By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
OMAHA, NEB. — Johnny McInnis remembers the first time he skated with freshman Teddy Blueger, and he hoped it wouldn’t be the last time they were on a line together.
“It was (preseason) captains practice,” the Minnesota State junior wing said. “I was skating out of the zone, and he flipped the puck over everyone and put it right on my stick. … He’s pretty special.”
McInnis and Blueger have been together all season, and Friday against Nebraska Omaha was one of their best games together. McInnis had two goals and an assist, and Blueger finished his second three-assist game of the season.
McInnis scored his eighth goal of the season in Friday’s 6-3 victory, equaling his total from last season. He ranks second on the team in goals, behind Eriah Hayes, who has 10. With an assist on the team’s lone goal Saturday (a 5-1 loss) he has 14 points, just one shy of his total from last year.
Blueger said he and McInnis have developed some pretty good chemistry.
”Playing with him is great,” he said. “I can always give him the puck in the offensive zone, and he’ll have a scoring chance. We complement each other that way, and we get a long pretty well.”
Blueger leaves today for his home country of Latvia where he will participate in that country’s training camp leading up to the World Junior Hockey Championships in Russia. Blueger likely will miss MSU’s next four games while playing in the tournament for the second year in a row.
Omaha coach Dean Blais had high praise for Minnesota State and credited his former and current assistant coaches for what’s happening with the purple Mavericks right now.
“They’re going to probably have a chance for home ice, which means the top six,” Blais said. “That’s a good hockey team, a good team assembled by Troy and coached by Hasty. That’s a pretty good combo.”
Former MSU coach Troy Jutting is now part of Blais’ staff and handles the defensemen among other duties, while current coach Mike Hastings spent the last three years working for Blais.
With about five minutes remaining in Saturday’s game, Hastings pulled goalie Stephon Williams for an extra attacker in hopes of coming back from a 3-1 deficit. Omaha’s Matt White ended up scoring an empty-netter all but ensuring the Spirit of the Maverick trophy remain in Omaha for a fourth straight year.
While the trophy would have been a nice feather for MSU, it certainly wasn’t more important than trying to gain valuable points for the WCHA standings.
While the Mavericks and Mavericks will be in different conferences beginning next year, both coaches said they are interested in continuing the rivalry as a regular nonconference series in the future.
The Mavericks’ seven-game winning streak that ended Saturday was tied for the longest in their Division I era. They also won seven WCHA games in a row in 2007-08.
The last time Minnesota State won eight games in a row was 1995-96 when it was still a Division II program. That was their final season before turning Division I.
The Mavericks are off until after Christmas when they head east to play in the UConn Hockey Classic tournament in Storrs, Conn. MSU will play Brown (3-5-4) in the tournament opener on Saturday, Dec. 29 and either Connecticut (4-7-2) or American International (4-8-3) on Sunday, Dec. 30.
Freep stars of the series
1. Johnny McInnis, F, MSU — Led all players with four-point weekend, including three on Friday.
2. Matt White, F, UNO — The junior scored two big goals and had an assist in the series.
3. Teddy Blueger, F, MSU — Three assists Friday gives freshman seven points in last five games.