While St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth battle a pair of Colorado teams for NCHC supremacy in the Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center this weekend, you can find another Minnesota team playing for a conference tournament championship if you travel 90 miles to the southwest of St. Paul.
Top-seeded Minnesota State takes on No. 3 seed Bowling Green in the WCHA championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Center. The Mavericks (31-7-2) are ranked No. 2 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll and sit at No. 3 the PairWise Ratings, the formula the NCAA uses to pick and seed its 16-team tournament field. Minnesota State is projected be one of four No. 1 regional seeds in the national tournament, and a victory over Bowling Green (25-9-5) would cement that.
Beating the Falcons will be a challenge for Minnesota State, which split four games this season with Bowling Green, including a pair of 4-1 road losses in December. The Mavericks are on a six-game winning streak and are 17-2-1 since Jan. 1. The Falcons have been hot, too, winning their past five games and going 8-2-2 since Feb. 1.
The Mavericks rely heavily on freshman goalie Dryden McKay, a Richter Award semifinalist who has a 23-6-2 record with a 1.65 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. Also key is the top line of center Marc Michaelis (19-22—41), left winger Parker Tuomie (14-24—38) and right winger Charlie Gerard (11-18—29).
“I still think we can be better in the offensive zone, I think we can be better around the net,’’ said Minnesota State’s Mike Hastings, the WCHA coach of the year. “At this time of year, ice is hard to get.’’
Bowling Green, No. 13 in the PairWise, has the motivation of knowing a loss could end its season. The Falcons swept Northern Michigan in Marquette last weekend, with sophomore Max Johnson, a former Lakeville North standout, collecting two goals and two assists in the opener. Johnson leads the team with 19 goals and 41 points and has 12 points in the five-game winning streak.