Team of the Week: Minnesota State
It was pretty much considered a given that Minnesota State would dominate the WCHA this season. After all, it returned almost all of its firepower, had a couple decent goalies to rely upon, had one of the best defenseman in the country returning, and it's dominated the league most years since the realignment.
What wasn't for certain was how Minnesota State would do out of conference, or how its fellow WCHA members would do out of conference, for that matter.
A season-opening 4-0 loss to St. Cloud State didn't necessarily bode well, but consider that the Mavericks had over 40 shots on goal in that game, were stymied by a hot goalie, and St. Cloud is probably a top-five team this year.
So switch to last week, with MSU heading to Boston to face another team considered to be top-five-worthy, Boston University. In a sense, it was a make-or-break weekend for the Mavericks in terms of the national picture. With only three more non-league games scheduled the rest of the way, this was the best chances for MSU to set itself up in the Pairwise picture down the road.
One of the best parts of the wins was seeing nine goals scored by nine different players. There's a lot of firepower to go around. And junior Daniel Brickley, who has been getting a lot of hype around North America because of his potential as an NHL free agent, lived up to the hype with four points on the weekend, including a goal that he sniped under the crossbar.
Also, the penalty kill wasn't great last year, and that's been something Hastings has tried to shore up. Friday, the team allowed another pair of power-play goals. But the Mavericks locked it down on Saturday, and got the shutout overall. That was despite a disallowed goal that came when it was already 1-0. But MSU just kept pouring it on all weekend, and got the second goal of that game just a couple minutes later.
“That was a big goal,” Hastings told the Mankato Free Press. “From that point on, I thought we defend well. (The Terriers) made their push, but I liked how we reacted again.”
The goaltending situation is still to be sorted out. Junior Jason Pawloski seems to have the upper hand after shutting out BU on Saturday. But Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said Connor LaCouvee, who defeated his old team, BU, on Friday, will get more chances.
Hastings praised both goaltenders for their budding friendship, despite fighting for the same spot. There’s an expectation that, like any tandem, both need to drive each other to success.
“I think Jason has done a great job of welcoming the competition,” Hastings said. “To see those guys in the locker room after the game, I think there is a lot of respect between the two of them. Hopefully that competition will be good for both of them. I’m just happy for both of them. They’ve both come in and done what we’ve asked them to do. They’ve worked their tails off. They’ve been good people. They’ve been good teammates. Sometimes, it’s hard to do.”
The team heads into WCHA play now, with two road games this weekend against Bowling Green.
The only other non-league opportunities for Minnesota State will be a single game against Minnesota-Duluth in November, another against the Bulldogs in January, and another against St. Cloud State in January.
The rest of the league is still only 5-12 against non-league non-independent opponents, so the Mavericks may have to continue to carry their own water.