Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Williams expected to sign

The Free Press
After a fabulous freshman season, Minnesota State goaltender Stephon Williams was drafted by the New York Islanders. Two years later, after an even better junior season, it appears Williams will be signing with the Islanders.

According to sources, Williams is expected to forgo his senior season with MSU and sign with the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2013.

Williams would not confirm his plans, and there has been no announcement yet.

The Fairbanks, Alaska, native may be striking while the iron is hot. He went 25-6-3 with a .925 save percentage and a 1.65 goals-against average this season.

For his college career, he has 51 victories, which ranks third all-time at Minnesota State and a program-best 10 shutouts. He went 51-24-5 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average.

A colorful character, who will be remembered not just for his great goaltending but also for a 5-minute stint in the penalty box and for flipping over the goal to get a stoppage, twice won the WCHA’s goaltending championship with the league’s lowest goals-against average.

After winning 21 games as a freshman, Williams slumped as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting job to Cole Huggins. But he earned it back this season.

As for the Mavericks, Huggins will be back next season. He followed up his 21-win rookie season by going 4-2 with a .864 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average in just nine appearances.

Freshman Aaron Nelson also returns, although he did not play outside of an exhibition game in October.

The Mavericks also have a verbal commitment from goalie Jason Pawloski, an Omaha, Neb., native who is in his third season of junior hockey, currently with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.

The Islanders last week signed Ferris State goalie C.J. Motte, following his stellar career. Motte was an undrafted free agent.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Palmquist signs with Wild

The Free Press
Minnesota State senior defenseman Zach Palmquist signed an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild for next season, the team announced on Monday.

A free agent who spent time last summer at the Wild's development camp, Palmquist wrapped up a stellar career with the Mavericks, compiling 96 points (25-71), which tied for first among defensemen in the program's Division I era. He, along with fellow senior Chase Grant, also played in more games (160) than anyone in MSU history.

The 6-foot-0, 175-pound Palmquist was a first-team All-WCHA pick for the second year in a row and had a career-high eight goals and 29 points this season.

The Wild will get a smooth-skating, puck-moving D-man who can log a lot of minutes. They also get a hometown kid, as Palmquist grew up in South St. Paul.

Word was, last summer, that he had an excellent camp with the Wild. It was his third summer at an NHL's camp, going to ones put on by the Sharks and Flyers in previous years. The Wild must have continued to like what they saw then.

Will he be able to make the leap to the big club? Stay tuned.

For the remainder of this season, he will sign an amateur tryout contract and report to the Iowa Wild, Minnesota's American Hockey League affiliate.

Frozen Four field set

RIT, which stunned top-overall seed Minnesota State on Saturday, gave Omaha all it could handle in the finals of the Midwest Regional on Sunday in South Bend, but the red Mavericks prevailed with four goals in the third period and a 40-save (40!) performance from goalie Ryan Massa in a 4-0 win over the Tigers.

RIT had half that many shots against Minnesota State on Friday but won 2-1, becoming the first 16 seed to knock off No. 1 since the field was expanded from 12 to 16 in 2003.

So the Frozen Four field is all set, with Omaha, North Dakota, Boston University and Providence all advancing out of this weekend's regionals. Two NCHC teams, two Hockey East teams.

On Thursday, April 9, in Boston, Omaha will play Providence, followed by North Dakota against Boston University, and the two winners will square off on April 11 for the national championship.

By the way, Massa, who also stopped 33 of 34 shots on Saturday against Harvard, was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player. The All-Tournament Team also included Omaha forward Jake Randolph and defenseman Brian Cooper; RIT forward Josh Mitchell (who scored the controversial game-winner against MSU) and defenseman Alex Kuqali; and Harvard forward Jimmy Vesey.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tigers 2, Mavericks 1

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

1. Season's over: What a tough, gut-wrenching loss for the Mavericks. A stunning 16-over-1 upset by RIT, but one that was also marred with controversy. The game-winning goal was initially (and rather emphatically) ruled no-goal on the ice, as it appeared that Matt Garbowsky hit Zach Palmquist, who stumbled backward into goalie Stephon Williams as Josh Mitchell's shot whistled by. But after review, the referees reversed their call. The NCAA issued a press release, saying:
NCAA official statement on the use of video replay:
At the 5:51 mark of the third period, the on ice call determined by the referees was no goal as a result of contact by the RIT forward into the Minnesota State defensive player. The referees felt this contact caused the Minnesota State goalie to be interfered with on the play. 
Upon further video review, the referees determined that the Minnesota State player initiated the contact with the RIT player and overturned the initial on ice call. 
Trying to be an objective reporter here, but that explanation seems dubious at best. Really thought Palmquist got checked pretty good by Garbowsky as he skated by.

