By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
Mike Hastings was talking specifically about Brett Knowles, but he could have been referring to any of his rookies.
“He’s not a freshman,” the Minnesota State men’s hockey coach said after praising Knowles’ one-goal, two-assist performance on Saturday.
Five freshman skaters had points in the 4-2 and 6-1 victories over Michigan Tech over the weekend, playing significant roles in the sweep, a four-game winning streak and the team’s overall outstanding season.
The Mavericks are now ranked seventh in the Pairwise Rankings, which determine the NCAA tournament field at the end of the year. They are also in third place in the WCHA standings, following Minnesota’s loss to Wisconsin on Sunday evening.
Second-line left wing Dylan Margonari scored the Mavericks’ first goal in each game and has done it three times during the recent streak.
“I think both nights I was able to give the team a little spark,” Margonari said.
Margonari leads all MSU rookies with eight goals.
“He’s taken it another step,” Hastings said. “And with that line (with freshman Teddy Blueger and senior Eriah Hayes ), I think we’re a deeper team up front as far as sharing the responsibility offensively and defensively. When you do that you’ve got a better opportunity for success on the weekend.”
Bryce Gervais had a goal and an assist during the series, and Blueger and defenseman Jon Jutzi each had an assist.
Gervais’ goal late Saturday was his sixth of the season but his first since Jan. 5 against Providence. In between, he collected all four of his assists.
“I think I’ve got some good bounces,” Gervais said on Friday. “Guys I’m passing the puck to are putting it in the net.”
Next guy up
Mavericks senior center Eli Zuck went down with what Hastings called a lower-body injury during the first period on Saturday night. He will be evaluated today and “might be out for a little bit,” the coach said.
In the meantime, junior Zach Lehrke moved to the center spot, a position he played most of last season.
“I thought Lehrke was exceptional, and in lot of different areas,” Hastings said. “He played on the wall, played in the middle, killed penalties, power play. I thought he was really good.”
Lehrke scored a short-handed goal to give the Mavericks a 2-0 lead on Saturday and also assisted on Hayes’ power-play goal that made it 3-0. Lehrke has four goals and two assists in his last five games.
The Mavericks finished the weekend 3 for 7 on the power play, getting goals from Margonari, Hayes and Gervais.
Minnesota State’s power play is now clicking at 23.3 percent for the season, which ranks fourth in the nation.
Since going 0 for 9 in an overtime loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 12, the Mavericks are 10 for 28 (35.7 percent) with the man advantage.
Hayes leads the nation with 11 power-play goals, and Matt Leitner’s 21 power-play points rank second in the country.
As for other national rankings, MSU’s offense is tied for 10th at 3.25 goals per game, and the defense is tied for seventh at 2.22 goals per game.
They will come
Saturday night’s crowd of 4,363 was the third-largest of the season at Verizon Wireless Center, trailing only the Mavericks’ two home games against Minnesota.
The Gopher games drew 5,134 (Jan. 26) and 4,854 (Nov. 3), the only two sellouts of the season.
Friday’s game against Michigan Tech drew 3,591. Minnesota State is now averaging 3,652 fans per home game in the regular season with two remaining (March 8-9 against North Dakota).
Freep stars of the series
1. Eriah Hayes, RW, MSU: Nothing fancy, all effort for team goals leader.
2. Stephon Williams, G, MSU: 57 saves in the series, leads WCHA with 1.77 GAA.
3. Matt Leitner, C, MSU: Sees the ice better than anyone, now has 36 points.