Thursday, December 31, 2009

Back from break

Here are a couple of notes going into this weekend's series against RIT. Watch for more in the gameday preview ...

Word from coaches and players is that practices have been good and that the break came at a good time. That was a tough nonconference stretch that included long road trips to Bemidji and Omaha. They're still disappointed about losing that OT game at Omaha right before break.

Lines have been flipped around a bit. They're looking for more scoring, and they're considering this weekend the start of the second half of the season. A couple of reasons for the line changes: 1. Tyler Thompson is banged up but he's also out for Friday's game after getting a fighting major in the game at Omaha. 2. Michael Dorr is moving up the line chart. As I've said all along: They've been looking forward to his availability all season. Dorr has three points in three games.

Jason Wiley returned to practice this week. He's been out since getting injured in the second Gopher game. It doesn't look like he's going to be playing on Friday, but it's good to see him skating again. It sounds like Andy Sackrison's recovery from a broken leg is coming along nicely, and may be try to skate on it next week.

As for the second half. The Bemidji series was the official end of the first half of the regular season. However the second half of the WCHA schedule begins next week at North Dakota. Someone mentioned a favorable second-half schedule. Is it? I'll put the remaining games below. Tell me what you think:

Jan. 8-9, North Dakota (road)
Jan. 15-16, Minnesota Duluth (home)
Jan. 22-23, idle
Jan. 29-30, Michigan Tech (road)
Feb. 5-6, idle
Feb. 12-13, Wisconsin (road)
Feb. 19-20, Alaska-Anchorage (home)
Feb. 26-27, Denver (home)
March 5-6, St. Cloud State (road, home)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of the decade

I moved to Mankato in late summer/early fall of 2000 and have been on the MSU hockey beat since then. Over the last month or so, I have read several end-of-the-decade lists. So I have put together my own best-of list and put it in today's Freep column.

Give it a gander, and then give me your two cents. The list was confined to a 20 column-inch space, so what did I miss? What would you change? What were your favorite goals? Games? Series? Players? Moments?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Who is RIT?

Greetings. PucKato is back from a few days of vacation. I hope everyone is having a good holiday season. The big question this week is: Who is RIT, the Mavericks' opponent on Friday and Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Center?

Well, here's a glance:

• RIT is Rochester Institute of Technology, not to be confused with RPI, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which also has D-I hockey.

• The RIT Tigers play in the Atlantic Hockey Conference. They are 9-6-1 but had a national-best 10-game unbeaten streak going until their last game before winter break, a 3-2 loss to Niagara.

• RIT was a Division II/III team before moving up to D-I for the 2005-06 season.

• As a lower-division team, the Tigers do have some history with MSU. On their way to winning the national title in 1983, they knocked out then-Mankato State in a two-game, total-goals quarterfinal series. The Tigers and the Mavericks also met in 1987 in the national third-place game, with RIT winning 3-2.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday-week musings

It's pretty quiet around the college ranks over the holidays. Minnesota State is off until New Year's Day when it begins a nonconference home series against RIT.

There is a little hockey buzz in Mankato, however, as Mankato East/Loyola and Mankato West square off in girls and boys hockey tonight (Tuesday). I expect the boys game to be the most competitive the series has seen in several years.

In the meantime, here are a few items of interest I've come across:

Midseason report
The Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot did a nice, extensive analysis of the first half of the WCHA season. You can read it here. Here are a few nuggets that I found especially interesting:

• North Dakota was 7-1-1 before captain and all-league defenseman Chay Genoway got hurt. Since then, the Sioux are 2-5-2. Baggot says Genoway is the first-half player of the year. You can certainly make that case.

• Wisconsin leads the WCHA with 50 even-strength goals. That's an amazing number, especially when the second-place team in that category is Minnesota State with 34. Colorado College and Minnesota Duluth have 33 each.

• Minnesota State has 19 special-teams goals (all power-play goals), while CC has 31, Duluth has 29.

Future Maverick honored
The United States Hockey League named the Fargo Force's Chase Grant as its offensive player of the week. The Force captain scored five goals in three games -- a loss and two wins -- and has 18 points in 25 games this season.

Mankato native earns award
Former Mankato West goaltender Tyler Bruggeman was named the North American Hockey League's goaltender of the week after stopping 48 of 53 shots in a pair of wins for the St. Louis Bandits.

“Tyler has been a huge presence for us since we acquired him,” said Bandits assistant coachRocky Russo. “His performance has allowed us to feel even more comfortable with Garrett(Bartus’) decision to move on to (the University of Connecticut after the holiday break). His teammates trust that he can bring a consistent effort every night.”

Bruggeman is third in the NAHL in save percentage (.929) tied for sixth in the league in goals-against average (2.16). Look for a column about his season and his adventures in junior hockey in Wednesday's edition of The Free Press.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Red Mavs, 2, Purple Mavs 1, OT

In a game that must have seemed eerily similar to Friday night's series opener, Nebraska-Omaha defeated Minnesota State 2-1 in overtime and took back the "Spirit of the Maverick" Trophy on Saturday in Omaha.

Like Friday's game, each team scored once in the first period, and the game remained scoreless through regulation. Friday's game ended in a tie, but, on Saturday, Omaha's Rich Purslow scored 43 seconds into the extra period.

It was MSU's first nonconference loss of the season. They are now 4-1-1 against teams outside the WCHA and will play two more games against RIT on Jan. 1-2.

Back to Saturday's game, goalie Austin Lee was back between the pipes and stopped 38 shots. Omaha outshot MSU 40-24, and the purple team's Kurt Davis scored the game's first goal at 6:12 on assists from Adam Mueller and Michael Dorr.

Omaha's Nick Fanto tied the game five minutes later.

Minnesota State (9-9-2) finished 0 for 7 on the power play and, for the weekend, was 0 for 11 with the man advantage. There were some fisticuffs at the end of the first period, and MSU's Tyler Thompson and UNO's Brandon Richardson each got a five-minute fighting penalty, meaning they will have to miss their next game. Thompson has been the right win on the Mavs' top line over the last few weeks.

The Omaha World-Herald story on the game can be found here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Spirit of the Maverick, Game 2

PucKato is not in Omaha tonight for Game two of the MSU-UNO series. Check the PucKato Twitter account for updates.

A few changes of note: Austin Lee will get the start in goal for the second Saturday in a row following a one-goal-against outing by Phil Cook. ... There will also be some defensive changes, as Cameron Cooper and Evan Mosey will dress tonight. For Mosey, a freshman, it will be his first time in the lineup since Oct. 24 against Wisconsin.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mavericks 1, Mavericks 1 (OT)

The first leg of the Spirit of the Maverick series ends in a 1-1 overtime tie.

Read The Free Press game story here.

Spirit of the Maverick, Game 1 live blog

Tonight's lines (starters in bold):





Von Bokern-Ensign


Friday-morning skate (updated)

There aren't too many college hockey teams in action this weekend, but Minnesota State is one of them. The Mavericks will play the red Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha tonight in Mankato and Saturday night in Omaha. PucKato will be live blogging tonight's game but not Saturday's game (look for Twitter updates, though -- I'd love more followers).

As for this series, MSU is hoping to stay unbeaten in nonconference play as it plays a future opponent. Phil Cook will get the start in goal for the second time this year and the second Friday in a row. There will also be a couple of other lineup changes from last Saturday's game, as Adam Mueller gets back in the lineup to skate with his old high school buddy, Michael Dorr. On defense, Joe Schiller will get another crack.

In today's Freep, there's a story on senior defenseman Nick Canzanello, who appears to have found a regular spot in the lineup after an up-and-down junior year. One interesting thing that's not in the story is that Canzanello is the lone D-man in a class that had seven forwards play pretty regularly. His defensive partner that season often was Chad Brownlee, who was a senior.

As for Omaha, it will be without coach Dean Blais, who is leading Team USA in the world junior championships. That event begins on Dec. 26, but the team's training camp in North Dakota began this week. Blais will coach against his old team, North Dakota on Saturday night in an exhibition game between the national team and the Sioux.

The only other WCHA team in action this weekend is Michigan Tech, who will face in-state rival Northern Michigan tonight. Tech is hoping to snap a seven-game losing streak but feels like it's coming off its two best performances of the season.

Now-former Freep stringer Josh Berhow did this story on Dorr for College Hockey News. Congrats to Josh for getting a full-time job in journalism (not easy to do these days) in Vinton, Iowa. Not much for college hockey there, but he's not far from some junior teams. Perhaps he can give us a report on MSU's recruits.

Finally, Inside College Hockey compiled its midseason reports, and MSU's wins over Bemidji State are called the WCHA's biggest upset of the season.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You want answers: MVPs, transfers and roster limits

From Nation: 1. Who is the starting goalie Friday? 2. Who are Michael Dorr's linemates for Friday? 3. Who do you think has been the Mavericks' MVP through half the season?
Nation, as of yesterday afternoon, Jutting said he had yet to decide on his starting goaltender. He has a tough decision, too, as there is no clear-cut No. 1 and Phil Cook definitely put himself in the mix last weekend. Jutting probably could put the names in a hat and draw out Friday's starter, but I suspect he'll puts more thought into it than that. ... Dorr has been skating with Adam Mueller and Justin Jokinen this week. Dorr and Mueller were linemates and best friends at Roseville High School, so it will be interesting to see what kind of chemistry they have. ... As for the team MVP? That's a great question. Jerad Stewart has been on fire over the last eight games, Zach Harrison, too. Probably one of those two guys right now, but there's no clear-cut MVP.

