Minnesota State searching for goals to swing close games

Since finishing in a tie for fourth place in the WCHA in 2007-08, Minnesota State has endured a steady fall toward the bottom of the conference standings. If the Mavericks are to climb even a few rungs up the conference ladder in 2011-12, last season’s ninth-ranked scoring offense (2.39 goals per game) must be improved upon.

“We didn’t score the way we needed to be successful,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said. “I thought defensively we played pretty good hockey last year and didn’t give up a ton of goals but we did not score the way you need to.”

Certainly not in the manner necessary to squeeze a few more points out of several close games. In fact, 22 Minnesota State games last season were decided by one goal or fewer, including eight losses and six ties.

“We created opportunities last year, we just did not finish,” said Jutting. “We’ve got to do a better job of that this year if we want to be successful. We’re better up front, quite a bit better up front, than we’ve been in a while.”

Look for senior captain Michael Dorr — Minnesota State’s top-scoring returnee with 26 points (12-14–26) — to lead the charge up front, aided by junior Eriah Hayes (11-11–22) and sophomore Chase Grant (8-12–20).

The Mavericks finished last season 11th in the conference standings, which is where the preseason coaches poll predicts them to land this season. But Jutting doesn’t put a lot of stock in polls in general, especially those taken before games are played.

“I think [the reason] we’re there in the coaches minds is that we did lose three senior defensemen (Ben Youds, Kurt Davis and Channing Boe) who played a lot of hockey for us,” said Jutting. “We have to replace those minutes.”

That will be a tall order for a young defensive corps, not only considering the sheer volume of ice time consumed by the now-departed defensive trio but also their production. Davis led all Minnesota State players last year with 27 points (9-18–27) while Youds (7-14–21) and Boe (5-5–10) each finished with double-digit point totals.

“There’s going to be some young kids that need to learn in a hurry and adjust in a hurry to the pace, the quality and the talent of the WCHA,” Jutting said, referring to players such as sophomore Josh Nelson and freshmen Zach Palmquist, Brett Stern and Mat Knoll.

That blue line inexperience likely will place added pressure on Minnesota State’s returning goaltending tandem of Austin Lee and Phil Cook. As they have the past two seasons, Jutting expects the pair to share the goaltending duties, although Cook (10-13-4, 3.01 goals against average) received the bulk of last year’s playing time over Lee (4-5-2, 2.59).

Regardless of who plays, Jutting said Lee and Cook are, “going to have to perform well early on while our young guys back on the blue line kind of get the college game figured out.”

About the Mavericks

2010-11 overall record: 14-18-6

2010-11 WCHA record: 8-16-4 (11th)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): 11th

Key losses: D Ben Youds, D Kurt Davis, D Channing Boe

Players to watch: F Michael Dorr, F Eriah Hayes, F Chase Grant

Impact rookie: F Matt Leitner

Why the Mavericks will finish higher than the coaches poll: Goal scoring and goaltending are enough to squeeze out a few more close-game wins.

Why the Mavericks will finish lower than the coaches poll: Scoring woes continue while inexperienced defenders are exposed.