In his second season at Minnesota State, head coach Jeff Vizenor feels his team has improved enough to move up from the WCHA’s cellar, where the Mavericks have dwelled for each of the league’s three seasons.
He has a number of reasons to feel confident that his team can move up in the league standings: some of those were evident in MSU’s 6-1 exhibition win over the Toronto Jr. Aeros Saturday.
Scoring six goals in a game was a major feat. The Mavericks scored just 38 goals in 32 games last season and had not scored six in a game since Jan. 9, 2000, in a 7-3 win over Division III Gustavus Adolphus. Four of those goals came from newcomers to the Minnesota State roster, including a pair by sophomore transfer Melanie Salatino, who finished third in goals and fourth in scoring in Division III at Wisconsin-Superior. Freshmen Devon Nichols and Amber Sharratt also tallied for the Mavericks.
“I learned we can put some pucks in the net,” Vizenor said after his team’s exhibition victory. “One thing about Salatino is that she came from Superior where she scored goals, that was her job. She’s come in here and we expect the same thing, that’s the only job we really give her.”
Vizenor expects his team to be higher-scoring than in the past and, if they can produce more goals, the Mavericks know they have the goalies to keep their opponents at bay.
Despite seeing 38 shots per game, junior goalie Shari Vogt posted a 3.21 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. Senior Katie Beauduy, who has seen nearly 35 shots per game during her career, has a 4.15 GAA and .880 save percentage overall.
“When you talk about our goaltending, you have to talk about Shari Vogt,” Vizenor said. “We’re going to expect her to log a lot of minutes for us again and win some games.”
Vogt simplifies her duties.
“I have to stop the puck,” she said. “I have to make big saves when the team needs me to and I need to keep the puck out of the net.”
Keeping the puck out of the net will start with MSU allowing fewer shots per game. Vizenor feels that his team understands its responsibilities better this year, but the addition of Sharratt, 5-9 Jen Johnson and 5-7 Andrea Jensrud should help. The Mavericks have not enjoyed size on their blue line and will look to use it to their advantage.
Up front, Salatino and Nichols bring their goal-scoring abilities to an offense that desperately needs them. However, Vizenor has upperclassmen who he expects to step up this season.
Senior Amy Egli has been handed the captaincy of the team. She and classmate Tristin Stephenson, the team’s leading active career scorer, are among the returning players who will be looked to for offensive output.
Egli realizes she will have to play a larger role on this year’s team.
“I have a lot more responsibility,” she said. “I have to lead by example and help keep everyone working together.
“We have a great group of freshmen and my role is to help them learn. They bring a great deal of energy to this team and they can score goals.”
One of the primary goals at MSU this season is getting the team into the WCHA playoffs. Moving from seventh to fifth in the league standings, though, won’t be easy.
“It’s going to take a consistent effort,” Vogt said. “Every series, every game, every shift, everyone is going to have to be consistent all of the time. This league is good and anyone can beat anyone on a given night.”
“Whenever you talk about the WCHA, you have to talk about Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth,” Vizenor said. “They’ve been the top teams and they’ve added top players. But everyone else has gotten better, too. No one in this league can go out and assume they’re going to win. We have to work hard and give a good effort every night if we want to finish in the top five.”
The Mavericks open up the WCHA’s season by hosting Ohio State at All Seasons Arena, Oct. 11-12.