From Ian: I've haerd plenty of negative comments about Dorr from UMD and UofM people for obvious reasons. Does Dorr seem to genuinely enjoy it at MSU? I don't know the story of his transfer (whether it was playing time or other issues), so perhaps you could fill me in.
Ian, yes, Dorr did commit to Duluth as a junior in high school then went to Minnesota for a semester before transferring to Minnesota State. As a Gopher, he played in just two games and saw the writing on the wall. Last January, he told me, "It was playing time. I wanted to play. I feel like I have a better opportunity to get playing time here." I would say that, from what I've seen in practice, that he does enjoy it in Mankato. Is there more to it than that? I don't know. Personally, I'm surprised this kind of thing doesn't happen more often. These are big decisions for 17- and 18-year-olds make. Kids change their minds, and athletes have to give up a year of playing their sport if they do opt to transfer. It's tough. Fans of other teams might be bitter, but do you think Gopher fans are upset that their team will be playing a transfer over the second half, too? Probably not.

From Sam: I'm curious to know what other people around college hockey or even the professional ranks have had to say about Tyler Pitlick this year? ... Do you know the reason for the Mavs. vs. Mavs home-and-home weekend series? ... With Hayes back, who sits on Friday? Dorr needs to be on the ice.
Sam, I haven't had a chance to talk to pro scouts about Pitlick, but Mavs games have been crawling with scouts all season (home and away), so you can bet he's high on their radar. I have not heard a bad word about him, and his performance is proof enough of how good he is. He could easily have more goals, too, which would turn even more heads. ... The MSU-UNO series had long been a Thursday-Saturday, home-and-home series on the last weekend of the regular season until the CCHA changed up its playoff format. Then it went to a couple of random Tuesdays during the season. The schedule is up to the coaches, and they decided that back-to-back games in Mankato and Omaha would work. ... Hayes and Dorr will be in the lineup, as they were on Saturday night (before Hayes got hurt). It looks like Zuck might be the odd guy out on Friday.

From hockey25: Who do you see having a big second half of the year? Do you think it is beneficial to have a couple of weeks off around the holidays or a couple of idle weeks in the second half of the season?
hockey25, I think both Tyler Pitlick and Michael Dorr will have big impacts over the second half of the season. But I also think Kael Mouillerat is on his way to putting up some numbers. He's finally putting the puck in the net and has put up a ton of shots all year. Geoff Irwin is playing well, too right now, and I expect that to continue. He seems like a really determined player right now. ... As for the break, I'm sure it would be nice to have a couple of weeks off, but too much time in row could be rough, like taking two steps back over the holidays. There's a stretch in January and February, I believe, where the Mavs play once over three weeks. That might be a better time to nurse some bumps and bruises before closing out the final month of the season.

From TEAMWORKER: Why does this team carry more players on the roster than others? In some cases, two or three more players. We have forwards and D sitting week after week that would be dressed with other teams, correct?
TEAMWORKER, that is not correct. College hockey teams typically carry 27-28 players but can only dress 20 for games (21 in home games if you count a third goalie). Usually, the Mavericks have 15 forwards and dress 12 for games, eight D and dress six and three goalies. During road weekends in conference play, they're allowed to take two extra skaters on the trip. That should make for good competition as well provide depth for injuries. Do the Mavericks have healthy scratches who would be playing for other teams? Perhaps, but I think think there are still jobs out there to be won and lost.

UNO without Blais this weekend

Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais will not be with his team this weekend when it plays Minnesota State in a home-and-home series. Blais is serving as the U.S. coach in the world junior tournament, which begins next week and the national team will begin a training camp together this weekend in Grand Forks, N.D., and play an exhibition game against North Dakota. UNO associate head coach Mike Hastings will take over the head-coaching duties. Hastings was an assistant coach with Minnesota last season and joined the Omaha staff when Blais was hired in the offseason.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You want answers?!?!

It's that time again. What's on your mind? Ask in the comments section below this post.

Hayes returns to practice

Just a quick note that MSU freshman forward Eriah Hayes was back skating in practice after missing more than half of Saturday's game at Bemidji State after taking a stick to his throat. He was hit on the follow-through of a shot, apparently, and was checked out at a Bemidji hospital. Hayes is practicing but is quite hoarse.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mavericks in eighth

While Minnesota State was sweeping a nonconference series against Bemidji State over the weekend, eight other WCHA teams were in action against each other to finish up the first half of the league schedule (14 games). When all was said and done, the Mavericks ended up in eighth place, two points behind Minnesota, three points behind North Dakota and five points out of a top-five spot.

