Hard work and leadership: cornerstones of MSU’s surge

Sometimes good luck charms get the attention when a team goes on a hot streak, but in Minnesota State’s case, credit is due somewhere else.

The Mavericks don’t stack up with many WCHA teams in straight talent but their outstanding leadership from their seniors and work ethic give MSU the chance to beat any team in the league. And that’s why the Mavericks are one of the hottest teams in the WCHA, winning eight out of 10 games.

MSU has the chance to prove this stretch hasn’t been a fluke when second-place and sixth-ranked Denver comes to Mankato this weekend.

“All five seniors on this team are leaders,” said MSU captain Rylan Galiardi. “As a captain, it definitely makes it easy on me knowing I don’t have to be the one guy every day.”

Galiardi said his assistant captains, Channing Boe and Ben Youds, along with seniors Kurt Davis and Andrew Sackrison bring the guidance to MSU’s practice rink every day. Their coach said those players are an integral component of MSU’s recent success.

“All five seniors are kids who understand what it takes,” said Mavericks coach Troy Jutting. “I think they’ve done a great job, not only leading by example, but making the new guys feel at home. When the old guys make it a comfortable and a learning experience, those teams have a chance to be successful.”

What Galiardi and Co. bring to the locker room is similar to the leadership attributes of R.J. Linder and Joel Hanson, captain and assistant captain of the 2007-08 team.

“If you have good leaders, you try to take as much away from that experience as possible,” said Youds, who was a freshman in 2007-08. “Hanner (Hanson) and R.J. were great captains. They did the right things all the the time on and off the ice. Coming in as an 18-year-old it’s something you really grasp and with great leaders you’re able to do the right things all time.”

The Mavericks finished fourth in the WCHA that season, their best finish since 2003. MSU returned 12 of its top 14 scorers the following year but finished eighth in the league, revealing the hole left by Hanson and Linder when they graduated.

“We played a lot as freshmen and we learned a lot from those older guys,” Boe said.

Like the 2007-08 season, MSU started off cold. The Mavericks started 3-6-1 capped by a pair of losses at Denver. This season the Mavericks started 2-6-4 and were swept in Denver, 3-2 and 6-1. And like three seasons ago, the Denver series was an awakening.

MSU put together a couple nice stretches an finished the regular season 15-8-3 in 2008.

“The last time we played (Denver) we kind of embarrassed ourselves so we want to come back with a better effort this weekend,” Galiardi said.

The Mavericks went out east and swept Massachusetts-Lowell to rebound from the Denver series and came home to sweep Minnesota the following week. Even in two home losses to North Dakota, the Mavericks played well enough to win for most of each game but fell apart for stretches in each game and allowed the Sioux to score in clusters.

The real surprise was when the Mavericks upset No. 12 Notre Dame in the first round of the Shillelagh Tournament and beat Brown to win the title. MSU then swept American International.

Although the Mavericks (6-0-2 in non-WCHA games) are 8-2 in the last 10 games, skeptics may point out MSU’s 2-6 record in the last eight WCHA games and that brings MSU back to the WCHA schedule and an important series with the No. 6 Pioneers.

It’s an opportunity to gradually climb out of the WCHA cellar and into the NCAA playoff picture. Also to prove the past month and a half wasn’t a ride of good luck and it’s another chance to show hard work, grit and team leadership can beat talent.

“We’re never going to be overconfident as a group,” Galiardi said. “We’re a hard-working team and we know that’s how we’re going to win games. We’re not a glorified program that’s been around for 60 years. Hopefully, we become one of those teams fighting for the MacNaughton every year and it’s going to be because we were the hardest working team.”