By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
When the Minnesota State men’s hockey team’s forwards and defensemen split up during practice Tuesday afternoon, senior Joe Schiller naturally skated with the forwards.
“I went to the wrong end of the ice,” he said.
Schiller instead was sent off with the defensemen and will play that position tonight when the Mavericks face No. 16 Michigan Tech at Houghton, Mich.
After suffering a rash of injuries over the first six games, and having a weekend off to nurse those wounds, Minnesota State will be healthier this weekend. However, the Mavericks remain short-handed on the blue line.
Schiller spent almost all of his sophomore year practicing as a defenseman but has limited game experience there. He said he’ll play wherever he’s asked, though.
“It doesn’t matter one bit to me, if that’s what we need,” Schiller said. “In a way, it’s a compliment.”
Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said Schiller — one of the team’s better defensive forwards — is up to the task.
“He’s played there, and he has good hockey intelligence and moves his feet well,” Jutting said. “He’s a team-oriented guy. He’s not someone who’s going to be thrown for a loop if he plays some games on D.”
The Detroit Lakes native played in 18 games as a freshman forward, and Jutting decided to make him a defenseman as a sophomore. Schiller played eight games on defense that season before injuries forced him back up front. He finished the season as forward and spent all of last season there, playing in a career-high 37 games.
This year, Schiller started the season centering the Mavericks’ No. 1 line, but now he’s needed at the other end again where defensemen Tyler Elbrecht, Danny Heath and Brett Stern remain out with injuries.
At forward, Eriah Hayes and Michael Dorr will return to Minnesota State’s lineup tonight after missing the last two games with injuries. However, J.P. Burkemper, Max Gaede and Chase Grant have not yet been cleared to play.
The injuries have forced Jutting and his staff to continually change lineups since the first game of the season.
“There’s been no continuity. None,” Jutting said.
Power-play and penalty-kill units have had to be adjusted, not just game by game but sometimes period by period.
“We haven’t had the same team on the ice,” Jutting said. “And it’s difficult on the kids. They don’t have the opportunity to get in sync with a guy or two. It’s different each day. ... Hopefully, we’re getting through that.”
With six players still on the shelf, they will not have any extra skaters on the trip for the second series in a row. But unlike their last game — at 10-2 loss at Denver on Oct. 23 — they will start the game with a full lineup as they try to snap a five-game losing streak.
“They’ve come back to the rink with good attitudes,” Jutting said of his players. “They’ve been resilient. I haven’t seen them feel sorry for themselves or hang their heads. I give the kids credit; they’ve worked hard and have had a positive attitude.”