By Shane Frederick
The Free Press
The debut of Mike Hastings was overshadowed a bit on Friday night, but Minnesota State’s new men’s hockey coach surely didn’t mind.
Chase Grant, who was a medical reshirt last season after undergoing hip surgery, had a hat trick for the Mavericks in a 4-1 season-opening victory at Alabama Huntsville.
“I told (Grant) after the game, ‘It’s really good to have you back,’” Hastings said in a phone interview following the game. “It’s great for him, and Matt Leitner was really good again.”
All three of Grant’s goals came on the power play. He also assisted on Leitner’s short-handed goal for a four-point night. Leitner, the Mavericks’ leading point scorer a season ago, also had four points with his goal and three assists.
The Mavericks outshot the Chargers 41-25, including an 18-2 advantage after one period.
Grant gave the Mavericks a 1-0 lead at 8:10 of the opening period, deflecting in a Zach Palmquist shot. Minnesota State held the slim lead at the first break despite having four power plays to work with.
“I thought we came out and played a good first period,” Hastings said. “There was a lot of feel-good going on.”
Grant made it 2-0 at 12:15 of the second period, getting assists from Leitner and Zach Lehrke.
But Huntsville cut MSU’s lead in half with 4:28 remaining in the middle period, as Craig Pierce scored on the power play and fired up the Von Braun Center crowd of more than 5,000 people who got free tickets to the game.
In the third, the Mavericks took control again. Grant and Leitner scored about three minutes apart midway through the frame, assisting on each other’s goals, to pull away.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Hastings said. “I like how we started, and I liked how we finished. ... We have to find a way to score some 5-on-5 goals.”
Mavericks goalie Phil Cook stopped 24 shots (and also assisted on Leitner’s goal), while Chargers goalie John Griggs made 37 saves.
Minnesota State (1-0-0) and Alabama Huntsville will play again at 7 p.m. tonight.