Daily Skate: Five questions for new NCHC commissioner Heather Weems
UND's regulars are knocked out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but seven are still chasing the Calder Cup in the AHL.
GRAND FORKS — St. Cloud State athletic director Heather Weems was officially introduced as the next commissioner of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference on Monday in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.
She will replace Josh Fenton, who is heading to the Summit League.
Weems answered a few of the immediate questions facing her tenure.
1. Will the league office move location?
The NCHC's offices have been in Colorado Springs, Colo., since the league's inception. Weems said she will be staying in St. Cloud, though.
It has not been decided whether the league's other full-time employees — associate commissioner Michael Weisman and digital content/creative services coordinator Sam Kuhne — will be asked to move from Colorado Springs to Minnesota.
The league has two staff members who are not full-time in business operations manager Verna Toller and director of officiating Don Adam. Both also live in Colorado.
"In an ideal world, I'd love to have everybody around me," Weems said. "I feed off energy just like all of us probably do in the collegiate athletics world."
2. Is there any chance the NCHC moves underneath the Summit League's umbrella?
All eyes are on the NCAA's Division I Transformation Committee.
Depending on what comes out of their ongoing meetings, it's possible that single-sport conferences will be difficult to maintain. If so, the Summit League could make a move to pull the NCHC underneath its umbrella. That's especially the case with Fenton at the Summit League now.
Weems did not shoot down that possibility, though she acknowledged some of the challenges.
"I think the best thing I can say is that I'm open as we see where the NCAA moves and what happens with multi-sport conferences and single-sport conferences," Weems said. "The reality is that it's a conversation we need to have as a league and we need to understand what implications it has for everyone.
"Obviously, the Summit makes some sense because we have three institutions who are in the Summit (UND, Denver, Omaha), but we also have institutions who are part of the MAC as the multi-sport league (Western Michigan, Miami). It probably factors in for us who are in the NSIC (Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State) or Colorado College differently. But I think we have to be willing to have that conversation. We have to talk transparently about what's in the best interest of the league."
Weems addressed the Summit specifically.
"If some sort of Summit affiliation makes sense as we gain more knowledge about how the NCAA kind of rolls into place, then certainly we can be ready to move in that direction," she said. "But if what's in the best interest in our league and our membership right now is to remain as we are, then certainly, we'll navigate that as well."
3. How will NCHC approach potential limitless scholarships and coaching staffs?
During April's national college hockey meetings, an NCAA representative told coaches and administrators that a new world of college athletics with no scholarship restrictions or limits on coaching staff members is possible.
This comes in the wake of a Supreme Court case, which ruled the NCAA's restrictions violated an antitrust law.
Individual leagues could try to come up with their own limits, but they also would open themselves to lawsuits.
"I think, certainly, we're trying to get our arms around what that might look like," Weems said. "We are committed to being the premier league in college hockey. Any sort of changing limits involves investment by the athletic departments, which has trickle-down effects on other programs. It has trickle-down effects on the work we do in fundraising and sponsorships and all that.
"What we have to do is know that things are changing and we have to go in with eyes wide open. But we also have to go in from a standpoint that leaves our institutions sustainable and able to address the many things that are happening in higher education right now."
4. Is the league open to expansion?
There are a number of college hockey programs still without conference affiliation.
In the West, they include Arizona State, Lindenwood (St. Louis), Alaska Anchorage and Alaska (Fairbanks).
During Fenton's tenure, the NCHC has been open to expansion talks but extremely hesitant on adding teams. The league considered applications from Arizona State and Minnesota State-Mankato in 2016 but ultimately decided to stay at eight.
Weems indicated the NCHC will take the same approach in the future.
"We need to make sure any decisions we make related to membership are in the best interest of our league and our ability to be successful," Weems said, "and the schools that are coming in bring to the table the sorts of qualities and the like-minded membership we initially espoused as we came about as a conference."
5. Will Weems still make SCSU's women's hockey coaching hire?
Just 24 hours before Weems was announced as the next NCHC commissioner, she interviewed two candidates on campus for St. Cloud State's head women's hockey coaching job, including former UND head coach Brian Idalski.
