The Minnesota State
University, Mankato men’s didn’t quite get off to the start they were looking for this season. They had a lot of weight on their shoulders early on after being unanimously voted as the preseason Western Collegiate Hockey Association champions. Heading into last weekend’s series versus the -Anchorage, the Mavericks sat tied for sixth in the ten team WCHA conference with a 3-3 conference record and 5-7 overall. With a good weekend, the Mavs propelled themselves to third place in the WCHA, one point behind Bemidji State, who has played two more league games than the Mavericks.
On Friday night, a new but familiar face got the scoring started for the Mavs. Early in the first period, senior forward Zach Lehrke scored his first goal of the season in just his third game this year, with assists going to power play with Blueger and Lehrke recording assists on the play. Anchorage was able to sneak one in past the Mavs before the end of the period from Matt Bailey, leaving the score at 2-1 in favor of the Mavericks after one period of play. but returned two weekends ago in the series at . These three players would connect again, as later in the first period LaFontaine scored on the
J.P. LaFontaine and Teddy Blueger. Lehrke retired from hockey before the start of the season due to a
The Seawolves tied the game at 2-2 with the only goal of the second period coming from Brett Cameron, but the Mavericks found a way to get the much needed win.
Freshman defenseman Sean Flanagan scored the third goal of his rookie campaign early in the third period to give the Mavs a 3-2 lead, and from there they were able to hold on for the win and two very important points in the WCHA standings.
Saturday night may have been the kind of game the Mavericks needed to end their scoring troubles.
|J.P. LaFontaine had a big weekend which|
put him first on the team in scoring
LaFontaine buried the first goal of the game early in the first period, his second power
play goal in as many games, with assists going to Casey Nelson and Blueger. The lead wouldn’t last long, though, as Anchorage’s Blake Tatchell ties things up at one a piece minutes later.
Then sophomore forward Bryce Gervais opened things up for the Mavs with his fifth goal of the year to take a 2-1 lead, his fifth of the season.
Minutes later, junior defenseman Zach Palmquist pumped home a goal after a feed from Zach Stepan to give the Mavericks a 3-1 lead. Nelson also garnered an assist on the goal, his second of the night.
On the power play late in the first period, the Mavs took a commanding 4-1 lead. Senior captain Johnny McInnis netted a goal on the power play coming from Palmquist and Lehrke with just four seconds to go in the period.
The second period saw the Seawolves and the Mavericks trade goals after Anchorage’s Scott Allen put one past MSU goaltender Stephon Williams, and then Stepan tallied a power play goal from Blueger and Matt Leitner.
An early third period goal by Allen gave the Seawolves some hope only trailing 5-3, but the floodgates were already open for the Mavs.
McInnis scored another power play goal to regain a three-goal spread at 6-3 with assists coming from LaFontaine and Leitner.
With another chance on the power play, the Mavs put the nail in the coffin when LaFontaine scored his third goal with the man advantage on the weekend, assisted by Leitner and Palmquist, giving the Mavericks a 7-3 and a sweep over the Seawolves.
While the sweep over Anchorage gave the Mavs four essential points in the league standings, bringing them up to third place behind Bemidji State and Ferris State, the biggest story of the surging Mavericks may be Zach Lehrke.
|Since his return to the team, Zach Lehrke has six points|
in four games
Lehrke has been a top-two line player the past two seasons and had seen top power play minutes in that time. It was no secret when he announced his retirement from hockey that it would be a big blow to the Maverick lineup, but Lehrke’s presence in the lineup the past two weekends seems to be that of a spark plug.
In his four games this season, Lehrke has totaled six points and is seeing time on the power play. Also, since his return to the lineup, other players’ production has soared.
Playing alongside Lehrke, LaFontaine had a five point weekend against the Seawolves and has jumped to first on the roster in scoring with 11 points through 14 games. LaFontaine also now leads the Mavericks in goals with six.
Another notable improvement is Leitner. Selected as the preseason WCHA player of the year, Leitner got off to a slow start early on, but after a three-point weekend has brought his scoring total to nine points on the year.
More importantly, is the turnaround of the Maverick power play.
When Lehrke returned to the team for the series at Bowling Green, the Maverick power play percentage was an embarrassing 8.7%. In the four games that Lehrke has played in, the Maverick power play has been 42.8%, bringing the season average to 19.4%.
While Lehrke may not be a savior, he is a key ingredient for the Mavericks’ recipe for success, and has surely contributed to their improved play as of late.
The Mavericks look ahead now as they take the ice this weekend in another important conference battle at home. The Northern Michigan University Wildcats come to town, and the Mavs look for another sweep at home to move them into second place in the WCHA.
Puck drop is scheduled for a 7:37 p.m. start on Friday night at the Verizon Wireless Center in downtown Mankato with a 7:07 p.m. start for Saturday’s series ending matchup.