Here's where things stand through the first half:

1. Denver 9-3-2 (11-5-2) 20 points
2. Colorado College 8-3-3 (11-4-3) 19
3. Wisconsin 8-4-2 (11-5-2) 18
4. Minnesota Duluth 8-5-1 (11-6-1) 17
5. St. Cloud State 7-5-2 (8-7-3) 16
6. North Dakota 6-6-2 (9-6-3) 14
7. Minnesota 6-7-1 (8-9-1) 13
8. Minnesota State 5-8-1 (9-8-1) 11
9. Anchorage 4-10-0 (6-12-0) 8
10. Michigan Tech 2-12-0 (3-13-0) 4

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mavs 3, Beavers 2

Minnesota State had just one shot on goal in the third period, but it was a big one -- a goal by Michael Dorr -- and the Mavericks hung on to defeat the fourth-ranked Beavers 3-2 in their final game at the John S. Glas Fieldhouse.

Kael Mouillierat and Eriah Hayes also scored goals for the Mavericks. Dorr and Mouillierat had assists, too, and goalie Austin Lee stopped 29 shots for the series sweep.

Dorr a transfer from Minnesota became eligible to play for the Mavericks after sitting out for one academic year. He said once his finals were completed on Friday and his grades were turned in, the NCAA cleared him to play. He became eligible around 4 p.m. on Saturday, he said.

Perfect timing for the Mavericks.

MSU at Bemidji State, Game 2 live blog

Tonight's lines (starters in bold):







Friday, December 11, 2009

Mavs 5, Beavers 1

Photo courtesy of Eric Stromgren/Bemidji Pioneer

Another good Friday night for the Mavericks ...

They break a 1-1 tie by scoring three times during a five-minute major in the third period and add a power-play goal to help freshman goalie Phil Cook (30 saves) get a win in his first career start.

Jerad Stewart scored two goals and assisted on another and Ben Youds had three assists. Tyler Thompson, Kael Mouillierat and Tyler Pitlick also had goals for Minnesota State.

With the game tied 1-1, Bemidi's Matt Read was called for elbowing Eli Zuck in the head, and Stewart, Mouillierat and Pitlick all scored during a two-minute stretch of the major. Cook stopped a short-handed breakaway (photo above) in that stretch as well.

Now, can the Mavericks put back-to-back games together?

"We've already had that conversation," coach Troy Jutting said.

The Free Press story can be found here.

MSU at Bemidji State, Game 1 live blog

Tonight's lines (starters in bold):







Mavericks, Beavers and ... Bigfoot?

I made it to Bemidiji. Look for the live blog in a big. If possible, I'll try to get a between-periods interview with Sasquatch.

Friday-morning skate

Good morning. Minnesota State is stepping out of WCHA play for the next month, although it will preview what's to come in the conference by playing future members Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha over the next two weeks.

In Bemidji tonight, the Mavericks will keep their top three lines and their defensive pairings the same as the last few series, but will mix up the fourth line -- Adam Mueller, Eli Zuck, Justin Jokinen -- and give Phil Cook his first career start in goal.

Despite being nonconference rivals, MSU and Bemidji seem to have more connections than a lot of teams do. Here are a few: Minnesota State's first-year assistant coach Todd Knott played his college hockey at Bemidji State, MSU coach Troy Jutting and BSU coach Tom Serratore were freshman-year roommates at Mankato State (Serratore eventually transferred to Bemidji), Beavers captain Chris McKelvie is the brother of former Mavericks assistant captain Ryan McKelvie.

And then there's MSU defenseman Channing Boe, a Bemidji native who has played many games at the John S. Glas Fieldhouse. The Bemidji Pioneer also got ahold of Boe this week.

As for the Beavers, they may be ranked fourth in the country and first in the Pairwise, but they believe they have a lot to prove against a future WCHA opponent this weekend. Here is the Pioneer's video preview of the series.

The rest of the WCHA is wrapping up the first half of the conference schedule this weekend.

St. Cloud State hosts Colorado College, and Huskies freshman goaltender Mike Lee is profiled in the St. Cloud Times. Meanwhile, Tigers freshman forward Rylan Schwartz is off to a great start despite some off-ice distractions that would be tough for any college student to handle.

In another matchup of ranked teams, defensemen are the focus of the stories as Denver will travel to Minnesota Duluth. The Denver Post takes a look at the Pioneers' low-profile but hard-hitting John Ryder, while the Duluth News-Tribune shows how the Bulldogs' Mike Montgomery has benefitted by switching from forward to defense.

Minnesota travels to Michigan Tech where a good weekend could leapfrog the Gophers over Minnesota State in the WCHA standings. The Huskies, meanwhile are struggling and beat up.

