Minnesota State is making their first trip to the Final Five in ten years, snapping by far the longest streak in the WCHA. This trip is anything but a fluke for the Mavericks, however. They have been one of the stronger teams in the country all year, relying on stout defense and a deadly power play in the first year of head coach Mike Hastings.
Minnesota State has all but clinched a bid to the NCAA tournament. A win on Thursday afternoon against Wisconsin, or any team in the country already receiving an at-large bid winning their conference tournament would secure the team's first bid to the national tournament since 2003. With that pressure off their back, the Mavericks should be able to play loose, enjoy being part of the final Final Five, and be a tough team to play against in the tournament.
Projected Line Chart:
Chase Grant - Matt Leitner - Bryce Gervais
Dylan Margonari - Teddy Blueger - Eriah Hayes
Brett Knowles - Jean-Paul LaFontaine - Johnny McInnis
Taylor Herndon/Eli Zuck - Zach Lehrke - Max Gaede
Tyler Elbrecht - Josh Nelson
Zach Palmquist - Jon Jutzi
Brett Stern - Nick Buchanan/Evan Mosey
Stephon Williams - Phil Cook - Evan Karambelas
Minnesota State comes in pretty healthy on the injury front. The only player in question is Eli Zuck, who has missed the past month with an injury, but has reportedly returned to full contact practice this week. If Zuck can play, expect him to play in place of Taylor Herndon, and slide into that fourth line center spot, with Zach Lehrke moving to the wing.
The top line of forwards may get an extra shift, and the fourth line may miss an extra shift, but for the most part, the Mavericks seem pretty comfortable rolling through all four forward lines.
On defense, there's a pretty clear line between the top four defensemen listed and bottom two. The Mavericks will mix in Stern and Buchanan, paired with a top 4 D, early in the game, and if they can build a multi-goal lead, but for the most part, expect a lot of Elbrecht, Nelson, Palmquist, and Jutzi.
In terms of playing style, the Mavericks play more of a finesse style of hockey. Offensively they rely more on transition rushes for scoring opportunities, and drop all three forwards back when the other team establishes possession of the puck. Defensively, they play smart, conservative defense that really limits scoring opportunities for the other team. For offense, they rely pretty heavily on their power play, which is among the best in the country, scoring at a 23.5% rate for the year. About a third of their goals have come with the man advantage.
Players to keep an eye on for the Mavericks include Matt Leitner, who has made a strong push for All-American honors with his play down the stretch, scoring 15 points over the past 10 games, and really improving as a defensive player. Senior captain Eriah Hayes has scored 19 goals and is a tough physical presence. Goalie Stephon Williams was the WCHA's top statistical goalie this year.