Mike Hastings has said the words “challenge” and “adversity” this season more often than likely any other season of his college coaching career.
A global pandemic will do that.
But there have been a few silver linings to the on-again, off-again schedule the Minnesota State University men’s hockey team has faced this season.
The biggest, Mavericks coach Hastings said, is a new-found appreciation among the coaching staff and players for being able to play and coach a sport they love, at such a high level.
“Absolutely,” Hastings said last week. “We’re dealing with things in January now that usually you’re experiencing in October and November, and going through those experiences hardens you for, usually, this time of year.”
The No. 5-ranked Mavericks (5-1-1 overall, 2-0-0 WCHA) have played just two home games this season, and they have not yet been able to play on back-to-back weekends. Early in the season, three games were postponed due to COVID-19 positive tests within the MSU program.
Since then, MSU have had series against Northern Michigan, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and last weekend’s scheduled home series against Michigan Tech, either canceled or postponed.
MSU is scheduled to play a WCHA series at No. 19 Lake Superior State (6-1-3 overall) this Friday and Saturday, then the Mavericks are scheduled to host series on three consecutive weekends, starting with games against Ferris State on Jan. 22-23, then two against Alabama Huntsville on Jan. 28-29, and a showdown series against fellow WCHA front-runner Bowling Green on Feb. 5-6.
“Coach (Todd) Knott and I were talking on the ice when we got done with our skate,” Hastings said on Wednesday, Jan. 6, one day before the Mavericks’ series against Michigan Tech was postponed, “that this is the first time we’ll have strung together back-to-back weekends … At this time of year, that’s not something we’re used to doing for the first time.
“When you only play five games in the first half of the year, then you have an opportunity to play four games in eight days, you’re very thankful for that.”
MSU In The Polls
The Mavericks (5-1-1 overall) are No. 5 in the USCHO.com national poll this week, dropping one spot from a week ago. Lake Superior State is No. 19
Following this weekend’s series in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Minnesota State is scheduled to return home for three consecutive series at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center. That stretch starts Jan. 22-23 against Ferris State, followed by a series against Alabama Huntsville Jan. 28-29, and a showdown against Bowling Green Feb. 5-6.
Lake Superior State at a glance
Lake Superior State is ranked No. 19 this week and is 6-1-3 overall. This weekend’s series will be the Lakers’ first WCHA games of the season.
The Lakers have not yet left the state of Michigan to play a game and they’re only scheduled to make two trips out of state during the regular season -- Jan. 29-30 at Bemidji State and Feb. 12-13 at Bowling Green.
This weekend’s series could be a defensive battle. LSSU has been stout defensively, allowing just 1.80 goals per game, the fourth-best mark in the country. Minnesota State leads the country in goals-against per game, at 1.14.
The Lakers are also a top-10 penalty kill team, killing at 88.4 percent (ninth in the country), but they have struggled mightily on the power play, where they are converting at just a 7.0 percent rate, the third-worst in the nation. Prior to last weekend’s sweep against Northern Michigan, LSSU was 0-for-26 on the power play.
The Lakers are led by junior forward Ashton Calder (5-6--11), and senior defenseman Lukas Kaelble (0-8--8). Senior Mareks Mitens has carried the load in goal, posting strong numbers. He is 5-1-3 overall, with a 1.75 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
WCHA Power Rankings
1. Minnesota State (5-1-1): The No. 5-ranked Mavericks play at Lake Superior State this weekend, then have three consecutive home series on tap, the last of which is a showdown with Bowling Green, Feb. 5-6.
2. Bowling Green (12-2-0): The No. 8 Falcons suffered just their second loss of the season -- and first since Dec. 5 -- last Friday, an overtime loss against Bemidji State. Both of Bowling Green’s losses this season have come by one goal.
3. Lake Superior State (6-1-3): The Lakers, ranked No. 19, finally broke through on the power play last weekend against Northern Michigan, scoring three power-play goals after going 0-for-26 in their first eight games.
4. Michigan Tech (6-3-1): The Huskies may be the hottest team in the WCHA, with five consecutive wins. But positive COVID tests within the program wiped out last weekend’s scheduled series at Minnesota State.
5. Bemidji State (3-4-2): The Beavers have had arguably the toughest schedule of any WCHA team so far, playing all nine of their games against teams ahead of them in these rankings. They hold wins against Bowling Green, Lake Superior and Michigan Tech, and a tie against Minnesota State.
6. Northern Michigan (2-6-0): The Wildcats scored 11 total goals in their two wins, both against Ferris State. They’ve struggled to carry that over against the rest of their schedule, though, having scored just seven total goals in their six losses.
7. Alabama Huntsville (2-5-1): The Chargers swept Ferris State last weekend to win their first two home games of a season for the first time since 2005-06.
8. Ferris State (0-8-0): The Bulldogs’ defensive struggles continued at Huntsville, allowing seven total goals in the two games. Ferris is third-to-last in the country in goals allowed per game, 4.62.