The Minnesota State men’s hockey team has had to rely on its great depth at forward over the first eight games of the season.
Injuries and illnesses propelled a few rookies into the lineup, and they fit in quite nicely, helping the No. 3 Mavericks get off to a 6-1-1 start.
But it’s always good to get a veteran back.
Junior forward Dallas Gerads missed four games after absorbing a high, open-ice hit on Oct. 12 against Arizona State, Minnesota State’s second game of the season and a night in which he scored an early goal.
The Mavericks went 3-0-1 without Gerads and lost in his first game back on Friday against Bowling Green. But in Saturday’s victory over the Falcons, he had three assists and was named the No. 1 star of the game.
“He brought energy to us immediately, from practices and into the weekend,” coach Mike Hastings said, “and I thought he was rewarded with a great weekend.”
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Gerads is a ball of energy on the ice. He’s a physical forechecker but also a player who can put up points. In two-plus seasons of college hockey, he has 39 points — 20 goals, 19 assists.
“He brings that energy that’s unmatched,” Mavericks senior defenseman Ian Scheid said. “He’s a physical force out there. He’s able to skate fast and break up plays and create plays for us. It’s great to have. You could definitely tell last weekend. His weekend proved he’s a reliable asset to our team.”
The Mavericks needed Gerads’ physical play against WCHA rival Bowling Green, who beat them 3-2 in overtime on Friday before Minnesota State bounced back with a 5-1 win on Saturday.
“It was definitely good to be back,” Gerads said. “Nobody likes to be watching from the stands at any point. I just tried to stick to doing what I do best and just try to work hard and help out the team as much as I can, no matter what it is.”
Since becoming a lineup staple about halfway through his freshman season after which he was named the team’s most-improved player, Gerads hasn’t sat much, missing five games last season.
Gerads and his freshman linemates Nathan Smith and Lucas Sowder were each minus-2 on Friday, and Gerads had the line’s lone shot on goal. Hastings said the rookies struggled for the first time this season, but he didn’t mind Gerads’ play and shuffled the line chart a bit on Saturday.
Gerads played the second game with veterans Jared Spooner and Reggie Lutz. He finished plus-3, while the others were each plus-2. The line combined for eight of MSU’s 30 shots on goal.
There was indeed the physical presence, but Gerads showed some finesse, too.
He feathered a perfect centering pass to defenseman Connor Mackey, who took it down the middle of the rink for Saturday’s first goal. In the third period, on Spooner’s goal that gave the Mavericks a 3-1 cushion, Gerads got the puck to Spooner behind the goal and then raced to the front of the net to screen the Falcons’ goaltender.
“I thought he was hard to play against,” Hastings said. “I thought he was good offensively but was really good defensively. When he’s on his game playing physical, he can be a little bit of a handful.”
The Mavericks will need that again this weekend when they play a pair of conference games at Michigan Tech. And, Hastings added, it hasn’t hurt to have Gerads playing that way in practice, too, perhaps giving his teammates a taste of what’s to come against some of the WCHA’s more physical teams.
“He’s an energy guy,” Hastings said. “You love seeing him at the rink. He brings positivity to what we’re doing. He comes with an edge. If you’re at practice Monday through Thursday, and you’re not paying attention, he might run you right over.”
Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato