The MacNaughton Cup will be in the building this weekend for a clash between the WCHA’s top two teams in the one of the biggest regular-season series the Bemidji State men’s hockey team has experienced in years. That should be enough for any college hockey fan to get excited.
The Beavers will need to collect all six WCHA standings points and sweep Minnesota State to claim a share of the century-old trophy as regular-season conference champions for the second time in program history. A six-point weekend would also be enough for BSU to clinch the top seed and home-ice advantage throughout the league playoffs.
Beating the Mavericks -- currently No. 2 in the Pairwise rankings and No. 2 and No. 3 in the national polls -- will be no easy task, but playing in front of a partisan crowd at the Sanford Center could provide just the boost Bemidji State needs.
The Beavers, ranked No. 11 in the Pairwise and both national polls, have been hard to beat on home ice this season, where they sport a 10-1-3 record. The school has already planned a “Green Out” for Friday’s game and a “White Out” for Saturday to try to make the Sanford Center even less hospitable for the Mavericks.
The ice may have a hard time staying frozen given how hot both teams have been during the season’s second half.
Since MSU’s 2-0 win over BSU in the Mariucci Classic third-place game Dec. 29, Bemidji State is 11-1-2 and Minnesota State is 12-1-1. Both teams’ losses during that span came to each other during a late January series in Mankato.
The parallels continue as they’ve each also tied and proceeded to win in 3-on-3 overtime at Alaska Anchorage. The Beavers did so in their most recent game last Saturday when Alex Ierullo buried a late-regulation equalizer and Tommy Muck lit the lamp in 3-on-3 to earn the extra standings point. Adam Brady scored twice Friday in a 4-1 late-night victory.
You’d also be hard-pressed to find a better matchup between the pipes than the one goaltenders Zach Driscoll and Dryden McKay will provide.
The Mavericks’ McKay is a frontrunner for the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goalie, but Driscoll is right up there with him. The duo rank first and second nationally in goals against average with McKay’s 1.28 mark and Driscoll’s 1.63. Both are in the top four for save percentage with McKay at No. 1 (.942) and Driscoll at No. 4 (.936).
The Beavers (19-8-5, 19-4-3-2 WCHA) will need to string together two of their best outings of the season to stand a chance.
No team in the country has as many wins as Minnesota State (28-4-2, 22-3-1-1 WCHA), nor has MSU been swept in a series this year.
MacNaughton Cup or not, Bemidji State can’t afford to get swept this weekend, either. An MSU sweep would likely push the Beavers out of the top 15 in the Pairwise rankings and make it more difficult for them to receive an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.
But, regardless of the outcome this weekend, BSU has already secured home ice through the semifinals of the WCHA playoffs, and won’t see the Mavericks again until the tournament championship, if both teams advance that far.
Bottom line is all of these elements add up to one heck of a weekend to be a hockey fan in Bemidji.