Hockey Day Minnesota 2017 preview

Hockey Day Minnesota is almost here.

FOX Sports North will be on location at Stillwater’s Lowell Park on Saturday, where six high school teams from across the state will compete on our outdoor rink.

Back in St. Paul, the Minnesota Wild will host the Anaheim Ducks in a matchup between a pair of division leaders.

Elsewhere, the Minnesota Gophers and the Wisconsin Badgers continue their storied rivalry in Madison, Wisconsin, while St. Cloud State and Minnesota State, Mankato face off in a WCHA showdown.

Thief River Falls vs. Mahtomedi (boys), 10 a.m.

Unranked Thief River Falls has taken its lumps this year after advancing to the 1A state semifinals a season ago. A season after going 19-6 while averaging 4.36 goals per game the Prowlers are 8-7 and scoring at nearly half that pace.

Leading scorer Ethan Johnson and 11 other seniors are gone, leaving junior Aaron Myers to shoulder the offense. He’s responded with 21 goals (28 points) in just 15 games.

He scored two more goals in a win over Warroad on Thursday, giving the Prowlers four wins in their last five games following a string of three straight losses in late December.

Head coach Jeff Poeschl’s Mahtomedi squad is in a similar situation after losing 16 seniors, and has relied on high-scorer Luke Posner for offense. He leads the Zephyrs in goals (16) and assists (13). After losing three straight to Tartan, Buffalo and Cretin-Durham Hall the Zephyrs have bounced back to win five of their last seven, and are now the No. 5-ranked team in 1A.

Eden Prairie vs. Stillwater (boys), 1 p.m.

Two of the state’s top-10 teams square off in the day’s second game as hosts No. 1 Stillwater Ponies (14-1) take on the No. 8 Eden Prairie Eagles (10-4-2).

After losing in the state semifinals last season to Wayzata, the eventual state champions, the Stillwater Ponies started the season 13-0 to earn their first-place state ranking.

Although senior forward Noah Cates didn’t record a point in the win over Elk River, the Minnesota-Duluth commit leads the team with 14 goals and 37 points.

But the key to Stillwater’s success is its depth — four players have tallied over 20 points. Cates, Luke Manning, Matthew Stanton and T.J. Sagissor lead the team in scoring, while goaltender Seth Eisele lets in a suffocating 1.09 goals per game.

While the Ponies showcase the state’s current No. 1 team, the Eagles have one of the best young players in the world.

Senior forward Casey Mittelstadt, a University of Minnesota commit, is the top American prospect in his class and a projected first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft this spring. Mittelstadt had a chance to graduate high school early last year to play hockey in the USHL or in the Big Ten for Minnesota, but he chose to stay in high school to chase a state title.

The senior has not disappointed in his return. He has scored at least a point in 14 of 16 games played and is currently riding a six-game point streak.

St. Cloud State vs. Minnesota State-Mankato (women), 3 p.m.

The Huskies and the Mavericks battle at the bottom of the WCHA this weekend, as a pair of low-scoring offenses square off in St. Cloud. MSU and SCSU have combined for just 12 wins this year, while the Mavericks have just one win on the road.

Freshman goaltender Janine Adler has impressed with a .925 save percentage for the Huskies and should be able to hold off a Mavericks offense that ranks 36th in the nation at just 1.20 goals per game.

However, the Huskies have had their own issues finding the back of the net.

Sophomore July Tylke is St. Cloud’s leading scorer with just 17 points, while junior Lindsey Coleman and sophomore Emily Antony lead the Mavericks with just 12 each.

Minnesota Gophers at Wisconsin Badgers (men), 5 p.m.

Badgers coach Tony Granato’s plan to revitalize Wisconsin’s ailing hockey program has hinged largely on sophomore captain Luke Kunin this season.

He leads the Badgers in scoring with 13 goals, anchoring an offense that also features senior playmaker Grant Besse and freshman Trent Frederic.

They’ve had few tests against ranked opponents this season and rank 26th in the PairWise at 10-7-1.

Minnesota has fared much better, and enters Hockey Day at 13-5-2 after picking up their sixth straight win last weekend.

The Gophers haven’t faced a ranked team since splitting a weekend series with Ohio State in early December, but a scoring attack led by sophomore Tyler Sheehy (28 points), senior Justin Kloos (24 points) and senior Vinni Lettieri (20 points) has been effective in Big Ten play.

Goaltending remains an issue for the Gophers.

Sophomore Eric Shierhorn’s has struggled, posting a dismal .895 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average.

Minnetonka vs. Stillwater (girls), 5:30 p.m.

No. 10-ranked Minnetonka stumbled last week, falling to Brainerd/Little Falls and Edina and will get one more tune-up in before hockey day. They square off against Wayzata at home on Friday night.

Emma Bigham leads the 9-7-3 Skippers in scoring with 14 goals, while Emily Kubicek is allowing just 1.50 goals per game with a .937 save percentage.

Meanwhile, the Ponies have struggled to generate offense in the new year, and haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since a 6-3 win over Prior Lake on Dec. 28.

They’ll look to snap a five-game skid against Minnetonka.

Senior Gina Jablonski and freshman Lauren Einan lead Stillwater in scoring with 12 points each.

Junior goaltender Olivia Knox has a .919 save percentage with two shutouts through 14 games.

Wild vs. Ducks, 8 p.m.

The Wild have returned to their winning ways since having their 12-game win streak snapped by the Columbus Blue Jackets on New Year’s Eve.

They’re 6-2 since then, including impressive wins over the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens, and have taken over the Central Division lead.

Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund have been the Wild’s top scorers lately, while Zach Parise’s production has cratered.

He has just eight goals (20 points) on the season, and was on the third line with Erik Haula and Jordan Schroeder for the Wild’s win over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Ducks lead the underwhelming Pacific Division with 61 points and have won eight of their last 10.

Centers Ryan Kesler (38 points), Ryan Getzlaf (34 points) and Corey Perry (33 points) lead an offense that has managed just six goals over its last three games.

Statistics courtesy of mnhockeyhuh.com, hockey-reference.com and USCHO.com