Despite her impending departure, Weems said she will still make that hire.
UND out of Stanley Cup Playoffs
Four former UND players were regulars on Stanley Cup Playoff teams.
All four are already out.
Derek Forbort and the Boston Bruins, T.J. Oshie and the Washington Capitals, Troy Stecher and the Los Angeles Kings, and Tyson Jost and the Minnesota Wild all were eliminated in the first round.
Oshie had a big series for the Capitals, despite their first-round loss to the Florida Panthers. Oshie scored six goals in six games for Washington.
Stecher had an excellent playoff for the Kings. He scored two goals and tallied four points in four games against the Edmonton Oilers.
Forbort scored a goal for the Bruins, got received more notoriety for his shot blocking against the Carolina Hurricanes. He blocked nine shots in a single game — the most of any Bruin in a playoff game in nine years .
Jost didn't record any points for the Wild, who were eliminated by the Blues.
It's still possible that a UND player could get called up and find a way into a game. The Edmonton Oilers called up Brad Malone this week after his Bakersfield Condors were eliminated from the American Hockey League playoffs. But those guys will need injuries or suspensions to get in.
Calder Cup chase is on
Several former UND players are still chasing the Calder Cup in the AHL.
Six are into the quarterfinals and a seventh has a chance to join.
Colton Poolman and the Stockton Heat will play the Colorado Eagles in one quarterfinal. Cole Smith, Rocco Grimaldi, Grant Mismash and the Milwaukee Admirals will play Chicago in another. Matt Kiersted and the Charlotte Checkers will take on Springfield in a third quarterfinal.
Aaron Dell and the Rochester Americans will play Utica in a decisive Game 5 on Thursday night. The winner will play Laval in the final quarterfinal series.
Grimaldi makes it back
The fact that Grimaldi is playing is improbable.
Grimaldi had been out since March 12 with what doctors thought was a season-ending injury.
"Two months ago, I was told by numerous doctors my season was over," Grimaldi wrote on Twitter. "I was extremely disappointed and felt like it was a wasted year after everything I had gone through this season. ... But now here we are months later and by the grace of God, I have made it back for the playoff run."
Grimaldi returned for Game 4 against Manitoba in the Round of 16. He tallied an assist in Game 5, which clinched Milwaukee's first playoff series victory since 2011.
"I'm grateful for the doctors and therapists at Vanderbilt that helped me get back on the ice way earlier than expected," wrote Grimaldi, who had surgery in Nashville. "I feel refreshed and am grateful for a second chance at playing this season. We have an incredible group of guys in Milwaukee who I missed while I was away."
Augie finds a home
Former UND assistant athletic director Josh Morton is making a splash as the AD at Augustana.
The Vikings, a year and a half away from their first Division-I hockey game, already have a head coach (Garrett Raboin), a new facility (Midco Arena) and now a conference home.
The Central Collegiate Hockey Association introduced Augustana as its ninth member this week.
The Vikings will play a limited CCHA schedule of 16 league games in 2023-24 and 2024-25 before playing a full slate in 2025-26.
"We began this academic year with three goals for our hockey program and with this invitation we have now accomplished all three — finalize the design of Midco Arena, hire a head coach, and find a conference home," Morton said. "Joining a league that has quickly established itself as a nationally competitive conference means a lot and we look forward to adding to the excellence of the CCHA in 2023 as we bring the highest level of college hockey to Augustana University."
Considering Augustana is playing in Midco Arena, expect a TV deal with the network is on the way as well.
- Andrew MacWilliam finished runner-up in the top German hockey league. MacWilliam was injured early in the season but returned to help Munich make a run to the finals, where they lost to Berlin.
- Not everyone who entered the transfer portal will transfer. Michigan State announced defensemen Cole Krygier and Christian Krygier will return to school. It's also possible that Nolan Moyle will return to Michigan.
- The Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League hired Ryan Ward, director of player development for the Tri-City Storm, as their new head coach.