MANKATO — After freshman Cole Huggins’ shutout performance on Saturday night, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team has a good situation in goal, captain Johnny McInnis said.
“Cole, he battled. There’s not much more you can say for that,” McInnis said after the 1-0 overtime win over Bowling Green. “He’s battled hard since he got here.”
Huggins got his second start and second win, stopping 33 shots. In 162 minutes 20 seconds of action, he’s stopped 80 of 83 shots (.964 save percentage) and has a 1.11 goals-against average.
Sophomore Stephon Williams, meanwhile, is off to a slow start, going 2-4-0 with a .867 save percentage and a 3.40 goals-against average. In Friday’s 4-3 loss, he allowed four goals on 16 shots before being lifted for Huggins.
McInnis said there remains a lot of faith in Williams, last season’s WCHA rookie of the year.
“It’s going to be a healthy relationship (between Williams and Huggins),” McInnis said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
Huggins said he didn’t feel a lot of pressure Saturday, even as Bowling Green freshman Tomas Sholl also had a shutout going at the other end of the ice.
“I always like overtime,” said Huggins, who did not face any shots in overtime.
“If you let up a goal, it’s over, but you can also play great. I wasn’t too nervous; I just tried to play my game. That was a big goal by McInnis.”
Commish pays visit
WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod attended Friday's game and said he's pleased with the competitiveness of the revamped conference.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," McLeod said. "I couldn't be happier."
The frustration of the last two years following the departure of eight WCHA teams to the new Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Association conference and getting the remaining and new WCHA teams on the same page have passed, he said.
"It was hard getting the group moving in the same direction," McLeod said.
"But now that the hockey's started, that's what it's all about. I feel al to better about a lot of things. It's going to be OK."
McLeod credited Minnesota State President Richard Davenport for his leadership role in the conference.
"He's been really, really important from an administration standpoint," McLeod said.
McLeod said the conference has been pleasantly surprised by the early success of the America One Sports streaming service WCHA TV that broadcasts all league games. The league has generated revenue from the service, although McLeod declined to say just how much at this time.
"The biggest issue is awareness," he said. "We've got to do more."
McLeod said he and a contingent from the league will be traveling to Grand Rapids, Mich., next week to get an update on the Final Five, which will be held in that city's Van Andel Arena next March.
Minnesota State has just 18 healthy skaters right now, just enough to put a full lineup on the ice.
Missing in action against the Falcons were forwards Zach Stepan (upper body), Michael Huntebrinker (broken arm/surgery) and defensemen Carter Foguth (foot) and Josh Nelson (lower body).
Coach Mike Hastings said he doesn't expect any of the four to be available this week.
Minnesota State had seven defensemen in the lineup against Bowling Green, but Mat Knoll played as a fourth-line forward. Sean Flanagan moved back to defense after playing up front at Bemidji State.
The Mavericks will take on No. 1-ranked Minnesota in a nonconference series on Friday and Saturday in Minneapolis. The Gophers (6-1-1) lost for the first time on Friday night at Notre Dame. The Gophers bounced back and defeated the Irish on Saturday.
The Falcons' win Friday was their first road win of the season and first victory over Minnesota State. They are 1-4-1 all-time against the Mavericks. ... MSU defenseman Jon Jutzi and Matt Leitner each were credited with seven blocked shots in the series. ... The Mavericks held Bowling Green leading scorer Bryce Williamson scoreless in the series. ... Minnesota State had two bench minors for too many men on the ice on Friday. Last season, MSU had just one bench penalty.