Patience Required at Minnesota State
by Ryan Lund/CHN Reporter
MANKATO, Minn. In a game of speed, of punishing checks and mind games, minutes and seconds, it’s rare to find a coach that embraces patience as thoroughly as Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings.
After a combined four years in the company of some of college hockey’s greatest minds, Hastings knows a thing or two about that particular virtue, a fact that may prove valuable in the weeks to come.
The Mavericks were off to a promising start, including a pair of hard-fought overtime tilts with visiting Rensselaer, before a date with conference foe St. Cloud State shook the team’s early-season optimism.
After allowing four power-play goals to the Engineers, the Mavericks suffered a repeat performance last weekend, spotting St. Cloud State four more power-play goals on the road.
To date MSU is averaging a startling 16 penalty minutes per game, while converting on just four of its 27 power play, a trend that follows an issue Hastings inherited from last year's team, and one that can’t continue if the Mavericks hope to compete in the hotly contested WCHA.
“We’re not a good enough hockey team to give teams those opportunities,” he said, after presiding over a mid-afternoon practice just a few days removed from the team’s ill-fated trip to St. Cloud. “Sooner or later we’re going to miss.”
Much of the Mavericks’ special teams struggles can be attributed to the team’s youth; MSU returns just five seniors this season, while welcoming eight rookies into the fold.
“Even though we’re a young team, that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from our mistakes,” said Hastings.
Those mistakes came early and often against St. Cloud, and the youngsters weren’t the only ones to get in on the act.
Seniors Evan Mosey and Eriah Hayes combined for nine penalty minutes in Friday’s game alone. While the Huskies managed to capitalize on just one of their six opportunities, the lengthy power plays tired the Mavericks.
MSU’s special teams struggles continued on Saturday night, including another major penalty — the Mavericks’ third in as many games.
Senior goaltender Phil Cook, who played a major role in the team’s overtime finishes against RPI, struggled mightily against the Huskies, dropping the veteran netminder’s save percentage below .900, and paving the way for rookie Stephon Williams to try his hand in the back end.
Williams, however, proved just as susceptible to the Huskies’ offense, which scored three times on 18 shots against the rookie.
“I need somebody to grab the ball and run with it,” Hastings said of his goaltenders. “It’s up to one of them to step into that position.”
This weekend, Minnesota State faces the daunting task of a home-and-home with Minnesota, so things can go from bad to worse in a hurry if the Mavericks don't straighten things out. Still, the team has given Maverick fans a few early glimpses of its lauded potential, a fact perhaps best encapsulated by a trio of formidable freshmen who have taken the Verizon Wireless Civic Center by storm.
Led by Shattuck St. Mary’s alumni Teddy Blueger and Bryce Gervais, alongside three-year USHL veteran Dylan Margonari, the Mavericks’ freshman class has had an immediate impact on the scoreboard. But the way in which the trio has created its offense may be as important.
Gervais introduced himself to college hockey fans early in the third period of the team’s home opener, connecting on a cross-ice pass from sophomore Matt Leitner, before launching a perfect one-timer between the legs of RPI’s Scott Deibold to force overtime.
Margonari made his own case for the Mavericks’ youth movement not long after. The former Youngstown Phantom, skating on the second line between Gervais and sophomore Chase Grant, emphasized the point in the second game against RPI, forcing a turnover at center ice, before driving hard towardf the net.
What happened next would bring a shocked Verizon Center to its feet after 40 minutes of back and forth hockey. The freshman pulled a veteran play out of his hat, cutting to the inside near the half-wall, drawing both defensemen out of position, before sliding the puck past RPI goaltender Bryce Merriam’s left side, bringing his team within one in spectacular fashion.
Both plays represented a paradigm shift for the youthful Mavericks, an about-face from the opportunistic offense that has characterized the team for the past few years.
As young teams often do, however, the Mavericks are taking things day-by-day, practice-to-practice, a sometimes-daunting task after an emotional overtime victory.
“We’re trying to evaluate every day that way, how we’re handling ourselves in practice,” Hastings said of his team’s ability to stay focused on the details. “People are talking about Friday and Saturday, well we’re going to try and can Wednesday first.”
Patience, it would seem, remains the order of the day, and one of Mike Hastings’ most valuable attributes.
“You ask the guys to do what you ask them to do, and then don’t be afraid to step back and be patient with players, with people,” a philosophy that Hastings says he cultivated through his relationships with Dean Blais and Don Lucia.
“Set a standard that you would like followed,” he said, “but you have to allow people to grow."
A bit of patience, however, may be required.