Friday, January 31, 2014

Wildcats 5, Mavericks 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Road woes continue: The Mavericks fell to 1-6 away from Mankato in January with a somewhat inexplicable performance on Friday night. Minnesota State simply wasn't very good, and, credit to Northern Michigan, it put out an excellent effort. The Wildcats blocked 21 shots, knocked away passes, disrupted rushes and finished their own plays. They were the better team. It was the third loss in a row for the Mavericks and fifth consecutive road loss. To paraphrase Chase Grant: playoff games (after the first round) are on the road, too.

2. Unhappy Hastings: Coach Mike Hastings couldn't find much good in this one. "This is one I'm upset about," he said. He talked about his players' commitment right now, saying, "You've got to stay behind your players —and we definitely will — but this one, I look at and say, you know what, our commitment level wasn't where it needed to be throughout the entire game. I thought at times it was, but not throughout the game." Not good for a team expecting to win the WCHA and do something in the postseason. I'm already curious to see what Saturday night brings.

3. Big swing: The Mavericks led 1-0 after Johnny McInnis 5x3 power play goal with 2:38 left in the second period. After the goal, MSU still had a big chunk of a major penalty to work with. But they couldn't get another goal over a stretch of 3:34 of power-play time, including 1:19 of two-man advantage (there was another one before the one McInnis scored on). Instead, MSU ended the advantage when Sean Flanagan and Bryce Gervais committed penalties four seconds apart, and the Wildcats scored on their 4x3 power play with 16 seconds left in the period. Suddenly, it was Northern's game.

Read my game story here and Matt Wellens' Mining Journal story here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 5, Bowling Green 2 ... Alaska 6, Alabama Huntsville 1

MSU at Northern Michigan - Game 1 live blog

Lines can be found below the live chat ...

25-Stepan ... 18-Leitner ... 19-Lehrk
21-Grant ... 26-Margonari ... 22-McInnis
12-LaFontaine ... 23-Blueger ... 9-Gervais
17-Huntebrinker ... 16-Jor. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

27-Stern ... 7-Palmquist
28-Jutzi ... 5-Foguth
11-Flanagan ... 2-Josh Nelson


9-Seckel ... 11-Sooth ... 15-Shine
7-Salminen ... 40-Vigier ... 29-Daugherty
26-Higby ... 20-Nowick ... 17-Siemer
10-Hanson ... 3-Kesti ... 37-Lindores

23-Baker ... 6-Taurence
4-Jones ... 18-Eibler
27-Epp ... 42-Kaib


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Friday morning skate (U.P. road trip edition)

Posting this late Thursday night since I'll be hitting the road to Marquette, Mich., early-early Friday morning for MSU's series against Northern Michigan.

The Mavericks are hoping to improve their road record, which is just 5-11 this season. They've won just one of their last six games away from Mankato. That's part of a stretch of games in which 10 of 12 games are being played on the road.

Their only road sweep this season was at Alabama-Huntsville on Dec. 13-14. Two wins this weekend would put MSU into a tie for first place in the WCHA.

After last weekend's two losses in the North Star College Cup, the Mavericks are hoping to get their penalty kill back on track. A strength of the team throughout the season, it dropped from fourth in the nation to ninth against Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State. Getting better in goal — I'd expect Cole Huggins to get the nod tonight — and cutting down that penalty-minute average, which leads the nation, likely will help.

Read more about the series in The Free Press' gameday preview here.

As for Northern Michigan, it will have a different look than the one that was swept at Mankato on Dec. 6-7. The addition of two freshmen, including sudden-impact forward John Siemer, have boosted the offense. At the same time, the Wildcats continue to be decimated by injuries on the blue line.

Around the WCHA ...

Michigan Tech at Bowling Green: Interesting weekend in Ohio. The Falcons are hoping to keep pace with MSU and Ferris State and make it/keep it a three-team race for the MacNaughton Cup. Meanwhile, the Huskies are trying to climb out from the bottom rungs of the conference ladder sooner than later.

Alabama Huntsville at Alaska: Like Tech, the Nanooks also seem to be a team too talented to wind up out of the playoffs in six weeks. They have a good chance to make a move with the Chargers in town. Huntsville is making its second trip to Alaska this season. Check out the Daily News-Miner's feature on Alaska's Garrick Perry.

The league race will be interesting down the stretch — make that league races, with first place, home ice and avoiding being left out of the postseason all on the line. Once everything has settled in March,  none of the home teams will have a cakewalk to the Final Five, and that includes first and second place. ... That and more in this week's USCHO conference notebook by Matt Wellens and me.

Also, Matt and I give this week's picks.

Monday, January 27, 2014

What did you think of the North Star Cup?

In the wake of the inaugural North Star College Cup, there has been some criticism — mostly constructive — of the tournament. You can read some of the thoughts here and here. There was also a lot of Twitter talk about it (see the timeline at right).

My take? It was a good start for a new event with plenty of room to improve and grow. I would guess 14,000-plus fans for each session was a real positive. As folks get used to the new conferences, the tournament might take on more meaning among the five in-state rivals.

But what did you think? If you attended one, two or four games or even if you watched from the comfort of your living room, send in your thoughts in the comment section below.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Huskies 6, Mavericks 4

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Trouble with the kill: The Mavericks were leading 2-1 midway through the second period, and suddenly things turned in a hurry. Minnesota State boasted the nation's fourth best penalty kill going into the game but allowed essentially three power-play goals (one came just as MSU's Blake Thompson stepped out of the box) in a four-goal rally over the final 11:11 of the second period. MSU coach Mike Hastings said his team allowed the Huskies to possess the puck too much in those situations. The Mavericks lost faceoffs and couldn't clear. Officially, St. Cloud State was 3 for 4 on the power play.

