The Mankato Free Press
---- — 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.
Leitner, LaFontaine, McInnis, Lehrke. Teddy Blueger, Bryce Gervais, defenseman Zach Palmquist. That’s a crew that was expected to put up big numbers this season.
They accounted for nine of MSU’s 10 goals against Anchorage and compiled a whopping 15 assists. LaFontaine finished with five points, while Blueger and Lehrke each had four points.
“We’re spending more time in zone,” Hastings said. “We’re doing a better job winning faceoffs, and if you’re winning faceoffs and have possession, you can get it in and get more looks. We’re getting more pucks to the net.”
Sure, there were some turnovers; they put a couple of pucks right on MSU sticks. But the key was that Minnesota State converted those mistakes into goals. The Mavericks also scored timely goals, not letting the Seawolves grab any momentum after they cut down MSU’s lead.
Following his “Lehrke” comment,” McInnis added that he was kidding — a bit.
“We’ve been working hard at it, obviously,” he said. “Early on, I thought we hadn’t been getting the bounces. But when you work hard you get the bounces. It really came together tonight for sure.”
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.