MANKATO, Minn. — A month from now, Minnesota State’s bench will be missing a key figure and maybe more.
But on Friday night at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center, the No. 1 Mavericks had a nearly full roster, and they handled CCHA foe Ferris State 7-1 in a weekend series opener.
On Thursday, Mavericks coach Mike Hastings was named an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, and he’ll miss a few weeks with his college team when the Winter Games take place this February in Beijing.
Mavericks leading scorer, junior center Nathan Smith, has been invited to play for Team USA, as USA Hockey looks to fill a roster without the availability of NHL players. Superstar goaltender Dryden McKay, it seems, could be a candidate as well.
Smith, a third-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, returned to the Mavericks’ lineup after missing last week’s Minnesota-Duluth series with a lower-body injury. But he looked more like a player ready for some Olympic competition than one shaking off some rust, leading the way with a goal and two assists.
“Nathan’s pretty humble,” Hastings said. “I talked to (U.S. head coach) David Quinn a little bit about this. He just said it’s going to be interesting to see the guys who have been talked to, to see how they play this weekend. Hopefully guys elevate. I thought Nathan Smith elevated tonight.”
Smith, who moved into the national scoring lead with 30 points in 21 games, wasn’t the only player who elevated his game on Friday.
The No. 1 star of the game ended up being senior captain Wyatt Aamodt, who finished with a rare defenseman’s hat trick.
According to Minnesota State sports information, the last time an MSU defenseman had a hat trick was 1996 when Jason Krug scored three goals against Concordia. Aamodt, a Hermantown native, said it might have been his first hat trick at any level of hockey.
Smith said the running joke in the locker room was that the goals were the first three of his career. He actually entered Friday’s game with five goals in 105 college games.
“It was kind of a cool moment for me,” said Aamodt, who scored the game’s first and last two goals. “I don’t really care too much about the goals, just my teammates’ reaction and how excited they were for me means a lot to me. …. It was kind of emotional for me. I’m proud of those guys, too.
It was the fourth hat trick of the season for the Mavericks, as Aamodt joined Cade Borchardt, Brendan Furry and Reggie Lutz in the feat. While that’s a lot for one team in a single season, Hastings said he hasn’t seen a defenseman score a hat trick since perhaps Keith Ballard, who played junior hockey for him with the Omaha Lancers more than 20 years ago. Ballard went on to star at the University of Minnesota and had a 10-year NHL career that ended with the Minnesota Wild in 2015.
“Wyatt has been spending three-plus years keeping it out of our net, eating bullets and blocking shots in a variety of ways,” Hastings said. “Happy for him to be on the other side and have the game pay him back a little bit.”
The win was the Mavericks’ eighth in a row, maintaining an 11-point lead atop the CCHA standings. They have outscored their opponents 28-6 in that span.
The Mavericks got off to a flying start, scoring three times before the first period was half over,
Aamodt and sophomore Ondrej Pavel scored 78 seconds apart to make it 2-0 at the 4:51 mark. At 9:30, sophomore Josh Groll put the Mavericks up by three goals.
The two teams traded power-play goals in the second period, with MSU senior Julian Napravnik scoring at 12:04 and Ferris State’s Bradley Marek answering a little more than two minutes later.
Smith and Aamodt scored goals in the third period.
Napravnik (1 goal, 1 assist), Cade Borchardt (2 assists) and Zach Krajnik (2 assists) each had two-point games, too. McKay stopped 16 shots, while Ferris State goalie Logan Stein finished with 22 saves on 29 shots.
Minnesota State wasn’t completely healthy, as Lutz, the fifth-year forward, who was injured in the first game against UMD and missed the second, remained out.
As for Hastings, he is focused on his team right now and will find time in the day to take care of Team USA duties, as needed, until it’s time to leave for China. He said the Mavericks should be fine without him.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity,” Hastings said. “I’m surrounded by phenomenal people. (Associate head coach) Todd Knott, you and I know, is one of the best in the business. He’s an acting head coach every day. His feathers don’t get ruffled by the expectations of him sitting in that seat when I’m gone because he does a lot of the heavy lifting every day. (Assistant coach) Paul Kirtland, same thing, great relationship with the players. Our guys are in good hands.”
Aamodt also acknowledged the faith he has in MSU’s assistants and said he and his teammates are happy for Hastings and his opportunity to be an Olympic coach.
“We have nothing but respect for coach Hastings and what he’s done for this program and the hockey world,” Aamodt said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for him and his family, and he’s earned that moment — every bit of it. Obviously, you see the respect for him around the game of college hockey.”
The Mavericks (19-4-0, 13-2-0 in CCHA) and Bulldogs (6-15-0, 4-9-0) will finish the series at 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Ferris State 0-1-0—1
Minnesota State 3-1-3—7
Scoring: 1. MSU-Aamodt 2 (Napravnik 15, Smith 17) 3:33; 2. MSU-Pavel 5 (Hirose 11, Krajnik 3) 4:51; 3. MSU-Groll 3 (Sowder 8, Carroll 7) 9:30
Scoring: 4. MSU-Napravnik 8 (Borchardt 11, Smith 18) ppg 12:04; 5. FSU-Marek 6 (Moise 3, Michaelian 8) ppg 14:08
Penalties: Tulik, FSU (slashing) 4:05; Dirks, FSU (slashing) 10:17; Krajnik, MSU (tripping) 13:09
Scoring: 6. MSU-Smith 8 (Krajnik 3, Borchardt 12) 3:53; 7. MSU-Aamodt 3 (Maass 5, Silye 6) 6:05; 8. MSU-Aamodt 4 (Morton 7) 17:55
Penalties: Marek, FSU (hooking) 15:06
Shots on goal: FSU 5-5-7—17; MSU 12-7-10—29. Penalties: FSU 3 for 6 minutes; MSU 1 for 2 minutes. Power plays: FSU 1 for 1; MSU 1 for 3. Goalie saves: FSU Stein 9-6-7—22 (7 GA); MSU McKay 5-4-7—16 (1 GA)