Minnesota State looks to youngsters in Hastings’ first season at helm

A new coach and a crop of talented underclassmen have Minnesota State excited to take a big step in 2012-13.

Mike Hastings was hired in April to replace long-time coach Troy Jutting, who was fired after the worst season (12-24-2) in his 12 years leading the Mavericks.

“It’s a privilege to be back with a lot of people I consider friends and competing against them as a head coach,” said Hastings, who left his associate head coach position at Nebraska-Omaha.

Then there are the youngsters, some of them in their second season, Hastings hopes will boost the Mavericks’ offense.

Matt Leitner (11-18–29) and Jean-Paul Lafontaine (13-15–28) led MSU in scoring as freshmen, and freshman Teddy Blueger is expected to make an impact right away.

“We can’t afford to have [Leitner] and [Lafontaine] have a sophomore slump,” Hastings said. “We need those guys to make the impression they have already. They’ve established themselves as guys that can play in all aspects for us.”

Blueger scored three points for Team Latvia in the IIHF World Junior Championship last year and scored 88 points to lead Shattuck St. Mary’s to a second-straight U.S. Under-18 title.

The youth has Minnesota State eyeing its first home playoff series since 2008. The Mavericks are also looking for their first Final Five and NCAA tournament appearance since 2003.

The 2007-08 season was the one time in 10 years that Minnesota State finished higher than .500.

The key will be how much the Mavericks defense will limit goals this season. Phil Cook returns for his final year in net after a junior season when he had a .887 save percentage and a 3.55 goals against average in just 17 games.

Senior Tyler Elbrecht and sophomores Josh Nelson and Zach Palmquist are all key returners on defense. Freshmen Nick Buchanan and Jon Jutzi have been added to the blue line.

About the Mavericks

2011-12 overall record: 12-24-2

2011-12 WCHA record: 8-18-2 (11th)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): 10th

Key losses: G Austin Lee, F Michael Dorr

Players to watch: F Matt Leitner, F Jean-Paul Lafontaine, F Eriah Hayes, F Bryce Gervais, D Zach Palmquist, D Tyler Elbrecht, G Phil Cook

Impact rookie: F Teddy Blueger

Why the Mavericks will finish higher than the coaches poll: The promising young talent up front will provide the Mavericks with plenty of offense.

Why the Mavericks will finish lower than the coaches poll: The offense won’t be able to score enough keep up with its own defense, which let in 3.4 goals per game last season, second-worst in the WCHA.