2. Williams' troubles continue: Stephon Williams got the start in goal and looked good early. However, he ended up allowing five goals on 15 shots before getting the hook for Cole Huggins. Huggins allowed one goal. St. Cloud State did a good job taking away Williams' vision, setting up screens, and getting tips and deflections. Hastings called them quality opportunities. (See the game story below.) The Huskies' third goal came as Williams was being bumped in the crease. The refs reviewed the play and let the goal stand. Hastings said afterward that the refs said Matt Leitner didn't let the Huskies player out of the crease. Williams is now 4-6-0 with a .856 save percentage and a 3.59 goals-against average.

3. Nonconference woes: Minnesota State not only finished 0-2 at the North Star College Cup, but they concluded their non-WCHA schedule with a 2-6-0 record. There were some tough games along the way: at Providence, at Minnesota and this weekend's games (the two wins were at home against UConn). But that mark was all but flipped last year, which helped them in the Pairwise rankings. As of the end of their game, the Mavericks were 24th in the Pairwise. There's a lot of hockey left in the season, but they're going to have to stay on task atop the WCHA the rest of the way and, perhaps, win the Final Five if they want to get to the NCAAs.

Read the game story here.

Around the WCHA: Ferris State 3, Michigan Tech 0 ... Bowling Green 6, Lake Superior 2 ... Bemidji State at Alaska (late) ... Northern Michigan at Alaska Anchorage (late)

MSU vs. St. Cloud State - North Star Cup live blog

Third place is on the line as the Mavs take on the Huskies. Lines can be found below the live chat ...

25-Stepan ... 18-Leitner ... 19-Lehrke
12-LaFontaine ... 23-Blueger ... 9-Gervais
21-Grant ... 26-Margonari ... 22-McInnis
24-Knowles ... 16-Jor. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

27-Stern ... 7-Palmquist
28-Jutzi ... 5-Foguth
11-Flanagan ... 3-Thompson


Scratches: Buchanan, Herndon, Huntebrinker, Karambelas, Knoll, C. Nelson, Josh Nelson

16-Murray ... 26-Dowd ... 13-Morley
10-Papa ... 11-Kossila ... 22-Brodzinski
6-Tedesco ... 8-Thorson ... 21-Bertsch
27-Oliver ... 37-Rehkamp ... 17-Holka

28-Prochno ... 12-Prow
7-Gravel .. 40-Daly
19-Storm ... 15-Nevalainen


Friday, January 24, 2014

Bulldogs 5, Mavericks 4 (OT)

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Mistakes prove costly: Two huge blunders by the Mavericks led to the game-tying and game-winning goals by Minnesota Duluth. On the tying goal, goalie Cole Huggins appeared to have a puck shot at his chest contained, but, likely a fraction of a second before he would have gotten a whistle, he fumbled it, and Kyle Osterberg swooped in short-handed and scored to tie the game midway through the third period. In overtime, MSU defenseman Brett Stern was called for a boarding penalty with less than a minute and a half to play, and Alex Iafallo scored the game-winning power-play goal with 26.5 seconds left on the clock.

2. Finally, a shorty: Zach Lehrke's short-handed breakaway goal as he stepped out of the penalty box door was as pretty as it gets. Just smooth. As a 5x3 went to a 4x3, Zach Palmqust got the puck in the defensive zone and could have iced the puck. But Lehrke stepped out and was all alone at the other end of the ice. He sauntered in on goalie Aaron Crandall and put a soft touch on the puck as he slid it between the goalie's legs. That gave MSU a 4-3 lead in the third period. But things broke down after that. Lehrke, Johnny McInnis and Jean-Paul LaFontaine each finished with a goal and an assist. Matt Leitner also had a goal for the Mavericks.

3. X is unkind: The loss was the sixth in as many times at the Xcel Energy Center for the Mavericks, dating back to the 2003 Final Five. Although it was revealed that about 13,000 advanced-sale tickets were sold for the inaugural North Star College Cup, the 4 p.m. Friday game wasn't a popular pick for fans. The crowd filled in better for the nightcap between St. Cloud State and Minnesota. Still, it seems like this could be a pretty good event over time. "There's extra incentive," McInnis said of playing the in-state teams. "I'm still bitter about my sophomore year when UMD ended our season."

UPDATE: Minnesota defeated St. Cloud State 4-1 in the nightcap, meaning it will be the Mavericks vs. the Huskies for third place on Saturday.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 3, Ferris State 2 ... Lake Superior 5, Bowling Green 3 ... Northern Michigan at Alaska Anchorage (late) ... Bemidji State at Alaska (late)

MSU vs. Minnesota Duluth - North Star Cup live blog

Lines can be found below the live chat ...

9-Gervais ... 18-Leitner ... 19-Lehrke
21-Grant ... 26-Margonari ... 22-McInnis
24-Knowles ... 12-LaFontaine ... 8-Gaede
17-Huntebrinker ... 16-Jor. Nelson ... 3-Thompson

28-Jutzi ... 2-Jos. Nelson
7-Palmquist ... 5-Foguth
27-Stern ... 6-C. Nelson


Scratches: Blueger, Buchanan, Flanagan, Herndon, Karambelas, Knoll, Stepan

8-Osterberg ... 13-Cameranesi ... 25-J. Crandall
11-Farley ... 21-Herbert ... 18-Basaraba
14-Iafallo ... 17-Toninato ... 26-Krause
19-Tardy ... 27-Decowski ... 28-Spurrell

4-Soucy ... 7-Welinski
6-Johnson ... 15-Raskob
5-Corrin ... 3-Molenaar

1-A. Crandall

Referees: Nick Bradshaw, Christopher Ciamago
Linesmen: Brian Hill, Tim Likens

Friday morning skate (North Star Cup edition)

Greetings from the Twin Cities where the inaugural North Star College Cup will begin in just a few hours, kicked off by Minnesota State vs. Minnesota Duluth.

