Weekend Preview: Minnesota Teams in Pivotal Series

Big games highlight the three conferences in the West. With precious conference titles and Pairwise positioning is on the line, some of the conference leaders can’t afford to stumble.

St. Cloud State at Miami

Last meeting: Huskies sweep 3-0, 3-1

Without a doubt, there is much more on the line in this series for the Redhawks. Sure, the Penrose Cup would be nice, but in many sports, the regular season championship is the hardest to win but the least celebrated. The Huskies are in very good position for the NCAA tournament.

Miami will be the more desperate team. They are currently tied for the last home ice spot in the conference with Minnesota Duluth and Omaha. At 22 in the Pairwise, the Redhawks are running out of time to push for and at-large bid and really need to set themselves up for a post-season push. Home ice would be the best way to do that.

The Redhawks have been doing that as of late. They are 4-1 in the past five games, averaging 3.6 goals per game during that stretch. The Redhawks are getting more consistent play from some of the top players like senior Sean Kuraly and junior Anthony Louis. The two freshmen, Jack Roslovic and Josh Melnick, are a threat to score every game.

I’m not a huge fan of the goaltending, however. Seniors Ryan McKay and Jay Williams save percentages of .905 and .900 don’t exactly scare anyone.

On the other side of the ice, the Huskies are fresh off winning the North Star College Cup and have nearly every part of the game clicking. Freshman Mikey Eyssimont was named the tournament MVP with three goals and two assists on the weekend and has added even more depth to a team that has nine players with at least 19 points. Expect Miami’s defense to be very busy all weekend long.

One key match-up will be the potent Huskies power play (31.7 percent) against the Redhawks penalty kill (93.1 percent).

Bowling Green at Minnesota State

Last meeting: 2-2 ties, both games

The top two teams in the WCHA look to take command of the ship as we enter the final leg of the season. If this series is anything like the one that was played early in the season, nothing will be solved.

The Bowling Green Falcons have had an up and down year. The highlight has come in the middle when the team went nine games without a loss. However, taking just one point from third-place Michigan Tech last series puts them in a position where they need to make a jump.

Enter Minnesota State. The Mavericks lost a back and forth game against St. Cloud State last weekend and beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The top Maverick players are playing very well and have improved quite a bit throughout the year.

The Falcons don’t have a lot of players that jump out on the stat sheet. Sophomore Brandon Hawkins leads the team with an even split 18 points while senior Mark Cooper leads the team with 10 goals. But a respectable 11 players have reached double digits in points. Nothing to sneeze at.

The main strength of the Falcons’ game comes from goaltender Chris Nell. The sophomore has an impressive 11-5-6 record and an even more impressive .937 save percentage and 1.64 goals against average. Both stats are in the top five in the nation.

The Mavericks will have its hands full. The home ice will be an advantage for the purple, as they are 9-4-0 at home. If the game stays close, the Mavericks have the advantage, as they are 7-2 in one goal games. The leaders of senior Teddy Blueger and sophomore C.J. Franklin played very well and the team will look for them to continue to this important conference tilt.

Both teams are on the outside looking in when it comes to the Pairwise bubble. Bowling Green enters the weekend at 25 whereas Minnesota State sits at 17. The Mavericks can get firmly on the bubble with a sweep this weekend.

Penn State at Minnesota

Last meeting: Split. Penn State won 3-2 OT, Minnesota won 7-1

The Minnesota Golden Gophers were playing very well until the two losses at the North Star College Cup. It felt like junior Hudson Fasching, the team leader in goals and points, disappeared for the two games last weekend, as Bemidji State and Minnesota State were able to shut him down. He was instrumental in the Gophers hot streak and the maroon and gold hopes he gets back on the score sheet.

The Penn State Nittany Lions has slipped a little bit since they got into the meat of the Big Ten schedule. They have lost the last three games and have given up an average of six goals against in those losses.

The majority of the Nittany Lions schedule is on the road from here on out. In fact, they have had only one conference series away from Hockey Valley, a split with Ohio State. Eight of the last ten games are on the road.

A pair of freshmen lead Penn State in goals with Andrew Sturtz with 13 and Chase Berger with 11. They love to put shots and pressure the goalie as they average almost 44 shots on goal per game, so you know Gophers freshman goalie Eric Schierhorn will be busy.

The Gophers are currently tied with the Michigan Wolverines with 24 points in the Big Ten Conference. Penn State sits at third.

In the pairwise, both teams are outside looking in. The Nittany Lions have the edge at 17 to the Gophers placement at 20.

One-timers:

  • It’s great to see Gopher women’s hockey senior Amanda Kessel back on the ice. She hasn’t played since the 2014 Olympics due to concussion issues. She has been cleared by the doctors and will add much more depth to an already dangerous team.
  • The Quinnipiac Bobcats, a team that sits at 20-1-5 and somehow isn’t a consensus number one team according to the polls that shan’t be named, has been playing with a little bit of fire lately. Last Friday against Dartmouth, the Big Green had a 4-1 lead before the Bobcats roared back and ended up winning 7-5. If they fall behind again to Cornell this weekend, I’m not sure the Bobcats will be able to climb back. Cornell is too good defensively.

That is it for me. Enjoy the games this weekend. My shift is over.

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