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Marauders to raise banner with Minnesota in the house

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Braeden Zaste, right, and the Marauders are off to a 3-0 start and host Minnesota Saturday and Sunday at Starion Sports Complex in Mandan.

A banner night for any college hockey team should include a game against a team like the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

On Saturday, the University of Mary will raise its 2021 ACHA men’s Division II championship banner at Schwan Cadillac Arena, then square off against the Gophers in the first home game since it beat Iowa State 2-0 to win the national title last spring.

Granted, these aren’t the NCAA Division I powerhouse Gophers, but they are the ACHA version that is coming off a sweep of St. Cloud State and comes to Mandan with a 2-1 mark. The Marauders enter with a 3-0 record, including two wins at Iowa State to open the season.

U-Mary coach Dan Huntley said he isn’t concerned with his team losing focus on the game given all the hubbub that will surround it.

“We’ve got a pretty mature team,” Huntley said. “There is an aspect of celebration to the night. We got to (win) it and it was great to do it in front of our fans. Then it seems like the whole thing went away because all of our kids left the next day. School was out. There wasn’t a celebration of it afterwards.”

Instead, the celebration is Saturday before the first of two weekend games against Minnesota.

Prior to the puck drop, U-Mary will raise the banner on the school’s first men’s team national championship. Many of the players from that team are still on the roster, including sophomore goalie Kyle Hayden, who has won all three starts this season and boasts a 1.62 goals against average and a .953 save percentage, and senior forward and reigning ACHA MII Player of the Year Zach Garrett.

In fact, only four players from that team are not on this year’s team and three will be on hand for the ceremony in Alex Horner, David Ruiz, Cody Shepard. The only player not able to make it is Andy Huber, a National Guard member serving in Washington, D.C. Huntley said Huber will get his ring next weekend when the Marauders visit Liberty University for three games in three days.

In the meantime, all attention is focused on the Gophers.

“They’re the Gophers and they’ve got an ability to attract kids whether it’s an ACHA team or an NCAA team,” Huntley said.

The Marauders have a long way to go before matching the starts of their three previous teams: 11-0-2 last season; 14-0-0 two years ago; and 15-0-0 three years ago. But the talent is obviously there again.

Huntley said as the program matures, the team gets better in all aspects of the game.

“The biggest thing in our three games was a lack of penalties,” Huntley said. “We had nine in those games and none in the first game. To come out and be excited and in a 2-1 game like the opener and not have any penalties, that talks about the maturity of our team. We’re a better skating team than we have been. When you’re the aggressor, you take a lot less penalties.”

In three games, the Marauders’ margins of victory have been 1, 1 and 2 points. In the previous three seasons, only three of their first nine games have been that close.

“It was great to have very competitive games at the start,” Huntley said. “All were well-played.”

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