Friday, October 24, 2014

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.

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