Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Battling a new number one

After an idle weekend, the Minnesota State University, Mankato men's hockey team goes up against the no. 1 team in the country this weekend. 

Michigan Tech University is the last undefeated team in Division I men's hockey at 10-0-0, and it has earned them the no. 1 ranking in the NCAA. After years of finishing towards the bottom of the WCHA, the Huskies hired Mel Pearson as their head coach four seasons ago, and have seen a steady rise to the top. 

The past few seasons, MTU has been able to find themselves as a middle of the pack team, but now find themselves as a legitimate threat on the national scale.  Good team defense and solid goaltending seem to be the ticket for the Huskies. 

Michigan Tech has one of the top goaltenders in the country right now in Jamie Phillips, who holds a NCAA best 10-0-0 record to go along with an incredible .957 save percentage and a 1.2 goals against average. Phillips has also posted two shutouts on the year thus far. 

Scoring is spread out throughout their roster, showing depth may be another one of their assets. Tanner Kero leads the way for the Huskies with 12 points, while Alex Petan leads Tech in goals with five. 

Most impressive about the Huskies is their penalty kill which holds a 94.2 percent success rate. While the Mavericks have a 23 percent success rate on the power play, the stingy penalty kill of the Huskies could give them trouble. 

Meanwhile, the Mavericks held their position at no. 9 in the NCAA heading into this weekend. They have however moved up in the pairwise rankings, the rankings which determines seeding for the NCAA tournament. While it's still early on in the season, moving up to the no. 2 spot in the pairwise is a good start for the Mavericks if they hope to end up among the top 16 to make their third straight NCAA tournament appearance. 

MSU's strength comes from their offense. Junior forward Bryce Gervais is still tied for the nation's lead in goals with 9, and Matt Leitner is averaging an assist per game with ten. The Mavs have proved they can score goals as good as anyone, but will it be enough going against one of the nation's defenses?

"Leitner is one of the best passers I've ever seen," said SB Nation College Hockey writer Chris Dilks. "He makes so many great plays look effortless."

The hope for MSU is that Leitner and Gervais can keep that magic going and pull off one or two big upsets this weekend. While a split weekend isn't always the ideal outcome, playing against the nation's top team changes that. A sweep or even a split would keep the Mavericks in place in the pairwise rankings and likely move them around the top five in the NCAA rankings. 

Puck drop is at 6:07 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Center in Houghton, Mich. 

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