Saturday, March 5, 2016

Beavers 1, Mavericks 0

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Let the players decide: Ah, you gotta love that old chestnut, don't you? Swallow the whistles. Let them play. The problem is that when you decide to let the player decide the game, you're essentially letting the players break the rules. And then it's not hockey. That's what Saturday night looked like from my perch. Call it football, wrestling, rugby ... it wasn't hockey. It was ugly. And there couldn't have been too many people amid the 5,000-plus crowd at the Verizon Wireless Center who enjoyed that (and paying for that) — and not because the Mavericks lost. There's been way, way too much of that in the WCHA this season and it's big, big problem for a league that's trying to hang with the power conferences, or a least the teams that are trying to hang with the power programs. Saturday's game went beyond interference and clutching and grabbing. Teddy Blueger took a high stick to the neck and head and got cut. No call. The Beavers appeared to intentionally knock their own net off the moorings in the game's final minute — a la Stephon Williams in last year's North Star Cup. No penalty shot. No call. Going the other way, Carter Foguth practically tackled a Beavers player on a partial breakaway and got away with it. No call. It would be funny if it wasn't so hard to watch.

2. Get on the board: Even with all of that above, the Mavericks needed to find a way to score one measly goal. "For us, if it’s going to be that way, you still gotta find a way to get through," coach Mike Hastings said. "That’s all.” One goal — a tie game — would have given MSU the outright WCHA title and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. They couldn't do it. A lot of credit has to go to Beavers goalie Michael Bitzer, who made 38 saves, 21 in the third period alone, even as his team iced the puck countless times over the game's final 20 minutes. As well as the Mavericks have played recently, the scoring slumps that continue to pop up should be a concern heading into the postseason. Saturday's game was the fifth time they've been shut out this season, the third time at home. They've been held under two goals 10 times and under three goals 19 times this season.

3. Goaltender U: Mavericks goalie Cole Huggins stopped 22 shots in the loss, but he ended up clinching the WCHA's goaltending championship with a 1.46 goals-against average in conference play. It's the second time in three years that Huggins, a junior, has taken the league title and the fourth year in a row that a Minnesota State player has won it, as Williams won it the other two years. Huggins has allowed four goals in the Mavericks' last five games. Overall, Huggins is 10-9-2 with a .912 save percentage and a 1.94 goals-against average.

Deep thought: Now it's on to the postseason. The Mavericks get the No. 2 seed, losing the tiebreaker to Michigan Tech, and will host Lake Superior State in the best-of-three first round of the WCHA tournament starting Friday night. Michigan Tech will get Alaska Anchorage or Alaska, pending the results of Saturday's game. Bemidji State will go to Bowling Green, and Northern Michigan will go to Ferris State.

Read much more about tonight's game in my Free Press gamer here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 5, Northern Michigan 1 ... Lake Superior State 3, Ferris State 2 ... Bowling Green 5, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Alaska Anchorage at Alaska (late)

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