North Dakota hosts Wisconsin in a big series, but another big competition at the Ralph Englestad Arena is a table-tennis battle between Sioux seniors Darcy Zajac and Chris VandeVelde. Meanwhile, the Badgers are the only visiting WCHA team that has a winning record at the Ralph.

Be sure to check back with PucKato for a live blog during tonight's MSU-BSU game.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Time to Cook

Minnesota State freshman goaltender Phil Cook will get his first start in goal Friday night when the Mavericks play at Bemidji State. Cook was the backup to Austin Lee last Friday at Minnesota and was listed as the second goalie on Saturday in Mankato when all three goalies dressed.

Lee was outstanding a week ago in a 3-1 win over the Gophers but struggled the next night in a 6-2 loss before getting pulled in favor of Cook.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Cook has made two appearances, both in mop-up duty of blowout losses, but he has gotten high praise from both coaches and teammates for the way he has played in practice throughout the season.

Coach Troy Jutting said that Cook deserves a shot because of the way he's practiced but also because the Mavericks have not been getting consistent enough goaltending from Lee and Kevin Murdock so far this season.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bemidji's new digs (updated)

Here's an additional video by The Bemidji Pioneer's Eric Stromgren. I talked to Mavericks defenseman Channing Boe, a Bemidji native, who told me that he did some work on the building over the summer while working for his family's excavation company.

Friday and Saturday will mark Minnesota State's final games at Bemidji State's John S. Glas Fieldhouse. Next season, when the Beavers join the WCHA, they will move into the Bemidji Regional Events Center, which is currently being constructed.

The Mavericks will not play at the new arena next season. Bemidji State released its first WCHA season schedule earlier this year and will travel to Mankato for the teams' only meeting of the season.

Halfway point

Minnesota State will begin a stretch of six games over the next four weeks against nonconference opponents (although Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha will be in the WCHA next season). The Mavericks might be doing some scoreboard watching this weekend, though as eight WCHA teams wrap up the first half of the league schedule.

The Mavericks finished their first half on Saturday and are 5-8-1 and in seventh place in the standings with 11 points. Ninth-place Alaska-Anchorage is the only other WCHA team that has played 14 games so far.

A year ago, MSU was 5-7-2 (12 points) at the WCHA's midway point and finished the season in eighth. A year earlier, they were 3-6-3 (nine) and ended up in a tie for fourth. One year before that, they were 4-8-2 (10) and took eighth.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gophers 6, Mavericks 2

Minnesota turned the tables on the Mavericks Saturday night, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and winning 6-2. Tyler Pitlick scored two goals for the Mavericks, who seemed quite frustrated after the game, especially with the inconsistence from Friday's 3-1 victory on the road to a loss in front of more than 5,000 people in their home rink.

Read more here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

MSU vs. Minny, Game 2 live blog

Tonight's lines (starters in bold):







Mavs 3, Gophs 1 (updated)

What a game for the Mavericks, who outshot the Gophers 42-26, including an 18-4 advantage in the first period. Rylan Galiardi scored the game-winning goal with 7 1/2 minutes remaining in the third period, finishing off a pretty-as-it-gets play from Mike Louwerse. Zach Harrison had an empty-net goal and an assist to Jerad Stewart on the Mavericks' first goal. And don't forget goalie Austin Lee, who came up with some big, big saves in the second and third periods.

Read more about the game here.

UPDATE: Got back to Kato late last night/early this morning. Here are a few more tidbits that didn't get into the story ...

Mavericks senior Jason Wiley got his bell rung in the third period during a collision with the Gophers' Tony Lucia. It looked like Lucia got his shoulder under Wiley's chin but it didn't appear to be a dirty hit. No penalty was called (although there was one "contact to the head" penalty called in the game). In fact, Wiley was initiating the contact, MSU coach Troy Jutting said.

"(Wiley) had the giraffe legs," Jutting said, referring to Wiley needing help getting off the ice. "It's hockey. It happens. I don't think it was a dirty play."

I think it was just coincidence that the play involved two players who have been involved in ugly plays over the last couple of seasons. Wiley is the player who, two seasons ago, hit the Gophers' Tom Pohl, when Pohl lost his helmet, went head first into the boards and eventually needed surgery. Lucia was hit hard last season by Trevor Bruess and Bruess was given a five-minute major and a game disqualification.


Meanwhile, Lee did not hurt his standing as the Mavericks' No. 1 goalie. He said he's getting more comfortable in the net, especially after watching from the bench the last two seasons.

"Confidence-wise, the team is playing great, making it easy on me," Lee said. "I'm getting confidence with every game. I'm getting more games in and getting used to the speed of the WCHA."

