By Andrew Vitalis, Special to WCHA.com
Okay…let's get this out of the way right off the bat- it's early! You could almost hear the groaning on the other end of the telephone earlier this week while interviewing Minnesota State junior forward Parker Tuomie about his explosive start to the 2018-19 season. The skilled forward didn't exactly like the idea of talking about himself- not when several of his other Maverick teammates have also roared out of the gates. Still, considering that last season Tuomie scored nine goals and already has four this season through four games, you can't deny the noise the Bremerhaven, Germany native has been making. And yes…it's still early in the season and a lot can happen as the season moves forward, but the noise is hard to ignore.
"Especially this summer, our entire team took a big step here when it came to preparing for the season," commented Tuomie. "Myself personally, I came here early for summer school and took two classes. I made sure I got to the workout room every day and I think for me personally, it was a big advantage that I got to spend my entire summer with our workout coach- our strength and conditioning coach for our school- and he's helped me a lot with helping me progress my body and being able to play more minutes. I think that's translated into some of the success early on here."
Tuomie's four goals puts him tied for first in the WCHA and tied for fifth in total points through four games (4G-2A- 6 points). Maybe more impressive than the goals and assists is Tuomie's impact on both ends of the ice. He is second on the Mavericks in plus/minus rating with a +6 rating; second behind line-mate and fellow Germany product Marc Michaelis (a league-best +7). Of the 14 goals allowed by MSU, to date, Tuomie has only been on the ice once when a Mavericks opponent has lit the lamp.
"If there is a word that I can attach to Parker Tuomie it is competitor. It's never been an issue of asking for more from him on the ice as far as a competitive nature. I think he is starting to become more of a complete player where he's learned when he needs to speed it up and when he needs to slow it down, and recognition of what makes him valuable," stated Mike Hastings, Minnesota State men's hockey head coach and bench boss for the U.S. national team that will compete at the 2019 World Junior Championship. "Most offensive guys value the offensive production and as coaches, you really need them to value both sides of the puck, and I just think his maturation has come a long way. He's always been an offensive threat but now while he's pursuing the offensive end of it, he's being very cautious of what he's doing without the puck."
That process has come at a perfect time for Hastings and his squad, and Tuomie is not alone. After losing 142 points of offense from last season; including the WCHA Player of the Year and All-American C.J Suess, the nationally seventh-ranked Mavericks (3-1 overall) knew that the next phase of leaders and playmakers needed to step to the front of the line. One of those players helping to absorb the loss of Suess (22G-21A-43 points), Zeb Knutson (15G-28A-43 points), Daniel Brickley (10G-25A-35 points) and Brad McClure (11G-10A-21 points) was Tuomie. Another player who saw the opportunity and decided to grab it is Max Coatta. After scoring five goals during the 2017-18 campaign, the senior captain has also notched a WCHA-best four goals in four games (including a hat trick at then-No. 16 North Dakota), to go along with two assists. Three of the four tallies for the Minnetonka puckster have come on the power play, helping Minnesota State to early success on special teams. In addition to currently ranking fifth in the nation in goals per game (4.75 per game), the Mavericks power play unit is operating at nearly 24 percent.
"I think it gives you an opportunity as a coach- and I know this sounds simple, but you just follow the leader. You follow the guy who does the right thing all of the time. If you do that, there are no guarantees that you are going to succeed, but I can tell you that you are tipping the scale more in your favor than if you don't," commented Hastings, when asked about his senior leader- the only senior who has seen ice time for the Mavericks this season to this point. "To see him be rewarded for that work in production, it's a good thing to see as a coach because sometimes the game can be pretty cruel to you and his work ethic this summer, his leadership, skills, his ability to worry not only for himself but others; it's helped our young guys grow and with him being able to have some production along with that, I just think it helps his cause as being a leader. He's definitely spent the time putting in the work and preparation, and he's being rewarded for that."
"I try to approach the game the same way I always have. I think confidence helps and it's something I have had a little more of this year. I think if there was something different that would be the biggest thing, but as far as playing I don't really try to change too much in that sense. I just try to play my game and focus on that and the rest will take care of itself," added Coatta. "The guys we lost last year, those are guys you don't replace. C.J. was an All-American; you can't replace those guys, but I think it speaks to the depth of our team. We have a bunch of different guys that can step up on any given night. Personally for me, after those guys graduated I knew I had to step up along with other guys on the team to try and fill that void as much as we can."
That word is powerful and can mean a lot of different things. That word is one of the reasons why the Mavericks have won an NCAA-best 154 games during the seven seasons under Hastings, captured the WCHA regular season title last year (their third in the last four years) and advanced once again to the national tournament. It's one of the reasons why MSU led the WCHA and nation in scoring in 2017-18 and was a huge factor in why Minnesota State was tabbed as the 2018-19 WCHA preseason favorite this year. Named to the preseason All-WCHA team was Michaelis and sophomore Jake Jaremko- both of whom scored 39 or more points last year and were named to All-WCHA teams. Jaremko was also named the 2017-18 WCHA Freshman of the Year.
Back for another attack in 2018-19, Michaelis and Jaremko is typically where the eyes first point to when looking over the MSU roster. But, that's just where the conversation begins when it comes to the Mavericks and the jaw-dropping potential the team has. Consider this…seven players have scored more points than Jaremko through the first four games and eight different players have scored two-or-more points in a game. Tuomie, Michaelis, Coatta and sophomore Jared Spooner have tallied at least two points in a game twice already (three times in four contests for Tuomie). No doubt, Jaremko and Michaelis will get their points. It's the fact that 15 players on the Mavericks roster have already registered a point and 13 of them have more than one point (through just four games!)…that's what turns this topic of balance from a conversation into a presentation. One final point- remember it's not like these scoring attacks have been coming against teams with questionable talent. The Mavericks' first two weekend opponents have been against then-No. 8 Boston University and at the then-No. 16 University of North Dakota.
"It's awesome. I think the depth of our team is really strong. Up front we can play four lines and that's something we've done. Playing four lines and six defensemen; if you can do that, you are going to be tough to play against and I think that's what we want our identity to be. At that point it doesn't matter which line you are on, you're playing with great guys and anyone in the line-up can get the job done," stated Coatta. "The selflessness of this team is what stands out. If you have a full team of selfless players you can go a long way. Obviously, you have to have talent and great players, but I think if you have a locker room full of character guys and players who are willing to do whatever it takes for the guy next to him, you can go a long way."
"That goes to the ones who are running our locker room, which is our leadership group and that's not just the three guys who have a captain's badge," commented Hastings. "I think the guys truly care about each other. I think one of the best attributes of a leader is selflessness, and I think whether you are talking about Max Coatta, Marc Michaelis, Parker Tuomie; some of the other guys like Riese Zmolek and an Edwin Hookenson- the good thing is it's been a lot of 'we' and not a lot of 'me.' A group like that is really enjoyable to coach. They are fun to be around."
Enjoyable to watch as well. And yes, it's still early…but good hockey is good hockey.
The Mavericks look to continue their hot start this weekend as they host Alaska at the Verizon Center in Mankato, beginning defense of their MacNaughton Cup title with the first WCHA league series of the season.