It’s a weekend of new beginnings for the UAH Chargers and Minnesota State Mavericks: On the ice, and behind the bench.
Both clubs feature new head coaches with impressive resumes, but will be making their debuts in NCAA Division I. UAH’s Kurt Kleinendorst spent nine years as an assistant coach and scout with the New Jersey Devils, and led the Binghamton Senators of the AHL to a conference championship.
Meanwhile, Minnesota State’s Mike Hastings made his mark in junior hockey, leading the Omaha Lancers to three championships and becoming the all-time winningest coach in USHL history with 529 wins. He replaced Troy Jutting, who coached the Mavericks for 12 seasons.
The Mavericks were 12-24-2 overall last season, finishing 11th in the WCHA with a 8-18-1 conference slate. UAH is coming off its worst season record-wise with only two victories.
As such, both teams are eager to make this a turnaround season.
The Mavericks return their top four scorers and have added depth on offense with a talented rookie class, but the top man is senior captain Eriah Hayes. Hayes has pro potential, and his line with Matt Leitner and Jean-Paul LaFontaine scored 37 goals last season.
This will pose a challenge to the Chargers’ relatively inexperienced goaltending corps. John Griggs is a third-year senior who played in six games last season, and junior C.J. Groh played in only two. Along with freshman Gregg Gruehl, this series could be an audition for the regular starter spot.
The Mavericks do not have such questions in goal. Phil Cook will start the opener. The 6-3, 195-pound senior had two different seasons in one in 2011-12: He had a 6.68 goals against average in just five games in the first half, then posted a 2.59 average (with a .917 save percentage) in 11 starts the rest of the way. He did not face UAH in the two-game series in Mankato last season.
Senior co-captain Tyler Elbrecht leads a corps of six returning defensemen for MSU. The 6-4, 210-pound Elbrecht is the most physical presence on the team. Zach Palmquist, a sophomore led all Maverick blue liners with 19 points — six more than Kyle Lysaght, UAH‘s leading scorer last season.
So what about the Charger offense? Coach K^2 is preaching the “process.” And that process will be to see how UAH’s top guns — Lysaght, captain Justin Cseter, and alternate captain Sebastian Geoffrion — will get their scoring chances. The Chargers got 22 goals against Alabama, but against real NCAA competition, this will be a work in progress that will likely require patience as coach and players get in synch. Jack Prince had a big weekend against the Frozen Tide, so his NCAA debut will be one to watch.
Minnesota State, which took a 7-1 decision against Lethbridge in their lone preseason game, has the upper hand in all phases — it showed last season when the Mavericks beat the Chargers 4-2 and 9-1 in Mankato. To pull the upset, UAH will need to rely on its five veteran defensemen (with alternate captain Curtis deBruyn) and handful of touted freshmen.
Minnesota State is unbeaten in the last eight meetings with the Chargers, evening the all-time series record at 17-17-4.