Friday, October 31, 2014

Mavericks 5, Falcons 2

Freddy's three thoughts from afar ...

1. Trick is treat: Bryce Gervais recorded his first career hat trick on Friday night to lead the Mavericks to the impressive road victory over Bowling Green. The kid is on fire, and that hot streak goes back to when MSU made its run last year. In his last 15 games (seven this season), he has 14 goals and 20 points. In his last 23 games, he has 18 goals and 27 points. He continued to play on a line with center Teddy Blueger and left wing C.J. Franklin. Franklin, a freshman, assisted on three goals. He now has six points for his young career.

2. Taking over: The first 8 minutes of the game looked to be a back-and-forth, up-and-down-the-ice affair, not unlike MSU's game at Duluth two weeks earlier. Fastest pace of the season, coach Mike Hastings said. Bowling Green struck first, playing as aggressively as Hastings predicted they would. But after a Jean-Paul LaFontaine power-play goal evened the score, MSU really seemed to dominate time of possession and carry the play. In the rare instance that the Mavericks didn't have control, Stephon Williams was there to make a save — including a couple of acrobatic ones — to keep his team in front.

3. Casey at the stick: Sophomore defenseman Casey Nelson continues to improve, especially with his confidence. The brother of former Mav Josh Nelson, Casey had a goal and an assist against the Falcons, which gives him five points, equalling his total from his freshman year He also had three shots on goal, giving him 23 for the season so far, which ranks tied for second on the team. As for other defensemen, Blake Thompson recorded his first assist of the season, and Zach Palmquist had an assist to improve his point total to nine.

Deep though: The Mavericks kept the red-hot Kevin Dufour (eight goals this season) off the board, ending his goal-scoring streak to start the season. Dufour didn't register a shot on goal, either.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 4, Michigan 1 ... Ferris State 1, Michigan State 0 ... Alabama Huntsville 1, Northern Michigan 1 (OT) ... Bemidji State 6, Alaska 1 ... Alaska Anchorage 3, Lake Superior State 2

Friday Morning Skate

The Mavericks are on the road at Bowling Green this weekend in what could be a very good, entertaining series between two teams that played four one-goal games during the regular season last year with three of them decided in overtime.

The series also could also showcase that the WCHA is no slouch this season. Minnesota State certainly understands that, especially knowing there will be no more gimmes now that Alabama Huntsville has been played and is off the schedule (And can you really call UAH a gimme when Friday's game was scoreless after two periods?).

But the Huntsville series did help the Mavericks find some consistency in its lineup. Don't expect any changes from last week to this week. If there is a substitution this weekend, junior forward Brett Knowles is finally ready for some action. That and more in The Free Press' gameday preview.

As for Bowling Green, sophomore Kevin Dufour leads the nation with eight goals in six games and has fans worshiping his game.

Going around the WCHA ...

Michigan at Michigan Tech: For the first time since 1983, the Wolverines will trek all the way to Houghton for a series. It should be a fun weekend on the Keweenaw with Tech 4-0-0, Huskies coach Mel Pearson hosting his longtime boss, Red Berenson, and some of the sport's most famous trophies on display.

Alaska at Bemidji State: The Nanooks and Beavers begin league play after starting the season against some tough nonconference competition. Bemidji State has one win, playing against North Dakota and Minnesota, two of the top three teams in the country. Alaska is 5-1-0 in its early season schedule.

Ferris State at Michigan State: The Bulldogs look to bounce back from a pair of home losses to Michigan Tech against another in-state rivalry, an old CCHA cohort they've beaten four times in a row.

Lake Superior State at Alaska Anchorage: The Seawolves open league play at home where they hope to continue playing well. Meanwhile, the winless Lakers and their new coach have not gotten a break since playing a series on the first weekend that practice could begin.

Alabama Huntsville at Northern Michigan: This is a nonconference series between conference opponents, a quirk from a schedule set up before conference realignement. The Wildcats have not lost yet this season, and the Chargers have not one.

Check out Jack Hittinger's and my USCHO column as well as our weekend picks.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gervais gets award, Mavs nudged up

Minnesota State junior forward Bryce Gervais was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for his three-goal performance in the Mavericks' conference sweep over Alabama Huntsville over the weekend.

Gervais scored the game-winning goal in each game, a 3-1 victory on Friday and a 4-1 win on Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Center.

His two goals on Saturday included a short-handed score. Gervais now has four goals and two assists this season, and the six points rank tied for second on the team with Matt Leitner (six assists). Senior defenseman Zach Palmquist leads the Mavericks in scoring with three goals and five assists for eight points.

Other WCHA players of the week included Michigan Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips (defensive), who stopped 67 of 68 shots in the Huskies' sweep at Ferris State, and Bowling Green foreward Mitch McLain (rookie), who had three points in the Falcons' nonconference tie and win at Clarkson.

