Friday, January 3, 2014

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.

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