Friday, October 24, 2014

Minnesota State vs. Alabama Huntsville

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Minnesota State lines
15-Frankin ... 23-Blueger ... 9-Gervais
12-LaFontaine ... 18-Leitner ... 19-McClure
25-Stepan ... 17-Huntebrinker ... 26-Margonari
21-Grant ... 16-J. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

27-Stern ... 5-Foguth
7-Palmquist ... 3-Thompson
11-Flanagan ... 6-C. Nelson

35-Williams
34-Huggins
29-A. Nelson

Scratches: Buchanan, Knowles, Knutson, Schmeisser

Alabama Huntsville lines
12-Soquila ... 13-Carpenter ... 21-Vanderlugt
11-Prince ... 24-Saulnier ... 26-Kestner
22-Salhany ... 19-Pierce ... 10-Fletcher
7-McHugh ... 16-Reid ... 23-Marooney

28-Reinhardt ... 20-Parker
6-Carlson ... 5-Champagne
33-Buri ... 4-Misuraca

30-Larose
35-Guerriero

Referees: Kevin Langseth, Bobby Lukkason. Linesmen: Rick Nelson, Matt Anderson

Backes goes to bat for BENCHS

When they were students at Minnesota State, David Backes and his then-girlfriend and now-wife Kelly spent a lot of their time volunteering at BENCHS, the Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society.

"When you're a college student living in a rental apartment, most of those don't let you have animals," Backes, the former MSU hockey star, said in a phone interview on Friday. "Even if they did, there are responsibilities and travel t hat get in the way.

"The animals were our surrogate pets. ... We'd go there and get a dose of dog-walking or socialize with cats."

Backes said he and Kelly learned a lot about rescue animals and adoption in those days, and the couple became passionate about the cause. They're now strong advocates for pet rescue, using Backes' status as a professional athlete — captain of the St. Louis Blues — to raise the platform.

Their work includes Athletes for Animals, an organization they founded about a year ago that brings together pro athletes from all sports who have a "shared passion for rescuing and protecting the welfare of homeless pets." The organization, Backes said, has awarded more than $75,000 in grants already.

Tonight's Minnesota State's game against Alabama Huntsville is Pucks for Paws night, which will raise money for BENCHS and Athletes for Animals. The first 2,000 fans through the doors will receive a Backes poster (200 of them are autographed), and there will be a $10 raffle with the chance to win several Backes-autographed items.

"We wanted to give (BENCHS) some added credibility and exposure in the community," Backes said.

The Backeses live what they preach, too.

"Right now, the Backes home has four dogs — all rescue dogs — two cats and and three foster kittens that need to be bottle fed," Backes said. "I have to give a lot of credit to my wife."

Last February, Backes brought two homeless dogs back to the U.S. from Sochi, Russia, after he played in the Olympics there. Both have good homes, he said. One went to the parents of his Blues and Olympic teammate Kevin Shattenkirk and the other went to another Olympic teammate, the New York Rangers' Derek Stepan, cousin of current MSU player Zach Stepan.

Friday morning skate

**REMINDER: MSU'S FRIDAY GAMES NOW BEGIN AT 7:07 P.M.**

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, but it's the end of what's been a crazy few days, ones that included covering the Mankato Marathon on Sunday and trying to squeeze in a little time off.

Game day, finally.

The Mavericks will open WCHA play at home tonight against Alabama Huntsville, and they hope they can bounce back from a disappointing home-opener in which they lost to Minnesota Duluth before a record crowd.

In today's Free Press, I take a look at the Mavericks goaltending situation, one that's been team strength the last two years but also one that's taken some time early in the year to iron out. Is the same thing happening this year?

A few outtakes from my interview with a more confident Stephon Williams, tonight's likely starter:

On his two wins this season: "Look at those two wins, and they were two really hard, collective team wins. (Against Omaha), we came back and scored four goals. ... It wasn't me doing anything. I only faced 10 shots. ... If you look at some of our goals (against Minnesota Duluth), they were just hard-working goals. ... Those were just two games where we were fighting really well, and that takes a lot of pressure off the goalie."

On the competition between him Cole Huggins in Aaron Nelson: "Like any sport, anyone want to play every time. No one wants to not play. At the same time, it's such a team aspect with us, not only our whole team but us three goalies. ... We're very good at keeping it professional in the sense that when we show up at the rink, we're pushing each other. But as soon as we take off the pads, we're good friends."

"I know coach has said it, and I believe it, too: I think we have three goalies that can go out every night and be difference makers."

On what he learned last season: "I'm fortunate in my life that I've gotten to play a lot. Back home in Fairbanks (Alaska), I was the only goalie on my team. I was fortunate to get my opportunity in juniors and, obviously, my freshman year. To go through that (last year) was a good learning experience for me, and it's something that's going to help me my whole life. I know what the lowest of the lows can be like; I know what the highest of the highs can be like. There's a lot of things you can't control in the game of hockey and the game of life."

For more on this weekend's series, check out the Freep's College Hockey Gameday feature. The Huntsville notes can be found here.

Going around the WCHA ...

Alaska Anchorage at Maine: The Seawolves travel all the way across the continent to take on the Black Bears. Anchorage is 3-0-1 but to stay unbeaten, they'll need to get some more offensive production from their defensemen.

