Minnesota State Tries to Get Past Early Bumps
by Matt Christians/CHN Reporter
Taking the west by storm last year, Minnesota State looked like a team to beat entering the postseason.
With a new coach, Mike Hastings, leading the way, the Mavericks got back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years.
But ultimately, Minnesota State was shut out by Wisconsin in the WCHA tournament, which led to a first-round loss to Miami in the NCAAs.
The goal then, this year, is to expand upon that, and take the program to another level.
The team doesn't enter as underdog this time. Minnesota State was chosen to finish first in the new-look WCHA.
“Our guys are going through a little bit different of perspective of things,” Hastings said. “I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”
Junior forward Matt Leitner was selected WCHA Preseason Player of the Year, Zach Stepan was voted preseason Rookie of the Year, and Stephon Williams was the preseason goaltender pick.
At the very least, the Mavericks are entering the season from a point of the view rather new to the program, the “feature” team.
“There is some different challenges,” said Hastings. “When you’re on the other side of the fence you try and tell your guys not to believe what other people saying on the negative, now you don’t want guys to be consumed by the opposite.”
It’s not going to be easy for the Mavericks to pretend they don’t possess the right weapons to win games. Returning one of college hockey’s leading scorers in Leitner (47 points as a sophomore last year), the Mavericks are aware they have the ability to put pucks in the net.
Between the pipes stands Williams, who posted an impressive .924 save percentage and 1.99 goals against average, which earned him the attention of the New York Islanders, who drafted Williams in the 4th round, 106th overall.
“We’ve got to focus on what we can control,” said Hastings. “Those projections we cannot control, but we can keep working and trying to progress as much as we can to play the best hockey we can.”
Last weekend was a bump in the road; the Mavericks opened the season getting swept at Providence, 5-1 and 3-0. Perhaps that was a wake-up call the team needed.
With Jon Gillies protecting the net for Providence, Minnesota State was unable to find an answer. The Mavericks peppered Gillies with 64 weekend shots, but failed to convert on 16 man-advantage opportunities, which obviously came to quite the surprise as a team that was supposed have the ability to score relentlessly.
“Both nights we started really well,” said Hastings. “Friday night we didn’t have the adversity and in the second period we got into penalty trouble and didn’t handle it well.
“We had a great start Saturday, too, but Gillies was the difference in MSU having the lead or it staying even.”
Whether this should be concerning for Minnesota State fans or not, it’s too early to tell. Going up against one of college hockey’s top goaltenders isn’t the easiest way to start a season, either.
“There are no easy games, and right now our greatest focus needs to be on ourselves,” Hastings said. “If we focus on taking care of us, we’re going to be in the best position to succeed.”