|Pat Christman/The Free Press|
The Mavericks lost their last two home games, something that clearly irked coach Mike Hastings and his team.
"We want to feel like we have a place where other teams can't come here and get points," sophomore center Matt Leitner (pictured) said. "We need to protect our house."
Leitner will be a key to doing that. The top-line center is coming off a five-point weekend from which he earned WCHA offensive player of the week honors. The Mavericks' leading scorer was the best center at Kohl Center a week ago and has become a player who every MSU winger would like to play with.
The Mavericks are also getting top-notch play from senior captain Eriah Hayes and improved penalty killing with senior Eli Zuck and freshman Bryce Gervais handling those duties (for more, see the sidebar with the Leitner story). Expect freshman goalie Stephon Williams to get the start tonight.
As for Bemidji State, word is the team was a little late getting to Mankato on Thursday after getting into an accident near St. Cloud. No one was hurt but the team did have to change busses.
As for tonight, coach Tom Serratore says he's sticking with the hot hand and playing senior Mathieu Dugas in goal. Dugas made just one appearance as a junior but earned the tie and win last weekend against Anchorage.
It's been a crazy week in Bemidji, as the school's athletic director was essentially fired (effective at the end of the school year) after getting a pretty negative review. It appears that funding for BSU's athletic department is the No. 1 issue.
In other Mankato hockey news, I covered the Mankato West vs. Mankato East/Loyola game last night in which West won 11-0. Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings watched most of the game, and former coach Troy Jutting was also there, watching his sons, Ryan and Tyler, play in the game (Ryan finished with three assists). It was a convenient trip for Jutting, now a Nebraska Omaha assistant, who was travelling to Minneapolis for the red Mavericks' series against Minnesota.
And that's a good transition. Let's go around the WCHA ...
Omaha at Minnesota: For the third-ranked Gophers, this is the start of the meat of their schedule, and coach Don Lucia thinks it's time to see if his team is ready for a tough stretch with 13th-ranked Omaha coming to town. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are being led by a former Minnesota commit, Ryan Walters, who, tired of waiting, decided to go to UNO.
Minnesota Duluth at Michigan Tech: The Bulldogs are getting solid play from freshman defenseman Andy Welinski, a Duluth native and power-play specialist who benefitted from an extra year of junior hockey. The Huskies, meanwhile, were on bye last week. Prior to that, they swept a series against Bemidji State to break a five-game losing streak.
North Dakota at Colorado College: North Dakota has not swept a weekend yet this year and has been outshot seven games in a row, and coach Dave Hakstol says his team has to get uglier. It's been ugly for the Tigers, meanwhile, as they are winless in their last four games and have allowed 5.5 goals per game in that stretch.
Wisconsin at Denver: Despite having just one win this season and losing two games to MSU last weekend, there's plenty of excitement for Badgers fans this weekend as highly touted freshman Nic Kerdiles will make his debut after a 10-game suspension by the NCAA. The Pioneers, meanwhile, are trying to bounce back from a rough Thanksgiving in which they dropped a pair of nonconference games.
St. Cloud State at Alaska Anchorage: The Huskies are getting solid play from Finnish freshman Kalle Kossila, one of the top-scoring rookies in the WCHA. Kossila was the WCHA rookie of the week when St. Cloud swept MSU. The Huskies have split every series since then. The Seawolves, meanwhile, are on a six-game winless streak but have three ties in that run with senior Alex Gellert becoming a key player.
Be sure to check back later for more coverage of the MSU-BSU series.