It might have been one of the best road weekends in the history of the program.
Minnesota State waltzed into Agganis Arena on the campus of Boston University hoping for just a split.
What they got was so much better: A decisive two-game nonconference sweep of the Hockey East powerhouse on their home turf. The Mavericks won the first game 6-3 before blanking the Terriers 3-0 in the series finale.
Especially considering MSU’s result in the opening weekend — a 4-0 loss at the hands of instate rivals St. Cloud State despite outshooting the Huskies by nearly double the amount — that sweep of what was then the No. 2-ranked team in the country had the Mavericks feeling pretty good on the plane ride back to Mankato.
“We’ve got some resiliency,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said following Saturday’s win. “I just grabbed my strength coach and told him, ‘Thank you,’ because our guys just exerted a lot of energy in both games and we’re still able to play for 60 minutes.”
A few of MSU’s star players were able to step up when it counted for them.
During Friday’s game, All-American defenseman Daniel Brickley had three assists and scored the game-tying goal in the first period — one that turned the game around after the Mavs trailed 1-0, then 2-0. They scored three more unanswered goals after that to win 6-3.
On Saturday, preseason All-WCHA selections CJ Suess and Marc Michaelis, each scored a goal, and goaltender Jason Pawloski stopped all 26 shots for his fourth career shutout.
The Mavs were outshot 12-5 in the first period Saturday, as the Terriers spent a ton of time in their offensive zone. Hastings said Pawloski was the reason for this.
“I thought he was exceptional in the first period,” he said. “To not be down at the end of the first, being in the box the way we were, the posession time they had in-zone… he was the difference-maker.”
Pawloski, a junior who split time in net with Cole Huggins last season, had a .920 save percentage and 2.10 GAA in 17 games — both numbers in the top three among league goaltenders.
Both MSU goaltenders played well on the weekend, as transfer Connor LaCouvee earned the win on Friday. He made 32 saves to best his old Terrier teammates.
The sweep helped the Mavericks move back into the USCHO poll at No. 14 — they dropped out after losing to St. Cloud the weekend prior.
With just six nonconference games on MSU’s schedule, Hastings said he knows how big the sweep was, for both his team and the league, down the stretch.
“Our nonconference record last year, as a league and ourselves personally, it can handcuff you at the end of the year,” Hastings said. “We don’t have a lot of them. When you play out of conference and you don’t succeed, it makes that hill a little steeper to climb.”
MSU actually went 4-2-0 in nonconference play last season — much better than many of their WCHA peers. But the league was so far down, compared to other conferences, that the Mavericks couldn’t snag an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament despite a 22-13-4 record.
Hastings hopes that can change this year — but the Mavericks have to play like they did against Boston and carry it over into next weekend’s league opener at Bowling Green.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t watching the scoreboard in between periods, from a league standpoint,” Hastings said. “It’s been an achilles heel for us. So hopefully this weekend helps ourselves and our book of work at the end of the year, but it doesn’t happen if we don’t keep moving forward.”
Alaska Anchorage sophomore defenseman Nolan Nicholas has done his part to make sure the Seawolves aren’t allowing goals when he’s on the ice.
In three games this season, Nicholas has 13 blocked shots, second-most in college hockey behind Wisconsin freshman Wyatt Kalynuk, who has 14 in five games. Nicolas 4.33 blocks per game is tops amongst NCAA players that have played at least two games.
Since he arrived on campus Nicholas has proven himself as a reliable defensive option. He was voted the Seawolves rookie of the year last season by his teammates, and he led the team with 57 blocks in 29 games that season.
That was good for 13th in the conference last season, while Lake Superior State freshman Collin Saccoman led the WCHA with 94 blocks last season.
While it’s not the most glamorous stat, the teams that block shots well tend to win in the WCHA.
Bemidji State had four defenders with at least 44 blocked shots last season on their way to a regular season title. WCHA playoff champion Michigan Tech had three players ranked in the top-15 for blocked shots, and all six defenders average more than one block per game.
Just food for thought as we get into the meat of the WCHA schedule. Those teams willing to put their bodies on the line are often rewarded.
– Alabama Huntsville had an early bye week after being swept by Notre Dame in their season opener. They head to the UP to take on Michigan Tech. The Chargers are 0-12-2 all-time against the Huskies and 0-7-1 in Houghton, Mich. It’s part two of UAH’s odd schedule, which sees them on the road each weekend until Nov. 10 against Alaska Anchorage. Following this weekend at Tech, the Chargers travel to Ithaca, N.Y., to face Cornell then to Tempe, Ariz., for a series against Arizona State.
– Despite the sweep at St. Cloud State last weekend, Alaska’s Kylar Hope made a name for himself with a solid series. Hope scored his first collegiate goal on Friday, then followed it up with a goal and an assist in Saturday’s game. Hope leads the team with four points.
– Alaska Anchorage and Alaska open the Alaska Governor’s cup this weekend with a non-conference home-and-home matchup. The teams will meet six times this season and the Nanooks have a slight edge in the cup series with 34-33-7 record against their in-state rival. Overall the series is 89-62-12 in favor of Anchorage.
– Michael Bitzer helped lead Bemidji State to a win and a tie against instate rivals Minnesota Duluth last weekend. Saturday’s game wasn’t a win — it was a tie — but because it was a scoreless tie, it counted as a shutout for Bitzer, who now has 17 in his career. He stopped a career-high 45 Bulldog shots to become the WCHA men’s all-time shutout leader. He passed Colorado College’s Jeff Sanger and Wisconsin’s Brian Elliot for the honor; both were tied with Bitzer for the lead with 16. Aside from the shutout record, Bitzer’s win on Friday — a 5-2 Beaver win — was the 50th victory of his career. He’s currently ninth on the Beavers’ all-time wins list and is No. 1 on BSU’s Division I-era wins list.
– Bowling Green freshman Cameron Wright has a point in his first three collegiate games and helped the Falcons split with Michigan State.
– Ferris State’s weekend series with Mercyhurst features two of the most seasoned coaches in college hockey. Bob Daniels is in his 26th season, while Rick Gotkin is season 30 leading Mercyhurst. It’s just the seventh time in program history the teams will have met, and combined the coaches have 805 combined wins and seven NCAA tournament appearances.
– Lake Superior State faces it’s biggest out-of-conference test of the season with a trip to Denver. The defending national champions present an opportunity for the WCHA to make major noise after Minnesota State swept Boston University last week.
– Michigan Tech’s Mark Auk leads the WCHA with eight points through five games. Auk, a senior defenseman, is tied for the national lead with six assists. He’s had at least a point in every single one of the Huskies’ games this season.
Players Of The Week
This week’s WCHA players of the week were Lake Superior State senior forward JT Henke (offensive), Minnesota State junior defenseman Daniel Brickley (defensive), Bemidji State senior goaltender Michael Bitzer (goaltender) and Bowling Green freshman forward Cameron Wright (rookie).