Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mavericks 5, Bulldogs 1

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

1. Big sweep, big schedule ahead: As I write about in my game story (link below), the Mavericks have had Ferris State's number as WCHA rivals, winning seven straight games against the Bulldogs. This weekend, however, the sweep also carried the weight of keeping MSU four points up in the WCHA standings. Michigan Tech also swept this weekend, and the difference between the the two teams' spots goes back to that weekend in November in Houghton when the Mavericks took two from the then-top-ranked Huskies. They'll meet again in Mankato in late February, and in between, their schedules are as follows: MSU—Alaska Anchorage, at Alaska, bye; MTU—Bemidji State, at Alaska Anchorage, bye. There will be some scoreboard watching along the way.

2. Milestone for Leitner: Matt Leitner scored his 150th career point with two assists in the game. He now has 46 goals and 104 assists. He's 14 points from tying MSU's Division I-era record. For the season, Leitner leads the Mavericks with 29 points, and he and Bryce Gervais have what appears to be a special connection on the ice (Gervais, by the way, had two goals, giving him 18 for the year and 26 points). "The numbers are cool, but it's just special being part of this team, with this coaching staff and this university," Leitner said. "I look at it as a team thing. I'm so proud to be able to do this as a Maverick."

3. To the Max: Couldn't help but turn my attention to the MSU bench as soon as Max Gaede scored the game's first goal. The senior doesn't score many of them (that was his third this season and ninth of his career), but when he does, his teammates go crazy. There seems to be a lot of love and respect for him. I happened to be below the stands before warmups and it looked like each player and a different pregame ritual with Gaede. Ferris State looked like a harder, more-physical team on Saturday than on Friday, and chances didn't come easy for the Mavericks. Gaede's goal, however, really bumped up the enthusiasm for the home team.

Deep thought: Great, great crowds this weekend, including 4,613 on Saturday, the second-biggest of the season. Big crowds, however, meant long lines at the ticket booth, ID wristband tables and concessions stands before the game (I toured the arena around national anthem time). With this team winning and being a prime attraction, it might be nice to see those spots better staffed or managed so that more of those fans could be in their seats at the drop of the puck. Many fans missed Friday night's first goal, which came 16 seconds in.

For more on the game, read my Free Press gamer here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 11, Alabama Huntsville 1 ... Northern Michigan 3, Alaska Anchorage 2 (OT) ... Bowling Green 2, Bemidji State 2 (OT)

MSU vs. Ferris State — Game 2 live blog

The Mavericks go for the sweep over the Bulldogs tonight at the Verizon Wireless Center. Join the conversation below, or you can click on the blog post title above or go here to participate.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Mavericks 5, Bulldogs 1

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

1. Pick your poison: Five different players scored goals for the Mavericks: Carter Foguth, Teddy Blueger (pictured), Matt Leitner, Bryce Gervais and Brett Knowles. The top two lines played like top lines with Blueger centering a relentless duo of Chase Grant and Michael Huntebrinker and Leitner playing between Gervais and C.J. Franklin. Franklin had a single assist but could have had a hat trick. The freshman, who has really upped his game in recent weeks, had six shots on goal, including a laser off the mask of goalie C.J. Motte and also clanked a cannon shot off the crossbar. Gervais had five shots on goal and Blueger had four.

2. On the Hunt: Huntebrinker had a lone assist, but he has to be mentioned as one of the best forwards on the ice. The sophomore winger seems to be getting more and more comfortable the more he plays. After being a scratch for six games in a row before semester break, he's played in six of the last nine games and now looks like he should be an everyday player. Senior Jean-Paul LaFontaine was back in the lineup on Friday, but he didn't go in for Huntebrinker like the last few weeks (instead Zach Stepan and Brad McClure were scratches; Zeb Knutson was also in the lineup). "Hunty did a great job of playing with energy," coach Mike Hastings said. "He made plays. He made a lot of really good decisions."

3. 20 x 3: The Mavericks became the first team in the country to win 20 games this season and have now hit the milestone three years in a row. There's a lot of season left, of course, but recall this weekend last year when a loss at Northern Michigan dropped them to 14-13-0 and they had to go on an eight-game winning streak (which would turn into 13 straight unbeaten) to get a shot at the MacNaughton Cup (they missed by one point with a tie with Michigan Tech on the final night of the regular season). They can't rest on 20, however, as they lead Tech in the WCHA standings by just four points. Curious to see what they do on Saturday night against what likely will be a very hungry Ferris State team.

Deep thought: It was a nice rebound win for the Mavericks after last week's loss to Bemidji State, especially with their quick start. For more on that, read my Freep gamer here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 5, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Northern Michigan 5, Alaska Anchorage 3 ... Bemidji State 5, Bowling Green 2

Minnesota State vs. Ferris State — live chat

The Mavericks take on the Bulldogs at the Verizon Wireless Center. The last time these teams played in Mankato, there were some fireworks. Should be a good series once again. To join the chat (if it doesn't appear below), click the blog post title above or go here.

Friday Morning Skate

The Mavericks are back home after a rather grinding early part of 2015 with six of eight games on the road. They've gone 6-1-1 in that stretch, with the lone loss coming last week to Bemidji State in the North Star College Cup and breaking a nine-game unbeaten streak.

Actually, MSU is home for four straight games, the first time that has happened this season.* They'll host Ferris State this weekend and Alaska Anchorage next.

* They had four in a row scheduled Dec. 5-13, but the fourth game, against Princeton, was cancelled due to a team-wide illness.

Minnesota State's depth has been well-documented this season, but one player who doesn't get a lot of praise (or points) but who has proven invaluable, has been senior winger Max Gaede. The fourth-liner has embraced his role and probably would prefer not to call it simply a role, even if it's not what he expected it would be when he first got to MSU.

Gaede, a mass media major, was quite thoughtful in my interview with him this week and had a lot to say that didn't fit in the print edition. A couple of quotes about his evolution as a college player that didn't make the story linked above:

"I feel good. As of the last few weeks, I've been minus, but most of the year I've been positive. And that was my goal, just to be positive all year, not only on the score sheet but day in and day out not getting down."

"It is really hard because, when I came in, I thought I'd be more of a (goal scorer like Bryce) Gervais. You think just from where you came from that's what you're going to be. Sometimes your path isn't that path."

"The hardest thing for me (in the past) was feeling like I wasn't contributing, not helping the team win — just out there killing time basically. And that's the worst way to look at it. If look at it like, 'All right, I'm just out there filling spots (until) the skill guys go out there,' then you will never be a difference maker, regardless of how much you play or don't play."

With Ferris State in town, the Mavericks likely will benefit from Gaede's hard, physical play. For more on the series, read The Free Press' gameday preview. More info from the Bulldogs can be found here.

Around the WCHA ...

Alabama Huntsville at Michigan Tech: Tech is trying to keep pace with Minnesota State, sitting four points back and has a good chance to keep up with the Chargers (an improved UAH team, mind you) in town. Tanner Kero and Alex Petan each have 30 points for the Huskies, which leads the WCHA.

Alaska Anchorage at Northern Michigan: NMU got its coach, Walt Kyle, back this week after a week on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons ("issues in my personal life," Kyle told WLUC-TV. The associate AD, who was also suspended, is back as well. Curious to see how the Wildcats respond to such a tumultuous couple of weeks. The Seawolves are starting a four-game stretch in the lower 48, and will be in Mankato most of next week.

Bowling Green at Bemidji State: This should be a good series with the Falcons coming off a surprising split at home to Lake Superior State and the Beavers coming off their own shocker, winning the North Star College Cup. Bemidji State is hoping to build momentum from that tournament win. Bowling Green, meanwhile, is a team that, like MSU, relies on its depth.

The league race is heating up with just two nonconference games remaining on the schedule. Jack Hittinger and I write about that in this week's USCHO column. You can also see our weekend picks here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mavericks slip to 3rd

Minnesota State's loss to Bemidji State on Saturday night didn't hurt the team in the Pairwise Rankings, where it's still No. 1. However, it did sway some opinions about the Mavericks, who dropped out of the top spot and to No. 3 in the U.S. College Hockey poll.

Minnesota State received 11 first-place votes (including mine), but the end of a nine-game unbeaten streak at the hands of an unranked rival was enough to get other voters to shuffle things around. North Dakota, which has won five in a row (the last four in a row at home against Niagara and Colorado College), moved up to No. 1, getting 34 first-place votes. Boston University is second, getting five first-place votes and edging the Mavericks by two points.

Other rankings of note: The WCHA's Bowling Green remained sixth despite a home loss to Lake Superior State, and Michigan Tech moved up two spots to eighth after its home sweep over Alaska.

Minnesota Duluth remained seventh after its loss to Bemidji and win over Minnesota (the same result MSU had), and Minnesota dropped out of the top 20. Bemidji State is still unranked but did receive some votes, enough to garner three points.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Beavers 3, Mavericks 1

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Tough sledding: Bemidji State had a great weekend, first knocking off Minnesota Duluth 4-0 and then beating the No. 1 Mavericks in the championship. Disciplined defensively, the Beavers didn't give up much at all. Their back pressure, MSU coach Mike Hastings said, forced his team into mistakes. The Mavericks also ended up playing a dump-and-chase game that 1) was a little out of character and 2) was ineffective when the Beavers regularly beat them to pucks. That Bemidji State was able to score first and build its lead to three goals only made things more difficult for the Mavericks.

2. Missed opportunities: The Mavericks had two big chances to get back in the game or at least grab some momentum, and they were unable to do it. The first was on a five-minute major late in the second period. MSU actually scored during the major, but it came late and on its first shot on goal. For the first four-plus minutes, the Beavers were winning races to dumped pucks and promptly clearing them down the rink. BSU coach Tom Serratore said that situation was a win for his team against "a team like that, with octane like that on the power play." In the third period, Dylan Margonari was awarded a penalty shot but was stopped by the tournament's MVP, goalie Michael Bitzer.

3. All's not lost: The Mavericks didn't leave St. Paul with a trophy and instead went home with a list of things to work on going forward. They're going to have to get grittier for the stretch run, all WCHA play the rest of the way (including two more games against Bemidji State to close out the regular season ... oh, by the way, the Beavers are unbeaten in nine of their last 11 games). However, MSU remained No. 1 in the Pairwise despite the loss, which was their first since Dec. 5 and snapped a nine-game unbeaten streak. "The margin for error and parity in college hockey showed this weekend," Hastings said.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 3, Lake Superior State 1 ... Michigan Tech 3, Alaska 2 ... Northern Michigan 5, Penn State 5 (OT)

MSU vs. BSU, North Star College Cup championship

The No. 1 Mavericks take on the upset-minded Beavers in the finals of the North Star College Cup at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. To join the in-game conversation, click on the the blog post title above or go here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Mavericks 4, Gophers 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

First off the wild finish — Casey Nelson laying on the ice in pain after blocking a shot ... Stephon Williams shoving the net off its moorings to get a stoppage ... Williams stoping the ensuing penalty shot — to the game ended up being a big part of my game story, which you can read here.

Photo by Trevor Cokley
1. No. 1, with a bullet: Did the Mavericks need to beat the Gophers to justify their No. 1 ranking? No, but they sure got a lot of people to take notice on Saturday night. "To us, it's another game," Williams said. "(The Gophers) are a great hockey team with great tradition. But our guys, it's like we've been doing all year, we're just trying to get better." Minnesota State, which extended its unbeaten streak to nine games, got a lot of hype throughout the week and handled it well in a building they had been 0 for 7 in. The Xcel Energy Center often can feel like a second home to the Gophers, but MSU never allowed their crowd to get the energy up. By game's end, the "Let's go Mavericks," chant was quite loud among the 14,516 in attendance.

2. Top line comes through: It was a game in which the Mavericks needed their best line to be special, and it was, with Matt Leitner setting up Bryce Gervais for a pair of beautiful goals and C.J. Franklin converting a breakaway that ended up standing as the game-winning goal. Gervais' first goal was impressive, as he crashed the net with a defender all over him, but the pass from Leitner was even better, a spinning, backhanded centering pass from below the right circle. "We've been playing together for awhile," Gervais said, "and (Leitner) always has some tricks up his sleeve." Jon Jutzi scored the Mavericks' other goal, a tough tap-in of a rebound off the end boards. Gervais assisted on that goal for a three-point game.

3. Big kill: The Mavericks had a 2-1 lead on Gervais' second goal early in the second period. But an elbowing penalty by Max Gaede led to a tie game. The Gophers tied the game during the delayed penalty, but the rule in college still awards a power play. "It can turn a pebble into an avalanche," MSU coach Mike Hastings said. Minnesota State didn't allow the avalanche, and killed off the penalty. A little more than a minute after Gaede exited the box, Franklin scored his breakaway goal, putting MSU up 3-1. The Gophers, who entered the weekend with the nation's best power play, finished 0 for 4 with the man advantage. MSU was 1 for 3.

Deep thought: Saturday night's championship game will be an all-conference affair with the Mavericks playing Bemidji State. They swept the Beavers in Mankato Nov. 7-8 and will play them again to close out the regular season in March 6-7 in Bemidji.

Around the WCHA: Bemidji State 4, Minnesota Duluth 0 ... Penn State 5, Northern Michigan 4 ... Lake Superior State 3, Bowling Green 1 ... Michigan Tech 4, Alaska 3 (OT)

Minnesota State vs. Minnesota, live chat

The No. 1 Mavericks and the No. 17 Gophers play in the second game of the North Star College Cup.  To join the chat, click on the post title above or go here.

Friday Morning Skate

It's North Star College Cup weekend, and it should be a fun event at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Mavericks are getting plenty of attention this week, being rated No. 1, going into this tournament in St. Paul and playing the Gophers tonight.

We get pretty provincial here in Minnesota, and that's one reason the tournament was created after conference realignment. But the Mavericks are a melting pot of a team, with players from all over the U.S. and Canada (and one from Latvia). Just six players are from the self-proclaimed State of Hockey, but that doesn't mean the others don't appreciate what's happening this weekend.

Trivia question: Can you named the 11 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces that MSU's players call home? (Answer below)

For more Freep coverage of the Mavericks and the North Star Cup, check out the College Hockey Gameday.

More coverage ...

The Gophers are ranked 18th in the latest Pairwise, which makes this weekend's games against tough competition very important for them, the Star Tribune's Jason Gonzalez writes (lots of MSU stuff in this story, too).

In the Pioneer Press, Dane Mizutani writes about MSU and how it is leading a WCHA resurgence.

Dan Myers writes about Mavericks defenseman Casey Nelson for Minnesota Hockey Magazine.

Brian Hall of Fox Sports North takes a look at Minnesota State's growth over the last 2 1/2-plus years under Mike Hastings.

In today's other semifinal Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth will square off. Here are previews from the Duluth News Tribune and the Bemidji Pioneer.

Lots of coverage out there. Anything I missed?

Going around the WCHA ...

Northern Michigan at Penn State: Details remain few and far between with the Walt Kyle situation. Without their coach, the Wildcats will step out of conference play to take on a good Nittany Lions team.

Lake Superior State at Bowling Green: The Falcons host the last-place Lakers one week after playing a tough series at Michigan Tech, but they're not overlooking this week's opponent, which is 3-2-1 in its last six games. Meanwhile, Bowling Green freshman defenseman Mark Friedman entered he season with high expectations and is now starting to reach that high bar.

Alaska at Michigan Tech: Despite losing two games at home to rival Alaska Anchorage, the Nanooks feel like they're playing good hockey. Ran into a good goalie last weekend, played Bowling Green tough before that and won five of six (including the win at MSU) before that. They could give the Huskies a little run for their money this weekend.

Also, Jack Hittinger and I give Lake Superior State a little love in this week's USCHO column. We also make our weekend picks.

Trivia answer: Minnesota, Alaska, California, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

NMU coach placed on leave

Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle has been placed on administrative leave by the school, according to reports out of Michigan.

According to WLUC TV, Kyle was placed on leave on Monday but for reasons that are unknown. Athletic director Forrest Karr told the station that, "It's the university's standard practice not to comment on personnel issues."

Kyle has been the Wildcats coach for 13 seasons. Northern Michigan is 9-8-5 (6-8-4 and tied for fourth place in WCHA). The Wildcats were swept at Alabama Huntsville last weekend.

NMU associate athletic director Bridget Berube Carter was also placed on leave, and it's unclear whether or not the suspensions are for the same reasons.

The Wildcats are playing a nonconference series at Penn State this weekend. Assistant coaches Rob Lehitenen and John Kyle (Walt Kyle's brother) will coach the team.

No shootout in North Star Cup

Last year's inaugural North Star College Cup was won by Minnesota, which beat Minnesota Duluth in a shootout following a 2-2 tie.

This year's champion will not be decided in gimmick fashion.

According to information sent out on the tournament this week, if the championship game again goes to overtime, teams will play 20-minute overtimes until a winner is decided, just like postseason play.

Friday's semifinals and Saturday's consolation game will use a best-of-three shootout following a 5-minute overtime.

The North Star College Cup features Minnesota Duluth and Bemidji State at 4 p.m. Friday and Minnesota State and Minnesota at 7 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The losing teams will play at 4 p.m. Saturday and the winners will play for the title at 7 p.m.

For ticket information go here.

I've been asked several times about fans' ability to leave and return during each session. According to information put out this week, re-entry will be permitted at select gates. Patrons will have hands stamped upon exit and must have a valid ticket and hand stamp to return to the arena.

For those watching on TV, Friday's semifinals will be broadcast live on FSN-Plus, and Saturday's games will air on FSN's main channel.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mavericks 3, Bulldogs 1

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

1. They're No. 1: Not many teams have held onto the No. 1 ranking after getting it placed upon them this season. The Mavericks, however, will carry the mantle for the second week in a row after scoring an impressive road sweep at Ferris State, a place that simply doesn't see many visiting-team victories. And they did it like a No. 1 team would, finding a way to win after getting down early. The Bulldogs played fast and physical in the first period and grabbed an early 1-0 lead. While the Mavericks didn't score until the third, they didn't let the deficit (something they were experiencing for the first time in eight games, by the way) get any worse. Then they rallied, as they've done a few times this season. They're now 3-1-0 when trailing after two periods.

2. A little adversity: Jon Jutzi has been a spark for the Mavericks since his return to the team after Christmas. But he got the gate on late in the second period Saturday with a checking-from-behind major/game misconduct. The Mavericks, who were trailing 1-0 at the time, killed the penalty and then cashed in on their own 5-minute power play with a goal by Brad McClure. From there, Carter Foguth and C.J. Franklin scored goals. Coach Mike Hastings had high praise for McClure and fellow defenseman Zach Palmquist (two assists) for the way they picked up their games after Jutzi's exit, which left the D corps a little thin. "They just elevated their games," Hastings said.

3. Dueling goalies: C.J. Motte has been very good in goal for Ferris State his whole career, and that hasn't changed this year (just ask the Mavericks in the second period on Saturday!). He's not getting much goal support, however. One reason for that this weekend was Minnesota State goaltender Stephon Williams, who was rock-solid throughout the series. He stopped 21 of 22 shots on Saturday and 45 of 47 for the series. He didn't stand on his head and steal points; he was good, just like he was when the Mavericks swept then-No. 1 Michigan Tech in November. Williams is now 14-2-1 with a .922 save percentage and a 1.71 goals-against average.

Deep thought: The Mavericks made a couple of lineup changes from Friday, sitting F Jean-Paul LaFontaine and D Blake Thompson. It was the second time in two weeks that LaFontaine, the senior with 120 career points, was a scratch. When asked about the changes, Hastings brought up his team's depth (Michael Huntebrinker and Sean Flanagan were the replacements), saying: "You have to keep progressing with your team and give players an opportunity because you think they deserve it. We've got to continue to get better, and when guys are doing what you're asking the them to do, you need to give them an opportunity."

For more on the game, go here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 3, Michigan Tech 2 ... Lake Superior Sate 4, Bemidji State 2 ... Alabama Huntsville 3, Northern Michigan 2 ... Alaska Anchorage 3, Alaska 2 (OT)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Mavericks 2, Bulldogs 1

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

1. Handling it: The Mavericks survived their first test as a No. 1 team, going into hostile Ferris State and hanging on for a 2-1 WCHA victory. They outshot the Bulldogs 28-25 and committed just two penalties. "I thought the guys did a good job focusing on what they could control," coach Mike Hastings said in a phone interview after the game. "We had a good week of practice and a good Friday. We're going to have to be good tomorrow."

2. Casey comes back: Casey Nelson had a goal and an assist, playing a game Hastings described as "exceptional." Nelson had no points as week ago, getting an eight-game scoring streak stopped, but he was back on the board in a big game in a tough building to play in. Nelson had the second assist on Jordan Nelson's first-period goal. The first helper was the highlight, as Jon Jutzi rushed the puck down low and made a perfect pass across for Jordan to put in. Casey's goal, which made it 2-0 in the second period, was a shot from the point that hit traffic and found it's way in.

3. Willie stands tall: Stephon Williams got the start in goal and out-dueled C.J. Motte by allowing one goal, which made it 2-1 with 7:33 remaining in the game. Williams dived out to knock away the puck, but Kyle Schempp was able to keep it on his stick and get around the goalie for the score. Williams survived a late push by the Bulldogs, including a couple of nice chances in the final minute with Motte pulled for an extra attacker. Williams now has 13 wins.

For more on the game, go here.

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

Friday Morning Skate

It's rivalry week in the WCHA!

At least for a few teams, including top-ranked Minnesota State, which is in Big Rapids, Mich., to take on Ferris State in what should be a very entertaining series (if only I was there to witness in person). The series shapes up a lot like last year, only with the roles reversed for the two teams.

Last year, the Bulldogs came to Mankato ranked No. 2 in the country and sitting atop the WCHA, while MSU was around .500 and trying to get its season cranked up. This year, it's the Mavericks who are No. 1 and leading the league while the Bulldogs are at .500. After the dust had cleared from an intense, physical series (fight!), the Mavs had upset the Bulldogs. Can MSU avoid a similar outcome this year?

Read more about the series in the Freep's College Hockey Gameday.

Bowling Green at Michigan Tech: Rivalry? Yep. Like MSU-FSU, this one began last season. Now, these are the second- and third-best teams in the WCHA, Minnesota State's closest competition for the MacNaughton Cup. This could be the best series of the weekend. The red-hot Falcons have lost just once in their last 13 games, while the host Huskies are coming off a one-point weekend.

Bemidji State at Lake Superior State: The Beavers are on a roll, unbeaten in their last seven games, thanks, in part, to a freshman goaltender, and hoping to make a second-half push for home ice. The Lakers, meanwhile, are playing at home for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend, the only home series in a brutal stretch of 14 games.

Northern Michigan at Alabama Huntsville: Although the stretch includes three ties, the Wildcats are unbeaten in four of their last five games and tied for the coveted fourth-place spot in the league standings. They're traveling to face a Chargers team that won its last two home games and tied them earlier this season in a nonconference matchup.

Alaska Anchorage at Alaska: Here's an in-state rivalry, as the Seawolves and Nanooks will play for the Governor's Cup. The visiting Seawolves are trying to stop a rather rough stretch that has included just one victory in their last 13 games. This will be the rivals' first meeting since Anchorage scored a playoff upset in Fairbanks last March.

Read my and Jack Hittinger's USCHO column on the WCHA.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not in Big Rapids this weekend. I'll be watching on, like a lot of you, I'm sure. Check for Twitter updates and a post-game blog right here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Guest post: 10 thoughts from Ryan Rintoul

Note: Ryan Rintoul played for Minnesota State 1994-1998 and was a member of the Mavericks' first Division I hockey team in 1996-97. He ranks fifth all-time in scoring with 169 points and still holds MSU's career record for assists with 114. In recent years he has done work with the Maverick Hockey Weekend game broadcasts. These are his thoughts on the Mavericks' current season, especially in the wake of the team's first-ever No. 1 ranking. Rintoul can be found on Twitter @sharpsk8s.

Proud time to be a Maverick Monday as the college hockey world put their stamp of approval on the Mavs as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. How far the program has come, eh?

I recall the first time driving southwest on Highway 169 toward Mankato to join a team "on the road to Division 1." It was a very exciting time, complete with a new downtown venue and a determined, albeit "veteran" recruiting class. The first couple of seasons were filled with a mixed-bag of D1, D2 and D3, but we always had a focus on the future. Those years absolutely flew by. Each following year was filled by an (even) better recruiting class, and the Division 1 era was born. 

Looking back on those years, we had a very solid team, and the schedule was pretty stacked: at North Dakota, at Minnesota, at Minnesota Duluth, Colorado College, Denver, at St. Cloud State, at Michigan State, at Union, at Ferris State, at Nebraska Omaha ... and the list goes on. We tiptoed toward D1 then dove in head-first. As they say, the rest is history. 

So to all the Mavericks, past and present, who helped create this program, be proud. The No. 1 ranking is well-deserved, and this team is for real.

Here are 10 thoughts about the Mavericks:

1. Over the last couple seasons, I've been asked "How's coach Hastings?" ... "What are they doing down in Mankato that’s so special?" ...  "How did MSU recruit that kid?" I always think back to my first experience around Hastings at our annual alumni golf tourney. When you meet him, you get an immediate understanding of his philosophy and direction for the program. Quick story: In years past at the golf tourney, the coaching staff would get in front of the 200-300 golfers and comment on the team, the new recruits and outlook for the year. At some point, the staff would individually recognize each incoming freshman and get the token applause. Not with coach Hastings! Sure, they still introduced the incoming freshman, but what he did was much different. Instead of focusing on the “newbies, he had each senior stand up and be recognized. I'm paraphrasing, but the point was: These are the guys who will lead us to success; these are the guys who our young players will look up to. Pretty cool stuff, and at that moment the program changed.

2. More on Hastings and the entire coaching staff, who have done an excellent job this year: Not only have they got the Mavs firing on all cylinders, they have an intense focus on making the entire program better, even off the ice. There are some great behind-the-scenes rink enhancements coming to the Verizon Wireless Center soon. What's interesting in talking with the staff is how much they want every alum to "feel the love." Hastings and his staff want alumni at the games, actively involved in the program and proudly supporting the direction. There's talk of a pre/post-game room where alumni can gather, reminisce and support MSU. Love the enthusiasm that coach Hastings, coach Blue and coach Knott have created.

3. Shattuck St Mary's in Faribault is the top prep hockey school in the U.S. Their top team routinely supplies NCAA teams with well-rounded players. It boasts alumni such as NHL superstars Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise, to name a few. I can’t help but think with all the national attention and close proximity to Minnesota State, that several recruits will be even more interested in the Mavericks. Who doesn’t want to win championships and compete for titles year in andyear out? It will be an exciting few months to end the season. Stay tuned.

4. Speaking of Shattuck, 1998 MSU graduate and starting goalie Des Christopher is currently the head goalie coach for all the 'tenders at SSM. He also coaches the school's top bantam-age team and is constantly learning from Tom Ward, one of the best coaches in amateur hockey. Des always has insightful things to say about the hockey AND education program at Shattuck and just how great a coach and person Ward is: “He just loves hockey. Lives it, breathes it.” The Mavericks roster currently has Jean-Paul Lafontaine, Zach Stepan and Teddy Bleuger, and as the program elevates to new heights, I'm sure we'll see more great recruits down in Kato.

5. So how good are these Mavericks? I used the term “un-line-matchable” a few weeks ago during the broadcast of the Princeton series. What did I mean by that? If you’re the other team, you always look to key on a few guys and get the match-ups you like. Well, from what I’ve seen so far ... good luck. Most college rosters are shaped very similarly to the NHL with some scoring, some defensive players, some all-around players. I don’t see any team in the NCAA that can match MSU's depth. Offensively they are deep with scoring spread out across multiple units. Defensively they are mobile, steady and consistently maturing. IF they get quality goaltending (and they have TWO goalies), this team will be very dangerous.

6. Ah, the goaltending. If you had to critique the 2014-15 Mavericks and look for a hole, you’d probably second-guess this years’ goaltending. And, honestly, I think both guys would admit they need to be better. Getting better goaltending will be HUGE for MSU, as I’ve never seen any team at any level win championships without quality goaltending. That said, let’s not forget who these two are and what they’ve done: Stephon Williams was the 2012-13 WCHA goaltending champion. He went 21-12-2 with a 2.00 GAA and .924 save percentage. And his partner? Cole Huggins backstopped the Mavericks to the Broadmoor Trophy and was named the Final Five's Most Outstanding Player. He finished the year 21-8-1 with a 1.88 GAA, a .926 save percentage and was the 2013-14 WCHA goaltending champ. That’s a duo I want on my team down the stretch!

7. The Mavericks' home rink is a great venue, especially when the barn is packed and the “Ole, ole-ole-ole” song is being chanted after a big goal. Hopefully, the community of Mankato seizes this opportunity as a time to really get behind the team — regardless of who the opposition is. Get down to the Verizon Wireless Center and cheer on the No. 1-ranked team in the country — your very own Mavericks. A side bonus for the hometown fans is there’s not a bad seat in the house. They serve beer and alcohol and have a wide variety of food items. My fav? The Buffalo Wild Wings stand, topped off with a Culvers dessert.

8. Stopped in to watch Shattuck's top prep team vs the U17 Czech National team over the holidays and ran into ex-Mavericks coach Troy Jutting. (His son Tyler is a D-man there — big kid, solid defender and college-bound). In talking with Jutts, who is currently an assistant coach for Dean Blais at Nebraska Omaha, you could tell he was proud of both Mavericks clubs. He wishes MSU nothing but the best and knows just how good his old team can be. Personally, I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity Jutts gave me and my teammates to not only play, but to develop, grow up and mature.

9. Speaking of former Minnesota State coaches, I ran into program founder Don Brose in the concourse recently and had a short visit. He’s beaming! And why wouldn’t he be? Brose literally was part of the work crew that built the outdoor rink for the team to practice and play on back in its early years. Nobody knows just how far this program has come more than him. I look back on those early years at MSU and fondly remember all the life lessons Brosey wanted us to take away. Sometimes those were very difficult lessons to get through our young, thick heads, but thank goodness for them! Still to this day, most of us give him a great big hug and thank him for everything.

10. Finally, this is a first-rate program and a really special place to be. The friends you meet, connections you build and lessons you learn are irreplaceable. As we stroll down memory lane, I sincerely hope that the foundation for which this program was built doesn’t ever get lost in the shuffle. In my opinion, each and every player at MSU owes every player before him a debt of gratitude. Without players like Darren Blue and their active involvement in the community during the “On the road to Division 1” years, would there even be a building? Would there even be a program? My point is, the coaching staff can’t magically go POOF! and land a David Backes. It couldn’t have happened without the players before them and the ones before them and so on. I recall a few years back former player Mick Berge, who was a senior at the time, coming up to me at a local saloon and saying, “Thanks.” I barely knew him. What was he talking about? “You guys really helped start this whole thing, and that gave me a chance to play in WCHA,” he said.  Always thought that was pretty cool gesture. The game has evolved, and the program has as well. I see all this fancy training equipment, skating machines, specialized trainers, eating regimens, workout routines, study labs, relaxing lounges, etc. These are a MUST to be an elite D1 hockey team. I just hope that as the years go by, as the players come and go, that the history of this grassroots hockey story in southern Minnesota is always remembered and cherished by the players, coaches, staff and fans. 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Mavs are No. 1

They say that polls don't matter, right?

Well, don't tell that to the folks in Mankato today, as the Minnesota State men's hockey team was voted No. 1 in the U.S. College Hockey Online rankings. It's the first time in program history that the Mavericks are ranked first in the country. They are also No. 1 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings.

UPDATE: For more on the story, including reaction from players and coach Mike Hastings, go here.

After sweeping Lake Superior State over the weekend, the Mavericks are 16-4-1, 13-2-1 in the WCHA. They're 11-1-1 in their last 13 games and face a tough task this weekend when they travel to Ferris State.

Minnesota State, which is also No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings, received 20 of 40 first-place votes. Here is the top 20:

1. Minnesota State (20 first-place votes) 937 points
2. Boston University (12) 916
3. North Dakota (9) 907
4. Harvard (5) 832
5. Minnesota Duluth (4) 807
6. UMass-Lowell 668
7. Bowling Green 642
8. Nebraska Omaha 639
9. Miami 602
10. Vermont 575
11. Michigan Tech 496
12. Quinnipiac 400
13. Denver 333
14. Providence 330
15. Colgate 312
16. Minnesota 311
17. Boston College 253
18. Yale 203
19. Michigan 137
20. Merrimack 132
Others receiving votes: Robert Morris 33, Northern Michigan 15, St. Cloud State 7, Union 7, Mercyhurst 2, Penn State 2, Bentley 1, Western Michigan 1

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mavericks 3, Lakers 1

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

1. Strong sweep: The Mavericks have now lost just once in their last 13 games, but they went into the weekend without sweeps in their previous two WCHA series, leaving points on the table with that tie at Northern Michigan a week and overtime loss at home to Alaska on Dec. 5. They got past a pesky Lake Superior State team this weekend, one that has a darn-good freshman goalie in Gordon Defiel who seems capable of stealing points. Defiel stopped 30 of 32 shots combined in first periods, leaving MSU to cling to a 1-0 lead each night. Finding ways to extend leads proved to be big.

2. Two-headed goalie: For the second week in a row both MSU goalies played, and it wasn't due to a shaky performance by the other one. Cole Huggins got his fourth victory on Friday, and Stephon Williams won his 12th game on Saturday. Williams stopped 24 shots and survived a barrage of shots and made some acrobatic saves midway through the second period with his team leading by that tenuous 1-0 score. If the Mavericks' goalies get hot, with everything else they have going on (scoring depth, keeping opponents' shots down) they're going to be a tough team to beat.

3. Welcome back: Jean-Paul LaFontaine was back in the Mavericks' lineup after being a healthy scratch for the first time in his career on Friday. He had an assist on Dylan Margonari's goal and seemed to have some strong shifts, especially early on. Coach Mike Hastings said he played "a smart game." Meanwhile, Junior defenseman Jon Jutzi played both games after being away from the team in the first half of the season, and he didn't seem to miss a beat. He saw plenty of ice, played on the power play and shot the puck with confidence. He didn't score (he did have an assist on Friday), but he finished the series at +1 with four shots on goal.

