Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday morning skate

Can we say that it's officially the stretch run? Looking at the jammed-up WCHA standings, we should be in for one heck of a ride over the next five weeks.

"This is a great time of the year," Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. "If you want to see good hockey, go see a WCHA game. The want-to, the competitiveness, it's all around college hockey. If you buy a ticket to a college hockey game this time of year, you're going to be entertained."

Perhaps Hastings should have saved that pitch for next week when the Mavericks are at home. But this weekend they're in Duluth to face a UMD team they have defeated just once in their last 16 meetings. 

Minnesota State has been good on the road this season, and they're coming off a much-needed break, but the Mavericks know this is the time to step things up a notch. Eriah Hayes, for instance, hasn't scored a goal in his last six games, and he hopes to change that trend this weekend. Hayes still leads MSU with 12 goals, and his seven power-play goals rank first in the WCHA and are tied for second in the nation.

Hastings has done some line shuffling to try to "get back to using our depth" and to find some consistency, but he added that having last weekend off seemed to energize some players, especially Hayes and Jean-Paul LaFontaine, the latter the coach called "an absolute ball of energy" when he's on his game.

For more on the series, be sure read the sidebar accompanying the Hayes story.

From the Duluth side of things, Kevin Pates of the News-Tribune has his usual outstanding coverage. That coverage will be missed when he retires later this year. I'm looking forward to going to Duluth this weekend and hanging in the press box with Kevin one last time (barring a playoff meeting, of course!). Patesy has always been good to me, ever since I was a pup sportswriter at the Mesabi Daily News not quite 20 years ago and ran into him from time to time in the high school rinks around the Iron Range.

Pates writes that MSU's turnaround under Hastings this season is one of the best stories in the WCHA. Also, Bulldogs hard-shooting forward Caleb Herbert, who had an outstanding rookie season, appears to have come out of his sophomore slump. The rest of the News-Tribune's preview is here.

Going around the WCHA, all 12 teams are in action against each other with some intriguing matchups ...

• Minnesota will try to keep St. Cloud State from running away with the McNaughton Cup when those teams meet at the National Hockey Center for the last time as WCHA foes.

• North Dakota goes to Nebraska Omaha, and Saturday's game will be played outdoors at TD Ameritrade Park, the new home of the College World Series

• Arch rivals Colorado College and Denver will square off in a home-and-home series.

• Alaska Anchorage and Michigan Tech will play in Houghton during Tech's annual Winter Carnival weekend.

• Bemidji State and Wisconsin will play in Madison. Only Anchorage has scored fewer goals than those two teams. So we'll probably see a couple of 6-5 games, right?

I'll, of course, be tweeting and live blogging once I get to Duluth and Amsoil Arena later today. Be sure   check back later.

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