Nichol’s departure

Wisconsin-Stevens Point coach Wil Nichol’s announced departure this week left a few lingering questions, notably the timing.

Nichol is leaving June 1 to take an unspecified operations job with an unnamed NHL team. A national search for Nichol’s successor will start in spring, with the intent of having a new coach in place by July 1, according to a statement released by the university.

What role, if any, the pending  job switch has had in the team’s sagging fortunes this season was unclear. Attempts to reach Nicol and Athletic Director Frank O’Brien by phone were unsuccessful.

In four seasons, the UW-Stevens Point alum has amassed a 46-44-7 overall record (20-32-4 Northern Collegiate Hockey Association), which includes this season’s bumpy 5-10 run.

After a robust 4-1 start, the Pointers hit the skids, losing nine of their next 10 games. Losses to Hobart, 6-3, and Oswego, 6-1, in the Pathfinder Bank Oswego (N.Y.) Hockey Classic Dec 30-31 didn’t make this week’s announcement any easier to digest.

The Pointers host Concordia (MN) on Friday and St. John’s on Saturday in nonconference action. The team renews league play with a pair of home games against Wisconsin-River Falls Jan. 21-22.

“Right now, the 2010-11 team is my focus, and I will continue to give everything I’ve got to this team and program,” said Nichol in a statement released by the university. “We have 10 regular-season games left to get us ready for the Peters Cup.”

The Madison, Wis., native played for UW-Stevens Point from 1994-98 and served as a student assistant during the 1998-99 season. In 2007, Nichol was named Pointers head coach, succeeding Joe Baldarotta (265-171-32 from 1991-2007).

Nichol’s previous head coaching experience included tenures with Stevens Point Senior High, IMG Academy AAA midget team and the United States Hockey League Chicago Steel.

“We are grateful for the four years Wil has been our head coach,” said O’Brien in a statement. “He has been a part of our hockey family as a player, assistant and head coach, and we are thankful for his efforts. We wish him the best in his new endeavor.”

Gusties frosh fly
While No. 5 Gustavus Adolphus was expected to be a contender for the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s top spot, the team’s superlative freshmen play has been a nice bonus.

Left wing Gustav Bengtson (6 goals and 6 assists for 12 points) and right wing Adam Smyth (4-8-12) are tied with senior Brad Wieck (2-10-12) for the scoring lead this season. Upfront, the team has also received solid contributions from debutantes right wing Zach May (3-3-6), left wing Shael Hechter (3-1-4) and  right wing Ryan Townsend (0-1-1) while frosh defensemen Ilya Kravtchouk (2-2-4) and Patrick Hurley (1-0-1) are holding their own.

The Gusties (9-3-1, 3-2-1) host St. Olaf on Friday and travel to Wisconsin-Stout on Saturday  in nonconference action. The team resumes conference play with a home-and-home series against Augsburg Jan. 14-15.

Gustavus trails first-place  No. 15 St. Thomas by a point for MIAC stewardship.