished an injury-riddled season at 11-16-0. The Panthers can build on the momentum of a big playoff win against rival Mayo in the Section 1AA quarterfinals, though. Though they lost to Lakeville North in the section semifinals, the win against Mayo was an emotional one for a team that didn't catch a lot of breaks.

I remember standing outside the Panthers' locker room after that game, thinking, "that celebration in there sounds like they just won a section championship."

I also remember talking to defenseman Brandon Kautz after the season-ending loss to Lakeville North. That loss was emotional, too, but a different kind of emotion. The underclassmen on last year's team really wanted to win for the seniors. Kautz, a big, physical d-man, was a prime example of that. And now he'll be a senior this fall.

If all the underclassmen return from last year's team, Century will have at least three d-men with quality experience: Kautz, Matthew Sturchio and Wyatt Travis. The Panthers will also have some quality forwards back, including Blake Heroff, Nick Jacobs, Tyler Iverson, Isaac St. Marie, Brady Bridges, Cal Bjerke and Mitchel Gade.

Klingfus said he hasn't thought much yet about line combinations or defensive pairings because they haven't spent much time in game situations. They've scrimmaged a little bit this week, but they didn't travel to a summer tournament this year, instead choosing to practice here and focus on the skill work mentioned earlier.

Klingfus' first game as a head coach is scheduled to be on Nov. 26, when White Bear Lake comes to the Rec Center. That's just 12 days after practice begins.

July 18, 2011

H.S. Hockey | Neurer completes Century's varsity coaching staff

Posted by: Feldman

The Rochester Century boys hockey team was facing a complete makeover, as far as its coaching staff is concerned, when long-time head coach Bruce Frutiger resigned on May 11.

The Panthers will have an entirely new coaching staff this season, but none of the coaches are new to high school hockey in Rochester. Josh Klingfus was hired on June 8 to take over for Frutiger as head coach; Klingfus spent eight seasons as Frutiger's top assistant.

Century's varsity coaching staff is now complete, and it's full of very good coaches. Former Rochester John Marshall head coach Aaron Neurer will serve as Klingfus' top varsity assistant, while former NHLer and JM graduate Doug Zmolek will once again serve as a volunteer assistant.

Neurer, a phyiscal education teacher at Bamber Valley Elementary School, took over as JM's head coach in the 1999-2000 season, after serving as an assistant for two seasons. He resigned shortly before the 2006-07 school year began, when he and his wife learned they were going to have twins. For P-B subscribers, here's a link to the article that former P-B hocker writer Steve Webb wrote in July of 2006, when Neurer stepped down.

Neurer always had teams at JM that were competitive, even though he constantly battled low numbers. The Rockets went 14-12-0 and advanced to the Section 1AA semifinals in his final season as head coach, 2005-06. The 2003-04 Rockets team may have been the best team he coached there; they went 21-4-2 and lost to Century, 2-1, in double-OT in the Section 1AA semifinals.

Century is wrapping up its summer practice sessions this week. I'll have another post up later tonight about how the Panthers' summer workouts have gone.

July 12, 2011

H.S. Hockey | Another coaching change in the area

Posted by: Feldman

The boys hockey coaches in the Big 9 Conference might have to have a get together -- maybe a potluck, or a campfire where they make s'mores or something -- before the season starts, to get to know the new faces.

A third coaching change in the conference has occurred, this time in Owatonna. Long-time head coach Will Fish will not have his contract renewed by the Owatonna School Board, though he will keep his teaching job, according to the Owatonna People's Press.

The other coaching changes in the Big Nine occurred in Rochester, where Jay Ness takes over at JM and Josh Klingfus will be the new head coach at Century.

I've heard from a couple of people (and the reader comments on the article at Owatonna.com) that, in recent years there had been some unrest with parents in the Owatonna program (where doesn't that happen these days?), so perhaps that played into it. If that's the case, maybe the school board should let that group of parents coach by committee this season. ... but that's a rant for another day.

Fish, who played for Lorne Grosso at Mayo, told the Owatonna paper that he was "given the opportunity to resign, which I can't in good conscience do. I'm excited about the program."

