Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bulldogs 6, Mavericks 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Banner night spoiled: Minnesota State had its biggest crowd to see a hockey game at the Verizon Wireless Center with 5,375 on hand to see the Mavericks open the season and celebrate (briefly) last season's Final Five championship with a banner unveiling. MSU just couldn't get the big crowd into it, though, as it fell in the home-and-home series split. The Mavericks couldn't build on the 1-0 first-period lead, nor could they take any momentum from Chase Grant's late second-period goal. The third period was all UMD.

2. Not so special: The Mavericks' special teams have been up and down through four games. On Friday, they were 3 for 10 on the power play. On Saturday, they not only couldn't get it going, but they allowed a killer short-handed goal that broke a 2-2 tie early in the third period. MSU kept putting its hand on the stove and iced the puck twice during that power play. The second one led directly to Dominic Toninato's goal from the high slot off the ensuing faceoff.

3. Star power: Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said what he said in his team's opener at Nebraska Omaha: "I think their players were their best players tonight. Indeed, forwards Toninato (5 goals so far this season) and Alex Iafallo (4 assists) and defenseman and Minnesota Wild draft pick Carson Soucy (5 points) took control of Saturday's game. The Mavericks' top players didn't do much. No points for Matt Leitner or Bryce Gervais. Jean-Paul LaFontaine had a nice set-up on Dylan Margonari's goal in the first period. Simply put, MSU needs its best players to be good on a consistent basis for it to have a season like last year's or better.

Deep thought: The Mavericks' loss was their first at home since Nov. 8 of last season against Bowling Green, snapping an unbeaten streak at the Verizon Wireless Center of 15 games

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 4, Alabama Huntsville 1 ... Notre Dame 5, Lake Superior State 1 ... St. Lawrence 2, Ferris State 0 ... Northern Michigan 4, Wisconsin 1 ... Alaska Anchorage 4, Air Force 1 ... Alaska 4, Penn State 3

MSU vs. Minnesota Duluth - Game 2 live blog

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mavericks 5, Bulldogs 4 (OT)

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Fantastic freshmen: Minnesota State got three goals from rookies in a fast, physical game. Zeb Knutson's first collegiate goal will be quite memorable, as it won the game at 2:23 of overtime. C.J. Franklin's cannon shot was a beauty, as he jumped off the bench, raced into the zone and one-timed a perfect set-up pass from Matt Leitner for the game's first goal. Then there was Brad McClure, who scored his third goal in as many games, a nasty shot upstairs from close range after being set up by Jean-Paul LaFontaine. "If you ask them, I think they'd tell you they've come in expecting to make an impact as freshmen," coach Mike Hastings said.

2. Another crazy second period: Last Saturday, the Mavericks scored four second-period goals to erase a 2-0 deficit and take charge of an eventual win over Nebraska Omaha. Friday's game featured a combined five goals and eight penalties. The Mavericks led 4-1 after scoring twice during Kyle Osterberg's 5-minute major for checking from behind. But the Bulldogs surged back with two goals 2:01 apart late in the period. UMD's first goal in the period was a short-hander at the start of the major penalty that made it a 2-1 game. The period reeked of early season issues for two good teams — and perhaps for the officiating crew.

3. Back in the game: Junior goaltender Stephon Williams got his first start since Feb. 15 and stopped 34 shots, including three in overtime and 12 of 13 in the third period. The game-tying goal in the third appeared to get redirected and perhaps knuckled on him a bit. Indeed, Karson Kuhlman was credited for the goal after Tony Cameranesi shot from the wall. Williams played big at times, stopping a pair of close-range shots by sniper Alex Iafallo in the first period and making a key save on Jared Thomas at the left post in overtime. Does this mean Williams starts on Saturday in Mankato? I'm guessing that decision has yet to be made.

Deep thought: Minnesota State has scored 18 goals in its last four games against UMD while allowing 12.

Read my Free Press game story here. Read Matt Wellens' gamer from the Duluth News Tribune here.

Around the WCHA: Bowling Green 5, Alabama Huntsville 0 ... Ferris State 3, St. Lawrence 2 (OT) ... Notre Dame 5, Lake Superior State 4 ... Northern Michigan 2, Wisconsin 0 ... Penn State 3, Alaska Anchorage 3 (OT, UAA wins shootout) ... Alaska 4, Air Force 3

Minnesota State at Minnesota Duluth - live chat

Friday Morning Skate

Photo by Pat Christman
The Mavericks will finish off a three-game road swing to start the season tonight in Duluth before both they and the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs come back to Mankato for MSU's home opener on Saturday.

(Friday's game will be televised on Fox Sports North-Plus; Saturday will be on Charter 826 and Comcast 999.)

It's marathon weekend in Mankato, so the town should be packed Saturday night. There will be a Hockey Night in Mankato celebration 4:30-7 p.m. in City Center outside the Verizon Wireless Center. Also, MSU will celebrate its WCHA Final Five championship with a banner unveiling before the game.

One of the heroes of the Final Five was Brett Stern, who scored what would stand is the game-winner in the title game. It was his only goal of the season. Stern is in his second season as a captain and he leads by example, as he's the top shot blocker on the team.

