Shane Frederick is in his 12th season covering Minnesota State hockey for The Mankato Free Press.
GopherSports.com: Shane, what can you tell us about Minnesota State this year?
Shane Frederick: The Mavericks have struggled over the first two months of the season, winning just three games. Currently, they are on a five-game winless streak; they've also had a six-game losing streak already this season.
Minnesota State has had an amazing number of injuries, especially on defense, as junior co-captain Tyler Elbrecht broke his arm in the first game of the season and has been out since (he was cleared for contact this week, however). Elbrecht and four other defensemen, including senior Cameron Cooper, have missed a combined 34 games to injury. That hasn't helped a rather inexperienced corps that lost a ton of minutes with the graduation of Kurt Davis, Ben Youds and Channing Boe.
Also, sophomore forward Chase Grant, one of the bright spots from last season, has been lost for the season with a hip injury.
As for the healthy players, MSU has a group of talented freshmen, led by winger Jean-Paul LaFontaine, nephew of Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine. The all-rookie line of LaFontaine (7 goals, 3 assists), Matt Leitner (4 goals, 6 assists) and Max Gaede has been the most prodcutive group thus far, and freshman defenseman Zach Palmquist has played a lot and has seven points.
Junior winger Eriah Hayes has played well of late. He is on a six-game scoring streak and has four goals and five assists. The LaCresent native also has 44 penalty minutes. Senior Justin Jokinen (2 goals, 4 assists) is coming off a strong weekend in a loss and tie to Alaska Anchorage.
In goal, Bloomington native Austin Lee has played the most. He had a fantastic stretch going early in the season, including a 1-0 shutout at RPI to start the season and back-to-back wins at Michigan Tech and at home to St. Cloud State.
GS: Who is one player that Gopher fans should pay extra attention to this weekend?
SF: Gopher fans may remember the name Michael Dorr. The Roseville native played for Minnesota for one semester before transferring to Minnesota State. The senior winger is now one of the Mavericks' co-captains and has 1 goal and five assists this season. During his time with the Mavericks, he has 18 goals and 30 assists in 72 games. He scored a goal against his old team last year in Mankato. But these will be his first games in Mariucci Arena since he donned a Gophers sweater in the fall of 2008 when he played in two games for Minnesota.
GS: What do you think the Mavericks have to do to win?
SF: Despite their record, the Mavericks have had some strong first periods this season. Their only problem is that they haven't scored much (21 shots on goal, no goals in the first period at UMD, for instance) when they've had those opportunities. I think they need to get off to a quick start and hope their goaltending gets back on track. After a rough weekend in their own end against Anchorage, MSU has to do a better job with the puck and avoid unforced turnovers that leave their goalies out to dry.
Minnesota fans should expect to see a typical MSU team--one that skates well and generally plays hard--much like previous Troy Jutting-coached teams. The question is: Do the Mavericks have the talent and the depth to keep it close or keep up.