By Shane Frederick firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — Minnesota State men’s hockey coach Mike Hastings called this week a “maintenance week” for his team.
After playing two series and having an idle weekend before beginning their Western Collegiate Hockey Association schedule at Bemidji State, the Mavericks’ primary goal this week is to “get to 100 percent,” Hastings said.
Senior defenseman Josh Nelson went through some tests on the lower-body injury that kept him out of Saturday’s game against Connecticut, and his status should be known later this week. Dylan Margonari and Brett Knowles also missed some practice time for minor ailments.
“If we were playing this week, neither (Margonari nor Knowles) would get a day off,” Hastings said.
Hastings said the early bye also gives him and his staff a chance to re-examine MSU’s first four games, which included two losses at now-No. 8 Providence and two home wins against UConn. Minnesota State moved up to No. 16 in the national rankings this week.
Hastings added that he saw improvement over the first four games, notably in the area of puck possession.
“The good thing (Saturday) was we didn’t throw the puck around,” he said. “It’s so hard to get, and we showed we can hold onto it a bit. We did a good job maintaining possession and playing with a little more poise.”
Former Minnesota State forward Tyler Pitlick made his National Hockey League debut on Tuesday night, playing for the Edmonton Oilers in a game at Montreal.
Pitlick, who played one season (2009-10) at Minnesota State, became the eighth player with MSU connections to play in the NHL. He had two shots on goal, three hits and was minus-1 in 11:58 of ice time in his debut.
As a college player, Pitlick had 11 goals and eight assists for 19 points in 38 games. He was drafted the following summer by the Oilers with the first pick in the second round (31st overall). He opted to play a year of major junior hockey in Canada before signing with the Oilers. He spent two seasons with Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League and seven games there this season before getting called up.
Other MSU alumni besides Pitlick to play in the NHL include current players David Backes, Tim Jackman and Ryan Carter, as well as Grant Stevenson, Steve Wagner, Jon Kalinksi and Travis Morin.
Morin is a player who could get another shot at the NHL. The Texas Stars forward and Dallas Stars prospect currently leads the AHL in scoring, with 15 points in six games.
WCHA play begins
The WCHA season will begin this weekend with two conference series. Both matchups are between a pair of longtime rivals.
Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan will play a home-and-home series, as they have for years. However, it will be the teams’ first meeting as WCHA foes since 1997 when Northern Michigan went to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
Meanwhile, Bemidji State will open league play at Alabama Huntsville. Those two teams were members of the College Hockey America Conference and, as Division II teams, met for the national championship four times with each winning two of those matchups.
The only other WCHA team in action this weekend will be Alaska, which will close out its nonconference schedule with a home series against Mercyhurst.
Back in action
After a week off, the Minnesota State women’s team will return to WCHA play with a home series against Minnesota Duluth. The Mavericks and Bulldogs will play at 7 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday at All Seasons Arena.
The Mavericks are 6-49-4 all-time against the Bulldogs but went 2-1-1 against them last season. Duluth (2-3-1, 0-3-1 in WCHA) is unranked but receiving votes in the latest national poll.
The Mavericks (3-3-0, 0-2-0) have shown some offensive balance to start the season with 11 different players scoring their 17 goals. Junior forward Kathleen Rogan leads the way with four goals and seven points.
WCHA men’s players of the week included: Bowling Green forward Bryce Williamson (offensive), Lake Superior State defenseman Zach Sternberg (defensive) and Alaska goalie David Jones (rookie). ... Undefeated Lake Superior State (4-0-0) joined MSU in the national rankings this week, jumping in at No. 15. ... Minnesota State’s home-opener crowd of 3,829 was its largest since 2008 when 4,123 watched the Mavericks against Bemidji State.