The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

December 17, 2013

Stepan, Team USA defeat Mavericks in exhibition

MANKATO — There was no kindness from Minnesota State teammates for Zach Stepan on Tuesday night – at least not until the end of the game.

Stepan was on the other team, playing for the U.S. Junior National Team and hoping to make the final roster that will go to Sweden this week.

But he was going to get no help from his friends.

Goaltender Stephon Williams snagged his wide-open 2-on-1 shot out of the air early in the second period, and Zach Lehrke toyed with him late in the period with some nifty stickhandling on a power play.

"It was a little weird but definitely a lot of fun for me," said Stepan, who joined his MSU teammates for a center-ice stick salute after the game. "Just talking to the guys, they're all supportive and hope I make the team. It was nice to go out there against them. Of course, there was a little chirping."

Team USA, with a roster full of college and major-junior all-stars, won the game at 3:14 of overtime on a pretty goal by Minnesota's Hudson Fasching. The U.S. outshot MSU 30-22.

With some players who have roster spots locked up sitting in the stands, Stepan was Team USA's fourth-line center and got the start.

"What (Stepan) is is a good utility guy," said Team USA coach Don Lucia, who is also the Gophers' coach. "That's one of his strengths. He can play three forward positions, a little power play if necessary, some penalty kill. Versatility is one of his great strengths."

Stepan thought he kept himself in the mix by his play on Tuesday.

He was plus-2 with three shots on goal. He played some penalty kill but was not on the ice for either of the Mavericks' power-play goals (scored by Jean-Paul LaFontaine and Johnny McInnis).

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