The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — Two weeks ago, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team gave up three power-play goals to St. Cloud State in a loss at the North Star College Cup, and there was some worry about the penalty kill.
Turns out, that might have been an anomaly.
Over the four games since then, the Mavericks have killed off 19 of their opponents’ 20 power plays, including all 11 in this past weekend’s sweep over Bemidji State.
During the second period Saturday, Minnesota State had to kill off 7 ½ consecutive minutes of penalty time, a stretch that included more than 90 seconds of 5-on-3 time split into sections at each end of a major penalty.
“A couple of things,” coach Mike Hastings said of the penalty kill. “Matty Leitner took a couple of bullets (blocking shots). You look at (Friday) night, and (Bryce Gervais) did the same thing. (Bemidji State’s Matt) Prapavessis can shoot it.”
Hastings rattled off a list of penalty killers by their jersey numbers, mentioning Leitner, Gervais, Chase Grant, Teddy Blueger, Brett Knowles “and our whole defensive corps.”
“The veterans have to drive the boat, and the young guys feed off that,” said Leitner, who ranks fourth in the nation in blocked shots by forwards with 39, including three against the Beavers. “It’s a big energy thing, knowing we’re going out there and playing for each other. Everybody got the job done.”
Goaltender Cole Huggins stopped 14 shots in the series during the penalty kill, proving the old adage that a team’s goalie sometimes has to be its best killer.
On Friday, Grant had his moments in that role, fending off up to three opposing players as he held the puck along the wall short-handed.
“It was like the old peewee days,” he said. “Just try to eat clock.”
At 87.2 percent, Minnesota State’s penalty kill is the fifth-best in the country.
It’s power play, which is clicking at 25 percent after a 4-for-10 performance against the Beavers, is tied for second in the nation.
Fourth line’s a charm
The Mavericks’ fourth line of Knowles, Michael Huntebrinker and Max Gaede provided a real spark throughout the series, both together and in spot duty on other lines.
Huntebrinker, who scored a the go-ahead goal on Friday, even moved up to the No. 1 line briefly Saturday when Leitner needed a breather.
“Matty had played a lot of minutes, and I skipped him,” Hastings said. “I put Huntebrinker between (Zach Lehrke) and (Gervais). Hunty goes out and wins a faceoff, and he’s part of the game winner.”
Huntebrinker, who scored his first college goal on Friday, was in the lineup since fellow freshman Jordan Nelson remained out with an upper-body injury.
Gaede drew heavy praise from his coach as well.
“I have all the confidence in the world putting Gaede out there,” Hastings said. “Early in the year he had some trouble getting pucks out. But Max Gaede, every single day goes out and works at getting pucks off walls and getting pucks out.”
Knowles might have had his most complete weekend since last season.
“Absolutely,” Hastings said. “He’s a little healthier. I thought he played a real intelligent game Friday and Saturday. I think his confidence is starting to come.”
Up the charts
With four points in the series, Leitner moved up to seventh place on Minnesota State’s Division I-era scoring list.
Leitner, who is on an eight-game scoring streak with 16 points over that stretch, now has 109 points. He passed Tim Wolfe (1996-2000) and Jesse Rooney (1998-01) and is now four points behind B.J. Abel (1999-2003).
Jean-Paul LaFontaine now has 99 career points, which moved him into 10th place on Minnesota State’s list. He also had a four-point weekend against the Beavers.
Minnesota State is now 11-1-0 at home with a nine-game winning streak at the Verizon Wireless Center. … The Mavericks are tied for 20th in the latest Pairwise Rankings. ... Bemidji State is 1-15-7 this season when its opponent has scored more than one goal. … Up next for the Mavericks is a home series Alabama Huntsville, which was swept at Michigan Tech 4-1 and 10-4 over the weekend. The Chargers (1-28-1, 1-18-1 in WCHA) have lost five straight.