By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
ST. PAUL — Chase Grant doesn’t have the crafty moves of a Matt Leitner. He doesn’t have the imposing size of an Eriah Hayes. And he doesn’t have the hardware that those two Minnesota State men’s hockey teammates of his have collected this season.
But flying under the radar is just fine for the sophomore forward.
Grant has been happy to do some of the dirty work to help get the Mavericks to the WCHA Final Five for the first time in a decade.
“He’s as important a guy as we have,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. “He plays in all situations.”
Grant skates on left wing of the Mavericks’ No. 1 line, but he doesn’t play it like a glamour boy.
In MSU’s first-round playoff series victory over Nebraska Omaha, Grant scored the overtime goal on Friday, but his signature play might have been the work leading up to the first goal of Sunday’s clincher
Grant out-worked Omaha defenseman Brian Cooper along the wall and into the corner he stole the puck away. From there, he got slashed and tripped but still found a way to center the puck for Bryce Gervais to hammer into the net.
“I’d say that’s kind of my classic, ideal, perfect set up,” Grant said. “Leitner might throw sauce back door for a tap-in. I’m going to go hit a guy and then throw it out front while I’m getting tripped, and somebody else will put it home for me.
“That’s the fun part for me.”
The Oklahoma City native has seven goals and 12 assists this season, with three of his points coming in last weekend’s series. After putting up 20 points as a freshman two years ago, he was shut down just five games into last season due to a hip injury.
In December, former MSU coach Troy Jutting, now an assistant at Nebraska Omaha, said Grant’s return after a year away made him “maybe the best recruit in the league.”
Asked when he finally felt like he was back to full strength, Grant pointed to a few days ago.
“The beginning of the season was definitely a struggle to get my body back in shape and get used to the wear and tear,” he said. “I really think this weekend by far was the best hockey I’ve played. ... I finally was kind of a nuisance all over the ice, which is what I like to be, and causing problems. But I’d say this weekend is when I finally got back to 100 percent.”
At 5-foot-11, 195-pounds, Grant might be a bit undersized, but, he said, that’s where his work ethic came from. He wanted to be hard to play against.
“I was always a smaller guy growing up, so I had to work really hard to compete with the bigger kids,” he said. “And even once I got into contact I’ve always been a little thorn in the side, trying to fly around and make people upset and get them off their game. If I can do any part of that, I think I’m having success out there.”
Hastings said he’s been impressed with Grant since he was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Omaha. He didn’t land Grant then, but he’s glad he has him now.
“He knows he has earned my respect and his teammates’ because of his actions on and off the rink,” Hastings said. “He’s an invaluable player on our team.”
Grant said he appreciates getting respect for “doing the hard things.”
“One of my favorite things is when coach looks down the bench with a minute and a half left and there’s a D-zone draw and he’s thinking. ‘What guy should I put out there?’” Grant said. “And when I’m picked, I go out there knowing I have to get the job done if I want to be that guy.
“And I love being that guy.”