The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 6, 2013

Mavericks dominate exhibition hockey game

Blueger has four points, McInnis three in exhibition win

By Shane Frederick

---- — MANKATO — Johnny McInnis couldn't wait for the weekend. He just had to sneak down to the Verizon Wireless Center early last week to catch a peek at his home arena.

“It was awesome to see our colors,” the Minnesota State men's hockey captain said after his team's 7-1 exhibition victory over Lethbridge, a Canadian university team, on Sunday evening.

Offseason renovations to the building included new, purple seats, as well as an entire new playing rink — boards, glass, benches, floor and ice-making system.

“The ice is a lot better,” McInnis said.

Said coach Mike Hastings: “The facility looks fantastic. Coming out of the locker room, it looks like home.”

But the arena wasn't the star of Sunday's show.

That billing belonged to the home team, which is entering the 2013-14 season with some lofty expectations and preseason hype.

The Mavericks put on an offensive show for the 2,127 in attendance, outshooting the Pronghorns 52-11 and getting goals from seven different players.

Sophomore center Teddy Blueger was dazzling with a goal and three assists, and his line, which included McInnis (one goal, two assists) and sophomore Dylan Margonari (goal), had eight points, including three on the game's opening goal, a Margonari breakaway at 4:37 of the first period.

While MSU's line combinations are hardly set in concrete just a couple of days into the season, that group has a unique makeup.

“Johnny's got a great shot, and Dylan's got great speed and strength,” Blueger said. “I'm more of a passer. We all have certain strengths.”

Blueger was the best player on the ice, especially in the first and second periods, as he showed off his rink vision and quick hands.

“He's smart,” Hastings said. “His greatest strength is what he has between the ears as far as hockey sense. The impact he made tonight, he needs to make every night, and I think he's ready for that role.”

Lethbridge tied the game on a power play midway through the first period, but the Mavericks controlled play the majority of the night. The game was tied for a mere two minutes, and the Mavericks scored six unanswered goals after that — Matt Leitner (game-winner) and Blueger (power play) in the first period, freshmen Zach Stepan and Michael Huntebrinker in the second and McInnis and Nick Buchanan in the third.

Stepan also had an assist for a two-point game.

"It was nice to see some freshmen make an impact," Hastings said, noting the play of his fourth line of Huntebrinker, Jordan Nelson and sophomore Taylor Herndon. "They weren't shy."

Since it was an exhibition, there were no limits on the number of players who could dress for the game. Nine defensemen, instead of the usual six, played including rookies Carter Foguth, Casey Nelson and Sean Flanagan, as well as redshirt sophomore Mat Knoll, the Mavericks' most-improved player from 2011-12 who missed all of last season after undergoing eye surgery.

"It was positive," Hastings said of the defensive corps. "There wasn't somebody I looked at and said, 'OK, he's not ready.' And that's a good problem to have. ... It was something we didn't have at this time last year."

The goalies didn't see a lot of rubber. Starting goaltender Stephon Williams stopped 3 of 4 shots before his night ended midway through the second period. Evan Karambelas made three saves over the remainder of the middle frame. Freshman Cole Huggins stopped four shots in the third.

The games count next weekend, with the Mavericks, ranked 11th in the country, travel to Rhode Island to face No. 14 Providence.

Notes: The game's opening faceoff was delayed 15 minutes due to a problem with the lights following the national anthem. … Mavericks junior forward Chase Grant missed the game with an upper-body injury. ... Lethbridge junior Devon Kalinski is the brother of former MSU player Jon Kalinski. ... Lethbridge lost to Minnesota 5-1 on Saturday night.