Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday morning skate (wind chill edition)

The Mavericks remain at home this weekend and will play Northern Michigan for the first time in school history. Northern Michigan was the team MSU essentially replaced in the WCHA in the late-1990s after the Wildcats jumped over to the CCHA. NMU was the first of that conference's leftovers to commit to returning to the WCHA after the Big Ten and NCHC were formed.

It's a big weekend for both teams, who are just one point apart in the standings. Minnesota State is hoping to stay hot -- or very warm, at least -- after winning three games in a row and four out of five conference games. Northern Michigan garnered just one point at home last week but has only lost once in its last seven games.

A few things to know about the Mavericks: Look for their lineup to stay close to the same as last week, although freshman defenseman Casey Nelson is out tonight with an upper-body injury. Coach Mike Hastings said he will decide on his starting goaltender after this morning's pregame skate.

Speaking of staying hot, check out my feature on MSU junior forward Jean-Paul LaFontaine, who certainly has been living up to his famous name over the last few weeks.

Read more about the matchup in The Free Press' gameday package.

As for the Wildcats, they are without senior captain and defenseman C.J. Ludwig, who suffered a season-ending knee injury a week ago. That's a big loss; Ludwig's been one of the league's best players so far. NMU is hoping its young players can step in fill his skates.

Minnesota State and Northern Michigan are the teams Matt Wellens and I know the most. We're predicting different outcomes for the series as part of our weekly USCHO picks.

Around the WCHA ...

Alabama Huntsville at Bowling Green: The Chargers remain winless on the season at 0-14-0 and that could cure what's been ailing the Falcons. But Bowling Green isn't taking anything for granted, having won just once in its last seven games.

Bemidji State at Michigan Tech: Pretty good series in Houghton this weekend between a couple of teams that aren't doing what was expected. The Beavers are scoring goals (but also giving up a lot), while the Huskies are not (but are getting good goaltending). 

Ferris State at Lake Superior State: It seems like every week I ask, "Is anyone going to slow down the Ferris State train before it runs away with the WCHA?" The Bulldogs have the nation's longest unbeaten streak, now at 10 games. This  might be their biggest test of the season so far — on the road against a good Lakers team.

Alaska at Alaska Anchorage: Bragging rights, of course, are on the line when these in-state rivals meet, as is the Governor's Cup, the traveling trophy that they've played for for 20 years. But this year's games mean even more as WCHA points are up for grabs. Both teams also are hoping to break out of slumps, so there's even more incentive.

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