The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

December 3, 2013

After slow start, Mavs' offense finally awakens

Seven goals. Five for six on the power play.

“I’d like to have more nights like that,” Minnesota State men’s hockey coach Mike Hastings said after Saturday’s victory over Alaska Anchorage.

The Mavericks’ offensive explosion and series sweep over the Seawolves was what a lot of fans had been had expected — and what a lot of opponents had feared — out of that team since early October.

Minnesota State stumbled out of the gate offensively despite their returning talent and depth up front. Six times in their first 10 games, including one win, they were held to one or no goals. Their power play had a success rate of just 9 percent, and the four goals scored with the man advantage in that span were just one more than the number of short-handed goals MSU had allowed.

Just four games later, the power play is up 10 percent, and after scoring 19 goals in their first 10 games, the Mavericks added 16 in their last four.

Asked after Saturday’s game what the difference is, senior captain Johnny McInnis said simply: “Lehrke.”

As in Zach Lehrke. Lehrke, the senior who quit hockey just before the season started only to return after the first 10 games, has been a big catalyst. He had four points against the Seawolves and three in the previous series at Bowling Green. His five assists have all come on the power play where he’s been a calming, patient presence.

No one has benefited more from Lehrke’s return than Jean-Paul LaFontaine, who has five power-play goals in the last four games, but the scoring became contagious on Saturday night.

Matt Leitner, the WCHA’s preseason player of the year and the nation’s top power-play point producer last season, may be starting to heat up, too. He had three assists, all on the power play, on Saturday, and he has six of his nine points in the Mavericks’ last four games.

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