After three consecutive disappointing seasons in Mankato, head coach Troy Jutting was replaced by Mike Hastings. The first year head coach has turned the Mavericks around, with 21 wins to his credit already (21-10-3). By comparison, Jutting only hit 20 wins once in his 12 seasons behind the MSU-M bench (20-11-10 in 2002-03, Jutting’s only NCAA tournament appearance), and lost 16 or more games in 11 of his 12 head coaching campaigns.
Last year, the Mavericks relied heavily on their rookie class, and those players are now flourishing as sophomores. Forwards Matt Leitner (15-25-40) and Jean-Paul Lafontaine (8-20-28) have been offensive catalysts, while fellow sophomore Zach Palmquist (5-16-21) has chipped in from the blue line.
By contrast, UND’s top scoring second year player is forward Mark MacMillan (12-12-24), while sophomore defenseman Nick Mattson has notched three goals and added 12 assists.
The biggest storyline in Mankato, however, might be the emergence of netminder Stephon Williams. The freshman goaltender from Fairbanks, Alaska spent two seasons in the USHL (Sioux Falls and Waterloo) before beginning his NCAA career, and Williams has taken the job away from senior Phil Cook. Cook has struggled in nine appearances this season (3-2-1, 3.49 GAA, .879 SV%), while Williams has ben nothing short of outstanding (18-8-2, 1.82 GAA, .930 SV%, 4 SO).
UND still has a goaltending battle on its hands, with freshman Zane Gothberg and junior transfer Clarke Saunders both playing well. Look for each to get a start this weekend in Mankato, with the sharper of the two getting the nod for the playoff run beginning next weekend.
Since December 1st, both teams have been in fine form. North Dakota has gone 12-4-5 over the past three months, outscoring opponents 73-49, while the Mavericks have posted an impressive 15-5-1 mark over the same time frame, owning the scoreboard by a 74-43 margin.
Dave Hakstol’s team has secured home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs and currently sits in 7th place in the Pairwise rankings, which mimic the NCAA tournament selection process. Based on the results of this weekend’s conference action, North Dakota could host Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Colorado College, Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, or Wisconsin in the first round of the league playoffs next weekend. UND will host the first round of the conference playoffs for the 11th consecutive season, the longest active streak in the WCHA.
Mike Hastings’ squad sits in a tie for fourth place in the WCHA, and could end up at home or on the road next weekend, depending on the results of this series and other games around the league. Regardless of how the lconference playoffs turn out, the Mavericks appear to be in line for an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 2002-03.
This is the first meeting between the schools during the 2012-13 campaign. The teams also played just two games last season, with North Dakota sweeping a pair from the Mavericks in Grand Forks. Beginning next season, UND will move to the NCHC while Mankato will remain in the new-look WCHA. It is unclear when the two schools will schedule games again or whether there is interest on either side in continuing the rivalry.
MSU-Mankato Team Profile
Head Coach: Mike Hastings (1st season at MSU-M, 21-10-3, .662)
Pairwise Ranking: t-8th
National Ranking: #10
This Season: 21-10-3 overall, 15-10-1 WCHA (t-4th)
Last Season: 12-24-2 overall, 8-18-2 WCHA (11th)
Team Offense: 3.29 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.26 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.5% (38 of 162)
Penalty Kill: 82.5% (113 of 137)
Key Players: Sophomore F Matt Leitner (15-25-40), Senior F Eriah Hayes (18-13-31), Sophomore F Jean-Paul Lafontaine (8-20-28), Junior F Zach Lehrke (8-15-23), Sophomore D Zach Palmquist (5-16-21), Junior D Josh Nelson (5-8-13), Freshman G Stephon Williams (18-8-2, 1.82 GAA, .930 SV%, 4 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 231-115-37, .651)
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
National Ranking: #5
This Season: 18-9-7 overall, 13-6-7 WCHA (t-2nd)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)
Team Offense: 3.29 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.47 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.1% (30 of 136)
Penalty Kill: 83.3% (105 of 126)
Key Players: Senior F Corban Knight (14-30-44), Senior F Danny Kristo (20-24-44), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (12-12-24), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (12-17-29), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-9-13), Sophomore D Dillon Simpson (3-17-20), Junior G Clarke Saunders (12-6-4, 2.30 GAA, .915 SV%, 2 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 3, 2012 (Grand Forks, ND). Senior goaltender Brad Eidsness pitched a 29 save shutout on Senior Night and Brock Nelson added an empty-netter with 90 seconds to play as UND rolled the Mavericks 3-0. North Dakota won Friday’s opener 4-2 on the strength of a three goal first period.
Last Meeting in Mankato: December 12, 2010. In a rare Sunday afternoon contest, UND again rallied from an early deficit to secure the road victory, 4-2. Down one goal late in the game, the Mavericks couldn’t capitalize on nearly two minutes of 5 on 3 play, and North Dakota forward Evan Trupp iced the contest with an empty-netter in the final minute. On Friday night, the Green and White scored three 3rd period goals in under three minutes to come back and win 4-3.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 37-10-7 (.750), including a 14-4-4 (.727) record in games played in Mankato.
Last ten: North Dakota has a sparkling 9-1-0 record in the last ten contests, and has lost just once in the last 20 meetings (18-1-1) between the schools.
Game News and Notes
UND head coach Dave Hakstol is 22-3-2 (.852) against the Mavericks in his career. This weekend’s games will be played on an Olympic sheet of ice at the Verizon Wireless Center (capacity 4,832). North Dakota is just 3-4-1 on the wider ice surface this season (at Alaska Goal Rush tournament, St. Cloud State, Colorado College, and Minnesota). MSU-Mankato is 10-5-1 at home this year.
I really can’t see either team taking more than two points from this series. If the games were in Grand Forks, the edge would go to the Green and White, but Mankato is fast and skilled and will take UND by surprise in game one. North Dakota will silence the cowbells and take the series finale on Saturday night. MSUM 4-2, UND 4-2.