By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s preseason polls were released on Wednesday, and Minnesota State isn’t getting a lot of love from the league’s coaches nor from the media who cover the conference.
Both polls put the Mavericks in 10th place in what is now a 12-team conference.
“Hopefully, we can take the zero off that 10,” MSU captain Rylan Galiardi said earlier this week.
Today is the official start day of the men’s college-hockey season, and Minnesota State will have two practices at All Seasons Arena.
On Monday, the Mavericks will play an exhibition game against the University of British Columbia at the Verizon Wireless Center, and four days later, they will open the regular season with the first game of a nonconference series against St. Lawrence.
“We’ve got a short period of time to get ready,” coach Troy Jutting said, “especially with a significant number of new, young kids.”
Five of the Mavericks top six scoring forwards are gone from last year’s team and will be replaced by five of the team’s eight freshmen. However, veteran defensive corps and two experienced goaltenders are back.
“I like this team,” Jutting said. “I like our young kids, what I’ve seen of them. There’s going to be a learning curve there. But all of those young kids have been successful in their junior hockey careers. All of them have scored at that level.”
Players have had captains practices since school started in late August, and coaches have been able to work on the ice with their teams for two hours a week over the last two weeks. The team has also had early-morning weight room sessions and even some Sunday yoga.
“By far, it’s the best chemistry we’ve had, off the ice and on the ice since I’ve been here,” said assistant captain Ben Youds, one of three senior defensemen on the roster and last season’s leading scorer. “Captains practices have had the best pace I’ve seen. Everybody comes ready to go.”
Minnesota State finished in a tie for eighth place in the 10-team WCHA last season.
This year, the league’s two preseason polls — the 40th annual Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald coaches poll and the 94X media poll out of Duluth — put the Mavericks ahead of just two teams, Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech, and behind the conference’s two newest teams, Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha.
North Dakota was the overwhelming favorite to win the WCHA in both polls.
Galiardi, the team’s top returning goal scorer (11 goals last season) said the preseason polls really don’t matter much to him.
“From a player’s point of view, (the poll) can be a motivator,” he said. “But we shouldn’t need any more motivation right now. ... We see ourselves as a first-place team. It doesn’t matter where other teams think we’re going to finish.”