By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Minnesota State vs. Michigan Tech
The No. 9 Mavericks (18-9-3, 12-9-1 in WCHA) return home after playing five of their last six games on the road to face the Huskies (10-14-4, 6-12-4). The two teams split their four-game series last season, and Minnesota State is 5-4-1 against Tech in the teams’ last 10 meetings.
Five things to know about the matchup:
1. Seeking an advantage: Minnesota State has lost its last three home games — two overtime games to Wisconsin and one to Minnesota — and is 8-5-1 in Mankato this season. “It’s about defending home ice,” coach Mike Hastings said. “It’s what we have to get back to doing.” Prior to the Wisconsin series, MSU won six straight home games.
2. Current and future rivals: Coach Mel Pearson’s Michigan Tech team is one of four teams — Minnesota State, Alaska Anchorage and Bemidji State are the others — that will remain in the WCHA after the conference splits up this summer. “This is the beginning of a new WCHA rivalry,” Hastings said.
3. Leading the way: Forwards Matt Leitner (10-23—33), Eriah Hayes (16-12—28) and Jean-Paul LaFontaine (8-19—27) are Minnesota State’s top three scorers. Before this season, MSU hasn’t had a 30-point scorer since it had three in 2008-09. The Mavs haven’t had a 40-point player since the 2005-06 season.
4. Rookie goalies: The series will feature a pair of freshman goaltenders having excellent seasons. Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams (.930, 1.79) leads the WCHA in goals-against average and is second in save percentage. Michigan Tech’s Pheonix Copley (.910, 2.80) has started 11 straight games, winning six.
5. Scouting the Huskies: Michigan Tech has scored 18 goals, including seven on the power play, in its last three games. The young players have been particularly good, especially freshman Alex Petan (11-15—26) and sophomore and U.S. World Junior team member Blake Pietila (14-7—21).
Around the rinks
MSU women: The Mavericks (10-17-3, 6-15-3 in WCHA) will close out their home schedule with a series against St. Cloud State (8-20-2, 4-19-1). Games are at 7 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Saturday. They will be the final games in Mankato for seniors Lauren Smith and Lauren Zrust, Erika Magnusson and Emilia Andersson. Minnesota State and St. Cloud State split a series earlier this season.
Gustavus: The men (13-7-3, 7-5-2 in MIAC) hope to clinch a conference playoff berth when they play first-place St. Olaf. Today’s game is at 7 p.m. in St. Peter. Just two points separate the MIAC’s top five teams. The women (20-0-1, 14-0-0 in MIAC) will play St. Olaf with Saturday’s game taking place at 2 p.m. in St. Peter. The Oles are the last MIAC team to beat Gustavus, doing on Feb. 18, 2012.