Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday Morning Skate

It almost feels like the start of a second season, considering how long it's been since we last saw Minnesota State play. The Mavericks are at home this weekend against Northern Michigan, a team they tied twice in November in Marquette, Mich.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Mavericks should be nearly 100 percent healthy, as close to full strength as they've been since before the season began. If they can avoid the rash of injuries they had in the first half, they're definitely capable of going on a run.

Will that health boost their scoring? Improve their power play? Keep opponents shots to a minimum? Keep the goaltending strong? Stay tuned.

One player worth keeping an eye on is junior defenseman Casey Nelson, who got some hype during the break when an article published on the sports network TSN's website called him the college free agent getting the most interest by NHL teams. There's been chatter about him being a highly thought of prospect since last season ended. But this was the first real public proclamation. Anyway, Nelson says he's committed to finishing his four years of college hockey, so those NHL teams might have to wait. Nelson's numbers have been impressive, especially over the last season and a half when he's compiled 45 points in 59 games and been +19.

While Minnesota State was sitting idle for three weeks, Northern Michigan did play over the holidays, taking third place in the Great Lakes Invitational. The Wildcats lost to No. 10 Michigan 3-2 and beat Michigan State 2-1 in overtime. Wildcats junior forward Dominik Shine was named the WCHA's player of the month for December.

The Mavericks enter the weekend with a number of streaks intact. For more on those and other tidbits on the NMU series, check out The Free Press' College Hockey Gameday.

For more on MSU's quest to get healthy and ready for the second half of the season, as well as other news on WCHA teams, check out my and Jack Hittinger's USCHO column. Read our weekend picks here.

Going around the WCHA ...

Bowling Green at Lake Superior State: The Falcons, who are MSU's closest competitor in the WCHA standings, aren't taking anything for granted this weekend, playing a tough and improved Lakers team that tied them twice at home earlier this season. Bowling Green has dropped two of its last three games, too, since extending their unbeaten streak to nine games.

Alaska at Alabama Huntsville: At the season's midway point these two teams sit in ninth and 10th place, respectively, in the WCHA standings. That's out of playoff position. The Nanooks are struggling and are considering these games must-wins.

Bemidji State at Alaska Anchorage: The Beavers will concluded their nearly two-week trip to Alaska with this series. They took three of four points in Fairbanks last weekend, perhaps because the Fitzgerald triplets were finally on the ice together again. For the Seawolves, sophomore goaltender Olivier Mantha is one of the top goalies in the league but he wants to get even better.

Michigan Tech at Arizona State's Desert Hockey Classic: In their second consecutive mid-season tournament (they took second in the GLI), the Huskies will play UConn today and either Yale or the host Sun Devils on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota State women's hockey team will go for its first WCHA win of the season at 2:07 p.m. today when it hosts St. Cloud State at the Verizon Wireless Center. The Mavericks and the Huskies will play again at the same time on Saturday.

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