Team of the Week: Minnesota State
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
It was a rough start to the season for Minnesota State's captain, as it was for Minnesota State.
Senior Joel Hanson changed his number from 13 to 29 two seasons ago, but the bad luck had caught up to him. Hanson was held without a point for the first 10 games the Mavericks played. Among those were eight league games, seven of which were on the road, while the Mavericks went 1-6-1.
It appeared to be another season of frustration for a program that made the NCAAs in its infancy, with a 20-11-10 season in 2002-03, but which hasn't been close since and was picked near the bottom of the WCHA this season.
But both Hanson and the Mavericks started turning things around, not coincidentally at the same time. That has culminated this past weekend in Hanson getting a goal in each game of a two-game home sweep of Denver, the team's fourth win in a row and far cry from the 7-0 pasting at the hands of the Pioneers in November. Minnesota State is 6-3-3 in the league since that bad start, and at 13-10-4 overall, actually sits 10th in the Pairwise, and 11th in KRACH.
"He's been around. He understands what it's all about," MSU coach Troy Jutting said of Hanson, who has played 99 straight games. "He's won a national championship in junior at Waterloo, where he was a top scorer. He's very mature. ... He was just snakebit (earlier). He had some opportunities. He started to press."
The same could be said for the team.
"I really felt like we had a better team than most people thought," said Jutting. "I didn't know how good, I just knew it was better than the initial expectation was. Last year, we had seven freshmen forwards. Now it's eight sophomore forwards."
The current four-game winning streak started with last weekend's sweep of St. Cloud State. And it coincided with Jutting matching freshman center Andrew Sackrison on a line with sophomore wings Geoff Irwin and Jason Wiley.
That group scored the Mavericks' first four goals in Friday's 5-1 win over Denver, and Sackrison was named WCHA rookie of the week. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound St. Louis Blues draft pick also scored a power-play goal — which have been in short supply for the Mavericks this season — on Saturday.
Said Jutting, "I've always thought Andy had great talent. It took Andy a couple, three months to get used to what college hockey is all about. Right after Christmas, you could kind of see it and felt like he had been playing well, and the other two kids were playing well. It's something we thought we could give a try."
"It just seems like the whole team's pretty confident," Sackrison said to the Mankato Free Press. "It started when we came back last week. We're feeding off last week. If something doesn't go your way, just keep your head up and keep going."
For now, the pressure is off the Mavericks, and Jutting, who has heard the rumblings from the locals as the program has not been able to get back to the NCAAs. Of course, it's like being a victim of your own success, both from the expectations raised, and the players who have left the program over the years. MSU doesn't have the same margin for error as, say, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
"I don't necessarily feel pressure (from) anyone else but myself," Jutting said. "That run was great (in 2003) and it allowed those kids opportunities after college hockey. Being such a young (program), it was tough for us to lose kids early.
"In terms of record, it hurt our program. But in terms of getting us where we want to be, it's helped our program.
"You have to take the best players you can get. We would love to keep them, but we are college educators and in the business of development."
Like last week's CHN Team of the Week honoree, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State follows it up by playing Alaska-Anchorage. The Mavericks will try to avoid the same fate; the Huskies got just one point last weekend against a Seawolves team a lot of people praise.
"They're better than 'not that bad'," Jutting said. "They're a very good team. They gave North Dakota all they could handle."
The one-point weekend prevented Tech from catching the Mavericks in the standings; MSU is currently in sixth, one point back of a home ice playoff spot, behind Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth.