The Seawolves first WCHA home series of the season is nearly upon us. But you already knew that. What neither of us know at this point is what Mankato is all about this year. Of course, that's aside from them being all about getting home on Sunday with zero WCHA confernce points out of the series.
See how I did that? Cute huh? The WCHA's first Mavericks (aka purple cows) weren't picked by any of the never very accurate usual suspect prognosticators to be a significant force this season. They've played 4 WCHA conference games so far this season. To open they traveled to Houghton where MTU took three of four points from them. Then last weekend the CC Black Bears split their series in Mankato's barn (feed lot? packing plant? rendering plant?).
As with UAA's single non-conference game with CC, Mankato found itself in two tight one goal games. In their non-conference series with St. Larry the Mavericks tied twice. Little can be made of any of these results really. No doubt Craig Dahl's twin sister Troy Jutting would say that his team is still finding their identity at this point in the early season.
The Mavericks don't return several quality players from last season. They are not particularly young. Neither are they particularly experienced. The roster has 5 seniors, 7 juniors, 5 sophomores and 7 freshman skaters. The most talented player on the team is senior defenseman Kurt Davis. Davis thinks he can do everything on his own and will often be found hogging the puck from teammates he obviously doesn't trust.
He also pushes women when their back is turned in bars if he doesn't like what they say on the internet. You're getting the idea right? Can you say primadonna? Only he's not quite THAT good. Sure, he's the best player on the Mavericks. I'm just sayin his one goal and six assists this season aren't world shaking numbers.
After temper tantrum Davis the scoring threats on the squad are varied. Yep, it's going to have to be scoring by committee for the Mavs to have success this year. 14 players have scored at least a single goal so far this season. Freshamn Chase Grant (sounds more like a directive given at a non-profit board meeting than a person's name) has three goals in six games and is probably the only player on the Maverick squad that has ever been within a mile of a real live cow ... since he hails from Oklahoma City originally.
WCHA perennial transferee junior Michael Dorr has bagged a couple as has Justin Jokinen (not pronounced the same as the NHLs Jokinens --i.e ... not YOKE-i-nin). Recognition-wise the only other name you'll likely remember is junior Mike Louwerse who had a freak freshman scoring campaign before settling into mediocre play that better matches his actual skills.
So yeah, I'm not much about respecting the Mavericks. I just don't see a lot of threats. That doesn't mean they are to be taken lightly. This is the WCHA and any team can beat any other team on any given night. That's the nature of the beast.
Traditionally, Jutting gets his squads to put out some pretty nice efforts. I always like to use the boxing metaphor of calling them the Chuck Wepner of college hockey. They come at you from all directions and always seem to be in your face. When you hit them they get cut and bleed but then they get up and come back for more. And yes, Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky after seeing Wepner get the shit beat out of him by Muhammad Ali.
In the opening paragraph here I mentioned the upcoming sweep of the Mavericks at the Seawolves hands. That will be no small feat though, the last time the Seawolves swept Wepner was 1993. So yeah, that's some big talk by me.
The Seawolves task won't be made any easier as it looks likely that both Brad Gorham and Wes McLeod won't be on the blueline this weekend. McLeod has a sprained shoulder from trying to catch his fall after some kid named Connolly pulled his feet out from under him last weekend in Duluth.
And Brad Gorham is reportedly concussed after Mike Seidel gave him a shot to the head. Interestingly, Seidel didn't receive the now customary DQ for concussing Gorham but the lesser game misconduct for the transgression. So yeah, he didn't have to sit out another game. Historically, zero tolerance never means zero tolerance in the WCHA.
The good news on the injury front is that Mickey Spencer appears ready to go and Drew Darwitz could be ready to fill a spot on the blueline. That will still leave the Seawolves with only 5 experienced defenseman so it looks like freshman forward Andrew Pickering will dress as the 6th. Expect him to get few shifts though as I'm guessing that Coach Shyiak will play his top five in a rotation.
With the numbers being what they are on the blueline it will be important for the Seawolves to play exactly the sort of game that they did on Friday night in Duluth. That means everyone blocking shots and backchecking backchecking backchecking by the forwards. The Mavericks are averaging nearly 17 minutes of penalties per game compared to UAA's 10.
If those numbers hold this weekend then perhaps this is the chance for the Seawolves power play to make a difference in a game. So far this season it hasn't exactly produced but the current early season numbers don't seem to me to be a reflection of some of the good play we've seen and heard. Several times against Duluth the Seawolves really seemed to have great possession and control moving the puck well and creating chances. The finishing has lacked but often that's just a matter of inches.
Unless Coach Shyiak surprises me or there is some unknown problem with one or the other I'd expect to see Gunderson and Kamal rotate again this weekend. I'm guessing Kamal on Friday and Gunderson on Saturday for no reason in particular. There's been some concern amongst certain sectors of the readership here with regard to one or the other being named the #1 guy. It's a long season, I'd rather see one or the other step up closer to the end and lead the team into the playoffs as a hot #1. With two freshman, I'd submit that such a thing only happens if both youngsters are given plenty of opportunity to learn and build their confidence.
Don't forget about the two promotions this weekend. In addition, the Seawolves Alumni game is Saturday at 3pm. I've pretty much decided to go and watch that. It's free admission and aside from being interested in seeing who plays, I'm hoping there's someone recognizable refereeing that I can heckle in what will likely be a sparse crowd. Hey, I'm looking for a feeling like 1985 or 1986 when there'd be 1500 folks in the joint and Jimmy Brett could hear everything I'd yell and would sometimes blow kisses my way.