Mike Hastings' quote, really, says it all for how he felt about it: "I started playing hockey at 6. I'm 49. That's a tough one to swallow."

2. Scoring drought: While that goal proved to be massive in the outcome of the game, it doesn't take away the fact that the Mavericks simply couldn't score. Lots of missed nets. Just 1 for 5 on the power play. And, of course, a great performance by goalie Jordan Ruby. Minnesota State has scored just two goals in its last three NCAA tournament games, all losses, getting shut out by Miami two years ago and going scoreless until 10 seconds remained against UMass-Lowell last season. MSU got away with Matt Leitner, Bryce Gervais and Jean-Paul LaFontaine being held off the scoreboard last weekend at the Final Five (save for an empty-netter by Gervais), but a second week in a row, no matter how deep an offensive team they are, was playing with fire.

3. They'll be missed: The Mavericks' group of six seniors helped lay a rather nice foundation for the program. Leitner, LaFontaine, Palmquist, Chase Grant, Max Gaede and Brett Stern came, with Hastings in charge, took MSU to a different level — three NCAA tournaments, a WCHA championship, two Final Five titles, a No. 1 ranking for the first time. Pretty good stuff. The team is going to look awfully strange without that group, which has played so many games, rarely sitting as healthy scratches, since they first arrived. The next step for the current and future players is for the program to win at the national-tournament level.

Read my game story here. Read my regional notebook here.

MSU vs. RIT — Midwest Regional live chat

The Mavericks and Tigers face off at 3 p.m. CDT in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Join the conversation below or by going here.

Saturday Morning Skate

It's the Midwest Regional edition of the skate ...

The Mavericks are set to square off against the RIT Tigers at 3 p.m. (CDT) today, making their third straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. While MSU coach Mike Hastings might not be, uh, comfortable with the choice of words, senior Chase Grant said he thinks his team is "comfortable" this year, at least when it comes to handling the weekend hype.

For MSU and its longtime rival Nebraska Omaha (which plays Harvard in today's second game), there are plenty of familiar faces, especially on the coaching staffs. Notably, former Mavericks coach Troy Jutting, a UNO assistant, is seeing his old team's success up close. Meanwhile Hastings and his old boss, Omaha coach Dean Blais, also have gotten a chance to catch up face to face.

The previous link goes to a notebook from Friday and includes comments from RIT coach Wayne Wilson on his team as well as on his team's opponent today, a very deep MSU team.

For more on Minnesota State and the other three teams in the regional, check out The Free Press' College Hockey Gameday feature.

Free Press photographer also has a photo gallery from Friday's events.

In other coverage ...

• The New York times profiled Hastings and his low tolerance for losing.

• The Star Tribune also has a feature on what the Mavericks have been doing this season.

• Upset-minded RIT has a mantra when it comes to playing the No. 1 team in the nation: Die on empty.

• Omaha stumbled into the tournament but is now much healthier than it was before postseason play began.

• The Omaha World-Herald also has capsules on each team in the regional.

• The Boston Globe writes about Harvard's Jimmy Vesey, the nation's leading goal scorer.

Regional play began on Friday, and there were some great games with some surprising results.

The NCAA field's only other WCHA team, Michigan Tech, lost a heartbreaker in overtime to St. Cloud State on an unfortunate play for a senior defenseman. Also in Fargo, North Dakota cruised to a win over Quinnipiac, setting up an all-NCHC final in the West.

In the Northeast, Boston University edged Yale in overtime, and, in the game many thought would be the most-competitive of the day, Minnesota Duluth scored three first-period goals and rolled over Minnesota. The Gophers went 1-4 against the Bulldogs this season.

There are six games today, including finals feature North Dakota-St. Cloud State and Boston University-Minnesota Duluth. There are the two Midwest regionals, of course, and in the East, Miami plays Providence and Denver plays Boston College.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Preview day

Greetings from South Bend, Ind. ...

It was a busy day from the moment we arrived at Notre Dame's beautiful Compton Family Ice Arena. Practices and press conferences ruled the early part of the day, writing after that.

For all of today's coverage from the Free Press, including some great photos from Pat Christman, be sure to go to our MSU hockey page.

The road to South Bend

Greetings from somewhere near the Wisconsin-Illinois border ...

We're on the road to South Bend, with plans to get there in time for Minnesota State's practice and press conference prior to the start of the Midwest Regional.

In the meantime, here is some reading from Friday morning's college hockey coverage:

• Minnesota State and RIT have postseason experience against each other, dating back to their Division II days, and former Mavericks coach Don Brose remembers those games well.

• As for this year's RIT team, the trio of Matt Garbowsky, Brad McGowan and Josh Mitchell has put up some dazzling numbers this season — 148 points between the three of them. "We don't have three players with 150 points," MSU coach Mike Hastings told me earlier this week. "They do."

• RIT also has a player in Greg Amlong, a sophomore defenseman who was "run off" by UMass-Lowell after last season.

• Omaha and Harvard play in Saturday's second game, and that means one old UNO fan and Omaha native, the Crimson's Clay Anderson, will be facing a team he's quite familiar with.

• College Hockey News previews the Midwest Regional (and the others) and includes a look at MSU goalie Stephon Williams.

• USCHO also has its regional previews. Here is its look at the South Bend tourney.

• The NCAA tournament gets underway today with the West and Northeast Regionals in Fargo, N.D., an Manchester, N.H., respectively. The St. Cloud Times' Mick Hatten previews today's game between St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech. For much, much more on the West Regional, check out Brad Schlossman's collection of stories and links on his Grand Forks Herald blog.

• In the Northeast, Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth will be matched up against each other today. The Gophers and Bulldogs were both struggling a bit the last time they played each other, during January's North Star College Cup, but both made it into the national tournament. The Star Tribune, meanwhile, features the Gophers' Mike Reilly, who gets things done around the rink and around the grill, and the Pioneer Press looks at the ups and downs of Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox.

• Who are the experts picking this weekend? Not sure. As for these guys ...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

It's almost here ...

Pat Christman/The Free Press
The Mavericks leave Mankato today (Thursday) for South Bend, Ind., and the Midwest Regional. There will be a practice Friday, followed by a press conference (as well as the same for the three other teams involved in the regional), and my hope is to be there in time for those events for a fresh take on Saturday's game(s).

Talking to coaches and players this week, Minnesota State has been very business-like in its approach to the weekend. Other than playing Saturday-Sunday, there isn't much different than any other weekend.

That may start to change on Friday with broadcast meetings and press conferences and other potential distractions. But most of the players on this team have been through it before, especially the juniors and seniors, who are making their third consecutive trip to the NCAAs.

A little more Thursday reading for you ...

• The Omaha World-Herald talks to a guy it knows very well, Mike Hastings, and wonders if it will be Mavericks vs. Mavericks on Sunday.

• Everybody's got NCAA-tourney fever, including the folks in Pittsburgh, who have a native son to cheer for in the Mavs' Dylan Margonari.

• Rochester Democrat & Chronicle columnist Leo Roth takes a look at RIT goalie Jordan Ruby, who's been on a roll as of late.

• Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald wonders what doomsayers in Mankato and Houghton, Mich., think of conference realignment now, considering the success of MSU and Michigan Tech. He also gives a little shout-out to the Mavericks' All-Section-8 coaching staff.

• Speaking of Michigan Tech, not only are the Huskies the first Tech team to make the national tournament in 34 years but they're the only Michigan team in the field this year.

• College Hockey News' contributors made their regional picks, and it looks like Minnesota State and Harvard are the favorites in the Midwest.

• USCHO takes an early glance at the NCAA tournament by the numbers.

• College Hockey Inc. uncovers a few storylines to follow over the course of the weekend.

The tournament starts on Friday with the West Regional in Fargo (Michigan Tech vs. St. Cloud State at 3:30 p.m.; North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac at 7 p.m.) and Northeast Regional in Manchester (Boston University vs. Yale at 1 p.m.; Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota at 4:30 p.m.).

Monday, March 23, 2015

Three more thoughts on the Final Five

There's so much focus on the Pairwise Rankings and the NCAA tournament, that we quickly move past the conference tournaments almost before they end. It was a great weekend of hockey in St. Paul over the weekend, so before I continue on to all the national-tournament coverage, I want to take another look back at the Final Five.

1. 'Hi, I'm Brad (don't call me Troy) McClure': Once Brad McClure started scoring goals on Friday night, the Simpsons references were being thrown out fast and furious in the Xcel Energy Center press box. (It's funny how much sportswriters think alike. Can't put many Simpsons or Seinfeld quotes past us nerds!) From now on, though, McClure will be able to say, "You may remember me from such performances as the 2015 Final Five." Five goals, one assist and some of the most joyful cellies ever. So much has been made of the Mavericks' depth, but it is impressive that they were able to do what they did last weekend, hanging eight goals on two of the best goalies in college hockey, without getting points from Matt Leitner or Bryce Gervais (empty-netter on Friday). And as I pointed out on Twitter last night, McClure now has 29 points, the same number Leitner finished with as a freshman. The last rookie to get 30+ points was David Backes, who had 37 in 2003-04.

2. Attendance and atmosphere: Everybody knew the days of the old Final Five and its sellout crowds are long gone. And there was a lot of fear as to what was to come after seeing those awful pictures from the first games of the Big Ten tournament at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. But things weren't bad at the X at all. In fact, Saturday night's championship-game crowd of 8,204 was an energetic and enthusiastic group. It sure seemed like there were a lot of Mankato folks there. Having the bands of all four teams over the weekend added to the atmosphere. The Maverick Machine (MSU's pep band) certainly held its own and probably learned a thing or two from Michigan Tech's band and students, who have been doing it the right way for years. The Final Five moves back to Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., next year and comes back to the X in 2017.

3. Tough breaks for Ferris State, Bowling Green: It's always a little sad to see a player who doesn't want to take off his uniform for the last time. That was C.J. Motte, the great Ferris State goaltender on Friday night after the Mavericks shut out the Bulldogs and ended their season. Motte went to the press conference with a lot of his gear still on. "At the end (of the season) we were trying to make a push to get home ice, so I haven't had too much time to look back," he said. "But I'm going to miss it." As for Bowling Green, the Falcons were the first team out of the NCAA tournament, falling to 16th in the Pairwise at the end of the weekend despite having one of their finest seasons in years. Coach Chris Bergeron saw the writing on the wall after Friday's loss to Michigan Tech, saying, "It doesn't look as positive as we wanted. But we did that to ourselves."

Deep thought: Minnesota State defenseman Brett Stern, who had two assists and was +2 for the tournament, was named to the Final Five all-tournament team for the second year in a row.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A quick look at the RIT Tigers

Atlantic Hockey photo
Like last year, when Minnesota State played an old Division-II foe, UMass-Lowell, in the national tournament, the Mavericks will do the same this year when they play RIT in the Midwest Regional. The Mavericks and Tigers met in the DII/III national tournament in 1982 and 1986. They last played as DI opponents in 2010 in a series in Mankato, which MSU won 6-1 and 3-0. But RIT ended up making a run to the Frozen Four later that season. This is the Tigers' first NCAA appearance since then.

Here's a look at this year's RIT team ...

Overall record: 19-14-5

Atlantic Hockey record: 14-9-5 (tied for third place, won postseason tournament)

Coach: Wayne Wilson (16th season)

Leading scorers: F-Matt Garbowsky, sr. (26-27—53); F-Josh Mitchell, jr. (15-35—50); F-Brad McGowan, sr. (23-22—45)

Top goaltender: Jordan Ruby, sr. (10-7-4, .923, 2.11)

Notes: Garbowsky is a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. He and Mitchell rank fifth and sixth in the country in scoring. ... RIT defeated Mercyhurst 5-1 on Saturday to win the Atlantic Hockey tournament championship and get that league's auto-bid to the NCAAs. The Tigers swept Air Force in the first round of the tournament and beat Canisius 2-1 in the semifinals. ... Garbowsky was the Atlantic Hockey tournament MVP. 

Mavericks to play RIT in first round of NCAAs

The Minnesota State men's hockey team is the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament and will play in the Midwest Regional, which will be held Saturday and Sunday in South Bend, Ind.

The Mavericks will play Atlantic Hockey tournament champion RIT at 3 p.m. Saturday on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Nebraska Omaha and Harvard will meet in the other regional semifinal.

The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

UPDATE: According to the MSU athletic department, ticket packages for the regional are $60, which includes both of Saturday's semifinals and Sunday's championship. Call 507-389-6111 or go to the athletics office at Myers Field House before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The Mavericks won the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA Final Five champions on Saturday night in St. Paul, defeating Michigan Tech 5-2.

RIT (19-14-5) won the Atlantic Hockey tournament, beating Mercyhurst 5-2 on Saturday in Rochester, N.Y.

The other teams at the Midwest Regional are Nebraska Omaha and Harvard.

The West Regional in Fargo, N.D., will have North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac and Michigan Tech vs. St. Cloud State.

The Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H., will have Boston University vs Yale and Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota.

The East Regional in Providence, R.I., will have Miami vs. Providence and Denver vs. Boston College.

Read more here. The NCAA bracket can be found here.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mavericks 5, Huskies 2

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

1. Not yet a captain, but certainly clutch: When asked how he would have reacted to someone telling him, before the WCHA Final Five, that Brad McClure would be the best player on the ice this weekend, MSU coach Mike Hastings said, "There's a possibility of that." Then he grinned a bit and added, "Not going to say I'd take it to the bank." But there, after the game, was the freshman forward, nicknamed "Captain Clutch" when he played for the BCHL's Penticton Vees last season, getting the Final Five's Most Valuable Player trophy after scoring a third-period hat trick and finishing the weekend with five goals and an assist. Talk about a coming-out party! "He made a tremendous impact both nights," Hastings said, "and I'm glad he's wearing our jersey."

2. Williams still shines: The Mavericks struggled to score over the first two periods. Jamie Phillips stopped 12 of 13 shots in the first period, and MSU only mustered four shots on goal in the second period before going into the third trailing 2-1. "They made it extremely difficult," Hastings said of the Huskies. "They pretty much squeezed the life out of us there in the second period." Give credit to Stephon Williams, who finished the game with 23 saves. He kept the Mavericks within striking distance, allowing a pair of power-play goals — the only two goals he gave up on the weekend. One of those goals, Blake Pietila's to make it 1-0, came 9 seconds after a Chase Grant goalie interference penalty. Grant made up for his blunder by scoring MSU's first goal. "I came back to the bench (after the penalty), and I said, 'That one's on me. I gotta get that back.'"

3. Not to be overlooked: Can't forget about Jordan Nelson's goal that tied the game at 2-2 at 8:08 of the third period. That really set the table for McClure. The play was a dirty, greasy goal by a fourth liner. Defenseman Brett Stern fired a shot that went wide by caromed back to the goal line off the Xcel Energy Center's lively boards. Michael Huntebrinker zipped a shot on goal, and Nelson was right there to put back the rebound. Huntebrinker and Stern each had two assists, as did Zach Palmquist and Teddy Blueger. Stern seemed to take over the game at times, carrying the puck deep and trying to make plays. He was the guy who went around the net and got the puck centered to Grant for his goal. Hastings said Stern played like a captain should.

Deep thought(s): It seems pretty clear that Minnesota State will be the top seed at the Midwest Regional in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday and Sunday. And as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament the Mavericks should get RIT in the first round. Some early speculation has Minnesota and Nebraska Omaha as the others in the regional. Interesting. We'll find out for sure at 11 a.m. Sunday. ... Meanwhile, the first team out of the tournament is Bowing Green. Really tough break for the WCHA's third-best team. Sounds like the Falcons would have been in the tourney had Tech beaten MSU on Saturday night. Ouch. ... Really nice and somewhat surprising crowd of 8,204 for the final. Two bands and the fans were really into it. Good atmosphere.

Read my game story here.

Around college hockey: Here are the conference tournament winners: Big Ten—Minnesota, NCHC—Miami, Hockey East—Boston University, ECAC—Harvard, Atlantic Hockey—RIT

Backes, Carter following alma mater

The Minnesota Wild hosted the St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon, prior to Minnesota State's Final Five championship game against Michigan Tech, and a couple of MSU alums got a chance to brag about their alma mater — something both have been doing throughout the season.

"They give me ribbing rights in the locker room," said the Wild's Ryan Carter, who is close to returning from injury.
Said the Blues' David Backes after the game: "Having bragging rights all year has been pretty fantastic."

Neither player got to play in a Final Five while with the Mavericks, something Backes was quick to remind folks.
"I never sniffed a Final Five, and they’re a No. 1 seed," he said. "They’re staying in the St. Paul Hotel. I was kind of mad. I was talking to (assistant coach Darren Blue), saying, ‘We never stayed in the St. Paul Hotel.’ And he said, ‘We were never the No. 1 seed for the Final Five.’ All things in perspective, it’s pretty cool to see them here."

Carter, who was wearing a purple tie in honor of his college team, watched the Mavericks play in the North Star College Cup in January and watched Friday's victory over Ferris State. Backes watched some of MSU's Friday morning skate.
Both are impressed with what they've seen.
"They work hard," Carter said. "It seems like they play an honest game. And it’s not like they’re underskilled and have to play that way. They wear teams down with their work ethic."

