The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 13, 2012

MSU Hockey Game Day

— No. 20 Minnesota State (9-5-2, 7-5-0 in WCHA) will hit the road after four straight games at home to face No. 13 Omaha (10-5-1, 6-3-1) in an important conference series. Minnesota State leads the all-time series 15-10-5, including a split last season in Mankato, with both games being decided in overtime. MSU’s last victory in Omaha came during the 2006-07 season. The purple Mavericks are 0-4-1 there since.

The 5 hole

Five things to know about the matchup:

1. Traveling trophy: As always, the Spirit of the Maverick trophy is on the line when Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha meet. Omaha currently holds the trophy. With UNO going to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season, MSU coach Mike Hastings said he’d like the rivalry to continue. However, Omaha is not on MSU’s schedule next year.

2. Streak’s alive: Minnesota State has won six games in a row, outscoring opponents 23-6 over that stretch. During the streak, MSU’s power play is an impressive 8 for 30 (26.7 percent), while opponents are 2 for 19 (10.5 percent) with the man advantage. Senior co-captain Eriah Hayes (10 goals, 5 assists) leads the team with five power-play goals.

3. The big D: Early in the season, goaltending and defense looked like weaknesses for Minnesota State. Hard to say that now. Rookie Stephon Williams (6-3-0, .932 save percentage, 1.61 goals-against average) is the first MSU goalie to earn two shutouts in a season since Dan Tormey did it in 2005-06. Defensemen Josh Nelson and Brett Stern are the WCHA’s last two Defensive Player of the Week winners.

4. Omaha’s hot, too: The red Mavericks are coming off back-to-back road splits at Minnesota and St. Cloud State. The win at Minnesota on Nov. 30 closed out a perfect, 7-0 month of November for coach Dean Blais’ team that included WCHA sweeps at Michigan Tech and at home against Minnesota Duluth, along with a nonconference sweep of Alabama-Huntsville.

5. Scouting Omaha: UNO’s top line of Ryan Walters (8, 16), Dominic Zombo (6, 10) and Josh Archibald (7, 8) is “as about as dominant a line as you’ll see in college hockey,” Hastings said. Walters leads the WCHA in points. Omaha also has a deep defensive corps, led by Andrej Sustr (4, 8) and Bryce Aneloski (3, 9) that has made life easier for goalie John Faulkner (9-1-1, .905, 2.38).

Around the rinks

Gustavus: The second-ranked women’s team is 9-0-0 to start the season for the first time in school history. Fresh off a 2-1 victory at No. 6 Wisconsin-River Falls on Wednesday, the Gusties will host the Falcons at 7 p.m. today at the Don Roberts Ice Rink and then will be off until Jan. 11. Gustavus has outscored opponents 26-7.

— Shane Frederick