Said Galiardi: "Austin did what's he's gotta do. He was solid and calming. He didn't let in any weakies. I like to think that if he allows one goal that's enough for us. ... He's a pretty calm guy; that's something you want from your goalie."


There's no question that the Gophers are frustrated with their play this season. They've won once in their last six games and have averaged 1.67 goals per game in that stretch.

"We're not scoring enough," coach Don Lucia said. "We have three goals in our last three games and are fortunate to have won one of those. ... We have to play with a lot more passion and move our feet."


Don't forget to check back with PucKato later today for Saturday night's lineups and a live blog from the Verizon Wireless Center.

Friday, December 4, 2009

MSU vs. Minny, Game 1 live blog

Tonight's lines (starters in bold):







Friday-morning skate

Two months into the season and it finally feels like hockey season. PucKato better remember to throw the window scraper and jumper cables in the truck before heading up to Mariucci Arena for tonight's game between the Mavericks and the Gophers.

Minnesota State will go with the same lines as it did in last Saturday's win over Michigan Tech. Austin Lee will start in goal for the third game in a row and the sixth time in seven games, so it's fair to say that he's the No. 1 goalie right now. How secure that is depends on how he plays.

So what's the local coverage like this week? In The Free Press, the Mavericks' current crop of seniors have had more success against the Gophers than any other group in program history. It's only a 3-8-2 record, but it includes a tie that broke an 11-game losing streak against Minny, a win that broke a 20-game winless streak and the first-ever weekend sweep of the Gophers. But as Kael Mouillierat pointed out, the only stats that really matter are where the two teams sit in the standings: MSU is in seventh place and Minnesota is in ninth, two points behind with two games in hand. "Both of us are competing for the same spot in the standings," he said. "You can't worry about the hype; you gotta worry about winning."

As for the Gophers, they get some much needed depth on defense back when freshman Nick Leddy -- the Wild's first-round draft pick last summer -- returns from a broken jaw suffered on Halloween weekend against Anchorage.

This is a rare weekend when all 10 WCHA teams are in action against each other. This includes the top four teams in the conference squaring off against each other. Here's what else is happening around the league ...

Denver vs. Colorado College (home and home): What a matchup. And for the Gold Pan, something the Denver seniors have never won. These two teams, ranked No. 2 and No. 6, respectively, are tied atop the WCHA with identical 7-2-1 records.

North Dakota at Minnesota Duluth: Here are the next two teams in the standings (North Dakota is in a three-way tie for fourth but ranked third nationally. The Sioux are making their last trip to the DECC and have some fond memories of Duluth's old arena. As for the Bulldogs, junior wing Kyle Schmidt has been figuring into the scoring, which seems like its been reserved for the likes of Justin Fontaine, Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly.

St. Cloud State at Alaska-Anchorage: The Huskies will try to avoid the WCHA's best Saturday-night team, the Seawolves. St. Cloud freshman David Eddy has been hot since returning from an ankle injury, while the Anchorage coaching staff found a diamond in the rough in junior wing Sean Wiles.

Michigan Tech at Wisconsin: Badgers forward Derek Stepan shared WCHA offensive player of the week honors with MSU's Zach Harrison last week, but what really stood out to the UW coaches was Stepan's hits. As for the Huskies, they're still steaming about the disallowed goal in Saturday's game in Mankato.

Here are weekend previews from INCH (which focuses on the Mavericks) and USCHO.

Don't forget to follow along with PucKato's live blog during this weekend's MSU-UM games.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

You want answers: Goalies, Gophers and the 'Theme from Shaft'

Time to dip into the mailbag and answer your questions. It's Gopher Week, but the big concern still seems to be the music played at the Verizon Wireless Center. This is a very controversial topic, and I'll address that after some of the hockey questions. So without further ado ...

From Nation: 1. Will Lee get the start on Friday? ... Do you think there will be any hostility between Boe and Schack with them being reunited for the first time since the leg-breaking incident? Who are the extra players going to St. Paul?

Nation, Lee will get the start. I talked to Jutting yesterday and he said Lee definitely has the edge for the No. 1 job. It's not as secure as, say, Mike Zacharias had it over the last two years when he wouldn't lose his spot after a tough outing but I think it's safe to say that if Lee plays well on Friday he'll play again on Saturday.

On the Boe-Schack situation, I'm sure it's not forgotten. But what's more important for the Mavericks is to just play their game and not get overly emotional about something that happened last season. Last week against Michigan Tech, MSU committed just seven penalties in two games -- both wins. That's should be a much bigger priority for the Mavericks than settling old scores.

As for the extra players, it doesn't really matter because it's a home-and-home series. There will be players in the Mariucci press box but I believe that every healthy player will be available to sub on Saturday if necessary.

From hockey25: Do you see any lineup changes this upcoming weekend? Did the Mavs come out of last weekend healthy?

