The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 7, 2014

College hockey gameday: Minnesota State vs. Michigan Tech

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The 17th-ranked Mavericks (21-13-0, 19-7-0 in WCHA) will host the Huskies for the first time this season as they close out the regular season. Minnesota State has won seven games in a row, while Michigan Tech has won six of its last eight. MSU leads the all-time series 27-16-4 and has won four of the last five meetings.

Five things to watch in the series:

1. A shot at MacNaughton: Minnesota State could win its first WCHA championship this weekend by sweeping Michigan Tech or by getting help from last week’s opponent, Lake Superior State, which plays at the league’s other first-place team, Ferris State. As it stands now, the Mavericks hold the tiebreaker over Ferris State for the top seed in the WCHA tournament, which begins next week. However, if the two teams finish with the same number of points, they will share the MacNaughton Cup.

2. Individual honors: Three Mavericks are in the running for the WCHA’s scoring and goaltending championships this weekend. On the offensive front, Matt Leitner (9-29—38) has 33 points in conference play, and Jean-Paul LaFontaine (28-18—38) has 31. Giving chase are Alaska’s Cody Kunyk (30) and Colton Beck (28). Between the pipes, freshman Cole Huggins (.917, 2.08) has a 1.86 goals-against average in WCHA play. His closest competition is Alaska Anchorage’s Chris Kamal (2.24).

3. Secondary scoring: While LaFontaine and Johnny McInnis (19-14—33) have carried the bulk of the Mavericks’ goal-scoring load this season, the team has gotten a big boost from some different players over the course of their seven-game win streak. Bryce Gervais has four of his 10 goals over that stretch. Chase Grant has three of his seven in that time. Dylan Margonari and defensemen Zach Palmquist and Sean Flanagan each have two. In their streak, MSU has outscored opponents 30-8.

4. A lot on the line for Tech: The Huskies are tied for third place in the WCHA but hold just a two-point edge over two fifth-place teams and a four-point lead over a pair seventh-place teams, all of which are hoping to overtake the Huskies for home-ice position for the conference playoffs. Michigan Tech hasn’t finished higher than sixth in the league since 1993 when they took fourth. That’s also the last time the Huskies hosted a playoff series.

5. Scouting the Huskies: Coach Mel Pearson’s Michigan Tech team is led by junior forward Blake Pietila (8-19—27), followed by sophomore Alex Petan (11-15—26) and junior Tanner Kero (15-10—25). Freshman defenseman Shane Hanna (3-18—21) is a candidate for the WCHA’s all-rookie team. Sophomore Pheonix Copley (.909, 2.55) has played the majority of minutes in goal, starting the Huskies’ last six games.

Around the rinks

Gustavus men: Led by Mankato native and former Maverick Corey Leivermann (17-12—29) the Gusties (16-6-4) will play St. Thomas at 7 p.m. Saturday in Mendota Heights for the MIAC playoff title. The Tommies (20-4-2) won the regular-season crown, in part by sweeping the Gusties on Feb. 14-15; those were Gustavus’ only two losses since Jan. 11. John McLean (.920, 1.96) has shouldered the bulk of the load in goal.

Gustavus women: The Gusties (17-7-2) will go for their 11th consecutive MIAC tournament championship at 2 p.m. Saturday. But they’ll have to do it on the road against league-champion St. Thomas (18-5-3) in Mendota Heights. Allison Eder-Zdechlik (19-7—26) has led the way offensively, followed by Melissa Doyle (11-9—20). The two teams split a series on Feb. 14-15, with each team winning at home.

This weekend's series 7:37 p.m. today and 7:07 p.m. Saturday Verizon Wireless Center TV: Charter channels 226, 826 (HD) Radio: KTOE 1420 AM, 102.7 FM Streaming: AmericaOne Sports Live blog: Twitter: @puckato