By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
The Minnesota State men’s hockey team has seven Western Collegiate Hockey Association victories, thanks to a six-game winning streak that includes this weekend’s series sweep over Alaska Anchorage at the Verizon Wireless Center.
Last season, the Mavericks won just eight WCHA games.
It’s the first time since the 1999-2000 season — MSU’s first in the WCHA — that the Mavericks got to seven league wins before Christmas. That year, Don Brose’s last season as head coach, Minnesota State also went 7-5-0 in its first 12 conference games.
“On a given night we’re getting a lot of production from a lot of people, and not just offensively,” coach Mike Hastings said when asked about what trends he’s seen during the winning streak.
Senior forward Eriah Hayes is scoring goals, getting his ninth and 10th of the season against the Seawolves, and rookie goalie Stephon Williams has been hot throughout the last six games.
Hastings said that freshman defenseman Nick Buchanan played his best game of the season in Saturday’s 3-0 win (the Mavericks won 3-1 on Friday), while another rookie, forward Brett Knowles “has taken another step.”
Knowles, freshman Bryce Gervais and veterans Eli Zuck and Zach Lehrke have solidified the penalty kill. But it’s been a unit that hasn’t been exhausted from overuse.
“We’ve done a better job of staying out of the (penalty) box, which means we don’t have to exhaust a lot of energy to go out and kill penalties,” Hastings said.
The Mavericks still rank third in the WCHA in penalty minutes, averaging 14.8 per game, but they were called for just five minor penalties in the Anchorage series and did not allow a power play goal over the weekend. In fact, the Seawolves had just three shots on goal when they had the man advantage in the entire series.
Williams recorded the second shutout of his career and the second in a four-game span on Saturday night. He allowed just one goal in the series, two over the last two weekends and six in the Mavericks’ six-game streak.
His play has launched him to the top of the WCHA’s goals-against average list at 1.61. His save percentage is third in the conference at .932.
Nationally, Williams ranks sixth in goals-against average and 14th in save percentage. Williams is now 6-3-1.
With a three-point weekend, including a goal in each game, Hayes now has 75 career points, moving him into 23rd place on MSU’s Division I era scoring list.
Hayes, who has 42 goals and 33 assists in 128 career games, is three points behind Kyle Peto and four behind Grant Stevenson.
Hayes has scored at least one point in eight straight games, getting 11, including eight goals, over that span. His 10 goals put him in a four-way tie atop the WCHA’s goal-scoring list, along with Minnesota Duluth’s Mike Seidel and Colorado College’s Rylan Schwartz and Scott Winkler.
Minnesota State will hit the road and play Nebraska Omaha. The red Mavericks are coming off a series split at St. Cloud State, winning 6-5 on Friday and losing 2-1 on Saturday. Lots of storylines to this series, as Hastings spent the last three seasons as associate head coach for Omaha, and former MSU head coach Troy Jutting is now an assistant there.
The Mavericks have outshot opponents 546-416 this season. … Minnesota State is 5-2-1 at home this season, one win shy of last year’s win total in Mankato. … Matt Leitner’s point-scoring streak ended at eight games on Friday, but he had an assist on Saturday. … Johnny McInnis’ game-winning goal on Friday was the fifth of his career. … UAA goalie Chris Kamal stopped 69 of 75 shots in the series for a. 920 save percentage.
Freep stars of the series
1. Eriah Hayes, F, MSU — Three-point weekend, playing the best hockey of his career.
2. Stephon Williams, G, MSU — Another shutout; allowed just one goal in the series.
3. Brett Knowles, F, MSU — Scored first career goal on Friday, had an assist on Saturday.