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2015 North Star College Cup Preview

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Record Goals/Game Opp. G/G Shots/Game Opp. S/G KRACH RPI
17- Minnesota 11-7-2 3.40 2.50 33.5 27.6 193.7 .5453
7- Minn. Duluth 13-8-1 3.18 2.36 33.9 26.1 402.8 .5570
1- Mankato 18-4-1 3.74 2.09 34.0 21.4 641.2 .6072
Bemidji 7-12-3 2.82 2.82 29.8 26.7 91.7 .4829

The second battle for the North Star College Cup kicks off at 4 PM today. I was out of town the weekend of the tournament last year, so I'm excited for the atmosphere.

Just in case you're not real familiar with teams from the Minnesota hinterlands, I've thrown together a little primer.  The numbers say that the Golden Gophers are the third-best team in this tournament, which features three teams the top-third of the country, and one that's been victimized by a schedule that's over their heads.  Let's get to it.

Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks

To date, the Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks have played the best hockey of any team in the nation.  They're number 1 in the polls, KACH, and RPI.  If they played the Gophers 100 times, KRACH says MSU would win 77 times.  Let that be an example of how the Gophers have disappointed this season.

As you can see from the table, there aren't any real weaknesses for this team.  They good on offense.  They're good on defense.  They possess the puck well.  Before you go out and blast the WCHA for being an inferior ramshackle conference, let me point out that MSU has played the 8th most difficult schedule of any team, despite having teams like Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska, and Lake Superior State all over their schedule.  Some of those gaudy stats are a product of the weak teams on their schedule, but they've made a habit of crushing the weaker teams and beating the good ones.

A team will win a lot of games when they only allow 2 goals per game.  Junior goaltender Stephon Williams has been playing well, but his .922 save percentage isn't good enough to have a 1.71 goals against average without the rest of the team playing excellent defense in front of him.  Their 21 shots against average is probably their most impressive stat.

Their strength on offense come from their Junior class.  Bryce Gervais leads the team with 13 goals, fellow juniors Dylan Margonari and Teddy Blueger are next with 10 and 8 goals, respectively.  The Mavericks have some decent scoring depth; they have nine skaters with 5 or more goals.

the Mavericks enter the tournament as the favorites.  As a person who grew up in Mankato watching the Mavericks play, this fact shocks me.  Literally.

University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

You remember the Bulldogs, right? The team that started the (then) #1 Gophers' month-long skid out of at-large range for the NCAA tournament by sweeping the home-and-home series?

Well, they've played pretty well against #1 teams.  They split a series with (then) #1 North Dakota.  Lately, however, they've entered a skid of their own and haven't won in three games (to be fair, one of the losses was to (then) #1 North Dakota.

If you remember back the yucky sweep weekend, you'll remember the Bulldogs thoroughly out-skating and out-possessing Minnesota for the whole weekend.  They're offense is their biggest concern, but Dominic Toninato is a big threat to score.  Austin Farley is probably their next best skater, and he plays an agitating role like Kyle Rau.

The Bulldogs are backstopped by Kasimir Kaskisuo, who's good but not great.  He allowed five goals in two games against Minnesota, and if you recall, the Gophers played atrociously.

Bemidji State University Beavers

The Beavers were excluded from the tournament last year, so they'll be playing their first NSCC game at 4 PM today against UMD.  They are, as the French say, "underdogs."  They don't have the firepower or grit to really compete with the other three teams in this tournament, but those facts haven't stopped them from scheduling against elite competition.  Today will be their seventh game against Top-10 competition.  Their five losses in those games so far is a big part of their loss column.

I'm sorry Beaver fans, this team is bringing a cudgel to a gun fight.  They're the only team averaging less than 3.4 goal per game, and they're almost a full half-goal away from that mark.  That probably has a lot to do with averaging fewer than 30 shots on goal per game.  They also allow more goals than any other team.  In four games against NSCC opponents (Minnesota and MSU), they're 0-4.  Statistically, their best matchup is against the Gophers, and the numbers say that the Beavers would still lose 2/3 of the games played.  I hope they don't end up playing the Minnesota tomorrow, because they're due, and I want a rematch against UMD.

Some names you should know: Sophomores Nate Arentz, Charlie O'Connor, lead the Beavers in goal-scoring.  Senior D-Man Matt Prappavesis leads the team in assists.  Freshman Michael Bitzer and senior Adam Walsh split time in net, with Bitzer having a few more appearances so far.  His save percentage can be rouneded up to .910.  Walsh's is slightly behind in that category with .900.

The Beavers best hope against any of the three potential opponents: slot them down in the neutral zone, keep the number of shots low, and get lucky on a counterattack.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Golden Gophers have been on a skid for the better part of seven weeks.  At least that's how long it feels.  They've dropped to #17 in the polls and #19 in the Pairwise, which is far more important.  What's really sinking them is this newfangled Quality Wins Bonus in the Ratings Percentage Index, which can pay huge dividends in the Pairwise.

This weekend features a guaranteed game against the #1 team in the Pairwise, meaning it's a shot at the largest available QWB.  Tomorrow the Gophers could face the #7 team in the Pairwise and have another opportunity at a nice QWB bump.

On the rest of the schedule, only Michigan is in the top-20 of RPI.  So it's critical for the Gophers to strike now.  The rest of the Big Ten schedule doesn't offer any QWB.

Last weekend, Minnesota dominated possession against Wisconsin (shoutout to B5Q for quality work here and for still being able to write about their team even though they'd probably rather erase this season from their memory), and pulled out a 3-point (traditional method) weekend.  Let's hope that means the team has turned a corner and is ready to put in the work to win.

Outside of the Big Ten tournament, this is the most important weekend remaining for the Gophers NCAA Tournament aspirations.

I'll be covering this weekend suspended from the roof the Xcel Energy Center.  Follow me on Twitter to stay up to date on the NSCC happenings and insider (not really) info/photos.