By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
When its WCHA Final Five game against Wisconsin came close to ending, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team’s bench had plenty of open spots.
“It was getting thinner by the shift,” coach Mike Hastings said in the postgame press conference.
Three players left that game with injuries, but at least two of them, including WCHA Rookie of the Year Stephon Williams, will be back for the Mavericks’ NCAA tournament game on Saturday against Miami in Toledo, Ohio, Hastings said after Tuesday’s practice.
“He’s 100 percent cleared,” Hastings said of Williams, his freshman goaltender, who left the Final Five game after being involved in a collision on the Badgers’ fifth goal.
At the time, it was called an upper-body injury. However, prior to Thursday evening’s session, Williams appeared in a ceremony honoring the WCHA’s award winners.
Hastings said sophomore forward Chase Grant is also good to go, but senior center Eli Zuck is “day to day.” Both missed the end of the Wisconsin game with lower-body injuries.
“We’re all going to battle through some pain,” senior defenseman Tyler Elbrecht said Tuesday. “It wasn’t the way we wanted things to go Thursday. But sometimes you have to get put down to get the opportunity to get back up.”
The Mavericks will practice again today and Thursday morning at All Seasons Arena before leaving for Toledo. They will charter there, along with the St. Cloud State team.
St. Cloud State will play Notre Dame in the first game of the Midwest Regional. The Mavericks and Redhawks will play in the second, and the two winners will play Sunday for a trip to the Frozen Four.
“It’s a little different,” Hastings said. “We were done playing on Thursday, and we don’t play until Saturday. We’re just trying to manage what we do, our rest and our work. We’re trying to get both in. ...
“The guys’ spirits are good.”
They should be, especially knowing they will be going into the national tournament with a full lineup. (Even if Zuck were unavailable, freshman forward Taylor Herndon has had recent experience playing in that spot.)
“We’re happy to get a second opportunity,” Elbrecht said. “For us to be there for the second time ever in the Division I era is a privilege. We need to take advantage, not only for ourselves but for the community around us.”