The 14th-ranked Mavericks are back home this weekend, hosting Providence in what should be a pretty competitive series. The Friars are unranked but receiving votes in the national polls. Both teams are under consideration currently in the Pairwise Rankings, with MSU at No. 17 and Providence at No. 23. Both teams sit in fourth place in their respective conferences (the Friars are from Hockey East).
For MSU, a winner of nine of its last 10 games, it kicked off the second half of its schedule last week and finds itself in unfamiliar territory. Just after New Year's, the Mavericks are nationally ranked, in the upper half of the WCHA and over .500. In the past, this is the time of year they're trying to come up with a blueprint for a second-half surge to get out of the cellar.
"I think it's harder, a lot harder," sophomore forward Jean-Paul LaFontaine said when asked to compare this midseason with last. "Last year, being low in the standings, we were trying to get better. Now it's the opposite. We've got to stay where we're at."
Both teams are missing a player who's at the World Junior Championships. MSU's Teddy Blueger is done after Team Latvia went winless in Russia, while Providence goalie Jon Gillies is a backup for Team USA, which will play in the gold-medal game on Saturday morning. Gillies played in the Friars' first 15 games this season.
This is the final nonconference series of the season for Minnesota State. The Mavericks are 4-0-2 outside the WCHA.
In MSU alumni news, former defenseman Ben Youds has been named to the ECHL all-star game. Youds, who plays for the Toledo Walleye, is tied for the league lead in scoring among defensemen.
Going around the WCHA ...
Colorado College at Nebraska Omaha: The Tigers had a rough finish to their first-half schedule and are hoping to get back on track in 2013. Meanwhile, the red Mavericks, have been good but have dropped three of their last four games, so there could be a shakeup on the line chart.
Wisconsin at Alaska Anchorage: A goaltender has emerged for the Badgers, and it's not Joel Rumpel. As for the Seawolves, they're taking a fresh-slate approach to the start of the second half.
Holy Cross at North Dakota: Holy Cross returns to Grand Forks for the first time since its stunning upset of Minnesota in the NCAA tournament in 2006 and comes in as a ranked team (No. 20). North Dakota gets a new player for the series, as St. Cloud State transfer Mitch MacMillan is now eligible after sitting out for a year.
Northern Michigan at St. Cloud State: Facing a future WCHA team, outgoing St. Cloud is in first place in the league and one of the top-scoring teams in the conference, but the bulk of their scoring has come from one very good line.
Western Michigan at Bemidji State: Coming off an overtime loss at No. 4 New Hampshire, the schedule gets no easier for the Beavers, who will entertain the 10th-ranked Broncos.
Cornell at Denver: The Pioneers snapped an eight-game winless streak and will host a tough Cornell team. Making things more challenging, Denver has only 11 forwards available for the series. They're also down a defenseman as freshman Dakota Mermis bolted for the Ontario Hockey League over break.
Be sure to check back later for tonight's lines and an in-game live chat.