By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
The Mankato West boys hockey team will play Rochester Lourdes on Wednesday night for the chance to go to the state tournament. The Scarlets haven’t been to state since 2008, and there’s no doubt that this year’s team is the best one since that one of five years ago.
If they do punch their ticket to the St. Paul, people surely will begin to recall the run that the ’07-08 team made.
One highlight of that season was that January day that the high-scoring Corey Leivermann committed to play for Minnesota State. Later that night, he scored a goal, and the student section began chanting, “He’s a Maverick.”
For the rest of that season and for two more years while he worked on his game playing junior hockey in Fargo, there was great anticipation for his arrival at MSU. And when he scored a goal in his first college game, the locals expected a long and prosperous college career.
It didn’t work out that way — at least not with the Mavericks.
This past December, in the middle of his junior year, Leivermann decided to transfer and finish his career up the road at Division III Gustavus Adolphus.
It happened rather quietly. Leivermann played just two games for Minnesota State this season and 42 in 2 1/2 years. He had four goals and four assists for his career. Just after Christmas he informed coach Mike Hastings of his decision, and, by all accounts, the two parted ways amicably.
It had to be tough for Leivermann, even as a player who practiced every day, only to watch home games from the stands and make the occasional road trip with the boys. The Mavericks were enjoying their best season since his arrival, and, from the perspective of the hometown kid who had watched a lot of MSU hockey over the years, one of the best in a decade. He could have remained part of that.
But it also had to be tough fielding constant questions from friends, family, former teammates and coaches and even strangers in the general public about his playing time, or lack thereof. When interviewed about transferring, Leivermann said he simply wanted to have fun playing hockey again.
Well, that’s happening now at Gustavus.
While the Mavericks are in the home stretch of their great season and West is getting set to play its biggest game in five years, Leivermann and the Gusties are making their own impressive run.
Playoff wins over the past weekend have put Gustavus into the MIAC tournament championship game, which will take place Saturday afternoon against St. John’s in St. Cloud. The winner of that game will move on to the NCAA tournament.
Since Leivermann transferred, the Gusties have lost just one game, and they’re currently on an eight-game winning streak. In 12 games, he has two goals and eight assists for 10 points. He’s on the power play and the penalty kill and is again playing with the kind of physical edge on the forecheck that was often overshadowed by his gaudy point totals in high school.
Just as important, according to coach Brett Petersen, Leivermann has been a perfect fit in the Gusties’ locker room, acting not like an outsider but like a three-year veteran from the moment he arrived.
“They welcomed me right away,” Leivermann said.
That is not surprising. There’s been nary a bad word said about him as a teammate, whether it was at Mankato West, the Fargo Force or Minnesota State.
Proof of that could be seen in the stands of the Don Roberts Ice Rink on Friday night. With the Mavericks idle for the weekend, at least 20 players were in St. Peter to see their old teammate play. The moment was not lost on Leivermann or Petersen or anyone else in the arena who noticed.
“It’s awesome,” Leivermann said. “I still live with some of the guys on the team; we’re still great friends. They had an off week and said they were going to come down to watch. I wish I would have scored for them, so I could give them a salute.”
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.