By Shane Frederick
The Free Press
The top line of forwards sat in the stands in street clothes. The top two defensemen were there, too.
For the Minnesota State men’s hockey team, Monday night’s exhibition game against the University of British Columbia was a chance to see what the young players on the roster could do. That group featured seven freshman skaters, including Mankato native Corey Leivermann, who were dressed in a Mavericks uniform for the first time.
But the coaches also had their eyes on a few older players who weren’t in the lineup everyday last season — players like sophomore center Eli Zuck.
Zuck’s short-handed breakaway goal 100 seconds into the third period stood as the lone goal in the Mavericks’ 1-0 victory before an announced crowd of 2,236 at the Verizon Wireless Center.
Zuck also thwarted a late short-handed breakaway by the Thunderbirds, speeding down the ice and throwing a hip check into Matthew Schneider before Schneider could pull the trigger.
“No question, for kids like Eli and (defenseman) Evan Mosey and some of those guys who weren’t regulars last year, it’s important for them to get in there and get their feet wet,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said.
Zuck, an Anchorage, Alaska, native was coming off hip surgery when his freshman year began and was unable to get into the lineup early in the year. The setback limited him to 17 games. He scored one goal.
“We’re counting on Eli to have big games for us this year,” Jutting said.
The Mavericks killed off two 5-on-3 disadvantages on Monday. With just 19 seconds remaining in the second period, Mavericks freshman defenseman Josh Nelson was called for interference. Fourteen seconds into the third, sophomore forward Joe Schiller went to the box for high-sticking.
Zuck caught a break when the stick of the Thunderbirds power-play point man shattered on a slap shot try, and the puck squirted to Zuck. Zuck raced ahead of two trailing defenders, made a move to his backhand and slipped the puck behind goalie Jordan White.
“I came into (the game) just like it was a playoff game or anything else,” Zuck said. “I wasn’t going to take it lightly. … Last year was a little bit of a learning process, coming back from injury. But I’m a second-year guy now.”
British Columbia, which lost 6-1 to Nebraska-Omaha on Saturday and 6-0 to Minnesota on Sunday, outshot MSU 40-32, but Mavericks goalies Phil Cook and Austin Lee were sharp as they shared the shutout. Cook played 32 minutes, 24 seconds and stopped 24 shots before giving way to Lee, who finished with 16 saves.
The goaltending will have to be sharp if the Mavericks aren’t able to muster more than one goal.
“We gotta do a better job converting on our opportunities,” Jutting said. “We created some quality opportunities, but we didn’t do a great job making their goalie stop pucks on those quality chances. That will come.”
It will help during Friday night’s regular-season opener against St. Lawrence to have the veterans back. The group in the stands included the team’s top three scoring forwards from last season, Rylan Galiardi, Michael Dorr and Eriah Hayes, as well puck-moving defensemen Kurt Davis and Ben Youds, who have led MSU in scoring the last two seasons, respectively.
“I thought we competed pretty well for the first game,” Jutting said. “Obviously, it’s a little different without those kids in the lineup, especially for special teams. Overall, I was pretty pleased.”