Friday, January 30, 2015

Mavericks 5, Bulldogs 1

Pat Christman/The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game:

1. Pick your poison: Five different players scored goals for the Mavericks: Carter Foguth, Teddy Blueger (pictured), Matt Leitner, Bryce Gervais and Brett Knowles. The top two lines played like top lines with Blueger centering a relentless duo of Chase Grant and Michael Huntebrinker and Leitner playing between Gervais and C.J. Franklin. Franklin had a single assist but could have had a hat trick. The freshman, who has really upped his game in recent weeks, had six shots on goal, including a laser off the mask of goalie C.J. Motte and also clanked a cannon shot off the crossbar. Gervais had five shots on goal and Blueger had four.

2. On the Hunt: Huntebrinker had a lone assist, but he has to be mentioned as one of the best forwards on the ice. The sophomore winger seems to be getting more and more comfortable the more he plays. After being a scratch for six games in a row before semester break, he's played in six of the last nine games and now looks like he should be an everyday player. Senior Jean-Paul LaFontaine was back in the lineup on Friday, but he didn't go in for Huntebrinker like the last few weeks (instead Zach Stepan and Brad McClure were scratches; Zeb Knutson was also in the lineup). "Hunty did a great job of playing with energy," coach Mike Hastings said. "He made plays. He made a lot of really good decisions."

3. 20 x 3: The Mavericks became the first team in the country to win 20 games this season and have now hit the milestone three years in a row. There's a lot of season left, of course, but recall this weekend last year when a loss at Northern Michigan dropped them to 14-13-0 and they had to go on an eight-game winning streak (which would turn into 13 straight unbeaten) to get a shot at the MacNaughton Cup (they missed by one point with a tie with Michigan Tech on the final night of the regular season). They can't rest on 20, however, as they lead Tech in the WCHA standings by just four points. Curious to see what they do on Saturday night against what likely will be a very hungry Ferris State team.

Deep thought: It was a nice rebound win for the Mavericks after last week's loss to Bemidji State, especially with their quick start. For more on that, read my Freep gamer here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 5, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Northern Michigan 5, Alaska Anchorage 3 ... Bemidji State 5, Bowling Green 2

Minnesota State vs. Ferris State — live chat

The Mavericks take on the Bulldogs at the Verizon Wireless Center. The last time these teams played in Mankato, there were some fireworks. Should be a good series once again. To join the chat (if it doesn't appear below), click the blog post title above or go here.

Friday Morning Skate

The Mavericks are back home after a rather grinding early part of 2015 with six of eight games on the road. They've gone 6-1-1 in that stretch, with the lone loss coming last week to Bemidji State in the North Star College Cup and breaking a nine-game unbeaten streak.

Actually, MSU is home for four straight games, the first time that has happened this season.* They'll host Ferris State this weekend and Alaska Anchorage next.

* They had four in a row scheduled Dec. 5-13, but the fourth game, against Princeton, was cancelled due to a team-wide illness.

Minnesota State's depth has been well-documented this season, but one player who doesn't get a lot of praise (or points) but who has proven invaluable, has been senior winger Max Gaede. The fourth-liner has embraced his role and probably would prefer not to call it simply a role, even if it's not what he expected it would be when he first got to MSU.

Gaede, a mass media major, was quite thoughtful in my interview with him this week and had a lot to say that didn't fit in the print edition. A couple of quotes about his evolution as a college player that didn't make the story linked above:

"I feel good. As of the last few weeks, I've been minus, but most of the year I've been positive. And that was my goal, just to be positive all year, not only on the score sheet but day in and day out not getting down."

"It is really hard because, when I came in, I thought I'd be more of a (goal scorer like Bryce) Gervais. You think just from where you came from that's what you're going to be. Sometimes your path isn't that path."

"The hardest thing for me (in the past) was feeling like I wasn't contributing, not helping the team win — just out there killing time basically. And that's the worst way to look at it. If look at it like, 'All right, I'm just out there filling spots (until) the skill guys go out there,' then you will never be a difference maker, regardless of how much you play or don't play."

With Ferris State in town, the Mavericks likely will benefit from Gaede's hard, physical play. For more on the series, read The Free Press' gameday preview. More info from the Bulldogs can be found here.

Around the WCHA ...

Alabama Huntsville at Michigan Tech: Tech is trying to keep pace with Minnesota State, sitting four points back and has a good chance to keep up with the Chargers (an improved UAH team, mind you) in town. Tanner Kero and Alex Petan each have 30 points for the Huskies, which leads the WCHA.

Alaska Anchorage at Northern Michigan: NMU got its coach, Walt Kyle, back this week after a week on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons ("issues in my personal life," Kyle told WLUC-TV. The associate AD, who was also suspended, is back as well. Curious to see how the Wildcats respond to such a tumultuous couple of weeks. The Seawolves are starting a four-game stretch in the lower 48, and will be in Mankato most of next week.

Bowling Green at Bemidji State: This should be a good series with the Falcons coming off a surprising split at home to Lake Superior State and the Beavers coming off their own shocker, winning the North Star College Cup. Bemidji State is hoping to build momentum from that tournament win. Bowling Green, meanwhile, is a team that, like MSU, relies on its depth.

The league race is heating up with just two nonconference games remaining on the schedule. Jack Hittinger and I write about that in this week's USCHO column. You can also see our weekend picks here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mavericks slip to 3rd

Minnesota State's loss to Bemidji State on Saturday night didn't hurt the team in the Pairwise Rankings, where it's still No. 1. However, it did sway some opinions about the Mavericks, who dropped out of the top spot and to No. 3 in the U.S. College Hockey poll.

