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Top-ranked Mavericks gearing up for hungry Gophers

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The second annual North Star College Cup will pit four Minnesota colleges against each other in a tournament for in-state bragging rights.

The action begins Friday at 4 p.m. as the seventh-ranked Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs play the Bemidji State Beavers. Friday's nightcap will feature the No. 1 team in the nation, Minnesota State-Mankato, against the 17th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers. The winners will square off Saturday in the title game.

For the Gophers, seeing the Mavericks as the No. 1 team in the country for a second week in a row is disturbing, considering Minnesota's usual place at the top or near the top the polls. But after starting the seasons in the top spot and holding it through a 7-1-0 start through mid-November, Don Lucia's club has struggled, going 4-6-2 in it's last 12 games.

Minnesota State, meanwhile, is pummeling teams and after last week's impressive road sweep over Ferris State, they've gone 13-1-1 in their last 15 games. But head coach Mike Hastings knows the Gophers are dangerous.

"They're good," Hastings told the Mankato Free Press. "They play a fast game. They probably have the best blue line that we'll run into, and they've got depth up front. ... They have guys who have been around the block and who have been in big-time situations."

Being No. 1 is very new for the Mavericks. With the exception of the last two weeks, the school had never been ranked No. 1, in any poll, in 19 years of Division 1 hockey history.

"It's nice to be the hunted," senior forward Matt Leitner told KSTP.

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Minnesota beat UMD in a shootout to win last year's inaugural tournament. But the shootout is dead in this year's title game. If the game goes to overtime, they'll play until a true winner is decided.

UMD radio play-by-play man Bruce Ciskie says the Bulldogs can't take the Beavers lightly, or they might see their winless streak reach four games. Ciskie writes that Bemidji State has plenty of skill, led by Cory Ward and brothers Myles and Leo Fitzgerald.

Since beating North Dakota on Jan. 9, UMD hasn't won. They lost to North Dakota on the 10th before tying and losing to Western Michigan last weekend. A second straight loss won't happen, according to head coach Scott Sandelin.

“This group still hasn’t lost back-to-back games all year and you know what, it’s not an easy thing,” Sandelin told the Duluth News Tribune. “We’re not going to let that happen. We’ll go play Bemidji and try and win that game Friday."

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