The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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October 11, 2013

College hockey gameday: MSU at Providence

The 11th-ranked Mavericks open the season out east against the 14th-ranked Friars. The two teams met in January of last season in Mankato with MSU winning 4-3 in overtime and 4-0. Providence won the first four meetings between the two teams, which took place in 2001-02 and ‘02-03. Providence, a Hockey East member, went 17-14-7 last season.

The 5-hole

Five things to know about the matchup:

1. Centers of attention: Minnesota State looks to be strong down the middle of its lineup again, with last season’s top scorer, junior Matt Leitner (17 goals-30 assists—47 points) manning the No. 1 line. Next is sophomore Teddy Blueger (6-13—19), fresh off a dazzling, four-point performance in Sunday’s exhibition victory. Junior Jean-Paul LaFontaine (9-26—35) centers the third line, with freshman Jordan Nelson on the fourth.

2. Decisions, decisions: When the Mavericks left Mankato on Wednesday, coach Mike Hastings did not yet know his full defensive lineup. Junior Zach Palmquist (8-17—25) and senior Josh Nelson (5-9—14) were big minutes-eaters a season ago. But the hope is that the Mavericks have better depth on the blue line this season to help keep those important players fresh for late in the game.

3. Important games: It may be the second weekend in October but the series could have implications five months down the road. Last season’s two wins over Providence helped propel the Mavericks into the national tournament and possibly kept the Friars out of the NCAAs. Recent changes to the NCAA selection process will reward teams for victories on the road as well as wins over top-ranked opponents.

4. Good goalies: When the teams met last season, Providence goalie Jon Gillies missed the series while playing for the U.S. Junior National Team at the world championships. Gillies was Hockey East’s top goaltender and a second-team All-American as a freshman with a .931 save percentage and a 2.08 goals-against average. Across the way will be the Mavericks’ Stephon Williams (.924, 2.00), who was the WCHA’s top goalie last season.

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