Fish was the Huskies' head coach for 11 seasons. They went 4-10-0 in the Big Nine last season and 7-19-0 overall. They lost to eventual Section 1AA champ Lakeville North, 7-1, in the section quarterfinals. After getting off to a 4-2-0 start, Owatonna struggled, going 3-17-0 the rest of the way, including an eight-game losing streak.

The Huskies won 19 games overall and finished third in the Big Nine in 2007-08, Fish's best season as head coach. They were 13-3-0 in the conference that season and advanced to the Section 1AA semifinals, where they lost by a goal to North.

July 08, 2011

MnJHL continues changes

PHERSY: I won't even give you guys any good excuses for my long, long, long hiatus from this blog ... but, it's summer, so back off!!!

Anyway, if you get the PB, you've read at least a little about the changing face of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.

Many, many changes ahead for the league, but it appears guys like Doc Fatis and other owners who are still here have worked very hard to solidify the future of the MnJHL. I'll try to keep you updated on things that happen here in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here's a piece that the great Nick Clark of the MnJHL wrote about the new coach with the league's newest franchise in Wisconsin Dells. Good read ...

Shaun Falzone picked to coach inaugural season in the Dells

By Nick Clark, MnJHL Director of Media Relations, mnjhl.com

It’s a subtle addition to the inaugural sweater the Dells Ducks will wear in the coming months, but it certainly caught the attention of the man put in place to coach the first ever season of junior hockey for the Minnesota Junior Hockey League’s newest member.

Shaun Falzone spent four years as a military police officer, honing the type of persona he’ll take with him behind the Ducks bench this coming winter.

He’s the first ever coach for the franchise – an honor he said will really hit home when the pucks hit the ice for practice in September.

Leading up to then, however, it’s been about the details – even the minor ones. So, when the designs came back hinting at what the team’s first game sweaters will look like, the touch of camouflage sewed onto the inseam of the arms stuck for the 31-year old with a United States Army background.

“Yeah, that was a nice touch,” said Falzone. “It’s safe to say I liked the way that looked.”

There has been plenty more to like with the way Falzone has handled what has been a whirlwind of a summer.

The Duck’s were granted an MnJHL membership in April. They had to wait until just a few weeks ago to receive the same approval from USA Hockey.

In the interim, Falzone and the rest of the Ducks brass was trying to piece together a plan of action for a team they hope turns into an immediate college hockey breeding grounds.

For the coach, that meant getting out and scouting, scouring endless player reports, and meeting with players and parents to answer any and every question posed about what life in the Dells will be like for the junior hockey player.

“It’s been crazy, mainly because it’s had to come together so fast,” Falzone said. “But when you look at what we’ve accomplished, and how far we’ve come, we have to be pleased.”

That started with singing the first official player. The honor went to Bartlett, Ill. native Rickey Seidel, who is coming off a 62-point season with the AA midget team out of Chicago.

"The offensive production Seidel brings will be a bonus, but that wasn’t the reason the Ducks decided to give him their initial roster spot.

“He’s the type of player we’d like to model our team after,” Falzone said. “He’s what we see as an overall player. He plays hard on both ends of the ice, and he’ll do it all. He’s a good example for all the other kids we bring in to look at.”

Since signing Seidel, the Ducks have added nine more to the fold. There’s some offensive talent sprinkled in the mix, and more goaltending than the team has had room for thus far. The focus now for Falzone will be on adding some size to the back end.

“We still need to find some big, strong defensemen,” Falzone said. “That is the next area we need to hit on.”

After that, the rest should be gravy. The team will take a trip to Florida for a showcase early in September, then the Ducks will begin their first season in the MnJHL with a trio of road games Sept. 16-19. They’ll then return home the following weekend to host the Maple Grove Energy for a pair of games Sept. 23 and 24.

For Falzone, who has a player spent time playing at the high school level in suburban Chicago, and then for a Canadian junior hockey academy in Banff, Alberta before getting into coaching, it will mark his first game behind the bench at the junior hockey level.

Thus far, he has coached at all sorts of youth and high school-aged levels. This will be different, he admitted, but primarily because of the excitement for both him personally, and for what will be a new beginning for the hockey community in the Dells area.

“It’s big,” he said. “There has been a lot of build-up, which is good. It’s easy to get excited.”