Meanwhile, Minnesota State moved up one spot to No. 12 in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online top 20 poll and remained 12th in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top 15.

Other WCHA teams in the rankings include Ferris State (14/15), Alaska (16) and Michigan Tech (17).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mavericks 4, Chargers 1

Free Press photo by Pat Christman
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Bryce, Bryce, baby: Bryce Gervais was the star of the show on Saturday, scoring two goals as Minnesota State swept Alabama Huntsville. Gervais scored two goals, the game-winner on a power play at 11:01 of the second period and a short-handed breakaway in the third. On both goals it was just him and the goalie after some hard work and sharp passes from teammates (Michael Huntebrinker and Zach Stepan along the wall on the first and a perfect breakout pass from Matt Leitner on the second). But on a weekend when the Mavericks had trouble beating those good Huntsville goalies, someone had to finish.

2. Don't call them the fourth line: The grouping of Jordan Nelson, Chase Grant and Max Gaede continues to impress. They may be the fourth line on the chart but they've provided energy — and more — when needed. A night after their team went two periods without a goal, they scored the first, as Grant tipped in Nelson's pass at 13:52 of the first period. Grant has three goals, and Nelson has three assists on the year. Gaede didn't have a point in the series, but it wasn't for a lack of effort. Coach Mike Hastings even put the 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior in front of the net on the power play. "We need some net presence," Hastings said, "and he's earned it."

3. Getting the job done: The Mavericks couldn't afford a hiccup against Huntsville if they're going to compete for the MacNaughton Cup, and they found way to get through a weekend where they dominated play but were given no cheap goals along the way. Minnesota State is now 2-0-0 in WCHA play and will face a tough test next weekend when they go to Bowling Green. If goalies Carmine Guerrero and Matt Larose keep playing like they did this weekend, Huntsville will score some upsets along the way and probably get more than the five league points it stole last year. The Mavericks do not play at Huntsville this year.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech, 2, Ferris State 1 ... Northern Michigan 3, Lake Superior State 0 ... Alaska Anchorage 3, Maine 3 (OT) ... Western Michigan 4, Alaska 2 ... Bowling Green 5, Clarkson 4 ... Minnesota 5, Bemidji State 3

MSU vs. Alabama Huntsville — Game 2 live blog

To join the conversation, click on the blog post title above or go here.

Tonight's lines:

15-Franklin ... 23-Blueger ... 9-Gervais
12-LaFontaine ... 18-Leitner ... 19-McClure
25-Stepan ... 17-Huntebrinker ... 26-Margonari
21-Grant ... 16-J. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

27-Stern ... 5-Foguth
7-Palmquist ... 3-Thompson
11-Flanagan ... 6-C. Nelson


Scratches: Buchanan, Knowles, Knutson, A. Nelson, Schmeisser

12-Soquila ... 13-Carpetner ... 9-Brears
11-Prince ... 24-Saulnier ... 26-Kestner
22-Salhany ... 19-Pierce ... 10-Fletcher
7-McHugh ... 16-Reid ... 23-Marooney

3-White ... 20-Parker
6-Carlson ... 5-Champagn
33-Buri ... 4-Misuraca


Referees: Kevin Langseth, Bobby Lukkason. Linesmen: Rick Nelson, Matt Anderson.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mavericks 3, Chargers 1

Free Press photo by Pat Christman
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Finding a way: We've seen games like this before at the Verizon Wireless Center, right? A goalie keeps the underdog hanging around. The Mavericks get frustrated, impatient, sloppy. They lose, they tie, they win but feel lousy about it. On Friday, Carmine Guerriero kept winless Alabama Huntsville in the game, stopping 54 shots. A perfectly timed counter attack, a bad change, and odd-man rush ... all could have led to a score and got MSU reeling. That didn't happen, though. The Mavericks controlled the play for the vast majority of the game, and, finally got the goals they needed. Jean-Paul LaFontaine broke the scoreless tie 51 seconds, and Bryce Gervais' power-play goal ended up as the game-winner.

2. Leit show: Matt Leitner finished the game with two assists and had seven shots on goal. His pass to LaFontaine was another example of his superior rink vision and ability to put the puck where he wants it. Fortunately, LaFontaine was ready for it, and he finished off the play. Mavericks coach Mike Hastings put the two seniors together on the same line for the first time this season, along with freshman Brad McClure (team-high eight shots on goal). Of Leitner, Hastings said, "He played a real complete game. He played 200 feet by 85 feet tonight, both ends — our end, their end, neutral zone. He took some abuse; he put on some miles."