From what's been expect things to be pretty much the same as they were on Saturday night against Michigan Tech. If there is one exception, it will be Justin Jokinen in for Tyler Pitlick. Pitlick was hit in the foot with a puck on Saturday and didn't practice early in the week. He skated on Thursday, so it could be a gametime decision.

From Sam: Is it true that Friday's game at the U will be on FSN on tape-delay? ... I noticed that one of the old Zamboni drivers was back doing the ice in Mankato this past weekend. I thought he left to "pursue other interests." I recall seeing him resurfacing the ice at the U no more than two weeks later. ... Will Murdock get in the crease this weekend? ... What sort of crowd are they expecting in Mankato on Saturday?

It is my understanding that, yes, both games will be on tape-delay. That's too bad.

I didn't notice who was driving the Zambonis over the weekend. Are you referring to Lon Sorenson? He used to do the ice in Mankato and then was hired as one of the managers at Mariucci a couple of years back. Every once and awhile he comes back to Mankato to visit. I wouldn't be surprised if he did last weekend since it was Thanksgiving weekend and the Gophers were in Michigan.

On the Murdock question, see above.

I would expect a pretty big crowd Saturday, especially in the student section. Probably a sellout with standing-room tickets available. Going by the attendance figures, I believe the Verizon Wireless Center has about 400 SRO tickets, so if someone says the game is sold out, be sure to check the ticket booth because they can squeeze them in.

From Ian: I'm making the trip up from Iowa again this weekend for another game. This is my first "Mavs/Goofs" game ever in the 6+ years I've been going to watch the Mavs. ... Is their a different type of energy in the crowd at these games than, say when the Sioux or the STC Huskies come to town?

For a long time, I've always contended that North Dakota and, maybe, St. Cloud State, are bigger rivals for the MSU than Minnesota. Everybody wants Minnesota as a rival and the feeling isn't always mutual. Up until the three-game, five-overtime, epic playoff series with the Gophers from two years ago, the best atmosphere I'd ever seen at the Mankato arena was in 2003 when North Dakota came to town during the Mavericks' 17-game unbeaten streak. It felt like there were 6,000 people crammed in there, and I still don't know how I escaped without getting my laptop doused with beer. Having said that, I think that playoff series with Minnesota changes a lot of things in Mankato. I think it turned a lot of MSU fans who were also casual or closeted Gopher fans into MSU fans only. It helps that the series has gotten much more competitive in recent years. As I'm writing about for Friday's paper, this year's MSU senior class has had more success against Minnesota than any group the Mavericks have ever had.

From MSUMaverickFan: If Austin Lee starts on Friday, I've got to imagine there will be some nerves present. He grew up playing in the Metro, and I can't imagine playing at Mariucci will be a calming experience. That said, I've seen noticeable improvement in Austin's game throughout the course of the season, and I feel fully confident when he's in goal. ... What do you think of the struggling Gophers? Is Don Lucia on the hot seat?

I'm not saying there won't be some nerves, but I think the Metro-kid-intimidated-by-Mariucci theory is a little bit overblown. Mike Zacharias was a Metro kid, and he played pretty well there. In fact (I will check on this), I wouldn't be surprised if Lee has played big games in that building in the past, say in a section tournament semifinal or final when he was at Bloomington Jefferson.

I would agree that Lee seems to be improving each week and I think he looks like he's playing with confidence. That's a good thing. He still has to work on controlling rebounds better and appears to have some trouble catching the puck. He caught a huge break on Saturday when the puck he dropped went into the net after the whistle was blown -- a play that had some legs in the blogosphere this week.

As for the Gophers, there certainly have been some interesting stats, including the four shutouts -- something that hasn't happened since the 1950s -- their struggling power play, their injuries and yet another year with a mid-season departure. Is Lucia on the hot seat because if all? I wouldn't be surprised. But I would also say this: That's a team with 20 NHL draft picks on its roster. Jordan Schroeder is as talented as any player in the league, and it looks like they're getting Nick Leddy back this weekend. The Gophers may be in ninth place right now, but they won't be a pushover. If the Mavericks go into the weekend thinking this will be easy, they'll get beat.

Can MSU sweep the Gophs? Can the boys stay out of the penalty box? Will the power play work?

Yes, this team can sweep the Gophers. That's not a prediction, but they are capable. The fact that they have so many players left from last year's team that did sweep them helps. And they did it without relying completely on a great goaltending performance. They played harder and faster and they scored goals. But they must stay out of the box, something I alluded to earlier. They did that against Tech last weekend and have to try to make that a trend. I think the Mavericks' power play is getting better, too, and that was certainly a key last season against Minnesota.

Now, onto the important stuff ...

