Who: #11 Nebraska-Omaha at #6 Minnesota State
Where: Verizon Wireless Center
When: 7:07pm CST both Friday and Saturday
Television/Streaming: Charter Cable channel 191/826/Comcast Channel 999(probably?)/WCHA.tv($)
The college hockey season opens up in full this weekend with a tremendous non-conference in Mankato when Minnesota State hosts Nebraska-Omaha. The two teams opened up last season together with a series in Omaha where each team took one game, though at the time, few people realized they were watching a pair of top ten teams nationally. This year, both teams start the season with impressive national rankings and greater expectations for their season.
The Red Mavericks and Purple Mavericks stand in sharp contrast with one another. Last season, Minnesota State cruised through the regular season finishing the year as the top team in the country, but were felled by the high variance of the NCAA Tournament, losing in the first round of a game they largely dominated in possession. Nebraska-Omaha, meanwhile, was about a .500 team from Thanksgiving on last season, but happened to have a hot goalie on the right weekend of the season and won two games despite being outplayed in both to earn the school's first trip to a Frozen Four.
The Mavericks find themselves having to replace the scoring provided by some major senior contributors last year while Nebraska-Omaha's top seven scorers last year were all underclassmen, and captain Dominic Zombo was the only major loss to graduation. Minnesota State will also be hurt by the loss of senior center Dylan Margonari, who is out with a leg injury, further hurting Minnesota State's offense.
One thing both teams have in common is that they will be trying to replace stellar goaltending from last season with unproven options in goal. Junior Cole Huggins is likely to start on Friday night for Minnesota State, while junior Kirk Thompson is expected to start for Omaha. Neither goalie was particularly special in limited action last year, and there's a possibility that a young freshman back-up could see playing time for one or both teams this weekend.
I'll be on hand in Mankato for both games this weekend. To follow along, follow @ChrisDilks on Twitter and check back for recaps, notes, stats, and whatever random thoughts I have after each game.