Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In-state rivals reunite this weekend in St. Paul

With the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference prior to last season, it seemed as if some of the greatest rivalries in college hockey had died. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association saw over half of the teams in their conference leave the league for these new conferences, and it was hard to see what was widely considered the top conference in college hockey to be dismantled.

Some of the rivalries formed in the old WCHA had been established over 40 years ago, so it was hard to imagine going through the season not seeing these teams battle it out for a conference championship. However, there were a few ways these teams were able to salvage the rivalries they once had in the old WCHA.

The hardware that's on the line this weekend.
A few teams stayed in the WCHA when other teams jumped ship, a handful went to the NCHC, and
Minnesota and Wisconsin headed for the Big Ten, leaving some of the rivalries untouched. Other teams now playing in separate conferences have done a good job scheduling non-conference match ups against one another to continue these longstanding rivalries. The third way these rivalries were salvaged, was the North Star College Cup.

The North Star College Cup is a tournament played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. that was created to keep the old WCHA rivalries going, more specifically, to keep the in-state rivalries between the Minnesota teams going. Last year was the inaugural NSCC tournament, with the University of Minnesota winning the championship with a shootout victory over Minnesota-Duluth. St. Cloud State University would win the consolation championship with a 6-4 win over Minnesota State University, Mankato.

This event is good for fans to come together in the familiar confines of where they gathered for years to watch these teams battle it out for the conference title, and good for the teams to play their in-state rivals in front of a familiar crowd. Though these games don't carry any weight in the standings of the teams' respective conferences, they do factor into the NCAA pairwise rankings for the postseason, along with bragging rights on the line.

The tournament kicks off Friday at 4 p.m. with Minnesota-Duluth taking on Bemidji State University, followed by a 7 p.m. showdown between Minnesota and Minnesota State. The tournament continues on Saturday with the two losing teams facing off for the consolation championship at 4 p.m. and the main event title game at 7 p.m.. 

Bemidji State University Beavers
Record: 7-12-3 (5-8-3)
Standings: 7th (WCHA)
National ranking: NR
Key players: Nate Arentz (7 goals, 8 Assists), Matt Prapavessis (5 goals, 9 assists), Michael Bitzer (2.23 goals against average, .909 save percentage, two shutouts)

University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 11-7-2 (2-2-2)
Standings: 3rd (Big Ten)
National ranking: 17th
Key players: Mike Reilly (4 goals, 19 assists), Kyle Rau (7 goals, 14 assists), Connor Reilly (11 goals), Adam Wilcox (2.44 goals against average, .910 save percentage)

University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
Record: 13-8-1 (8-5-1)
Standings: 2nd (NCHC)
National ranking: 7th
Key players: Dom Toninato (13 goals, 6 assists), Tony Cameranesi (6 goals, 12 assists), Kasimir Kaskisuo (2.24 goals against avergae, .914 save percentage)

Minnesota State University Mavericks
Record: 18-4-1 (15-2-1)
Standings: 1st (WCHA)
National ranking: 1st
Key players: Matt Leitner (5 goals, 19 assists), Bryce Gervais (13 goals), Zach Palmquist (6 goals, 13 assists), Stephon Williams (1.7 goals against average, .922 save percentage)

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