3. Line changes: Besides the Leitner-LaFontaine line change, the Mavericks had a few other switcheroos. Teddy Blueger centered C.J. Franklin and Gervais, and Michael Huntebrinker returned to the lineup after being a scratch the last three games and centered Zach Stepan and Dylan Margonari. Hastings continued to tinker during the game as well, it appeared, which he's been known to do depending on how guys are playing. As it's been discussed since the beginning of the year, the Mavericks have lots of options up front, and there always will be two unhappy forwards watching from the stands. Zeb Knutson was a scratch on Friday, and Brett Knowles appears to be getting closer 100 percent and to returning to the lineup.

Deep thought: What was up with the ice tonight? From my vantage point, it looked slow and wet. The second period began with players falling all over the place. That surface certainly doesn't help a team like MSU take advantage of its speed against a team like Huntsville, which would like nothing more than to slow down the Mavericks. Perhaps it's the unseasonably warm weather, but I figured those problems would have gone away with this now 1-year-old ice system.

Read my Free Press game story here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 1, Ferris State 0 ... Northern Michigan 4, Lake Superior State 2 ... Bowling Green 2, Clarkson 2 (OT) ... Maine 3, Alaska Anchorage 1 ... Alaska 1, Western Michigan 0 ... Minnesota 5, Bemidji State 2

Minnesota State vs. Alabama Huntsville

Click on the post title to participate in the live chat or go here.

Minnesota State lines
15-Frankin ... 23-Blueger ... 9-Gervais
12-LaFontaine ... 18-Leitner ... 19-McClure
25-Stepan ... 17-Huntebrinker ... 26-Margonari
21-Grant ... 16-J. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

27-Stern ... 5-Foguth
7-Palmquist ... 3-Thompson
11-Flanagan ... 6-C. Nelson

29-A. Nelson

Scratches: Buchanan, Knowles, Knutson, Schmeisser

Alabama Huntsville lines
12-Soquila ... 13-Carpenter ... 21-Vanderlugt
11-Prince ... 24-Saulnier ... 26-Kestner
22-Salhany ... 19-Pierce ... 10-Fletcher
7-McHugh ... 16-Reid ... 23-Marooney

28-Reinhardt ... 20-Parker
6-Carlson ... 5-Champagne
33-Buri ... 4-Misuraca


Referees: Kevin Langseth, Bobby Lukkason. Linesmen: Rick Nelson, Matt Anderson

Backes goes to bat for BENCHS

When they were students at Minnesota State, David Backes and his then-girlfriend and now-wife Kelly spent a lot of their time volunteering at BENCHS, the Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society.

"When you're a college student living in a rental apartment, most of those don't let you have animals," Backes, the former MSU hockey star, said in a phone interview on Friday. "Even if they did, there are responsibilities and travel t hat get in the way.

"The animals were our surrogate pets. ... We'd go there and get a dose of dog-walking or socialize with cats."

Backes said he and Kelly learned a lot about rescue animals and adoption in those days, and the couple became passionate about the cause. They're now strong advocates for pet rescue, using Backes' status as a professional athlete — captain of the St. Louis Blues — to raise the platform.

Their work includes Athletes for Animals, an organization they founded about a year ago that brings together pro athletes from all sports who have a "shared passion for rescuing and protecting the welfare of homeless pets." The organization, Backes said, has awarded more than $75,000 in grants already.

Tonight's Minnesota State's game against Alabama Huntsville is Pucks for Paws night, which will raise money for BENCHS and Athletes for Animals. The first 2,000 fans through the doors will receive a Backes poster (200 of them are autographed), and there will be a $10 raffle with the chance to win several Backes-autographed items.

"We wanted to give (BENCHS) some added credibility and exposure in the community," Backes said.

The Backeses live what they preach, too.

"Right now, the Backes home has four dogs — all rescue dogs — two cats and and three foster kittens that need to be bottle fed," Backes said. "I have to give a lot of credit to my wife."

Last February, Backes brought two homeless dogs back to the U.S. from Sochi, Russia, after he played in the Olympics there. Both have good homes, he said. One went to the parents of his Blues and Olympic teammate Kevin Shattenkirk and the other went to another Olympic teammate, the New York Rangers' Derek Stepan, cousin of current MSU player Zach Stepan.

Friday morning skate


Sorry for the lack of posts this week, but it's the end of what's been a crazy few days, ones that included covering the Mankato Marathon on Sunday and trying to squeeze in a little time off.

Game day, finally.

The Mavericks will open WCHA play at home tonight against Alabama Huntsville, and they hope they can bounce back from a disappointing home-opener in which they lost to Minnesota Duluth before a record crowd.

In today's Free Press, I take a look at the Mavericks goaltending situation, one that's been team strength the last two years but also one that's taken some time early in the year to iron out. Is the same thing happening this year?

A few outtakes from my interview with a more confident Stephon Williams, tonight's likely starter:

On his two wins this season: "Look at those two wins, and they were two really hard, collective team wins. (Against Omaha), we came back and scored four goals. ... It wasn't me doing anything. I only faced 10 shots. ... If you look at some of our goals (against Minnesota Duluth), they were just hard-working goals. ... Those were just two games where we were fighting really well, and that takes a lot of pressure off the goalie."

On the competition between him Cole Huggins in Aaron Nelson: "Like any sport, anyone want to play every time. No one wants to not play. At the same time, it's such a team aspect with us, not only our whole team but us three goalies. ... We're very good at keeping it professional in the sense that when we show up at the rink, we're pushing each other. But as soon as we take off the pads, we're good friends."

"I know coach has said it, and I believe it, too: I think we have three goalies that can go out every night and be difference makers."

On what he learned last season: "I'm fortunate in my life that I've gotten to play a lot. Back home in Fairbanks (Alaska), I was the only goalie on my team. I was fortunate to get my opportunity in juniors and, obviously, my freshman year. To go through that (last year) was a good learning experience for me, and it's something that's going to help me my whole life. I know what the lowest of the lows can be like; I know what the highest of the highs can be like. There's a lot of things you can't control in the game of hockey and the game of life."

For more on this weekend's series, check out the Freep's College Hockey Gameday feature. The Huntsville notes can be found here.

Going around the WCHA ...

Alaska Anchorage at Maine: The Seawolves travel all the way across the continent to take on the Black Bears. Anchorage is 3-0-1 but to stay unbeaten, they'll need to get some more offensive production from their defensemen.

Michigan Tech at Ferris State: This is the WCHA's best series so far with both teams expected to be in the hunt for home ice, if not the McNaughton Cup, at the end of the year.

Alaska at Western Michigan: The Nanooks begin a true four-game road trip with two games against their old CCHA foe. They'll stay in the Lower 48 next week as they prepare for their WCHA opener against Bemidji State.

Northern Michigan at Lake Superior State: The Wildcats opened the season last week with a sweep of Wisconsin in Green Bay. Despite being a bit of a no-name team, they have a good chance of starting the conference season unbeaten with two games against the struggling Lakers.

Bemidji State at Minnesota: The Beavers surprised everyone when they opened the season with a win at North Dakota. Can they shock the college hockey world again by getting a victory over the No. 1-ranked Gophers, a team they haven't beaten since 2009? Each team in this series has a set of three brothers on the roster. Minnesota has the Reillys (Mike, Ryan and Carter), and Bemidji State has freshman triplets Leo, Gerry and Myles Fitzgerald

Read this week's WCHA column from USCHO here. Check out my and Jack Hittinger's weekend picks here.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bulldogs 6, Mavericks 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Banner night spoiled: Minnesota State had its biggest crowd to see a hockey game at the Verizon Wireless Center with 5,375 on hand to see the Mavericks open the season and celebrate (briefly) last season's Final Five championship with a banner unveiling. MSU just couldn't get the big crowd into it, though, as it fell in the home-and-home series split. The Mavericks couldn't build on the 1-0 first-period lead, nor could they take any momentum from Chase Grant's late second-period goal. The third period was all UMD.

2. Not so special: The Mavericks' special teams have been up and down through four games. On Friday, they were 3 for 10 on the power play. On Saturday, they not only couldn't get it going, but they allowed a killer short-handed goal that broke a 2-2 tie early in the third period. MSU kept putting its hand on the stove and iced the puck twice during that power play. The second one led directly to Dominic Toninato's goal from the high slot off the ensuing faceoff.

3. Star power: Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said what he said in his team's opener at Nebraska Omaha: "I think their players were their best players tonight. Indeed, forwards Toninato (5 goals so far this season) and Alex Iafallo (4 assists) and defenseman and Minnesota Wild draft pick Carson Soucy (5 points) took control of Saturday's game. The Mavericks' top players didn't do much. No points for Matt Leitner or Bryce Gervais. Jean-Paul LaFontaine had a nice set-up on Dylan Margonari's goal in the first period. Simply put, MSU needs its best players to be good on a consistent basis for it to have a season like last year's or better.

Deep thought: The Mavericks' loss was their first at home since Nov. 8 of last season against Bowling Green, snapping an unbeaten streak at the Verizon Wireless Center of 15 games

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 4, Alabama Huntsville 1 ... Notre Dame 5, Lake Superior State 1 ... St. Lawrence 2, Ferris State 0 ... Northern Michigan 4, Wisconsin 1 ... Alaska Anchorage 4, Air Force 1 ... Alaska 4, Penn State 3

MSU vs. Minnesota Duluth - Game 2 live blog

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mavericks 5, Bulldogs 4 (OT)

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Fantastic freshmen: Minnesota State got three goals from rookies in a fast, physical game. Zeb Knutson's first collegiate goal will be quite memorable, as it won the game at 2:23 of overtime. C.J. Franklin's cannon shot was a beauty, as he jumped off the bench, raced into the zone and one-timed a perfect set-up pass from Matt Leitner for the game's first goal. Then there was Brad McClure, who scored his third goal in as many games, a nasty shot upstairs from close range after being set up by Jean-Paul LaFontaine. "If you ask them, I think they'd tell you they've come in expecting to make an impact as freshmen," coach Mike Hastings said.

