By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
The Minnesota State men’s hockey team will return to practice today and try to recapture the magic that nearly made it a top 10 team in the nation with a stretch of 11 wins in 12 games.
The Mavericks were swept at home by Wisconsin over the weekend, dropping two overtime games to what is now the hottest team in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“Life’s hard,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said on Saturday night. “We fought hard. I’m a big believer that you’re judged by your work when things are most difficult. We’ll go back to work Monday. That’s what we do.”
Minnesota State will travel to Alaska Anchorage this week for a league series. Seven of MSU’s final 12 regular-season games are on the road, including five of their next six.
The Mavericks will return home Jan. 26 for the second game of a home-and-home series with No. 1 Minnesota. They also have home series Feb. 15-16 against Michigan Tech and March 8-9 against North Dakota.
Matt Leitner has led Minnesota State in scoring the entire season, but has done it mostly with assists. But he scored three of MSU’s four goals against Wisconsin, including two on Friday night.
“Matt Leitner is just a special player,” Hastings said.
The sophomore has 27 points, including nine goals, in 24 games to lead the Mavericks.
The last MSU player to finish the season averaging more than a point per game was Travis Morin, who had 39 points in 38 games in 2006-07.
Speaking of goals
Minnesota State defenseman and co-captain Tyler Elbrecht scored his first goal of the season and just the third of his four-year career on Friday night.
It was also Elbrecht’s first goal at the Verizon Wireless Center.
Elbrecht’s last goal came on March 10 during the Mavericks’ WCHA playoff series at Minnesota Duluth. He also scored one goal as a sophomore in a game at Michigan Tech.
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves may never coach in the Verizon Wireless Center again, but that doesn’t mean he won’t remember it.
The Badgers scored their first-ever series sweep in the Mankato arena, improving their record there to 8-11-3.
“I look at this place, and this is where we had a real watershed moment in ’06,” Eaves said, referring to his team getting swept at MSU that season but then winning nine of its next 10 games, including the national championship. “That was a pivotal time in a negative way; this could be a pivotal time in a positive way.”
How close is the WCHA race right now?
Well, had Minnesota State swept Wisconsin, it would have been in a tie for first place in the conference standings today. Instead, the Mavericks are in eighth place.
Hastings mixed up his forward lines on Saturday, shuffling all of his left wings. That included moving Chase Grant up to the No. 1 line and Bryce Gervais to the second unit. … Minnesota State has played in six overtime games this season, including three of its last four games, and is 2-2-2 in those games. … At 10 games (7-0-3), Wisconsin has the nation’s second-longest unbeaten streak, trailing Quinnipiac at 16 games (14-0-2).
Freep stars of the series:
1. John Ramage, D, UW: Scored both OT winners.
2. Matt Leitner, F, MSU: Scored three of his team’s four goals.
3. Wisconsin goalies: Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel were rock-solid.