The North Star College Cup is once again upon us. The tournament consists of four of the five Division I teams in Minnesota meet at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for a tournament for Paul Bunyan’s Chalice (unofficial term).
The defending champion happens to be the Bemidji State Beavers, which won fairly easily with a 4-0 win over Minnesota Duluth and a 3-1 victory against WCHA foe Minnesota State.
This year, it’s Minnesota Duluth’s time to spectate. The tournament moved to a Saturday-Sunday afternoon format, instead of the traditional Friday-Saturday.
Much has been discussed about this change, so I may as well add my two cents. I think it’s a good move. By changing the dates and times, you encourage fans from outstate to watch the tournament. Fans of Bemidji won’t have to take off work on Friday and spend two nights in the Twin Cities. Instead, fans can come down on Saturday morning and only spend one night before heading back on Sunday night.
I’m certain players and coaches are also not happy about having to be outside of their normal routine. My main problem with that line of thinking is due to the NCAA tournament and how those game times will be out of your routine. May as well get some experience with it.
Changing topics to the actual games to be played, this will be a very interesting tournament. All teams have been playing very well lately and have good reasons they will take the trophy. Let’s get to the contestants.
St. Cloud State Huskies 20-5-1
The favorite in the tournament has to be St. Cloud State. The Huskies have lost one game since December 11th and is coming off a series where they lit up Western Michigan for 15 goals.
Why they will win: The Huskies have five players, all seniors, that are averaging at least point per game. The defense has been rock solid as well, with junior Charlie Lindgren providing the team with great stability between the pipes. The power play is also one of the best in the country, clicking at 30.6 percent.
Why they won’t win: If there is one weak spot for the Huskies, it is on the penalty kill. While is has been a little bit better lately, overall the Huskies only kill off 78 percent of the time. There is no clue to tell how the referees will call the game, but if it is tight and the Huskies get into penalty troubles, it could be disastrous. In all five losses, they have allowed at least one power play goal.
Key Stat: The Huskies are 34-4 when senior David Morley scores a goal in his career.
Minnesota State Mavericks 13-8-5
It’s been an up and down year for the Minnesota State Mavericks. After starting the season with four losses where they only scored a combined two goals, the Mavericks have torn through the WCHA competition and currently sports a 12-3-5 in conference.
Why they will win: The Mavericks have only two losses since November 13th. The scoring woes that plagued them earlier this year have seemed to sort itself out as the Mavericks scored 13 goals last weekend against Lake Superior State.
Why they won’t win: With the first game against St. Cloud State, the Mavericks clearly don’t have the depth to compete. No member has reached double digits in goal scoring. Sophomore C.J. Franklin leads the team with nine goals on the season and senior Teddy Blueger leads team with 21 points. To put that into context, the Huskies have six players over 21 points.
Key Stat: The Mavericks only have one non-conference win on the season, come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win to Minnesota. And speaking of… (sweet segue, if I do say so myself!)
Minnesota Golden Gophers 13-10-0
Much has been made of the Minnesota Golden Gophers this season. Whether the team will be torn apart from it or will come together stronger is yet to be seen. But there is no doubt this team is playing better as of late, winning its last five games.
Why they will win: Plenty of players have stepped up in the scoring column during the five-game winning streak. During that stretch, the Gophers have scored an amazing 38 goals. Junior Michael Brodzinski has provided the team with much needed offense from the blue line, scoring a hat trick in his last game.
Why they won’t win: The Gophers have been having trouble stringing together complete games all season. In fact, they have a negative goal differential during the second period throughout the season. A full 60-minute game effort will go a long way to taking the tournament.
Key Stat: Junior Hudson Fasching has 15 goals on the season, but 11 of them have come in the last 12 games. If any team is going to slow them down, they will need to keep him off the score sheet.
Bemidji State Beavers 10-10-5
The Beavers also has been playing every well as of late, going 5-1-2 in the last eight games. In that stretch was a four-game stint where they battled both Alaska teams and going 3-0-1 on that road trip. Any current or former WCHA fan is aware how hard it is to string two good games together on Alaska trips, and the Beavers did that on back-to-back weekends.
Why they will win: The Beavers have the incredible knack to turn any game into a defensive slog. They play well in the neutral zone and can smother teams defensively. Opponents only average about 24 shots per game against the Beavers, so you need to make sure your shots count.
Why they won’t win: While sophomore Gerry Fitzgerald leads the team with 12 goals on the season in four few teams than many players on the team, no one else has more than six on the season. If teams focus on Fitzgerald, the Beavers don’t have many other players to step up. The goaltending tandem of sophomore Michael Bitzer and junior Reid Mimmack may have impressive goals against average, but the save percentage of .915 and .908, respectively, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Key Stat: Of the 10 losses this season, six of them are one-goal losses and another one was a two-goal loss with an empty net. This team isn’t one to get blown out and will always fight to the end whistle.
That’s it for me. This will be a fun tournament and I hope it really takes off in popularity. Make sure you watch a game this weekend. My shift is over.