2. Another crazy second period: Last Saturday, the Mavericks scored four second-period goals to erase a 2-0 deficit and take charge of an eventual win over Nebraska Omaha. Friday's game featured a combined five goals and eight penalties. The Mavericks led 4-1 after scoring twice during Kyle Osterberg's 5-minute major for checking from behind. But the Bulldogs surged back with two goals 2:01 apart late in the period. UMD's first goal in the period was a short-hander at the start of the major penalty that made it a 2-1 game. The period reeked of early season issues for two good teams — and perhaps for the officiating crew.

3. Back in the game: Junior goaltender Stephon Williams got his first start since Feb. 15 and stopped 34 shots, including three in overtime and 12 of 13 in the third period. The game-tying goal in the third appeared to get redirected and perhaps knuckled on him a bit. Indeed, Karson Kuhlman was credited for the goal after Tony Cameranesi shot from the wall. Williams played big at times, stopping a pair of close-range shots by sniper Alex Iafallo in the first period and making a key save on Jared Thomas at the left post in overtime. Does this mean Williams starts on Saturday in Mankato? I'm guessing that decision has yet to be made.

Deep thought: Minnesota State has scored 18 goals in its last four games against UMD while allowing 12.

Read my Free Press game story here. Read Matt Wellens' gamer from the Duluth News Tribune here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 5, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Ferris State 3, St. Lawrence 2 (OT) ... Notre Dame 5, Lake Superior State 4 ... Northern Michigan 2, Wisconsin 0 ... Penn State 3, Alaska Anchorage 3 (OT, UAA wins shootout) ... Alaska 4, Air Force 3

Minnesota State at Minnesota Duluth - live chat

Friday Morning Skate

Photo by Pat Christman
The Mavericks will finish off a three-game road swing to start the season tonight in Duluth before both they and the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs come back to Mankato for MSU's home opener on Saturday.

(Friday's game will be televised on Fox Sports North-Plus; Saturday will be on Charter 826 and Comcast 999.)

It's marathon weekend in Mankato, so the town should be packed Saturday night. There will be a Hockey Night in Mankato celebration 4:30-7 p.m. in City Center outside the Verizon Wireless Center. Also, MSU will celebrate its WCHA Final Five championship with a banner unveiling before the game.

One of the heroes of the Final Five was Brett Stern, who scored what would stand is the game-winner in the title game. It was his only goal of the season. Stern is in his second season as a captain and he leads by example, as he's the top shot blocker on the team.

Mavericks coach Mike Hastings expects the series to be a fast, up-and-down-the-rink series, not unlike the last two times the teams played, which was a 5-4 overtime win over UMD in the first game of the North Star College Cup last January at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Read more in The Free Press' Gameday Preview.

Meanwhile, the Duluth News-Tribune's Matt Wellens (you may remember him from his coverage of Northern Michigan last season in Marquette), takes a look at this weekend's goalie situation for both teams. Both played two last weekend. 

Hastings didn't name a starter before leaving Mankato for Duluth, but the smart money seems to be on Williams getting the nod after his solid relief appearance on Saturday in Omaha.

Going around the WCHA ...

• There is just one league series this weekend as Bowling Green visits Alabama Huntsville. The Falcons are eager to get started with the WCHA season after splitting with Miami last week.

• A week after winning the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks will host the Alaska Goal Rush with the hopes of starting the season 4-0. Anchorage, Air Force and Penn State are the other teams in the event, and the latter is coached by old Nanooks coach Guy Gadowsky.

• Anchorage will be without senior captain Brett Cameron, who was suspended one game by the WCHA for his seemingly legal hit on Wisconsin's Tim Davison last Saturday. The Seawolves, however, do have Austin Azurdia playing after suffering a broken leg last April.

• Northern Michigan will play a nonconference series against Wisconsin, with the teams meeting about halfway in Green Bay, Wis. It will be the Wildcats' first game action of the season.

• In other action, Ferris State goes to St. Lawrence, playing its first game since beating Michigan on Oct. 4.

• Read Jack Hittinger's and my USCHO notebook here and check out our picks for the weekend here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Up and down

The Mavericks, following their season-opening split at Nebraska Omaha, moved up in one national poll and down in another and are now ranked 12th in both polls.

Considering that there were so many splits, upsets and questions over the first two weeks of the season, it wasn't easy to put together a top 15 or top 20. In fact 44 teams -- including Alabama Huntsville! -- received votes in the U.S. College Hockey Online rankings. There were 29 teams listed in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Minnesota State, which was 13th last week, is one of three WCHA teams in the USCHO top 20. Ferris State is fourth, and Alaska is 19th (Michigan Tech, Alaska Anchorage, Bowling Green, Bemidji State and Huntsville also received votes).

