Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A legend in the making

From west coast beaches to the frozen lakes of Minnesota, California native Matt Leitner could leave MSU as the all-time leading scorer

Minnesota State University, Mankato men's hockey team boasts one of the most diverse rosters in college hockey when it comes to the place these players call home. The 26 man roster includes players from 11 different states, three different Canadian provinces, and three different countries. Some of these players come from fairly non-traditional hockey markets, including the team's leading scorer.

Senior forward Matt Leitner, a native of Los Alamitos, Calif., came to MSU after three seasons in the United States Hockey League and made an immediate impact for the Mavericks as a freshman.

As a rookie in 2011-2012, Leitner posted 11 goals and 18 assists to lead MSU in scoring with a point total of 29, very respectable numbers for a freshman. The next season the California native posted a career high 17 goals and 47 points to lead the Mavericks to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. Averaging over a point per game made for an impressive season for Leitner, but he carried that success into his final two seasons to etch his name next to some of the all-time Maverick greats.

In 2013-2014 as a junior, Leitner posted a career high 33 assists and scored 12 goals of his own for a 45 point season in 39 games. He also broke the 100-point barrier on January 31st of last year during a game at Northern Michigan, a feat accomplished by only a handful of Mavericks throughout their careers.

This season, Leitner has been continuing the success he's had at MSU, and is currently leading the Mavs in scoring with 24 points. Not only could he be the Mavericks' leading scorer by season's end for a fourth consecutive year, he could also find himself as the program's no. 1 scorer by time his career in Mankato is over.

With 145 points in his career, Leitner stands only 19 points behind former Mav Aaron Fox's 164 point career as the leading scorer of the Maverick hockey program during the Division I era. Fox played for MSU in their first years as a Division I program from 1996-2000, and his record has stood for nearly 15 years now. Leitner would have to finish out as strong as he has the past two seasons to eclipse this mark, but it definitely is not out of reach.

With 92 points in 80 games over the previous two seasons, Leitner has a legitimate shot at leaving MSU as the leading scorer of the men's hockey program during the Division I era. With 12 regular season games remaining on the schedule and a potential to have as many as nine postseason games, Leitner just needs to keep pace with what's been working for him so far during his senior season.

Leitner is widely regarded as one of the best passers in college hockey, as shown by his nomination for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in the nation. The only knock on the Mavericks' leading scorer is that he passes too much, often passing up opportunities to shoot the puck. With the career he has had, he should not be counted out as a possible winner of the award, but his goal total might make it hard for him.

His five goals on the year seems less than elite, until you look at his assists. Leitner's greatest strength is his ability to get players the puck who seemed far out of reach. The way he sees the ice is an art form that can only be compared to stringing thread through a needle, finding near impossible openings and making them happen. He leads the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with 19 assists this season.

While Leitner leads this Maverick team that is a threat to win an NCAA Title, he may also leave his mark on the program's record books by season's end.

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