The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 15, 2013

MSU hockey team hopes to get offense going

By Shane Frederick sfrederick@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — Through a month and a half, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team has put up some surprising offensive numbers.

Surprising as in low.

A team that came into the season touting one of the deepest collections of forwards in the WCHA, if not the country, is struggling to get its offense going. Through eight games the Mavericks are averaging just 2.25 goals per game. That puts them in a tie for 46th among the nation’s 59 Division I teams.

“We need it,” coach Mike Hastings said. “It’s hard to score goals right now. We need to pay a more significant price. ...

“Pretty, ugly, something in between. It doesn’t matter.”

The Mavericks will need whatever they can get this weekend against No. 1-ranked Minnesota. The Gophers, who will host the nonconference series in Minneapolis, have the nation’s second-best scoring offense, averaging 4.38 goals per game.

“We need to get back to the little, simple things,” junior forward Matt Leitner said. “We’ve been a perimeter team. We’ve got to get back to the hard areas where people score goals. ... We’ve got to get back to being a hard team to play against.”

Leitner, who ranks fourth among the country’s top returning scorers from last season when he had 17 goals and 47 points, has no goals and just three assists, playing in six of MSU’s eight games this season. Another junior forward, Jean-Paul LaFontaine, who had 35 points last season, has one goal and two assists so far.

“We need some guys to finish,” Hastings said. “And those guys have scored. They’ve been successful. Our upperclassmen need to make more of an imprint at the offensive end, period.”

Dealing with early season injuries as well, Hastings has done some mixing and matching with his forward lines, trying to find combinations that click.

“We need some chemistry with our lines to create some more in-zone time,” he said. “We need to get those second and third opportunities that lead to goals.”

That includes on the power play, which has had a feeble success rate of 9.3 percent (4 for 43) — 54th in the nation. And after giving up three short-handed goals already this season, Minnesota State is plus-1 with the man advantage.

A year ago, with Leitner leading the country in power-play points, the Mavericks were fifth, clicking at nearly 23 percent. But with Eriah Hayes and Zach Lehrke departed and Josh Nelson injured, it hasn’t been the same so far.

“It would be nice to get our power play going,” said LaFontaine, who has 12 career power-play goals. “That was a huge part of our team last year. Once we get Leitner going again, me going again, we’ll be fine.”

LaFontaine, whom Hastings called one of the team’s most consistent forwards over the last four games, made a perfect pass from the wall to a streaking Johnny McInnis for the game-winning goal in overtime on Saturday against Bowling Green. It was the game’s only goal.

“We’ve been looking for a little jolt,” Leitner said. “Maybe that was it.”