In the other poll, MSU fell from 11th to 12th. Ferris State is sixth (Michigan Tech, Alaska, Bemidji State and Alaska Anchorage also got votes).

Minnesota remained No. 1 in both polls.

Meanwhile, the WCHA, hoping to have a better nonconference showing this season, has gotten off to a better start than last year. The league is 8-7-0 so far outside the WCHA, including four victories among 10 away-from-home games.

A year ago, the league went 8-11-3 outside the WCHA in the first two weeks of the season with three wins in 17 road games.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

MSU 4, Omaha 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Important comeback, Part I: Minnesota State trailed 2-0 at 11:07, and Cole Huggins was yanked after allowing two goals on three shots. But coach Mike Hastings said he didn't mind the way his team was playing overall in the first period, and both he and captain Chase Grant said they didn't sense any panic in the locker room between periods. "I didn't see guys start pulling apart at the seams," Hastings said. "That's a positive." MSU went out and scored four unanswered goals in the second period and shut down Omaha's power play six times to win the game, showing a little early-season resolve.

2. Important comeback, Part II: The win also meant a comeback for a series split, no easy task on the road after dropping the first game. Going 1-1 against a nonconference rival isn't a bad way to open the season, but given the way it wants to start the season, getting at least one win was vital. "Really big," Hastings said. "It's such a process, and (UNO coach Dean Blais) is probably going through the same thing. We learned a lot as a staff about our team. I think we learned a lot about ourselves tonight being down 2-nothing on the road and coming back and having the kind of second period we had."

3. Stephon shines: After Huggins was pulled, Stephon Williams came in and stopped all 10 shots he faced the rest of the way to get the win. Williams, the junior who lost his starting job to Huggins last season, didn't see a lot of rubber, thanks to some stellar defensive work and physical play. However, he did make a couple of key saves to preserve the two-goal lead. There might have been some speculation about Williams starting Saturday's game, but Hastings went with Huggins. "Today when I named Cole Huggings the starter, no pout to (Williams) at all," Hastings said. "He went out and worked, worked his tail off during then the (morning) skate. He deserved to play, and I thought he showed quite a bit of himself tonight."

Deep thought: The Spirit of the Maverick trophy stayed in Omaha after the series, due to the split an the fact that each team scored seven goals on the weekend. MSU needed one more goal to take it back. It's best chance came during a UNO power play with about 6 minutes left in the game. In the Dean-Blais-being-Dean-Blais department, he pulled his goalie for the power play to skate 6 on 4 and try to cut down the two-goal deficit. MSU's kill was excellent, but it couldn't get a sniff at the empty net.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Robert Morris 3, Lake Superior State 0 ... North Dakota 2, Bemidji State 1 ... Alaska 5, Maine 2 ... Colorado College 4, Alabama Huntsville 3 ... Wisconsin at Alaska Anchorage (late)

MSU at Omaha, Game 2


Tonight's lines:

15-Franklin ... 18-Leitner ... 9-Gervais
25-Stepan ... 23-Blueger ... 10-Knutson
12-LaFontaine ... 26-Margonari ... 19-McClure
21-Grant ... 16-J. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

11-Flanagan ... 6-C. Nelson
7-Palmquist ... 22-Schmeisser
27-Stern ... 5-Foguth


Scratches: Buchanan, Knowles, Huntebrinker, A. Nelson, Thompson

20-Guentzel ... 14-Zombo ... 16-Ortega
7-Peterson ... 10-Vesel ... 23-Gallo
13-Randolph ... 19-Lane ... 18-Davis
17-Nogard ... 27-Pearce ... 9-Polk

4-Snuggerud ... 28-O'Rourke
3-Rideout ... 24-Brady
2-Cooper ... 5-Messner

1 Crossthwaite

Referees: Brad Shepherd, Tom Sterns. Linesmen: Chad Evers, Nate Stanton.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Omaha 5, MSU 3

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. So much for exhibitions: Toss 'em out. Minnesota State defeats something called Trinity Western 12-1. Omaha loses to Northern Alberta 4-0. So much for setting up the season-opener. Who know what each of those teams took from their exhibition games. One thing we can guess, though, is Dean Blais was able to get his team's attention. The red Mavs' power play was on fire, thanks to Austin Ortega (2 goals, 1 assist) and Jake Guentzel (1 goal, 3 assists). And after overcoming a very good opening 10-12 minutes by MSU, the home team controlled play for a majority of the rest of the game.  "I thought their best players were their best players," MSU coach Mike Hastings said. Probably couldn't say the same of his team.

