By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
It’s the 10th-ranked MSU Mavericks (22-11-3, 16-11-1 in WCHA) vs. the 20th-ranked UNO Mavericks (18-16-2, 14-12-2) in the first round of the WCHA tournament, Minnesota State’s first home playoff series since 2008. MSU has won just two first-round series, in 2000 and 2003, and would love nothing better than to get back to the Final Five in the final season before the conference breaks up.
Five things to know about the matchup:
1. Home cookin’: Minnesota State went 11-6-1 at the Verizon Wireless Center this season, outscoring opponents 60-39. Both times the purple Mavericks advanced to the Final Five, they were at home for the first round. However, they lost the last time out, in 2008, when Minnesota edged them in double-overtime in the third game of that epic series.
2. Inside the numbers: Minnesota State senior wing Eriah Hayes (19-15—34) is second in the country in shots on goal with 160. He continues to lead the WCHA with 12 power-play goals, while sophomore center Matt Leitner (15-26—41) is tops in the league with 24 power-play points. Leitner is seventh in the WCHA and tied for 10th in the country in scoring. For his career, he has 70 points in 74 games.
3. Power hungry: Minnesota State’s 39 power-play goals are second in the nation, and its 23.1 success rate is sixth. After Hayes, Leitner is second on the team with five power-play goals. Chase Grant and Josh Nelson each have four. MSU has allowed just 24 power-play goals. The last time it allowed fewer than 30 in a season was in 1999-2000, its first year in the WCHA.
4. Walters & Co.: Omaha junior forward Ryan Walters (21-29—50) has been the man this season. He leads the WCHA in points and is second in the league with a plus-25 rating. Seventeen of his goals have come at even strength. The red Mavericks are “dangerous” MSU coach Mike Hastings said, with Josh Archibald (19 goals), Matt White and Dominic Zombo all scoring 30 points or more.
5. Omaha update: Omaha has dropped its last four games and seven of its last nine. It’s given up 26 goals in the last five games, including 13 power-play goals on 26 kills. Over the last month, it has had three different starters in goal, none of whom was the now-departed Anthony Stolarz, who beat MSU in December. John Faulkner (.886, 3.02) has played most of the minutes this season.
Will this finally be the year for the Gusties?
Gustavus will open the NCAA Division III semifinals at 7 p.m today against Elmira at Superior, Wis. It’s Gustavus’ fourth consecutive trip to the final weekend, but it hasn’t won a Frozen Four game since taking third place in 2005.
According to coach Mike Carroll, a pair of overtime losses in last season’s final weekend, coupled with the fact that there are five seniors who have been oh-so-close the last three years, might be the recipe for success this time around.
The seniors are Lindsey Hjelm, Meagan Wanecke, Jenna Christensen, Kelsey Kennedy and Kayla Ingbretson
The second-ranked Gusties (27-0-1) will play Elmira (22-5-1) at 7 p.m. today. The 4:30 p.m. semifinal pits No. 1 Plattsburgh (26-0-2) against Middlebury (19-7-2). The championship game will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday.