Gophers and Mavs keep things hot without WCHA ties: It doesn’t take a conference to make a
rivalry. Minnesota and Minnesota State have built up a strong one in a
relatively short time only now they have only two games in which to play it
out. With the #1 Gophers gone to the Big Ten, the Mankato squad remains in the
WCHA and has plenty of in-state pride to play for at Mariucci Arena this
Trouble is, the Mavericks aren’t banging on all cylinders.
At least, not yet.
Issue 1 – Goaltending: Last season, MSU had one of the
nation’s top goaltenders, Stephon Williams. They still have him, only Williams’
start has been anything but brilliant this season. Last year’s WCHA Rookie of
the Year (a controversial choice given Gopher goalie Adam Wilcox’s performance),
Williams has struggled at key moments this fall.
Last weekend, he was pulled after allowing four goals on 16
shots in Friday’s 4-3 loss to new WCHA rival Bowling Green. Freshman Cole
Huggins finished that one and went the distance Saturday, earning his first
collegiate shutout in a 1-0 overtime win.
Head coach Mike Hastings, the former Gopher assistant who’s
now in his second season at the helm in Mankato, professes to still have great
confidence in Williams, although just how much may be decided this weekend in
Issue 2 – Offense:
The great Midwestern drought has hit Mankato hard this fall in the form
of a nearly toothless offense. Through eight games, the Mavs have managed to
score only 2.25 goals per game.
That ties them for 46th among the 59 NCAA Division I teams.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. On paper, Hastings has
one of the stellar scoring machines in college hockey. The very real threat is
spearheaded by forward Matt Leitner, a WCHA third team all-conference player
last season. The issue doesn’t appear to be skill but grit. Leitner told The
Mankato Free Press, “We’ve got to get back to being a hard team to play
Issue 3 – Injuries:
Coming in, the Mavericks have only eighteen healthy skaters, which could
make for a long weekend against the nation’s top-ranked team. Forwards Zach
Stepan and Michael Huntebrinker out along with defensemen Josh Nelson and Carter Foguth sidelined last weekend, the ranks are thin. Hastings has said he
doesn’t expect any of them to return against Minnesota. We’ll see.
Gophers Still # 1:
Following their split weekend at Notre Dame Minnesota remains the
top-ranked team in the nation. The Gophers are number one on both major
national polls for the fourth consecutive week.
DOUG McLEOD is the longtime voice of Gopher hockey. Join him
along with former Gopher defenseman Ben Clymer, reporter Marnie Gellner, coach Doug Woog and host Jamie Hersch for
end-to-end coverage of the Gophers-Minnesota State series this weekend. We’ll
start at 6:30 both nights on Fox Sports North Plus!