MANKATO — Zach Stepan believed he played well enough on Tuesday night to keep himself in the mix to make the final roster for the U.S. Junior National Team.
“I think I came out of the game all right,” the Minnesota State freshman said after playing for Team USA in an exhibition game against the Mavericks, “being out there for two (goals), not getting scored on. If you play the third line you want to be even or be a plus.”
Indeed, Stepan survived Wednesday morning’s cutdown and was off to Sweden with the team in the afternoon.
Team USA went into Tuesday’s game with 29 players, sitting five locks to make the roster, as well as a third goaltender and an injured player.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Boston College forward Ryan Fitzgerald, Michigan forward J.T. Compher and Sarnia Sting (Ontario Hockey League) defenseman Anthony DeAngelo had been cut. Compher probably was a lock to make the team but injured his foot blocking a shot in practice on Monday.
Stepan is now one of 26 remaining players —15 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goalies — and the team needs to get to 23 before the World Junior Championship begins on Dec. 26. The U.S. will play two exhibition games in Sweden — Friday and Saturday against Sweden and Finland — before releasing two forwards and a defenseman.
In Team USA’s 3-2 overtime win over the Mavericks, Stepan 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.
U.S. coach Don Lucia called Stepan “a good utility guy.” “That’s one of his strengths,” the coach said. “He can play three forward positions, a little power play if necessary, some penalty kill. Versatility is one of his great strengths.”
Minnesota State forward Jean-Paul LaFontaine was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for his performance last weekend at Alabama Huntsville. He was league’s top scorer over the weekend, recording two goals and two assists in the MSU sweep.
The junior has 12 points (7 goals-5 assists) in the Mavericks’ last eight games and leads the Mavericks with 16 points (8-8). This was the second time this season that LaFontaine earned the award.
Other WCHA awards this week went to Ferris State goaltender C.J. Motte, who was named Defensive Player of the Week for the fourth time this season. Rookie of the Week honors went to Alaska goaltender David Jones.
UAH player suspended
The WCHA suspended Alabama Huntsville defenseman Ben Reinhardt one game for his hit from behind on Stepan during Saturday’s game. Reinhardt received a major penalty and game misconduct for the illegal check, which was reviewed under the league’s Supplementary Discipline Policy and Procedures.
Reinhardt will miss the Chargers’ next game, a nonconference game on Dec. 27 at Wisconsin.
Stepan lay on the ice for a few minutes after the third-period hit and was assisted out of the rink. He did not return to the game.
The WCHA also suspended Bemidji State forward Phillip Marinaccio one game for a spearing incident Saturday against Alaska. He, too, received a major penalty and game misconduct. He will miss the Beavers’ next game on Jan. 3 against Northern Michigan.
Marinaccio’s suspension was determined after a review by the league office of an illegal check at the 17:06 mark of the third period and comes under the WCHA’s Supplementary Discipline Policy and Procedures. Marinaccio was assessed a 5:00 major for spearing and a 10:00 game misconduct at the time of the incident.
After missing four games with an upper-body injury, MSU freshman defenseman Casey Nelson returned to the lineup for Tuesday’s exhibition game. ... The Gustavus Adolphus women’s hockey team fell to No. 8 in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online Division III rankings after its loss to Wisconsin-River Falls on Friday. River Falls jumped up to seventh.