By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
Looking at the numbers, Eriah Hayes is having a very good senior season for the Minnesota State men’s hockey team.
The senior right wing and co-captain has 21 points, including a team-leading 12 goals. Seven of his goals have come on the power play, putting him in a tie for second in the nation, and atop the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in that category.
But those totals looked fabulous in early January, which was the last time Hayes scored a goal. He has just three assists in his last six games.
“I’m just focusing on my game overall,” Hayes said. “I need to focus on the little things, and the goals will come back. I’m satisfied with my play, but I need to get going here.”
Starting with this weekend’s series at Minnesota Duluth, the 11th-ranked Mavericks are aiming for a spot in the upper half of the jam-packed WCHA standings. With eight games remaining in the regular season, they’re currently in seventh place, one point out of sixth and two points ahead of tonight’s eighth-place opponent.
Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said he hopes his team can find more scoring depth down the stretch, and getting Hayes back on track is a big part of that.
“No doubt, we need him to lead us — on and off the ice,” Hastings said. “His best attribute is he’s an example setter. ... And he’s OK with that responsibility. He hasn’t’ shied away yet.”
Seeing some goal production dip has caused Hastings to mix up his line combinations a bit. The top line of Matt Leitner, Chase Grant and Johnny McInnis remains the same as MSU’s last series against No. 1 Minnesota. But Hayes spent the last two weeks of practice skating with center Teddy Blueger and Dylan Margonari, while his previous center, Jean-Paul LaFontaine, was with Brett Knowles and Max Gaede.
“We need to get back to using our depth,” Hastings said. “We’ll continue to tinker with the lines until we get some consistency.”
Hayes, who leads the Mavericks in shots on goal, said he has no problem with some late-season changes.
“There’s enough talent up front where anybody can play with anybody,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter; anyone can fill a spot. I’m comfortable playing with any guy up front.”
Hayes added that splitting up his line could benefit other players who have struggled to find the back of the net. After a hot start, the freshman Margonari hasn’t scored since Dec. 14, while Gaede, a sophomore, has no goals this year.
“I think we have some of the most depth in the league with our four lines,” Hayes said. “It’s up to us to get those other guys going.”