For weeks leading up to the tournament, a radio ad played during Minnesota hockey games mistakenly touted the "highly-anticipated rematch between Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth". Well, that rematch will happen, but with the game happening at 4pm in the consolation game, it's hard to imagine fans on either side overly excited for the match-up.
Though they're not playing for a trophy, both teams are still playing for a win, and it's a win both teams really need right now. After spending the early months of the season ranked as the number one team in the country, Minnesota is starting to feel their season slipping away from them. They've gone 4-7-2 since dating back to mid-November and have struggled to find answers for their inconsistent play. They currently sit outside the NCAA tournament bubble at 20th in the Pairwise Rankings. With only Big Ten teams remaining on their schedule after tomorrow, this might be the last chance to earn a quality victory to help boost them in the computer rankings.
Minnesota Duluth meanwhile is going through a rough stretch of their own, though not nearly to the extent Minnesota has. Since defeating North Dakota on Friday January 9th, the Bulldogs are winless in their last four games, including an absolute dud in Friday's loss to Bemidji State. Tournament hopes aren't really a concern for the Bulldogs at this point. Even with this tough stretch, they're still sixth in the Pairwise, and with wins over each of the top three teams in the country, they've got the highest Quality Win Bonus in the country. But poor play can be habit-forming and it can be difficult to stop momentum once it heads in the wrong direction. A win tomorrow would go a long ways in tiding that.
In the nightcap, Minnesota State and Bemidji State get to play for the right to take home the second ever North Star College Cup. The stakes are much lower for both teams on a national scale. Minnesota State is more than likely guaranteed to be in the NCAA tournament at the end of the year. Bemidji State is out of contention for an at-large tournament bid. But as this tournament grows in stature year-by-year, the bragging rights of earning the title of best in the state become more and more important.
The Mavericks swept Bemidji State in Mankato earlier this season. But the Beavers played an excellent game on Friday afternoon against a very good Minnesota Duluth team, and if they play with the same defensive intensity on Saturday, they could have some success in slowing down the powerful Minnesota State offense.
Staying out of the penalty box will be a key for Bemidji State. They were excellent on the penalty kill against Minnesota Duluth, using heavy pressure on the puck to disrupt UMD's rhythm on the power play. But Minnesota State went 4-for-10 with the man advantage in their weekend sweep of the Beavers earlier this year.
Both teams should bring everything they have to tonight's game, which should make for an interesting finale. In some ways, both teams have already proven something important for both their team, and their league as a whole with their semifinal victories on the first day of the tournament, but raising the trophy would make this weekend all the sweeter for either team.