Not enough recognition goes to Minnesota State and head coach Mike Hastings.

In just five short seasons at the helm of the Mavericks, Hastings has plenty of accomplishments. He’s already won 122 games. His team has made it to the NCAA tournament three times; won the conference tournament and regular season title twice each.

Despite the success on the ice, they have been part of plenty of drama off it. They were the ones left out in the cold when future members of the NCHC decided to pack up their toys and play in their own sandbox, despite being centrally located. Just last year, they formally requested the NCHC to open its doors for one more team. NCHC said not at this time, like the pretty girl in school trying to let the nice guy down easy.

The series may have lost some of its luster since conference points are no longer on the line. In spite of that, the Huskies need to treat this game with the same amount of intensity as a North Dakota or Minnesota Duluth.

The Huskies were flat out embarrassed in last season’s meeting. Sure, the Mavericks already played two regular season games before the game, but the Huskies just didn’t have the legs to compete.

The first game was a 4-1 victory for the Mavericks bolstered by the top line of Marc Michaelis, C.J. Suess (formerly C.J. Franklin) and Brad McClure. The trio combined for six points and were the backbone of the offense all season long. Last season, Michaelis led the way in scoring for the Mavericks with 36 points as a freshman. All three of the top line reached double digits in goals last season and all three are returning.

The second game of the series was the same result taken by a different route. The Huskies adjusted to the top line, but the Maverick’s depth took over. The Huskies were up 3-2 after the first period, but the depth was too much and the inexperience led to a 6-4 defeat.

That weekend series should be fresh in the Huskies’ mind.  They should be mad with what happened. They should be Howard Beale mad. These wins go a long way in making the NCAA tournament. Too many times last season the Huskies let key games slip away.

All six leading point scorers are back, but they’ve added a potential WCHA rookie of the year in Jake Jaremko. The Nowthen native was a key member of the Chicago Steel for the past two seasons, ending with a combined 94 points. He had two goals in the exhibition game against the University of Regina, which the Mavericks also won by an 8-0 tally. Jaremko will be a key offensive producer all season.

Defensively, Daniel Brickley will be the guy anchoring the blue line. The NHL Free Agent had plenty of offers to jump to the next level, but decided to stay back for his senior year. He plays a great all-around game and disrupts everyone that comes near him. Ian Scheid had a great freshman career and will only improve to become the next leader of the team.

Between the pipes, I’d imagine Jason Pawloski will get the nod. He split time last season with Cole Huggins, who graduated. Pawloski played very well last season with a 2.10 GAA and a .920 save percentage.

The Mavericks are picked to finish highly in their conference, are expected to be in the NCAA tournament and are returning a lot talent on offense and defense. A young team with plenty of weapons returning looking to improve over last season, a freshman class that is cause for excitement, and a solid defensive core?

Sounds a lot like another team, doesn’t it?

So, look at this like a mirror match. Much like a Ryu vs Ryu match in Street Fighter II, these teams know each other and are built the same. The winner will be the team who brings the most intensity. That’s where the Huskies need to be on another level. These games mean a lot in March.

I see this being a very fast paced game. In the exhibition game, the Huskies were able to use the team speed to blow by defenders. This team will be much better and won’t be as surprised, but the depth of the Huskies could be the difference.

Another key aspect will be the special teams play. The Huskies have had a deadly power play over Bob Motzko’s tenure. With the new rule enforcements, penalties tend to be more common early in the season. If this turns into a special teams war, the Huskies have a big advantage over the Mavericks.

I imagine Jeff Smith will take the crease for the Huskies to open the season. Motzko said he wants to get the other goalies involved, so expect David Hrenak to get a few spot-starts. If Smith starts stumbling, expect Motzko to have a short leash and let Hrenak get a few in a row.

So the Mavericks, long thought of as the ‘also-rans’ of the WCHA, suddenly look like a handful for the Huskies. Hastings has done a phenomenal job building a team that is flustering to play against, great at blocking shots and playing disciplined.

Wouldn’t expect anything else from a St. Cloud State grad.

 

#GOHUSKIESWOOOOO