Game: Mankato East (6-3-1, 6-3-1 Big 9 Conference) at Owatonna (9-1, 9-1), 7 p.m., Thursday, Steele County Four Seasons Centre.
Recent results: The Huskies continued their run of dominance last week defeating Albert Lea and Rochester Mayo by a combined score of 11-2; they faced Rochester Century Tuesday night with results posted after publication. Owatonna has now won five games in a row following their 3-2 loss to Northfield at the end of January. The Cougars split games against Austin, a 3-2 win, and Northfield, a 3-1 loss. Mankato East had won five of six games themselves — the other being a tie — prior to their latest loss.
Last meeting: Owatonna came out on top, 5-3 on January 23, in a close contest, but one that they ultimately never trailed in. Samantha Bogen and Ezra Oien scored two goals apiece with Molly Achterkirch adding the other. The Huskies took both games last season, 5-0 and 9-0 with no player scoring more than two goals total.
1. The Huskies have suffocated their opponents with devastating defense all season. They’ve allowed a mere 17 goals — while scoring 63 themselves — and have limited opponents to 133 shots. The defense is led by senior and St. Cloud State commit Grace Wolfe with significant contributions coming from Lillian Hunst, Sarah Snitker, and Abby Vetsch, all of whom are sophomores or younger. Goaltender Ava Wolfe ranks 33rd in the state in save percentage (.925) and 11th in goals against average (1.11). In short, the Cougars may find themselves in a hole to deep to dig out of if the Huskies get out in front by two goals or more; Owatonna’s defense is just too good to give up a significant lead.
2. Luckily for Mankato East they are led by McKenzie Keller and Kailey Newton, two of the better point scorers in the Big 9. Keller has accumulated 20 thus far (10 goals; 10 assists) with Newton adding 15 (nine goals; six assists). As stated previously, the Cougars can’t afford to let the Huskies get out to a lead of more than a goal at any point during the game if they want to win. While a good chunk of that responsibility will lie on the shoulders of the defense, it is also a burden that Keller and Newton must bear. Newton scored a goal and Keller tallied an assist during the two team’s previous battle, in which the Huskies allowed the most goals they have all season (tied with their lone loss to Northfield). Even still, it wasn’t enough for a Cougars win. They’ll likely need to step their game up even more for Mankato East to come out on top.
3. Both Owatonna and Mankato East are dominant third period teams, where they have combined to outscore their opponents 46-7. However, the Huskies hold the edge overall because they are a much better team in the first two periods — they’ve outscored opponents 41-7 — than the Cougars (25-19). Again, if Owatonna builds a multi-goal lead before the third period it will likely be their game to lose; if Mankato East can keep it close headed into the final 17 minutes, they will have a shot at the upset.