NORTH STAR COLLEGE CUP PREVIEW
Xcel Energy Center
No. 7 Minnesota Duluth vs. Bemidji State, 4 p.m. • TV: FSN Plus
No. 1 Minnesota State Mankato vs. No. 17 Gophers, 7 p.m. • TV: FSN Plus (1500-AM)
Consolation game, 4 p.m. • TV: FSN
Championship game 7 p.m. • TV: FSN
Note: The Gophers’ Saturday game will be on 1500-AM and streamed on BTN2Go.
Gophers (11-7-2, 2-2-2 Big Ten)
The state’s traditional power program will play the underdog role this weekend. The Gophers are ranked behind Minnesota State and UMD after struggling the past two months. They are hoping the North Star College Cup will be the catalyst to having a better second half. Senior captain Kyle Rau is convinced the transformation is on track after last weekend’s 99 shots on goal against Wisconsin and fewer mental miscues. Goaltender Adam Wilcox said the talented field will be a good test. Last year, the Gophers entered the tournament at No. 1 and beat the Bulldogs.
Minnesota State Mankato (18-4-1, 15-2-1 WCHA)
The Mavericks are in their second week as the top-ranked team in the nation after claiming that spot for the first time in program history. They haven’t lost since early December and are riding an eight-game unbeaten streak. A veteran roster and proven goaltender has been the recipe for success. Bryce Gervais (13 goals) and Matt Leitner (19 assists) lead a speedy offense that averages 3.74 goals per game. Goalie Stephon Williams has a .922 save percentage and 1.71 goals-against average two years after being named the WCHA Rookie of the Year.
Minnesota Duluth (13-8-1, 8-5-1 NCHC)
The Bulldogs have been one of the hottest teams in college hockey since sweeping ranked St. Cloud State and the then-No. 1 Gophers in back-to-back weekends in mid-November. They had won 12 of their past 15 games before a bit of a setback — a tie and a loss — last weekend against unranked Western Michigan. The bad weekend likely won’t affect the Bulldogs’ motivation. They were beat in a shootout in the North Star Cup inaugural championship game. First-round victories by the Bulldogs and Gophers would set up a rematch of last year’s exciting finale.
Bemidji State (7-12-3, 5-8-3 WCHA)
The Beavers are making their first appearance in the Cup, rotating in while St. Cloud State rotates out. Minnesota’s northern-most Division I program has struggled more than anyone in this group, winning just three of their first 13 games. They were swept by the Gophers and Minnesota State Mankato during that stretch. The North Star Cup coaches, however, agree that the Beavers are much better than their record reflects. They are 4-2-3 since beating St. Cloud State on Nov. 29. They had a seven-game unbeaten streak before being swept last weekend at Lake Superior State.