It’s Dec. 13, and you know what that means? We’re only 10 days away from Festivus, that “Seinfeld’’-celebrated holiday that also doubles as the earliest day middle-aged men can legally begin their gift shopping.
With the gift-giving season in mind, Hockey Claus is feeling generous and will bestow two gifts on each of Minnesota’s five Division I men’s hockey programs. Here’s a wish list for each:
First gift: Some nonconference success. The Beavers opened the season with an 0-2-2 mark in series against St. Cloud State and North Dakota, then have fashioned an 8-3-1 mark in the WCHA. Their next chance to hang a nonconference pelt comes in the Mariucci Classic, in which they’ll play the Gophers on Dec. 28 and either St. Cloud State or Minnesota State on Dec. 29.
Second gift: Continued penalty kill success. Bemidji State has been shorthanded 50 times and has allowed three goals for a nation’s-best .940 kill percentage. Goalie Zach Driscoll (8-4-1, 1.70 goals-against average, .932 save percentage) leads the way.
St. Cloud State
First gift: A return to form for David Hrenak. Last season, the goalie from Slovakia posted a 23-5-2 record, 2.18 GAA and .906 save percentage for a team that was ranked No. 1 for most of the season. This year, he’s 4-6-3, with a 2.79 GAA and .877 save percentage. Last week’s sweep of Miami (Ohio) showed improvement.
Second gift: Some wins at home: The Huskies are 1-4-1 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center this season. Improving that mark, starting this weekend against Nebraska Omaha, is a must if they want to return to the NCAA tournament.
First gift: A strong run in January. At 9-6-1 this season, the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs haven’t been the dominant force many expected. They are, however, a spectacular tournament team. A four week stretch starting in January – vs. Western Michigan, at St. Cloud State, vs. North Dakota and at Denver – offers coach Scott Sandelin’s team a chance to ramp up for the postseason.
Second gift: Good health. Standouts Nick Swaney, Dylan Samberg and Nick Wolff have missed time because of injuries, and All-America defenseman Scott Perunovich has played while battling bumps and bruises. Getting everybody completely healthy would go a long way in chasing a three-peat.
First gift: Ability to peak at the right time. The top-ranked Mavericks are 14-1-1, with a win and tie against North Dakota and a road sweep of Minnesota Duluth. With a 75-19-4 mark since the start of the 2017-18, coach Mike Hastings’ team has shown it can win big in the regular season. The deep, veteran and talented Mavericks need to make their NCAA tournament first-round game a mere speed bump rather than a mountain.
Second gift: Westward Ho. Minnesota State had the misfortune of being sent to Providence last season for an NCAA regional and had to face Providence in the first round. Even if the Mavericks are the No. 1 overall seed this season, there’s a strong chance they will be sent east again. Denver is the West Regional host in Loveland, Colo., and will be placed there if it makes the tournament. Same goes for Penn State with the Midwest Regional in Allentown, Pa. If both Denver, tied for No. 4 in the PairWise Rankings, and Penn State, No. 6 in the PairWise, land No. 1 seeds, a top-seeded Mavericks team would be sent to either Albany, N.Y. (East Regional) or Worcester, Mass. (Northeast Regional).
Gift one: Coffee’s for closers. Through a difficult first-half schedule that included top-10 teams such as UMD, Notre Dame, Penn State, North Dakota and Ohio State, the Gophers went 0-5-2 when losing leads, including an 0-2-1 mark when they had two-goal leads. That’s led to a 5-9-4 overall record. Coach Bob Motzko needs his team to mature to finish those games.
Gift two: Courage against the Lions. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Gophers are 2-10 against Penn State, being outscored 59-33. That included losses of 8-2 and 6-3 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in November. On Feb. 21 and 22, Minnesota visits Happy Valley, where the Nittany Lions have won the past six by a combined 40-13 score. Avoiding such blowouts would show the team has grown.