Friday, January 30, 2015

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)

Minnesota State vs. Minnesota, live chat

The No. 1 Mavericks and the No. 17 Gophers play in the second game of the North Star College Cup.  To join the chat, click on the post title above or go here.

Friday Morning Skate

It's North Star College Cup weekend, and it should be a fun event at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Mavericks are getting plenty of attention this week, being rated No. 1, going into this tournament in St. Paul and playing the Gophers tonight.

We get pretty provincial here in Minnesota, and that's one reason the tournament was created after conference realignment. But the Mavericks are a melting pot of a team, with players from all over the U.S. and Canada (and one from Latvia). Just six players are from the self-proclaimed State of Hockey, but that doesn't mean the others don't appreciate what's happening this weekend.

Trivia question: Can you named the 11 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces that MSU's players call home? (Answer below)

For more Freep coverage of the Mavericks and the North Star Cup, check out the College Hockey Gameday.

More coverage ...

The Gophers are ranked 18th in the latest Pairwise, which makes this weekend's games against tough competition very important for them, the Star Tribune's Jason Gonzalez writes (lots of MSU stuff in this story, too).

In the Pioneer Press, Dane Mizutani writes about MSU and how it is leading a WCHA resurgence.

Dan Myers writes about Mavericks defenseman Casey Nelson for Minnesota Hockey Magazine.

Brian Hall of Fox Sports North takes a look at Minnesota State's growth over the last 2 1/2-plus years under Mike Hastings.

In today's other semifinal Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth will square off. Here are previews from the Duluth News Tribune and the Bemidji Pioneer.

Lots of coverage out there. Anything I missed?

Going around the WCHA ...

Northern Michigan at Penn State: Details remain few and far between with the Walt Kyle situation. Without their coach, the Wildcats will step out of conference play to take on a good Nittany Lions team.

Lake Superior State at Bowling Green: The Falcons host the last-place Lakers one week after playing a tough series at Michigan Tech, but they're not overlooking this week's opponent, which is 3-2-1 in its last six games. Meanwhile, Bowling Green freshman defenseman Mark Friedman entered he season with high expectations and is now starting to reach that high bar.

Alaska at Michigan Tech: Despite losing two games at home to rival Alaska Anchorage, the Nanooks feel like they're playing good hockey. Ran into a good goalie last weekend, played Bowling Green tough before that and won five of six (including the win at MSU) before that. They could give the Huskies a little run for their money this weekend.

Also, Jack Hittinger and I give Lake Superior State a little love in this week's USCHO column. We also make our weekend picks.

Trivia answer: Minnesota, Alaska, California, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan