Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mavericks 4, Huskies 2

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

1. Big win, big crowd: A record crowd of 5,446 was on hand Saturday night to see the No. 2 Mavericks bounce back from a somewhat disappointing tie (albeit in a good game) for a 4-2 win and a three-point weekend against the No. 3 Huskies. The fans were entertained, and so were the Mavericks by what they saw surrounding them in the Verizon Wireless Center. Chase Grant compared the crowd to games against Minnesota from his freshman season. "It's been a special year," the senior said, "and there's a lot of excitement about this team. It's cool to be part of the turnaround." For the weekend, the Mavericks had a series-record attendance figure of 10,618. 

2. Getting to four: Thanks to crack stat researcher Dan Myers, we learned tonight that it was the first time this season that Michigan Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips allowed four goals. Phillips has been, consistently, the best goaltender in the WCHA this season (.934 sv%), proving that with his 43-save performance on Friday. But the Mavericks got their defensemen better involved offensively in the rematch (goals from Jon Jutzi and Carter Foguth) and used a strong second-effort in front on a rebound (Dylan Margonari) to get to three. Bryce Gervais, who was snakebit on some great chances throughout the weekend, finally broke through gave the Mavericks a little cushion with a power-play goal that made it 4-2. "He's a guy, if he get enough chances, he's going to finish," coach Mike Hastings said of Gervais, who now has 21 goals.

3. Senior salute: It was the last regular-season game at home for six seniors: Leitner, Chase Grant, Jean-Paul LaFontaine, Max Gaede, Zach Palmquist and Brett Stern. They were honored after the game, and Hastings gave a nice tribute to them on the ice in front of a large percentage of the crowd that stuck around to celebrate the win. In classy fashion, Hastings gave a shout out to former MSU coach Troy Jutting and assistants Darren Blue and Todd Knott for recruiting the group and getting them to MSU before his arrival. He also brought MSU's first coach, Don Brose, on the ice, saying, "To the guy who built this program ... I want to say thank you." Hastings also thanked the fans for continuing to set record crowds. 

Deep thought: The Mavericks can clinch at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup with one point next weekend at Bemidji State.

Read my game story here. A few bodies in the press box tonight; here's a recap from Chris Dilks. And Jim Rosvold of U.S. College Hockey Online had a photo gallery.

Around the WCHA: Bemidji State 1, Ferris State 1 (OT) ... Lake Superior 3, Northern Michigan 0 ... Alaska 4, Alabama Huntsville 3 (OT) ... Bowling Green at Alaska Anchorage (late)

MSU vs. Michigan Tech — Game 2 live blog

The No. 2 Mavericks and No. 3 Huskies will try to top Friday night's excitement when they wrap up their series before a full house at the Verizon Wireless Center on Saturday night. Don't have a ticket? No problem! Follow along on the live chat. Click the blog post title above or go here to participate. The puck drops at 7:07 p.m.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Mavericks 1, Huskies 1

Photo by Trevor Cokley, The Free Press
Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Missed it by that much: Minnesota State can still win the MacNaughton Cup, but it will have to do it away from home. The Mavericks outplayed the Huskies, outshooting them 44-23 (out-attempted them 83-61), only to have to settle for an overtime tie. That keeps them one point ahead of the Huskies in the WCHA standings, but, with a win on Saturday, they can only go up by as much as three with four points still to be had on the final weekend when they're in Bemidji. Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips was just two good, making some crazy saves on some great looks. You could tell how much the Mavericks wanted to win so they could go for a sweep and a championship by their play in the final minute of regulation. Their desperation reeked of a team down a goal trying to force overtime, rather than a team simply trying to win.

2. Ready for the rematch? The fifth-biggest crowd to see a hockey game in Mankato was on hand Friday; 5,172 was the announced attendance. Saturday's game sold out before Friday's did, and one would hope that everyone shows up, even if there's no chance of a trophy celebration. Friday's game, while somewhat sleepy in the second period, ended up being a rollicking good time between two teams that both deserve their high ranking. "No. 2 and No. 3?" said Jean-Paul LaFontaine, the Mavericks' goal scorer. "Yeah, it's one of those games where it's like, 'Bring it. Everything we've got.' ... Obviously, we should have won the game, with 44 shots on net. But our team played well. Every line was rolling along."

3. Getting healthy: Although both practiced this week, Teddy Blueger and C.J. Franklin were held out of Friday's game due to injury. That's a lot of points on the shelf (17 goals, 47 points combined), especially in a game in which the Mavericks needed finishers. Still, the Mavericks are also looking out for the long term. After this weekend, there remains one regular-season weekend, the first round of the league playoffs, possibly a game or two in the Final Five and at least one NCAA tournament game (more, they hope, of course). Dylan Margonari and Brett Knowles were back in the lineup and quite effective, getting four and six shots on goal, respectively. Margonari had a mini-breakaway in overtime and missed just high over Phillips.