Minnesota State received 11 first-place votes (including mine), but the end of a nine-game unbeaten streak at the hands of an unranked rival was enough to get other voters to shuffle things around. North Dakota, which has won five in a row (the last four in a row at home against Niagara and Colorado College), moved up to No. 1, getting 34 first-place votes. Boston University is second, getting five first-place votes and edging the Mavericks by two points.

Other rankings of note: The WCHA's Bowling Green remained sixth despite a home loss to Lake Superior State, and Michigan Tech moved up two spots to eighth after its home sweep over Alaska.

Minnesota Duluth remained seventh after its loss to Bemidji and win over Minnesota (the same result MSU had), and Minnesota dropped out of the top 20. Bemidji State is still unranked but did receive some votes, enough to garner three points.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Beavers 3, Mavericks 1

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Tough sledding: Bemidji State had a great weekend, first knocking off Minnesota Duluth 4-0 and then beating the No. 1 Mavericks in the championship. Disciplined defensively, the Beavers didn't give up much at all. Their back pressure, MSU coach Mike Hastings said, forced his team into mistakes. The Mavericks also ended up playing a dump-and-chase game that 1) was a little out of character and 2) was ineffective when the Beavers regularly beat them to pucks. That Bemidji State was able to score first and build its lead to three goals only made things more difficult for the Mavericks.

2. Missed opportunities: The Mavericks had two big chances to get back in the game or at least grab some momentum, and they were unable to do it. The first was on a five-minute major late in the second period. MSU actually scored during the major, but it came late and on its first shot on goal. For the first four-plus minutes, the Beavers were winning races to dumped pucks and promptly clearing them down the rink. BSU coach Tom Serratore said that situation was a win for his team against "a team like that, with octane like that on the power play." In the third period, Dylan Margonari was awarded a penalty shot but was stopped by the tournament's MVP, goalie Michael Bitzer.

3. All's not lost: The Mavericks didn't leave St. Paul with a trophy and instead went home with a list of things to work on going forward. They're going to have to get grittier for the stretch run, all WCHA play the rest of the way (including two more games against Bemidji State to close out the regular season ... oh, by the way, the Beavers are unbeaten in nine of their last 11 games). However, MSU remained No. 1 in the Pairwise despite the loss, which was their first since Dec. 5 and snapped a nine-game unbeaten streak. "The margin for error and parity in college hockey showed this weekend," Hastings said.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 3, Lake Superior State 1 ... Michigan Tech 3, Alaska 2 ... Northern Michigan 5, Penn State 5 (OT)

MSU vs. BSU, North Star College Cup championship

The No. 1 Mavericks take on the upset-minded Beavers in the finals of the North Star College Cup at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. To join the in-game conversation, click on the the blog post title above or go here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Mavericks 4, Gophers 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

First off the wild finish — Casey Nelson laying on the ice in pain after blocking a shot ... Stephon Williams shoving the net off its moorings to get a stoppage ... Williams stoping the ensuing penalty shot — to the game ended up being a big part of my game story, which you can read here.

Photo by Trevor Cokley
1. No. 1, with a bullet: Did the Mavericks need to beat the Gophers to justify their No. 1 ranking? No, but they sure got a lot of people to take notice on Saturday night. "To us, it's another game," Williams said. "(The Gophers) are a great hockey team with great tradition. But our guys, it's like we've been doing all year, we're just trying to get better." Minnesota State, which extended its unbeaten streak to nine games, got a lot of hype throughout the week and handled it well in a building they had been 0 for 7 in. The Xcel Energy Center often can feel like a second home to the Gophers, but MSU never allowed their crowd to get the energy up. By game's end, the "Let's go Mavericks," chant was quite loud among the 14,516 in attendance.

2. Top line comes through: It was a game in which the Mavericks needed their best line to be special, and it was, with Matt Leitner setting up Bryce Gervais for a pair of beautiful goals and C.J. Franklin converting a breakaway that ended up standing as the game-winning goal. Gervais' first goal was impressive, as he crashed the net with a defender all over him, but the pass from Leitner was even better, a spinning, backhanded centering pass from below the right circle. "We've been playing together for awhile," Gervais said, "and (Leitner) always has some tricks up his sleeve." Jon Jutzi scored the Mavericks' other goal, a tough tap-in of a rebound off the end boards. Gervais assisted on that goal for a three-point game.

3. Big kill: The Mavericks had a 2-1 lead on Gervais' second goal early in the second period. But an elbowing penalty by Max Gaede led to a tie game. The Gophers tied the game during the delayed penalty, but the rule in college still awards a power play. "It can turn a pebble into an avalanche," MSU coach Mike Hastings said. Minnesota State didn't allow the avalanche, and killed off the penalty. A little more than a minute after Gaede exited the box, Franklin scored his breakaway goal, putting MSU up 3-1. The Gophers, who entered the weekend with the nation's best power play, finished 0 for 4 with the man advantage. MSU was 1 for 3.

Deep thought: Saturday night's championship game will be an all-conference affair with the Mavericks playing Bemidji State. They swept the Beavers in Mankato Nov. 7-8 and will play them again to close out the regular season in March 6-7 in Bemidji.

Around the WCHA: Bemidji State 4, Minnesota Duluth 0 ... Penn State 5, Northern Michigan 4 ... Lake Superior State 3, Bowling Green 1 ... Michigan Tech 4, Alaska 3 (OT)