Sunday, March 31, 2013

One more day in Toledo

Minnesota State is heading back to Mankato today after their NCAA Midwest Regional loss to Miami on Saturday evening. I'm in Toledo until Sunday so will be working on some season wrap-up stories and posts and probably watching the St. Cloud State-Miami game.

I'm probably not the only one from south-central Minnesota State still hanging around. (Read my other Free Press stories on the MSU vs. Miami game here and here. ... More coverage from the Toledo Blade, including a photo gallery, and the Hamilton Journal-News.)

St. Cloud State remains the only WCHA team in the tournament after it started with six. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Denver were knocked out on Friday, and Minnesota State lost on Saturday. North Dakota also lost on Saturday after surviving their opening game against Niagara, UND melted down against Yale 4-1, allowing four goals in the final 7:35 of the third period.

So Yale and UMass-Lowell (a 2-0 winner over New Hampshire on Saturday) punched their tickets to the Frozen Four. Today will be St. Cloud State vs. Miami in Toledo and Quinnipiac vs. Union in Providence.

Quinnipiac, the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, overcame a 3-1 deficit in the third period to defeat Canisius. Union demolished Boston College 5-1.

I wonder how the MSU guys feel about that Boston College result. BC was put in the Providence regional to try to boost ticket sales, which the committee can do, as long as it keeps 1 seeds vs. 4 seeds, 2 vs. 3, etc. However, going down the line 1 through 16, Boston College was sixth and Minnesota State was 11th, so they were the natural pairing. Instead, the Mavericks got the fifth overall team, Miami. I wonder if the Eagles would have been a better matchup. Then again, if Zach Lehrke's shot early in Saturday's game is a millimeter lower and goes in the net rather than off the crossbar, perhaps that game takes a turn.

Ifs and buts, right?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Redhawks 4, Mavericks 0

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Blocked from advancing: The Mavericks hadn't been shut out all season, and they've been a strong third-period team — one of the best in terms of goals scored — all year as well. So when they were down 1-0 after two periods, it was easy to think they were in the game. But coach Mike Hastings has praised Miami's defensive play all week, and the Redhawks were stifling. Blocking 28 shots for the game, Miami shutdown MSU's high-flying forwards and prolific power play, and Ryan McKay became the first goalie to shut out the Mavericks in nearly 13 months. McKay saw just four shots in the final period, and the first didn't get to him until the frame was 12 minutes old.

2. Major pain: Sometimes a team can gain a bunch of momentum from killing off a five-minute major. Other times, it comes with a cost. Coach Mike Hastings said the first-period kill of Evan Mosey's kneeing penalty "sapped some of our energy." The penalty ended up injuring Miami's Jimmy Mullins, perhaps badly, but it was more misfortune than anything. A minor for interference maybe? But not a major and certainly not a game misconduct. Mosey got the gate, and the Mavericks played with five D the rest of the way. That was the Mavericks' only penalty of the game. Speaking of special teams, Minnesota State finished 0 for 4 on the power play but got just two shots to McKay.

3. Senior salute: More on this to come down the line (Monday's paper), but it's amazing what a difference a year makes. One year ago this weekend, Troy Jutting was dismissed from coaching at Minnesota State, reassigned to another department. On Saturday, the Mavericks were playing in the national tournament. Hastings is a big reason for that turnaround, but the job the seniors did in turning things around can't be overlooked. Eriah Hayes and Tyler Elbrecht, especially, put the team on their backs and should be proud of their final season. I liken it to the old camping motto: Leave it better than you found it. They did that this year.

Read The Free Press game story (and more) here.

MSU vs. Miami — Midwest Regional live blog

Lines posted below the chat box ...

To see live stats and other info on the entire tournament from the NCAA go here.



MINNESOTA STATE
21-Grant ... 18-Leitner ... 9-Gervais
26-Margonari ... 23-Blueger ... 25-Hayes
24-Knowles ... 12-LaFontaine ... 19-Lehrke
22-McInnis ... 14-Herndon ... 8-Gaede

16-Elbrecht ... 17-Mosey
27-Stern ... 7-Palmquist
28-Jutzi ... 2-Nelson

35-Williams
30-Cook
31-Karambelas

Scratches: Buchanan, Burkemper, Knoll, Thauwald, Zuck


MIAMI
16-McKenzie ... 7-Czarnik ... 11-Barber
10-Wideman ... 9-Kuraly ... 27-Hagel
18-Doherty ... 22-Morris ... 19-Cook
14-Murphy ... 25-Coleman ... 20-Mullin

44-Spinell ... 8-Caito
26-Hartman ... 5-Joyaux
24-Kennedy ... 2-Richart

35-McKay
1-Williams

Scratches: Mooney, Gacek, Paulazzo, Mason, Paulides, Jacaruso

Midwest Regional morning skate

It's gameday in Toledo with Minnesota State taking on Miami at 4 p.m. (CDT), following St. Cloud State vs. Notre Dame at 12:30 p.m.

Lots of coverage from this tournament, starting with The Free Press ...

For the Mavericks, they hope they got their postseason jitters out of the way at the Final Five last week, and despite all of the pomp and circumstance in Toledo (Tyler Elbrecht said the team is being treated "like royalty"), they're trying to approach this like any other game. Meanwhile, even before the upsets and near-upsets were taking place in the other regionals, many were thinking the Midwest might be the toughest of the four. That story leads off a regional notebook.

While MSU is making its first NCAA appearance in 10 years, Miami is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first national-tournament game. St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko was an assistant coach on that team. Both Miami and Minnesota State will start freshman goalies today, but the  Redhawks have two to choose from.

Good coverage from the Toledo Blade today, including an overview of the tournament, the teams' thoughts at the Huntington Center and a look at the two Hobey Baker Award finalists in the field.

Of course, I can't forget the coverage of my friend Mick Hatten at the St. Cloud Times. He found a couple of St. Cloud superfans and also wrote about the Huskies' task of trying to break through Notre Dame's defense.

The tournament got off to a crazy start around the country as Yale stunned Minnesota 3-2 in overtime and UMass-Lowell cooled off red-hot Wisconsin 6-1. Denver was a third WCHA team to fall, as New Hampshire knocked out the Pioneers 5-2. North Dakota fended off an upset attempt by Niagara to win.

Finally, there will be a new coach in the WCHA next season as Alaska-Anchorage's Dave Shyiak was fired on Friday.

Come back to the blog later today for a live chat.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Practice day (will be updated)

The four Midwest Regional teams got a taste of the Huntington Center in Toledo on Friday in preparation for Saturday's games.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said the event might be the toughest of the four regionals with his top-seeded Irish having to play the WCHA co-champion in St. Cloud State. Notre Dame won the CCHA tournament title, but Minnesota State's opponent, Miami, won the CCHA regular-season title.

"We know how tough Miami is," Jackson said. "And ... Minnesota State and St. Cloud had great years. Obviously with the number of WCHA teams (six) in the the tournament, it's indicative of the strength of that league."

Said MSU coach Mike Hastings: "It's not a cakewalk."

***

There continued to be lamenting of the changes coming to college hockey after this season.

St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, whose team is going from the WCHA to the NCHC said, "Maybe I'll figure it out one day, that we are going in a different direction that's going to be better for college hockey. We're going to have to wait and see, but I don't think it's crystal clear right now. It's spooky which direction we're heading in the West." Motzko also spent time in the CCHA as an assistant at Miami for six years.

Said Jackson, whose team is going from the CCHA to Hockey East: "It's disappointing. Really, my whole career has been based on the CCHA. (Jackson was also at Lake Superior State). I'm going to miss the opportunity to play in some of those venues, and the relationships that you establish with people at some of those schools are going to be a little bit harder to continue."

Miami coach Enrico Blaisi said the CCHA gave Miami a chance to be a Division I program but also noted the changing landscape of college athletics. "We aren't going to forget. We aren't getting rid of any CCHA banners or anything like that. It's part of our history and part of our program. At the same time we are excited about moving forward as well." Miami will go to the NCHC with St. Cloud.

Hastings noted the turnaround that future WCHA foe Bowling Green (the host school for the Midwest Regional) made this season. "I think the WCHA has a pretty proud, rich history. And we're going to try and continue to build on that in the new WCHA, and that's no disrespect to the NCHC or Hockey East or the Big Ten. The game that we're playing is pretty special."

***

Asked to compare Miami to other teams they've played this season, and Eriah Hayes said Providence. "Providence was a really fast team; they could push the pace."

***

Mavericks senior forward Eli Zuck did not make the trip to Toledo due to the lower-body injury he suffered in the Final Five. Taylor Herndon appears to be back in the lineup on the fourth line, as he was in the seven games before the Final Five when Zuck was out with an unrelated injury.

***

There was plenty of praise all around for the 4-year-old, 8,000-seat Huntington Center here in Toledo. Players said the ice was good (although MSU players added that it was a little beat up; they were the third team to use it), and they raved about the spacious locker rooms. The arena is the home of the Toledo Walleye ECHL team. Former Maverick Ben Youds plays for that team. He visited some of MSU's party on Thursday night and plans on attending Saturday's game.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Travel time

Preparing for transit to Toledo ...

Be sure to go to The Free Press website for pre-tournament coverage. It includes an MSU-Miami preview story from Thursday and, on Friday, a long piece on Mavericks coach Mike Hastings. 

Then come back to the blog on Friday afternoon for updates from the Midwest Regional. I'll be attending MSU's practice and press conference and will be working on stories from there.

Along the way, of course, I'll be on Twitter.

See you in Toledo.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Going to Toledo? Or not?

Hey Minnesota State hockey fans, if you're going to Toledo this weekend, leave me a comment here on the blog. ...

Single-game tickets are now being sold at the Huntington Center for $45 (!), while three-game packages, which get you the MSU-Miami game, the St. Cloud State-Notre Dame game and Sunday's Midwest Regional championship go for $75 ($65 for students).

Besides the Huntington Center, tickets are also available through Ticketmaster and the Bowling Green athletic department (future WCHA member Bowling Green is the host school for the regional).

The Minnesota State game is at 4 p.m. CDT. You can watch it live online on ESPN3 (it will be televised on tape delay at a later time).

UPDATE: Fox Sports North will show Saturday's game live

The Mankato Buffalo Wild Wings announced that it will show the games:

Williams, Grant "100% cleared"

Pat Christman/The Free Press
Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said on Tuesday that goalie Stephon Williams and forward Chase Grant have been cleared to play this week in preparation for Saturday's NCAA Midwest Regional game against Miami. Eli Zuck, he said, is day to day.

The three players left last week's WCHA Final Five game against Wisconsin with injuries, leaving MSU's bench pretty thin by the end of the game.

Having the WCHA's Rookie of the Year in Williams in the net is key for the Mavericks, as is having the feisty sophomore forward Grant available. Zuck has been a top penalty killer for MSU. Thursday was his first game back in the lineup after missing the previous seven with an unrelated injury. If Zuck can't go against Miami, expect freshman Taylor Herndon to play on the fourth line.

Read more here.

Minnesota State will practice in Mankato Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning before leaving for Toledo.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A quick look at the Redhawks

Minnesota State is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003 and appears to have a tough but, seedings-wise, better draw than it did 10 years ago when had to face No. 1-ranked Cornell in Providence. The Mavericks are 11th overall and third in the region and will play fifth-overall and regional second-seed Miami on Saturday afternoon in Toledo, Ohio.

Here's a quick glance at the Redhawks:

Overall record: 24-11-5

CCHA record (finish): 17-7-4 (first)

NCAA appearances: 11 (eighth straight)

Coach: Enrico Blasi (14th season)

Leading scorers: fr. Riley Barber (15-23—38), so. Austin Czarnik (14-24—38), sr. Curtis McKenzie (10-13—23)

Goaltenders: fr. Ryan McKay (12-6-2, .948, 1.37), fr. Jay Williams (12-5-3, .924, 1.94)

Notes: Czarnik (pictured) was the CCHA's player of the year and is a Hobey Baker top-10 finalist. ... Minnesota State and Miami boast their conference's respective coach and rookie of the year in Mike Hastings and Enrico Blasi and Stephon Williams and Riley Barber. ... Miami will be a member of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference next year.

The game will not be televised live but will be available on ESPN3, which is the network's live-streaming service for computers and tablets.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Holy Toledo!

video

Minnesota State will go to Toledo, Ohio, later this week and will play Miami in the Midwest Regional at the Huntington Center there. Games are Saturday and Sunday.

The Mavericks are the third seed, and Miami is second.

"We're excited to keep playing, to be one of 16 teams still playing," Mavericks forward and leading scorer Matt Leitner said. "We have the chance to do something really special."

Notre Dame (1) and St. Cloud State (4) are the other teams in the region.

Miami is 24-11-5, ranked third in the polls and fifth in the Pairwise. The Redhawks won the CCHA regular-season title and lost to Michigan on Saturday in that conference's tournament semifinals. They have a Hobey Baker finalist in sophomore forward Austin Czarnik, who was also the CCHA's player of the year.

"They're a good hockey team," MSU coach Mike Hastings said. "I know that when you get to this time, whatever card you draw is going to be tough."

Six WCHA teams made the tournament, and they were put in three of the four regionals, with Minnesota and North Dakota going to the West (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and Denver and Wisconsin going to the Northeast (Manchester, N.H.).

To see the entire tournament draw go here.

Minnesota State and Miami have met just twice, with the Mavericks going 0-1-1. Their last meeting was a 3-3 tie on Dec. 30, 2004 in Columbus, Ohio (Ohio State tournament). They also played in the 1996-97 season, MSU's first D1 year.

Field is set; where will MSU go?

Notre Dame defeated Michigan in the (last-ever) CCHA championship game on Sunday afternoon, meaning the 16-team field for the NCAA tournament is set. Now we have to wait until 8 p.m. and the Selection Show on ESPN U to find out where Minnesota State will end up.

