By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
Looking for a silver lining from Minnesota State’s two losses to third-ranked Denver over the weekend, coach Mike Hastings said he knew there were some, but he was having a hard time picking them out immediately after Saturday’s 3-2 loss.
“LaFontaine is starting to score a little bit,” he said.
Indeed, Jean-Paul LaFontaine had a four-point weekend, including a three-point Friday night. The sophomore forward and All-WCHA Rookie Team selection from a season ago has seven points in his last four games, all since Hastings moved him from wing to center.
His eight points (three goals, five assists) for the season rank second on the team behind Matt Leitner, who has 10 (one, nine).
LaFontaine, who had just one assist through the Mavericks’ first six games, set up Eriah Hayes’ first-period power-play goal on Saturday. He continued to show off his vision with a laser pass to Hayes late in the second period for what appeared to be a sure game-tying goal. That was, until Pioneers goalie Juho Olkinuora slid over to make an impressive save.
“Jean-Paul passed it through traffic,” Hayes said. “It was a nice save on me. But those are chances you have to find a way to bury. That may have been the difference in the game.”
LaFontaine had a hand in all three MSU goals on Friday, scoring two, after the Mavericks found themselves down 3-0. His second goal, with an extra attacker on the ice, made it 4-3 with 1:51 to play. But he ended up in the doghouse on the next shift when he checked a Denver player from behind, a major penalty and a game misconduct that all but ended the Mavericks’ chances.
The Mavericks did not allow a power play goal in the series, killing off six penalties on Friday and two on Saturday. Since their penalty kill dropped to 59th out of 59 teams nationally on Nov. 2, Minnesota State has improved to 53rd over the last three games.
Denver was credited with just eight shots on goal during their power plays.
Senior Eli Zuck and freshman Brett Knowles had outstanding kill efforts on Saturday.
Three WCHA teams rank below the Mavericks in penalty kill: Colorado College, Wisconsin and Alaska Anchorage.
So long, Denver
Barring a meeting in the WCHA playoffs, the series will be the last between the teams for some time. After this season, Denver will leave the WCHA for the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The Mavericks’ losses extended their winless streak against the Pioneers to 16 games (0-14-2), with their last win over Denver coming during the 2007-08 season when MSU swept a series in Mankato.
With a crowd of 3,499 on Saturday night at the Verizon Wireless Center, the Mavericks are averaging 3,747 per game through five home games.
It they can keep up that pace throughout the season, they will have their largest average since the 2009-10 season when they drew 3,880 per game.
With three more penalties in the series, MSU sophomore Chase Grant leads the Mavericks with 11 minors this season. … With an assist on Saturday, Teddy Blueger leads all MSU freshman with five points. Knowles is second with four points, all assists, including one on Friday. … Denver forward Ty Loney was called for four penalties on Saturday night. … The Mavericks are outshooting opponents 346-272 this season but have been outscored 32-27.