Said Backes: "Wishing them the best. Hopefully they can win another Broadmoor (Trophy) and get a good seed and break that egg at the national tournament and get a few wins there and see what happens."

Final Five championship game live blog

The Mavericks and Huskies meet for the Broadmoor Trophy championship at 6:07 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Join the conversation or follow along below or by going here.

Championship Saturday

The conference finals all take place today, most notably to the Puckato readers, Minnesota State vs. Michigan Tech at 6:07 p.m. in St. Paul.

The others are:

NCHC — St. Cloud State vs. Miami (7:38 p.m. at Minneapolis)
Big 10 — Michigan vs. Minnesota (7 p.m. at Detroit)
Hockey East —UMass Lowell vs. Boston University (6 p.m. at Boston)
ECAC — Harvard vs. Colgate (6:35 p.m. at Lake Placid, N.Y.)
Atlantic Hockey — Mercyhurst vs. RIT (6:05 p.m. at Rochester, N.Y.)

The NCHC is the only conference to have a third-place game, and Denver and North Dakota will play that game at 3:38 p.m. today.

Today's games will decide the NCAA tournament field, pairings of which will be announced at 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU. For Minnesota State, currently No. 1 in the Pairwise, and its fans there will be a viewing party at Pub 500, starting at 10:30 a.m.

If you haven't yet, be sure to take at look at Pat Christman's photo gallery from Friday night's MSU-Ferris State game.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mavericks 4, Bulldogs 0

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

1. Depth becomes them — still: Who would have thought (especially someone, like me, who wrote about the importance of the senior classes this weekend), that the freshmen would lead the way for the Mavericks on Friday? But there was Brad McClure (pictured above) with two goals and an assist and C.J. Franklin with a goal. Asked about his team's depth, Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings started working backwards, rewinding, bringing up Dylan Margonari last Saturday against Lake Superior State, Matt Leitner and Bryce Gervais the night before that, as well as Max Gaede. A week earlier at Bemidji there was Brett Knowles with a big goal. "When you can start talking about different people on consecutive nights, consecutive weekends, I think the responsibility gets shared and nobody feels like they're trying to carry the club."

2. Willie won't go home: Stephon Williams was rock-solid in goal for the Mavericks, stopping 25 shots, including 13 in the third period, to earn his 24th victory and fifth shutout of the season. It was his 10th career shutout, adding to his MSU record. The junior out-dueled the great C.J. Motte, just as he did earlier this season and just as Cole Huggins did in last season's Final Five championship game. Williams saw just three shots in the first period when the teams were "testing the waters," and shaking off "nerves," Williams said, but he made sure to credit the guys in front of him — "Sterno, Fogie, Casey Nelson, the whole D-corps" for blocking shots. The Mavericks blocked 16 shots. Carter Foguth blocked five, and Zach Palmquist blocked four. "They're a very difficult team to play against," Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said.

3. Broadmoor battle: It will be Minnesota State and Michigan Tech battling for the Broadmoor Trophy on Saturday night. It's only right, as they were the best two teams in the league all season long and, possibly, the only two teams from the league who will be playing next week (Saturday's results, including the 5-2 loss to Tech dropped Bowling Green down to 16th in the Pairwise.) The teams finished just one point apart in the standings, with MSU winning the MacNaughton Cup. A year ago, Ferris State finished one point ahead of Minnesota State to take the regular-season title, and the Mavericks won the playoff championship. Will history repeat itself or can MSU defend the tourney title?

Read my game story here.

Deep thought: Minnesota State's win and North Dakota's loss in the NCHC semifinals flip-flopped the two teams in the Pairwise, putting MSU at No. 1 Can the Mavericks hold the top spot and the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament? "I think that will be figured out sometime tomorrow night," Hastings said. "I've got a lot of respect for North Dakota and what's going on across the river (at the NCHC tournament), and I've got a lot of respect for what's facing us tomorrow night. Michigan Tech's as good a hockey team as there is in the country. ... There's enough on our plate with that."

And another thing: Not a bad crowd at the X on Friday. Announced attendance was 6,844. Not the old days of the Final Five, but not an embarrassment either. Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson praised the fans of his team who made the trip, and there was a very good contingent of MSU/Mankato folks throughout the building. All four teams brought their pep bands, too, which added to the atmosphere.

Final Five live blog

Greetings from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul where the semifinals for the WCHA Final Five are taking place. Michigan Tech and Bowling Green square off at 4:07 p.m. Minnesota State and Ferris State will play at 7:37 p.m.

Follow along or join the conversation below or by clicking here.