We do know this, at No. 11 in the Pairwise, the Mavericks will be a No. 3 seed and will play a No. 2 seed. Those teams are Miami, Boston College, New Hampshire and North Dakota. The NCAA tries to avoid intra-conference matchups in the first round, so they will not play UND. Boston College, ranked 6th, is the matchup for MSU if you go by the straight rankings. But there could be adjustments.

USCHO predicts Minnesota State will go to the Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio, and play No. 5 Miami.

College Hockey News has two prognosticators, both of whom say MSU will play Boston College in the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Others see an MSU-BC matchup in Providence, which, being closer to Boston, could improve ticket sales in the East Regional. However, with No. 1 Quinnipiac going to the East, putting BC there doesn't protect bracket integrity.

Here are the teams, listed in order of seeding:

1. Quinnipiac
2. Minnesota
3. UMass-Lowell
4. Notre Dame
5. Miami
6. Boston College
7. New Hampshire
8. North Dakota
9. Denver
10. Niagara
11. Minnesota State
12. Union
13. St. Cloud State
14. Wisconsin
15. Yale
16. Canisius

The last time Minnesota State made the tournament, 2003, the Mavericks were the 16th seed and ended up playing No. 1 Cornell in Providence, R.I.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Minnesota State is in

It took a couple of days after its loss in the Final Five, but scores around the country finally fell right for Minnesota State, and it appears the Mavericks are in the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time since 2003 and just the second time in program history.

It appears the Mavericks will be a No. 3 seed at one of the four regionals, but which one? Grand Rapids? Toledo? Providence? Manchester?

Minnesota State will host an NCAA tournament selection show viewing party for fans at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night at Buffalo Wild Wings' downtown Mankato location. The show will air at 8 p.m. on ESPN U.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin punched its ticket to the tourney by defeating Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five Broadmoor Trophy championship game Saturday night.

Next season clearing up

Next season, following the shakeup of the WCHA and college hockey in general, is looking a little clearer, following a couple of official (not not surprising) announcements on Saturday.

The WCHA (see it's "powerful" new, players first logo at right) announced that it will indeed play next year's Final Five at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., and rotate that event between there and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul over the next four years. Van Andel Arena is an 11,000-seat venue that has hosted several NCAA hockey regionals, including next week's (perhaps Minnesota State will wind up there, and I'll be able to give a scouting report). So the championship weekend will be in Grand Rapids in 2014 and '16 and in St. Paul in 2015 and '17, with the Big Ten getting the X in '14 and '16 and going to Detroit in '15 and '17.

Commissioner Bruce McLeod also announced the format for the tournament, which includes the ninth- and 10th-place teams in the conference missing the postseason, and praised the two Alaska schools and Alabama-Huntsville for stepping up financially to help scrap that dreadful "Alaska plan."

Meanwhile, the yet-to-be-named all-Minnesota tournament was also announced. The event will be held at the Xcel Energy Center Jan. 24-25 and will feature Minnesota, Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State in the inaugural event. Bemidji State wil rotate in the following year. There weren't many other details announced, including the name. A contest will be held to name the tournament later this year. Any suggestions?

One more news item from the press conferences: Gophers coach Don Lucia was named head coach for next year's U.S. World Junior Championship team. St. Cloud State's Bob Motzko will be one of the assistants.

For all the marbles

The WCHA Final Five on Saturday night will have a couple of surprise teams in the championship game, as Wisconsin will play Colorado College. If you picked those two teams in your bracket, well, I have some money I'd like you to manage for me.

Wisconsin, after beating Minnesota State on Thursday, stayed hot (and got a few bounces) and knocked off league co-champ St. Cloud State on Friday. Colorado College, on the back of Mankato-born goaltender Joe Howe (he only lived here a year), spoiled a pair of marquee matchups by beating North Dakota on Thursday (thus preventing a UND-Minnesota prime-time semifinal) and Minnesota on Saturday (preventing a Minnesota-Wisconsin final).

One cool thing about the WCHA championship game is that the winner will get an NCAA bid and the loser will not.

Speaking of the NCAAs, Minnesota State will be among the teams doing a lot of scoreboard watching today and Sunday to see if it makes the 16-team field.

According to Jim Dahl of siouxsports.com, who has been doing a lot of statistical analysis (he's the Nate Silver of college hockey, apparently), MSU has a 96% chance of making it to the dance. But that 4% has to be making the Mavericks nervous, considering all of the upsets that have been taking place in the conferences tournaments and the big, been-there-done-that powers who have been on the outside looking in most of the season but are in position to steal those auto-bids (Michigan, Boston University).

If you're an MSU fan, you're rooting for most of the top seeds, although 3-Ohio State beating 2-Notre Dame in the CCHA semifinals apparently is better for the Mavericks. That means put on your Miami, UMass-Lowell, Union and Quinnipiac caps today.

And while there are some nightmare scenarios out there that drop MSU to 12th or 13th in the PWR while as many as five teams below them pick up their conferences' auto-bids, there are situations that move them as high as No. 8, which would mean a No. 2 seed for one of next week's regionals.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The waiting game

Minnesota State will head back to Mankato on Friday (as will I), following its loss to Wisconsin in the opening game of the WCHA Final Five.

After the game, coach Mike Hastings said the team would take Friday off and practice on Saturday with the (very likely) hopes of getting selected to the NCAA tournament on Sunday night (selection show at 8 p.m. on ESPNU). The Mavericks remain 12th in the Pairwise Rankings.

Nothing really new on the injury front since the end of MSU's game. If there was good news, it came before Thursday's nightcap between North Dakota and Colorado College. That's when Stephon Williams (upper body) was introduced, along with the WCHA's other major award winners — Hastings, Drew LeBlanc, Nick Jensen (Ryan Walters wasn't there)— and participated in the ceremonial puck drop.

Chase Grant and Eli Zuck both left the game early with lower-body injuries, and there was a lot of room on the Mavericks' bench by game's end.

As for more coverage on the MSU-Wisconsin game, check out the Wisconsin State Journal story here.

Like Wisconsin, Colorado College kept its season alive by upsetting North Dakota in overtime on Thursday night, Friday's semifinals will feature Wisconsin vs. St. Cloud State and Colorado College vs. Minnesota. Everyone's curious to see if all of the North Dakota fans in town will stick around for the rest of the weekend.

In other news ...

The Hobey Baker Award top 10 was announced on Thursday, and the field includes four WCHA players: St. Cloud State's Drew LeBlanc, Nebraska Omaha's Ryan Walters and North Dakota's Danny Kristo and Corban Knight. See the rest of the list here.

On Saturday, there will be two announcements, likely the unveiling of next season's Minnesota Cup tournament and the decision on where next year's WCHA championship weekend will take place.

Eriah Hayes scored his 20th goal of the season on Thursday, becoming the first MSU player to do that since Mick Berge had 20 in 2007-08. Matt Leitner recorded his 30th assist in the game, becoming the first Maverick to hit that number since Grant Stevenson and Shane Joseph each had 36 helpers in 2002-03.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Badgers 7, Mavericks 2

Pat Christman/The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Rough start: The Mavericks coughed up the puck and allowed a Tyler Barnes breakaway goal just 63 seconds into Thursday's opening game of the WCHA Final Five. That set the tone. "Obviously, not the start we wanted," coach Mike Hastings said. "Wanted to get at least to the second minute." Rookie goalie Stephon Williams was shaky after that, allowing two more goals in the game's first 8:11. Three-rip that early? Wrong team to do that against. It was 4-0 before MSU got on the board. The Mavericks kept charging (they outshot the Badgers 40-27, 16-4 in the third period), but they couldn't get closer than three.

2. Banged up: Williams stopped 14 of 19 shots, and Hastings was set to pull him after the fifth goal anyway, however, the goalie was hurt on the play and had to be helped off the ice. Williams appeared to be kicked in the head on the play, and officially, it's an upper-body injury. Chase Grant suffered a lower-body injury in the second period and tried to return later in the frame. However, he was held out of the third period. Eli Zuck, who returned to the lineup after missing the last seven games, also got hurt  in the third and had to be assisted to the locker room. Hastings said all three would be re-evaluated on Friday.

Note: Williams did make an appearance before the evening game between North Dakota and Colorado College, as the league award winners were introduced and participated in the ceremonial puck drop. Williams was the WCHA's Rookie of the Year. Coach of the Year Hastings also participated.

3. Now what? Now the Mavericks wait to find out their fate for the NCAA tournament. The loss dropped them to 12th in the Pairwise Rankings (PWR). It's not an uncomfortable spot, but MSU is nervous about not controlling their own destiny. The tournament field will be announced at 8 p.m. Sunday night. Wisconsin's fast start may have been because they were the more desperate team. The Badgers remained at 16 in the PWR after the game and might have to win the Final Five and get the league's auto-bid in order to make the national tournament.

Read The Free Press game story here. Pat Christman's photo gallery also can be found at that link.

WCHA Final Five: MSU vs. Wisconsin — live chat

Lines can be found below the live chat ...


MINNESOTA STATE
21-Grant ... 18-Leitner ... 9-Gervais
26-Margonari ... 23-Blueger ... 25-Hayes
24-Knowles ... 12-LaFontaine ... 8-Gaede
19-Lehrke ... 29-Zuck ... 22-McInnis

16-Elbrecht ... 27-Stern
4-Buchanan ... 7-Palmquist
28-Jutzi ... 2-Nelson

35-Williams
30-Cook

Scratches: Burkemper, Herndon, Karambelas, Knoll, Mosey, Thauwald

WISCONSIN
17-Kerdiles ... 9-Zengerle ... 7-Barnes
16-Labate ... 21-Woods ... 25-Mersch
20-R. Little ... 14-Dahl ... 18-S. Little
26-Navin ... 12-Meuer ... 8-Paape

28-Schulze ... 55-Ramage
19-McCabe ... 27-Simonelli
22-Wittchow ... 24-Faust

33-Rumpel
30-Peterson

Final Five morning skate

It's a banner day for the Minnesota State men's hockey team as it will play in the WCHA Final Five for the first time in a decade. The Mavericks snapped that 10-year drought and all but did the same for the NCAA tournament by their play this season. Now they will try to break another streak, as MSU has never won a game in the tournament, going 0-3 in their two appearances (two semifinal losses to Minnesota and a third-place loss to Minnesota Duluth). How far can they go this year?

Minnesota State will kick off the tournament against Wisconsin at 2:07 p.m., with top-seeded St. Cloud State awaiting the winner. Meanwhile Colorado College and North Dakota will meet in the nightcap.

Looking through the first, second and third All-WCHA teams, 14 of the 18 players named to those teams are playing in this event. It's truly a star-studded field. However, the teams are all well-balanced — you have to be to get to this spot — and have their share of unsung heroes and players overshadowed by their team's big-guns. For Minnesota State, Chase Grant seems to fit that bill, and that's just fine with him. 

Meanwhile, the other participating coaches were asked who their under-the-radar players are, and you can read about their choices here.

As for the game and the tournament, this will be the rubber match for the Mavericks and the Badgers, who split their four games this season. MSU scored its road sweep in Madison over Thanksgiving weekend, while Wisconsin did the same in Mankato in January. Read The Free Press' Final Five preview here.

For those not traveling to St. Paul, Minnesota State will have three official viewing parties folks can go to this afternoon — two downtown and one on campus. For details go here.

For the Badgers, they're on the Pairwise bubble and may need to win the Broadmoor Trophy to get to the NCAA tournament. That means a win for them today is a must. Read more here from the Wisconsin State Journal.

As for the other quarterfinal, North Dakota and Colorado College, the Grand Forks Herald breaks down the matchup here. UND is also anticipating to hear two of its players' names, Danny Kristo and Corban Knight, when the Hobey Baker top 10 is announced later on Thursday. For Colorado College, the Tigers upset Denver and have underdog status in St. Paul, thanks to an improved defense.

The theme of the weekend is the end of an era, with the Final Five marking the breakup of the WCHA and the last Final Five of its kind. I wrote about that for Wednesday's Freep. Read more from the Pioneer PressStar Tribune, Grand Forks Herald and The Associated Press.

See you in St. Paul later today. Of course, I'll be live chatting right here during the game, and you can always follow me on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mavericks hit St. Paul

The Minnesota State men's hockey team left Mankato for St. Paul and the WCHA Final Five on Wednesday and practiced at the Xcel Energy Center in the afternoon. I'll be headed to the capital city on Thursday as the Mavericks take on Wisconsin at 2:07 p.m.

Earlier in the week, MSU coach Mike Hastings called Wisconsin one of the best teams in the country over the last three or four months.

"They're as sound as anyone in the country defensively," Hastings said. "Their ability to support the puck and transition from the defense to the forwards is as good as any team I've seen."

Minnesota State took Monday off after their three-game series against Nebraska Omaha and practiced Tuesday on All Seasons Arena's small sheet in preparation for the X.

Health-wise, MSU seems to be no worse for the wear after the Omaha series. Senior forward Eli Zuck, who has been out the last seven games, is skating with the team again but no word on how that will affect the Mavericks' lineup, if at all. The Badgers, meanwhile, are in a little tougher shape in that department, as senior Derek Lee is out and sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe is questionable and a game-time decision.

This will be the last WCHA As-We-Know-It Final Five, and there were laments about that during Tuesday's conference call with the participating coaches. If Minnesota State is carrying the banner for the future conference this weekend (the Mavs are the only leftover member in the Final Five).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Getting ready for St. Paul

A few notes from Tuesday's conference call between with the WCHA Final Five coaches ...

• Commissioner Bruce McLeod said that a record number of ticket packages have already been sold, and the league is expecting to surpass record income from the tournament set in 2007.

• This year was the closest WCHA regular-season race ever with just four points separating the top six teams.

• St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko gave a shout-out to MSU's Mike Hastings, WCHA coach of the year and a SCSU grad.

• Three of the coaches — Hastings, Motzko and Colorado College's Scott Owens — have been assistant coaches for Minnesota's Don Lucia.

• Quote from Lucia: "I think we could play this tournament three or four times in a row and have three or four winners."

• North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said Michigan Tech gave his team "one of the toughest first-round series we've had since I've been here. It was a great series that pushed us to be better." Tech took UND to three games.

• Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said Minnesota State is "as good as anyone in the country all year." The two teams open the tournament at 2:07 p.m. Thursday. "It should be a whale of a game; it's a whale of a field."

• Hastings returned the volley, saying about Wisconsin: "We're looking forward to playing one of the top teams in the country over the last three-four months. They're hard to play against."

There will be more to come, including a story in Wednesday's Free Press about this being the final Final Five (as we know it) and another on Thursday about some of the unsung heroes who got these teams to St. Paul.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Where they stand

According to this North Dakota fan and math whiz, Minnesota State has a 99.7 percent chance at making the NCAA tournament, and the Mavericks will be in for sure with a win on Thursday against Wisconsin in the Final Five. Currently, MSU is 10th in the Pairwise Rankings and got a bump in the other national opinion polls following this weekend's WCHA first-round series win over Nebraska Omaha. Here are the polls:

USCHO.com
1. Minnesota (22 first-place votes)
2. Quinnipiac (27)
3. Miami
4. Boston College
5. UMass.-Lowell (1)
6. North Dakota
7. St. Cloud State
8. MINNESOTA STATE
9. Notre Dame
10. New Hampshire
11. Yale
12. Western Michigan
13. Denver
14. Wisconsin
15. Niagara
16. Providence
17. Boston University
18. Union
19. Rensselaer
20. Michigan
Others receiving votes: Nebraska Omaha, Colorado College, Brown, Merrimack, Alaska, Ohio State, Robert Morris, Connecticut, St. Lawrence.

USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine
1. Quinnipiac (23)
2. Minnesota (11)
3. Miami
4. Boston College
5. UMass-Lowell
6. North Dakota
7. St. Cloud State
8. MINNESOTA STATE
9. Notre Dame
10. Yale
11. New Hampshire
12. Denver
13. Western Michigan
14. Niagara
15. Wisconsin
Others receiving votes: Providence, Union, Boston University, Nebraska Omaha, Brown, Michigan.

Pairwise Rankings (the ones that count)
1. Quinnipiac
2. Minnesota
3. Miami
4. Boston College
5. Yale
6. UMass-Lowell
7. North Dakota
8. New Hampshire
9. Notre Dame
10. MINNESOTA STATE
11. Niagara
12. St. Cloud State
13. Denver
14. Western Michigan
15. Union
16. Wisconsin
17. Providence
18. Boston University
19. Rensselaer
20. Alaska
To see the entire Pairwise list, go here.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

MSU 3, UNO 1 ... On to St. Paul

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. The Final Five, finally: Minnesota State didn't want to miss out on this last party in St. Paul. After this season, the conference will break up, and the three league championship weekends next year just won't be the same as what we've seen at the Xcel Energy Center the last dozen years or so. The Mavericks' deserved to get back there this year after coming oh-so-close several times over the last decade (their last trip to the event was in 2003), but they still had to earn it, going three games with a tough UNO team. Some big-time play by some big-time players, too. That includes Matt Leitner, who scored a big power-play goal, had an assist and blocked a few shots, as well as Stephon Williams, who made saves on two breakaways.

2. Feeling just fine: Coach Mike Hastings' words about fatigue on Saturday rang true on Sunday. It was just a state of mind for his team. MSU kept the lineup the same and looked like the fresher team, coming out for the first period with a lot of hop and dominating Omaha for the first 20 minutes. Hastings said it was his team's best first period in about a month. Minnesota State possessed the puck, sustained a forecheck and outshot UNO 12-3 in the opening frame. It also scored two goals, one each from Bryce Gervais and Max Gaede (yes, that Max Gaede!). It could have been 4-0 if not for a couple of brilliant John Faulkner saves on Eriah Hayes.

3. More on Max: What a character Max Gaede is. First goal of the year? Game winner to get to the Final Five? What did you do? "I didn't do anything," the sophomore said. "I came off the bench, did nothing and my linemates did everything. Then I got the puck and tripped and somehow it went in off my backhand. I closed my eyes. I didn't even know I scored." It looked a lot prettier than that, Max. The two-goal lead was huge for Minnesota State, which took a punch in the second period and made it two again in the third on Leitner's power-play goal.

Deep thought: Another tough crowd with just 2,405 in attendance. Not sure what to make of it, other than students still returning from break and a Sunday night, but that was disappointing. Those who were there must have had fun, though.

Read The Free Press game story here.

Around the WCHA: Colorado College 4, Denver 3 (CC wins series 2-1) ... North Dakota 6, Michigan Tech 0 (UND wins series 2-1)

CC's upset win over Denver put the Mavericks into the Final Five afternoon game against Wisconsin, rather than in the evening game against North Dakota.

Final Five schedule:
Thursday's games
Minnesota State vs. Wisconsin, 2:07 p.m.
Colorado College vs. North Dakota, 7:07 p.m.

Friday's games
MSU/UW winner vs. St. Cloud State, 2:07 p.m.
CC/UND winner vs. Minnesota, 7:07 p.m.

Saturday's game
Broadmoor Trophy championship, 7:07 p.m.

WCHA playoffs: MSU vs. UNO Game 3

Lines can be found below the live chat ...



MINNESOTA STATE
21-Grant ... 18-Leitner ... 9-Gervais
26-Margonari ... 23-Blueger ... 25-Hayes
24-Knowles ... 12-LaFontaine ... 22-McInnis
14-Herndon ... 19-Lehrke ... 8-Gaede

16-Elbrecht ... 27-Stern
4-Buchanan ... 7-Palmquist
28-Jutzi ... 2-Nelson

35-Williams
30-Cook
31-Karambelas

Scratches: Burkemper, Knoll, Mosey, Thauwald, Zuck

NEBRASKA OMAHA
Coming soon!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Omaha 2, MSU 1

Pat Christman/The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. No one said it would be easy: So it's do or die time for Minnesota State. Omaha edged out MSU to force a Sunday-night game for a trip to the Final Five. Minnesota State has been in this position before, winning the Friday game in overtime and losing Saturday, but has never won the Sunday game. After dropping to 12th in the Pairwise Rankings, MSU's season may be on the line, too. Saturday's game was another tough, grind-it-out game, not unlike Friday's opener. "One-goal games," Hastings said. "This time of year, you can expect that."

2. Making plays: Minnesota State did that in Friday's overtime win but didn't on Saturday. Credit Omaha for clogging up the middle of the rink for much of the night and protecting goalie John Faulkner (34 saves) from too much trouble. "That's something we can do better," Matt Leitner said. Still, MSU had chances. Teddy Blueger hit a crossbar with a lot of net to shoot at. Dylan Margonari hit a post, as did Johnny McInnis. Jean-Paul LaFontaine was stopped on a close-in chance late in the third period. Meanwhile, Omaha caught a couple of breaks on its goals. A rebound shot hit Stephon Williams' dropped stick and went in the net in the first period, and the game-winner in the third came on a 2-on-1 rush that began when Margonari fell down and lost the puck in the neutral zone.

3. Tired? Who's tired? Players like Zach Palmquist logged a ton of ice time on Saturday night as MSU tried to get the game-tying goal (Williams was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:45 remaining in the third, by the way). When asked about how worried he might be about fatigue, Hastings brushed off the notion. "When I watch the Tour de France, I think about fatigue," he said. "Fatigue's a state of mind, right? So we're not fatigued."

Deep thought: A little better crowd on Saturday with 3,346 announced. The students will be back from break Sunday for Monday classes. Perhaps they'll show up.

Read The Free Press' game story here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 2, North Dakota 1 (series tied 1-1) ... Minnesota 4, Bemidji State 3 (UM sweeps) ... St. Cloud State 5, Alaska Anchorage 1 (SCSU sweeps) ... Wisconsin 4, Minnesota Duluth 1 (UW sweeps) ... Colorado College 2, Denver 1 (series tied 1-1)

WCHA playoffs: MSU vs. UNO Game 2

Lines are posted below the live chat ...



MINNESOTA STATE
21-Grant ... 18-Leitner ... 9-Gervais
26-Margonari ... 23-Blueger ... 25-Hayes
24-Knowles ... 12-LaFontaine ... 22-McInnis
14-Herndon ... 19-Lehrke ... 8-Gaede

16-Elbrecht ... 27-Stern
4-Buchanan ... 7-Palmquist
28-Jutzi ... 2-Nelson

35-Williams
30-Cook
31-Karambelas

Scratches: Burkemper, Knoll, Mosey, Thauwald, Zuck

NEBRASKA OMAHA
9-Polk ... 19-Lane ... 18-Adams
23-Searfoss ... 12-Montpetit ... 28-O'Rourke
17-Walters ... 14-Zombo ... 15-Archibald
25-Gwidt ... 21-White ... 13-Raubenheimer

8-Megna ... 3-Sustr
2-Cooper ... 24-Aneloski
11-Seeler ... 7-Young

30-Faulkner
31-Massa

Referees: Brian Thul, Tom Sterns. Linesmen: Nick Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky

MSU 4, UNO 3 (OT)

Pat Christman/The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. If it's Mankato, it must be overtime: Friday's game was the fifth overtime playoff game in a row in Mankato. You have to go back to 2008 for the last three (against Minnesota) and 2003 (against Wisconsin) for the one before that, but that's a group of games that includes three double-overtime games. Friday against Omaha was just one OT, as Chase Grant ended it at the 7:04 mark, coming in as the late guy in a 3-on-2 rush. Jean-Paul LaFontaine finished off a spectacular night (1 goal, 2 assists) with the patient set-up pass for Grant, who had been without a goal since Jan. 4 when he scored in overtime to beat Providence.

2. It's just one win: Minnesota State needs just one win to get to St. Paul and the WCHA Final Five for the first time since 2003. Since then, MSU has won the Friday night playoff series opener five times (including this year), but dropped the next two games four times — at UMD (2004), at North Dakota (2006), home against Minnesota (2008) and at St. Cloud State (2010). In each of those games, the Mavericks won the first game in overtime. The seniors on this year's team were freshmen on that '10 team. Can they get over that hump?

3. Finishing strong: The Mavericks got off to a slow start, and mucked and grinded their way past a tough Omaha team that disrupted their attack all night. MSU scored a pair of power play goals to take a 2-1 lead but UNO had a 3-2 lead going into the third. But that's where Minnesota State has been so good all season, and it was a pair of freshmen, Bryce Gervais (game-tying goal midway through the period) and Stephon Williams (32 saves), who got the team to the extra period.

Deep thought: What happened to the crowd? I know it was spring break for the students, but 2,855? Come on, Mankato people! Aren't these the kinds of games you've been yearning for, no matter who the opponent is? Just an alarming number considering it was MSU's first playoff game at home in five years. Maybe Saturday will be better.

And another thing: MSU moved up to 7th in the Pairwise Rankings Saturday night.

Read The Free Press game story here.

Around the WCHA: All the home teams won to take 1-0 series leads. Wisconsin 3, Minnesota Duluth 1 ... Minnesota 2, Bemidji State 1 (OT) ... North Dakota 5, Michigan Tech 3 ... St. Cloud State 6, Alaska Anchorage 1 ... Denver 5, Colorado College 3.

Friday, March 15, 2013

WCHA playoffs: MSU vs. UNO Game 1

Tonight's lines are listed below the live chat.


MINNESOTA STATE
21-Grant ... 18-Leitner ... 22-McInnis
26-Margonari ... 23-Blueger ... 25-Hayes
24-Knowles ... 12-LaFontaine ... 8-Gaede
14-Herndon ... 19-Lehrke ... 9-Gervais

16-Elbrecht ... 17-Mosey
27-Stern ... 7-Palmquist
2-Nelson ... 28-Jutzi

35-Williams
30-Cook
31-Karambelas

Scratches: Buchanan, Burkemper, Knoll, Thauwald, Zuck

NEBRASKA OMAHA
9-Polk ... 19-Lane ... 22-Schmit
17-Walters ... 14-Zombo ... 15-Archibald
25-Gwidt ... 21-White ... 13-Raubenheimer
23-Searfoss ... 12-Montpetit ... 28-O'Rourke

8-Megna ... 3-Sustr
2-Cooper ... 24-Aneloski
11-Seeler ... 7-Young

30-Faulkner
29-Belfour

Referees: Brian Thul, Tom Sterns. Linesmen: Nick Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky

Friday Morning Skate: Playoff edition

It's playoff time, people, and Minnesota State will host its first home games in five years on Friday night, Saturday night and (if necessary) Sunday night. MSU is hoping to advance to the Final Five for the first time since 2003.

And there are more than a few incentives for that to happen. 1. The Mavericks have to feel like they have a shot at a conference title. 2. Winning this weekend keeps their Pairwise ranking high and betters their chance at the NCAA tournament. 3. This is the final year of the WCHA as we know it, which means the final year of the Final Five as we've known it over the last 12 years or so.

Minnesota State collected a bunch of hardware when Thursday's WCHA awards were announced. Read more about that and reaction from coach Mike Hastings and goalie Stephon Williams here. Looking at MSU's success this season, Williams hasn't been the only rookie to make his mark; several freshmen have contributed to the team's turnaround.

The MSU Mavericks will play the UNO Mavericks in this weekend's matchup. Read more about the series in the Gameday preview, which also includes notes on the Gustavus Adolphus women's team playing in the NCAA D3 Frozen Four this weekend.

It will be interesting to see what kind of crowds MSU draws this weekend. Folks aren't just hoping for full buildings, but they're hoping for early arrivals, with a "30-Minute Power Play" featuring cheap food, pop and beer from 6:07 p.m. to 6:37 p.m.

As for Omaha, it is hoping to close out its brief WCHA era with a trip to St. Paul. UNO also had a first-team All-WCHA pick in league scoring champion Ryan Walters.

In other coverage, College Hockey News has a Hastings feature, as does Minnesota Hockey Magazine, and USCHO and the Western College Hockey Blog makes their WCHA picks.

The other WCHA first-round matchups ...

Alaska Anchorage at St. Cloud State: The top-seeded Huskies received many accolades in Thursday's awards announcement, including the league's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, but they're looking at some unsung heroes, like Nick Oliver, to get them over the top. As for the Seawolves, this could be the end of what's been a very long season in Anchorage.

Bemidji State at Minnesota: The Gophers' Nick Bjugstad was the WCHA's Preseason Player of the Year but ended up as a third-teamer at the end of the regular season. But he's hoping to make his mark in the playoffs. Coach Don Lucia is expecting a couple of close games with Bemidji, while the Beavers want to press the reset button for the postseason.

Michigan Tech at North Dakota: As usual, North Dakota has its sights set on some trophies, starting with the Broadmoor, which it's won three times in a row as WCHA playoff champion. And while it's a No. 3 seed vs. a No. 10, it's believed that Michigan Tech is not the same team it was the last time these two teams met.

Minnesota Duluth at Wisconsin: This is the time of year when every team has bumps and bruises from the grind of a long season. Given that, perhaps Badgers freshman Nic Kerdiles' NCAA suspension to start the season was a blessing in disguise. For the Bulldogs, a winless streak of nine games (0-7-2) has suddenly turned into a five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1) heading into the playoffs.

Colorado College at Denver: The Pioneers are hoping Ty Loney can bring in some more hardware from postseason success, just like his dad did in the NHL. As for the Tigers, they're hoping their big-time goal scorers, Rylan Schwartz and Alexander Krushelnyski, can come through as they've done all year.

Be sure to come back to the blog later today for updates, tonight for the live blog and postgame for Freddy's three thoughts.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hastings, Williams earn major awards

The WCHA awards were announced Thursday afternoon, and Mike Hastings was named the league's Coach of the Year, while goaltender Stephon Williams was named Rookie of the Year, First Team All-WCHA and to the league's All-Rookie Team.

Senior forward Eriah Hayes and sophomore center Matt Leitner were named Third Team All-WCHA.

St. Cloud State's Drew LeBlanc is the WCHA's Player of the Year.

Here are the WCHA awards:


All-WCHA Awards
First team
Forwards: Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State; Ryan Walters, Nebraska Omaha; Danny Kristo, North Dakota
Defensemen: Nate Schmidt, Minnesota; Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State
Goaltender: Stephon Williams, Minnesota State

Second team
Forwards: Corban Knight, North Dakota; Erik Haula, Minnesota; Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College
Defensemen: Joey LaLeggia, Denver; Mike Boivin, Colorado College
Goaltender: Juno Olkinuora, Denver

Third team
Forwards: Matt Leitner, Minnesota State; Eriah Hayes, Minnesota State; Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota
Defensemen: Andrej Sustr, Nebraska Omaha; Jake McCabe, Wisconsin
Goaltender: Adam Wilcox, Minnesota

Rookie team
Forwards: Tony Cameranesi, Minnesota Duluth; Alex Petan, Michigan Tech; Rocco Grimaldi, North Dakota
Defensemen: Nolan Zajac, Denver; Andy Welinski, Minnesota Duluth
Goaltender: Stephon Williams, Minnesota State

Player of the Year: Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State

Rookie of the Year: Stephon Williams, Minnesota State

Defensive Player of the Year: Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State

Student-Athlete of the Year: Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State

Coach of the Year: Mike Hastings, Minnesota State

Scoring Champion: Ryan Walters, Nebraska Omaha

Goaltending Champion: Stephon Williams, Minnesota State

Read the MSU release here and the WCHA release here.

Join me for lunch

I'll be live chatting at noon on Thursday, the day before the WCHA playoffs begin. So join the conversation. Let's talk some hockey.

Thursday update

It's playoff time, and the (purple) Mavericks are preparing to meet the (red) Mavericks. Here are links to some of the coverage (including my own) leading up to this weekend's games in Mankato ...

We all know the storylines, right, and the reunion of coaches past and present for Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha was taken care of back in December when the they played in Omaha. Where there's a lot these two teams know about each other, the games and the players playing them are what really matter, MSU coach Mike Hastings said.

USCHO also talked to Hastings about the matchup against his former club.

The hiring of Hastings nearly 11 months ago began Minnesota State's turnaround and record-setting season (22 wins), but did the Mavericks really think they'd be in this spot after two 11th-place finishes and even a 1-5 start to the WCHA season?

In Omaha, UNO is trying to plug a leaky defense that has allowed 26 goals in its last five games. That includes 13 power-play goals in its last 26 kills. Omaha took Monday off after getting swept at Duluth and losing its fourth game in a row, which put it in the seventh spot in the WCHA for the second year in a row.

Check back on the blog today for more, including my live lunch chat at noon and the announcement of the WCHA award winners later in the day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Where they stand

Not that polls matter a whole heck of a lot (and I say that as a voter), but it was somewhat perplexing to see North Dakota move up a spot in both national polls and MSU stay pat on one and move down on another. So it goes. Here's a look at this week's rankings:

USCHO.com poll
1. Quinnipiac (39)
2. Minnesota (11)
3. Miami
4. North Dakota
5. Boston College
6. UMass-Lowell
7. New Hampshire
8. St. Cloud State
9. Western Michigan
10. MINNESOTA STATE
11. Denver
12. Notre Dame
13. Yale
14. Wisconsin
15. Niagara
16. Rensselaer
17. Providence
18. Boston University
19. Union
20. Nebraska Omaha
Others receiving votes: Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, Merrimack, Air Force, Robert Morris, Alaska, Michigan, Ferris State

USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll
1. Quinnipiac (31)
2. Minnesota (3)
3. Miami
4. North Dakota
5. Boston College
6. UMass-Lowell
7. New Hampshire
8. St. Cloud State
9. Western Michigan
10. Denver
11. MINNESOTA STATE
12. Notre Dame
13. Yale
14. Niagara
15. Wisconsin
Others receiving votes: Rensselaer, Providence, Union, Boston University, Nebraska Omaha

Pairwise Rankings (what really counts)1. Quinnipiac
2. Minnesota
3. Miami
4. UMass-Lowell
5. North Dakota
6. Denver
7. Boston College
8. New Hampshire
9. MINNESOTA STATE
10. Western Michigan
11. Yale
12. St. Cloud State
13. Niagara
14. Rensselaer
15. Notre Dame
16. Union.
17. Boston University
18. Wisconsin
19. Dartmouth
20. Robert Morris
To see the complete Pairwise Rankings, go here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mavericks vs. Mavericks

After Denver's 6-1 drubbing of Alaska Anchorage on Sunday made a three-way tie for fourth place in the WCHA standings, Minnesota State will get the No. 6 seed and host No. 7 Nebraska Omaha next weekend in the first round of the conference tournament.

Minnesota State is tied with Denver and Wisconsin for fourth but ended up sixth in the tournament pairings based on the WCHA's tiebreaking criteria when more than two teams finish with the same number of points.

Here's how it works:

In a three-way tie, pluses and minuses are awarded based on the teams' head-to-head results during the season.

Wisconsin — went 2-2 with MSU (even), went 1-0-1 against DU(+1) = +1
Denver — went 2-0 against MSU (+1), went 0-1-1 against UW (-1) = even
Minnesota State — went 2-2 against UW (even), went 0-2 against DU (-1) = -1

Minnesota State had more league wins than those two teams (16) but also had more league losses (11).

So that means Omaha will be coming to town. Mike Hastings gets to face the team he worked with as associate head coach the last three seasons, and former MSU coach and current UNO assistant Troy Jutting returns to Mankato for the first time as an opponent.

A few other nuggets:

• Omaha has the WCHA's scoring champion and possible Player of the Year in Ryan Walters (40 points in league play, 50 overall), while Minnesota State has the league's goaltending champion and possible Rookie of the Year in Stephon Williams (1.93 GAA in conference, 1.83 overall).

• In the last four games, Omaha is 0-4 (vs. Wisconsin, at Duluth), and MSU is 2-2 (at Colorado College, vs. North Dakota).

• The Mavericks and Mavericks split their only regular-season series, Dec. 15-16 at Omaha. MSU won the opener 6-3, and UNO took the second game 5-1.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mavericks 2, UND 1 (OT)

Pat Christman/The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Top rookie? What about top goalie? Stephon Williams, who was amazing with 30 saves, including three in overtime, seems to be the favorite for the WCHA's rookie of the year. It appears he will win the WCHA's goaltending title with a 1.93 GAA in league play. Will he end up as a first-team All-WCHA goaltender? Ballots are due on Sunday, and, after his performance against North Dakota (Rocco Grimaldi doesn't want to see that glove hand anytime soon), he's got my vote. Williams finished the regular season overall with a 19-9-2 record, a 1.83 GAA and a .929 save percentage.

2. Freshman phenoms: The game seemed to belong to the rookies. Williams was good, but so was UND freshman goalie Zane Gothberg (35 saves, 72 in the series split). MSU winger Brett Knowles scored the game-winner in overtime and had an all-around fantastic game. Dylan Margonari scored the Mavericks' other goal. Meanwhile, Grimaldi was downright scary with eight shots on goal and several more attempts. Even MSU junior Zach Lehrke had to make a glove save on him in the third period.

3. Home sweet home: The win, played in front of a crowd of 5,088 (seventh-largest in program history) guaranteed Minnesota State home ice for next weekend's first round of the WCHA tournament. The Mavericks will host for the first time in five years and just the fourth time since joining the conference fulltime in 1999. Who they'll play remains to be seen, as they must await the result of Sunday's game between Denver and Anchorage. The Mavericks are tied for fourth place with Wisconsin. If Denver ties or loses, MSU wins the tiebreaker over the Badgers and will host Minnesota Duluth. If Denver wins, it moves into a tie with MSU and Wisco, and the Mavericks would drop to the sixth seed and host Nebraska Omaha.

Deep thought: The win broke a 10-game losing streak to North Dakota and came in the two teams' final meeting as WCHA foes (at least in the regular season). It also prevented UND from sharing the MacNaughton Cup with St. Cloud State and Minnesota. Also, the win gave the Mavericks a Division I-era record 22 for the year.

Read The Freep game story here.

WCHA standings (updated after Sunday's game)
1. St. Cloud State (37 points)
    Minnesota (37)
3. North Dakota (35)
4. Wisconsin (33)
    Denver (33)
    Minnesota State (33)
--------------------------------------------------
7. Nebraska Omaha (30)
8. Colorado College (26)
9. Minnesota Duluth (25)
10. Michigan Tech (20)
11. Bemidji State (17)
12. Alaska Anchorage (10)

MSU vs. North Dakota — Game 2 live blog

Lines are posted below the live chat ...


MINNESOTA STATE
21-Grant ... 18-Leitner ... 22-McInnis
26-Margonari ... 23-Blueger ... 25-Hayes
24-Knowles ... 12-LaFontaine ... 8-Gaede
14-Herndon ... 19-Lehrke ... 9-Gervais

16-Elbrecht ... 17-Mosey
27-Stern ... 7-Palmquist
2-Nelson ... 28-Jutzi

35-Williams
30-Cook
31-Karambelas

Scratches: Buchanan, Burkemper, Knoll, Thauwald, Zuck

NORTH DAKOTA
21-O'Donnell ... 10-Knight ... 7-Kristo
19-Grimaldi ... 27-Rowney ... 15-Parks
25-Mi. MacMillan ... 16-Ma. MacMillan ... 13-Gaarder
11-Rodwell ... 28-Pattyn ... 17-St. Clair

2-MacWilliam ... 18-Simpson
4-Forbort ... 24-Schmaltz
5-Mattson ... 20-Gleason

31-Gothberg
33-Saunders

Referees: C.J. Beaurline, Craig Welker. Linesemen: Tony Czech, Sterling Eagan

Where they'll finish

Minnesota State can be seeded anywhere from fourth to seventh in the WCHA tournament following this weekend's final games of the regular season. Currently, MSU is tied for fourth with Wisconsin and Denver and is one point ahead of Nebraska Omaha.

The Mavericks play North Dakota on Saturday night but might have to wait until Sunday afternoon after Denver and Alaska Anchorage play to find out their fate.

According to the WCHA, here are the tiebreakers that affect Minnesota State (suffice to say that MSU needs a win or a tie Saturday night or an Omaha loss or tie at Duluth it it's to clinch home ice for next week's playoffs):

Two-way Tiebreakers for 4th-7th places
• Minnesota State over Wisconsin: More league wins.
• Denver over Minnesota State: 2-0-0 head-to-head.
• Minnesota State leads Nebraska Omaha at 32 points (Minnesota State tie, Nebraska Omaha win): WCHA Goal Differential - Minnesota State currently leads (+21 to +7).
• Minnesota State over Nebraska Omaha at 31 points (Minnesota State loss, Nebraska Omaha tie): More league wins.
• Wisconsin over Denver: 1-0-1 head-to-head.
• Wisconsin over Nebraska Omaha: 2-0-0 head-to-head.
• Denver over Nebraska Omaha: 1-0-1 head-to-head.

Three-way Tiebreakers for 4th-7th places
• Wisconsin over Denver over Minnesota State.
• Denver over Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha (then 2-way tie above for Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha).
• Wisconsin over Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha (then 2-way tie above for Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha).

Four-way Tiebreaker for 4th-7th places
• Wisconsin over Denver over Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha (then 2-way tie above for Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha).