Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Same conference, new rivalries

When the landscape of college hockey changed a season ago with the formations of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Big Ten hockey conference, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association saw a great deal of change. 

With many longtime members of the WCHA leaving for the NCHC and Big Ten, only a few remained. It was sad for hockey fans to see the WCHA dismantled, but it did create new rivalries. 

For Minnesota State University, Mankato, Ferris State was the clear rivalry that was created in the new-look conference as they battled for the top two spots in the conference. But another team that was new to the league last season established a bit of a rivalry of their own with MSU. 

Bowling Green State University came to the WCHA from the now defunct CCHA. Last season, the Mavericks faced off against the Falcons four times in the regular season, where the two teams split the season series 2-2. More notably, three of those four regular season contests were decided in overtime. 

The final game between MSU and BGSU took place at the WCHA Final Five tournament, when the Mavericks defeated the Falcons 4-0 to advance to the championship game. 

MSU (4-2) heads to Bowling Green, Ohio this weekend for the first matchup against the Falcons (4-1-1) this season. Last season the Falcons had their scoring spread out fairly event throughout their lineup, but this season they've seemed to find a go-to man. 

Sophomore forward Kevin Dufour leads BGSU and the NCAA in goals with eight in just six games played. Next behind him is Brainerd, Minn. native and Falcon freshman Mitch McClain with three. What Bowling Green excels at that the Mavericks need to be aware of, however, is specials teams. 

The Falcons have a very high 29.6% success rate on the power play this season with an even more impressive 90.5% success rate on the penalty kill. 

Between the pipes is a bit of a question mark for BGSU. Junior Tommy Burke, sophomore Tomas Sholl, and freshman Chris Nell have all played two games apiece this season in a rare, three goaltender rotating style. 

So what do the Mavericks bring to the table this weekend?

After a three goal weekend at home against Alabama-Huntsville, junior forward Bryce Gervais was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. Gervais came on strong the second half of last season and has emerged as one of the top MSU producers on offense. 

Back on the blue line, senior defenseman Zack Palquist has three goals and five assists through six games to lead all defenseman in the NCAA in scoring. Palmquist also ranks fourth in the NCAA in scoring among any position. 

On the back end, Head Coach Mike Hastings has been splitting the minutes for Maverick goaltenders between junior Stephon Williams and sophomore Cole Huggins. Both players have won the WCHA Goaltender of the Year award, and give the Mavericks a confident backstop between the pipes. 

The action begins Friday night at the BGSU Ice Center in Bowling Green, Ohio, with the series being concluded on Saturday night. Both games will start at 6:07 p.m.

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