Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mavericks at Mavericks

On Sunday night the Minnesota State University, Mankato men's hockey team took to the ice for their first matchup of the year in an exhibition game against Trinity Western University (B.C.). The Mavericks cruised by the Spartans in a 12-1 romp where they outshot Trinity 53-5. 

Though an entertaining game for Maverick fans to see all that scoring, these are mere tune up games to get the team back into a game mentality. This weekend the Mavs face their first true test of the season. 

On the road for a two game non conference series, Minnesota State faces off against the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks this weekend. UNO, a former member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, now plays in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. While these two teams used to be conference foes, they haven't played since the first round of the WCHA playoffs in 2013 when MSU defeated UNO in a three game series at home to advance to their first WCHA Final Five appearance since 2003.

While UNO  went 17-18-2 last season and have missed the NCAA tournament the past three seasons, they cannot be overlooked. Last season, MSU had a rough start, going 4-6 in their first ten games and had to go on a 12-0-1 run to win the WCHA Final Five and make it into the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. Wins in these non conference series's help in the NCAA Pairwise rankings, making it so a team doesn't have to win their conference to make the NCAA tournament. 

The UNO Mavericks may appear on paper to be the inferior team this weekend, but they have plenty of firepower up front to give MSU a good run. Leading scorer Dominic Zombo returns after burying 17 goals last season along with sophomore Jake Guentzel who posted 34 points including 27 assists. A big help could be former Duluth East standout Jake Randolph. Randolph led the United States Hockey League in scoring last year on his way to garnering league MVP honors. He's a potential NCHC Rookie of the Year winner this season. 

MSU has plenty of big guns up front too, though. Seniors Matt Leitner and J.P. LaFontaine return as a dynamic duo who led the third best power play unit in the country a season ago. LaFontaine led the nation in power play goals for much of the season until finishing second by season's end. 

“I feel like I’ve improved every year,” LaFontaine said. “Coach Hastings expects a lot each and every year and that expectation keeps getting higher and higher.”

The offensive geniuses the Mavericks have should help this weekend, but their biggest asset may be in goal. 

Sophomore Cole Huggins is expected to start the season as the no. 1 goaltender after winning WCHA Goaltender of the Year last season and being a Second-Team All-WCHA goaltender. Behind him is junior Stephon Williams, who won Goaltender of the Year the previous season. 

Two wins this weekend would get MSU off to a good start before they play in-state rivals Minnesota-Duluth next weekend in a home and home series. 

The puck drops at 7:37 p.m. Friday night at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha with a 7:07 p.m. start on Saturday evening

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