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Roundtable Discussion for Minnesota State, Mankato

I asked a bunch of fellow bloggers to answer some questions for a mid-season report on their respective teams in the first of what will hopefully be many college hockey roundtable discussions. Here’s my answers to the questions for Minnesota State, Mankato

1. In 50 words or less, give a quick overview of your team's season so far.

Minnesota State is probably better than their 47th best record would indicate, but as Rasheed Wallace would say "Puck don’t lie". That is of course, if Sheed ever stepped within a mile of a hockey rink.

The Mavericks played a very difficult schedule in the first half of the season, so they had very little margin for error, and unfortunately, they lost or tied some very winnable games where they outplayed the competition. The biggest problem is that the Mavericks have had a ton of trouble putting the figurative biscuit into the metaphorical basket, causing me on at least instance, to literally send my shoe flying across the student section.

Ok, I was no where near my self-imposed 50 word limit. But I feel the allusion to Rasheed makes up for it.

2.What is the general consensus among fans about your team? (Is your coach a God among men or an incompetent fool that should be attacked by a swarm of bees? Do people at your school even realize that you have a hockey team? etc.)

The general consensus among the students is that they still serve beer at the Midwest Wireless Center, so really, who cares? Despite that, a few dedicated fans have really helped to improve the atmosphere at the Middy, and with more students showing up, the student section has been much better.

Also, the heat is being turned up a little more on head coach Troy Jutting. A successful season and trip to the NCAA tournament in 2003 has made MSU,M fans hungry for results, and unless the Mavs really put things together in the second half of the season, Troy Jutting may no longer have the confidence of the fans.

3. What does your team need to do better in the second half to improve?

Put the puck in the net. Pure and simple. The Mavericks have worked hard this season and could easily be one of the top 5 teams in the WCHA if they found ways to capitalize on their chances.

Related to that has been their struggles on the powerplay. The Mavericks have well under 20% on the powerplay and have had trouble generating a ton of chances. Troy Jutting may have to move some people around or consider changing up systems to really get the powerplay kicking.

4. Who is your team's star player and how has his season been going?

David Backes is unquestionably the Mavs star player. His season so far has been pretty good. He’s producing about a point per game, which is his career average. But Backes has had some struggles putting the puck in the net, and that seems to have carried over to the rest of the team. The Mavericks need Backes to be a little more selfish and start looking to put the puck in the net himself rather than setting up teammates, because ultimately, Backes is more qualified to fill the scoring need.

5. Who on your team doesn't receive the credit that he deserves?

Rob Rankin is one of the hardest working players in college hockey. He blocks shots, throws his body around, and shuts down the opposing team’s top line. Against Anchorage this season, he blocked a shot with his ear, which left the Sullivan Arena ice bloody. The highlight of season for him was scoring a goal and an assist while holding Denver’s top line off the board in 5-on-5 play in a 3-3 tie against Denver earlier this season.

6. Who is your favorite player to watch?

Travis Morin may not be the flashiest player in the country, and if you saw him in person, you’d have a tough time believing he was a college hockey player. He looks like he’s more likely to spend his Saturday nights defeating that giant hand from Super Smash Brothers than defeating the rest of the WCHA. But Morin is quietly one of the better players in the WCHA and every shift he makes all the little plays that make his team that much better, whether it be winning face-offs cleanly, or making difficult passes or clearing the puck out of danger.

7. Who or what has been the biggest surprise for your team this season?

I’d have to say the play of freshmen Mick Berge. I wasn’t expecting much from the freshmen from Oklahoma City, OK, but he’s become a regular in the lineup and has earned a spot on the Mavericks second line. Berge has shown good skating ability, great stickhandling, and great passing. Of course, there’s been many instances this season where I’ve gotten excited that the Mavs had a scoring chance, only to find myself saying "Oh nevermind, it’s Berge." Still, it’s always nice having another creative playmaker on the ice, even if he’s not going to put in a ton of goals.

8. What is going on with your team's goalie situation?

One of the bright spots this season was Mankato getting their goalie situation figured out in relatively quick and painless fashion. Coming into the season, the Mavericks had last year’s starter Chris Clark, and two freshmen, Dan Tormey and Mike Zacharias, all vying for the starting spot. After each goalie got two starts, with each posting mixed results, coach Troy Jutting decided to track every shot in practice for a week and give the start to whomever made the most saves. Dan Tormey ended up making the most saves and earned the next start. Since then, Tormey has been outstanding and hasn’t done anything to relinquish that starting role. He’s quietly been one of the better goalies in the WCHA this season.

9. Where do you see your team in three months?

I’d still like to be optimistic and say the Mavs will be hosting a first round WCHA playoff series, but I’m thinking that a 7th place finish is probably the most likely. That will leave them with a tough series against someone like Denver, North Dakota, or Duluth. It would be a longshot for them to advance to the Final Five, but those are three teams that the Mavericks traditionally play well against and could surprise.

10. Who will you be saddest to see leave at the end of the season?

We can talk all we want about how focused as a student, and how great of a leader David Backes is, but in all honesty, I can’t envision returning to Mankato next season. I just don’t think there is any way that the Blues will let that happen. Maverick fans were lucky that they were able to watch a player of Backes’ caliber for three seasons.

11. Who are you most excited about joining your team next season?

I’m intrigued by the goal-scoring ability and physicality of Hastings HS forward Jerad Stewart, who Troy Jutting said should immediately become a fan favorite, but the player I’m most excited about is Alberta forward Kael Mouillierat. Mouillierat looks to be a bona-fide small, shifty playmaker, which the Mavericks really lack. Brock Becker has tried his hardest as the low man on the powerplay, but he’s the ugliest square peg since Sarah Jessica Parker. Mouillierat seems perfectly suited for that position on the powerplay. I think he’s just what the Mavericks need to jumpstart their offense.

12. What has been the highlight of the season so far?

The highlight so far was a dominating 4-0 win over Denver at the Midwest Wireless Center. It’s been the Mavericks only win at home this season, and showed the potential of just how good this team can be.