By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
When Johnny McInnis left Boston for Okotoks, Alberta, in 2008, he realized that there was a whole new world of hockey he hadn’t seen before.
He was 2,500 miles from home, playing junior hockey and finding out that the sport he wanted to play in college wasn’t as easy as he thought it was.
“I learned, ever since getting out of New England, especially, there were a lot of hockey players out there,” the Minnesota State forward said, “and it was eye-opening. I realized I had to get better if I wanted to compete.”
Those lessons continued at Minnesota State when he appeared in just 14 of the Mavericks’ 38 games despite scoring a team-record 42 goals in his second season in Okotoks.
“I watched a lot of hockey (from the stands),” he said, “and that’s not what I was here to do.”
Two years later, McInnis has become one of the players others are watching and the one MSU was waiting for.
He has played in every game, scoring 10 goals for the 11th-ranked Mavericks, including a team-leading four game-winners, and ranks fourth on the team with 17 points, already two more than he had as a sophomore.
A lot of things changed between his rookie season and now. For one, McInnis is in the best shape of his career.
“My freshman year, I might have touched 215 (pounds),” the 6-foot-1 McInnis said. “Right Now, I’m a slim 195, maybe 190, which I have not seen since my junior year of high school. That has a lot to do with it.”
He said he’s also worked on his skating over the last two offseasons. But the big change, he thinks, came with a confidence boost a little less than a year ago.
Fighting to win and maintain a spot among the team’s top 12 forwards, McInnis showed off his heavy shot to the home fans with an overtime goal that beat Nebraska Omaha.
“My goal was to play a lot more in my second year,” he said. “Once I realized I should be playing, I expected a lot more from myself, and the coaching staff expected a lot more from me as well.”
Even with Minnesota State’s head coaching change this year, those greater expectations didn’t waiver.
“His game is a pretty honest game,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “What he puts in is what he gets out.
“He’s a person who I really enjoy. I enjoy what he brings to the rink. He brings energy. ”
McInnis has six goals and 10 points in the Mavericks’ last 10 games. He won MVP honors at the UConn Hockey Classic tournament Dec. 29-30 in Connecticut by scoring two goals in the championship game.
“When we needed him, he’s been there,” Hastings said. “He has a tendency to score big goals.”
Playing right wing on the third line with freshman center Teddy Blueger and sophomore Chase Grant, McInnis has contributed to some important secondary scoring beyond the top two lines that has helped carry Minnesota State on its run of 11 wins in 12 games.
Only Eriah Hayes with 12 has more goals than McInnis.
“He has an opportunity to do something with the things he has,” Hastings said. “I think his best hockey can be ahead of him.”