This tournament seems to be the best thing to come out of the breakup of the WCHA and the creation of two new conferences. It found a way to keep the Minnesota teams together.

(More on the MSU-UMD matchup here.)

It's also an event that has a chance to replace the WCHA Final Five as a signature college-hockey event at the Xcel Energy Center each year.

The tournament doesn't just pit in-state rivals against each other but brother against brother, too.

Around the WCHA ...

Ferris State at Michigan Tech: It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs bounce back from getting swept at MSU last weekend. One thing they have going for them is C.J. Motte was not given a DQ on Saturday, so he'll be available to play in goal tonight against the Huskies.

Lake Superior at Bowling Green: Bowling Green will try to keep pace with the Mavericks and Bulldogs as they host the Lakers. For the Falcons, freshman Matt Pohlkamp of Brainerd is proving to be a consistent presence in the lineup.

Northern Michigan at Alaska Anchorage: Lots of info on the Wildcats here as they prepare to play at Anchorage, where the Seawolves' seniors have been challenged by their first-year coach. Also in Anchorage, the program's first coach, Brush Christiansen, has written a column calling for more support of the Seawolves.

Bemidji State at Alaska: The Nanooks play eight of their final 10 games at home, starting tonight, and they feel like every one of them is a playoff game as they try to escape the WCHA's playoff line of demarcation. This will be the first trip to Fairbanks for the Beavers.

Matt Wellens and I make our picks for this weekend's games. Our USCHO column on the league can be found here.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

North Star trophy unveiled

Pictured is the trophy that goes to the winner of the North Star College Cup tournament was unveiled at the University of Minnesota on Wednesday. The hand-turned and crafted wooden piece (can it be nicknamed "the Herbie?") seems like a nice prize in what a lot of college-hockey fans in the state hope will be a great tradition not unlike Boston's Beanpot.

Some info on the trophy's design, from the U of M:
The North Star College Cup was designed and produced by Sterling Trophy Inc. in Anova, with several ties to the state of Minnesota. The cup itself was made out of a red oak tree from the Glen Skrove Farm in Mora and was turned by Doug Johannsen of Ramsey. The hand-crafted base is topped with a star — representing Minnesota's moniker of the "North Star State" — made out of native birch wood. The star is surrounded by 2013-14 game pucks from all five of Minnesota's Division I hockey programs to celebrate the inaugural season of the North Star College Cup. Finally, the base of the cup was hand crafted by Bill Durant of Durant Woodworking in Anoka out of hickory wood — a unique hardwood that was used to manufacture hockey sticks.
The Mavericks will take on Minnesota Duluth at 4 p.m. on Friday. St. Cloud State and Minnesota will play at 7 p.m. The two winners and two losers will play each other on Saturday.

Tickets are still available at the Xcel Energy Center box office and through Ticketmaster.

Looking ahead to future North Star College Cups, Bemidji State rotates into the field next year, and St. Cloud State will be out. Minnesota Duluth is out in 2016, and Minnesota State is out in 2017. Minnesota is a permanent fixture in the field.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

McInnis named player of the week

Minnesota State captain Johnny McInnis was named WCHA offensive player of the week for his performance in the sweep over Ferris State over the weekend.

In an award that could have gone to several Mavericks (Jean-Paul LaFontaine, Matt Leitner, Zach Lehrke), McInnis finished the weekend with three goals, including both game-winners, as well as an assist. He was also +2 and had 16 shots on goal.

McInnis now has 12 career game-winners, which ranks third on MSU's all-time list. He has 19 points this season, including 10 goals.

The other players of the week were Bemidji State defenseman Matt Prapavessis (defensive) and Northern Michigan forward John Siemer (rookie).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A few more thoughts

Some more comments from Saturday night ...

Mike Hastings on Jean-Paul LaFontaine: "I'd say the thing about him is he's been good for about two months. He's got some instincts you that can't teach -- finds a way to get open and he can deliver the puck. He's a guy you don't have to give him a perfect pass for him to get some good wood on it and get it to a good area. He's just a good hockey player."

Hastings on managing the game after the fight: "At that point, you throw the lineup out the window because different guys are playing in different spots, guys are playing with different people. You have six D instead of four. Two of our guys, 25 (Stepan) and 23 (Blueger) are significant players. So ... it happened."

Johnny McInnis on the intensity of the game: "It's that time of the year. Everything we do is focused on how we want to play at the end of the year. That's something we learned last year, maybe the hard way."

McInnis on the big crowd coming to life midway through the game: "It's energy for us. Anytime the crowd gets going, that's energy for us. ... We need to focus on the game, not the crowd, but when there's noise in the building, it's not like there's physically another player out there, but it's definitely an uplift."

Jean-Paul LaFontaine on Ferris State's physical play: "They hit us after every whistle, which is what we like. I think it plays to our advantage."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mavericks 4, Bulldogs 3

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Boy, that escalated quickly: When the new WCHA was created, fans mourned the loss of Minnesota State's longtime rivals. More than 4,600 people showed up Saturday to see the Mavericks play and finish off a series sweep of No. 2 Ferris State, and they saw as good a battle as the Verizon Wireless Center has seen in quite some time. If a game like that -- if a weekend like that -- doesn't keep the students and fans coming back for more, nothing will. The two best teams in the league played like it was mid-March, not mid-January. Didn't matter that it wasn't North Dakota or Minnesota or Wisconsin ... instant classic. Now the question is: Will they meet again at the Final Five in Grand Rapids?

2. I mean, that really got out of hand fast: Here are the grand totals for the game: 43 penalties. 216 penalty minutes. 6 ejections, including three (should be four) disqualifications. The building was a madhouse midway through the third period after a melee ensued following a play in which MSU's Teddy Blueger and FSU's Justin DeMartino went into the boards after a Blueger scoring chance. The two went at it, and then Bulldogs goalie C.J. Motte joined in against Blueger. Zach Stepan, Carter Fougth, Brett Stern, Bryce Gervais also ended up in the box for the Mavs before Blueger and Stepan were sent to the showers along with DeMartino and Motte. For some reason Motte was not assessed a fighting DQ along with the others. Wonder if that will change.

3. It jumped up a notch: It did, didn't it? Jean-Paul LaFontaine scored two goals and had an assist. Johnny McInnis had a goal and an assist. Matt Leitner had two assists. Dylan Margonari scored a goal, and Cole Huggins had a rock-solid 32 saves. The Mavericks' best players had to be at their best against such a good team as Ferris (and they are a good team). LaFontaine and Leitner fished the weekend with five points apiece (three goals for LaFontaine), and McInnis had three goals and four points. "When you compare last week to this week, it was like two different hockey teams," McInnis said. "We're focusing on getting better."

Deep thought: I don't condone fans throwing things on the ice, but the nacho cheese buffalo wings sauce was a new one. It took a linesman with a towel and, later, some arena workers to wash and scrape the mess, which hit the ice during the brewhaha. But it did lead to this question: What takes longer, cleaning frozen cheese sauce off an ice rink or WCHA referees sorting out a mess of penalties? The answer was the refs (of course).

Quote of the night: This is in the story below but worth repeating. From Mike Hastings: "That was a playoff hockey game. What wasn't involved in that game, right?"

Read the game story here.

Around the WCHA: Alaska 4, Northern Michigan 3 ... Anchorage 4, Huntsville 1 ... Notre Dame 4, Lake Superior 2 ... North Dakota 4, Bemidji State 2

MSU vs. Ferris State - Game 2 live blog

Lines are posted below the live chat ...

9-Gervais ... 18-Leitner ... 19-Lehrke
11-LaFontaine ... 25-Stepan ... 23-Blueger
21-Grant ... 26-Margonari ... 22-McInnis
24-Knowles ... 16-Jor. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

7-Palmquist ... 5-Foguth
27-Stern ... 11-Flanagan
28-Jutzi ... 2-Josh Nelson


Scratches: Buchanan, Herndon, Huntebrinker, Knoll, C. Nelson, Thompson

16-Thompson ... 6-Schempp ... 17-VanWormer
18-Huff ... 12-Schlueter ... 20-Mayhew
22-Robertson... 11-Babinski ... 9-McDonald
28-Adams ... 8-Kane ... 19-DeMartino

2-Czarnowczan ... 7-Binkley
23-Anselmini ... 10-Lowney
25-O'Rourke ... 4-Dorer


Referees: Chris Perrault, Dan Kovarik. Linesmen: Matt Tyree, Rick Nelson

Friday, January 17, 2014

Mavericks 6, Bulldogs 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Big matchup, big win: The most-anticipated weekend on the Minnesota State schedule delivered in a big way on Friday night. Minnesota State vs. No. 2-ranked Ferris State. The best two teams in the WCHA. It was a good one, and the two teams battled all over the ice. The difference was the Mavericks' ability to finish -- something they couldn't do a week ago in Anchorage -- and they scored five of their six goals against the best goalie in the league and handed the Bulldogs their first loss of the season. MSU coach Mike Hastings talked about how it wasn't really a 6-2 hockey game, that it was closer than that. And it was until a late second-period goal by Matt Leitner and an early third-period goal by Johnny McInnis broke it open for the Mavericks.

2. The fans came out: OK, so it wasn't a sold-out, 5,000-plus crowd, but there was some pretty good atmosphere at the Verizon Wireless Center on Friday. The student section was mostly full and into the game, and the attendance was announced at 3,635. The energy in the building certainly was fueled by the Mavericks scoring a pair of goals just 17 seconds apart in the game's first four minutes. Leitner scored the first on, and Zach Lehrke (power play) had the second. Both game on nice set-up assists by Bryce Gervais and J.P. LaFontaine, respectively. "I thought there was a lot of energy in the building," Leitner said. "We got that early start and had the energy to build off."

3. Playmakers and finishers: The promising thing about Friday's game for MSU was that the goals came on  hard-working plays -- lots of set-ups and finishes. Dylan Margoinari twice got passes to Johnny McInnis for goals, one on a no-frills, power-rush 2-on-1 and the other on a soft pass up the middle of the ice that got McInnis on a partial breakaway. Teddy Blueger won a race against two Bulldogs to a puck deep in MSU's offensive zone and zipped it across the ice for Leitner to finish. Goalie C.J. Motte actually stopped Leitner's first shot, but the puck came right back to the stick for an easy rebound finish. Eleven MSU players had at least a point; five had multiple points.

Read more in the game story here.

Around the WCHA: Northern Michigan 5, Alaska 4 ... Alaska Anchorage 1, Alabama Huntsville 1 (OT) ... Bemidji State 1, North Dakota 1 (OT) ... Notre Dame 6, Lake Superior 3

MSU vs. Ferris State - Game 1 live blog

Lines are posted below the live chat ...

9-Gervais ... 18-Leitner ... 19-Lehrke
11-LaFontaine ... 25-Stepan ... 23-Blueger
21-Grant ... 26-Margonari ... 22-McInnis
24-Knowles ... 16-Jor. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

7-Palmquist ... 5-Foguth
27-Stern ... 11-Flanagan
28-Jutzi ... 2-Josh Nelson


Scratches: Buchanan, Herndon, Huntebrinker, Knoll, C. Nelson, Thompson

22-Robertson ... 6-Schempp ... 16-Thompson
18-Huff ... 12-Schlueter ... 20-Mayhew
21-Buzzeo ... 11-Babinski ... 9-McDonald
17-VanWormer ... 8-Kane ... 19-DeMartino

2-Czarnowczan ... 3-White
10-Lowney ... 7-Binkley
4-Dorer ... 23-Anselmini


Referees: Chris Perrault, Dan Kovarik. Linesmen: Matt Tyree, Rick Nelson

Friday morning skate (save-the-date edition)

In the early days of the new WCHA, when folks were trying to figure out just what kind of league it might be, the dates of Jan. 17-18 were probably circled on a few calendars — at least figuratively.

Well, it's arrived.

Minnesota State vs. Ferris State. The best of the leftover schools following the college hockey's Great Schism. Preseason picks 1 and 2 by the league's coaches and media.

Now, it's the nation's No. 2-ranked team, a team that has yet to lose a conference game and may be running away with the league title, on the road at the third-place team in the WCHA, one that received most of the preseason accolades, including preseason rookie of the year Zach Stepan (Stepan's put on a few miles since we last saw him in Mankato playing for the U.S. World Junior Team.

Seems like a pretty good matchup to me.

For the Bulldogs, they're looking to create a lot of distance between themselves and the Mavericks and maybe even send a message to the rest of the league.

Going around the WCHA ...

Alaska at Northern Michigan: One thing I like about the new WCHA is that there's not just race for home ice; there's also a race to make the playoffs period. The bottom two teams stay home for the postseason, and this series could have implications on that right now. For the hometown Wildcats, redshirt freshman Mathias Dahlstrom is proving that the wait for him was worth it.

Alaska Anchorage at Alabama Huntsville: Good story by Doyle Woody on a true student-athlete in the Seawolves, Andrew Pettitt, who is already working on a second degree and once took 23 credits during a semester. The Chargers, meanwhile, are seeking their second win of the season and first at home.

Lake Superior at Notre Dame: The Lakers step out of league play to take on the Irish. Notre Dame's in Hockey East now but have played five games against WCHA teams already. Lake Superior has won just two of its last eight games and finally fell out of the national rankings this week.

Bemidji State vs./at North Dakota: Big home-and-home nonconference series, especially tonight's game at the Sanford Center where the Beavers beat the then-Fighting Sioux the last time they met. What a perfect time to link to Brad Schlossman's Friday Morning Reading blog at the Grand Forks Herald.

My and Matt Wellens' weekend picks can be found here. Our WCHA notebook for USCHO can be found here. It kicks off with the long-awaited return of Bowling Green senior Ryan Carpenter (the Falcons are idle this weekend).

I enjoyed this midseason-observations column by College Hockey News' Adam Woden.

The Minnesota State women play outdoors today in the Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium. For the Mavericks' Lauren Barnes, she won't be the first person in her family to play in this event.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Leitner, LaFontaine on Hobey fan ballot

Fan voting has begun for this year's Hobey Baker Award, which goes to college hockey's top player. Fans can make one vote a day during the process. This year, two Minnesota State players are on the ballot, Matt Leitner and Jean-Paul LaFontaine. The fan vote represents a small fraction of the overall vote.

To place your vote go here.

Mavs seek scoring (and other notes)

The Mavericks took the red-eye home from Anchorage shortly after their loss to the Seawolves on Saturday night, got some rest Sunday and were back on the ice on Monday. A key to this week: finding ways to boost the scoring again. 

It appeared that MSU outplayed Anchorage everywhere but where it counted: the scoreboard. That included their own ability to finish pucks and, to some degree, in the goaltending department, where Chris Kamal outplayed Cole Huggins and Stephon Williams.

"It still comes down to scoring," coach Mike Hastings said on Monday afternoon. In their three losses in Alaska, the Mavericks scored 2, 1 and 1. They had 6 goals in their win. During their seven-game winning streak before Christmas, they averaged almost 4 goals a game.

The link above quotes some of Hastings' video comments following Friday's loss, including his thoughts on scoring goals.

Meanwhile, it's becoming clear how just how difficult it is to win on the road in the WCHA and in college hockey. Anchorage is a place where the Mavericks have had much success in the past, but new coach Matt Thomas' turnaround project seems to be going in a similar direction to Hastings' job last season in Mankato — namely, the importance of winning at home.

In other MSU-related news:

• The NHL's Central Scouting Service mid-season rankings were released on Monday, and there were two Minnesota State recruits on the North American lists: Fargo Force defenseman Hunter Warner (206) and Indiana Ice goaltender Jason Pawloski (goalie 34).

• The Minnesota State women's team will play outdoors on Friday at the Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium. They will play Minnesota at 4:30 p.m.

• MSU men's recruit Ryan Schwalbe was traded from the USHL's Youngstown Phantoms to the Sioux Falls Stampede last week. The Anchorage native and former Shattuck player is now teammates with two other future Mavericks, Zeb Knutson and C.J. Franklin.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Seawolves 3, Mavericks 1

Freddy's three thoughts (from afar) ...

