An entertaining November weekend of WCHA hockey, complete with scoring stars, goaltending duels and a four-star highlight-reel goal, was brought to a screeching halt on Monday when Minnesota State canceled its game Monday at Bemidji following reports of positive COVID-19 tests amongst its players.
It was a dramatic emotional swing for the Mavericks, who appeared to be in mid-season form in their convincing 5-0 road victory Sunday night versus the 16th-ranked Beavers. The status of the sixth-ranked Mavericks remains clouded.
“Immediate future competition involving the Maverick men’s hockey team is pending outcomes related to full contact racing yet to be completed,” stated the Minnesota State publicity release.
The Mavericks have a home series scheduled with these same Beavers on Friday and Saturday. Those games remain uncertain.
Based on the statements of gratitude made by Lake Superior coach Brandon Whitten and others, it is clear that no one is taking 2020-21 contests for granted. Whitten’s Lakers picked up a non-conference tie and a victory this weekend at the expense of Upper Peninsula rival Michigan Tech. It was a two-game series that was highlighted by a stellar goaltending display on Saturday night, in which both Mareks Mitens (28 saves, LSSU) and Mark Sinclair (21 saves, MTU) pitched 65-minute shutouts.
The same two goalies continued their battle through two periods the next night, tied at one, before Whitten inserted Laker sophomore Seth Eisele for the third period. Eisele turned aside all seven shots he faced, and was bolstered by a three-goal Laker explosion to secure his first career NCAA victory. The clinching goal was scored by Soo native Ashton Calder, who blew minds with his breakaway tally late in the contest.
In addition to this dynamic dangle, Calder had the winning shootout goal Saturday (uncredited) and an apparent empty netter Sunday that was later shifted to Pete Veillette.
Ironically, Eisele was the only goalie to earn a victory over the weekend. In terms of goaltending bragging rights, Mitens was the clear-cut winner, allowing but a single goal in 105 minutes of play. He won the ceremonial shootout 2-1 Saturday night in an exhibition that settled little else than which goalie had the best night.
Tech goalie Mark Sinclair, a transfer from Alabama Huntsville, was brilliant on Saturday — something he has become accustomed to up in Sault Ste. Marie. It was his second shutout in Taffy Abel Arena this calendar year. Sinclair credits his success in the Soo to the fact that he hails from the Canadian province a slapshot from Taffy Arena.
“Maybe it’s being so close to Ontario,” Sinclair said about his Saturday performance. “I don’t know what it is, but I always liked playing in that arena.
“The extended pre-season probably helped me. Obviously you don’t want to be taking that much time off, and would rather be playing games, but I was able to adjust to my new teammates, and they have been very welcoming since I got here.”
The Beat Goes On . . .
If there were ever a season the three-time defending MacNaughton Cup champion Mavericks would be vulnerable, it would appear to be this year. They lost arguably the best line in college hockey along with three stud defensemen from last season. In their opener Sunday night they faced nationally ranked Bemidji (then No. 16) with their stingy goaltender Zach Driscoll, a club with both comparable talent and goaltending on enemy ice. It appeared the odds were finally stacked against the WCHA heavyweights. And then the puck was dropped.
In a surgical performance, Mike Hastings’ impeccably prepared Mavericks won every aspect of the game: goaltending, special teams, offense, and defense in their tidy 5-0 victory. Their new top line of Jake Jaremko, Reggie Lutz, and transfer Todd Burgess combined for a total of seven offensive points. All-American goalie Dryden McKay was once again perfect, stifling any conversation of losing his WCHA goaltending crown to Bemidji’s Zach Driscoll. The Bemidji senior goalie was pulled from the Beavers net after allowing his fourth goal midway through the third period, after Lutz sniped his second goal of the night.
Whatever elation the Mavericks enjoyed from their shutout was short-lived. Reports of multiple players testing positive for COVID sent them bussing south to Mankato a day ahead of schedule, whereupon arriving they learned they had dropped a place in the USCHO rankings, from No. 5 to No. 6.
Fattening Up Before Thanksgiving
In a staggered home-and-home series against Division III Adrian, Bowling Green enjoyed a sweep that allowed their offense to get untracked in two lopsided games. The Falcons’ usual suspects all inked up the scoresheet with four points apiece: Max Johnson, Alex Barber, Connor Ford, and Brandon Kruse. Johnson gets the “Cy Young Award” for his perfect 4-0 record (four goals and zero assists).
Three transfer student-athletes left their mark on WCHA games this weekend. Former Rensselaer sniper Burgess picked up a pair of assists in his Maverick debut up at Bemidji, while Michigan Tech’s Mark Sinclair (formerly of UAH) painted his fourth career NCAA shutout on Saturday versus Lake Superior. The next night, with no shortage of irony, his UAH teammate from a year ago, Jack Jeffers, scored the game-winning goal for the Lakers, beating the former Charger Sinclair from close range. How soon they forget.
Tim Rappleye is the author of two books: Jack Parker's Wiseguys and Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review. You can find him on Twitter.