The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

January 3, 2013

MSU hockey team finds itself in unfamiliar territory

MANKATO — In recent years, the halfway point of the men’s hockey season has been a time for Minnesota State players and coaches to scratch their heads and wonder how to turn things around for the second half.

The last couple of seasons, the Mavericks never did fully figure out how to do that.

This year, ranked 14th in two national polls, tied for 17th in the Pairwise and sitting in the upper half of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings just after New Year’s Day, the Mavericks find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they look ahead.

“It think it’s harder, a lot harder,” sophomore forward Jean-Paul LaFontaine said. “Last year, being low in the standings, we were trying to get better. Now it’s the opposite. We’ve got to stay where we’re at.”

Not that MSU, which hosts Providence in a nonconference series starting tonight, doesn’t enjoy this view a bit more.

“It’s a better feeling,” LaFontaine said. “We keep going out everyday to get better, but it’s definitely more of a challenge.”

Minnesota State got to this point by winning nine of its last 10 games, a stretch that included a seven-game winning streak and a tournament championship Saturday and Sunday in Connecticut.

First-year coach Mike Hastings said his team cannot rest on what it did over the first part of the season, though.

Despite their position in the rankings and the standings, the Mavericks have holes to fill, he said. And now they have a target on their back, too.

“It’s a great challenge for us,” Hastings said. “To me our focus has to be on what we do. ...

“We’ve got things going in the right direction. But are we mentally and physically prepared for the second half? Do we have the leadership? Can we continue to improve at the rate we have been?”

Senior defenseman and co-captain Tyler Elbrecht believes so and said that he and the team has bought in to the direction Hastings and his staff have taken them.

“It’s nice being in this position,” he said. “We’re set up to make a nice run at it in the second half. We have to continue to come to the rink everyday and work on the things that made us successful in the first half.”

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