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Minnesota State vs. Minnesota Duluth Preview

Matt Christians

Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth will play a weekend home-and-home series this weekend, with Minnesota Duluth hosting the first half on Friday, before traveling to Mankato for the second half of the series on Saturday.

Both games this weekend will be televised throughout Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin. Friday's game will be on FSN+(HD channel 963 on Comcast), and Saturday's game will be on channel 999 for those with Comcast cable, and HD channel 826 for those with Charter cable.

We'll have coverage of this series with Matt Christians up in Duluth on Friday night, and Chris Dilks covering the back half in Mankato on Saturday.

Here's what you need to know:

-Polls are goofier than usual this time of year, but Minnesota State comes into the weekend ranked 12th in both major polls, while Minnesota Duluth is ranked 20th in the USCHO poll, and is 20th in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll when you count the 'Others Receiving Votes' category. If anything, UMD is probably artificially low based on people underrating them preseason. These are going to be two very strong teams.

-Both teams opened their season with a loss, before rebounding back to salvage the weekend with a win. In UMD's case, their loss was to top-ranked Minnesota at the Icebreaker, in which they fell behind big early, and a third period comeback fell short. Minnesota State scored less than a minute into their game against Nebraska-Omaha, but a bevy of penalties allowed UNO to get back into the game and take Friday night. UMD bounced back with a shutout victory over Notre Dame, while Minnesota State came back after being down 2-0 early to defeat UNO.

-The goaltending picture for each team got a whole less clear after last weekend. Freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo was the presumed starter for Duluth, but a shaky start against Minnesota, combined with Matt McNeely posting a shutout against Notre Dame means McNeely could be in line for some playing time this weekend. Either way, UMD just needs somebody that can stop the puck.

Meanwhile in Mankato, sophomore Cole Huggins was expected to be the regular starter after he put a stranglehold on the job last season. But Huggins took the loss last Friday and gave up two goals early on Saturday before being pulled in favor of junior Stephon Williams, who led the charge in the comeback win. It's tough to pin too many of the goals allowed directly on Huggins, but at least they have options if he goes through a sophomore slump.

-Special teams will be a key this weekend, as per usual. Minnesota Duluth went 3 for 13 on the power play last weekend(technically 2 for 13 since they gave up a shortie too), which isn't deadly, but this early in the season with teams not putting in a lot of practice time, that 23.1% was good enough to be tied for second in the NCHC. The team they're tied with, Nebraska-Omaha, put up the exact same 3 for 13 number against Minnesota State last weekend, with all three goals coming in the Red Mavs Friday win. Staying out of the penalty box will be a huge key for Minnesota State.

-Minnesota Duluth sophomore Dom Toninato scored three goals last weekend, tying him for the national lead in goals scored. The second-year center looks primed for a breakout season this year.

Minnesota State will rely on veteran scorers like Matt Leitner, Jean-Paul LaFontaine, and defenseman Zach Palmquist, but keep an eye on freshman forward Brad McClure, who is likely to put up big point totals for Minnesota State this year.