MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) — If you want to talk history, the Maverick men’s hockey team had eight explosive players from last season’s team take their talents to the next level.
Now, the matter at hand is which players are ready to evolve to step up to a new role.
“One thing I’ve witnessed over my last eight years here, we’ve had different models that have worked. I go all the way back to our first year with Eriah Hayes. He was the hammer the team was the nail. When he spoke, everybody listened,” Head Coach Mike Hastings said.
Although, since the Hayes era, Maverick hockey has seen a bit of a culture change.
“The last couple of years we’ve been fortunate to lead by group, led by numbers and I really feel confident in the senior group that we have. I look forward to that group being the glue that keeps us together when things start to get hot,” Hastings said.
That veteran group includes guys like Jake Jaremko, Jared Spooner, Dallas Gerads, Walker Duehr, and Riese Zmolek and Jack McNeely.
“They’ve been preparing for this opportunity since their freshman year. A majority of the guys that we’re talking about have played an awful amount of minutes. I think we’re going to have to be a team that beats you with our depth. We’re going to have to buy some time for that young core of defenseman and we’ve got four that haven’t played a tremendous amount,” Hastings said.
With four underclassmen on defense, eyes are on Zmolek and McNeely to lead the way.
“They came in and you can tell immediately they were good players. They’ve got a good attitude, mindset every day. You know you kind of just let them go, let the coaches do their thing and I told them, and Jack has too, if they have any other questions about anything you can ask us and we’ll try to answer them the best we can. If we don’t know, [we] go ask coach,” Zmolek said.
“We need those two guys to be example setters to our young guys and also guys we can lean on when things start to get a little bit tough. Those guys have been through a lot of battles, very important games, championship seasons, and they want to leave here in a real positive manner, so they’re looking to try and promote our program another step and try and get to the NCAA Tournament and win a game and try and compete for a national championship,” Hastings said.
Heading into the season, there were concerns of complacency, what Hastings referred to as a sophomore slump, with a few players coming out of very successful rookie years.
Sophomore forward Lucas Sowder, the reigning WCHA Rookie of the Year, and Nathan Smith, a third-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets.
“When you’re a coach and you see someone have the success that they’ve had in their freshman year, you get a little bit of concern ‘Are they going to be comfortable over the summer and moving into this year?’ Both of them had outstanding summers, definitely did his job on both of them, they’re bigger stronger, faster. Nathan Smith is 185 pounds-plus, Lucas Sowder is coming in with a drive that he just doesn’t want to be a one-trick pony and come in and have a good freshman year and not back it up with a good sophomore year,” Hastings said.