Almost as simple as it was for the Ducks to peg him as their first coach.

“He was an easy choice for us,” said Ducks president John Schwarz. “He has proven each year he has been a coach through his teachings and charisma that players get developed the right way. His charisma brings out the best in each player and players want to play each year for him. He puts the player first.”

July 06, 2011

Hockey | Hayes back at Blackhawks camp

Posted by: Feldman

For a second consecutive summer, La Crescent native Eriah Hayes has been invited to the Chicago Blackhawks' prospect camp.

Hayes has been invited as a free agent. The camp in no way affects his college eligibility; he has not signed a contract with any pro team. These camps serve as a way for NHL teams to get a look at their recent draft picks and potential free agents.

Hayes played in all 38 games and was the third-leading scorer for Minnesota State, Mankato, last season, with 22 points (11 goals and 11 assists). Hayes, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, had 240 points in his high school career for the Lancers. He then played two seasons of junior hockey, including one with Waterloo of the USHL, before moving on to MSUM.

The camp begins Thursday and runs through Monday. It is being held at Johnny's Ice House in Chicago. Four of Chicago's first-round draft picks will be at the camp — Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault (2011), Kevin Hayes (2010) and Dylan Olsen (2009). Olsen, you might remember, played a season-and-a-half for Minnesota-Duluth, leaving the Bulldogs at Christmastime this past season and missing out on their national championship run.

Eriah Hayes' MSUM teammate of the past two years, Ben Youds, will also be at the Blackhawks' camp. Youds was a senior defenseman for the Mavericks last season. He had 11 goals and 56 assists in his four seasons with the Mavs.

Here is the complete roster for the Blackhawks' prospect camp.

 

 

July 05, 2011

H.S. hockey summer camps: Dodge County

FELDY: One of my goals this summer was to touch base with all of the area high school hockey coaches to see how their summer sessions are going. I specifically hope to talk to Jay Ness at JM and Josh Klingfus at Century, considering they're new coaches who are getting to see their teams for the first time.

I also wanted to wait a bit, until the coaches had been with their teams for a couple of weeks, which they now have. I believe by MSHSL rules, coaches can resume their on-ice sessions late this week. Anyhow, I'll do my best to get out to talk to all of the Rochester coaches over the next week or so. Last week, I made it out to the Dodge County Ice Arena to talk with Wildcats head coach Eric Hofmann.

I had intended to post this as an .mp3 file, so you could simply listen to it, but I'm having trouble with some of my conversion software, so I can't get it posted on the blog here. I typed out most of the interview, which you can read below. I'll let you know when I talk with some of the other coaches.

• • •

Eric Hofmann will enter his second season as head coach of the Dodge County boys hockey team this winter. The Wildcats went 15-11-0 last year, his first as head coach.

Hofmann, 25, owns and operates his own personal training business. He incorporates many of those exercises into the seven-week camp he puts on at Dodge County Ice Arena for players from Pee-Wee through varsity levels. The camp runs through late July.

He spoke to The Post-Bulletin during a camp session last week about the camp and looked ahead to next season.

P-B: Tell us what makes this camp unique for high school and youth players?
Hofmann: It's not just one week or two, it's seven weeks, so the guys get lots of repitition. We start with the basics, start week one with the most basic fundamentals and by the time we get to week seven we'll be into some pretty complex movements and schemes. The guys also have the option for a 24/7 power shooting range. It was built outside (of the Dodge County Ice Arena) so they could, if they take advantage of it, they could shoot upward of 3,000 pucks this summer. Anyone who does that is going to greatly improve their shot. The camp is four days a week, so there's adequate rest and we mix in agility and plyometrics sessions with the on-ice work.

P-B: How does the dryland part of the training pertain to hockey and make the kids better players?
E.H.: We really focus on the quick-twitch muscle fibers, try to train them, because hockey's a game where players need that explosiveness. You're only going for 45 seconds, as opposed to other sports where maybe you're going for 90 seconds or more.

P-B: As a high school coach, what are the benefits of getting to work with the players in the Dodge County system at a young age?
E.H.: I feel that they're our farm system and to have the opportunity to work with kids who are four or five years out, I can start preparing them fundamentally and getting them ready for the next level and stepping into the varsity program. I'm excited about it because I feel like I can mold the younger player into a program.

