Mike Hastings had a clairvoyant moment this week when talking about one of his sophomore forwards.
“Nathan Smith has yet to score this year, but he is playing very well,” Hastings said. “His numbers don’t show the impact he’s had so far on our season over five games.”
Smith’s impact Saturday was clear to his coaches and it was clear to everyone watching No. 5-ranked Minnesota State dismantle Northern Michigan 5-0 in the WCHA opener for both teams, at Berry Events Center in Marquette, Mich.
Smith scored his first goal of the season and added two assists, doubling his points total for the season, to lead MSU to its fourth victory in six tries.
Five different players scored for the Mavericks (1-0-0 WCHA, 4-1-1 overall), four in the first 13 minutes, 20 seconds of the game. That included senior forward Jared Spooner, who, like Smith, scored his first goal of the season. Earlier in the week, Hastings said he could see a performance like this coming.
“I believe those guys will get going,” Hastings said of MSU’s group of veteran forwards. “They’re creating opportunities, getting shots on net, they’re just not falling. … I’d say a little more quality than quantity, you’d like to have out of the group up front as far as depth scoring. We’re going to need that and those guys can provide that.”
The Mavericks went 3-for-6 on the power play Saturday, held Northern Michigan scoreless on four power-play tries, and 10 different MSU players had at least one point.
Sophomore Cade Borchardt recorded his team-leading seventh point of the season with a first-period goal. Junior Julian Napravnik scored his fourth goal of the year -- his third in as many games -- and Dallas Gerads added a third-period power-play goal to cap the scoring.
Borchardt’s goal sent Northern Michigan’s starting goalie Connor Ryckman to the bench just 10:43 into the game, after he allowed three goals on seven shots. Nolan Kent stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced the rest of the way for the Wildcats (0-1-0, 2-3-0).
MSU freshman defenseman Akito Hirose -- the reigning WCHA Rookie of the Month -- continued his strong start to his college career, with two assists, while sophomore Brendan Furry and seniors Riese Zmolek, Reggie Lutz and Jake Jaremko had one assist each.
Mavericks goalie Dryden McKay wasn’t a busy guy after the first period, but he was sharp when MSU needed him to be. McKay stopped 16 shots to earn his third shutout of the season and 17th of his career. That moves him into a tie for eighth all-time in NCAA history with former Minnesota Duluth standout Hunter Shepherd. He’s also second in WCHA history, behind former Bemidji State standout Michael Bitzer, who had 21 career shutouts.
MSU outshot the Wildcats 34-16. Northern Michigan managed only six shots on goal over the final 40 minutes, including just one in the second period.
The Mavericks controlled the game from the start.
Hastings has mentioned more than once this season that MSU has done a great job of getting pucks to the net, but the next step was to get them in the net on a more consistent basis.
Mission accomplished, at least for one night.
Minnesota State entered Saturday’s game ranked fourth in the country in shots on goal per game (37.8), but just 25th in goals per game (2.8). Those rankings will draw closer together after Saturday’s offensive showing by the Mavericks.
Two other positive trends that have been season-long occurrences for MSU continued. Going into this series, the Mavericks were allowing the fewest shots on goal per game in the country (21.6) and the third-fewest goals per game (1.60). Both of those stats improved after allowing no goals and just 16 shots.
MSU will go for its first sweep of the season on Sunday, as the Mavericks and Wildcats (0-1-0 WCHA, 2-3-0 overall) meet again at 3:07 p.m.
MINNESOTA STATE 5, NORTHERN MICHIGAN 0
Minnesota State 4 0 1 — 5
Northern Michigan 0 0 0 — 0
First period — 1. MSU, Jared Spooner 1 (Brendan Furry 2) 5:16. 2. MSU, Nathan Smith 1 (Akito Hirose 4, Cade Borchardt 2) 7:49 (pp). 3. MSU, Borchardt 4 (Smith 4) 10:43. 4. MSU, Julian Napravnik 4 (Hirose 5, Smith 5) 13:20 (pp). Second period — no scoring. Third period — 5. MSU, Dallas Gerads 2 (Reggie Lutz 3, Jake Jaremko 6) 13:18 (pp).
Shots on goal — MSU 13-7-14—34; NMU 10-1-5—16. Goalies — MSU, Dryden McKay (W, 4-0-1; 16 saves-16 shots). NMU, Connor Ryckman (10:43; L, 1-1-0, 4 saves-7 shots); Nolan Kent (49:17; 20 saves-22 shots). Power-play opportunities — MSU, 3-for-6; NMU, 0-for-4. Penalties — MSU, 5-18 minutes; NMU, 8-24 minutes.