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Lehrke caps off career in style

Zach Lehrke capped off his senior season with eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points in helping Minnesota State University Mankato win the WCHA Final Five title and advance to the NCAA Division I tournament for the second year in a row.

     Zach Lehrke was glad he decided to play through the pain and finish his four-year career as a member of the Minnesota State University Mankato men’s hockey team.

     Lehrke, who has battled a medical condition his whole life that causes severe cramping and muscle twitching throughout his body during and after physical activity, was about to hang up his skates and bypass his senior season.

     Fortunately for the Mavericks, Lehrke changed his mind.

     “At the beginning of the season, I told myself I couldn’t go through the pain that I have been going through anymore. It was just too hard to deal with. That is what made me not start out the season,” said Lehrke, a 2008 graduate of Park Rapids who still holds the school record for career goals with 113 and is second in career scoring with 212 points. “What changed my mind was basically one thing: telling myself that I have put so much time and effort into getting myself to where I am today, so why not finish it out. I was glad I came back and finished it out.”

     Lehrke had another solid season in helping the Mavericks win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five championship to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I tournament.

     Mankato, which was rated as high as No. 11 in the nation during the season, finished rated No. 15. The Mavericks had their season end with a 2-1 loss to No. 5 UMass Lowell in the semifinals of the Northeast Regional at Worcester, MA on March 29. The loss snapped a 13-game unbeaten streak as Mankato closed the season with a 26-14-1 record.

     Lehrke missed the first part of the season, but helped the Mavericks go 22-8-1 in the 31 games in which he was in the lineup. Lehrke finished the season with eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points. The 20 assists tied for third on the team and the 28 points were fourth on the team.

     Of his 31 games, Lehrke tallied at least one point in 20 of them.

     Lehrke tallied an assist in a 4-3 loss and had two assists in a 3-2 win over Bowling Green on Nov. 22-23.

     Against Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 29-30, Lehrke had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win and an assist in a 7-3 victory.

     Lehrke followed with an assist in a 3-2 win and scored the game-winning goal in a 3-0 victory over Northern Michigan on Dec. 6-7.

     In a 4-1 win over Alabama Huntsville on Dec. 13, Lehrke scored a goal and followed with an assist in a 6-4 win over Alaska on Jan. 4. Lehrke tallied an assist in a 2-1 loss and scored a goal in a 3-1 loss to Anchorage on Jan. 10-11.

     Against Ferris State on Jan. 17-18, Lehrke tallied a goal and two assists in a 6-2 win and had an assist in a 4-3 victory. Lehrke had a goal and an assist in a 5-4 overtime loss to the University of Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 24.

     Lehrke closed out the regular season with an assist in a 5-1 win over Northern Michigan on Feb. 1, a goal in a 5-2 victory over Bemidji State University on Feb. 7, an assist in a 3-2 win over BSU on Feb. 8, two assists in a 4-0 win over Huntsville on Feb. 15, three assists in a 5-0 victory over Lake Superior on Feb. 28 and a goal in a 4-3 win over Lake Superior on March 1.

     Ferris State won the WCHA regular-season title by going 20-6-2 for 42 points. Mankato was second at 20-7-1 for 41 points while Bowling Green at 13-11-4 and Alaska at 14-12-2 tied for third with 30 points. Rounding out the new WCHA were Michigan Tech at 12-11-5 (29 points), Anchorage at 12-12-4 (28 points), Northern Michigan at 13-14-1 (27 points), BSU at 10-14-4 (24 points), Lake Superior at 12-16-0 (24 points) and Huntsville at 2-25-1 (5 points).

     Mankato earned the No. 2 seed and defeated No. 7 Northern Michigan 3-2 and 5-4 on March 14-15 in the WCHA tournament to advance to the WCHA Final Five. Mankato then qualified for the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row by defeating No. 3 Bowling Green 4-0 on March 21 and Ferris State 4-1 on March 22 at Grand Rapids, MI. Lehrke tallied an assist on Mankato’s first goal in the championship game against Ferris State.

     Lehrke capped off his senior season by being named to the WCHA Third Team as a forward. Lehrke had two goals and four assists for 6 points as a freshman, 13 goals and 10 assists for 23 points as a sophomore and eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points as a junior to conclude his collegiate career with 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points in 132 games. Lehrke’s 81 points tie him for 20th on Mankato’s Division I scoring list.

     “My role on the team was to be an offensive player and this year more than any to help be a leader on the team as we only had four seniors this year,” said Lehrke. “I thought my senior season went good. There were peaks and valleys during the season for me personally. I would have liked to be more consistent in my play from weekend to weekend, but I had my most successful offensive season points-wise in fewer games this year. I am happy about that. Winning the WCHA Final Five was awesome and something that I will never forget. The feeling of holding the Broadmoor Trophy was unreal. As a team we had to earn that trophy and we definitely did in those two games in Grand Rapids. Playing in the NCAA tourney was a great experience once again, although moving on to the regional final and to have a chance to get to the Frozen Four would have been unbelievable. Overall, playing in the national tourney is a great accomplishment for a team.”