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Mavericks In Focus: MSU coaches, players marvel at Mackey's ascent to NHL

Connor Mackey was an every-other night player in the USHL just five years ago. Now he's a rookie in the NHL and he recorded his first point as a pro on Monday night.

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Former Minnesota State defenseman Connor Mackey skates in his first NHL game, on Saturday, Feb. 13, against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver. (Bob Frid / USA TODAY Sports)

Connor Mackey’s path to the NHL looks conventional on the surface.

The Tower Lakes, Ill., native played high school hockey in his home state, then played two season in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers, wearing an “A” on his sweater in 2016-17, his second and final season in Green Bay.

He joined Minnesota State University’s team in 2017-18 and continued his improvement and ascent to becoming one of the most sought-after college hockey free-agents following the 2019-20 season, when he was the Mavericks’ top-scoring defenseman (24 points) and was named a Second Team All-American.

Undrafted, Mackey was pursued by NHL teams after his freshman season, then pursued by more after his sophomore season. He chose to return to MSU in hopes of leading the Mavericks to their first NCAA tournament victory and a national championship, but that dream was cut off when the NCAA canceled the national tournament last year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to a report in The Athletic last summer, Mackey fielded offers from 28 NHL teams after his junior season ended in mid-March, as MSU prepared to face Michigan Tech in a WCHA playoffs semifinal series. The Calgary Flames made him an offer on Wednesday, March 18. Mackey signed it and was on a plane to Calgary on Friday, March 20.

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Last Saturday, less than a year after signing his entry-level contract, Mackey made his NHL debut in the Flames’ 3-1 loss at Vancouver. He was on the ice for 13 minutes, 56 seconds.

Two days later, in his second NHL game, Mackey recorded his first NHL point, assisting on a Milan Lucic goal in the first period of Calgary’s 4-3 overtime win at Vancouver. Mackey also took three penalties for six minutes in that game.

“He’s so deserving,” MSU associate head coach Todd Knott said this week. “You look back and it’s not that long ago — four years ago — he’s playing in Green Bay … playing every-other game in the USHL. He goes from being a healthy scratch every-other game to being the (USHL Defenseman of the Year in 2016-17) … How far he’s come in a short amount of time is incredible.

“It’s been fun watching him. Now we just have to get him to stay out of the box.”

Mackey became the 15th former Maverick to play in the NHL, joining Tim Jackman, Ryan Carter, Grant Stevenson, David Backes, Steve Wagner, Jon Kalinski, Travis Morin, Tyler Pitlick, Eriah Hayes, Kael Mouillierat, Casey Nelson, Daniel Brickley, Teddy Blueger and C.J. Suess.

“He’s just an unbelievable human being, a good person and a fantastic hockey player,” said Minnesota State junior defenseman Andy Carroll, who played with Mackey at MSU the past two years. “He was an unbelievable teammate around the rink here. To see him get there and get his first point … it’s pretty cool to see someone who was here not too long ago be an impact player in the NHL.

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“I just think Mac’s poise was something that every defenseman aspires to — his ability to run blue lines, get pucks through and defend with an edge.”

MSU recruits playing well

Reese Laubach committed to Minnesota State three weeks ago.

On Monday, Laubach played a key role in his current team from Minnesota winning a championship.

The 5-foot-11, 160-pound forward from San Jose assisted on two goals, including the game-winning goal in overtime, to help NorthStar Christian Academy capture the North American Prospects Hockey League Tier I 18U Dixon Cup championship.

Laubach has nine goals and 23 points in 13 NAPHL games for NorthStar this season. He could arrive at MSU in the 2022-23 season at the earliest.

MSU’s newest commit, goalie Keenan Rancier, is also having a strong season for the Minot Minotauros in the NAHL.

Rancier, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound 20-year-old from Victoria, B.C., announced his commitment to MSU on Feb. 4. He has been Minot’s go-to goalie this season, and he’s been busy most nights. He has compiled a 13-9-0 record with two shutouts, a 2.85 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

Rancier has been called upon to make 30 or more saves in 19 of his 24 appearances. He has made more than 40 saves in a game five times this season.

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“We couldn’t be more excited for Keenan and his family,” Minot assistant coach Wyatt Waselenchuk said in a statement. “From the moment he arrived in Minot, we quickly realized how special this young man is. His off-ice preparation is unlike anything I have seen in my five seasons. He is mature way beyond his years, and the way he competes every single day is the reason he is where he’s at today.”

MSU in the Polls

After a sweep against Alabama Huntsville on the road last week, Minnesota State remained at No. 3 in this week’s USCHO.com national poll, behind No. 1 Boston College and No. 2 North Dakota. The Mavericks (13-2-1) received three first-place votes.

MSU is remained at No. 3 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, behind No. 1 North Dakota and No. 2 B.C.

The Mavericks also held steady at No. 5 in the CollegeHockeyNews.com Power 16 rankings.

Up Next

This week: No. 3 Minnesota State University (13-2-1 overall) at Ferris State (1-17-1), non-conference series. Game times: 6:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Robert L. Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, Mich.

Next: MSU is scheduled to face Bemidji State on Feb. 25 (at Mankato) and Feb. 27 (at Bemidji), then close the regular season by hosting Michigan Tech March 5-6.

TRL’s Power Rankings

1. Minnesota State (13-2-1): The No. 3-ranked Mavericks are 10-0-0 in WCHA play and have won 10 of their last 11 overall. They’ve given up just five total goals in their 10 conference games.

2. Lake Superior State (10-4-3): The Lakers, ranked No. 20 in this week’s USCHO poll, take a big jump up the Power Rankings this week thanks to a 4-0-1 record in their past five games, including two wins against Bowling Green and one this week against Michigan Tech.

3. Michigan Tech (14-6-1): The No. 18-ranked Huskies are gaining steam as a team to be strongly considered for an NCAA tournament bid, but they had a three-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday at home in a 3-1 loss to Lake Superior State.

4. Bemidji State (7-6-3): The Beavers were on a six-game unbeaten streak before falling twice to Northern Michigan, including once in 3 on 3 overtime, last weekend.

5. Bowling Green (16-8-0): The Falcons slide in the Power Rankings this week despite being ranked No. 14 in the country. Bowling Green has lost four consecutive games and six of its past eight.

6. Northern Michigan (7-12-0): The Wildcats are heating up, with five wins in their past seven games, but at five games below .500, they’ll likely have to win the WCHA tournament in order to make the NCAA field.

7. Alabama Huntsville (3-9-1): The Chargers snapped a four-game losing skid with a win at Northern Michigan on Tuesday. Five of their remaining six games are on the road.

8. Ferris State (1-17-1): A tough year gets tougher for the Bulldogs this weekend as No. 3-ranked MSU comes to Big Rapids for a non-conference series, in what could be a preview of a first-round WCHA playoff matchup.

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