Looking to wrangle the Mavericks: First place Tommies prepare for Mankato

St. Thomas’ Lucas Wahlin and former Minnesota State player David Silye watch the puck after a faceoff in the Mavericks zone during a game Nov. 4, 2022, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — When a hockey team is about to play its conference rival, it obviously wants to go into the series with some momentum and the St. Thomas men’s squad definitely has some right now.  

After a rough outing Friday against Ferris State, the Tommies rebounded Saturday and thumped the Bulldogs 7-1 to move back into first place in the CCHA standings heading into this weekend’s home and home series with Minnesota State.  

“We did not play well on Friday,” Tommies head coach Rico Blasi said Monday. “A lot of it had to do with what Ferris did to us. They played really well. We didn’t feel like we showed our best on Friday, so we were determined to change the script if you will.” 

St. Thomas’ Quinton Pepper tries to cut off Minnesota State’s Akito Hirose behind the Mavericks net during a game Nov. 4, 2022, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

After falling behind 1-0 to the Bulldogs in the first period Friday, UST surrendered three goals in the second and the game quickly turned into a blowout. Blasi said the Tommies got a little loose in their structure and that Ferris took advantage of that.  

“We turned the puck over pretty much the entire second period, which at this level, if you turn the puck over, it’s going to cost you,” he said. “We left Trots (goaltender Aaron Trotter) hanging a few times, a couple of 2-on-0s, a 3-on-1 and then a power play goal. I actually thought we started off the game really well on Friday. We just didn’t have an answer in the second period, and it got away from us. Saturday, we were determined to start the game off right again and try to finish it off and play 60 minutes.” 

Blasi said his team’s mindset was “right from the get-go” on Saturday and that was evident as Mack Byers finished with the first hat trick in UST’s brief Division I history and Ryan O’Neill finished off a solid weekend with CCHA Forward of the Week honors.  

“I think Mack is part of the leadership group that we have, and I think Friday night, the leadership group was not happy,” Blasi said. “They needed to come out on Saturday and lead the way. So Mack and (Lucas) Wahlin, (Ethan) Gauer, (Noah) Prokop, (Luc) Laylin, all of the guys that are part of that leadership group came out determined. And it was nice to see.” 

St. Thomas’ Mack Byers battles Minnesota State’s Steven Bellini for the puck during a game Nov. 4, 2022, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

Now, the Tommies have their final series before the holiday break and it comes against the rival Mavericks. Longtime MSU head coach Mike Hastings moved off to Wisconsin in the offseaon and new head coach Luke Strand has the Mavs sitting in third place, just four points behind UST. When asked if there’s a big difference between a Strand-led team and a Hastings-led team, Blasi said he wasn’t sure yet.  

“I don’t think I’ve gotten too deep in that yet,” he said. “I know Luke. He’s a really good coach. I know he’ll have them ready. Obviously, there’s some different things they do on power play and PK and things like that, but that’s true for anybody and that really varies from year to year to be honest with you. So, we’ll do a little bit more of a deep dive here today and follow up with our team as the week goes along. I look forward to playing a really good college hockey team that’s, I know what the media said about them at the beginning of the year, but you can throw those things out the window.” 

St. Thomas’ Ryan O’Neill passes the puck to a teammate during a game against Minnesota State on February 4 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

There have been some doubters about how good the Mavericks truly are after Hastings and a bunch of key players left for Madison, but Blasi made it clear that he’s not one of them.  

“They’ve been the best team in our conference dating back to the old WCHA,” he said. “They’ve been on top of their game for the last 10 years. We look forward to the challenge. They still have a lot of weapons. I don’t care what anybody says. They’re still probably the team in our league right now to beat, them and (Michigan) Tech, and we need to come ready to go on Friday.” 

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. both nights with Friday’s game taking place in Mankato and Saturday’s game in Mendota Heights.  

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