Thursday, December 5, 2013

Maverick Hockey Over Winter Break

With winter break approaching quickly, students will soon be headed home for the holidays. The Mavericks men’shockey team, however, will be hard at work. The Mavericks play seven games between the end of fall semester and the beginning of spring semester, including three conference series and one exhibition game.
With fall semester ending next Friday, the Mavs will head to Huntsville, AL. to play a conference opponent in theUniversity of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers in a two game weekend series. Last season, the Mavericks opened their season at Huntsville with a tie and a win over the Chargers. This is a series that the Mavericks will be heavily favored in and hope to come away with two wins and four more points in the WCHA standings. The Chargers currently sit in last place in the 10-team WCHA with a 0-8 league record, and an overall record of 0-14. While Huntsville played a tight game against a very good Maverick team last season, they seem to be struggling so far this year and this should be a weekend where the Mavs walk away with two more wins on their record.
The Mavericks return home to the Verizon Wireless Center Dec. 17 for an exhibition matchup against the U.S. National Team Development Program. For those who aren’t familiar with the USNTDP, it is a program consisting of the best high school players in the nation based out of Ann Arbor, Mich. The under-18 team plays in the top junior hockey league in the U.S., the United States Hockey League, as well as playing exhibition games versus collegiate teams, while the under-17 team plays in the tier II North American Hockey League. Between the two teams in the program, 36 players have committed to a Division I college to play hockey so these games serve as preparation for their college careers. The game will not count for any official NCAA or WCHA standings, nor will stats from this game.
After a short break for the holidays, the Mavericks return to the ice Jan. 3 when they head to Fairbanks, Alaska to face off against another conference opponent in the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks. This will be a special trip for one Maverick in particular, as goaltender Stephon Williams is a native of Fairbanks. Last season, the Nanooks were not a member of the WCHA so this will be Williams’ first time as a collegiate goaltender playing in his hometown. With a 2-6 league record, Fairbanks sits in ninth place of the WCHA, and carries an overall record of 5-7-2. After finishing in the top half of the very competitive and now dissolved Central Collegiate Hockey Association, I picked the Nanooks to be one of the teams to finish among the top three in the WCHA, but they haven’t quite found their groove this season. This is another series where the Mavs will be favored and should certainly come away with some points in the league standings.
From there, the Mavericks will again play a series in Alaska when they travel to Anchorage the following weekend to play another series against the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, who they swept last weekend in Mankato. The Seawolves are in eighth place in the WCHA with a 3-5-2 league record, but sit only two points behind the Mavs, who are tied with Lake Superior State University for third. Anchorage proved they could be a tough team to beat last Friday night when the Mavericks squeezed out a 3-2 win in the third period after the game was tied 2-2 at the conclusion of the second period. Saturday night, the Mavs rolled past them though, beating them 7-3 for the sweep. Although this series is at Anchorage, the Mavs proved with the sweep last weekend that they are a deeper, more skilled team than the Seawolves and will be looking to leave Alaska with a win, if not a sweep.
Now that we are nearing the midway mark of the college hockey regular season, let’s take a look around the WCHA at some of the teams the Mavericks have yet to face.
The Ferris State University Bulldogs are currently in first place with a commanding lead, carrying an 8-0-2 league record and 11-2-2 overall. The Bulldogs were the team I predicted at the beginning of the season would challenge the Mavericks the most for the top spot in the conference. Just two seasons removed from losing the national championship title game, the Bulldogs look like a promising team to make the NCAA Tournament. They are the highest ranked WCHA team on the national scale, coming in at number six in this week’s poll and even received one first-place vote.
Behind Ferris State sits the Bemidji State Beavers. A familiar team that has been in the WCHA for the past three seasons, Bemidji has found themselves to be more competitive in the new conference. In second place, the Beavers sit one point ahead of both Minnesota State and Lake Superior, who have each played two less games. It’s fair to say Bemidji likely won’t hold the number two spot once these teams have caught up in games played. With a 5-4-1league record, the Beavers have already eclipsed their total of four league wins last season.
Lake Superior State sits tied with the Mavericks in third place in the WCHA with an identical 5-3 league record. The Lakers have surprised many early on this season, climbing to number 14 in this week’s national rankings. They were a team I thought could challenge the Mavericks this season but have shown themselves as a legitimate threat for the WCHA crown early on.
A longtime member of the WCHA, the Michigan Tech University Huskies are in fifth place in the league, tied with the Mavericks’ opponent this weekend, Northern Michigan University. Both teams carry a 4-3-1 conference record thus far and could sneak up on some teams. Had either of these teams won the games they tied, they would be tied for third place heading into the weekend.
While many picked Minnesota State to be crowned the WCHA champions in 2014, right now the conference looks like a tossup. With the exception of Huntsville, each team has enough season left to make their way up the standings and fight for the top spot, as can be seen with how tight the standings are right now from second place through eighth place.
The Mavericks hit the ice this weekend at home against Northern Michigan. The Wildcats will look to move ahead of the Mavs in the league standings while the Mavericks will look to move ahead of Bemidji for the number two spot. Friday night’s matchup will begin at 7:37 p.m. with a slightly earlier 7:07 p.m. Saturday puck drop.

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