Michigan Tech at Ferris State: This is the WCHA's best series so far with both teams expected to be in the hunt for home ice, if not the McNaughton Cup, at the end of the year.

Alaska at Western Michigan: The Nanooks begin a true four-game road trip with two games against their old CCHA foe. They'll stay in the Lower 48 next week as they prepare for their WCHA opener against Bemidji State.

Northern Michigan at Lake Superior State: The Wildcats opened the season last week with a sweep of Wisconsin in Green Bay. Despite being a bit of a no-name team, they have a good chance of starting the conference season unbeaten with two games against the struggling Lakers.

Bemidji State at Minnesota: The Beavers surprised everyone when they opened the season with a win at North Dakota. Can they shock the college hockey world again by getting a victory over the No. 1-ranked Gophers, a team they haven't beaten since 2009? Each team in this series has a set of three brothers on the roster. Minnesota has the Reillys (Mike, Ryan and Carter), and Bemidji State has freshman triplets Leo, Gerry and Myles Fitzgerald

Read this week's WCHA column from USCHO here. Check out my and Jack Hittinger's weekend picks here.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bulldogs 6, Mavericks 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Banner night spoiled: Minnesota State had its biggest crowd to see a hockey game at the Verizon Wireless Center with 5,375 on hand to see the Mavericks open the season and celebrate (briefly) last season's Final Five championship with a banner unveiling. MSU just couldn't get the big crowd into it, though, as it fell in the home-and-home series split. The Mavericks couldn't build on the 1-0 first-period lead, nor could they take any momentum from Chase Grant's late second-period goal. The third period was all UMD.

2. Not so special: The Mavericks' special teams have been up and down through four games. On Friday, they were 3 for 10 on the power play. On Saturday, they not only couldn't get it going, but they allowed a killer short-handed goal that broke a 2-2 tie early in the third period. MSU kept putting its hand on the stove and iced the puck twice during that power play. The second one led directly to Dominic Toninato's goal from the high slot off the ensuing faceoff.

3. Star power: Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said what he said in his team's opener at Nebraska Omaha: "I think their players were their best players tonight. Indeed, forwards Toninato (5 goals so far this season) and Alex Iafallo (4 assists) and defenseman and Minnesota Wild draft pick Carson Soucy (5 points) took control of Saturday's game. The Mavericks' top players didn't do much. No points for Matt Leitner or Bryce Gervais. Jean-Paul LaFontaine had a nice set-up on Dylan Margonari's goal in the first period. Simply put, MSU needs its best players to be good on a consistent basis for it to have a season like last year's or better.

Deep thought: The Mavericks' loss was their first at home since Nov. 8 of last season against Bowling Green, snapping an unbeaten streak at the Verizon Wireless Center of 15 games

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 4, Alabama Huntsville 1 ... Notre Dame 5, Lake Superior State 1 ... St. Lawrence 2, Ferris State 0 ... Northern Michigan 4, Wisconsin 1 ... Alaska Anchorage 4, Air Force 1 ... Alaska 4, Penn State 3

MSU vs. Minnesota Duluth - Game 2 live blog

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mavericks 5, Bulldogs 4 (OT)

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Fantastic freshmen: Minnesota State got three goals from rookies in a fast, physical game. Zeb Knutson's first collegiate goal will be quite memorable, as it won the game at 2:23 of overtime. C.J. Franklin's cannon shot was a beauty, as he jumped off the bench, raced into the zone and one-timed a perfect set-up pass from Matt Leitner for the game's first goal. Then there was Brad McClure, who scored his third goal in as many games, a nasty shot upstairs from close range after being set up by Jean-Paul LaFontaine. "If you ask them, I think they'd tell you they've come in expecting to make an impact as freshmen," coach Mike Hastings said.

2. Another crazy second period: Last Saturday, the Mavericks scored four second-period goals to erase a 2-0 deficit and take charge of an eventual win over Nebraska Omaha. Friday's game featured a combined five goals and eight penalties. The Mavericks led 4-1 after scoring twice during Kyle Osterberg's 5-minute major for checking from behind. But the Bulldogs surged back with two goals 2:01 apart late in the period. UMD's first goal in the period was a short-hander at the start of the major penalty that made it a 2-1 game. The period reeked of early season issues for two good teams — and perhaps for the officiating crew.

3. Back in the game: Junior goaltender Stephon Williams got his first start since Feb. 15 and stopped 34 shots, including three in overtime and 12 of 13 in the third period. The game-tying goal in the third appeared to get redirected and perhaps knuckled on him a bit. Indeed, Karson Kuhlman was credited for the goal after Tony Cameranesi shot from the wall. Williams played big at times, stopping a pair of close-range shots by sniper Alex Iafallo in the first period and making a key save on Jared Thomas at the left post in overtime. Does this mean Williams starts on Saturday in Mankato? I'm guessing that decision has yet to be made.

Deep thought: Minnesota State has scored 18 goals in its last four games against UMD while allowing 12.

Read my Free Press game story here. Read Matt Wellens' gamer from the Duluth News Tribune here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 5, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Ferris State 3, St. Lawrence 2 (OT) ... Notre Dame 5, Lake Superior State 4 ... Northern Michigan 2, Wisconsin 0 ... Penn State 3, Alaska Anchorage 3 (OT, UAA wins shootout) ... Alaska 4, Air Force 3

Minnesota State at Minnesota Duluth - live chat