by Shane Fredericks
Minnesota State’s not the only team that remembers how close it came to winning a couple of games in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs last March.
“We remember very well our most recent series,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said in his weekly press conference Tuesday. “They had the lead on us in both playoff games last year before we were able to catch up and win both games.”
By now, the Mavericks are tired of hearing the time stamp of 2:25. Those 185 seconds were all the time Denver led that playoff series. Tack on Denver’s tie and win in Mankato two months earlier, and the Pioneers went 3-0-1 against the Mavericks despite having the lead for just 2:49 in those games.
“Minnesota State has the rap of being one of those programs in the WCHA that is looked upon as one of the bottom-half dwellers,” Gwozdecky said. “But if you look at how they’ve played the last few years, there’s no team that works harder, there’s no team that’s better coached. They’re physical, they play with a great amount of intensity. They’re a tough team to play, whether it’s at their house or on the road.”
Denver is ranked third in the country and one of the favorites to win the WCHA. The Mavericks haven’t won in Denver since 2002-03, going 0-12-2 at Magness Arena since then. They’ve had plenty of close games there, including last spring’s playoff games and a 3-2 series-opening loss there last November. But they’ve had some real stinkers, too, like the next night in November when Denver pounded them 6-1.
“We’re going to play a very good hockey team,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said.
Denver was the WCHA coaches’ preseason pick to win the conference, and Jutting was one of the coaches who cast his vote for the Pioneers.
This weekend, Minnesota State takes a skeleton crew to Colorado, as six players, including veterans Mike Dorr, Eriah Hayes and Tyler Elbrecht, stayed back in Mankato to nurse injuries.
“The injuries have been to some of our older kids,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said. “Normally those are the kids that are showing the way. We’re still learning as a hockey team. ... We’re learning a lot of stuff most teams don’t have to — at least this early.”
The WCHA is beginning its 60th year as a conference, but it’s also in the final two years in its current formation. Denver will be one of eight teams leaving the league for another conference in 2013, going to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference with Colorado College, North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Nebraska-Omaha. Minnesota and Wisconsin will head to the Big Ten in 2013.