P-B: Do you feel like the varsity players, after this camp, will be able to come in in November and be ready for the season?
E.H.: I think it will make for an easier transition. I don't know if they'll ever be 100 percent ready come November, but I think the transition will be easier.

P-B: The team went 15-11 last year, but you lose more than 200 points and a good goaltender to graduation.
E.H.: Yeah, we lose our goalie and our entire power-play unit. Our numbers will be down this year, but our seniors this year, only about half of them were every-game players last year. We'll struggle with numbers this year, but the year after we lose four players and have 19 coming up.

P-B: Still, do you look to the older guys on this team to set a standard for those future varsity players?
E.H.: It's all about setting the tone for the program. Last year's seniors did a great job of that. For this year's seniors, there's two ways they can go. Hopefully they can have fun and really help these younger guys develop and turn this program into a star program.

July 03, 2011

NHL | Wild wise to stay out of free agent frenzy

FELDY: It's amazing what honesty from a general manager can do for a fan base.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hasn't attempted to deny that the Wild are in all-out rebuild mode. Or, as Fletcher calls it, "building, not rebuilding." He's right; how can we call this rebuilding? There's nothing to re-build from.

Maybe it's that Wild fans have simply become apathetic. They've watched this team try to do two things at once — stockpile young talent through the draft while signing overpriced veterans in free agency to attempt to keep the team competitive — for too long now. Finally, Fletcher has realized (or admitted) that philosophy won't work.

In fact, I (like many Wild fans, apparently) was surprised at how open and honest Fletcher was about wanting to take this team in a new direction. At the draft on June 24, I had about five paragraphs of a story written about how Fletcher is turning the Wild into a young, young team, even if he won't admit it. I had to highlight-delete those grafs when Fletcher talked openly about it at his press conference that night.

So, here comes the full-blown youth movement. And most fans seem fine with it, though, what other choice do they have? These fans have been paying good money for the past four or five years to watch a medicore-at-best product. They've been beaten into near-submission with lost season after lost season.

And, now that Fletcher has finally decided to move this franchise in a completely different direction than it's ever been taken, fans seem willing to accept another couple of years of building.

As it is, the 2011-12 Wild just might be a better team than the 2010-11 Wild. Certainly, they will not replace Brent Burns' offensive production on the blueline. But, that's the one position where they actually have some depth in the organization, and there is some young talent waiting, such as Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and Justin Falk (as well as this year's first-round pick, Jonas Brodin, who might not be ready until three years down the road, but he's already an elite skater).

The addition of Devin Setoguchi can only help this lineup. Putting him on one side of Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the other will give the Wild a top line that's fun to watch, if nothing else. Forward Darroll Powe was a nice acquisiton, too, as the Wild had to give up just a third-round pick in 2013 for the 26-year-old. He's a physical player who could challenge Cal Clutterbuck for the team lead in hits.

While we can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as defense is concerned (the team's best blue-line prospects are about ready to take their shots at playing with the big boys), it'll be a few years yet before the team's best forward prospects are in the same position. Three guys from last year's draft — Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Johan Larsson — are all at least a year, if not two, away from competing for a spot on the NHL club. And guys they acquired during last week's draft — Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips and Mario Lucia — could be three or four (or more) years out.

I think Wild fans truly believed that Fletcher is committed to this youth movement on Friday, when he refused to jump into the free-agent frenzy that swept the league. Teams were overpaying for players seemingly every minute (six years, $33 mil for James Wisniewski? Really, Columbus? And trading away a first- and a second-round pick for Semyon Varlamov? Really, Colorado? Yikes.).

Sure, Fletcher made some calls, but we're used to seeing Minnesota chase down a handful of free agents and throw $3-4 million per year at them. Friday was one of those days where it felt like the Wild were a winner on the first day of free agency, even though they made no moves.

That's not to say they won't add a veteran defenseman or another forward, but it looks like they'll let the market settle, and go after a second- or third-tier guy to plug a hole for a year or two.

Bottom line: It's about time that Wild fans get to be excited about their team in October, December and March, instead of in June and July.