Deep thought: The Mavericks dropped a spot in the Pairwise Rankings with the tie (their third non-win in a row) to No. 2 behind North Dakota.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Bemidji State 2, Ferris State 1 ... Northern Michigan 5, Lake Superior State 0 ... Alaska 4, Alabama Huntsville 2 ... Bowling Green 4, Alaska Anchorage 3

MSU vs. Michigan Tech - live blog

It's a top-three matchup as No. 2 Minnesota State hosts No. 3 Michigan Tech at the Verizon Wireless Center. To join the conversation, click the blog post title above or go here.

Williams named Richter Award nominee

Stephon Williams
Minnesota State goaltender Stephon Williams was named one of 28 nominees for the Mike Richter Award, which is awarded to the most outstanding goaltender in college hockey.

Going into tonight's game against Michigan Tech, Williams is 19-4-2 with a 1.64 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.

Other WCHA goaltenders on the list include Bemidji State's Michael Bitzer, Alabama Huntsville's Carmine Guerriero, Alaska Anchorage's Olivier Mantha, Ferris State's C.J. Motte and Michigan Tech's Jamie Phillips.

A full list of nominees can be found here.

Friday Morning Skate

It's finally here.

The No. 2 Mavericks and No. 3 Huskies square off tonight at the Verizon Wireless Center, which should be jam-packed. Looking at the Ticketmaster page, there remain a few hundred seats for tonight's game but Saturday has been into standing-room-only territory since Wednesday. As for student tickets, Minnesota State reported that all of the free ones have been distributed but students could buy SRO tickets for $5 at the civic center.

Whether you have tickets or not, I'd suggest you get to the arena early to avoid long lines (to get into the building, to get a 21+ wristband, to get concessions) that could keep you in the concourse past the opening faceoff.

For MSU and Tech, their roads to becoming two of the best teams in the country began well before conference alignment. They began three and four years ago, respectively, when Mike Hastings and Mel Pearson were hired to try to turn them into winners. (The previous link also includes brief video interviews with three of MSU's six seniors: Zach Palmquist, Brett Stern and Chase Grant). Now, they'll play in a series that features 10 of the top 11 scorers in the WCHA.

More info about the series can be found in my College Hockey Gameday preview, including what a lot of people are wondering about: injuries. By Thursday, the Mavericks had every player on the ice for practice. Dylan Margonari and Brett Knowles are clear to play, but Teddy Blueger and C.J. Franklin were still "day to day," Hastings said. Sounds like a game-day decision on those two.

I also wrote about the matchup as the lead item to my and Jack Hittinger's USCHO column. We also make our picks for this weekend's WCHA matchups.

Going around the WCHA ...

Bemidji State at Ferris State: Two teams fighting for (presumably) the final home-ice spot square off in Big Rapids, where superstar goalie C.J. Motte might be playing the final home games of his college career. Beavers players are predicting a 'cage match' with so much on the line for both teams.  At the end of the season it very well may come down to some deep tiebreakers to award that spot (Northern Michigan is in the mix, too) as UAHHockey.com's Geoff Morris investigates here.

Northern Michigan at Lake Superior State: As mentioned above, the streaky Wildcats are in the mix for home ice, too, thanks, in part, to their upset sweep at Bowling Green last week. They have a good chance to make some hay this weekend against the Lakers (and might have to with a season-ending series against Michigan Tech next week), although Lake Superior State is hoping to lock down a conference playoff spot.

Bowling Green at Alaska Anchorage: Seems almost inevitable that the Falcons will finish in third place (they need only a tie to secure home ice), however, they probably don't like the mini-slump they're on right now, having lost three games in a row. They're trying to stay positive, though, considering any more losses could be a big blow to their Pairwise number. As for the Seawolves, as the Alaska Dispatch News' Doyle Woody writes, they're still in rebuilding mode under second-year coach Matt Thomas, even if they've taken two steps back after a big leap forward last year.

Alaska at Alabama Huntsville: The Nanooks are making their first trip to Huntsville since 1982 and don't have a lot to play for, considering their NCAA-sanctioned postseason ban. So it's a long trip for a team that's done playing at home, can't make the playoffs and is coming off a bye week. The Chargers, meanwhile, are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot after being one of the teams that sat out last year.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Mavericks remain No. 2, Huskies up to No. 3

Need a bit more intrigue in this weekend's WCHA series between Minnesota State and Michigan Tech?

The teams will be two of the top three teams in the country when they meet at Mankato's Verizon Wireless Center.

Minnesota State remained No. 2 in the country in this week's U.S. College Hockey Online rankings, while Michigan Tech moved up to No. 3 in the poll. They own the same spots in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, each moving up one spot from last week.

Both teams were idle this past weekend and will meet at 7:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday.

The first-place Mavericks sit just one point ahead of the second-place Huskies atop the WCHA standings and can win the MacNaughton Cup with two wins on the penultimate weekend of the regular season.

The Mavericks remained No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings, which determine the NCAA tournament field. Michigan Tech is No. 5.