MANKATO, Minn. — The freshmen on Minnesota State-Mankato this season entered a veteran locker room filled with a lot of expectations and not a lot of holes.
Those who were going to fill those holes were going to need to be productive. The more consistent the better.
As the third-ranked Mavericks approach the halfway point of the season, C.J. Franklin and Brad McClure have fit in just fine.
“We’re getting used to it,” Franklin said. “We’re figuring out the little things you need to do to make a difference in a game.”
They’ve adapted pretty quickly, actually.
Franklin, a left wing, has played most of the season on the top line with juniors Teddy Blueger and Bryce Gervais and has 11 points in 15 games, which puts him in a tie for first among all rookies in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
McClure, a right wing and the only MSU freshman to play in all 16 games, has 10 points, including six goals, which also is tied for the most among WCHA freshmen. He’s played much of the season on the Mavericks’ third line with Dylan Margonari and Zach Stepan.
“It’s been a learning process,” McClure said. “It doesn’t come easy at this level.”
There may be some humility there. McClure had a goal in each of his first three college games. In last weekend’s series split against Alaska he had a four-point weekend, including a goal and two assists in MSU’s 5-2 win on Saturday.
Franklin had points in two of his first three games and a three-assist night during an Oct. 31 win at Bowling Green.
“Both of them are very humble young men,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “They’ve stayed grounded, though they’ve had some success. That speaks volumes about them as individuals.”
Hastings expected both to play key roles this season, just as previous freshman have done. Stepan had 21 points last season, while Margonari and Blueger each racked up 19 points two years ago.
“They were going to be given opportunities based upon their history,” Hastings said, “and they’ve taken the opportunity and used it to their advantage.”
McClure spent the last two seasons with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. He compiled 85 goals and 159 points there and was the Vees’ captain last season.
Franklin, who was selected in the fifth round by the Winnipeg Jets in last summer’s NHL draft, had 111 points, including 54 goals, in two seasons with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League.
— Brad McClure
Skating with veteran linemates and on a team that has hopes of finishing atop the WCHA and getting back to the national tournament, the youngsters know they have to play like older players.
“It’s definitely nice to have veterans as linemates,” Franklin said. “They’ve helped me out a lot, and that’s a big part of what I’ve been able to do so far. I’m playing with two great players.”
Both rookies have helped linemates get hat tricks. Franklin assisted on all three of Gervais’ goals on Oct. 31, and McClure assisted on two of Margonari’s three goals last week.
“You have to have a well-rounded game,” McClure said.
Three other freshmen haven’t received as much playing time this season.
Forward Zeb Knutson, a teammate of Franklin’s in Sioux Falls, has played in five games, although he had two assists in last Friday’s loss to Alaska, playing in place of Franklin.
Defenseman Jaden Schmeisser has played in just two games, while goaltender Aaron Nelson has yet to appear in a game.
“The thing that I respect the most is their approach to the daily grind,” Hastings said. “They’re doing what it takes to be student-athletes. They’re doing well in the classroom and bringing it everyday in practice.”