The Mavericks (14-10-0) will play in the inaugural tournament featuring Minnesota’s Division I teams, starting today against Minnesota Duluth (9-9-2). No. 1 Minnesota (17-2-3) and No 5 St. Cloud State (12-4-4) will play in the nightcap, with the two winners and two losers squaring off on Saturday. These are the final nonconference games for Minnesota State. The Mavericks have yet to win a game at Xcel Energy Center, going 0-5, including a loss in last year’s Final Five.
Five things to know about the matchup:
1. Center of attention: Moving Dylan Margonari (5 goals-6 assists—11 points) “up the gut” to center last weekend against Ferris State turned out to be a good move for Mavericks coach Mike Hastings. The sophomore had a goal and assists on two of three goals by Johnny McInnis (10-9—19) in the series. Chase Grant (3-6—9) is the line’s other winger. “Me and Chase and Johnny complement each other well,” Margonari said. “I think we have similar styles. Johnny commented before that my speed makes him play faster.”
2. Sitting one out: Minnesota State will have to play without forwards Teddy Blueger and Zach Stepan, both of whom were assessed fighting majors on Saturday. That means some line shuffling and a chance for freshman Michael Huntebrinker, who has played in just four games. Taylor Herndon is the Mavericks’ other forward, and defenseman Blake Thompson also got some work up front this week. Thompson practiced at forward earlier in the season when he was still ineligible.
3. Leading the way: Jean-Paul LaFontaine (13-12—25) sits atop MSU’s scoring list and has 21 points in his last 14 games. LaFontaine, Zach Lehrke (5-11—16) and Matt Leitner (7-15—22) are all averaging better than a point per game. Zach Palmquist (2-11—13) is the Mavericks’ top-scoring defenseman. Freshman Cole Huggins (.919 save percentage, 2.05 goals-against average) has played 18 games in goal and recorded his 10th victory on Saturday.
4. Scouting the Bulldogs: Minnesota Duluth is in sixth place in the NCHC, although it has lost just one of its last five games. Freshman forward Alex Iafallo (8-7—15) leads the team in scoring, followed by junior forwards Caleb Herbert (5-9—14) and Justin Crandall (8-5—13). Justin’s brother, senior Aaron Crandall (.912, 2.64), has received the bulk of the action in goal.
5. Scouting the Gophers and Huskies: Minnesota leads the Big Ten and has yet to lose a game in that conference. Led by junior Sam Warning (10-16—26) and goalie Adam Wilcox (.928, 2.02), the Gophers are on a 10-game unbeaten streak. St. Cloud State sits atop the NCHC but is winless in its last three games. The Huskies are led by sophomore forward Jonny Brodzinski (11-10—21) and goalie Ryan Faragher (.921, 2.28).
Around the rinks
Minnesota State women: The Mavericks (9-17-0, 4-16-0 in WCHA) hit the road for a series at Ohio State (7-12-5, 2-11-5), a team they swept Nov. 22-23 in Mankato. MSU is trying to snap a five-game losing streak and move back ahead of the Buckeyes in the WCHA standings. Ohio State has tied its last three games, winning two shootouts, including one against No. 1 Minnesota on Jan. 11.
Gustavus Adolphus: Both Gustavus teams will try to remain atop the MIAC when they take on St. Mary’s in a pair of home-and-home series. The men (9-4-3, 6-1-1) will play at home tonight, while the seventh-ranked women (10-3-2, 8-0-0) will host the Cardinals on Saturday afternoon. The women have outscored conference foes 31-8, the men 26-13.
This weekend's games 4 p.m. today, 4 or 7 p.m. Saturday Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul TV: Fox Sports North Radio: KTOE 1420 AM, 102.7 FM Live blog: mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com Twitter: @puckato