Mavericks travel to Michigan Tech in final regular season series of 2021-22 season

After clinching the regular season MacNaughton Cup this past weekend in their series against Bemidji State, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team is set to travel to Michigan Tech’s home ice this weekend to play their final two-game series of the season. 

The Mavericks claimed their seventh MacNaughton Cup in game two of the series against the Beavers, which is awarded to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s regular season champion. The 5-1 win on Saturday propelled the Mavericks to a 29-5-0 overall record and 21-3 record in the CCHA, which equates to 62 points. 

MSU will face Michigan Tech, who clinched the second seed in the upcoming CCHA tournament with their shootout win over Ferris State on Saturday. 

The two teams played earlier this season at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato where the Mavericks swept the Huskies. The Huskies have presented one of the biggest challenges to the Mavericks this season, with MSU squeaking out a close 2-1 win in overtime and a 3-1 win in regulation. 

The Mavericks are likely to play without top goal scorer and junior winger Ryan Sandelin due to an injury. Sandelin has had a breakout junior year, scoring 19 goals while tallying 11 assists in 33 games played. 

MSU is also likely to miss their top scorer, junior Nathan Smith, who recently competed at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Despite a tough battle, Team USA was eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. 

Mavericks’ head coach Mike Hastings also competed in the games, but was picked to travel home early and made his first appearance behind the bench since leaving the games this past Friday for the Bemidji Series. Hastings explained postgame that Smith would not return home until after the closing ceremonies, which took place on Feb. 20. 

Smith is expected to be on his way back soon, but it is highly unlikely he will return to the lineup until the CCHA tournament. The junior forward led the Mavericks in scoring until the most recent series at 41 points, but senior Julian Napravnik tied the first place spot this past weekend. 

Smith has 15 goals and 26 assists this season in 28 games played while Napravnik nearly mirrors Smith with 16 goals and 25 assists in 30 games played. 

Senior netminder Dryden McKay remains a stone wall in the Maverick net, starting in all but one game for the Mavericks this season. 

McKay is a semifinalist for the Mike Richter award, which has been awarded to the top goaltender in college hockey since 2014. McKay is also a nominee for the Hobey Baker award along with fellow teammate Smith, which is awarded to the best player in college hockey.

McKay holds a 29-4-0 record between the pipes while supporting a .934 save percentage with nine shutouts. 

The goaltender has been a major key in keeping the Mavericks ranked No. 1 in the nation in the USCHO Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Poll. MSU also appears as the No. 2 ranked team in the PairWise Rankings, which determine seeding for the upcoming NCAA tournament in April. 

Minnesota State will be going up against Michigan Tech this weekend in Houghton at the John J. MacInnes Student Ice Arena. 

The Michigan Tech Huskies come into the matchup 19-9-3 overall and 16-6-2 in the CCHA. The Huskies have proven themselves to be one of the better teams in college hockey this season, and have earned the No. 14 spot in the most recent USCHO rankings. 

MTU also appears at No. 12 in the PairWise and could make a big jump in the rankings if they steal a game or two from the Mavericks this weekend. 

Tech is led by their senior class, with six of seven of their top point getters in their final years with the program. Forward Brian Holonen is the team leader in points and one of the top point getters in all of college hockey with 42.

Holonen also appears in the top two for goals scored with 20 to go along with his 22 assists. Following behind Halonen is forward Trenton Bliss, who has scored 11 times this year while tallying 24 assists. Bliss is the only other Husky to surpass the 30-point mark.

The Huskies rely on junior netminder Blake Pietila in the blue paint, who has started in 31 games this season. Pietila has earned himself 19 wins in the 31 starts, holding a .920 save percentage and 1.85 goals allowed average in those games.

Header Photo: Senior goaltender Dryden McKay (29) is a semifinalist for the Mike Richter award and a nominee for the Hobey Baker award. McKay has been a major key to the Mavericks’ success, stopping .934 percent of shots to propel MSU to the MacNaughton Cup and another No. 1 ranking. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)

Write to Kole Buelow at kole.buelow@mnsu.edu.

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