By Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press
MANKATO, Minn. — One of the celebrities at Sunday’s NCAA Selection Show party for the Minnesota State men’s hockey team at Pub 500 was 11-year-old Collin Pierskalla.
The MacNaughton Cup and the newly won Jeff Sauer Trophy have have been on display, but the young hockey player held the real prize.
On Saturday night, he was the lucky fan who caught the hockey stick Nick Rivera threw into the Verizon Center stands after scoring in overtime to win the WCHA playoff championship against Bowling Green.
“He tapped it on the ice twice and threw it up in the air,” Collin said. “It was really fun and exciting.”
When Rivera and the rest of the Mavericks arrived for the event, Collin offered to give it back to Rivera, perhaps thinking the junior forward might need it this Saturday when Minnesota State plays Providence in the NCAA East Regional in Providence, Rhode Island.
“It’s all yours,” said Rivera, who signed the stick on Saturday night.
The team and its fans were still reveling in Saturday’s come-from-behind victory, in which the Mavericks erased a 2-0 deficit with a pair of extra-attacker goals in the final 1:44 of regulation.
Today, the Mavericks, the top seed in the regional and the tournaments overall No. 3 seed, have to move on as they prepare to play the Friars, the regional’s fourth seed and the 14th-ranked team in the final Pairwise Rankings.
“Obviously, it was a crazy game last night,” senior captain Max Coatta said before the brackets were announced. “We’re still enjoying that. It was a pretty special game and a pretty special accomplishment. We’re excited to find out where we’re going and who we’re playing so we can get focused on that.”
Minnesota State may be the top seed, but it will be more of a road game than a neutral-site one against the hometown Friars.
“To me, it’s hockey,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said. “We’re going to have to be good to move on.”
The Mavericks are seeking their first NCAA tournament win at the Division I level. They’re 0-5 and going back to the site of their first national-tournament appearance in 2003.
“This group believes in each other,” Hastings said. “Our goal wasn’t just to get there.”
Providence is 22-11-6 and tied for second in Hockey East before getting knocked out of that conference’s quarterfinals by Boston College in a three-game-series.
“I had the opportunity to to watch them when I was scouting for world juniors,” Hastings said. “They’re a good hockey team. They have depth, good goaltending, some dynamic defensemen and really good coach. I think Nate Leaman is one of the best.”
The Mavericks (32-7-2) and Friars will play at noon Saturday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Northeastern and Cornell will play in the other East Regional game.
St. Cloud State received the No. 1 overall seed and will play American International in Fargo, North Dakota. Ohio State and Denver will meet in the other West Regional matchup.
Minnesota Duluth is the No. 2 overall seed and will play Bowling Green in the Midwest Regiona in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with Arizona State and Quinnipiac playing in the other game.
In the Northeast Regional in Manchester, New Hampshire, No. 4 overall seed Massachusetts will play Harvard, and Notre Dame will play Clarkson.