MANKATO — With its sweep of Alabama Huntsville over the weekend — and a little help elsewhere around the conference — the Minnesota State men’s hockey team clinched home ice for the first round of the WCHA tournament.
Three weeks remain in the regular season, and the Mavericks have four games left to try to win their first league championship. But they now know where they’ll be to start the postseason, and that’s the building in which they’ve compiled a 13-1-0 record this season.
The first round of the WCHA tournament, a best-of-three-games series, will take place March 14-16. The winner will advance to the Final Five, which will take place March 21-22 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The Final Five winner will receive the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and that just might be what Minnesota State needs to get to nationals. Currently, the Mavericks are tied for 18th in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to determine the 16-team field.
Minnesota State is tied with Ferris State atop the conference standings, although Ferris State, which also clinched a home series, has two games in hand. The top four teams will play on home ice; the worst MSU could do is finish in a tie for second place.
There is a tight race for the other two sports, as third through ninth place is separated by just six points. Alaska (Fairbanks), Bowling Green and Michigan Tech are tied for fourth with 24 points, two points behind of Alaska Anchorage and two ahead of Bemidji State.
In the race for the eighth and final playoff spot, ninth-place Lake Superior State has 20 points, one point behind Northern Michigan and two behind Bemidji State.
Alabama Huntsville has just three points.
Minnesota State has hosted a home playoff series four other times, including last season.
Jean-Paul LaFontaine joined Minnesota State’s 20-goal club on Saturday, joining just eight others to hit the mark in the team’s WCHA era. Here are the others:
Eriah Hayes (20 in 2012-13), Mick Berge (20 in ‘07-08), Travis Morin (20 in ‘05-06), Shane Joseph (29 in ‘02-03), Grant Stevenson (27 in ‘02-03), Shane Joseph (20 in ‘01-02), Jesse Rooney (22 in ‘00-01), Tim Wolfe (20 in ‘99-00).
LaFontaine ranks 10th on MSU’s Division I-era scoring list with 101 points (42 goals, 59 assists). Matt Leitner is seventh with 112 (37, 75). Zach Lehrke moved into 26th on the list with 77 points (30, 47).
The WCHA announced this year’s scholar athletes last week. Minnesota State men’s honorees include: senior Evan Karambelas and sophomores Dylan Margonari, Mat Knoll, Nick Buchanan and Jon Jutzi. Karambelas is a three-time recipient.
To earn the honor, players must have completed at least one year of residency at their present institution prior to the current academic year and must also have a 3.50 GPA or better for the previous two semesters or three quarters. They also may qualify if their overall GPA is 3.50 or better at their present institution.
MSU women’s players honored include: seniors Lauren Barnes, Melissa Klippenstein; junior Kathleen Rogan; and sophomores Erin Krichiver and Haley Northcote. Klippenstein and Rogan are three-time recipients.
The Mavericks now have a program-best 17 WCHA wins, besting last season’s previous best of 16. … Leitner extended his point-scoring streak to 10 games and has 19 points in that span. … Bryce Gervais’ short-handed goal on Friday was the team’s fourth in a span of seven games. … Not only did MSU outshoot Huntsville 65-10 on Saturday but it out-attempted the Chargers 131-25.