2. Boxed in: You can read more about the penalties in my Free Press gamer, but taking seven penalties on opening night, especially when, after the first couple, it was clear that Omaha could really swing the puck around with the man advantage, MSU needed to try to stay out of the box. Couldn't do it. Chase Grant and Teddy Blueger each took two penalties, and Omaha scored three times on the power play, including the game-winner. If you were reading my live chat, there was some confusion about Blueger's second penalty, which led to the GWG. He was called for delay of game on a new rule in college hockey in which the center cannot play the puck with his hand on a faceoff.

3. Freshman report: The Mavericks erased a 3-1 deficit, tying the game on a 2-on-1 play from Dylan Margonari to freshman forward Brad McClure. McClure finished off the perfect pass nicely. Hastings said he should have gotten McClure more ice because of the way he played when he was out there. McClure was on the third line, and fellow rookie C.J. Franklin was on the fourth. Franklin was being used on the penalty kill, and Hastings said he showed improvement as the game went on (he was on the ice for one of Omaha's three power-play goals. Zeb Knutson was a scratch. Curious to see if he plays on Saturday, and, if so, for whom.

Around the WCHA: Bemidji State 5, North Dakota 1 (!!!) ... Bowling Green 3, Miami 2 ... Robert Morris 3, Lake Superior State 1 ... Alaska 1, Wisconsin 0 ... Colorado College 3, Alabama Huntsville 2 ... Alaska Anchorage 3, Maine 1

Minnesota State at Omaha

It's Spirit of the Maverick time, everybody! Lines are posted below.


21-Grant ... 18-Leitner ... 9-Gervais
25-Stepan ... 23-Blueger ... 17-Huntebrinker
12-LaFontaine ... 26-Margonari ... 19-McClure
15-Franklin ... 16-J. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

7-Palmquist ... 3-Thompson
27-Stern ... 5-Foguth
11-Flanagan ... 6-C. Nelson


Scratches: Buchanan, Knowles, Knutson, Schmeisser, A. Nelson

20-Guentzel ... 14-Zombo ... 16-Ortega
7-Peterson ... 10-Vesel ... 25-Parizek
13-Randolph ... 19-Lane ... 18-Davis
8-Montgomery ... 27-Pearce ... 9-Polk

4-Snuggerud ... 28-O'Rourke
23-Gallo ... 24-Brady
2-Cooper ... 5-Messner


Referees: Brad Shepherd, Tom Sterns. Linesmen: Chad Evers, Nate Stanton.

Friday morning skate

Photo by Pat Christman
The Mavericks will take on the Mavericks to open the season tonight in Omaha, Neb.. For Minnesota State, it opens a season of high expectations after their most successful year to date but also one in which they came oh-so-close to the MacNaughton Cup and to advancing in the NCAA tournament.

"At lot of these guys (on the team) have been there -- twice -- so we know what to expect, and we have those expectations," senior center Matt Leitner (pictured) said. "It's not just fun anymore. We get to the rink, and we expect to win when we show up. We expect everyone to contribute, for every to do their job. It's more of a business mentality, and I think that's good for us."

Leitner goes into his final season as one of college hockey's top scorers. He's coming off an excellent season but also one in which he started off terribly slow. He's determined not to let that happen again this year.

Read more about the series in The Free Press' College Hockey Gameday preview.

In Omaha, World-Herald writer Tony Boone writes about MSU coach Mike Hastings' return to town and also breaks down the red Mavericks' roster.

Around the web, there's been plenty written about the Mavericks to start off the season, including stories in USCHO and Minnesota Hockey Magazine. College Hockey News profiled MSU's other top returning scorer, Jean-Paul LaFontaine.

Read WCHA previews from USCHO and College Hockey News.

Also, Jack Hittinger of the Bemidji Pioneer and I make our weekly WCHA picks.

Other links of note:

• The Minnesota State women's hockey team also opens the season tonight and will host North Dakota in a WCHA series at All Seasons Arena.

• Bemidji State opens the season against North Dakota and hopes it can get a fast start against the nation's No. 2-ranked team.

• The Grand Forks Herald's Brad Schlossman has an excellent profile on UND coach Dave Hakstol, who has been coaching there for 10 years.

• Alaska Anchorage is coming off its first winning season in more than 20 years, so what can it do for an encore?

• Anchorage hosts the Kendall Hockey Classic, which also has Alaska, Maine and Wisconsin. The Fairbanks News-Miner takes a look at the field.

• Bowling Green plays a home and home against Miami, coach Chris Bergeron's former team as both a player and assistant coach.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mavs in the NHL

Minnesota Wild photo
The Minnesota Wild open their season tonight (Thursday), and former Minnesota State player Ryan Carter is expected to be in the lineup for his new team. Carter spent parts of the last three seasons with the New Jersey Devils and has been in the NHL since 2007.

Meanwhile, Eriah Hayes made the opening-day roster of the San Jose Sharks. Hayes was a healthy scratch for the Sharks' first game on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Other Mavericks in the NHL, of course, are David Backes in St. Louis and Tim Jackman in Anaheim.

