Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mavericks 3, Huskies 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game

1. Playoff-esque: Circle Feb. 27-28 on your calendar. Minnesota State's last regular home series of the season. That's when the Mavericks will have a rematch against Michigan Tech. Although there's a lot of hockey to be played between now and then, my guess is that will be a pretty meaningful series, possibly with MacNaughton Cup consequences. This was simply fabulous weekend of well-played hockey between two very good college hockey teams, and Minnesota State was able to come out on top each night and sweep the previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Huskies. It probably could have gone either way or been a split or a three-point series for someone or a couple of ties. "It was a road game, and we knew it would be hard," Matt Leitner said. "We knew there weren't going to be any tic-tac-toe plays. We had to get bodies to the front of the cage. ... We had to keep it simple."

2. Senior salute: The old guard got it done for the Mavericks, with Leitner and LaFontaine scoring third-period goals (each assisting on the other's, too) to give their team a 3-1 lead. Leitner's shot was a slow one that hit off a defenseman and deflected past goalie Jamie Phillips. LaFontaine made a hustle play to the goal line to retrieve a 50-50 puck and, noticing Phillips out of position went behind the net and scored with a wrap-around. They've only had two of them, with the last one coming three years ago, but Saturday nights in Houghton have been pretty special for the duo. Credit senior defensemen Brett Stern and Zach Palmquist for their back-end play, and senior forwards Chase Grant and Max Gaede for adding their veteran grit, too.

3. Getting the Willies: Stephon Williams had his best weekend of goaltending since his freshman season. He stopped 25 of 27 shots on Saturday and 55 of 58 on the weekend for the big sweep. Again, a lot of credit has to go to his teammates for keeping the sheet clean in front of him and keeping Tech clear of the scoring areas for the most part. But he stood tall in the second half of the third period for the sweep when the Huskies made their big push and MSU took three penalties over the final 8:40. Tech scored on the third power play, a rebound goal, but he stopped 13 of 14 shots in the third, including 6 of 7 when his team was short-handed in the frame. He has nine wins now. "The young man has put in a lot of work — physically, preparation-wise and mentally," coach Mike Hastings said. "It's nice to see him rewarded for that dedication."

Deep thought: I tweeted this out earlier, but if you're a college hockey fan, you have to make the trek to Houghton for a Michigan Tech game or two. Great student atmosphere, great pep band, great traditions. As college hockey grows in non-tradition places and in big mega-conferences (which is great for the sport), it needs to continue to latch on to the its roots. It's here in the U.P. Worth the drive and, yeah, even worth the weather.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 3, Bemidji State 2 ... Ferris State 5, Alabama Huntsville 2 ... Lake Superior State 3, Alaska 2 (OT) ... Northern Michigan at Alaska Anchorage (late)

MSU at Michigan Tech — Game 2 live blog

Click on the post title above or go here to join the live chat.

MINNESOTA STATE
15-Franklin, 23-Blueger, 9-Gervais
21-Grant, 18-Leitner, 12-LaFontaine
25-Stepan, 26-Margonari, 19-McClure
24-Knowles, 16-J. Nelson, 8-Gaede

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

35-Williams
34-Huggins

Scratches: Buchanan, Huntebrinker, Knutson, A. Nelson, Schmeisser

MICHIGAN TECH
15-Johnstone, 19-Pietila, 7-Sturos
23-Petan, 10-Kero, 14-Gould
18-Eick, 8-Steman, 9-Gillies
27-Heinonen, 25-Neville, 20-Hietala

2-Watson, 17-Sweeney
22-Hanna, 3-Roy
6-Leibinger, 29-Hyland

30-Phillips
35-Wintjes
31-Kero

Referees: Mike Elam, Jarod Moen. Linesmen: Eric Froberg, Dan Juopperi


Friday, November 21, 2014

Mavericks 2, Huskies 1

Freddy's three thoughts of the game:

1. Little Willy Willy won't give up goals: As I write in my gamer (link below), all eyes were on Michigan Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips, who was outstanding in shutting out the Mavericks for almost 52 minutes on Friday night. But when the Mavericks scored two quick goals and took a 2-1 lead with 8 minutes to play, attention turned to Stephon Williams in the MSU net. Williams played his best game of the season, maybe his best game since his freshman year and stopped 30 of 31 shots for the win over No. 1 Tech. He had 15 saves in the third period alone and stopped seven shots on the penalty kill. He gave a lot of credit to his teammates for they way they defended. "I had a lot of games where I faced just 15-16 shots," he said. "I know that's not going to happen all year. But when you do give up a lot of shots, it's the quality (of shots) you're giving up. I'm fortunate that my team doesn't give up a lot of quality chances."

2. Stern warning: It's probably not often that you see Teddy Blueger defer to Brett Stern for a quality goal-scoring opportunity, but that's what happened on the game-tying goal. Good work by rookie C.J. Franklin to bust down the ice on the forecheck and get the puck to Blueger and to Blueger for noticing Stern sneaking down toward the hash marks where he fired a shot that "had eyes" (Stern's words) and beat Phillips above the blocker. Stern, a senior defenseman has five career goals now, two this season. "Brett's done a better job over the last year and a half working on his offensive game," coach Mike Hastings said. "And he's been rewarded for that work." Stern actually led the Mavericks in the game with six shots on goal. Sophomore defenseman Carter Foguth also picked up a point, is first of the season, assisting on Dylan Margonari's game-winning goal.

