Minnesota State goalie Dryden McKay
When four of Minnesota’s five Division I men’s hockey teams reunite for the Mariucci Classic on Saturday and Sunday, fans at 3M Arena at Mariucci will have a chance to step back in time and recall the good old days of the WCHA, when Gophers and Beavers, Mavericks and Huskies, and Bulldogs, too, met as conference foes with state bragging rights up for grabs.
With Minnesota State Mankato meeting St. Cloud State (4 p.m.) and the Gophers playing Bemidji State (7 p.m.) on Saturday, the local itch can be scratched. The tournament features the nation’s No. 2-ranked team (MSU), a surprising contender in the WCHA (Bemidji State) and a pair of young squads trying to grow up in a hurry (the Gophers and St. Cloud State). Here are candidates to make an impact for each team in the tournament:
Dryden McKay, sophomore goalie
Quite simply, the Downers Grove, Ill., native is having the best season of any goalie in the country. He leads the nation in goals-against average (1.09) and save percentage (.955) and is tied for first in wins (14-1-1) and shutouts (four). The Mavericks sport a 15-2-1 record, and McKay’s only blemishes are a 4-4 tie with North Dakota and a 3-2 overtime loss to Bowling Green. Along with the four shutouts, last season’s College Hockey News national rookie of the year has allowed only one goal nine times.
St. Cloud State
Sam Hentges, sophomore forward
With all the firepower that the Huskies lost from their 2018-19 team – Robby Jackson, Ryan Poehling, Jimmy Schuldt, et al – they needed someone to up his game this season. Hentges, a former Totino-Grace standout, has been that player, as he leads St. Cloud State with 21 points on seven goals and 14 assists. A seventh-round draft pick of the Wild in 2018, Hentges has at least one point on all but two games this season. His .212 shooting percentage is more than double that of the team average.
Aaron Miller, junior forward
The Beavers have been known as a tight-checking, defensive-minded team, but they’re showing some offensive punch this season, and Miller is a big reason why. The Superior, Wis., native leads the team with nine goals and 11 assists, his 20 points already matching his total from 2018-19. Lately, he’s been on a tear, with 10 points in his past five games. With Miller leading the way, the Beavers rank 11th nationally with 3.38 goals per game.
Sammy Walker, sophomore forward
The speedy Edina native is the “X’’ factor for the Gophers entering this tournament. He’s tied for the team lead with Sampo Ranta with 11 points, but Ranta won’t be available because he’s playing for Finland in the World Junior Championship. Walker started the season on a hot streak, with four goals and three assists in the first five games, but had a nine-game stretch with only one goal. He has an assist in each of the past three games, and the goal-starved Gophers – 38th nationally at 2.44 per game -- are hoping that’s a sign he can break out in the season’s second half.