Deep thought: The Mavericks returned to No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings after Friday's game. Where will they end up in the opinion polls come Monday afternoon? MSU is currently ranked fourth. No. 1 North Dakota split at home with Minnesota Duluth, No. 2 Boston University tied and won at Wisconsin and No. 3 Harvard lost at home to Yale. Stay tuned.

Read my game story, which features a lot about freshman forward C.J. Franklin (pictured above), here.

Around the WCHA: Northern Michigan 5, Michigan Tech 4 (OT) ... Bowling Green 4, Alaska 4 (OT) ... Bemidji State 4, Alabama Huntsville 0

MSU vs. Lake Superior State — Game 2 live blog

The Mavericks go for the sweep against the Lakers at 7:07 p.m. tonight. To join the conversation, click on the blog title above or go here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mavericks 5, Lakers 2

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

1. Special team: The Mavericks got things done on special teams Friday night, scoring three power-play goals and a short-handed one in the victory over the Lakers. They scored three times in the third period, including two lovely plays: Zach Palmquist sneaking down the weak side to fire in Teddy Blueger's cross-ice pass on the PP and Bryce Gervais' mini-breakaway five-hole goal after a perfect feed out of the corner from Matt Leitner on the PK. Despite MSU's highly ranked (sixth in the nation) and high-percentage (23.5%) power play, Leitner says it can be even better. "It seems like it was more crisp last year," said Leitner, who assisted on three goals. "We have to get better going forward for sure."

2. Surprising scratch: Perhaps the one-game scratch of Jean-Paul LaFontaine will improve that crispness. Lafontaine sat out for the first time in his career Friday, snapping a 139 games-played streak. Hastings hinted in my game story that practices determine who plays each weekend, so he definitely wants more out of the senior forward, who, the coach added, will be in the lineup on Saturday night. LaFontaine has just four goals this season (two on the power play) after scoring 20 last year, including 14 on the PP. As it's been said over and over this season, the Mavericks have loads of offensive talent, always two forwards chomping at the bit to play. Clearly, Hastings has no problem changing things up if he feels like he has to.

3. Getting defensive: I wrote about Casey Nelson for my Friday preview package, and, sure enough, his scoring streak came to an end after eight games (the Puckato Jinx!). But two defensemen did get goals, Palmquist and Blake Thompson, who got an unexpected power-play goal after blasting in a shot from the point late in a power play when Hastings often sends out his non special teams players for the transition back to even-strength hockey. Forwards Max Gaede and Jordan Nelson assisted on the play. Also, Jon Jutzi, playing for the first time since returning to the team, got an assist on MSU's first goal and got plenty of minutes, including his own power-play time. 

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 3, Alaska 0 ... Michigan Tech 3, Northern Michigan 3 (OT) ... Bemidji State 4, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Ferris State 3, Alaska Anchorage 2

MSU vs. Lake Superior State — live blog

Click on the blog post title above or go here to join the chat.

Friday Morning Skate

The Mavericks are back home this weekend for a WCHA series against Lake Superior State, an improved  Lake Superior State, according to MSU coach Mike Hastings and according to the Lakers' last games, a tie/shootout win over Cornell and a win over Notre Dame to give them the Florida College Hockey Classic tournament championship. It's not the same team the Mavericks shut out a combined 10-0 over Thanksgiving weekend.

One could argue that fourth-ranked MSU isn't necessarily the same team either. A player who has emerged over that time is sophomore defenseman Casey Nelson. Nelson, who enters this weekend on an eight-game point-scoring streak has stepped out of the shadow of his big brother (Josh, who graduated last year and is now an assistant coach at Shattuck-St. Mary's) and become not only his own player but one of the top-scoring defensemen in the country.

As for the rest of the team, Hastings said one or both goaltenders could see action this weekend. Also, sophomore forward Zach Stepan, who was a scratch last Saturday due to an upper-body injury, has been cleared to play tonight. Junior defenseman Jon Jutzi, who returned to the team after Christmas is now on the the Mavericks' roster and could possibly make his debut soon.

As for the Lakers, read more about their recent success here.

Going around the WCHA ...

Ferris State at Alaska Anchorage: The Bulldogs and Seawolves began their series on Thursday night, with Ferris State winning 4-1 to snap a four-game losing streak. The two teams will complete the series and the Bulldogs will complete their four-game Alaska trip tonight.

Alaska at Bowling Green: Two of the hottest teams in the league square off in Ohio. For the host Falcons, who have the best winning percentage in conference play and have four games in hand compared to MSU, they control their own destiny. But the Nanooks go into the series with hopes of avenging a pair of home losses to Bowling Green earlier in the year.

Alabama Huntsville at Bemidji State: The Chargers go to northern Minnesota in a position it hasn't been in in quite some time, riding a three-game unbeaten streak, one that includes its first-ever WCHA sweep. That (along with Alaska's NCAA sanctions) puts Huntsville into a real competition over the second half of the season for a postseason opportunity. Bemidji State is among the teams trying to hold them off.

Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan: The U.P. rivals square off in a home-and-home series that starts tonight in Marquette. Both teams will try to keep pace in the playoff race, with the Huskies having their eye on a conference championship and the Wildcats hoping to improve and land an upper-division (home ice) position.

For more on the weekend, read Jack Hittinger's and my WCHA column on USCHO and check out our weekend picks. College Hockey News also has its weekend preview.

In case you missed it, the Minnesota State women's hockey team won its first game of the season on Wednesday, defeating Lindenwood 4-1. The two teams are playing a three-game series, which continues today and Saturday.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Three Mavericks on early Hobey list

Fan voting is now open for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the most outstanding player in men’s college hockey.
Three Minnesota State players are among 59 nominated for this year’s award. They are senior forwards Matt Leitner and Jean-Paul LaFontaine and junior forward Bryce Gervais.
Leitner is the Mavericks’ leading scorer and tied for second in the WCHA in points with 20, including 15 assists, which also ranks second in the league.
LaFontaine ranks 10th in the WCHA in scoring with 16 points, including 12 goals.
Gervais leads the Mavericks and the WCHA in goals with 12 and is tied for fifth in the league and second on the team with 18 points. Four of his goals are game-winners.
Other WCHA players nominated include: Michigan Tech forward Tanner Kero and goaltender Jamie Phillips, Alaska forward Tyler Morley and Ferris State goalie C.J. Motte.
Fans can go to and vote. One vote per person is allowed per day. The fan vote makes up a small percentage of the early phases of the selection process, as the field is narrowed to 10 candidates and three finalists (aka the Hobey Hat Trick).

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Mavericks 2, Wildcats 2 (OT)

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Killer instinct: The Mavericks allowed two power-play goals on four chances during regulation then found themselves short-handed for nearly all of overtime after Dylan Margonari was received a major penalty and game misconduct for checking from behind with 37 seconds left in regulation. Minnesota State, though, did not allow a shot on goal in overtime, killing the penalty and escaping Marquette with one point and three for the weekend. It was a tougher, more-physical game than Friday's, more like one would expect to be played at the Berry Events Center on a regular basis.

2. From A to Zeb: Freshman forward Zeb Knutson scored his second career goal in the game, giving the Mavericks a 2-1 lead late in the first period. It was his sixth game of the season, and he was put into the lineup as Zach Stepan sat out with what was being called an upper-body injury. Knutson buried a perfect set-up from his longtime junior-hockey pal, C.J. Franklin, a goal he'll certainly remember as his first, the overtime game-winner at Minnesota Duluth, he wasn't even sure he touched. Knutson talked about being patient while waiting for an opportunity: "We have a great team. It's very deep, so you have to work every day. The rest of the guys on the team push me and keep me in it, keep me working hard. It's a really deep team. I'm just glad I could come in and contribute."

3. Goalie rotation: Stephon Williams got the call in goal on Saturday after Cole Huggins played Friday. Williams stopped 20 of 22 shots, including all nine he faced in the third period. He gave up only a pair of power-play goals, both of which were fired through screens and the second appearing to get deflected at the last second. Coach Mike Hastings said both goaltenders had good weeks of practice so he hoped to get them both a look out of the break. "To me, we need to get better in all aspects, including goaltending, this week," Hastings said. "We have to take a step."

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Alabama Huntsville 2, Alaska Anchorage 1 ... Bowling Green 2, Robert Morris 2 (OT) ... Wisconsin 2, Michigan Tech 0 ... Alaska 6, Ferris State 0

Minnesota State at Northern Michigan — Game 2 live blog

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

Lines will be posted on the link.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Mavericks 4, Wildcats 1

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Down with the sickness: The Mavericks appeared to be quite healthy to start the second half of the season after getting its last game cancelled due to a team-wide illness. They were dominant against Northern Michigan on Friday night, outshooting the Wildcats 37-20 and getting goals from four different players (Bryce Gervais, Brett Stern, Teddy Blueger and Casey Nelson). Matt Leitner had two assists, including a beautiful set-up for Gervais' 12th of the season, which gave MSU a 1-0 lead in the first period. The Wildcats tied the game early in the second period, but MSU was not deterred, getting goals from Stern and Blueger just nine seconds apart midway through the game.

2. Shake it up: Coach Mike Hastings mixed up his lines a little bit from what the team had been doing for much of the first half of the season. Gervais was moved to Leitner's line, which also had Chase Grant, and Blueger centered Jean-Paul Lafontaine and C.J. Franklin. Michael Huntebrinker replaced Jordan Nelson on the fourth line and also got some power-play time. The Mavericks were able to roll all four of those lines, along with all three sets of defense, throughout the game. Taking just one penalty also helped in that regard, Hastings said.

3. Good problem: Hastings wasn't sure who his starter in the goal was going to be earlier in the week, but went with Cole Huggins for the second game in a row. Huggins stopped 19 of 20 shots and had to make a few tough stops when the game was 1-1 as well as late in the third period when when the Wildcats tried to get their deficit down to two goals. Huggins won his third game in a row and is seeing those ugly early season numbers rise back up. He was, of course, aided by a team that controlled the puck for most of the game, got back on defense and limited odd-man rushes throughout.

Deep thought: Realized late (after filing my gamer) that the Mavericks' victory was the 800th in program history. Since starting hockey in 1969-70, Minnesota State is 800-605-138 all time.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 8, Wisconsin 1 ... Alabama Huntsville 3, Alaska Anchorage 2 ... Alaska 2, Ferris State 1

MSU at Northern Michigan — Game 1 live blog

To join the conversation, click the blog post title above or go here. Lines will be available on the link.

Friday Morning Skate

Greetings from the road to Marquette ...

When we last left the third-ranked Mavericks, they were canceling a game against Princeton due to a flu-like virus that had spread through the team. Healthy and rested after holiday break, MSU is back in action against Northern Michigan.

The series against the Wildcats begins a tough second-half schedule for the Mavericks, who are trying to keep their focus on this series and not what lies ahead.

Minnesota State has relied on its offensive depth throughout the first half of the season, with no dominant forward — but several good ones — leading the way. Will an alpha dog emerge from the group? If so who? Matt Leitner? Bryce Gervais? Perhaps it will be Teddy Blueger, who was the focus of a Thursday feature story.

For more on the Northern Michigan series, read The Free Press' gameday preview here.

With the second half of the season starting, a lot of attention will be on the WCHA and its teams who had great first-halves. That group includes MSU, Michigan Tech and Bowling Green. While their success has surprised some, those programs have been building up to this for a few years.

For more on the league going forward, read my and Jack Hittinger's second-half preview column for USCHO. You can also see our weekend picks here.

That's about all for now. More to come later from the U.P.