Minnesota State has a tendency to be a very confusing club.
Two years ago, the outlook for the team was bleak, yet it turned in an impressive performance, finishing fourth in the league and just outside the NCAA tournament bubble.
Last year, the Mavericks returned much of the same squad and with that, had expectations for a similar season. Instead, they finished eighth (although, given last year, it was a close eighth) and saw their season end with a conference quarterfinal sweep by Wisconsin.
This year, what should we think? What should we expect? Given history, Troy Jutting’s squad might just surprise us again. Whether they’ll surprise us in terms of home ice come March is a different story, but it’s a wonder what a coach can do with a veteran hockey team.
To do that, though, they’ll have to find a way to put a full weekend together — the Mavericks swept just two conference series last year and three total weekends and got three points an equal number of times. They’ll also need to produce more, as they had only three players broach the 30-point mark, and even then they barely hit it.
The Mavericks lost their leading scorer, Mick Berge, to graduation and another top player in Trevor Bruess to early departure, but they still have a decent amount of players who can contribute offensively and lead on and off the ice. That leadership starts with MSU’s six senior forwards.
“It’s a group of kids that have really grown together. We have six senior forwards and it’s been a long, long time — I don’t know that we’ve ever had that in my 20 years of coaching here,” said Jutting. “I think they all bring a little something different to the table … they’re all kids that get along really well and they’ve all played significant roles for us, really, since their freshman years.”
The seniors he refers to are James Gaulrapp, Zach Harrison, Geoff Irwin, Kael Mouillierat, Jerad Stewart and Jason Wiley.
Beyond those seniors, juniors Rylan Galiardi and Mike Louwerse can be offensive threats and one should never count out junior Andrew Sackrison, although he has been streaky over his career.
In terms of freshmen, Jutting thinks that we should watch out for Tyler Pitlick, as he’s going to be a special player.
On the Blue Line
When you think of “scoring defensemen” and “Mankato,” the only name that will probably come to mind is junior Kurt Davis, who tied for the team’s scoring lead last year with 31 points.
However, remember that although defensemen who score are nice, what’s more important is defensemen who are solid in their own end. The Mavericks lost two such players in Blake Friesen and Brian Kilburg, but retain Davis, senior Nick Canzanello and juniors Channing Boe and Ben Youds.
In the Crease
Like a few other teams in the league, the Mavericks have a question mark in net as their goaltending duo of the past four years, Mike Zacharias and Dan Tormey, finally graduated last spring.
As a result, they’ll have to look towards an unproven youth, whether it be junior Austin Lee or freshmen Phil Cook or Kevin Murdoch.
“We’ll go into this season with three kids and not a second of game experience at the college level,” said Jutting. “That being said, I like those three kids so far, but we’ll kind of have to wait and see how that shakes out.”