Maverick Has the Ball
Freshman Williams Ready for First NCAA Tournament
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
Minnesota State’s rookie goaltender Stephon Williams is already the Mavericks’ top gun, so to speak, but now that he’s the newly-minted WCHA Rookie of the Year, it’s unlikely that the 19-year old native of Fairbanks, Alaska, will be flying under the radar much longer.
The Mavericks take on Miami at the Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio, and Williams will be the starter after being cleared from an injury standpoint. The freshman left last week’s 7-2 loss to Wisconsin at the WCHA Final Five after a collision on the Badgers’ fifth goal, when Tyler Barnes’ unassisted tally made the score 5-1.
“Stephon is 100 percent. He’s cleared, and he’s been practicing since Monday,” confirmed head coach Mike Hastings on Wednesday. “We’re fortunate.”
Fortunate, indeed. For Williams, the season started at a pedestrian pace – a tie at Alabama-Huntsville, a tie at St. Cloud, and a pair of losses at home against Denver. In fact, through the first 10 games of the season, Williams started just four of them – with the remainder of the action seen by senior Phil Cook.
Then came a late November road series against Wisconsin – the same team, incidentally, that left the Mavericks battered and bruised just a week ago. Williams made 65 saves in a pair of wins, kick-starting a stretch of 11 wins out of 12 for the young netminder.
Cook, meanwhile, played just 5 minutes and 41 seconds for the entire remainder of the regular season, while Williams earned WCHA Goaltender of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors. He was also named as a WHCA First-Team selection.
“He’s a mentally tough man,” continued Hastings of the young netminder who has been instrumental in the Mavericks’ dramatic turnaround since a season ago. “So any time this year he’s had a challenge, he’s risen to the occasion.”
Certainly, then, recovering from his worst outing of his thus-far short college career – allowing five goals on 19 shots in just over 32 minutes of play – would qualify as a challenge.
“Stephon has played in some big games in his career,” said Hastings. “He played in the [USHL] Clark Cup Finals for the Waterloo Black Hawks against the Green Bay Gamblers a year ago and has played in some hostile environments. He’s played his best when the lights are the brightest.”
In that same USHL postseason, Williams made a bare-handed save (after dropping his glove) in a game against the Lincoln Stars, and the video of that effort “went viral” on the internet.
Still, his only NCAA postseason game thus far – the Final Five contest against Wisconsin – didn’t go quite as well. But despite the rough outing, Williams’ 1.96 goals-against average still ranks among the best in the nation, and Hastings is confident that a healthy Williams will bounce back on Saturday.
“It wasn’t his best effort on Thursday – he’d be the first to tell you that,” said Hastings. “I like to go on history. And his history shows that he’s pretty resilient and he focuses on what he can control. He can’t control what happened last Thursday.
“He can only focus on what happens today.”