Having a bye week early is pretty nice. Getting four solid non-conference games against quality opponents followed by a chance to regroup, reassess, and work on problem areas is a good opportunity to take advantage of before jumping into conference play. And when your first opponent is last year's conference champion, you need that opportunity.
After mustering just one goal during the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, the Nanooks surged with 11 goals in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush. Tayler Munson's emergence was a big part of that. Named the team's top athlete during pre-season training, the sophomore forward surged with back to back two goal games and added a couple of assists on top of that. Hands down the tournament MVP, but also turned into last week's 2nd star in all of NCAA hockey. All in all, the Saturday game against RPI was, in the words of assistant coach Corbin Schmidt, a good indicator of what the Nanooks are capable of.
Turning to the Mavericks, they've had a bit of an interesting start to their season as well. Starting off 0-4 with straight home losses to UNO and on the road at St. Cloud. Mankato managed 2 goals in the first game against the UNO Mavericks, but didn't score another goal until their WCHA opener vs Bemidji. 195 and 23 seconds straight, 3 whole games plus 15:23 without scoring a goal. Quite odd considering they averaged over 3 goals scored per game last year.
And yes, Gervais, Blueger, Stepan, and Nelson are all still there this year.
The Minnesota boys in purple may have made a turn for the better with a pair of 3-2 wins over Bemidji on the road, but it remains to be seen how they can follow that up returning home. Cole Huggins has played the majority of the minutes between the pipes, but freshman Jason Pawloski took to the crease for one of the games against Bemidji, allowing 2 goals on 20 shots.
I wasn't able to watch that game live as I was in Dillingham for work. But watching the game on demand on WCHA.tv, the Mavericks are taking advantage of opportunities. Saturday's 3 goals came on 2 power plays (set up quite well, I might add), and a defensive lapse given up to Zach Stepan, arguably one of their best forwards for a breakaway goal. Friday was even worse on Bemidji's part, allowing two shorthanded goals. The Mavericks don't screw around on the PK either though, head coach Mike Hastings preaches pressure. The puck carrier is allowed ZERO room, and both were forced turnovers. Teddy Blueger's shorthanded game winner was a thing of beauty too, deflecting a pass at the half wall intended for the defenseman, who was completely caught off guard and found himself immediately 3 strides behind going up the ice.
Moral of the story though, DON'T GIVE THEM CHANCES. Stay out of the box, and make smart plays with the puck. The Mavericks scored just one goal 5 on 5 against Bemidji, and just two 5 on 5 goals all season thus far. If the Nanooks can stay out of the box again this weekend, they'll be in good shape to set up for success. Defensively, the Nanooks have to contain. Watch for Mankato to reverse direction to open up the back side. Defensemen, keep the Mavericks in front of you. And help out your goaltender. Keep the pucks out of the slot, and stay true to blocking passing and shooting lanes.
Offensively, it's up to the 'Nooks to execute. Create chances in transition, and set up 2nd and 3rd chances in close with guys crashing the net. Keep their defenseman chasing, and capitalize. Finish Finish FINISH.
OK, I'm hyped for the game. It's almost midnight. I need to try to sleep now...