Mavericks coach Mike Hastings expects the series to be a fast, up-and-down-the-rink series, not unlike the last two times the teams played, which was a 5-4 overtime win over UMD in the first game of the North Star College Cup last January at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Read more in The Free Press' Gameday Preview.

Meanwhile, the Duluth News-Tribune's Matt Wellens (you may remember him from his coverage of Northern Michigan last season in Marquette), takes a look at this weekend's goalie situation for both teams. Both played two last weekend. 

Hastings didn't name a starter before leaving Mankato for Duluth, but the smart money seems to be on Williams getting the nod after his solid relief appearance on Saturday in Omaha.

Going around the WCHA ...

• There is just one league series this weekend as Bowling Green visits Alabama Huntsville. The Falcons are eager to get started with the WCHA season after splitting with Miami last week.

• A week after winning the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks will host the Alaska Goal Rush with the hopes of starting the season 4-0. Anchorage, Air Force and Penn State are the other teams in the event, and the latter is coached by old Nanooks coach Guy Gadowsky.

• Anchorage will be without senior captain Brett Cameron, who was suspended one game by the WCHA for his seemingly legal hit on Wisconsin's Tim Davison last Saturday. The Seawolves, however, do have Austin Azurdia playing after suffering a broken leg last April.

• Northern Michigan will play a nonconference series against Wisconsin, with the teams meeting about halfway in Green Bay, Wis. It will be the Wildcats' first game action of the season.

• In other action, Ferris State goes to St. Lawrence, playing its first game since beating Michigan on Oct. 4.

• Read Jack Hittinger's and my USCHO notebook here and check out our picks for the weekend here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Up and down

The Mavericks, following their season-opening split at Nebraska Omaha, moved up in one national poll and down in another and are now ranked 12th in both polls.

Considering that there were so many splits, upsets and questions over the first two weeks of the season, it wasn't easy to put together a top 15 or top 20. In fact 44 teams -- including Alabama Huntsville! -- received votes in the U.S. College Hockey Online rankings. There were 29 teams listed in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Minnesota State, which was 13th last week, is one of three WCHA teams in the USCHO top 20. Ferris State is fourth, and Alaska is 19th (Michigan Tech, Alaska Anchorage, Bowling Green, Bemidji State and Huntsville also received votes).

In the other poll, MSU fell from 11th to 12th. Ferris State is sixth (Michigan Tech, Alaska, Bemidji State and Alaska Anchorage also got votes).

Minnesota remained No. 1 in both polls.

Meanwhile, the WCHA, hoping to have a better nonconference showing this season, has gotten off to a better start than last year. The league is 8-7-0 so far outside the WCHA, including four victories among 10 away-from-home games.

A year ago, the league went 8-11-3 outside the WCHA in the first two weeks of the season with three wins in 17 road games.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

MSU 4, Omaha 2

Freddy's three thoughts of the game ...

1. Important comeback, Part I: Minnesota State trailed 2-0 at 11:07, and Cole Huggins was yanked after allowing two goals on three shots. But coach Mike Hastings said he didn't mind the way his team was playing overall in the first period, and both he and captain Chase Grant said they didn't sense any panic in the locker room between periods. "I didn't see guys start pulling apart at the seams," Hastings said. "That's a positive." MSU went out and scored four unanswered goals in the second period and shut down Omaha's power play six times to win the game, showing a little early-season resolve.

2. Important comeback, Part II: The win also meant a comeback for a series split, no easy task on the road after dropping the first game. Going 1-1 against a nonconference rival isn't a bad way to open the season, but given the way it wants to start the season, getting at least one win was vital. "Really big," Hastings said. "It's such a process, and (UNO coach Dean Blais) is probably going through the same thing. We learned a lot as a staff about our team. I think we learned a lot about ourselves tonight being down 2-nothing on the road and coming back and having the kind of second period we had."

3. Stephon shines: After Huggins was pulled, Stephon Williams came in and stopped all 10 shots he faced the rest of the way to get the win. Williams, the junior who lost his starting job to Huggins last season, didn't see a lot of rubber, thanks to some stellar defensive work and physical play. However, he did make a couple of key saves to preserve the two-goal lead. There might have been some speculation about Williams starting Saturday's game, but Hastings went with Huggins. "Today when I named Cole Huggings the starter, no pout to (Williams) at all," Hastings said. "He went out and worked, worked his tail off during then the (morning) skate. He deserved to play, and I thought he showed quite a bit of himself tonight."

Deep thought: The Spirit of the Maverick trophy stayed in Omaha after the series, due to the split an the fact that each team scored seven goals on the weekend. MSU needed one more goal to take it back. It's best chance came during a UNO power play with about 6 minutes left in the game. In the Dean-Blais-being-Dean-Blais department, he pulled his goalie for the power play to skate 6 on 4 and try to cut down the two-goal deficit. MSU's kill was excellent, but it couldn't get a sniff at the empty net.

Read my game story here.

Around the WCHA: Robert Morris 3, Lake Superior State 0 ... North Dakota 2, Bemidji State 1 ... Alaska 5, Maine 2 ... Colorado College 4, Alabama Huntsville 3 ... Wisconsin at Alaska Anchorage (late)