Will they play any Miley Cyrus at the Saturday game? This is a must-know, so I have time to sell the tickets if the answer is "yes." Haha. ...

With the absence of a pep band, the music at the Verizon Center plays a more important role. Don't use up "Welcome to the Jungle" in the second period, and "Tonight's Going to Be a Good Night" has no business in a hockey rink. This is hockey we're talking about. More AC/DC, more Guns 'n' Roses, more Motley Crue. You get the point. Bring back the classics! ...

While I do enjoy some of the tunes (most notably the Rise Against opener), some of the stuff is pitiful. And the lack of volume still irks me. What's the point of having music if the crowd can hardly hear it? ...

The music needs to improve ... A LOT. Crank up "Ole!" and the goal horn. Both get under the opponent's skin. Take advantage of that. When I was at the National Hockey Center the other weekend for the WI/SCSU series, I was reminded of how bad our music has gotten. They pulled a few good ones like playing "Innocent Man" and "Wasn't Me" when their players went to the box. Then when they had good stops they played "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" or "Another Brick in the Wall." MSU needs to find a good song to play when the goalie makes a good stop like we had with "Hollywood" and "Be Like Mike." It doesn't have to be about the goalie ... just a good song. ...

For sure, the music plays an important role, not just with the players but more importantly THE FANS. There are times you can hear apin drop. I'm sure those in charge of this could contact the Wild or even a junior hockey team out there for a CD of what they use

I always have opinions about the music, although I have to ask you guys: What do you think this is, 1987? I may not be a fan of "Party in the USA" or "Tonight's Gonna Be a Good Night," but they are current, popular songs. I can't say I blame the in-house DJ for playing those on occasion.

Personally, I officially became bored with "Welcome to the Jungle" at hockey games sometime in Clinton administration and would like to see a little more creativity. I'd like them to hold off on playing "Love Rollercoaster" and "Little Willie" until the one-minute timeouts, so I can hear more of those fun songs. I think songs like "Seven-Nation Army" by the White Stripes and the "Theme from Shaft" would make great starter introduction music.

Yes, I think about this stuff.

But I also believe the music can stifle a good crowd from time to time. Instead of playing "Be Like Mike" when Zacharias made an unbelievable stop, I would have rather heard the crowd go crazy between the save and the ensuing faceoff, especially late in the game. That -- not the music -- gets under an opponent's skin. Blasting a clever song like "Another Brick in the Wall," I think, just shuts up a crowd, leaving arena silent when the puck drops and the music stops. Music doesn't always jack up the crowd as much as you might think it does. Just as often, I think it drowns out the fans, and that's why you sometimes hear a pin drop -- they're just waiting for the DJ to take care of things.

So, if you actually made it all they way to the bottom of this post, what songs do you want to hear at MSU hockey games? Post them in the comments section of this post. I want you to get creative. Give me not just song ideas but times in the game to play them (before power plays and penalty kills, after big saves or roughing penalties, during opening intros and pregame warmups, etc., etc.).

Come on PucKato readers, hit me with your best shot -- fire away!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Brownlee moves up the charts

PucKato had a chance to talk with former Mavericks captain Chad Brownlee, who is now a budding country-music singer/songwriter. Brownlee, who sang the national anthem prior to Friday's MSU game, was in Nashville, Tenn., recently, working with other writers on some songs for an album he hopes to release next spring.

Brownlee currently has a single available on iTunes called "The Best that I Can (Superhero)," which, as of Tuesday, ranked No. 29 on Canada's country charts. When you see the names surrounding him, that's a pretty impressive feat.

Brownlee is also known around the Mankato area for recording "The Hero I See," a tribute to Anthony Ford -- a boy who grew close with the MSU hockey team while battling leukemia -- and performing it at Anthony's Funeral three years ago.

To hear samples of Brownlee's music, you can hear them on his Myspace page.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You want answers?!?!

Can you feel the excitement in the air?

Is it because of Gopher week? Nah. It's time for another installment of PucKato's "You Want Answers?!?!" 

Just post your questions in the comments section of this post, and I'll answer them later in the week, probably Thursday afternoon.

Harrison named WCHA offensive player of the week

For the second week in a row, a Minnesota State forward was named WCHA offensive player of the week. Last week, it was Jerad Stewart; this week's it's Zach Harrison, who had five points in the Mavericks' two-game sweep of Michigan Tech.

Harrison and a goal and three assists in Friday's 5-2 victory and a goal in Saturday's 3-2 win.

Once again, the WCHA honored two players with the offensive award, and Harrison is sharing it with Wisconsin's Derek Stepan, who had two goals and four assists in the Badgers' win and loss against Michigan State and Michigan State, respectively.

Other award winners included Wisconsin's Brendan Smith (defensive) and North Dakota's Danny Kristo (rookie).