Thanks to everyone who posted questions this week. It's nice to see that there's interest in this blog, which by the way can now be accessed through The Free Press' website at www.mankatofreepress.com/hockeyblog. Let's get to the questions ...
(Jutting) gives a few certain guys all sorts of ice time and they end up minus 3 or so every night and the only way they put up points is on the power play: I know there's been some frustration of late as to how the Mavericks have played defense. They took a huge step forward defensively last season and now appear to have taken a step back. I'm not sure exactly which "certain guys" you're referring to but I could guess that you're talking about Kurt Davis, at least for one. While I think he's had his share of struggles, he still moves the puck out of the defensive zone better than anyone else on the ice and almost always seems to make the right decision when he has the puck. He also leads the team in scoring, and the Mavericks have been playing from behind for much of their four-game losing streak. Perhaps that's a double-edged sword. In Friday's game, the Mavericks fell behind 3-0 because of three crucial mistakes by defensemen -- none of those was made by Davis, by the way -- and the Pioneers were able to capitalize on them. By the way, I recently watched the YouTube clip of Tyler Ruegsegger's spin-around pass to Joe Colbourn for Friday's first goal, and it was an even better play than I realized while watching it live.
What can you tell us about Eriah Hayes, the latest player to verbally commit to the Mavs, currently with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL?
I don't know much about him other than what I've read in his Waterloo bio. He's a big forward at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He's from LaCrescent, Minn. Currently, he has eight goals, eight assists and 41 penalty minutes in 22 games; he's also +11. He played with Topeka of the NAHL last season and had 30 goals and 56 points in 53 games. Here's a quote from Waterloo coach P.K> O'Handley: "Eriah has a lot of natural talent, so several schools were intrigued by him. He'll be a great fit with the Mavericks, and it will be great for him since Mankato is close to home."
Any chance Dan Tormey might see a start or two in the near future? Zacharias hasn't really seemed like his stellar self lately and Tormey got some action against Denver.
I still think Zacharias is the No. 1 guy and wouldn't be shocked to see him start every game the rest of the way. This is not unprecedented in the WCHA at all, especially this season. Zacharias has always been an iroman-type, too. He told me he started 39 games in a row in junior hockey, and that travel schedule is much more of a grind than the college one. This break ought to do him some good, too, as it should for the entire team. However, I do think the coaching staff has to consider his level of play, and if he needs a break, they have Tormey ready to go.
At what point do guys who get a lot of penalty minutes, like Bruess, Irwin, and Kilburg, do more harm than good for the team?
I think it's really hurting them right now. Penalties are going to happen, and you don't want to take away aggressive play that sometimes lands players, especially like those you mentioned, in the box. However, those players are much more vaulable on the ice. Bruess and Irwin are expected to score, and all three of those guys kill penalties, too. Bruess ended up in the box several times against St. Cloud State, and the Huskies burned the Mavericks on the power play.
Also, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers! What is Jutting going to do about some of the players who seem to be giving up the puck a lot lately?
Defense, penalties and turnovers -- three areas that the Mavericks improved so much upon last season -- are troubling areas right now. What Jutting is hoping, of course, is that some of that will change with a much-needed break and with veterans back from injury. The Mavericks are too veteran of a team to keep making the same mistakes over and over. As Jutting said after the St. Cloud weekend, they got away with a lot of this stuff early in the year, but it didn't get better and St. Cloud and Denver made them pay -- big time.
Any chance Mueller gets to stay on one of the top lines once the other forwards are healthy again? I was very impressed with his speed and hustle. I think skating wing with a veteran center could create some great scoring opportunities.
This is a good questions. There's no doubt, his play the last couple of weeks is a good reason to keep him in the lineup. He's super-fast and pretty fearless out there. Whether he stays on the No. 1 line or not, I'm not sure. With the second half of the season about to start, this is the time you usually see some of the first-year guys take that next step. Andy Sackrison did it last year. I thought Mueller and Joe Schiller looked pretty good against Denver.
What does coach Jutting think has been the difference these past four games? How does he plan to correct this?
He really keeps stressing the injury factor. Jason Wiley, Jerad Stewart, Andy Sackrison have all been out. Kael Mouillierat missed time. A lot of other players have picked up the slack, playing a lot of minutes, he said. Both Jutting and the players said Saturday night that everybody's supposed to be available after the break. We'll find out quickly if that's truly the No. 1 issue or not.
How would you grade the Mavericks first half of the season? What are your expectations from the Mavericks for second half of the season? Who do you think has been the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment on the Mavericks so far this season? Which player or players need to step up their game for the Mavericks to be successful?
If I had to give MSU a letter grade right now, I'd probably have to give it a C. The Mavericks just left too much on the table -- notably the bad periods that cost them at home to North Dakota and Colorado College and the poor play against St. Cloud State. Despite their injuries and other issues, they could be in much better position right now in the WCHA standings and when the Pairwise officially comes out. And they know it. ... As for the biggest surprise, I'd have to say the play of freshman Mike Louwerse. He has eight goals -- five on the power play -- and eight assists in 17 games and has been pretty consistent all season. ... Biggest disappointment? Probably the overall defensive play. That was such a big reason for MSU's turnaround last year and it really carried over, as we've talked about here. ... Finally, players who need to step up their game for the second half: Mick Berge has to find the back of the net. He had 20 goals last season and just three right now (although 14 assists).
Thanks for all of your questions and comments, and thanks for keeping up with the blog. I'll be taking a little time off next week but should be back blogging when MSU goes east to play Princeton and Yale. Happy holidays, everyone!