MANKATO — Michael Huntebrinker was the first player to commit to Minnesota State after Mike Hastings was hired as the Mavericks’ coach in the spring of 2012.
When Huntebrinker signed with MSU a few months later, Hastings projected the forward from suburban St. Louis would make an immediate impact offensively. But both coach and player have had to be patient with the process.
After two seasons of trying to find a permanent place in the Mavericks' deep lineup, Huntebrinker is finally making that impact.
“When I came in, we had such a strong core, and obviously, we lost a lot of those core pieces,” he said. “I had an opportunity to fill in, and, yeah, I’ve just kind of grabbed ahold of it.”
At the halfway point of his junior season, Huntebrinker has 10 points, already a career high. He enters this weekend’s WCHA series against Alabama Huntsville on a six-game point-scoring streak in which he has seven points. That includes a goal and two assists in Minnesota State’s two ties a week ago at Bowling Green.
Currently the Mavericks’ second-line center, skating between sophomore wings C.J. Franklin and Brad McClure, Huntebrinker has played in every game this season. Over his first two years, he played in a little more than half of MSU’s games.
“I think a big part of it is confidence,” he said. “Another part of it is who I’m playing with. Playing with guys like Lures and Franks, it makes your job as a centerman pretty easy, having those guys as outlets.”
Hastings said Huntebrinker has earned his minutes this season, along with the respect of linemates who, the coach added, lobby to play with him.
“First of all, I think he’s developed a more complete game,” Hastings said. “In a couple games over the last two weeks, he’s been our best faceoff man. I think his confidence is growing week by week. You’re seeing a confidence in his game, and I think that’s continuing to grow.”
Huntebrinker totaled three points during a freshman season in which he missed time due to injury. One of his goals came in the WCHA Final Five title game, and while it seemed like that performance set him up for a breakout sophomore season, he was in and out of the lineup as a second-year player. He filled in where needed at both center and wing and finished the year with nine points in 24 games, including two assists in the Final Five championship.
“We do project (how recruits will do),” Hastings said. “But the one who has to put the work in and develop is the player. We try to support him and try to communicate with him, but at the end of the day, he has to do the work.”
With the graduation of All-American center Matt Leitner and the loss of three others up front, there was another opportunity this season for Huntebrinker to become an everyday player, if not a top-six forward.
“I knew that those opportunities were going to be there, so for me it was just finding that consistency in my game,” he said. “And I think, here late, that’s been the best part — having that consistency and that confidence where there’s not really any doubt. I can just go out there and relax and play.”
Hastings often preaches to his players that there will be chances for them to play and what they do when their name goes on the game-day line chart can dictate their future.
“Michael kept getting opportunities,” Hastings said. “He’s had the mental makeup to keep fighting through that — succeeding and failing and getting more opportunities. He’s handled it like a mature young man.”