Mavericks hope to bounce back in first round of NCAA ice hockey tournament
The Minnesota State Mavericks men’s hockey team qualified as the No. 2 seed in the West Regional bracket, facing off against the No. 3 seeded Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. The two teams will play this Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the chance to compete against the winner of St. Cloud State vs. Air Force and a Frozen Four berth.
Following the disappointing loss to Michigan Tech, who cut the Mavericks WCHA playoff run short, MSU can attempt a rebound in the NCAA Tournament. They have played the Bulldogs twice this season, losing early on in the year by a score of 3-1, then beating Duluth during the Mavericks’10-game winning streak, 1-0.
To the standards of the Bulldogs, their 21-16-3 season was a rocky one. The two 3-game losing streaks in the season also clashed with five series sweeps through the regular season. Duluth consistently split, much like the MSU squad from a season ago. Duluth also struggled in the NCHC playoff, taking two consecutive losses after a pair of home wins against Western Michigan.
Therefore, trying to predict which version of Minnesota Duluth the Mavericks will see this coming Friday is easier said, than done. The Bulldogs have proven to possess a pedigree for playing tough in the postseason, despite what the record may indicate beforehand.
In 2014-2015 the Bulldogs posted 16 losses, then knocked off the 23-win Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the regional. In 2015-2016, Duluth had another 16 loss season. They made the championship game in the NCHC playoff before beating Providence in the first round of the NCAA regional round. Last season, the seven loss Bulldogs ran through the NCHC for the championship before taking a loss in the championship game of the NCAA playoff. They are apt to go the distance in the postseason. Duluth has proven that record means little to the program once March hockey gets underway.
The Mavericks are an offense that racked up 130-plus goals in the regular season, but now has been stumped three times in under a month. Bemidji State started off the chipping at the MSU armory by tying with Bemidji State in the final game of the regular season, 2-2. In the postseason, Michigan Tech knocked the Mavericks out of the WCHA playoffs by outscoring MSU, 6-3, in two games.
The biggest question for the Mavericks headed into this matchup: can the Mavericks find their early-season mojo to squeak out a win vs. the Bulldogs? If they want to answer this question with a yes, they better pray their offense comes in clutch in the scoring department.
The defense of the Mavericks has to be what makes the difference in this matchup. Minnesota State locked up the Duluth offense to 15 shots on goal, staying in front of their offense and keeping the Bulldogs to under double-digit shots on goal in each of the periods. They need to hold fast on defense and trust the offense to take advantage of any opportunity they receive. Unlike the bulk of their season, the defense, not the offense, is going to make all the difference for MSU.