1. Hand him the award: I haven't looked at all of the other box scores too closely, but it's hard to imagine Anchorage goalie Chris Kamal not earning WCHA defensive player of the week honors this week. Kamal stopped 35 of 36 shots on Saturday to help the Seawolves sweep the Mavericks. For the weekend the senior stopped 62 of 64 shots. It was Anchorage's first sweep of MSU since the 2010-11 season and the first ever in Anchorage in the Division I era. Anchorage is a different team at home this season; it's now 9-2-1 at Sullivan Arena.

2. What happened? Zach Lehrke scored MSU's lone goal. He finished off a 2-on-1 rush with J.P. LaFontaine, shooting the puck with his stick between his own legs. Lehrke had two points in the series. Stephon Williams got the start in goal and stopped 12 of 15 shots before getting the hook at 1:34 of the second period. That's when Ben Matthews scored UAA's third goal. Looked like a shot Williams should have stopped. Cole Huggins came in and faced just one shot the rest of the third period. The Mavericks had a 13-4 shot advantage in the third period and even had a major penalty to work with, along with an extra attacker, over the final 3 1/2 minutes but couldn't beat Kamal.

3. Where they stand: The Mavericks went 1-3-0 on their road trip to Alaska, gaining just two points for the WCHA standings. Certainly, the hope was to get at least four points. They're now in third place in the WCHA, one point behind Bowling Green and two ahead of Bemidji State. MSU has played two fewer league games than those two teams. At 12-10-0 overall, the Mavericks have dropped to 23rd in the Pairwise Rankings. They went into the weekend 16th. Minnesota State returns home where it will play the league's first-place team, Ferris State, which has yet to lose in conference play.

Around the WCHA: Notre Dame 5, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Alaska 1, Bowing Green 1 (OT) ... Ferris State 3, Michigan Tech 2 ... Bemidji State 3, Lake Superior 1

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Seawolves 2, Mavericks 1

Freddy's three thoughts (from afar):

1. Road weary? Not the goalie: Alaska Anchorage goaltender Chris Kamal stopped 27 of 28 shots as his team put just 10 pucks on goal to win Friday's game. The Seawolves returned to Anchorage on Thursday night after being stranded in Minnesota most of the week while the Mavericks had the time zone on their side after spending most of the week in Alaska. But Kamal withstood the pressure, only allowing Zach Stepan's power-play goal late in the first period, and Jordan Kwas' game-winner at 11:13 of the third period helped the Seawolves snap a nine-game winless streak against the Mavericks.

2. Second place but slipping: The loss kept the Mavericks in second place in the WCHA, now four points behind Ferris State (which has two games in hand). MSU has two games in hand on Bowling Green, but the Falcons' win on Friday moved them into a second-place tie with 20 points. Minnesota State has a chance to leave Alaska with four points, not bad for a 12-day road swing there, but five or six sure would have been nice and certainly expected for one of the league's better teams.

3. Getting healthy: Freshman forward Michael Huntebrinker played for the first time since suffering a broken wrist early in the season. He was the left wing on the fourth line and had three shots on goal, which was tied for second most on the team (Stepan led MSU with six shots on net). Huntebrinker replaced Brett Knowles in the lineup. On defense, Josh Nelson appeared to play a lot of minutes. Blake Thompson got the nod, as Casey Nelson was a scratch.

See the box score here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 3, Alaska 0 ... Ferris State 1, Michigan Tech 0 ... Notre Dame 7, Alabama Huntsville 1 ... Bemidji State 5, Lake Superior 2

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday morning skate (Alaska edition, part 2)

The Mavericks wrap up a true road trip to Alaska this weekend with a WCHA series at Alaska Anchorage. Minnesota State is having a good experience so far, coach Mike Hastings said, especially after that first 20-hour travel day to Fairbanks.

I wouldn't expect too many lineup changes from last week. There was some in-game line shuffling on Saturday night, with Chase Grant moving up to a top-six spot for a bit. On defense, Blake Thompson replaced Casey Nelson on Saturday, and Sean Flanagan also is available. Senior Josh Nelson was no worse for the wear after missing 15 games. It sure seemed like he played a lot of minutes against Fairbanks. Read more about the match ups in The Free Press' gameday preview.

The Seawolves, meanwhile, were expected to get back home late Thursday night after being stuck in the Twin Cities most of the week. Their first practice on their home rink is scheduled for this morning.

Going around the WCHA ...

Alaska at Bowling Green: The Nanooks ended MSU's seven-game winning streak last weekend; now they hope to snap Bowling Green's three-game streak. The series features two of the WCHA's top three point scorers, Alaska's Cody Kunyk and Bowling Green's Dan DeSalvo. The Falcons are hoping this is the weekend Ryan Carpenter finally returns from a string of injuries.

Michigan Tech at Ferris State: The Huskies appear to be better than their record (7-11-6, 5-5-4), especially considering their tough schedule. Their win over Lake Superior State on Saturday broke a seven-game winless streak, one that included four ties. It gets no easier this weekend against the third-ranked Bulldogs, who had their 16-game unbeaten streak ended on Saturday. At 10-0-2, Ferris has yet to lose in WCHA play.

Bemidji State at Lake Superior: Staying on the subject of streaks, the Beavers hope to end their eight-game winless streak in Sault Ste. Marie. The Lakers were the last team Bemidji beat; it was an overtime win on Nov. 23. Lake Superior is ranked 19th but hasn't won two games in a row since Nov. 29-30. Since starting the season 4-0-1, the Lakers are 7-8-0.

Alabama Huntsville at Notre Dame: The Chargers face a tough nonconference test this weekend as they look for their second win of the season. Perhaps they can make a name for themselves on national TV tonight (NBC Sports Network). The Irish are hoping Huntsville can cure what ails them. This is Huntsville's second trip to Notre Dame this season, having played in the Shillelagh Tournament earlier. Notre Dame beat them 5-2 in the tournament opener.

