By Shane Frederick
---- — MANKATO — Mike Sullivan returned to his favorite chair on Friday night.
The radio voice of the Minnesota State men's hockey team has been all but silent since October after a cyst was discovered beneath his vocal chords. Sullivan had surgery to remove the cyst in November.
After missing MSU's first 22 games this season, he was back in his spot in the Verizon Wireless Center press box. Next week, he'll be back on the road with the Mavericks.
Like an athlete returning from knee or shoulder surgery, it took some time to get back to full strength.
"They told me it would be a complete recovery," Sullivan said before Saturday's game against Ferris State at the Verizon Wireless Center. "I worked with vocal therapists and did vocal exercises. Now it's a matter of getting it strengthened."
Sullivan has been calling Maverick games for KTOE since 2000. In his absence, Minnesota State's assistant athletic director for communications Paul Allan handled the road games and KTOE anchor John Maiers called the home games.
"A lot of people stepped forward," Sullivan said. "Everybody came through and pitched in and did a great job."
Sullivan's return came at a perfect time, as his experience had to be useful in calling the Mavericks' series sweep of No. 2-ranked Ferris State. Minnesota State won 6-2 and 4-3, with the second game featuring a fight, more than 200 minutes in penalties and six ejections.
"It was a little different," Sullivan said before Saturday's game. "You feel like it's spring baseball when you're throwing a baseball for the first time, and it hurts. You think, 'Can I do this?' 'What's it going to sound like?' It took a little time to get into (Friday's) game. But things went fast. It was a great game to start with."
Jean-Paul LaFontaine is now tied for the WCHA lead in scoring with 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists). He's tied with Alaska's Cody Kunyk. LaFontaine's 23 points in conference play is tops, too.
LaFontaine, a junior forward, has done most of his damage on the power play, where he has a nation-leading 11 goals. His 17 power-play points rank second in the country.
Against Ferris State, LaFontaine scored three power-play goals, including two on Saturday, and had two assists.
"I'd say the thing about him is he's been good for about two months," Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. "He's got some instincts you that can't teach. (He) finds a way to get open and he can deliver the puck. He's a guy you don't have to give him a perfect pass for him to get some good wood on it and get it to a good area. He's just a good hockey player."
Matt Leitner is approaching the 100-point mark for his Minnesota State career. After a five-point weekend (two goals three assists), the junior forward has 98 points in 101 games. He has moved into ninth place on MSU's Division I era career scoring list.
"I thought Matt Leitner had an exceptional night," Hastings said of Leitner's two-goal, one-assist performance on Friday.
Leitner has 19 points in WCHA play (he has 22 overall) ranks second behind LaFontaine.
Keeping track of the race for the MacNaughton Cup? Here's what's left in conference play for the top two teams.
Minnesota State (10 games): at Northern Michigan, vs. Bemidji State, vs. Alabama Huntsville, at Lake Superior State, vs. Michigan Tech.
Ferris State (12 games): at Michigan Tech, vs. Northern Michigan, at Bemidji State, vs. Alaska Anchorage, at Alaska, vs. Lake Superior State.
"It's that time of the year," MSU captain Johnny McInnis said Saturday. "Everything we do is focused on how we want to play at the end of the year. That's something we learned last year, maybe the hard way."
Minnesota State and Ferris State now rank 1-2 in the country in penalty minutes with 19.4 and 17.8 per game, respectively. ... The Mavericks moved up to No. 17 in the Pairwise Rankings following the sweep. ... McInnis scored his 12th career game-winning goal on Saturday. ... The Mavericks improved their home record this season to 9-1-0. ... Minnesota State will spend the next two weeks on the road, starting with the North Star College Cup on Friday and Saturday in St. Paul, and will play its next home games Feb. 7-8 against Bemidji State.
Freep stars of the series 1. Jean-Paul LaFontaine, MSU: Proving to be the WCHA's most dangerous power-play man. 2. Matt Leitner, MSU: Three points on Friday set the tone for the series. 3. Johnny McInnis, MSU: Mavericks captain scored three big goals in the sweep.