What I think I learned this weekend …
1. Don’t discount Bemidji
Bemidji State split at home against the league’s preseason favorite, Minnesota State, winning 4-1 and falling 4-3. The Beavers had the Mavericks on the ropes in the second game, too. Goaltender Andrew Walsh was rock-solid throughout the weekend, especially in the first period of each game, and he got plenty of help from his teammates, who, not surprisingly, have bought into the program’s defensive brand of hockey. Any team will have trouble going into the Sanford Center this season. That team plays too hard, especially in its own end, to get walked over. But the Beavers have a few players who can score, too. Danny Mattson has eight points, and Cory Ward has five goals.
2. Where’s the offense, MSU?
Through six games, Minnesota State is averaging just 2.33 goals per game, which ranks seventh in the league, and the Mavericks’ power play is clicking at just 8.8 percent. This is a surprising, almost shocking, statistic, considering the offensive firepower that was returning this season. The problem seems to be the ability to finish, as the Mavericks have had plenty of scoring chances. To come away without a goal in the first period Friday in Bemidji was so frustrating that the entire momentum of the game changed after the Beavers scored the game’s first goal. The Mavericks were without Matt Leitner (back), one of the nation’s most dangerous power-play men last season, and point man Josh Nelson (lower body). Also, key PP guys Eriah Hayes and Zach Lehrke are also gone. So perhaps we’re seeing some unexpected growing pains. Or perhaps we’re seeing a trend?
3. Ready to bounce back?
Lake Superior State came into the weekend unbeaten and ranked in the top 12. The Lakers looked the part over the first part of the first period at Wisconsin, scoring three quick goals. The Badgers came back and forced an overtime tie in that game and then pounded the Lakers 8-1 on Saturday. Meanwhile, in Huntsville, Ferris State swept Alabama-Huntsville 5-0 and 3-2. In the second game, the Chargers had leads of 1-0 and 2-1. But neither of those leads lasted long. The Bulldogs came back to tie the game in 76 seconds and 19 seconds respectively. Three minutes after FSU made it 2-2, Justin Buzzeo scored his second goal of the game for the winner — just 3:24 remained in the game. All of this makes me very curious to see how Lake Superior State and Alabama-Huntsville bounce back from two different kinds of heartbreak. The Lakers will try to get back on track when they open WCHA play at home against Alaska, while the winless Chargers go to Alaska-Anchorage, which was swept at Bowling Green over the weekend.