For more on Minnesota State's and other WCHA teams' travels, check out the USCHO's WCHA column by myself and Matt Wellens. Matt and I also give our picks for the weekend.

In case you missed it, I had a chance to talk to Eriah Hayes on Wednesday afternoon and kicked off this week's College Hockey Notebook with his thoughts on his NHL debut. Hayes played his first home game for the Sharks on Thursday and had at least one highlight hit during his 7:50 of work. He had four hits in the game.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WCHA plays of the week

The WCHA today debuted a new feature with highlights of the top plays from last weekend's games. Good to see the league doing this. This week's package includes a nice LaFontaine-from-Leitner goal from Saturday night at Alaska.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Who's the home team? (updated)

Minnesota State has been on its Alaska trip since last Wednesday (Jan. 1) and, on Sunday, traveled from Fairbanks to Anchorage where they are spending the week preparing for this weekend's series against Alaska Anchorage.

Their opponent, the Seawolves, aren't sure when they're getting to town. They're stuck in the Twin Cities right how, having missed a connecting flight home after getting in late from Madison, Wis., on Sunday. This week's poor weather caused a delay out of Madison, and later flights out of the Twin Cities have been full.

While the UAA team continues to seek flights home in time to play the Mavericks, it will practice at the Richfield Arena, according to one report.

The Seawolves are coming off an impressive series split at Wisconsin, while the Mavericks garnered a split at Fairbanks last week.

By the way, at the time of this posting, it's 7 degrees in Mankato with a minus-5 wind chill and an expected low of minus-14. In Anchorage, it's 21 degrees with no wind chill and an expected high of 34.

UPDATE: On Tuesday evening, UAA issued a press release saying the team would be headed home on Thursday.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mavericks 6, Nanooks 4

Freddy's three thoughts (from afar):

1. Welcome back, Zach: How about Zach Stepan? Ten-hour difference between Sweden and Alaska. Makes his way to join his MSU teammates in Fairbanks. Forget jet lag. The freshman scored the Mavericks' first goal and made a real impact on the game. "That was a real gutty performance," coach Mike Hastings said in a phone interview afterward. "He's a mentally tough kid. He played a lot of minutes and was our best face-off guy tonight." Stepan now has five goals and nine points in 15 games.

2. Laf it up: Jean-Paul LaFontaine scored two goals and assisted on another to lead the Mavericks. He now has a team-high 10 goals and 19 points. One of his goals came on the power play, his eighth with the man-advantage this season. Hastings cited another three-point player's effort, as Chase Grant finished with a goal and two assists. "We've needed him," Hastings said. "Ever since we came back (from break), even in practice, he's started to assert himself offensively." The Mavericks were 2 for 5 on the power play after going scoreless on Friday, but getting four even-strength goals might have been bigger.

3. Mad Max: Max Gaede scored his first goal of the season as part of a three-goal third period for the Mavericks. The goal ended up standing as the game-winning goal. Gaede didn't have to wait as long as he did last year for his first goal. That came in Game 3 of MSU's first-round playoff series with Nebraska Omaha and was also a game-winner. Another fourth-liner, Jordan Nelson, also had a goal, getting a nice feed from Grant.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 3, Lake Superior 2 ... Northern Michigan 3, Bemidji State 1 ... Bowling Green 4, Alabama Huntsville 1 ... Colgate 3, Ferris State 0 ... Wisconsin 4, Alaska Anchorage 3

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Nanooks 4, Mavericks 2

Freddy's three thoughts (from afar):

1. Winning streak ends: The Mavericks won seven games in a row before Christmas break and had that streak broken by the Nanooks despite a lopsided shots-on-goal advantage. MSU doubled up Alaska in shots on goal, 38-19, including an 18-2 advantage in the second period but couldn't get much past goalie Davis Jones. Matt Leitner scored MSU's first goal from Bryce Geravis and Zach Palmquist in the second period. After Alaska made it 3-1 late in the third, the Mavericks pulled goalie Cole Huggins for an extra attacker with just under 4 minutes left and made it a one-goal game again on a goal by Johnny McInnis from Brett Stern and Palmquist. MSU was 0 for 5 on the power play.

2. Alaska's top line: Watching online, it didn't look like the Nanooks had a lot of depth, but their top-line guys are good. Cody Kunyk had a goal (empty-netter at the end) and two assists, Tyler Morley had two goals and an assist, and Colton Beck and a goal and an assist. They took advantage of their opportunities. Their second and third goals, both of which came in the three-goal third period, were on odd-man rushes. Kunyk now has 12 goals, which leads the WCHA.

3. Lineup change: Josh Nelson returned to the ice for the first time since Game 3 and appeared to play a lot of minutes, including the power play. The Mavericks have some depth there now; it's too bad their offensive depth couldn't get things going early on. It will be interesting to see Saturday's lineup. With the U.S. losing to Russia on Thursday in the World Junior Championships, players headed home earlier than expected. Zach Stepan is on his way to Alaska to meet up with the Mavericks. I'm guessing there's a chance he plays, even with the 10-hour time difference from Sweden.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 7, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Northern Michigan 4, Bemidji State 1 ... Lake Superior State 4, Michigan Tech 3 ... Alaska Anchorage 3, Wisconsin 2 ... Ferris State 6, RPI 2

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sharks call up Hayes

The San Jose Sharks, in need of some bodies for Saturday night's game at Colorado, have called up former Maverick Eriah Hayes, giving him the chance to become the ninth Minnesota State alum to skate in an NHL game.

MSU coach Mike Hastings, who is in Fairbanks, Alaska, with his team, said he talked to Hayes earlier today after Hayes got the news.

There's no guarantee he'll play, of course, but according to one report, the Sharks are down a couple of players due to illness and injury. There also was some concern that the bad weather on the east coast may make it difficult to get to Denver from Worcester, Mass. However, Hayes' sister sent a tweet that said he departed between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Friday.

Hayes, who signed with the Sharks following last season, his fourth and final at MSU, has played in 29 games for the AHL's Worcester Sharks, scoring five goals and assisting on three others. He also has 25 penalty minutes and is minus-6.

The Sharks are beginning a three-game road trip: Saturday at Colorado, Sunday at Chicago and Tuesday at Nashville.

Friday morning skate (Alaska - part 1 - edition)

Call it 12 days on the Tundra.

That's the Mavericks' road trip right now, as they will play back-to-back series in Alaska, starting this weekend at Alaska (Fairbanks).

Sounds like a grind, but it's probably better than making two separate trips there during the season. For anyone wondering why Fairbanks and Anchorage were in separate conferences for so many years, this is it.

Minnesota State got good news after break, as senior defenseman Josh Nelson looked OK to return to the rink. He could be in the lineup this weekend, barring any kind of setback. Nelson thought he had a season-ending injury, but he put off surgery after the NCAA denied an appeal for a medical hardship waiver that would have given him an extra year of eligibility. Read more about Nelson by clicking the link above.

Also for the Mavericks, freshman forward Michael Huntebrinker has been cleared to play, and sophomore defenseman Blake Thompson is eligible after transferring from Minnesota a year ago.

Zach Stepan, who played for the U.S. junior team, was scheduled to meet up with the Mavericks on Monday in Anchorage. Curious, since the Americans were eliminated by Russia on Thursday, if he can get to Faribanks in time for either of this weekend's games.

Read more about the series in The Free Press' gameday preview.

Tim O'Donnell of Fairbanks' Daily News-Miner wrote about MSU goaltender Stephon Williams, a native of that town. His series preview can be found here.

Going around the WCHA ...

Bowling Green at Alabama Huntsville: The Falcons are the only team to lose to the Chargers this season and will have a chance to avenge that overtime loss this weekend in Huntsville. They left two big points on the table that weekend, especially if they intend to catch MSU and Ferris State. UAH, meanwhile, played last weekend at Wisconsin and gave the Badgers some fits despite dropping two games.

Northern Michigan at Bemidji State: The Wildcats could be a dangerous team in the second half of the season with 18 conference games to play, including 10 at home. They're getting some numbers back, too. They'll start out on the road though, going to Bemidji. Something has to give in this series as both teams are on six-game winless streaks.

Ferris State in Maricucci Classic (RPI, Minnesota, Colgate): The Bulldogs will put their 15-game unbeaten streak to the test this weekend in a tournament Minneapolis. I hope there's excitement around college hockey for the potential of a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup on Saturday if both Minnesota and Ferris win tonight. Mariucci Arena, by the way, is 20 years old now. The Star Tribune's Jason Gonzalez has a nice look-back to college hockey's best arena (in my opinion). Go here and here.

Alaska Anchorage at Wisconsin: This is a tough one for the Seawolves, who are much improved but have had most of their success at home and just one win away from Sullivan Arena. The Badgers have won six games in a row since getting swept at Minnesota. In the strange, new world post-conference shakeup, Wisconsin has played just four Big Ten games so far. This is its last nonconference series of the weekend.

Michigan Tech at Lake Superior: This might be the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. The Lakers are still ranked despite being 6-7-0 since starting the season 4-0-1. A sweep of Bowling Green and splits at Tech and Bemidji helped. The Huskies, I'm convinced, are much better than their record of 6-10-6. They're 4-4-4 in WCHA play and have played one of the nation's toughest schedules, one that includes Duluth, Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State and Western Michigan.

Matt Wellens and I make our picks for this weekend's games here.

Also, Matt looked into what the WCHA might be looking for with its next commissioner. Check out our weekly USCHO notebook here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Stepan, U.S. done in Sweden

It was one and done for the U.S. Junior National Team at the World Junior Championships in Sweden. After going 3-1 in pool play, including the New Year's Eve loss to Canada, the Americans were eliminated by Russia 5-3 on Thursday morning.

Minnesota State freshman Zach Stepan was listed as the 13th forward for the second game in a row. I watched most of the third period and don't recall seeing him on the ice. However, he was listed as minus-1, on the ice for Russia's first goal in the first period. I remember just one shift for him in the game against Canada.

So Team USA misses out on a chance for a medal. I'm not sure what that means for Stepan rejoining his Minnesota State teammates in Alaska. 

Before the team left on Wednesday, MSU coach Mike Hastings said Stepan was scheduled to meet up with the Mavericks on Monday in Anchorage. Minnesota State plays Alaska in Fairbanks this weekend and Alaska Anchorage in Anchorage the following weekend.

Backes an Olympian agan

St. Louis Blues photo
USA Hockey announced this year's men's Olympic team on Wednesday and, to no great surprise, former Minnesota State standout David Backes was named to the roster. Backes also played for Team USA in the 2010 Winter Games, helping the American win a silver medal.

Backes, now the captain of the St. Louis Blues (Could he be in consideration for the U.S. captaincy?), has 16 goals and 30 points in 35 games this season. He will be joined on the U.S. team by two of his Blues teammates, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The U.S. roster is full of familiar names. There are eight Minnesotans and 12 former WCHA players on the 25-man roster.

Backes is on the shelf right now with an upper-body injury. The Olympics take place Feb. 7-23 in Sochi, Russia.

Speaking of Sochi, check out my story on Olympic curler John Landsteiner of Mapleton, Minn. (just down the road from Mankato) here.