Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday morning skate

A series against Minnesota is always big for Minnesota State, its players and its fans, but this weekend has a little more meaning, considering where the teams are ranked nationally and in the Pairwise and where they are in the WCHA standings.

It's certainly a different situation compared to where these teams were back in November when they split a home-and-home series.

"With them being No. 1 and us being 14th, it's a huge weekend for us," Mavericks co-captain Tyler Elbrecht said. "It could help us in the rankings, the WCHA and the Pairwise. Obviously, it's great because the community loves it when we play the Gophers, but if we take care of business, it helps us in both areas."

The Mavericks' lines will look a little different than the last time they were home, as top scorer Matt Leitner will center Chase Grant and Johnny McInnis, and Zach Lehrke will move back to a center spot. Defenseman Josh Nelson is expected to return from an upper-body injury that kept him out the last four games. Read more in The Free Press' gameday preview.

As for Minnesota, the Gophers are already an offensive juggernaut, but now Nate Condon has added extra punch to their scoring depth. See the Star Tribune's series preview here. And there's more on Condon, the Wisconsin native, here.

Friday night's game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Saturday's game is on Fox Sports North as well as on Charter 226 and 826.

Going around the WCHA ...

Alaska Anchorage at Wisconsin: The Seawolves will try to snap a 10-game winless streak, the sixth longest in team history (there's a long way to go to reach the record of 35 games from 10 years ago) when they go to Madison. For the Badgers, they dropped their first game in 12 tries last Saturday and perhaps that loss to Miami opened their eyes to the fact that they're still not scoring enough goals.

St. Cloud State at North Dakota: The Huskies are tied with the Gophers atop the WCHA standings and hope to remain there after this weekend's series in Grand Forks. It's St. Cloud State's first road trip since Nov. 30-Dec. 1! Since returning from injury, senior forward Ben Hanowski has been impressive and the NHL team that holds his rights, the Penguins, are happy about that. For North Dakota, transfer Mitch MacMillan is set to face his old team.

Nebraska Omaha at Bemidji State: The red Mavericks are in the thick of the conference race but now must face the one WCHA team that gives them tons of trouble. The Beavers are 7-1-4 in their last 12 games against Omaha. The Beavers, meanwhile, are hoping that record helps them snap out of a Friday-night funk, as they have yet to win a series opener this season.

As for the future WCHA, Alabama-Huntsville had a press conference on Thursday to discuss its entry into the WCHA. While the league scrambles to adjust schedules to make UAH a full-time member right away, I found this quote interesting, referring to the quick schedule change done when Texas A&M and Missouri changed football conferences: "If the SEC could do it, the WCHA should be able to do it," UAH athletic director E.J. Brophy said.

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