Saturday, February 16, 2019

Idle Mavericks clinch share of MacNaughton

There was no trophy presentation, no parade with the prize around the Verizon Center ice in front of cheering fans. But the Minnesota State men's hockey team won a championship on Saturday night — without even lacing up their skates.

Despite being on their final bye week of the season, the No. 5 Mavericks clinched their second straight MacNaughton Cup as the Western Collegiate Hockey League's regular-season champions.

"That thing is hard to win," coach Mike Hastings said. "Our league is hard to win. It's hard to sweep, and it's hard to string things together in the regular season to get some separation."

Minnesota State did that, though, going 10-1-1 in their last 12 WCHA games to build a 16-point lead atop the standings going into the weekend.

They claimed at least a share of the title on Saturday when second-place Bowling Green and Alaska tied 3-3 at Bowling Green, Ohio, and the visiting Nanooks took the extra league point with a goal in the 3-on-3 double-overtime tiebreaker.

Minnesota State is sitting at 59 points in the WCHA standings with two weeks still to play in the regular season. Both Bowling Green and Lake Superior State can max out at 59 points by running the table. If Bowling Green wins out and Minnesota State loses out, the Falcons would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker for the top seed in the conference playoffs based on their 2-0-0 record against them this season. MSU has the tiebreaker over the Lakers with a 3-1-0 record against them.

With just one point the rest of the way, the Mavericks can avoid tiebreaker scenarios, win the championship outright and keep the silver MacNaughton Cup in Mankato for another year.

"To me, we're still playing for that," Hastings said.

Minnesota State (24-6-2, 19-4-1 in WCHA) plays Alaska next weekend at Fairbanks, Alaska. After that, the Mavericks will close out the regular season at home against Bemidji State.

"We just have to keep plugging along," Hastings said. "We've still got quite a bit to play for. ... By how we've played up to this point, we're in the position that we're in."

The regular-season championship is Minnesota State’s fourth in five years. They won their first MacNaughton Cup in 2015, shared the title with Michigan Tech in 2016 and won it outright again last season.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Morning Skate

The Mavericks are idle this weekend but could actually win the MacNaughton Cup if things go in their favor, such as both Bowling Green and Northern Michigan losing a game. After getting some rest this weekend, MSU will prepare for the stretch run, which includes a trip to Alaska and a home series against Bemidji State to end the regular season. In all likelihood, the Mavericks will be the top seed for the WCHA tournament, which means home-ice advantage throughout.

Here's who is in action in the WCHA this weekend ...

Alaska at Bowling Green: The host Falcons would like to keep the MacNaughton race going for at least another week and earn as high a spot in the standings as possible. They have split every series the've played in 2019 so far. The seventh-place Nanooks would also like to work their way up the standings. They're 5-2 in their last seven games (including a home split against BG).

Northern Michigan at Bemidji State: Tied for second place with Bowling Green but only two points out of fourth and four out of fifth where the Beavers sit, the Wildcats are hoping to create some separation in the standings. Bemidji State, of course, is hoping to keep things muddled, if not separate itself from the pack, in order to clinch a first-round home-ice spot. The Beavers have lost just once in their last six games. College Hockey News takes a look at Northern Michigan's season so far.

Michigan Tech at Lake Superior State: The Lakers have lost just two games in their last 14 and would like to leapfrog Northern Michigan and Bowling Green if possible. Standing in their way this weekend are the Huskies, who need to rebound from a one-point Winter Carnival series against Minnesota State last weekend.

Ferris State at Alaska Anchorage: At ninth- and 10th-place, respectively, the Bulldogs and Seawolves currently sit on the outside looking in for WCHA playoff position. Simply said, it's been a tough year for both teams, who have three combined wins in 2019. Anchorage's one win was a home victory last Friday against rival Alaska.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Mavericks 3, Huskies 2

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

1. Carnival cruise: The Mavericks came from behind again to force overtime but this time got the first-overtime win to take five points for the weekend and claim Michigan Tech's Winter Carnival championship. Connor Mackey scored the game-winner in overtime, and Marc Michaelis scored two goals and assisted on Mackey's goal to earn the Winter Carnival MVP award. Minnesota State trailed 2-0 late in the second period before scoring three unanswered goals. The tying goal came with 4:43 remaining in the third period.

2. Special teams work: "We spent a lot of time killing penalties," coach Mike Hastings said of the game in which four of the five goals came on power plays (only Mackey's game-winner was at even strength). Michigan Tech was 2 for 6 on the power play, while MSU was 2 for 3. Credit goalie Dryden McKay (33 saves) for his play on the kill; both goals were tips. Michaelis scored both of MSU's power play goals off of Ian Scheid shots, and Parker Tuomie had the second assist on them. The second goal came during a five-minute major on Seamus Donohue

3. MacNaughton in sight: The Mavericks are off for a week before playing the final four games of the regular season, starting with a series at Alaska and concluding with a home weekend against Bemidji State. There's a chance they could clinch the league's regular-season title while at rest, as losses by Bowling Green and Northern Michigan, who are in second place, 16 points behind MSU after this weekend's results. The Mavericks have one loss in their last 13 games (11-1-2).

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Northern Michigan 6, Alabama Huntsville 3 ... Bemidji State 6, Ferris State 1 ... Alaska Anchorage at Alaska (late)

Friday, February 8, 2019

Mavericks 1, Huskies 1 (MSU wins shootout)

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

1. Avoiding bookends: Minnesota State on Friday night was 54 seconds away from having 1-0 losses sandwiched around a four-game winning streak that included 21 goals, but Jake Jaremko's goal with the goalie pulled (pulled with 2:23 remaining) for an extra attacker tied the game. The Mavericks ended up with two WCHA points thanks to Chris Van Os-Shaw's shootout goal, the only one either team scored in four rounds of sudden death following 3x3 overtime.

2. Great goaltending: Hats off to Matt Jurusik, who entered the game on a two-game shutout streak and was fantastic throughout the night for the Huskies. His glove save on Jaremko's almost-sure game-winner with 49 seconds remaining in the first overtime was one for the highlight reels. Jaremko, Van Os-Shaw, Dallas Gerads, Walker Duehr, Parker Tuomie and Shane McMahan all had Grade A scoring chances throughout the game, and had to be shaking heads in disbelief as they were held off the board. Jurusik needs to credit his defense, too, which blocked several shots.

3. Injury report: The Mavericks got Nick Rivera back in the lineup on Friday night but lost Jared Spooner to an upper-body injury when he was checked into the stanchion at the end of the wall at the edge of the Minnesota State bench, one of the worst places a player can crash into. Inexplicably, no penalty was called on the play, as it certainly looked like a check from behind, right into the numbers on the back of Spooner's jersey. Coach Mike Hastings said Spooner was "held out" for the rest of the game. No word on his availability for Saturday's rematch.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Bemidji State 3, Ferris State 3 (BSU wins 3x3) ... Northern Michigan 2, Alabama Huntsville 2 (UAH wins 3x3) ... Alaska Anchorage 4, Alaska 1

Friday Morning Skate

Minnesota State is back in the UP for the second time in two weeks (unfortunately, this reporter is not), this time to take on Michigan Tech in its annual Winter Carnival weekend. The Huskies always play well during this big event, for which MSU is the opponent for the first time since 2005. The Mavericks are hoping to treat the weekend like any other and keep improving over the final month of the regular season.

The Mavericks have been getting contributions from all over their lineup over their four-game winning streak. Read about that and more in this week's College Hockey Gameday.

As for the Huskies, Winter Carnival is a big weekend for them, but they, too, are trying to get points and move up the standings in hopes of securing home ice for the first round of next month's WCHA tournament.

Minnesota State is closing in on a second straight MacNaughton Cup. The Mavericks have 54 points and can acquire a max of 72. They won last year with 67 points. Here are the other contending team’s numbers: Bowling Green, 43 points (61 max); Lake Superior State, 41 (59); Northern Michigan, 39 (63); Michigan Tech, 36 (60) and Bemidji State, 34 (58).

Going around the rest of the WCHA ...

Bemidji State at Ferris State: The Beavers are coming off a much-needed bye week and hope to make a late-season push starting on the road at Big Rapids where the Bulldogs, senior Jacob Hetz says, are trying to turn their season around with a late push.

Northern Michigan at Alabama Huntsville: The Wildcats went 1-3-0 at home over the last four games against the top two teams in the conference (MSU and Bowling Green) and now head out on a four-game road swing, starting at Huntsville, where the Chargers are playing their final home games of the season and trying to maintain a playoff spot in the standings.

Alaska Anchorage at Alaska: The Governor's Cup is on the line as the Nanooks host the Seawolves in the battle of Alaska. Alaska has won four of its last five games and currently sits in seventh place. Anchorage has just two wins, one in WCHA play, Although it did win the shootout after a scoreless tie with Michigan Tech in its last game, it hasn't won a game since Dec. 15.

Bowling Green and Lake Superior State, the league's second- and third-place teams are on bye.

Monday, February 4, 2019

WCHA honors two Mavericks

Two Minnesota State players were honored by the WCHA this week for their play in last weekend's sweep over Alabama Huntsville.

Julian Napravnik was named the league's Rookie of the Week for his four-point series. He had two goals and two assists in the 6-1 and 4-0 victory. He had nine shots on goal and was plus-3 for the weekend. Napravnik now has 7 goals and 19 points in 29 games.

Another freshman, Dryden McKay, was named Goaltender of the Week after stopping 26 of 27 shots in the series and recording his third career shutout, a 12-save blanking on Saturday. McKay is now 16-5-1 with a .921 save percentage and a 1.91 goals-against average.

Mavericks remain sixth in polls

Minnesota State remained No. 6 in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey polls this week. Below is the USCHO poll: Division I Men's Poll
Minneapolis, Minn./February 04, 2019

   Team             (First Place)    Record   Pts  Last Week
 1 St. Cloud State           (46)   20- 4-2   996     1
 2 Massachusetts             ( 2)   20- 5-0   944     2
 3 Ohio State                ( 1)   17- 5-4   887     4
 4 Quinnipiac                ( 1)   20- 5-1   840     5
 5 Minnesota Duluth                 17- 7-2   797     3
 6 Minnesota State                  23- 6-1   774     6
 7 Denver                           15- 6-4   708     7
 8 Western Michigan                 16- 9-1   581     8
 9 Clarkson                         18- 8-0   528    10
10 Cornell                          13- 6-2   521    13
11 Providence                       15- 8-5   454     9
12 Arizona State                    19-10-1   379    16
13 Northeastern                     15- 8-1   370    12
14 Notre Dame                       14-10-3   345    11
15 UMass Lowell                     15- 8-2   332    17
16 Bowling Green                    18- 8-3   319    13
17 Harvard                          11- 6-3   213    19
18 Penn State                       14-10-2   198    15
19 Lake Superior                    18- 8-2   132    20
20 Union                            13- 8-5   109    18

Others receiving votes: North Dakota 30, Yale 23, American 
International 10, Boston University 5, Bentley 4, Bemidji 
State 1.