3. Knocking off No. 1: The Mavericks certainly seemed to keep the win over the top-ranked Huskies in perspective. After all, it's still November. Lots of hockey left to be played. Including Saturday night's series finale. "It's good to beat a top-ranked team," said Margonari, who scored his third goal of the season and the 21st of his career. "But we've still got business to do tomorrow. We've got to try to get that sweep." Stern echoed those sentiments, saying "It's just another game. Every weekend is going to be tough." The Mavericks are still chasing the Huskies in the WCHA standings, too, and trying to keep pace with Bowling Green. "(Tech coach) Mel (Pearson) and I talked about this before the game," Hastings said. "This league is difficult to play in — every single weekend. It's got great goaltending, great coaches and guys who compete their tail off."

Read my Free Press game story here.

Around the WCHA: Alabama Huntsville 3, Ferris State 2 (!) ... Bowling Green 3, Bemidji State 1 ... Alaska 7, Lake Superior State 5 ... Northern Michigan 1, Alaska Anchorage

Minnesota State at Michigan Tech — Live blog

Click on the post title above or go here to join the live chat.

MINNESOTA STATE
15-Franklin, 23-Blueger, 9-Gervais
21-Grant, 18-Leitner, 12-LaFontaine
25-Stepan, 26-Margonari, 19-McClure
24-Knowles, 17-Huntebrinker, 8-Gaede

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

35-Williams
34-Huggins

Scratches: Buchanan, Knutson, A. Nelson, J. Nelson, Schmeisser

MICHIGAN TECH
28-Baltus, 19-Pietila, 7-Sturos
23-Petan, 10-Kero, 14-Gould
27-Heinonen, 25-Neville, 15-Johnstone
18-Eick, 8-Steman, 9-Gillies

2-Watson, 17-Sweeney
22-Hanna, 3-Roy
6-Leibinger, 29-Hyland

30-Phillips
35-Wintjes
31-Kero

Referees: Mike Elam, Jarod Moen. Linesmen: Eric Froberg, Dan Juopperi

Friday Morning Skate

Greetings from the road. On my way to the U.P. to see No. 1 Michigan Tech host No. 9 Minnesota State. Could be a classic series between the two teams.

Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that this would be a matchup of top-10 teams? Read more about the series in The Free Press' gameday preview.

If you can't make the trip to Houghton, remember: the games are available (for a fee) on WCHA.tv.

Back in Mankato, initial plans were unveiled on Thursday night for the $30 million Verizon Wireless Center expansion project, which includes upgrades to Minnesota State's hockey facilities. The project is one MSU coaches Mike Hastings and Eric Means believe will be quite helpful for their programs.

For the first time this season, all 10 WCHA teams are in action against each other this weekend.

Read more about the league in the weekly USCHO column by Bemidji's Jack Hittinger and myself and check out our weekend picks.

Bemidji State at Bowling Green: The schedule gets no easier for the Beavers, who travel to Ohio to take on the Falcons. Bemidji is looking to end a four-game losing streak.

Northern Michigan at Alaska Anchorage: Speaking of losing streaks, the Seawolves have dropped five in a row and are back home after a long Michigan trip and must face the conference's best goaltender, Mathias Dahlstrom, and the Wildcats.

Alaska at Lake Superior State: The Nanooks, too, have dropped five in a row and must go on the road against the Lakers in hopes of finding their way back into the win column.

Alabama Huntsville at Ferris State: The Chargers must be feeling good about themselves after having some success, but the Bulldogs are, too, have hanging up 14 goals a week ago.

I'll get the live blog fired up shortly after getting to Houghton. More later.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How about the WCHA for Arizona State?

Arizona State on Tuesday announced that it is upgrading its club hockey team to the NCAA Division I level, making official news that had been rumored and talked about throughout the year.

The move, made possible by $32 million in donations, will happen over the next two seasons, with the Sun Devils playing a hybrid schedule involving D-I and club programs next year, followed by an independent D-I schedule in 2016-17 and conference affiliation in 2017-18.

So where will Arizona State land? The WCHA, perhaps?

Commissioner Bill Robertson said in a phone interview shortly after the news broke that "the WCHA is very interested in Arizona State University. I can say that we have started discussions with their program."

Robertson hinted as much over the summer, shortly after taking the position. Not naming names, he said he had talked to "western" schools in regards to league and college-hockey expansion.

"Part of my vision is to grow the WCHA and college hockey," Robertson said on Tuesday. "There's a lot of potential in the sun belt for growth in college hockey."

Not surprisingly, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference has reached out, too, according to a report in the Grand Forks Herald.

"I think they would be a wonderful fit to our conference," Robertson said. "There's a process in place. That's all I can really say."

Tech ranked No. 1, MSU stays at 9

When the schedules came out last spring and summer, people who follow the WCHA had an inkling that Nov. 21-22 had the chance to be a fun weekend, with Minnesota State traveling to Michigan Tech for a matchup of two of the better teams in the conference.

But now it looks like a matchup of two of the better teams in the country.

Tech, at 10-0-0 and the only undefeated team in the nation, indeed was voted No. 1 in the polls this week. The Mavericks, meanwhile, remained at No. 9 following their idle weekend. For what it's worth, the two teams are ranked 1-2 in the Pairwise Rankings. Click the previous link for my Free Press column.

In the USCHO top 20, there are four WCHA teams. Others include Northern Michigan at No. 17 and Bowling Green at No. 18.