Minnesota State Mankato seeking a long-awaited NCAA hockey breakthrough

Randy Johnson, Star Tribune
·2 min read

LOVELAND, COLO. – For the past four years, the victories have kept piling up for the Minnesota State Mankato. The Mavericks enter this year's NCAA men's hockey tournament with 20 wins in 25 games in this COVID-19 shortened season. A year ago, they had 31 before the pandemic shut down sports. Two years ago, the total was 32, and a year before that 29.

No Division I men's program can match MSU's 112 wins in that span. One problem, though: None have been in the NCAA tournament.

Coach Mike Hastings and his Mavericks will try to rewrite the narrative Saturday, when they face Quinnipiac in the West Regional first round. A victory would be the program's first NCAA triumph in seven tries as a Division I program and would send the Mavericks to Sunday's regional final against either the Gophers or Nebraska Omaha.

Hastings isn't dwelling on the lone blemish on Minnesota State's otherwise-impeccable résumé, but he isn't ignoring it, either.

"We address it," he said. "We've got a group of seniors that have been through a couple of these, and we discuss what we've learned from it. … In my coaching career, I've learned a lot from not getting to the top and not winning big games. You've got to own your past and dictate your future."

A year ago, the Mavericks saw their NCAA opportunity yanked away from them by an opponent no team could beat — COVID-19. Two years ago, they led Providence 3-0 in the first period before the Friars scored six unanswered goals. In 2018, they lost a 3-2 overtime heartbreaker to Minnesota Duluth.

This time around, the Mavericks aren't a No. 1 regional seed. They are No. 2 in the West after being upset 5-1 by Northern Michigan in the WCHA tournament semifinals. Players are using that result as a wake-up call.

"We're just trying to get back to our game," All-America goalie Dryden McKay said. "We came out slow against Northern, and our identity is playing fast and playing hard. … We've got to get back to being us."

With McKay, the Mavericks' identity is stopping pucks, too. The junior and Mike Richter Award finalist has 23 career shutouts, second in NCAA history. He would like nothing better than to flip the script on the Mavericks' NCAA story.

"There's nothing we can do about the past," he said. "… All we can do is focus on the game tomorrow. It would be awesome to get that monkey off our back."