Travis Morin (Dallas), Kael Mouillierat (NY Islanders), Ben Youds (Boston) and Tyler Pitlick (Edmonton) spent training camp with big clubs before being assigned to AHL teams.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mavericks 12, Spartans 1 (exhibition)

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Quick start: Bryce Gervais scored 20 seconds in, and Michael Huntebrinker added two goals at 1:13 and 1:42 to give the Mavericks a 3-0 in the blowout victory. The Mavericks wanted a fast start, and they got it. Then they rolled from there, scoring five times in the first period and five more times in the second. They also outshot Trinity Western 53-5. There's a lot of offensive talent on this MSU team, and it put on a show on Sunday. Gervais finished with two goals and two assists, Jean-Paul LaFontaine and a goal and two assists. Matt Leitner and Teddy Blueger each had a goal and an assist. Even senior defenseman Brett Stern got into the act with two goals and an assist.

2. Sophomores can't slump: Huntebrinker also led the Mavericks with six shots on a goal, a great sign for the second-year forward. Remember: He missed the first half of the season with an injury and it was tough to get into the lineup as a regular after that. Although he scored just two goals, one came in the Final Five championship game. Coach Mike Hastings talked about the sophomores taking a step and how their impact is more important than the freshmen's. Think Gervais last season and Teddy Blueger. This year's sophomores also include forwards Zach Stepan (1G on Sunday) and Jordan Nelson; defensemen Sean Flanagan (1G) and Casey Nelson (3A) and Carter Foguth (an alternate captain); and goalie Cole Huggins.

3. What good can come? It's hard to fathom what a team can get out of a game like this. It certainly doesn't come close to the competition the Mavericks will be facing in five days when they go to Nebraska Omaha. They got a lot of offensive-zone work, some power-play time, things on video that coaches and players can go over. But there was very little time spent in the defensive zone. Five shots on goal? None in the third period. Freshman goalie Aaron Nelson didn't touch the puck. Hastings talked about just getting down little things like how the bench is run, what's expected on game day, things like that. And that's all good. But these games are and should be quickly forgotten.

Deep thought: Hockey's back!

Around the WCHA: In a game that counted, Michigan Tech defeated Lake Superior State 5-1 to sweep that series.

MSU vs. Trinity Western live chat

The live chat for tonight's game can be found here.

MSU's lines tonight ...

21-Grant ... 18-Leitner ... 9-Gervais
25-Stepan ... 23-Blueger ... 10-Knutson
12-LaFontaine ... 26-Margonari ... 17-Huntebrinker
15-Franklin ... 16-J. Nelson ... 8-Gaede

5-Foguth ... 7-Palmquist
27-Stern ... 3-Thompson
11-Flanagan ... 6-C. Nelson
4-Buchanan ... 22-Schmeisser


Scratches: Knowles

Sunday morning skate

Photo by Pat Christman
It's gameday already. Minnesota State hits the ice at 5 p.m. today when it plays Trinity Western in an exhibition game at the Verizon Wireless Center.

For the Mavericks, high expectations are the new normal after two years of 20+ wins and NCAA appearances.

"Since (coach Mike Hastings) got here, it's amazing how much things have changed," senior co-captain Chase Grant said. "The intensity. The expectations. The entire mindset is different. It makes it exciting to be part of."

Besides being picked to win the WCHA by the league coaches and media, being picked 13th in the national polls and getting several individual accolades, Minnesota State was picked sixth by College Hockey News, Matt Leitner was named one of 10 forwards to watch by U.S. College Hockey Online and Cole Huggins was named one of 20 to watch for the Mike Richter Award, which goes to college hockey's top goalie at the end of the season.

Trinity Western, a Canadian college team from Langely, B.C., played St. Cloud State on Saturday night and lost 8-0.

In some non-exhibition action, Michigan Tech defeated Lake Superior State 5-3 in a WCHA game in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Those two teams will play the second game of the series tonight. Meanwhile, Ferris State pulled off a 4-3 victory over Michigan before a sellout crowd of 2,532 in Big Rapids.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Mavs get two commitments

Minnesota State received verbal commitments this week from two recruits.

Forward Marc Michaelis of the Minnesota Magicians of the North American Hockey League announced his commitment. The Mannheim, Germany native played in his home country last year in the German Development League. He scored 31 goals and set up 41 others last season. This year, through six game, he leads the Magicians with four goals and four assists.

The Mavericks also got a commitment from Elk River High School senior forward Jake Jaremko. Jaremko, who announced his decision on Twitter, currently leads the Upper Midwest High School Elite League in scoring with 28 points, including nine goals. His United States Hockey League rights are owned by the Chicago Steel. He was named to the NHL Central Scouting Service's Preliminary 2015 Players to Watch List.