Saturday, February 6, 2016

Falcons 3, Mavericks 1

Trevor Cokley/The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. The race is on: Minnesota State was unable to extend its lead in the WCHA standings as the Falcons cooled the Mavericks' jets on Saturday night. Now the top of the league is stacked, with MSU holding a two-point lead over Bowling Green and Michigan Tech, which swept Lake Superior State. Each of those teams has six league series remaining with MSU going to Huntsville and Anchorage before hosting Bemidji; BGSU going to Alaska and Huntsville with Ferris at home in between; and Tech going to Bemidji, hosting Alaska and playing Northern home and home. Anything can happen. "We just had to move on and know we can be a top team in our league, even though the score didn’t show that last night," said Falcons senior Mark Cooper, who scored two goals. "Tonight, we showed we can play with the best in the WCHA."

2. Back to beginning: While the game was fast and physical with both teams pushing the pace, there were times when the Mavericks carried play and, perhaps, reverted back to earlier in the season when they simply couldn't score despite some lopsided in-zone time and shot totals. Credit Bowling Green goalie Chris Nell, who has the best numbers in the WCHA (currently .933 SV%, 1.74 GAA), and stopped 31 of 32 shots, including 14 in the third period on Saturday. But MSU also had 83 shot attempts, 34 in the third period, but missed the net 24 times and had 27 shots blocked. Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said his team did a good job moving Nell around and "taking away his eyes" on Friday. "I didn't think we were as consistent with that tonight," he said.

3. Regression to the mean: We probably shouldn't have expected the Mavericks to keep up the scoring pace of the last five games when they averaged five goals per. So which team are they? The one that can score at least three when it needs to or the one that might get stuck with one against a good team, as it did tonight and at Michigan Tech three weeks ago? Hastings said there was less panic in his team's play compared to when it was having some offensive troubles during the beginning of the season, so that's encouraging. If the top teams end up in Grand Rapids, though, MSU will need to find a way to score to win the Final Five and get back to the NCAA tournament. The loss, couple with some other results, including Minnesota's loss to Penn State, dropped the Mavericks from 15th to 23rd in the Pairwise Rankings.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech 3, Lake Superior State 1 ... Northern Michigan 5, Alaska Anchorage 4 ... Ferris State at Alaska (late)

MSU vs. Bowling Green — Game 2 live blog

The Mavericks will go for the series sweep against the Falcons tonight at the Verizon Wireless Center. The live blog can be found below tonight's lines.

MINNESOTA STATE
26-Margonari, 23-Blueger, 10-Knutson
25-Stepan, 15-Franklin, 19-McClure
9-Gervais, 17-Huntebrinker, 12-Coatta
7-Cooper, 16-J. Nelson, 14-Mullin

28-Jutzi, 5-Foguth
8-Brickley, 6-C. Nelson
11-Flanagan, 27-Schwalbe

34-Huggins
29-A. Nelson

Scratches: Knowles, Lewis, Madry, Pawloski, Schmeisser, Vanko

BOWLING GREEN
6-McLain, 7-Spezia, 26-Cooper
13-Baylis, 2-Mercier, 20-M. Pohlkamp
27-McKeown, 18-D'Andrea, 16-Hawkins
23-Tate, 11-Bednard, 29-Schilling

5-Smith, 28-Walker
3-Ernst, 4-McDonald
14-Friedman, 12-C. Pohlkamp

33-Nell
31-Burke

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mavericks 5, Falcons 1

Trevor Cokley, The Free Press

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Call him Shorty: Bryce Gervais scored two goals short-handed goals in the same penalty on Friday night, a feat that put away the game for the Mavericks just as the Falcons started to make a push. Gervais now has nine short-handed goals for his MSU career, and that now stands as the school record. More importantly, perhaps, it may be a sign that he's getting out of the goal-scoring funk he's been in for much of the season, at least in the last 12 games when he's scored just one. Gervais now has 10 goals for this season, but had 27 last year. His career total is now 61, which puts him fourth on the Mavericks' Division I-era list behind Shane Joseph (68), Jesse Rooney (67) and Tim Wolfe (65). "Once he gets going, he's hard to stop," said Teddy Blueger, who assisted on both shorties. "He showed that last year."

2. Scoring sensation: Minnesota State has been scoring goals at a breakneck pace over the last five games, potting 25 pucks over that span, including 18 in three home games. Michael Huntebrinker, Max Coatta and C.J. Franklin scored MSU's first three goals, with Coatta (who also assisted on Huntebrinker's goal) and Franklin (power play) keeping some hot streaks going. Franklin has nine points over a five-game point streak. "We’ve had more guys making plays lately and they’re not easy ones," coach Mike Hastings said. "In our league right now, in college hockey, you have to work so hard to score goals. We did them in different ways tonight, and if we can continue that we’ll be OK. If we don’t, you make the game harder on yourself."


3. Tight at the top: Minnesota State increased its lead over Bowling Green atop the WCHA standings to four points with the win. The 5-1 score doesn't much look like most of the games played against these two teams, who tied twice in Ohio in December and who have played five overtime games in their 10 meetings over the last three years. However, both Hastings and Falcons coach Chris Bergeron said the game was more closely played than the score indicated. Hastings said Cole Huggins (18 saves) was "outstanding," and the goalie allowed only a short-handed breakaway goal in the third period. Bergeron said MSU's veteran players got the job done when his team's didn't. "In a game like that, you’re on the edge of making a mistake and they’re going to capitalize, and that’s what happened," Bergeron said. "The shots were 21-19. It was a fairly even game at times. But they were way more opportunistic than we were."

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Northern Michigan 3, Alaska Anchorage 2 ... Michigan Tech 3, Lake Superior State 0 ... Ferris State at Alaska (late)

MSU vs. Bowling Green, Game 1 live chat

The Mavericks and the Falcons face off in a key conference matchup starting at 7:07 p.m. on Friday at the Verizon Wireless Center. Join the conversation or follow along with the action below tonight's lines.

MINNESOTA STATE
26-Margonari, 23-Blueger, 10-Knutson
25-Stepan, 15-Franklin, 19-McClure
24-Knowles, 17-Huntebrinker, 9-Gervais
14-Mullin, 16-J. Nelson, 12-Coatta

28-Jutzi, 5-Foguth
8-Brickley, 6-C. Nelson
11-Flanagan, 27-Schwalbe

34-Huggins
29-A. Nelson

Scratches: Cooper, Lewis, Madry, Pawloski, Schmeisser, Vanko

BOWLING GREEN
10-Dufour, 2-Mercier, 20-M. Pohlkamp
27-McKeown, 18-D'Andrea, 16-Hawkins
23-Tate, 11-Bednard, 29-Schilling
13-Baylis, 6-McLain, 26-Cooper

5-Smith, 28-Walker
14-Friedman, 12-C. Pohlkamp
3-Ernst, 4-McDonald

33-Nell
31-Burke

Friday Morning Skate

After playing Saturday and Sunday at the North Star College Cup, it's a quick turnaround for the Mavericks for one of the biggest series of the season — Bowling Green coming to Mankato with first place in the WCHA on the line.

Minnesota State has been playing well the last few weeks, and its goal-scoring output is most encouraging. The lineup tweaks that took place two weeks ago have continued to work, it appears. Last week, I wrote about the impact C.J. Franklin was having. When he was moved to the middle, Dylan Margonari was moved to the wing on Teddy Blueger's line, and that, plus the confidence that comes from Margonari being fully healthy, has been a real boost, too.

One thing the changes have done, it appears, is provide some real balance and depth in the lines, and the grouping of Franklin, Zach Stepan and Brad McClure has been particularly effective. See their stats as part of The Free Press's College Hockey Gameday preview.

As for Bowling Green, it is approaching this weekend with the idea that the Mavericks are better than their record says they are and are hoping their can fair better against another of the top teams in the league than they did last week when they tied and lost at home to Michigan Tech. More coverage of the Falcons can be found here.

In case you missed it in the Freep this week ... Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said in this week's College Hockey Notebook that series such as the Bowling Green games are ones players want to be in. Also, I wrote about how, on the ice, the North Star College Cup was a true celebration of college hockey in Minnesota.

In other WCHA action this week ... Lake Superior State is at Michigan Tech for Winter Carnival, Alaska Anchorage is at Northern Michigan and Ferris State is at Alaska.

In Jack Hittinger's and my USCHO column this week, I talk to WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson about how he wants to see the conference grow. Read Jack's and my weekend picks here.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mavericks 3, Gophers 2

Trevor Cokley/The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Kill comes through: Minnesota State gave up a late power-play goal in its loss to St. Cloud State in the North Star College Cup semifinals and, against Minnesota took two late penalties while holding on to a one-goal lead. In the third-place game, however, MSU killed off the penalties (they had allowed two power-play goals earlier in the game) to win the season rubber match with the Gophers. It was a special-teams game, with each team scoring a 5-on-3 power-play goal and the Mavericks getting the game-winner from Teddy Blueger on the power play. Only the game's first goal — credited to Blueger but essentially an own-goal for Minnesota — was even strength. MSU ended up 2 for 5 on the power play, and the Gophers were 2 for 6.

2. Huggins gets the nod: Mavericks coach Mike Hastings used a little self-deprecating humor when talking about starting Cole Huggins in goal. Huggins was the WCHA's Defensive Player of the Week after allowing one goal in two games against Lake Superior State a week ago. Freshman Jason Pawloski got the start against St. Cloud State and was pulled after allowing three goals (Huggins ended up taking the loss in the 5-4 game). Huggins stopped 21 of 23 shots against the Gophers, including a big partial 2-on-0 breakaway when it was  Bua 2-2 game in the third period. "I thought that was big," Hasting said of Huggins' bounce back. "He played two games for us last weekend and the genius coach plays the other guy? But I thought Pawloski’s done a really good job of leading us here over the last two months, earned his opportunity. And then Huggins came in and played well. I thought he played really well, especially, in the third period, giving us some penalty kill saves." Watch comments from Huggins below:



3. Centers of attention: Blueger finished the game with two goals and an assist, and was a factor all over the ice. "As the season progresses, teams that are successful late have their leaders do a lot of heavy lifting, and I thought Teddy Blueger really forced himself on the game, especially in the third period," Hastings said. "And not just the goal that he scored. I thought, coming out of our end, he played with some poise, didn’t throw the puck around and create opportunities for them." Meanwhile, C.J. Franklin continued his hot streak, scoring a wicked power-play goal and assisting on Blueger's game-winner. He now leads MSU with 11 goals and has eight points in his last four games. Blueger now has 24 points to lead the Mavericks in scoring. He's three points away from 100 for his career.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Michigan Tech took three of four points at Bowling Green to tighten up the top of the WCHA standings. MSU leads Bowling Green by two points (and the two teams play in Mankato next weekend), and Tech is in third place, four points out of first. ... Alabama Huntsville and Alaska Anchorage split their series in Anchorage. ... Alaska got swept in a nonconference series at Wisconsin. ... Northern Michigan split a nonconference home series against Minnesota Duluth.

MSU vs. Minnesota, North Star Cup 3rd-place game

Join the conversation in the live chat below today's lines.

MINNESOTA STATE
26-Margonari, 23-Blueger, 10-Knutson
25-Stepan, 15-Franklin, 19-McClure
24-Knowles, 17-Huntebrinker, 12-Coatta
9-Gervais, 27-Schwalbe, 14-Mullin

28-Jutzi, 5-Foguth
8-Brickley, 6-C. Nelson
11-Flanagan, 21-Vanko

34-Huggins
39-Pawloski

Scratches: Cooper, Lewis, Madry, A. Nelson, J. Nelson, Schmeisser

MINNESOTA
18-Bristedt, 17-Novak, 24-Fasching
21-Reilly, 2-Kloos, 22-Sheehy
10-Gates, 19-Lettieri, 13-Cammarata
26-Romanko, 23-Norman, 15-Michaelson

28-Bischoff, 20-Brodzinski
11-Seeler, 3-Glover
4-Johnson, 2-Sadek

37-Schierhorn
34-Lehr
1-Kautz